Tales from Blackthorn Briar, the long-awaited sequel to Oak King Holly King, comes out Sept. 21st – which means you can celebrate Mabon with Shrike and Wren!
Shrike, the fae Butcher of Blackthorn, and Wren Lofthouse, a mortal Victorian clerk, are bound together by love and fate. Their continued adventures (and those of their friends) are told in this collection of fantastical tales following the story of Oak King Holly King, including…
• Wherein Shrike and Wren repay their debt to the Court of Hidden Folk.
Mr Grigsby’s Clerk
• Wherein Mr Grigsby finds a replacement for Wren – and perhaps more than he bargained for.
Jack in the Green
• Wherein a certain Horse Guard wanders into Blackthorn Briar.
• Wherein the Holly King surrenders to the Oak King.
The Holly King’s Peril
• Wherein Wren and Shrike discover danger in the wilds of the Fae Realms.
The Ballad of Daniel Durst
• Wherein Daniel embarks on his authentic life in a bold new land.
Thistle Arts Studio and Sleepy Fox Studio have crafted another beautiful cover for this collection. Read on to see it for yourself and enjoy an exclusive excerpt from Mabon!
Blackthorn Briar, Court of Oak and Holly
The Fae Realms
At first, nothing seemed amiss about the flocks of Blackthorn.
The goats and the hens alike had wandered out of their shared coop that morning to feast on the grain Wren scattered before them. They continued to mingle as the hens moved on to gobbling up every manner of beetle and worm they could find, and the goats set about their acrobatics and attempts to eat their way through the thorn-vined fence surrounding the garden.
Wren turned to rejoin Shrike to break his fast within the cottage. Then staggered and spun on his heel to confirm what he’d glimpsed out of the corner of his eye.
There, amongst those who bore feathers and those who bore horns, hopped a creature who bore both.
“Butcher,” Wren called out.
Shrike quickly appeared from around the corner of the cottage. “What’s amiss?”
Wren pointed at the feathered and horned creature. “Wulpertinger.”
For, while it did not wear the same snow-white coat as it had when last Wren saw it, it still held the shape of a rabbit with a quail’s wings and a stag’s antlers—now in mottled brown and grey.
“Hail, friend,” Shrike said to the wulpertinger. “We almost didn’t recognize you in your summer coat.”
The wulpertinger sat up on its hind legs to regard Shrike as he spoke. When he’d finished, it hopped forward to meet him. Wren noticed a leather cord crossed over its back between its wings and knotted ‘round a rolled scrap of birch bark.
The wulpertinger halted in front of Shrike and waited patiently while he bent to slip the bark out of the leather cord. Shrike unrolled the bark. Wren had a glimpse of the letters scrawled across it like scattered twigs before Shrike, in a voice which began slow and hesitant and finished stronger, read aloud.
An auspicious night approaches.
We invite you to remember your promise.
The reference to a promise did not confuse Wren. The form of the messenger explained the message; the wulpertinger hailed from the Court of Hidden Folk, where Wren and Shrike had vowed to return and enjoy the company of huldrekall to ransom back Felix Knoll. Wren didn’t suppose the death of Felix in the months since then had absolved them of this debt.
The reference to an auspicious night, however, Wren couldn’t puzzle out. And so he turned to Shrike.
“Mabon,” said Shrike.
Wren raised his brows in expectation.
“Autumnal Equinox,” Shrike added. “A harvest festival.”
The wulpertinger combed one of its long ears with its fore-paw.
“We did vow to return,” Wren admitted. “Do you think it’s safe?”
“I think,” Shrike replied, “I prefer it to the harvest festival in the Court of the Silver Wheel.”
Wren gave a snort of laughter.
The wulpertinger twitched its little black nose.
Wren wrote out their affirmative reply on paper—or wasp-work, as Shrike called it. He added a few illustrative flourishes as he felt might appear appropriate on a missive from two kings. Shrike rolled it up in the leather cord and tucked it into the wulpertinger’s harness. The wulpertinger accepted the further gift of a sloe berry plucked fresh from the thorned vines.
With the fur around its mouth now stained purple, it hopped away down the path from Blackthorn. Then, to Wren’s astonishment, it leapt up and unfurled its pheasant wings to veer off into the sky.
“I suppose I ought to have expected that,” Wren said.
Shrike chuckled and slung an arm around Wren’s waist. There it rested as if it’d always belonged, its warmth suffusing Wren’s heart.
Tales from Blackthorn Briar is a gay Victorian fae romance collection, available Sept. 21st wherever fine books are found!