Liz de Jager is a South African author who moved to the UK with her husband in 2000. She now lives in Kent, with her dog Sparrow. Liz ran the My Favourite Books blog until the end of 2012, when she shut it down “for her own sanity”.
This excerpt is from Banished, book one of the YA-friendly Blackheart series, published by Pan Macmillan and used by permission.
I’m twenty metres from them when I pick up speed. I run at them, a wild battle cry tearing from my throat the last few metres. I burst out of the undergrowth screaming like a demon, throwing the redcaps into confusion. I leap at the nearest one, propelling myself forward by pushing down on a tree stump with one foot, and swipe at his exposed neck in mid-air as I fly by. It’s chaos around me. The first redcap I cut lets out a warbling moan and clutches the deep cut in his neck. Arterial blood sprays the clearing and the smell of the blood drives his cronies crazy.
I land with my back to the young man, then spin and deliver a kick to the head of a redcap who tries to rush me; I shoot the Fae a quick look to check he’s helping out, not paralysed by my insane arrival. But he’s right there, sword flashing against an opponent, focused on the fight.
I’m lucky that I’ve always been fast. Karate and boxing training helped but, with Jamie’s rigorous training, I’m faster still. The blade in my hand dances in the pale starlight and I strike and slice my enemies with precision but little showmanship. Another redcap keels over under my onslaught and I leap over him to launch an attack on the one nearest to me.
The young man seems startled at my lack of battle tactics but then throws himself into the fray with a great deal more grace than I can ever display. Together we take out two more redcaps each and face the final one with raised swords, our chests heaving.
The redcap growls at us, his shark-black eyes flickering between us. A serrated knife, more the size of a short sword, wavers in his hand and he takes a cautious step back. We advance on him simultaneously, as if we’ve practised the move. He doesn’t like it. With a final snarl he turns and flees into the darkness, leaving his dead and dying cronies behind.
I turn and look at the bodies strewn around the clearing, blood and adrenalin raging through me. All five bodies are wearing the same colour armband tied high on their biceps. I nudge one over with my toe and grimace at the blood staining my trainer. I kneel down beside the body and tug at the armband, unrolling it. It’s a rune, white painted on a black background. It’s not a sigil from one of the twelve houses of the Fae that I recognize. My hands are shaking when I turn to look at the young man.
He leans against one of the trees and carefully wipes his blade on a piece of cloth before sheathing his sword clumsily. He’s pale and dark circles have gathered beneath his eyes but when he looks at me directly, I’m struck by how solid he seems in the midst of the carnage. It’s an odd thought, a disjointed reflection I realize, but there’s no other way of describing his presence. There’s nothing about this Fae that’s whimsical or fey, rather he gives off a vibrancy that belies how tired he looks. I take a second to appreciate him, even if he smells like blood and gore, and offer him a cautious nod.
‘I’m Kit Blackhart,’ I say, catching my breath, and in a smooth move flick the blood off my sword and slide it home. I do it with far more style than I’ve ever done it before and I feel a bit swaggery. ‘Nice fighting.’
His eyes are very dark in the flickering light of the dying torches the redcaps have dumped. I see him swallow against a dry throat, but then he draws himself up and executes a perfect courtly bow as if we’re meeting at a royal ball, in a glittering room with perfumed courtiers, and I’m dressed in an exquisite gown, rather than ratty jeans covered in redcap blood and bits.
‘A pleasure to meet you, Miss Blackhart. Prince Thorn, the seventh son of the House of Alba, at your service.’ His voice is pleasant and deep and his accent is a bit foreign. A neat package, until he tries to smile and his eyes roll back in his head and I have to catch him before he hits the ground.
I’m a tall girl, and strong, but I know it’s going to be hellish to try and get him back to the Manor before dawn.
I make it to the patio doors before I completely run out of energy. I carefully dump the unconscious prince on the ground and straighten my aching back. I’m still sore from my encounter with the banshee and after tonight’s, no, this morning’s shenanigans, I don’t think I’ll be able to move without doing a lot of groaning.
Behind me are the snarls and curses of the dark creatures that have hounded us through the forest, flocking to the standing stones that circle the Manor. Casting a look over my shoulder, I see a variety of dark shapes battering themselves against the wall of magic. One of them, bigger than the redcaps, maybe an ogre, is heaving at one of the marker stones, doing his utmost to shift it. Some of them start digging, trying to tunnel beneath the protective wall, and I have to give them five out of five for thinking outside the box. But, unless they have drilling equipment, I doubt they’ll be able to get through. The protection spells safeguarding Blackhart Manor and the estate are centuries old and they are renewed at each equinox. Nothing is going to get through the stone circle. Nothing I’ve heard of, anyway.
I open the patio doors and heave the armoured young man into the informal lounge and with much swearing I lay him down on the longest couch before I run and lock the doors. I take out my knife and snick my finger lightly so that a droplet of blood wells from the cut; I press it into the elaborate carving around the doorjamb and watch as my blood sinks into the wood, leaving no trace.