'The Sisterhood' is Leah's first fantasy novel, intended for a New Adult (18-30) readership. This extract is from Chapter One. 'The Sisterhood' incorporates themes of witchcraft, wrongful persecution and female empowerment.
We’ve scarcely taken two steps when a guard blocks our path, and Veira and I wait while Governor Yurith makes his way over to us. His heavy footsteps and wheezing breaths give him away before he finally emerges into our line of sight.
“Good afternoon, Misses Sayres.” Yurith inclines his head a fraction.
Veira and I curtsy in return.
The governor’s eyes rake over me, dwelling on the claw marks I’ve pressed into my own throat. “You have a very interesting reaction to the execution of a heretic. One might even suspect you were sad to see her killed.”
I keep my breath steady and will myself to stare right back at him. “Not at all, sir. I was just sad that someone I once considered a friend had such an evil nature. One of which, I assure you, I was entirely unaware.”
“Indeed.” He flashes a yellow-toothed smile and shuffles on his feet. “Remind me how old you both are, Miss Seren.”
Veira and I exchange a glance, but I nod my head and force a polite smile to my lips.
“I am in my nineteenth year, and my sister commenced her seventeenth last harvest.”
“Is that so?” He doesn’t wait for a response before continuing. “Strange, the two of you – so young – living alone in that isolated, ramshackle cottage. Perhaps I’ll arrange for someone to check up on you from time to time. I’m sure no-one in Ceartas would want to see anything . . . untoward happen to either of you. Especially now that your father has passed.” He chuckles. “I can only imagine . . . all that chopping wood, fishing, vetting suitors . . . it must be so difficult for the two of you to manage alone.”
The insult finds its mark and I sense Veira stiffen beside me. He means to imply that we’re weak and incapable, and that living without a man seems suspicious. All my instincts tell me to flee from this murderer’s presence, but I tighten the leash around my emotions.
“Thank you, Governor. You are very kind.” I almost choke on the words, as the stench of Caelyn’s death wafts towards me on the evening wind.
I take it upon myself to curtsy again, lower this time. Veira mirrors my movement, and I know her collar-length hair falls forward to veil the disgust lining her features.
Yurith turns to leave, and the guard who apprehended us follows in his tracks, looking back only to leer at my sister, throwing her a roguish wink.
Veira’s nostrils flare and she opens her mouth to speak, but I lay a hand on her arm. “Not in public.”
© 2020 L H Squires
'A Dark Inheritance' is Leah's second fantasy series. Book One: Rebellion is also intended for a New Adult readership. This extract is from Chapter Seven. 'A Dark Inheritance' explores themes of disability, class and power.
A DARK INHERITANCE:
After making completely sure the masked soldier wasn’t following me from the border of the seventh and eighth districts, I arrive at the next location under the cover of darkness.
The lavender incense isn’t enough to cover the foul stench of body odour and opiates, which nearly choke me as soon as I open the door to the brothel. I gulp down a deep breath before entering and hold it for as long as I can before taking another. I hate coming to District Seven. Also known as Seventh Heaven. The Pleasure District.
This place is bigger than the other whorehouses I’ve been to and has a much larger clientele. I suppose it’s to be expected. The brothels in the ninth district are of even worse repute. Yet I don’t want to be recognised and I hope to not see any familiar faces, either. Interruptions are scarcely ideal when you’re trying to track someone down.
I keep my face hidden under the folds of my dark hood, leaving most of my features obscured as I enter a large reception room. I decide to take up a space towards the back: a mere casual observer rather than an eager customer – and there are plenty of those. The mismatched seats and benches – which look as though they’ve seen incredibly regular action – are almost full of men looking for a good time. Many of them are sailors and dockworkers, but I recognise a few so-called Noblemen from the other establishments I’ve searched. Men with distasteful, insatiable appetites.
Once a sizeable crowd has gathered and the room can scarcely house any more bodies, the Madame, a bird-like woman with a crooked nose, stands up in front of her patrons and raises her hands for silence.
“Thank you, gentlemen.” Her wide, red mouth opens to reveal a hollow, near toothless grin. The Madame’s sallow complexion is caked in far too many cosmetics, which haven’t found their way into all the creases of her skin. She wears a decent enough gown considering her profession, although her jewels are fake, and in this light I can almost see through her thinning hair, which is gathered up in a loose swirl atop her head.
“As many of you may know, I’m Madame Juji, and we have acquired many lovely new girls to accommodate your tastes this evening.”
A cacophony of jeers comes from the crowd and Madame Juji nods graciously. With a clap of her hands, six young ladies enter from a curtained-off back room and stand before their Madame. Each of them wears a form-fitting white dress, made of some thin fabric which is shimmering and translucent. The outline of every curve is visible through their garments, enticing the men to want more.
With a sigh of relief, I realise that I recognise none of them. But the room is far too full for me to leave now without drawing unwarranted attention. I decide to ride this out and leave once the bidding war commences.
© 2020 L H Squires
'Guardians of Flame' is the third series of New Adult fantasy fiction Leah is currently devising. This extract is from the first chapter, which sets the character, conflict and tone for the novel. Throughout this series, Leah explores the dichotomy of good and evil, drawing inspiration from theology, mythology and her own imagination.
Guardians of Flame
The Guardian’s violet eyes stared down the blade of the dagger she repeatedly grazed over the whetstone. Its edge had dulled a little since the last time she’d sharpened it, requiring more force than should have been necessary when she’d plunged it into the rebel’s neck. It would not do. Weapons were, after all, an extension of oneself in battle. Cold. Ruthless. Steel. Her armoury had to be relied upon.
Reia held the dagger into the firelight to inspect her handiwork. The reflection of the flames gleamed on the now sharp edge of the blade, slicing a spear of light through the otherwise dimly lit chamber. Satisfied with the improvements, she returned it to its scabbard and stood from her worktable, allowing her limbs to stretch a little. Now, on to the second order of business. She peeled off her leather armour and the clothing underneath, then shook her blood-matted hair from its braid. Striding into her bath chamber, she added a few more coals to the water, ensuring it was once again blisteringly hot.
As she lowered herself into the tub, the dried blood dissolved and dissipated around her in thin, twirling ribbons. The water turned a murky maroon, which appeared almost black in the candlelight, but she sank down further until it reached her chin and warmed her aching muscles, soothing them from the physical exertion of her earlier hunt.
Reia plucked the juniper bath oil from the small wooden table beside the bathtub, rubbing it over her skin, hair and horns. The sweet, earthy aroma, her favourite in fact, washed away the iron odour of dried blood. Blood that had spilled everywhere. Her mission had been the elimination of a growing power in the seventh mortal kingdom, but those half-breed bastards had somehow anticipated her attack and she’d been forced to retreat, leaving the task unfinished.
Failed missions were rare, so the unfamiliar sting of defeat wouldn’t be washed away as easily as the blood. She tried to shake the tight grip of regret from her throat, but it held itself there, unyielding.
© 2020 L H Squires