Night swallowed the wood whole and completely. As I chewed my bread, I lay back on the blanket, looking for my star. I watched the sky for nearly an hour before she popped up over the tops of the trees. I smiled.
The blanket shifted as the dog-sized horse stepped onto it. I glanced over, shocked to see a very solid animal beside me. His coat glimmered like the sky above, shimmering violet where the firelight touched fur.
“You’re solid,” I murmured. I had an impulse to touch him, to test my words, but decided better of it. Ristriel seemed a mellow-minded being, but I didn’t want to test his temper.
He smiled ever so faintly—at least, as much as a horse could. “Not for long. Not if we stay in this glade.”
I sat up. “Why? Is it . . . enchanted?”
The horse gave me a wry look. “No. Only open to the sky.” He tilted his muzzle upward. I tried to see what he saw, but there was nothing special in the heavens tonight except for my star, who twinkled merrily among her siblings. I wondered if she’d seen my tapestry.
The first-quarter moon peeked over the tops of the trees, and I caught a shift of colors from the corner of my eye. I looked to see Ristriel ethereal once more. Everywhere but his tail, which was situated close enough to the trees’ shadow that the moonlight didn’t touch it.
He sensed my question before I asked. “Moonlight and Sunlight.” He peered up at the moon, and the longing in his face was evident, despite its lack of human features. “In truth, they are one and the same.”
I tilted my head. “How so?”
“She stole it from Him.” He gazed at the moon the way a poor man might gaze at a loaf of bread. “Long ago, when she was still young and first came into her greed, she entered Sun’s domain, posing as a loyal servant. Once she earned His trust, she snuck into His room while He rested and stole a portion of His light for herself.”
I thought of Sun and realized I had never seen Him sleep. Did He? Had He stopped sleeping after the light was stolen from Him? “Was He angry?”
“Of course. She was only strong enough to take a portion, which is why she does not glow as brilliantly as He does. That is why her light does not have as great of an effect on me.”
He shifted his tail, which was out of direct moonlight. Unlike the rest of him, it was solid. And yet, during the day, if even a tendril of Sunlight touched him, his entire being became as ethereal as a ghost.
I gazed up at her. “I wonder why.”
“I think”—his voice was soft—“that she wanted to be seen. She was born in the realm of shadow, watching the world, and the world didn’t notice her.”
I thought of Endwever. “Sometimes it’s better not to be seen.”
“But it is lonely,” he countered, and his next words sounded far away. “It is very lonely.”
I considered this. Before becoming star mother, I had wanted to be seen. Unlike my sisters, I’d always loved attention and sought it out. I wondered how my childhood might have been had I been invisible to those around me.
I watched him watch the sky, his expression eerily human, and my thoughts turned another direction. “You look at the moon the same way I look at the stars.”
He glanced at me. “You were looking for yours.”
I nodded and pointed, sure he would not be able to determine which of the thousands of dots of light I referred to. “She is there.”
“What is her name?”
I paused. “I told my attendants I wanted to name her Phinnie. I might as well have told them I wanted to bathe in mud.” I laughed, but my humor died like a wilting rose. “I . . . I never asked what name Sun chose. I’m not even sure whether stars have names.” Would I see Him again, and have the opportunity?
“All life has a name, even if it is an unkind one,” he whispered.
I wondered if that meant he didn’t like “Phinnie,” either.
We were quiet awhile, watching the moon slowly climb the night sky. I added a few sticks to the fire. Ristriel moved to the shadows, leaving the blanket to me, becoming solid once more.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to share my blanket with him; I’d known him for only a matter of hours, and he was a godling on the run from . . . something. Instead, I asked, “Are you cold?”
Ristriel didn’t reply.
Reaching into my bag, I grabbed a piece of bread and offered it to him. He gave it a longing look but then shook his head once more.
“Are you hungry?” I pressed.
“I do not need to eat.”
“But you still can.” I recalled the lavish feast I’d had with Sun. He was a full god, and even He could eat.
He hesitated, then reached a hoof into the moonlight. It shifted into the shape of a hand, which he then pulled back so it would turn solid. I gaped at the human-shaped hand jutting from the leg of the miniature horse. Trying to behave as though that were a normal thing, I leaned into the shadows to give him the bread. He looked at it with a sort of wonder only a toddler might have, then nibbled away, his expression thoughtful.
When he finished, I asked, “How did you know I was a star mother?” For every godling I came across, on Earth and in Sun’s palace, somehow knew me immediately. I had figured it was some sort of godly sense they had.
“Because of your starlight,” he said. “And because of your scars.”
I started. “S-Scars?”
He nodded. Then saw my face, and shrunk. “I’ve upset you.”
“I . . .” I didn’t know how to answer. I pulled up my sleeves, examining my arms in the firelight. “I . . . I don’t have any scars.” Stretchmarks, certainly, but those were tucked away beneath my clothes.
“They’re not on your body but your spirit,” he explained, watching me, gauging my reaction.
I glanced over myself as though I would be able to see the marks. “Why do I have scars?”
He took a moment to answer, and I could tell he was choosing his words carefully. “If you thrust your hand into that fire, would it not hurt you?”
I glanced to the flames.
“You are a mortal woman who lay with the Sun and carried a star. Of course you have scars.”
It dawned on me then, the pitiful looks I got from Elta and Fosii and the others within the Palace of the Sun, even after my star was born. They could see the mutilation that I could not. I hugged myself, wondering what I looked like to them.
“Do not be ashamed, Ceris.” Ristriel spoke gently. “They are marks of your journey and your sacrifice.”
I supposed he was correct, but it was strange, knowing I was so marked beneath my skin.
“Look at the moon.”
I did. It hovered overhead, pocked in a way that almost formed a face. I had once likened demigods to bears, but the moon was a bear who could swallow cities whole if she so desired. The stories said that many godlings found refuge in her kingdom when they were cast out from Sun’s. And so the moon was the most powerful demigod of all. At least in all the lore I knew.
“She, too, is scarred. But she is beautiful.”
I lowered my arms. “She is.”
Ristriel stepped onto the blanket, turning half-ethereal. “She was once much larger than she is now, but the war has whittled her down.”
“War with whom?”
He looked at me, surprised I didn’t know. “With the Sun, of course. They have always battled over the heavens. Sun is older, and He resented her for stealing His light and encroaching on His territory. She resents Him for being what she is not, and hates Him even more for shrinking her, scarring her. But He is of the law and must enforce it. Such is His nature. The moon does not like being disregarded simply because she is young. Since she is less. They have warred and peaced for millennia. Like you, her scars mark her journey.”
I glanced up again, studying the gray splotches of the moon. I tried to imagine her as a flawless orb of silver light. Truthfully, there was beauty to her dimensions, despite the violence with which she had received them.
I shivered, my body remembering the pain of my spirit’s scars, and for a moment, I relived each and every one of them.
“Rest, Ceris.” Ristriel crossed the glade, ears pricking as he listened to the forest. “I will watch over you as you have watched over me. Nothing will harm you under my protection.”
As I lay down, using my second dress as a blanket, the fire warming my back, I realized that I believed him.
Copyright © Charlie N. Holmberg with persmission from 47North.
Star Mother Series #1
A woman’s heart proves as infinite as the night sky in a breathtaking fantasy by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Charlie N. Holmberg.
When a star dies, a new one must be born.
The Sun God chooses the village of Endwever to provide a mortal womb. The birthing of a star is always fatal for the mother, and Ceris Wenden, who considers herself an outsider, sacrifices herself to secure her family’s honor and take control of her legacy. But after her star child is born, Ceris does what no other star mother has: she survives. When Ceris returns to Endwever, however, it’s not nine months later—it’s seven hundred years later. Inexplicably displaced in time, Ceris is determined to seek out her descendants.
Being a woman traveling alone brings its own challenges, until Ceris encounters a mysterious—and desperate—godling. Ristriel is incorporeal, a fugitive, a trickster, and the only being who can guide Ceris safely to her destination. Now, as Ceris traverses realms both mortal and beyond, her journey truly begins.
Together, pursued across the Earth and trespassing the heavens, Ceris and Ristriel are on a path to illuminate the mysteries that bind them and discover the secrets of the celestial world.
Fantasy | Romance [47North, On Sale: November 1, 2021, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781542030465 / ]
Charlie N. Holmberg is the award-winning author of the Numina series, The Fifth Doll, and many others. Her Wall Street Journal bestselling Paper Magician series, which includes The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, and The Master Magician, has been optioned by the Walt Disney Company. Charlie’s stand-alone novel, Followed by Frost, was nominated for a 2016 RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance. Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters, who also have boy names. She is a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog. She currently lives with her family in Utah. Visit her at www.charlienholmberg.com.
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