READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Woods of Silver and Light by Victoria McCombs
Updated: Feb 7
Ronin’s son is dead, but a sorceress banished to the Woods can bring the child back if he and his Silver Raiders do something for her first. She finds there's nothing Ronin Hood won't do for his son…
Anika finds herself drawn to the mystery of the Woods and the thieves who live within, but the cost of associating with the Silver Raiders becomes higher than she's willing to pay. The darkness of the Woods seeps into the Raider's hearts, blurring the lines between hero and villain, until Anika's fight for freedom turns into a fight to survive the magic of the trees that should have never been awoken.
This isn't the tale of Robin Hood you remember.
*Note: This is a companion novel to The Storyteller's Daughter. Both books are unique plots with a few recurring characters between them. It's suggested to read in order to avoid minor spoilers, but it's not necessary.*
Take this opportunity for an exclusive sneak peak into the first two chapters of the book to begin your adventure alongside Ronin and Anika!
Get carried away into the sparkling world of The Storyteller’s Series in this, the second installment, WOODS OF SILVER AND LIGHT by Victoria McCombs—out next Tuesday, February ninth. Pre-order your copy NOW!
“Keep your head about you.”
“Attend all the balls you’re invited to.”
“And please, please, Anika, don’t swear in front of the king.”
Cosette and Rumpel repeated rules to me all morning as if I would turn feral without their constant supervision. “I will do quite fine on my own, thank you.” I broke away from their tight embrace. “And perhaps the king finds swearing to be charming.”
Rumpel snorted, but Cosette frowned. “I doubt it. Lady Claire, I’m sorry to be leaving you with such a mess.” She turned to the older lady at our side who wore a bulging, blush dress and a straight line on her lips.
My eyes rolled but Cosette swatted my arm, causing me to straighten. “I’m sorry I’m such a disaster, Lady Claire. It is not my intention.”
Lady Claire stretched the corner of her lips into a small smile and waved her large fan over me. “It’s been quite some time since I could help the society. You will be my greatest project yet.”
I resisted flaring my nostrils at the word project. Cosette had befriended Lady Claire and, upon hearing how she used to school young girls into proper women, beseeched her to come stay with me once she and Rumpel returned to Autumn Leaf Village. She also invited Lady Elenora to stay with us, and I knew she secretly hoped the girl’s fine manners would wear off on me. Lady Elenora was my age and could be tolerated. Lady Claire was a different beast altogether. I didn’t know if she needed the small payments we offered her or if my lack of manners hurt her, but she acted as if it was the second.
I had enough projects on hand without becoming one myself.
The village was still broken from the war that ended a year ago, and my farms were failing. My plans for my time involved donning my flax breeches and saving the lands, not forming stiff friendships among the other nobles. But I repeatedly promised to be on my best behavior until Cosette was satisfied enough to leave.
“Farewell!” I waved them away in their carriage with a wild arm while Lady Claire twitched her fingers beside me. When the cobblestone dust resettled and the click clack of the horse was too far away to hear, I announced I was going into the village to check on the farms.
With a disappointed shake of her head, Lady Claire pulled a parchment out of the pockets of her dress. “Have you forgotten?”
My blank expression answered her, but the silver etching on the paper she waved wasn’t a good sign.
“Your invitation. Lord Carson’s ball is tonight, and you will be the definition of proper the entire evening.”
“A girl playing cards? Would you look at that!”
I ignored the newcomer’s remarks while cursing under my breath. Unless Lord Nevins was bluffing, a skill he was undoubtedly adept at by the hefty stack of tokens tucked by his arm, my hand would lose. I kept my elbows close to my side and thumbed under the corners of my gray cards, bending them up to peek again. The corners were perma nently bent from months of playing, so my hand pressed against the top card to keep it flat. Beside me came the rhythmic sound of fingers tapping against the table as the third gentleman pondered his hand. Hallow and deep it played, dum dum…dum dum dum…he threw his cards in.
Jolly good. Only two of us left. The previous card did me no good, and I silently cursed again.
“Another one?” The low voice of my opponent came, mocking me. He knew I had nothing. The victory would taste sweet to him. I sucked in my chest as the last card was flipped over in the middle of the table. Heads swiveled from one side to the other, looking for a reaction from either my opponent or me, but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. My head stayed down as I peeked at Lord Nevins. The final card brought little hope, but at least now I had a small pair to my name. That might do it. Blast, I should have tossed in rounds ago.
Invitations for tonight arrived a month ago, and Lady Claire trained me ruthlessly in preparation, not only for this evening, but also for the countless invitations that followed from families on either side of the Westfall en/Vestalin border. She would be dismayed to see me now, blue tokens in hand and ignoring the dancing beyond these doors.
I laid down my hand and hoped for the best outcome. My opponent might be bluffing, but it wasn’t likely I’d beat him.
Lord Nevins, to his account, showed no great joy at winning as he shook my hand respectfully. “You had me worried there; not many can do that.” He twirled his mustache between two fingers as his other hand stretched over the table, bringing his loot close.
My disappointment was difficult to mask. “You are a worthy opponent.”
A new voice came. “Did well for a girl, I’ll give her that.”
My attention swept across the room to the speaker. Roughly twenty people squeezed together in the oval room, most holding glasses or a cigar. My hair would be stained with the thick stench of their smoke in the morning, and Lady Claire would know I had been at the cards again.
Through the smoke sat a man older than me who I thought made the remark. “And what do you mean by that?” I asked him squarely.
His voice fumbled, not prepared to be questioned. If he didn’t want me to comment, he shouldn’t have spoken so loudly. “I only meant…that is, you are a girl, and can’t be expected to know the cards as well.”
“Is there some magic on these cards that only a man’s eyes can see?” I asked with annoyance. Most of the lads smirked, but the man I was staring at looked uneasy as he shifted sideways.
“I was wondering when we would get some attitude tonight.” Lord Byron chuckled. He was a kind man who meant no disrespect by the comment; I had been known to speak out vividly when insulted.
The man held his cup close to his body and shrugged. “Surely we’ve all been playing longer than you have; I guess that’s what I meant by it.”
I squinted my eyes at him. “Aren’t you the man I beat a month back? Took several pretty coins from you, if I recall.” The man next to him laughed, but he shook his head. “That was my brother; he came home in quite a fit over it.”
I grinned. “Glad to leave an impression. And I’ll have you know, I’ve been playing cards for years.”
As the lads chuckled, Elenora passed by the doorway and gave me a disapproving shake of her head. She proved a loyal companion over the year I had been here, but she couldn’t understand my love for the cards. She chalked it up to my ‘rough upbringing’ as she called it and avoided the topic. I knew her father had lost a great deal to the cards when she was little, though few played at such high stakes anymore.
“How is it that you’ve been playing for years, when you’ve only come here a year ago?” the gentleman next to me asked.
“I was taught how to play by some boys in the village.” “What’s this, you lived in a village?” another asked as he placed two chips on the table.
I sighed. It felt as if each time I played my past was brought up by curious gentlemen who couldn’t wrap their head around a strange girl. I laid my hands with my cards on my lap and crossed my legs “That’s right; I came to the Wateredge Manor a year ago when my family acquired the title.”
I didn’t offer any more information, but the man slowly nodded his head. “I recall now, you took on after Lord Gregory.” A man next to him coughed, and another drew his mouth in a thin line. This was a sensitive topic he’d unknowingly treaded into.
“That’s correct,” I confirmed.
Another cough. “Thomas, will you raise?”
He was bringing the conversation away from Lord Gregory and my estate, which was a smart move. The man who held my title and lands before me died during the war with no direct family to pass the lands to. His cousin should have inherited the land, but the late king of West fallen gave the title to my family instead as appreciation to my sister for her work in the war. It was my lucky break out of Autumn Leaf Village, but I hadn’t been received warmly. Lord Gregory was well loved, and many felt I cheated my way into his manor.
They might be right, but it wasn’t such a great prize as they believed. The floorboards in the manor sagged, rail ings were rotten, windows missing, and many tenant’s lands had failed to produce a generous crop in years. I spent the long year in tedious work fixing up the home and helping the farmers in the fields. This past year proved a more frustrating learning experience than I’d anticipated, but I was desperate to keep my lands. Many around me had to sell chunks of land to the king to keep afloat due to the shortage of workers.
More than half the boys had gone to war, and many hadn’t returned.
Wateredge Manor rested on the boundary line between Westfallen and Vestalin, our allies. While no bad blood stirred between our countries, the war had left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. Only four countries fought, but the whole land felt the sting of battle.
My sister and her husband brought relief from the war, spinning straw into gold for the king to provide the resources to bring the fighting to an end. That act awarded us this estate in the first place, however unqualified we were to run it, and my sister and I moved across the kingdom to live here. I only had a few months with Cosette filled with working in the village and healing the town before the letter came that Mama was ill and Cosette’s tender heart pointed her home. But not before inviting Lady Claire to the manor.
I hated admitting it, but I did need a few lessons to navigate the social waters, and I’d greatly misjudged how much socializing nobles did. Friendly alliances with the surrounding nobles boosted my status, and as much as I detested it, their business was crucial to my survival here. That meant participating in these horrid gatherings and playing nice.
There wasn’t much to complain about at the balls. I wasn’t one to turn down free food or a chance to make some money at cards, but the secret reason behind the multitude of events is what made my stomach churn.
With the end of the war, many nobles sought their own alliances, resulting in a land-wide scheme to send off eligible children to other countries to make friends and secure their parents’ place, should another war break out.
Consequently, the ballroom was stocked with maidens hiding their faces behind bright fans or oversized hats and all-too-eager gentlemen filling their dance cards. They wereall searching for marriage. Luckily for me, not many looked for a match inside the card room, hence my inclination to it.
“Very well done!” Lord Byron clapped as I revealed my hand. Finally, some luck wandered my way. I grinned and collected my winnings. I promised Joshua, a kind farmer who was a tenant of my lands, that we’d buy a few pigs at market this year; this money would serve that purpose.
I’d only made a little money when taking in account the cost of the tokens, but it was enough.
“I think I’ll call that a night, gentlemen.”
They tipped their heads at me as I turned in my tokens, gathered my money, and left. I had to brave the ballroom at some point.
Almost two steps out the door, a hand appeared on my elbow. I cursed as I correctly guessed who it belonged to.
“I’ve been looking for you, Lady Anika.” Freddy’s cheery voice pierced my ears, a sound several octaves too high for a man his age. His wide glasses, which I’d first thought made him look smart, rested on his long nose, and he kept his head tilted up slightly as if the glasses would roll off his face if he held it at an appropriate height. His hair shone like polished wood and his cheeks sunk in.
Freddy was another reason I enjoyed the card room; he didn’t dare go in it. I had no trouble believing he’d been pacing outside waiting for me to come out.
His cold hands rubbed my skin as I pulled my elbow away. “Good evening, Freddy. I was just on my way for some air.”
“I’ll walk with you.” His voice seeped with enthusiasm and my feet hesitated, but I regrettably couldn’t find a decent excuse to free myself from his company. I should have said I was on my way to get a refreshment, which would surely take less time than a walk outside. He walked beside me while we crossed the room to the back doors, and the band played a familiar jig as we passed. They say Count Branson throws the grandest parties, with lavish food and the most expensive band around. If I had an eye for such things then I might be impressed. The room did seem larger than most, and fine decorations over powered the space. The band, however, sounded just like the one from last week at the York’s party, and just as the party the week before as well. If this band was more expen sive, I couldn’t tell the difference.
The only difference to indicate that this party was more expensive than others were the performers set up in low balconies in the room, three along the inner wall. One held a juggler, another held a violist that Elenora had gone on and on about before coming, and the third held a magic performer. If his magic was real or fake, I couldn’t tell, but if it was real, it was the first sign of real magic I’d seen in this part of the kingdom. Most people ducked their heads or furrowed their brows at the first mention of magic or their Gifts, and none seemed willing to speak on the topic: one of my most peculiar findings upon moving here.
Elenora gave me a joking wink as we walked by, and I tried to grab her to join us with as much delicacy as I could muster but her hand masterfully slipped from mine. She’d tease me about my evening stroll with Freddy later. The poor chap had been attempting to court me for months.
Elenora had a slew of suitors at her beck and call, but my luck gave me just one. Freddy. The idea of handling a court of interested men sounded less exhausting than my alternative. Short of physically pushing him away, the art of telling Freddy I wasn’t interested was proving quite diffi cult. The manners Lady Claire taught me weren’t doing the trick.
“It’s quite beautiful out tonight,” Freddy said as he pushed the door open for me.
Lanterns illuminated the night sky, with occasional fire works blasting over the hedge and filling the air with brief color. The gardens extended from a stone pathway before bursting in all directions and spanning the side of the house, covering almost as much ground as the building itself. They blended into the front courtyard where our carriages lay waiting for us to depart. A brief part of me debated walking there now and ordering the driver to take me home, but I knew I’d never hear the end of it if I left Elenora here.
Fireflies lit up in patterns throughout the garden. The fountain trickled quietly, the sound almost masked by the music behind us. A few streamers wrapped around pillars of benches and overhangs in combinations of purples and greens. Count Branson really spared no expense at these things. He boasted two nieces who he was eager to marry off, and I wondered if tonight’s spectacle was to entice suitors.
As we came upon marble stairs leading toward the shrubbery, I hiked up my thick red dress and descended the few steps.
“You have beautiful ankles,” Freddy said. I dropped my skirt and whipped my head back around to him. His face remained unfazed in the flickering light.
“Is that really an appropriate thing to say?” I marveled at his candor. It rivaled my own, but we wielded our blunt ness differently. He shrugged, obviously seeing no problem with the comment. I peeked down to make sure my ankles were properly covered as we continued walking. What made ankles beautiful anyway?
I counted in my head, wondering how long it was appropriate to stay before I could excuse myself. A year ago, I would have walked away with no problem, but Lady Claire was training me with relentless determina tion, and her manners wore off on me a bit. Still, polite or not, it felt wrong to let Freddy put so much of his focus on me.
“You know I’m not interested, right? You shouldn’t waste your time on me.”
“Oh? Is there someone else?” he asked, with no disap pointment showing on his face.
A small laugh escaped my throat at the thought. “Most certainly not.”
He made an odd grunting noise in the back of his throat. “I find it difficult to believe you don’t fancy anyone.”
“I fancy people, just not in that way,” I corrected him. He kept his eyes on the smooth cobblestones as we strolled toward the center fountain where we could stop for a moment then walk back and part ways. I would owe him no more than that.
He sniffed as he scrunched his nose to push his glasses up. “Most girls like someone, whether they admit it or not.”
“I’m not most girls.”
“That’s why I admire you, you’re strange,” he said. “You’re strange too,” I whispered under my breath. Just as he was leaning down to ask what I had said, a new noise cut through the air. My head perked up toward the direction of what sounded like a distant shout. Someone was having a jolly time.
Another cry came and I corrected myself. From the ball room the noise would be masked, but it didn’t come from the party. The noise echoed from the other side of the tall hedge. Curse my short height.
The second-floor balcony door burst open, and six figures threw themselves over the railing. The hedges hid their landing from me, but I knew that wasn’t a short jump from the balcony to the ground. The darkness hid distinct features from me but they moved with a stealth befitting a cat in the night and the silence of a mist.
I sucked in my breath. Intruders.
Forgetting about Freddy, I ran toward the hedge to see the creatures who jumped from the manor. It was lucky we came out on the north side of the gardens, or else we would be too far away to get to the intruders in time.
I rolled the front of my satin dress up in my fists and stepped up on the wooden bench, giving me enough height to barely peek over the box hedge.
Each jumper landed safely and hoisted bags upon their shoulders as they joined a few others on the ground who came through the open servant door under the balcony.
The nearest one spotted me, and I thought I saw them wink but I couldn’t be sure.
There were ten in total, each dressed in dark clothes with wolf masks over their faces. I couldn’t be sure of what lay underneath, but by the body size it looked like only a few were male, and the rest were female. One of the males let out a laugh as he dashed off toward the east.
Count Branson’s home sat on an open field, with scat tered trees surrounding the horizons. The livery sat on the opposite side of the manor next to a small keep, while behind the manor ran nothing but soft grass that muffled the feet of the cloaked figures as they fled the scene. They ran in the open for a minute before the darkness and coupled trees took them from my sight.
I brought my eyes back to the balcony where a second figure stood dressed in a gown watching the figures with her hands on her hips. I couldn’t identify her, but I thought her to be one of Count Branson’s nieces. Moonlight bathed her hair, dark like mine, and showed her chest as it rose and fell heavily. She didn’t say anything but stared for a few moments before she disappeared back into the home.
“The Silver Raiders,” Freddy breathed next to me, almost making me jump. I forgot he was there. He had climbed on a bench next to mine to watch, though unless he’d run, he didn’t get as good a look as I did.
“Who are the Silver Raiders?”
“No one knows, but they ambush the rich and steal a portion of their money.”
I stared into the tree line, trying to find a hint of move ment. All I saw was the slight shake of trees and a bird take flight.
“Well,” I said. “Finally something interesting happened at one of these blasted things.”