DEEP AS A TOMB, a YA fantasy that alternates the point of views of a boy who's the son of the king and a girl who's the daughter of a would-be rebel. Thrown together in the same household, they struggle to their fathers' demands with their own growing sense of what's right.
The tomb pulled at Myla like the sun coaxing a sapling toward the sky. She had to fight off a temptation to run rather than pick her way through the underbrush. She glanced over her shoulder to see if Kaven felt the tug too and found him scanning the trees to one side. As if sensing her gaze, he turned to her, hand raised to ward off a trailing bush.
Her heart lurched. "Don't touch!"
Kaven jumped away from the redthorn bush he'd been about to shove aside. Wiping his hand on his trousers, he frowned at the plant, a rare one, the Forest be blessed. Its scarlet, two-inch thorns gleamed with wicked hunger. "Thanks for the warning."
Myla's knees trembled. A scratch from a redthorn would swell and be sore for a week. A jab stuck its poison deep. People died of redthorn poisoning. She tightened her grip on the strap of her bag and pushed through the underbrush at a safer place, her scalp prickling as twiggy fingers snagged at her braid.
"Wait, Myla," Kaven said. "You're caught again." He moved close and slipped her hair from the grasp of a hawthorn bush. His warmth brushed her spine, and she smelled the leather of his jerkin, the faint tang of his sweat. Her breath stopped halfway through her throat.
When he held onto her braid, she gripped it and ducked around to look up at him. He dropped the braid to run the tip of his finger along the eyebrow she'd raised. Leaves fluttered, letting flashes of sunlight dance across his dark head. She stared at his mouth, spellbound, but she made herself brace her hands against his chest and step back. "Not now," she forced out. "Leaving an offering in a tomb is a sacred act."
"Kissing you is sacred to me," he said, voice husky.
"Still, not now. We have to get back to Lady Eran's before Prince Beran arrives." Myla handed him the sack of tomb offerings. "Hold this, and give me your cap." Like the sweet boy he was, Kaven surrendered the yellow knit cap he had tucked in his belt. She wound her braid around her head and netted the cap over it. "Now let's do what we came for." She grabbed the bag and set off toward the tomb where Lady Eran's husband slept among his ancestors. Once again, she felt as if she were rushing downhill. What was happening to her?
"I'm sorry." Kaven trailed after her. "It's just that the tomb isn't going anywhere , but you are."
"Not for four more months," Myla said.
"That's too soon."
The longing in his voice made her shiver. "I'll just be at our manor. That's an easy ride away." She swerved around another hawthorn.
"Too far," he said. When she stayed silent, he sighed and asked, "Do you think you'll be able to open the tomb?"
"I told you I'm not sure."
A manor's tomb was supposed to open to those of that manor's blood, but over the years, there'd been so much intermarriage that many families, including Myla's and Kaven's, had lost the power to open them, so it had never occurred to her that she could open her neighbor Zale's. She'd ridden there, intending only to leave flowers at the door, after Zale's old auntie had died. The auntie wasn't buried in their manor's tomb, of course, because no one could get in. Myla had prayed with her hands on the tomb door, her heart wrenched with pity for the poor woman wandering the afterlife away from the Forest, grieving its loss. Then the tomb door shocked her by opening.
Too bad she'd been stupid and told her father what had happened. Ever since, she'd regretted not entering Zale's tomb because sure as spring she didn't belong there, but she regretted telling Da even more because he'd gone on and on about how her opening a tomb would somehow gain him--not her, she noticed--more respect. Maybe today she'd open Lady Eran's tomb and see what one looked like inside. She'd keep that from Da for certain. Her breath sped up at both thoughts.
A bush with spear-shaped leaves sprawled across her path. She'd never seen one like it before, though that wasn't surprising. The Forest grew strange near tombs left unentered for too long. Giving in to her curiosity, she fought the force drawing her long enough to stop and look the plant over.
"What is it?" Kaven asked.
"I don't know." She pulled a scrap of cloth from her belt pouch, wound it around her hand, and snapped off a bit of the spear-leafed bush. When she sniffed the end, its scent pinched the inside of her nose.
"A tomb plant?" Kaven asked. "Has Steeprise Manor's tomb been closed up long enough for that?"
Myla lifted her gaze to a leaf canopy too thin to suggest life was thriving on Steeprise Manor. "Maybe." She wrapped the twig and tucked it in her pouch. She'd learn what she could about it later. Sometimes tomb plants were strong healers, like the tomb was trying to cure whatever had locked its people out. She resumed her hurried walk. "Da says I can open tombs because we descend from Jorn himself."
Kaven dismissed that notion with a flick of his fingers. "Can he do it?"
"That says it's not ancestry that gives you power," Kaven said. "Not his ancestry anyway."
"It makes my brother wild that he can't either."
"Why, Myla of Oak Ridge Manor," Kaven said. "I do believe you're gloating."
She tugged his cap to a jauntier angle. "I'm entitled."
She had to gloat when the chance arose because the only thing Da told her was she was sixteen and knew nothing, so she should shut up and let him decide who to tell. Mostly she had, though of course she'd told Kaven. Then she'd been unable to resist telling Lady Eran when the woman was crying over being locked out from her husband. She'd begged Myla to come back and try to help once she’d had time to dig up a proper offering.
So today, when Kaven and Myla rode over, with Prince Beran's visit as an excuse, Eran slipped a lidded gold bowl full of herbs and dried flowers into the leather sack and handed it to Myla. "Bless you, Myla," Eran quavered. "I've been fretting because I'm too rotted old to make this trip any more and even leave flowers on the doorstep." Sometimes women chose to be buried in their own blood ancestors' tombs, but from the way Erantalked, Myla judged she wasn't one of those, and from the look of her, she'd soon lie at her man's side.
If Myla could open the tomb.
"Maybe you have the power from the medicines you try. I've seen you take them, chancy though that is." Kaven skirted a tangle of undergrowth.
"I only do it if I'm sure they're safe." Mostly. Sometimes the medicine books weren't as clear as a normal person needed.
"If it's the medicines, you could help every family that's locked out of their tomb," Kaven said. "Folks all over the Forest would be grateful."
A flame of happiness danced in Myla's chest, damped down only a bit by worry for the future. Four more months, and she'd see Kaven only when he visited. Da would like him, wouldn't he? Or at least like knowing Myla had someone. Like trees, people were stronger tied together than standing alone.
Ahead, something glimmered between the maples, and a warm breeze brushed over her, fragrant with the scent of rich soil and growing things. Her muscles eased, and the throb of her blood settled to match the throb of the Forest's life. She crept forward, setting her feet gently, and walked out of the trees into a clearing around a mound of earth covered in moss so green it glowed. The pull she felt let go as if she'd arrived where the Forest wanted her to be. At least she hoped so. She was about to find out if she'd gloated too soon.
Kaven soft-footed up next to her, lower lip caught in his teeth. His gaze flicked over the tomb and then into the trees, like he couldn't stand to look for too long.
Myla drifted around the tomb through air almost too thick to breathe. It pressed against her skin, heavy with the presence of old treasures, old life and death, and the Forest sheltering its own. Even the birds seemed to feel the power and fall silent. On the mound's north side, a stone frame appeared around a smooth stone door. Carved runes spidered up one side of the frame to the icon of Silvit and then ran down the other, spelling out Steeprise Manor's prayer. She wiped sweaty hands on her trousers.
Silvit save her. What had she been thinking? Opening that other tomb had probably been a one-time chance. She probably couldn't ever do it again. She pictured Da's face as he watched her fail and cringed. Then she thought of the ailing trees she'd glimpsed on her way here, and of Lady Eran's hopeful face. Get hold of yourself, Myla. This matters to folks besides you. She brushed aside a shriveled vine roped across the doorway, spread her fingers, and laid her palms flat on the door. When the cool surface hummed under her touch, her heart leaped. The neighbor's tomb had done that too. She began to read the runes aloud. With rising excitement, she ran through the prayer once and then a second time. The door still barred the way, but the humming bloomed louder and harder. Surely in another moment, it would slide open.
"What's taking so long?" Kaven said. "Can't you do it?"
Disoriented as if she'd been yanked out of a deep sleep, she wrenched her attention to Kaven. He shifted from foot to foot, darting looks every which way except at the tomb.
A flicker of movement flashed behind him. "Is someone there?" she asked sharply.
"Rot it!" a voice cried, and a man with a cloth tied over his lower face lunged out of the undergrowth, hand out, reaching for the bag holding Lady Eran's tomb gift.
"No!" Kaven threw himself between them, grabbing the masked man's arms. For a weird instant, they looked like they were dancing.
A second form moved among the trees, and Myla woke up out of the place where the tomb's spell had left her. Thieves!
She forced her frozen legs into life and ran.
Dorothy Winsor is a former college professor who used to spend all day studying the communication practices of engineers. She found that writing MG and YA fantasy is much more fun. In addition to DEEP AS A TOMB, she's the author of a middle-grade fantasy, FINDERS KEEPERS. She lives in Iowa.
Her website is: http://dawinsor.com/.
Both FINDERS KEEPERS and DEEP AS A TOMB are available on Amazon
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