Just in time for the holidays, here's an excerpt from The Ways of Winter (due for release in January).
For those of you who haven't read the first adventure in the Hounds of Annwn series (To Carry the Horn), our hero George has moved to the fae otherworld overlaid on his human home in the Virginia Piedmont. Newly married, he wants to start a Xmas tree tradition for his new family. There's just one problem: the fae aren't Christians and they have no idea what he's doing. Nor do the smaller folk, the lutins and korrigans.
No matter. It's a nice snowy day and everyone's delighted to go have a good time.
George mounted the sledge behind the manor and picked up the long reins looped around the pole on the front boards, waist high, standing with his legs braced. There were three or four inches of snow under the runners even here in front of the stables, and he gave an experimental cluck to the two heavy draft horses to see what they made of the weight and the whole contraption. They leaned forward into the harness and easily moved it a few feet before George stopped them again.
The head groom who’d found the old stone boat for him nodded with satisfaction. “I think this’ll do fine, sir. With the snow under it, they should have no difficulty bringing that a couple of miles, even if you carry a person or two. Folk don’t weigh like stones, after all.”
He’d spent much of the morning after the hound walking trying to arrange a means of transport for getting to the nearby woods for his tree. This sledge, a bit larger than a single bed, would carry his tools and the small barrel end he would use for the tree itself, with the tree in it on the way back. In the deep snow, the runners reduced the friction and made it easier to draw.
The word had spread at lunch, and he’d found a couple dozen people mounted and loitering when he’d emerged, asking to come along for a break from staying indoors. It wasn’t a complete surprise since he’d invited several of them himself, but at the sight of so many, he ducked back into the manor and begged a large sack of apples from one of the cooks. He’d carry that out in the barrel end.
After his experiment with the full harness, he looped the reins around the pole and stepped down to face the gathering.
“Glad to see you all. I’m just headed to the woods to bring back a tree for the winter solstice, but I thought we could make a party of it since the snow has eased off again. We’ll be going down to the manor gates, then up the nearby slope to the edge of the woods, maybe a total of a mile and a half each way.
“The snow’s too deep for walking, but the distance is short enough that you could ride double with some of the kids, maybe. I can take a couple of the small folk, but it could be dangerous without side rails. I don’t want to try it with children. And coming back, with a tree, it’ll get crowded.
“So, sort yourselves out. Who wants to come with me?”
The local folk, all mounted, stood off to the side. Eurig and Brynach were joking with each other, their cheeks already red in the cold, and Rhian joined them. Ceridwen had introduced him to her colleague Eluned at lunch, and the two women were sitting together astride their horses, well-wrapped against the chill.
Benitoe had persuaded Maëlys to come, mounted. George overheard him explaining that her pony could hardly run away in such deep snow. Kennel-man Tanguy had fetched Armelle, his betrothed, and now the two lutins came forward to join George on the sledge, neither one having learned to ride.
Only Broch and Tiernoc among the korrigans came along, on their ponies, but Cydifor and many of the other traveling fae had decided that this promised some fun, especially for the kids. The older children were mounted, and a few younger ones sat in front of a parent, wide-eyed.
George looked over the group and nodded. Before he turned to step up to the stone boat again, he caught sight of Cadugan walking by with Ifor, headed to a meeting with Gwyn. Cadugan was shaking his head at the spectacle, but smiling, too.