K. Ancrum's The Legend of the Golden Raven novella, part fairy tale and part gritty reality, follows a boy as he descends into madness.
August and Jack weren’t meant to be friends. One is a misfit with a pyro streak and the other a golden boy on the rugby team. But as their relationship intensifies, Jack slowly begins to lose his mind—taking readers on an intimate journey into the fantasy kingdom creeping into the edges of his world.
As the novella moves back and forth between a medieval legend and our own, contemporary world, nothing is as it seems. The boys alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity and as Jack’s quest to fulfill a dark prophecy begins to consume them both . . .
Devour this companion novella to The Wicker King.
Praise for The Wicker King:
“An eerie and mesmerizing thriller that questions the spacewhere reality and perception overlap, The Wicker King is a spine-tingling read that will have you riveted.” —Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit
“An eerie piece of realistic fiction whose characters revelin intense emotions.” —Kirkus Reviews
|File size:||4 MB|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois, under the illusory rigor of the Chicago Public School system. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in River North, Chicago, and writes books at work when no one is looking. She is the author of The Wicker King.
Read an Excerpt
Jack Rossi was taught a lesson when he was eight years old. His mom had been in the kitchen, rolling bread dough beneath her soft palms. He could tell she was angry about something.
"There is a difference between being nice and being kind," she said, turning to him. "Being nice is about being polite. It gets the job done, clean and orderly. You are nice to people you don't know in the store buying groceries, or to a kitten you find under a car in the winter. It is doing what you should, when you're supposed to and how you're supposed to, when the time is right."
She brushed some flour off her forehead with the back of her hand. Jack grinned when it just added more to the flour that was already there. Mrs. Rossi smiled back and flicked some flour at Jack's nose for the trouble.
"Anyway, being kind is different. Harder. It means doing what is best even when the cost is high. It's saying something that hurt and hurt and hurt right now, so it wouldn't have to hurt ever again." She took the dough and tucked it into a bread tin, tapping at the edges to get it to settle in. "It's pulling poison into your own mouth, through your teeth because you were sucking it from someone else's wound." She continued, "Because poison is cheap, and you can't afford to watch a person die."
Jack looked up at her and thought about what she'd just said. He felt very serious and very grown up hearing it.
"Always remember to be kind when the time is right, bunny," she said, and kissed him on the forehead. "Anyone can be nice."
The following nine years after that moment had been hard — but Jack hadn't needed the lesson from that talk until tonight.
Now, here he was, standing in the woods with August staring back at him. August was furious; knuckles bloody, eyes red.
Jack's cheek smarted from the blow he'd earned when August had asked Jack something important and Jack hadn't understood quickly enough. The rejection had hurt August enough for him to share that pain on the side of Jack's face.
August had never hit him before.
Jack thought about his mother's words and knew that it was time to make a decision.
He could be nice and apologize. He knew what to say to make his best friend's shoulders stop heaving, stop the angry tears glittering at the corners of August's eyes. It was easy.
Or he could be kind, and taste August's poison. Give him what he'd asked for.
The wind picked up speed and rattled some of the leaves from the trees nearby. They bent and swayed in the breeze like they were breathing in time with him. They might be. He couldn't tell what was real anymore.
Things were much worse than Jack had let on. He had been dealing with hallucinations for weeks now — walking around seeing another world stitched over the real one. He'd broken down and told August about them when he couldn't pretend they weren't happening anymore when August was starting to notice that something was wrong. But he'd lied about their intensity. About how they were slowly covering his vision.
What Jack saw now, what August couldn't see, was the ground blanketed in a thick tangle of vines that he knew weren't there because he hadn't been tripping on them. He heard the river rushing, but beyond August, there was only darkness. It was a thick nest of trees, growing so close together that he probably couldn't fit between them if he'd tried.
The one thing Jack knew was that when he got emotional, the visions got worse, choking the real world from his sight. They would stay that way until he looked away and calmed down. Then, when he turned back, things would be regular again — more or less. But, the thing was ... Jack was never sure that anything really would change back, and it felt like every time he might get stuck, that nothing real would ever return.
With his cheek burning and his heart racing, he couldn't control it. The illusions were deep and he was stuck. Whatever was in the trees drenched him in terror, so Jack tried to keep his eyes on August. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw birds on every branch of every tree — crows maybe. Feathers and meat hung from their bones; they rotted where they stood, but their many eyes stayed bright as they watched August and Jack keenly. They rarely moved except to sharpen their beaks on the wood or to cock their heads to follow their movements. Their behavior was so strange and unbirdlike that it distracted him. He only looked away from August for a second, but when he turned back, his August was gone and standing in his place was something wearing August's face.
This version of August was wrapped in handmade leather armor. Rough with stitches and scratches. Some of the pieces were older than others, like they'd been passed down to him. Beneath it the fabric of his clothes was woven and patched, darned over and over again. Jack wished he could touch this world, because he knew it would feel as soft as it appeared. This August looked nearly the same as his, but rougher. His black hair that had been combed down this morning in the real world was curling now, untamed. There were dark circles under his eyes, and even though he looked angry, he was crying.
August never cried in front of Jack. That was the tell. That this one wasn't his.
This August's tears floated from his eyes right up into the air, untethered by gravity, making glittering tracks of moisture that wobbled their way up toward the sky. He was bleeding through his shirt over his chest, and when he caught Jack looking, this August covered the damp spot with the palm of his hand and looked even angrier.
In his other hand, he held a hare. It was the only white thing in the entire woods. This August curled it in the crook of his arm while it nibbled at his sleeve. He cupped the blood from his heart so it wouldn't drench the rabbit's downy fur.
Remember to be kind, bunny.
"Is ... this ... what you wanted?" Jack asked the illusion.
This August just closed his eyes in pain. Then he reached out with his gore-covered fingers. Jack reached back. How could he not?
Their fingers touched, then all at once, the crows let out a loud caw. They flapped their wings and took off into the air en masse, their dead bones clicking as they flew up in a cloud, blocking out the light of the moon. They were so many in number and moving so fast, Jack couldn't see anything else until the last of them took to the skies.
When the crows had cleared, standing in front of him, dressed in a blue jacket and jeans with well-kept tennis shoes, and with hands clenched into fists, was his August ... but, now he was wearing a mask made of bronze, with a long hooked beak and dark wings welded to its sides.
It covered the top of his head and stopped just above the curve of August's nose, casting his face into shadow. It was designed so that the wearer could see out but no one could ever see in. Jack couldn't see August's eyes unless he placed his face so close that he could breathe in August's breaths. No matter how many times Jack looked away and looked back, the mask was still there.
A crackle of fear shot up his spine. But this was his August, not some shadowy illusion version, and he wasn't bleeding from his heart anymore. He didn't know what this meant, but at least the thing wearing August's face had gone, at least the crows had gone. It wasn't the best, but he could work with this.
Now, whatever the rules of this world were: reaching out had been the correct decision — if the crows leaving were anything to go by. Jack hadn't meant to be so honest; he'd intended to just keep August from being upset before the illusions closed around them. But he'd been tested and he knew this terrifying new world had watched him approach even the concept of August's pain with an open hand, given without question. This choice had unlocked a part of this story that he may never have reached without it. He knew what August wanted now. What he'd needed all along: allegiance.
Jack's chest felt full and warm, as the sky cleared and the trees thinned to reveal the river. He could hear his August breathing again beneath the mask, probably waiting for him to respond.
Jack wasn't sure how much time had passed, but he knew what he was doing now. He felt stronger and more powerful than he'd felt in weeks. They could win this if he just focused, gave August what he needed, and followed him until the very end.
Jack strode forward, his heart still racing, beating so loudly he could barely hear anything else. Then he reached behind the mask and plunged his fingers into August's hair, wrenching August's head back so that he could see his eyes.
August gasped and arched into his grip. His gaze was hazy but focused, and he was definitely real.
Jack gripped tighter and August's eyes fell closed, just like he knew they would. "Fine," Jack growled, inches from his ear. "This is your game, August. I'll play along while you make the rules. But don't you ever ever hit me again."
Long ago, when the earth was still young, there were two kings: the King of the Wood and the Wicker King.
They were brothers, and their kingdoms lay side by side, shuttered away behind a wall.
The two kings were fair and just, mischievous and fond of sport. They were generous, brave, and well-loved by their people. It was a golden age, where the fruit hung ever ripe from the trees and milk animals grew fat and plenty.
Every year in midsummer, when the second sun was highest in the sky, there was the Great Hunt. All the eligible men and women joined together to go out into the wildlands to capture a great beast out of the dark for the midsummer feast.
But a great black fog seethed and roiled outside the country wall. It was a wild, hungry thing made of sorcery that had been banished by the Champion and the capital council in the days of old, five hundred seasons past. It was held back from swallowing them all by the country's greatest boon, a living stone: the Rapturous Blue.
The Rapturous Blue was kept in the center of the country between both kingdoms, balanced on a golden stand. It shone brilliantly, and the country thrived beneath the protection of its light.
There was nothing to be found in the darkness beyond the gates but woods, waste, beasts, and the most fearsome thing of all: the Cloven King, ruler of the far reaches and user of accursed magic that rotted and scorched his lands as thoroughly as it had his own flesh.
But now wasn't the time for such thoughts.
It was midsummer. The day was bright and the grass was green.
They set off to the sound of horns, the two kings at the front of the party.
It was a glorious hunt. The archeresses were swift and the swordsmen strong. They returned to the golden halls of the council meeting place, arms laden, carts groaning with bounty.
The hunting party crossed the threshold of the golden gates and the revelry began anew. Cooks and wives streamed out to greet the warriors and take their bounty off to the kitchens for preparation. When the din finally fell to a lull, the Wicker King turned to clasp his brother in pride and saw that he was not there.
The people searched the hunting party for the King of the Wood, but he was not among them. They sent search parties back out into the dark. In spite of their efforts, they found nothing.
The Wicker King could not be pacified — so wrought with terror and want for his kin was he.
He stayed out long after everyone else had gone to feast, prowling the yard in the blackest of moods. And when morning came, he did naught but stare off beyond the wall until the council demanded he return to his duties.
The days passed with no sign of the King of the Wood. And for the Wicker King, the love of his brother proved to be greater than the love of his people.
In the dead of night, he roused the council from their beds and stood before them in full regalia, his fastest steed by his side.
"I'm going out to find him," he said.
"Your brother is the fiercest fighter this side of the wall," the eldest of the council said. "Either he does not want to be found, or what has taken him will take you as well. The Wicker Throne must not be without a king. The Rapturous Blue will not survive it, and your abdication will doom us all."
But the Wicker King was steadfast.
He handed the council his scepter and disappeared into the night, leaving the two kingdoms — the only light of the world — in their hands.
After ten years without royal blood on the throne, the Rapturous Blue rattled wildly in its stand, then blinked out of sight. The golden walls cracked and the light of the suns immediately became dimmer. Unrest and fear swept through the country on both sides of the kingdom.
But still, the Wicker King did not return.
The council dragged their old bones up the side of the mountain to seek wisdom from the Gorgon, a beast older and wilder than men, with little patience and littler mercy.
The Gorgon shook itself awake and scraped its scales against the rocks. It howled in fury when it felt the Rapturous Blue's absence. It set upon the council, who quaked in terror at its might.
"Where is the Wicker King?" it raged.
When they told it about the king's abdication, it roared so loudly that the cave walls shook and snow fell down upon them.
"Negligence! The king must return to the throne and the Rapturous Blue must be placed upon its stand. The Wicker King has left his kingdom defenseless. A king who abandons his people is craven. The Rapturous Blue will no longer honor his claim. A champion must be crowned in his stead."
The council cowered beneath the Gorgon, but still they demanded of it: "The Champion is long dead. How can he replace the Rapturous Blue if he is gone?" "A champion is not a who. It is a what. It is the king's lionheart. It must be faster than the king but always caught, smarter than the king but always humble; it must never question and only act. Build a challenge and the Champion will come. Fail ... and the darkness claims us all."
The council fled the Gorgon's cave. When they reached the capital hall, they sent out a missive.
THE SEARCH FOR THE KING OF THE WOOD MUST CEASE. THE WICKER KING IS TO RETURN TO THE COUNTRY FROM THE WILDLANDS TO MEET HIS CHAMPION.
FOR THE LONGEVITY OF HIS KINGDOM AND ALL THINGS THAT LIVE BENEATH THE LIGHT.
The Wicker King returned unrecognizable — weathered and wild-eyed from his time in the dark. He removed his cloak and knelt before the council. "The Gorgon called. I would have returned for none other." The council brought him to the center space and showed him the empty golden stand. At this sight, the Wicker King grew grave.
"A champion must be found among the people. The Rapturous Blue will no longer answer to your hand. You have been deemed unworthy, and the Gorgon has found you negligent." A moment was taken to consider this. Finally, the Wicker King spoke again. "We shall have a hunt in the green."
They would place his holy crown in the midst. Who ever returned it to the council first would be named victor and champion. Every man, woman, and child who thought themselves worthy of the title could compete. They even opened the gates to the wild wood so the unclean people could be given a chance as well. As a part of the test, the Wicker King would search beside his people. If he found his crown before the others, he would go off on the search for the Rapturous Blue alone.
The council set upon the task with haste as the Wicker King returned to the stables to spend the night in the company of his horses.
It had always been this way and it would always be.
August liked precedents and order. He tried to control everything he could. He had even cleaned his entire parents' house from top to bottom after they divorced. Jack had walked in on him scrubbing the grating between the tiles on the floor frantically. When Jack asked him why, he'd said, "If I can't fix once thing, I can at least do what I can to fix something else."
Nothing he did deviated from that pattern.
But sometimes, August got tired. He stopped wanting to control things and started wanting to follow. And if he wanted to follow, then Jack had to lead. There was no one else around to take on that responsibility.
He sat on the roof of his car, watching August from a few yards away as the other boy kicked up leaves and rocks on the edge of the clearing right in front of the woods. He stared at the back of August's neck, at his hair that was beginning to get a bit long. August wasn't watching him back for once. Wasn't gazing at him from under that mask the visions wouldn't let him see August without. August hurled a rock as far as he could out into the field and whooped when it went farther than he thought it would go. Then he picked up another.
Except this one turned into a dragonfly as soon as it left his hand.
Jack closed his eyes, hoping when he opened them, the world would reset — that everything would be normal again.
Excerpted from "The Legend of the Golden Raven"
Copyright © 2017 Kayla Ancrum.
Excerpted by permission of Imprint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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