September 2, 2014

PREQUEL RELEASE: Part Two of the prequel to The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill comes out on September 16, 2014! 
Need something to tide you over until then?

The Mark of the Bandit is the prequel to The Witch's Boy!

Book Summary for The Witch's Boy:
After Ned’s twin brother dies, villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. But when a Bandit King arrives to steal an ancient magic, Ned must save the whole kingdom, through a series of adventures—double-crossing the Bandit King, tricking the magic, befriending a wolf, waking giants, and surviving a journey through the largest, most terrifying forest in the world—all with surprising help from the bandit’s daughter, Ainé. Barnhill weaves classic fairytale elements into a thoroughly original landscape that Ned and Ainé must traverse return the magic to its rightful place. 

Kelly is releasing The Mark of the Bandit in consecutive parts, as a blog tour. It's is a really cool idea, and I'm super excited to be able to share Part Two of this awesome prequel with you guys!

If you haven't read Part One yet, you can find it at Bookshelves of Doom!

The Mark of the Bandit
Kelly Barnhill
When Áine and her mother returned home, the house was dark. The bakeshop had closed hours ago, and her father should have been home with the hearth blazing and with soup in the pot. But even at a distance they could see that the house was dark and quiet and cold, and her father wasn’t home.
Áine’s father worked odd jobs – whatever struck his fancy at the time. He was a big man, her father, tall and broad and incredibly strong. Additionally, he was bright, curious and clever. Too clever by half, her mother always said. He had worked in the flour mill and the tanneries and the carpenter’s shop and the shipwright’s and the book binderies and the breadmaker’s and the silver smith’s and the scrivener’s. He liked to dabble, learn, and move on. A restless worker. Lately he worked at the bakeshop, and his skillful creations of bread and seeds and fruits were a marvel to all. The bakers pretended not to, but they loved him like a son. It was temporary, of course. Her father would leave, and they would tell their friends that they always knew he was shiftless, and everything would be as it was.
“Boredom is the curse of the clever man,” Áine’s father told her more than once. “And none are as clever as I,” he’d add with a grin.
Áine’s mother unlatched the door and pushed it open with a rusty, lonely sigh.
“My love?” she called into the dark, cold room. As though just calling out would force him to appear. She smoothed back her hair and adjusted her skirt and pinned her face into a smile. “It looks as though it’s just the two of us, my girl,” she said with an unnatural brightness.
And even though Áine’s mother was obviously nearly cracked to bits with worry, she insisted on trying to hide it from her daughter. It was the hiding, Áine decided, that made it worse.
Her mother set to work. She raked the coals in the hearth and built a warm fire. She heated a mug of milk and re-braided her daughter’s hair and sent the girl to bed.
“Mama,” Áine began.
“I said no questions,” her mother said, not meeting Áine’s eye.
The girl had no choice but to drink her warm, sweet milk in silence and to crawl into bed. She waited to hear the sound of her mother’s footsteps walking into her own room and climbing into bed herself — or, better yet, sliding under the covers next to Áine, and cuddling close. But she didn’t. Instead, she heard her mother slide a chair next to the door and sit heavily upon it. Áine fell asleep to the sound of her mother humming as she stared out the window, into the night.
The next morning, Áine woke to see the chair still sitting next to the door, but it had no mother sitting in it. Nor was her mother on the other chair next to the fire, nor the bench by the table, nor her own bed on the other side of the main room.
“Mama?” Áine called. “Papa?” No one was there. Áine, being a practical girl and a clear-headed girl, knew that an empty house wasn’t the end of the world. She splashed cold water on her face and looked in the mirror and told herself to stop being such a silly. She grabbed an apple from the barrel and a piece of cheese from the larder because it would be much easier to come up with a plan with food in her belly. She put a stout log on the coals and set a full kettle of water on the hook in the hearth because surely her parents would likely want for a nice warm drink when they came home.
And because she knew that they would more likely be seen at a distance from the road, she put on her cloak and tied the woolen hood tightly over her black hair to keep out the wind and the drizzle, and went out to the cobblestones, and waited.
It was still early, and an unnatural quiet had settled on the damp town. No donkeys brayed, no carts rattled, no bread vendors called out their fine loaves for sale. The green grocer at the crossroads had not yet filled his trays, and no housekeepers pestered the dairy cart driver, haggling over the price of milk. The whole town seemed to be holding its breath. Finally, a boy crept toward Àine, and tapped her on her shoulder.
“Boo,” he said, and Áine rolled her eyes. He gave her a wide smile. “Did I scare you?” he asked.
“No,” Áine said dryly.
The boy’s name was Fien and he was four seasons younger than Áine. The house where he lived with his mother and his auntie and his grandmother shared a wall with Áine’s, and while the women in Fien’s family never spoke to Áine’s parents, that never stopped Fein. He could hardly stay away from Áine or her family.  Sometimes it seemed to Áine that he only came to play with her so that he could endlessly pester her father about his travels in the Wide World.
“Have you seen the Cursed Stones?” he’d ask again and again. “Is it true you’ve been to the Lost Lands? Is it true that you have found a way through the Deadly Forest? Is it true that the forest is magic?”
If her mother was not nearby, Áine’s father would say, “I cannot think where you’ve heard such outrageous tales,” with a twinkle in his eye and his fingers curling his red moustache, and neither Áine nor Fien knew what he meant by that. It was both infuriating and thrilling. But if both her father and mother were present, her father would say nothing, as her mother’s fist hit the table with a colossal smack.Enough!” she’d say. “No more silly questions. And there’s no such thing as magic.” And then no one said a word.
Now, Fein stood in silence next to Áine as the drizzle dampened his black hair.
“Did you hear about the Mayor?” he asked finally.
“I don’t care two stones for the Mayor,” Áine said. “Have you seen my father?”
He gave her a curious look. “Yesterday,” he said. “Haven’t you seen him since then?” He looked up and down the street as though her father was about to leap from the bushes with a booming laugh.
Áine shook her head. She didn’t cry. It wasn’t practical. She narrowed her gaze and tightened her lips and scanned the street once more as though just by doing so, she would force her father to appear, and her mother would follow quickly in his wake.
“What was he doing when you saw him?”
Fien shrugged. “Not sure,” he said. “After the news about the mayor, everything went all topsy-turvy and everyone started running every which way. Your papa was here, though. When we heard, I mean. He gave me a bag of bread to sneak into the house because grandmama would send it back if she knew it was from him, which I do not understand but sometimes people do strange things when they are old. She doesn’t like me playing with you either but she won’t tell me why, and I don’t even think she knows anymore, and it is just a rule because, and maybe that is also from being old.” Whenever Fien spoke, his words flowed out like a stream of water from the pump – a breathless, tumbling gush, slowing to a trickle at the end. He gasped for breath.
Áine rolled her eyes. “I don’t care about your grandmama. I want to know about my father.”
The gush continued. “He brings us the most delicious things, you know. Since he started working at the bakeshop, and since Auntie got hurt, he’s been bringing bread and sweet things to the house for us, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone that so don’t tell. Auntie thinks I’ve been doing odd jobs for the baker but I haven’t been because the baker doesn’t like me. Which is unfair. But since she got hurt she doesn’t ask too many questions, which is good because I am not very good at lying. Anyway, your father was here, and then there were other people here too – errand boys and delivery girls and the milk sellers and the apple man, and all sorts of people who usually pass by, but they all crowded together in a clump and your father was the center of it all. I think maybe because he is tall. People clump on him. He is like a net in the sea.”
Áine lifted her face toward the drizzling sky. She liked Fien well enough, and was willing to give a punch or two to anyone who was mean to him (and there were plenty of those), but he could be as dim as an earthenware pot.
“Fien,” she said at last. “My father. What did he do after? We came home and he was not home and he hasn’t been home since.”
“Do?” Fien shrugged. “He left with the Constable.”
“What? You mean he was arrested?”
Fein wrinkled his face. “I don’t think so,” he said. “The Head Constable said, I’m thinking you should take a walk with me, stranger. And your father said, I had a feeling you’d say as much, and then they left.”
“I see,” Áine said, a dark cloud passing over her face. She set her teeth and began to walk down the road.
“Where are you going?” Fien called after her.
“The West Gates. I believe my father has been arrested.”

Part Three will be released on September 9th at My Friends are Fiction!

About the Author:
Kelly Barnhill lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and very old dog. Her debut novel, The Mostly True Story of Jack, received four starred reviews. Her second book, Iron-Hearted Violet, was a Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner and an Andre Norton Award finalist. The Witch’s Boy is her third novel.

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