Sharra’s world is a terrifying place.
Violent seismic ‘Shifts’ and outbreaks of an all-consuming black fire radically alter landscapes on an increasingly frequent basis. Only the Map Makers can predict where the Shift will fall, and Sharra, daughter to one of the most famous Map Makers, yearns to join their ranks and break a cultural taboo that forbids female cartographers.
Sharra’s father, Lord Milton, is one of the few to challenge the current order, but his shadowy past limits his political reach and his second wife, Lady Ivory, is determined to manipulate him to ensure a privileged future for herself and her daughter, Jayne.
The main obstacle standing in Ivory’s way is Sharra.
Sharra watches carriages, large and small, well geared and simple, plush and plain, unload passenger upon passenger until she is convinced that apart from Lord Camden the whole of the world and his wife is coming to Milton Hold. Despite herself she begins to feel excited. She also loses complete track of the time. Every now and then, when she can no longer bear the cold, she sneaks into the room, and warms herself up. But always the fear of being caught drives her back outside. Eventually, she realises not only is she seriously hungry, but the light is beginning to fade. She comes back in, intending to find a way to join the party quietly. When…
The door to the dormitory bursts open and Ivory storms in. Lady Milton is in full court dress, with her long white-blonde hair loose down her back and wearing the finest of her jeweled, ice-blue robes.
‘Dame Ivory,’ stutters Sharra, partly in fright, partly because she realises she is frozen from being on the balcony in her light dress. ‘I didn’t –’
Dame Ivory waves an impatient hand. ‘I don’t have time for your excuses, Sharra. What are you wearing tonight?’ Sharra looks at her blankly.
‘You need to be in court dress for dinner,’ Ivory all but screams at her.
‘I thought I was meant to be keeping out of sight?’
‘All the Milton children are expected on the eve before Settlement begins.’ Ivory’s eyes take in Sharra’s wind tangled hair. ‘Do try and do your father credit for once. He sent this for you to wear.’ She holds out a long silver chain with a polished blue pendant. Then she turns on her heels and leaves as fast as her dignity will allow. Sharra slips the pendent round her neck without looking. What in the world is she going to wear?
A bare twenty minutes later she is hurrying down to the Great Hall, in a court dress of dark blue (slightly too tight), her hair twisted quickly into a silver net (no time to sort all those knots) and her long dress (she hopes) hiding the fact she couldn’t find any court slippers.
The bell to signal the beginning of the evening sounds. No one else is around. They must already be at the Great Hall. Trust Ivory to tell her too late. She looks quickly up and down the corridor to make completely sure it is clear and then opens the door to the winter courtyard. It would mean using the forbidden Grand Entrance, but hopefully everyone has arrived by now. The second moon has risen, full and bright. Sharra lifts up her skirt and runs
out into the frost-covered world.
Grass blades crunch beneath her feet, and her breath appears in little clouds. The night is sharp and the stars clear and bright. Despite the beauty, Sharra feels oddly uneasy. It’s with relief she slips through the porter’s door next to the Grand Entrance and into the safety of the inner porch.
Her father’s voice echoes out across the Entrance Hall.
‘Harrbourgh Farm gone?’
He’s angry and she’s late. Sharra dodges behind a pillar. Another voice, soft and low, answers her father. If only they’d move on. Then perhaps she can still make it to her table before her father enters.
‘The farmhouse?’ her father’s voice rises in disbelief. ‘How is that possible?’
Something terrible has happened. Her heart races. She pushes her hand against her chest, willing it calm. She hasn’t made a sound, but her father suddenly calls out, ‘Sharra? Is that you?’
He is with the man who had held her horse when she ran into the village hall with the maps. The man nods to her, but his face is gaunt with shock. Milton’s eyes meet hers and Sharra feels a shiver of connection.
Thank you, Caroline Dunford and Zooloo’s Book Tours
About the author
Caroline lives for stories. Reading them. Telling them, Watching them. She can’t get enough of them. She can hypnotise people and she sings well in the shower. She enjoys cooking, but hates housework, and has managed to convince everyone who knows her that she doesn’t understand washing up. So much so that when friends visit some of them do it for her. Fortunately she also has a dishwasher. She always feels she didn’t make enough of her teenage years, and hopes that at least the teenagers in her books do!