I am perhaps a third done with The Salt Pine Prince, the next installment of The Feast saga (AKA Tale of Delaterra), set for release hopefully Spring 2016. Below is an excerpt from one of Bjorn’s chapters:

Dawn on the inland sea. It looks like winter, always, because of the salt pines. They coat everything in white, no matter the time of year. It is beautiful, every morning, as the light reflects on salt slick with dew, and the few animals that can live here quickly lap up the water before it gets too brackish for them. Apart from the small stream that empties into the sea, that’s all there is for them to drink. Except when the trees weep.

“Bjorn,” Ebbe greets me. I nod. Together we head to the stables to feed the animals, before we feed ourselves. It is the nature of life here, to care for other beings first. We have the resilience and will to wait for food; animals only know their hunger.

“Almost time,” Ebbe comments as we brush down Morvan, the giant Clydesdale that does all our hauling. I nod again.

Morvan knows it’s almost time, too, for us to journey together. I can tell he’s been conserving his strength for the weeks ahead. He will need it, since salt is heavy.

“You’re old enough to go alone this year.” Ebbe doesn’t say I should, I notice. Still, I feel ready, and know I can manage it alone. I nod again. We finish caring for the other animals–four goats, three sheep, and various fowl–before heading inside. Jorgen has prepared gruel and tea, and we welcome the warmth. It is not winter, far from it, but the mornings are always chilly by the Pines.

“What say you, Thom?” Ebbe asks between mouthfuls, “Bjorn will gather the salt alone this time.”

“’Bout time,” Thom says, though he is not cross, “Lad’s been strong enough these past two years to manage alone. It’ll be a good test for his will, though. It’s lonesome across the sea.” Thom winks at me, a sparkle of mischief in his dark eyes.

“Aye, the lad’s ready,” Jorgen comments. He is the eldest monk, though by no means infirm. A lifetime of restraint has made these men resilient to the hardship of life despite its daily wearing, and I wonder if I will be the same in fifty years’ time. I stare at the spoonful of gruel as a strange feeling enters my chest. Discontent? I carefully open my mouth and take the spoonful. By now I can manage to eat without pain, and speaking doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did when I was a child, but silence is a difficult habit to break. Fortunately, I can communicate with my caretakers largely without speaking. They are good listeners, to be sure, but they are excellent readers of faces, hands, and silences, too.

“We’re running low on crimson and azure, a little earlier than usual,” Ebbe says, his hands around his mug of tea. His long fingers are delicate and gentle, which might be why the animals like him the best of us all. I smile as well as I can, because it’s my fault the ink is low. “Then again, it’s worth the beauty Bjorn gave us.” He gestures to my drawing pinned to the wall, where a familiar dawn shines down on us.

“It’s hard to begrudge the lad that,” Thom says, “His pictures speak the love of this land he’d rather not say.”

“Oh, hello,” Ebbe says to the bird landing on the sill, “What have we here?” He gently picks up the bird and unrolls the tiny parchment on its leg.

“I’ll read it,” Jorgen says, reaching for it, thankfully interrupting the monks,“You find him some crumbs.” Ebbe nods.

“Well? What’s it say?” Thom asks after a moment, noticing Jorgen’s amusement.

“Madge will visit soon, with one of her friends. We can expect them within the week.”

Jorgen grumbles and sits back in his chair. “The only thing worse than one sorcerer is two,” he comments, but he is not cross. Without Madge, I would’ve died as a child, so she’s always welcome when she makes her way north to us.