In pain, in fear, in longing and surprise--with every death Rhia hears the cries of the departed. This 'gift' from the ancient and mysterious Crow gives Rhia an intimate connection to death. One she's fought to repress as she tries to create a normal life.
But those chosen by the spirits can never be normal. Rhia has glimpsed the future of her newborn son--a child who is stolen from her. And if she must deaden her heart to the living and wander the world of the departed to retrieve him, then so be it.
For her family and her people, Rhia would sacrifice anything. And Crow knows it--.
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October 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Voice of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready
In the torchlight surrounding the camp of a hundred Kalindons, Rhia could see the rope burns on Marek's neck.
The man who would soon be her husband slept quietly for the first time in several nights. Perhaps exhaustion had stolen his nightmares, or at least his body's ability to manifest them in twitches and starts.
The humid air draped over her like a second skin. Far above, the breeze murmured through the pines and spruces, but did not deign to descend to the ground.
She kicked off the covers of the bedroll, rolled her sleeves up to her shoulders and spread her limbs to dissipate the heat. To no avail. Summer's strength had reached even the high mountain forest near Kalindos.
Whispers came. Rhia's muscles jerked as if she'd been stabbed with a pin. Not again. She covered her ears, as if that would help. Please let me sleep.
But the voices of the dead would strengthen in her dreams, rumbles of discontent forming incoherent words. When she was awake they would whisper, or even silence when she spoke out loud or sang a distracting tune. Her traveling companions resented the latter, since her crooning voice was as melodic as that of her Guardian Spirit.
Only a few months had passed since the Spirit had bestowed her with His Aspect. Yet she had borne these dark gifts for a decade--since she was eight--when she first heard Crow come to carry a soul to the Other Side.
The whispers changed, and Rhia realized with relief that these belonged to the living. She rolled onto her stomach to peer through the darkness.
Beyond the torchlight, a man and a woman patrolled together, carrying hunting bows so naturally, the weapons seemed part of their bodies. Everyone's vigilance had heightened since the Descendants had invaded Rhia's home village of Asermos ten days ago. With the help of the Kalindons she now traveled with, the Asermons had repelled the Descendant invasion, but at a precious cost.
Rhia shoved back a sweaty brown lock that had fallen into her eyes. Cut above her nape in mourning, her hair was now too short to tie back.
The voices in her head returned, louder. A wave of nausea swept over her.
Rhia sat up. A hand grabbed her arm, snapping shut like an iron-jawed trap. She stifled a yelp and looked down to see Marek's blue-gray eyes staring up at her. He let go and blinked rapidly to rouse himself.
"Sorry," he whispered. "Where are you going?"
She wiped the cold sweat from her forehead. "I feel sick."
"From the baby?"
"Too soon for that."
"The voices again?"
"Feels like flies trapped inside my skull." She rubbed her ear, as if that would relieve the itch deep within. "Coranna said it would be like this the first few months, but I don't think I can stand another hour." She was only two weeks pregnant, with the voices the sole sign she had progressed to the second phase of her Aspect.
Her new powers required her to return to Kalindos to continue studying with her mentor. Right now she wished they were back at her father's farm in Asermos, instead of spending another night in the mosquito-plagued forest. Normally the journey to Kalindos took only a few days by horseback, but conveying those with battle injuries tripled the travel time.
She pushed away the blanket. "I'm going to the river to cool off."
He sat up. "I'll go with you." "You should rest. I'll bring Alanka." "I need a bath, too." He drew his legs out of the bedroll, wincing.
"You'll get your bandage wet."
"I'll stand on one foot."
She grasped his hand to help him up, secretly glad he would accompany her. He slung his bow and arrows over his shoulder as automatically as most people would put on shoes. They tiptoed out of the camp together, two sets of footsteps but only one sound. Even Marek's limp couldn't undermine his Wolf stealth.
His palm pressed warm against hers. With his left hand, he wiped the shoulder-length, light brown hair from his stubbled cheeks where sweat had adhered it. The gesture revealed a pale face contorting with the effort to hide the pain of every other step. Rhia pretended not to notice, but slowed her pace nonetheless.
She fidgeted with the leather cord around her neck, from which a crow feather hung. When they returned to Kalindos tomorrow she would remove it. Each of that tiny village's three hundred residents knew the others' names and Guardian Spirits, so they saw no need to wear fetishes. In the much larger villages of Asermos, Velekos and Tiros, courtesy demanded one display which powers one possessed. As much as she loved the Spirit who had chosen her, Rhia sometimes wished she could hide her death-awareness. It tended to make people nervous.
Marek stopped short, throwing a glare to their right, where his Wolf-sister Alanka sat hunched in the dark on a fallen tree trunk with her former mate, Adrek. Rhia couldn't hear their words, but obviously Marek could.
"They're supposed to be patrolling," he said.