by Krista Holle
Expected release date: October 2013
At fifteen, Anaii is the most important member of her tribe—and the most mysterious. Ever since Anaii can remember, the spirits of the wind have whispered of fertile hunting grounds and imminent enemy attacks. But when her people are ambushed by a brother clan without any apparent cause, the spirits remain eerily silent.
As the village prepares to retaliate, Anaii is pressured by her best friend, Elan, to marry him. It’s an old plea—Elan has spent a lifetime loving her, but Anaii only sees a childhood playmate out of an imposing warrior. Stifled by Elan’s insistence, Anaii escapes into the forest where she meets Jayttin, the beautiful son of the enemy chief.
Enamored by Jayttin’s carefree spirit and hope for peace, she repeatedly sneaks away to be with him, but when her deception is discovered, Elan is devastated. Pledging his lifelong affection, Elan gives her a passionate kiss, and Anaii begins to see her friend in a new light.
While Anaii is tormented over which man she must choose, the wind whispers of a new threat that could destroy both tribes. Only a union will afford a chance at survival, but the reality of that union is based on one thing—which man Anaii chooses to die.
Seventy Zenni warriors—one finger’s breadth of shadow away.
The voice was always calm, but it didn’t soothe me. In less time than it took to prepare a meal, our enemies would be descending in a cloud of death. In my dream I had seen the men. They had painted their bodies in unfriendly colors: black, orange, and red, and on one man’s chest, there had been the crude image of the raven—the omen of death.
“Father, wake up!” I cried, shoving a deerskin off my legs. “Everyone, wake up! We’re about to be attacked!” My feet hit packed earth while my heart trilled like a hummingbird. It was quiet inside our sapling longhouse, and I kicked a basket in frustration. “Father!”
“Go back to sleep, Anaii,” my sister Shada murmured. Her shadowy form wiggled beside the thin grass wall. “You’re only having a bad dream.”
It had been over ten winters since the Zenni tribe had any interest in attacking us. “No, I can hear the wind even now!” The wind spirits had been murmuring in my ear for as long as I could remember. For fifteen winters, both day and night, countless spirits shared mostly unimportant tidbits of information. I had learned to sleep through most of the voices, but this piece of news made my blood grow cold. I grabbed Shada’s big toe and shook it hard.
The panic in my voice snagged Father’s attention. “Are you certain of this?” His voice sounded tired and rumbly, only paces away.
“Yes,” I breathed. “There’s barely enough time to evacuate.”
“How many men?”
Shada struggled to a sitting position. “Anaii is a dreamy girl. Why would the Zennites attack us for no reason?”
“They have never needed a reason to despise us,” Father growled. He called for his single bodyguard: “Lenno!”
A stocky, middle-aged warrior jogged in from his station next door. “Yes, Lord?” His sonorous voice sounded fully awake.
“Wake up the village. My brother lusts for innocent blood.”
“Are you certain?” Lenno asked.
“What?” My father was already on his feet, reaching for his shield and bow. As tribal werowance, my father was not to be questioned.
Lenno quickly corrected himself. “I meant Anaii, Lord. We’ve done nothing to provoke—”
“Yes, I’m certain,” I said, my gaze darting to the dark fields beyond the door. “I saw this time, too.”
“The women and children will hide in the forest,” Father ordered. “All men will stay to defend the village. And get Makawee in here to escort Anaii and Shada out. He’ll be useful for a change.”
Lenno tapped his chin in deference before disappearing into the darkness. Father hovered in the doorway as he manipulated the bark straps on his shield.
I paced beside my bed while my chest tightened painfully. My best friend Elan would be among the warriors. He and I had been inseparable since we were toddlers.
“Father, must all men fight?”
“I don’t have time for this foolishness.”
“But Elan could guard me instead of Makawee.”
“Foolishness,” he repeated before rushing out.
Lenno blew a warning from his conch horn, and after a few long moments, the entire village was awake and buzzing with fear. Outside, matrons wailed, and babies cried. From every longhouse, men hustled to retrieve their favorite means of inflicting death: bows and arrows, clubs, and short spears.
On the other side of the longhouse, Father’s wife, Omusa, was hastily gathering weapons of her own. It was a waste of time. Neither she nor my younger brothers were proficient with the bow. After a moment, they slipped into the darkness without saying goodbye. Their feelings had been injured. Father had ordered no protection for them while I was to be protected at all costs.
“How long do we have now, Anaii?” my sister demanded to know. The hysteria outdoors had finally convinced her I wasn’t dreaming.
Shada was my father’s natural child—about fourteen winters old, a whole cohonks younger than me. She had bright open features and a tall, willowy figure I envied.
“Close,” I murmured. I wedged my hands between my knees, but they still trembled like a rabbit.
“Then we need to go now!” she cried. “I’m not going to be left in this opossum’s trap for the Zenni to scoop up and slaughter.”
Makawee dashed in then. He was a slender man with all the beauty and delicacy of a water lily. “Anaii, is it true?” he asked. His sleek hair had been newly decorated with stained quills.
“She saw this time, too," Shada answered for me.
Makawee repositioned his quiver with a wince. “Then we’re going to the Salty River. It should be out of striking distance.”
The Zennite warriors cross the Wintry Spring.
“Right after we find Elan.” I darted into the darkness knowing full well that I’d be followed by two angry bears.
The crowds were all forging recklessly in different directions. An old man hobbled into my path. I ducked under a strung-up carcass then bolted between two dwellings. The women and elders were scrambling for the cover of the forest while the warriors tensely stalked the perimeter of the village.
Elan was still in front of his longhouse, securing fresh sinew to his long bow. “Your bow isn’t ready!” I cried. “They’re already crossing the spring!”
“I should’ve done this earlier,” he mumbled. “Peace makes us idle.”
“Save the task and come with me into the forest.”
Elan shook his head. “No chance of that.” He put his weight on the bow, and the string snapped into place. “How long, Anaii?” He fixed me with large brown eyes that looked black in the night.
My breath was nearly knocked out of me as Shada toppled into my shoulder. “We should’ve left you,” she shrieked.
“Then go,” I ordered. “I’m staying with Elan.”
“No, you’re not,” Elan growled. He shrugged his long wrapped plait off his shoulder.
“I’ll stay and be your eyes,” I said. “The Zenni won’t have a chance against the hundreds of eyes that surround us.”
Shada pinched me hard. “You’re coming into the forest with Makawee and me, just like Father said.”
“She’d have me punished,” Makawee said. “Skinned and strung up by the ankles.”
I looked at him guiltily, wondering if he might be right.
“Go with them, Anaii,” Elan ordered distractedly. “I’ll be here when you return.”
My fingers moved firmly over his strong forearm. “Make an oath.”
Elan slid an arrow impatiently from his reed quiver. “No time.”
“Make an oath,” I insisted, “or else I won’t leave.”
He huffed before placing his hand on his heart and pointing to the horizon, the place where the sun had disappeared. “I swear to Omanahi, Lomasi, Achak, and any other god that stands between you and leaving, that I will not be killed.”
I dropped my hand. “You will keep your oath.”