Wanderling Exclusive Excerpt
Hannah Stahlhut began writing books in her early teens and hasn’t stopped since. Her debut novel came out when she was just 16. Now age 24, Hannah is currently working on the Spirit Seeker Novels, fantasy adventure books for teen and adult readers. In her free time, Hannah likes to binge on Netflix shows (Parks and Recreation, The IT Crowd, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, and The 100 are a few of her current favorites). She also enjoys pretending to be fit by riding her bicycle to work. She considers herself an honorary member of both House Lannister and Hufflepuff. An odd combination to be sure, but one she will defend to the bitter end. Hannah hopes readers enjoy reading her books half as much as she enjoys writing them.
For as long as Adala can remember, she’s spent summers abroad as part of her father’s crew. At last she is determined to stay home and pursue a new life with her mother and young brother, Shem. But Adala’s world is suddenly thrown into havoc when Shem collapses at the market one day, crying out that their father has died at sea. Before she can process his surreal claims, Shem is stolen away from their cottage in the night.
Adala’s plight to rescue Shem soon lands her captive to an outcast group of criminals. Traversing the desert hills, she grows ever aware of the surrounding dangers and afraid that Shem’s intuitions may be used in a nefarious plot for vengeance. Adala is forced to ask herself: Are her brother’s otherworldly senses genuine? How do they relate to a dark prophecy of the “savage” desert clans? Can she trust Tobin, a kind-hearted outcast soldier with ties to the desert dwellers?
Join Adala as she seeks to free herself and her brother from the clutches of an outcast leader determined to push Shem toward a frightening destiny.
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“Shem, are you coming?”
Shem gave no response. Adala heard the clattering of the wooden bucket as it fell to the street and rolled over several cobblestones: clunk, clunk, clunk. She turned to her brother, opening her mouth to tease his carelessness. But the child before her kneeled paralyzed, face as pale as the snow-covered peak of Mount Horu.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, suddenly concerned.
Shem’s round eyes blinked hard. He began to choke, his whole body shaking. Adala raced forward just as he collapsed to his hands and knees, his whole body quaking. She realized that they were not chokes, but sobs. He moaned. “Papa,” he whispered hoarsely. Then louder, “Papa! Father!”
“What’s wrong?” she begged, helpless. “What are you doing, Shem?”
“I can’t feel him anymore,” Shem screamed, his pitch higher than a seagull’s call.
She touched her brother on the shoulder. People in the street began to stare as Shem jumped to his feet and screamed, “Papa, come back!”
“Shem, calm down!” she commanded, but there was no stopping her brother. He turned and ran back to a stunned Master John and wailed, “We have to go get him—he’s two days’ sail south, southwest of here. Please, Master John, send out a ship!”
“Your father is a skilled captain, and the weather has been good. I assure you, he is safe.”
“He’s not there anymore, I tell you,” Shem said, his voice garbled by sobs. “One minute I could feel him, and the next he was gone… dead.”
Adala’s stomach began to wrench. “Shem, don’t shout such nonsense,” she murmured, kneeling at his side, her mind spinning with confusion. Her brother had once thrown a tantrum begging her father not to leave on a summer voyage, but she had never seen him as pale and quivering as he was in this moment.
Master John felt Shem’s forehead and neck with the back of his hand. “He isn’t feverish,” he observed.
“He’s gone,” Shem choked. “I can’t feel him anymore. He’s gone.”
Adala felt the blood rushing to her face, not just because of the collecting crowd of onlookers in the market alleyway but also because she felt a strangling fear gripping her in the gut. Fear for her brother’s wellness and also a deeply buried fear of losing her father at sea. She had never worried about losing him on a voyage because she had been right next to him her whole life. Now, she wouldn’t know for sure if he was safe for months, until his scheduled return.
“You aren’t doing this because Father left you behind, are you?” she demanded.
“I’m serious! Papa’s gone. I can’t find him!” Shem exclaimed, tugging at her dress. “We have to find him!” he wailed, collapsing in a sobbing heap on her lap. Adala had never seen anyone cry so hard.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” she said to John. “What kind of madness is this?”
“You should take him home now—I will bring water after dinner; you don’t need to worry about it.”
“I can’t have him unsettling my mother,” she said in a low voice as her brother buried his face in her shoulder to muffle the sobs. She awkwardly patted him on the shoulder, ignoring the stares from strangers in the streets.
John stared wide-eyed at Shem’s collapsed figure with what Adala thought for a minute was fear. He shook his head and straightened. “You should take him to the spellweaver by the docks. Madame Georgetta. I know what you think about her, but she has some remedies that will make Shem less excited. It may do him some good to just rest.”
“I’m not going to the witch of the wharf,” Adala said bitterly. “Spirits and magic herbs, they’re a sham.”
“She may have something to calm him. Here, we’re taking him to Georgetta,” John said, scooping Shem’s scrawny form up from the ground.
“I don’t want to waste money on Georgetta,” Adala said, but Shem’s sobs made her hesitate.
“I insist,” John said. “She is a practiced healer aside from all her charms. I will pay.”
“Certainly not,” Adala said.
“Your mother can repay me with a hot meal, I’m sure.” John started walking, Shem curled up in his arms, sobs still racking his body.
Adala snatched up the water bucket and reluctantly followed him through the market. The road wound downward, back towards the harbor.
Shem’s bawling had barely quieted when they stopped in front of Georgetta’s shanty. It was made of wood, with a thatched roof and herbs drying from the eaves all around. Adala wrinkled her nose at the conglomerate of scents.
John lowered Shem gently to his feet and knocked on the door.
After only one knock, the door burst open. Georgetta, tousled gray and blonde hair poking out of a braid, stepped out to meet them.
“Ah, the Master of Arms himself pays me a visit,” Georgetta said, smiling sweetly at John. “Come to me with questions, dear child?”
John cleared his throat. “This is Adala, daughter of Raban, and her brother Shem. He has taken ill, and we thought you would know his affliction.”
Georgetta’s eyes moved from John to Adala. “Ah, the lady captain of Gerstadt,” she said mockingly. “Why would I take you and your brother into my home? You once called me a fraud and dumped a basket of my herbs into the harbor. It took months to replace them. Many only grow in the mountains or the desert beyond, you know.”
Adala shifted uncomfortably.
John put a hand on Adala’s shoulder. “She is with me, Georgetta,” he said. “And if I recall correctly, you owe me a favor or two.”
Georgetta grumbled beneath her breath, glaring at Adala. “If you so much as touch any of my things, you’ll be paying for them missy, you hear?” she said.
Adala rolled her eyes impatiently. “Look, if you have anything that might calm him down, let us have it. He had a bout of madness at the market.”
Georgetta looked to Shem’s quivering figure and took his hand in hers. “Come in, child,” she said, leading him through the door. “Let’s see what’s bothering you.”
They sat at her table, and Georgetta sat across from Shem to study his face. “Tell me what’s happened, child,” she said, pushing the boy’s sandy blonde hair back from his face.
“My father has died,” Shem said, choking on the words. “I can’t feel his spirit anymore.”
“Father is at sea,” Adala interjected.
“Shush,” Georgetta said, shooting Adala a nasty look. “I’ll hear the boy’s story.”
“I always can feel Father in my heart,” Shem hesitated, then continued. “And Adala, and Mother. I sense the others, but it is strongest with them. And I don’t feel Father anymore. He disappeared, and it hurts so bad.”
“Have you seen anything like this before?” John asked anxiously as Georgetta felt Shem’s forehead and held a lamp up to look at his eyes and in his mouth.
“He is in shock,” Georgetta said.
“From what?” Adala asked.
“From his father dying,” Georgetta said. “Can’t you hear the dear boy?”
“Absurd,” Adala said.
“Is the child usually dishonest or dramatic?” Georgetta inquired, turning to confront Adala.
Adala jolted. “No, I suppose not. He’s been upset when Father and I left on past voyages though.”
“But he hasn’t had an attack like this?” Georgetta said.
Adala shook her head.
“Surely you don’t mean to say that the boy may be telling the truth,” John said, studying Shem carefully.
Georgetta shrugged. “Maybe he has taken ill, or maybe he has decided to become surly and imaginative all at once. But I would consider keeping an eye and ear out for your father, missy. There is always that chance that your brother knows more than we do. He has the smell of the spirits on him, something familiar about him that I can’t quite place.”
“You’re mad,” Adala said, standing abruptly. “John, let’s leave. I don’t want her encouraging Shem.”
“Wait, wait,” Georgetta said. “I said I would help you, and now I will.” She stood and shuffled over to one of a dozen cluttered shelves by the fire. “Here,” Georgetta said, pulling a tuft of dried leaves from a jar and crumbling them over a pot of water over the fire. She used the dipper to serve a cup of the mixture to Shem.
“Take this tea, child,” Georgetta said kindly. “It will make you feel better.”
Shem wiped his eyes as he sipped at the tea, his body shaking with silent sobs.
“What is it?” Adala asked.
“It will relax him and give him rest,” Georgetta said. “He will sleep, and when he wakes he will have a clearer head. That is all.”
“Good, maybe we can leave this nonsense behind us,” Adala said. “Mother doesn’t need this burden, not when we won’t hear from father for months.”
“Have it as you will,” Georgetta said. “He will be asleep soon. You should take him home.”
Shem looked up from his cup, cheeks wet with tears. “I’m not lying,” he said. “You don’t feel it, but I do! I do.” He yawned.
“Come, Shem,” John said, taking his hand. “We’ll get you tucked in at home and you will feel better when you wake.”
Pressing a copper coin into Georgetta’s palm as payment before John could pull out his coin purse, Adala followed them out the door.
“You’re welcome!” Georgetta called out.
Adala shut the door firmly behind her.
As they walked up the street, Shem began rubbing his eyes and walking slower. Soon, John was carrying him again, the boy curled up in his arms.
She tried not to fret, but Adala couldn’t escape a recurring doubt.
What if Shem was right?