THE BEAST OF WEISSBURG is a Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel set in a fictional Germanic kingdom. The manuscript is complete, with all preliminary revisions made; I am currently seeking agent representation. The following is an excerpt from the opening chapter. For more fun extras, like character inspiration boards and pictorial journeys through Weissburg and the Grünwald Forest, check out my Facebook author page and Pinterest boards!
Anna had never heard her horse scream before.
It jerked her awake with a chill that shot right down her spine. She clutched the rough wool blanket to her chest and squinted into the darkness, trying to make sense of the cacophony outside her shuttered window.
On any other morning in early spring, she would wake to the comforting voices of the livestock in her uncle’s barn and the lusty crow of their gangly rooster, Emmeric, pitting himself in mighty contest against the birds of the Grünwald Forest.
But not today. Today the chickens were shrieking and beating their wings against the sides of the henhouse, and from the thatched barn came the clamor of frenzied struggle.
Anna groped for the leather pouch around her neck, and clenched her hand around the stone inside. Fear burned her mouth like acid.
The Beast. It had to be. A fox or weasel might be enough to cause a stir among the hens, but that was nothing compared to the sheer terror that was sounding from every corner of the yard. She braced herself for the thunder of his roar, half-expecting to see massive black paws rip through her window frame.
Nothing. The monster must have departed as quickly as he had come.
Heart pounding, Anna leapt out of bed and shimmied into her blouse and skirt. She swept her brown hair into a haphazard braid, yanked on a pair of stockings and boots, and slipped out into the hall.
Her uncle’s door was slightly ajar. She glanced in: Uncle Albrecht’s mouth hung open and he was snoring loudly, oblivious to the frantic noises just outside their cottage walls. His bushy gray eyebrows raised and lowered with each breath, and the bristles on his chin stirred like stubble in a high wind.
Anna shook her head in disbelief as she retreated down the hall into the kitchen. She snatched a fire poker from the hearth, pulled her cloak down from its peg, and stepped outside into the cold, gray morning.
Her eyes skimmed over the floor of the barn. Dark drops of blood sprinkled the hay-strewn planks, forming a trail that led back through the open door. Heart pounding, she ran outside again, then skidded to a halt. In the dirty snow, she saw what she had missed in her first haste: the marks of horse’s hooves, mingled with the much larger outline of huge paws, fringed at the top with the prick-marks of sharp claws. They looked like the tracks of a bear—but they were twice as large as any ordinary bear of the forest would have made.
Anna sucked in her breath. The rumors were true. After seven years of silence, the Beast was back: angry, enormous, and very much alive.
She shook her head, forcing herself to study the prints. Her horse must have galloped from the barn, wounded, with the great bear at his heels. Their tracks led to the opposite corner of the yard, then disappeared into the Grünwald.
Anna swallowed hard. Ever since she could remember, she had been terrified of the wild forest that shadowed the northern border of her home. Everyone in the kingdom of Weissburg knew that the forest was haunted. Tales abounded of vengeful spirits that lurked among the trees—and of the bear-like monster that had taken the lives of peasants, knights, and the king’s own son.
But Tabbert was in there, too, somewhere: the horse she had loved since her uncle had first brought him home years ago, an awkward colt with spindly legs and oversized feet…
There was nothing for it, she thought. She had to go after Tabbert, and quickly.
She retraced her steps back to the kitchen, set the poker by the hearth, tied a sturdy apron over her clothes, and glanced around the room. A loaf from yesterday’s baking sat on the table, wrapped in a checkered cloth. She grabbed a heavy knife from the corner cupboard, sawed off a piece of bread, and thrust it into her apron pocket. She paused a moment, thinking, then tucked the knife in at her side, as well.
Uncle Albrecht’s loud snore still echoed through the house. Anna felt a twinge of guilt, leaving this way without a word to him. If he woke and found her gone, he would be worried sick. But surely Tabbert had not had time enough to run far. With a bit of luck, she could find her horse and have him back in the barn again before her uncle missed either of them.
She closed the front door quietly behind her and set off across the yard with a firm, determined step. The light in the east was growing brighter, and the turmoil in the barn had calmed. Glancing up, she saw Emmeric still perched in the rowan tree, looking irked and refusing to crow.
The forest loomed in front of her. Anna took a deep breath, and plunged inside.