The Black Witch
An Epic Fantasy Novel
(The Black Witch Chronicles)
by Laurie Forest
Age Range: 14+ years
Grade Level: 7 and up
“Potter-worthy.” —Justine magazine
“A whole new, thrilling approach to fantasy!”–#1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce
“Powerful” —New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb
“Exquisite.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.
A Great Winged One will soon arise and cast his fearsome shadow upon the land. And just as Night slays Day, and Day slays Night, so also shall another Black Witch rise to meet him, her powers vast beyond imagining.
So foretells the greatest prophecy of the Gardnerian mages. Carnissa Gardner, the last prophesied Black Witch, drove back the enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War. Now a new evil is on the horizon, and her granddaughter, Elloren, is believed to be Carnissa’s heir—but while she is the absolute image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above nearly all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren is eager to join her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University and finally embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is an even more treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
Excerpted from The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, copyright 2017 by Laurie Forest. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins Publishers.
A starlit sky overhead, we arrive, the carriage pulling up before Aunt Vyvian’s three-story home, arching windows lit golden and an expansive, dark wooden staircase spilling toward us in welcome.
Lush gardens arc along the curved entrance road, and I breathe in their heady, sweet scent as the carriage slows. Ironwood trees are bursting with glowing Ironflowers that cast the road in their soft blue luminescence.
Our carriage glides to a smooth stop.
Two Urisk serving women stand on either side of the carriage door as I exit, their straight violet hair tied back into tidy braids, their ears coming to swift points and their skin the soft lavender hue of the Urisk upper class. Their coloration is new to my eyes—the only Urisk I’ve ever seen are those toiling at the Gaffneys’ farm. Those women have the white, rose-tinted skin, hair and eyes of the Urisks’ lowest class—so pale they could almost pass for Alfsigr Elves, were it not for the faintly pink sheen of their skin and hair. These upper-class women’s linen uniforms are crisply starched, snow-white tunics over long gray skirts, their expressions neutral.
Suddenly self-conscious, I grasp at the rough wool of my tunic hem. I’m shabbier than even the servants. I crane my neck up, amazed at the height of the house, and swallow apprehensively, feeling small and insignificant in contrast to this grandeur.
Aunt Vyvian’s mansion is the same style of architecture I saw throughout Valgard—a climbing, multistoried building hewn from Ironwood; the broader, higher floors supported by curved, wooden columns; the roof topped with expansive gardens and multiple potted trees, vines of every variety spilling over the sides.
Like a giant tree.
It sits on elevated land with a panoramic view of the ocean to the back, and down onto twinkling Valgard and the Malthorin Bay to the side.
It’s so beautiful.
Heady with anticipation, I follow at Aunt Vyvian’s heels as she briskly makes her way up the stairs, the double doors opened for us by two more Urisk servants.
She holds herself so elegantly straight, I adjust my posture without thinking and hasten my pace to keep up with her. I wonder how she manages to walk so confidently and gracefully in her slim, tall heels, her skirts swishing around her feet.
I’d probably fall clear over on shoes like that.
My own feet are covered in sturdy boots made for gardening and caring for livestock. I secretly hope I can try feminine shoes like hers.
We pause in the most beautiful foyer I’ve ever been in: tables set with fresh bouquets of red roses, the tilework beneath my feet set in a black-and-green geometric design and a pair of stained-glass doors patterned with climbing vines.
A flutter of excitement rises in me to be in the middle of such luxury.
Aunt Vyvian riffles through some papers on a silver tray held by one of her serving women. “I apologize, Elloren, but I must leave you to get settled on your own.” She pauses and examines one of the papers with shrewd eyes. “Fenil’lyn will show you to your rooms, and then we’ll have a late dinner once you’ve unpacked.” She sets down the letter and smiles expectantly at me.
“Of course. That’s fine,” I respond eagerly. I glance around and break into a wide grin, looking at her with appreciation and a heightened desire to win her approval. “It’s…it’s so lovely here,” I say falteringly, suddenly giddy with nerves.
My aunt nods distractedly as if she’s suddenly lost interest in me, then motions toward the servants and strides away, trailed by three of the Urisk, her heels clicking sharply on the tile floor. One stays behind—Fenil’lyn, I assume.
Aunt Vyvian’s aloof dismissal has a small sting to it.
If I had magic, would I be of more interest to her? I let out a small sigh. On the carriage ride here, my aunt repeatedly brought up her disappointment that I take after my famous grandmother in looks only. No matter, I console myself. It’s a huge honor that she’s chosen to single me out and bring me here.
I follow straight-backed Fenil’lyn down a long hallway decorated with small, potted trees, and out into an expansive central hall. I skid to a stop, stunned by the sight that lies before me.
A central staircase spirals three stories up around a life-size tree sculpture. Wrought-iron grating, stylized to look like flowering vines, encloses each story’s circular balcony.
I quicken my steps to catch up with Fenil’lyn and follow as she starts up the staircase. I take in the lifelike carved leaves, fascinated, and brush my fingers along their textured surface as we ascend.
An image of the source tree lights up my mind like the summer sun, moss-covered branches undulating out.
Reaching the top floor, I wordlessly follow Fenil’lyn onto the top balcony. She stops before two expansive wooden doors and pushes them open.
I peer inside and have to blink to believe my eyes.
A roaring woodstove pumps out a crackling heat, a crimson-canopied bed directly across from it. Sanded trunks and branches rise up near the walls, hewn from dark wood, giving off the smell of their rich beeswax coating, the domed ceiling painted to give the illusion of a starlit sky. I step inside and am immediately enfolded in delicious warmth.
Everything already done for me, no wood to lug.
Directly before me, two cut-crystal doors sparkle gold in the reflected lamp and firelight.
I pause to touch the smooth silk of a golden tassel that hangs from my bed’s canopy, to stare in amazement at the intricate tree design embroidered on the scarlet quilt.
I reach the crystal doors, open them and find a curved sunroom just beyond, its walls made of glass that looks straight out over the ocean, a geometric glass ceiling giving me a panoramic view of the real night sky.
Two snow-white kittens play with a ball of string in the center of the sunroom’s floor. They’re fluffy white, with sky blue eyes. Just like my own cat, Isabel.
Enchanted, I stoop down and pick up one of the kittens. She kneads me with needle-sharp claws as a tiny, rumbling purr emanates from her small chest. The other kitten continues to worry the ball of string.
“For you, Mage Gardner,” Fenil’lyn informs me with a polite smile. She’s slender, with gorgeous eyes the color of amethysts. Her violet hair is streaked with a single stripe of gray. “Mage Damon felt you might be missing your pet.”
My chest floods with a grateful warmth. How incredibly thoughtful.
Happily, I rise and turn to Fenil’lyn, hugging the purring kitten against my chest, the animal’s tiny head tickling under my chin.
“You can call me Elloren,” I tell her, grinning from ear to ear.
She stiffens, her smile freezing in place. “Thank you, Mage Gardner. But that would show disrespect.” She tilts her head gracefully and gives a small bow. “Please allow me to honor you with your proper title.”
It’s odd to be in the presence of an Urisk woman who speaks the common tongue. Odder still to experience such deferential treatment, especially from someone who might be older than Aunt Vyvian. I’m momentarily ill at ease.
“Of course,” I defer, the woman’s frozen smile softening into an expression of relief.
“If you have need of anything, Mage Gardner,” she tells me brightly, “simply ring the bell.” She motions toward a golden-tasseled rope hanging by the door with a practiced wave. “I’ll be back shortly to bring you to dinner.”
“Thank you,” I say, nodding.
She quietly leaves, and I take a deep breath, overcome by my surroundings.
Setting the kitten down in a basket with its littermate, I open the sunroom’s side door.
The salty ocean breeze kisses my face the moment I step out onto a curved balcony. The stone balcony follows the arc of the sunroom, the rhythmic whoosh of waves lapping the dark rocks below. I peer over the balcony’s edge, down two stories toward another, broader balcony, where servants are busy setting out an elaborate dinner.
Our dinner, I realize. Nothing to cook. Nothing to clean.
Breathing in deep, I take in the refreshing, salt-tinged air.
I could get used to this.
I wander back into my rooms and skim my finger over the spines of the books in a small library that’s set into the wall, all the texts related to apothecary medicine.
A thread of amazed gratification ripples through me.
She’s created a custom library just for me.
I remember the runehawk messenger bird Aunt Vyvian had her guard send out to bring word of our arrival, but still, I’m stunned that so many personal touches have been pulled together in two days’ time.
I slide a volume off the shelf and open the cover, the new leather resisting my pull. The drawings of herbs are hand-painted and look so lifelike, I can almost smell their scent.
I wonder if she’ll let me take some of these books to University with me—they’d be of incredible use to me in my studies. A sitting table near the bed has a mirror rimmed with stained-glass roses. On the table sits a gilded brush and comb set, along with brand-new bottles of perfume, their spritzers tasseled with crimson silk.
So many pretty things. Things I never had in a house full of messy males.
I pick up one of the glass bottles, spritz it in the air and inhale.
Mmm. It smells like vanilla and rose.
As the mist falls and dissipates, my eyes light on a shelf set into the wall, a cabinet beneath. Set on the table are two marble statues. I walk over to them and pick one of the statues up, the polished base cool against my palm. It depicts my grandmother, her wand in her belt, leading Gardnerian children to some destination, smiles on the children’s upturned, adoring faces. I look closely and trace my finger over the face’s sharp features, her thin nose.
It’s me. Or certainly a close likeness.
The second statue is my grandmother again, powerful and fierce, her delicate wand raised, her hair flying out behind her, a dead Icaral demon crushed beneath her feet.
An Icaral, like Sage’s deformed baby.
I pause, troubled, my brow tensing. The thought of Icaral demons is so jarring in the midst of the comforting warmth, the sweet kittens, the luxury cushioning me all around. It makes me want to hide the statue away in a closet and never set eyes upon it again.
Shaking off the dark image, I clean myself up and prepare to meet my aunt for dinner.
Like what you read so far? Buy the book here, and don’t forget to pre-order book two in The Black Witch Chronicles, The Iron Flower, on sale next month!
About Laurie Forest
Laurie Forest lives deep in the backwoods of Vermont where she sits in front of a wood stove drinking strong tea and dreaming up tales full of dryads, dragons and wands. THE BLACK WITCH (Out Now – Harlequin TEEN, Book One of The Black Witch Chronicles) is her first novel, and WANDFASTED (THE BLACK WITCH prequel, Out Now – Harlequin TEEN) is her first e-book novella. Coming in 2018 are THE IRON FLOWER (Sept. 2018 – Harlequin TEEN, Book Two of The Black Witch Chronicles) and LIGHT MAGE (Spring 2018 – Harlequin TEEN, e-book novella).