An excerpt from Chapter 1 of Atterwald, a novel I am preparing (at a distressingly slow rate) for possible publication:
This is a tale of the hal'ryth'kei, the people of the second skin, creatures who are two beings, with two natures in one. It begins with an enmity between two tribes, a difference beyond reconciliation...
For as long as he could remember, Brendis had loved to watch the owl-people parade into view at sunset, riding proud and tall upon their deer. Lately he had a special reason to stare.
He laid his hoe down at his feet, licked his upper lip and frowned at the stinging salt taste of sweat. He looked up and out, toward the rim of trees on the horizon. He held his breath and tensed at the clop of deer's hoofs.
"Back to work, Bren," his brother snapped. Arne was still busy with his hoe; Brendis knew from the crunch of turning earth beside him. "You know how Mother bellows if she catches you idle."
"I don't care if she bellows."
The first owls emerged from the wood -- silver-haired gentlemen in top hats and stiff, sharply tailored frock coats, nodding with regal condescension at the mouse-people at work in the field. Why they did that, Brendis could not say, for the mouse-folk paid no heed to the parade. Only he seemed to know the owls were there.
More owl-folk appeared, all in neat frock coats, all with slim, bolt-straight figures. A tiny part of him hated them and their beauty and aristocratic mien. He hated finding himself enthralled by them, helpless to look away.
His stomach spun as his special reason cantered into view. Unlike the others, she wore a riding-suit of pale gray, with a white kerchief about her neck and a gauzy veil streaming down her back. But even without these odd color choices, she would have stood out from the rest. Some of them might wear their honey-gold hair in ringlets; some of them might be blessed with skin like white rose-petals; some of them might boast soft oval faces with bright, clear gray eyes; but all of these beauties combined in her alone. Even they might have added up to nothing, were it not for her smile, so wistful and pensive that he constantly wondered what she might be thinking.
Brendis had to think of the golden maiden by some name or other, so he had invented one for her: "Verina," the Glory of All Owl-Kind. But this invented name did not satisfy him. He would only feel content when he could present himself to her and ask her true name.
But his kind did not speak to their kind.
He remembered asking his mother just why this was. She had sniffed a non-answer: "Because it isn't done. All we need know about them is that they're there."
Brendis had vowed then and there never to ask his mother a serious question again. In the five years since, he'd kept that vow. Hundreds of serious questions plagued him without mercy on a daily basis, but he kept them to himself and sought answers on his own.
"Pick up that tool now, Bren!" Arne huffed.
Brendis reclaimed the hoe and went through the motions of pawing the earth with it, never taking his eyes from Verina. His breath caught in his throat. Now came the moment that had stirred him for years.
The leader of the parade -- the tallest and proudest-looking of the silver-haired gentlemen, mounted on a six-pointed stag -- folded into himself. His shoulders shrank and his arms and limbs retracted, and suddenly, where a man had been, a wide-winged gray owl hovered in mid-air.
On their leader's signal, the other owl-folk transformed simultaneously; Brendis, his gaze locked on Verina, saw her melt into a ball of bright snowy-white feathers. She stretched her wings, and with the others she rose and soared over the jagged tops of the trees.
Watching them vanish into the horizon, he heard his brother grumble, "Don't see why you stare at the owls. It's not as if they're doing anything remarkable. They're only changing shape."
"It's beautiful when they do it."
"Because they take wing. Imagine what it'd be like, to be bound to the ground one minute and then take to the sky the next."
Arne responded with a grunt and a shake of his head.
Brendis turned his eyes from his brother to the deepening sunset sky. Where had she disappeared to? What might she be looking at right now? Sometimes, when he thought very hard about her, he could imagine himself flying with her, the wind brushing his toes. He could even catch the sharp green scent of the pines below.
Such imaginings were generally fleeting, but lately they'd been growing clearer, more intense, giving him hope of a time to come when he might linger in the air long enough to for him to tell himself he wasn't dreaming.
In the sky with her -- the place he most wished to be. Something strange growing inside him whispered it might not be impossible.