"I wave a hand and green fire bursts from my fingertips, coiling itself around his arms and legs like vines creeping along a wall."
Excerpted from FORGED BY BLOOD. Copyright © by Ehigbor Okosun. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Chapter 1: Trust
“Look after the boy, my dear. I’ll be back soon.” She blows me a kiss, and then she is off, disappearing into the distance, like a shadow slipping into the night.
I watch until I no longer see that slender back, then secure the latch behind the door and carry the green paste from the mortar to the cot. The boy lies there, fair eyelashes kissing the skin underneath his eyes. I tug softly on his chin, trying to pull open his mouth. His eyes fly open, and I nearly drop the mortar in fright.
“I thought you were asleep.”
He pushes with his elbows until he is sitting up. His mouth is drawn and his cheeks red when he speaks. “Sorry. I had to do that or else Edith would never leave.”
“Edith?” I raise an eyebrow. In Oyo, it’s disrespectful to call your parents by their given names. “You call your mother—”
“She’s not my mother,” he says insistently. “She’s raised me since I was little, but she’s not my mother.”
I shove the mortar under his nose. “I’m only giving you extra medicine. See? So please just take it and go to sleep. We don’t want trouble from your Edith.”
He doesn’t, though. Instead he holds out the violet. “My real mother is sick, but she likes these flowers. They only grow in this area though.”
“So I went to the forest to get them,” he says sheepishly. “I thought . . . I thought she’d feel better if she saw these.”
He is staring at me with those sea-colored eyes, but I look away, focusing instead on the small crumpled flower in his hand. “May I?”
He nods and I scoop it gently into my palm, ignoring the tingle that races up my fingers as they brush against his skin. I focus instead on the soft, silky feeling of the petals, and immediately the wrinkled petals smoothen, the violet spreading out in my palm like a flower in bloom. I shove the violet back into his hands, but it is too late.
He grabs my wrist, eyes wide and excited. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” I snap, wrenching my wrist out of his hold. To my surprise, he puts the flower down and claps his hands together in a pleading gesture. “I saw it. You have magic, too, don’t you? I won’t tell anyone, I swear, so will you show it to me? Please?”
I cross my arms. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Even if I did, why would I do that? So you could set the kingdom guards on me like your Edith threatened to do to my mother?”
He sinks back against the wall, wilting. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry. I . . . I’m not like Edith. She’s afraid of magic, but I’m not.” He wrings his hands. “We don’t have magic in Eingard anymore. All the magic users in our part of the kingdom were rounded up and killed a long time ago. We grow up hearing tales of how evil magic is. But I had an uncle who was different. My mother’s brother. He used to show me all kinds of things and talk to me about magic.”
“What happened to him?”
His skin goes pale—which is saying something—and he seems a small child hiding from the memory of a nightmare. I perch on the edge of the cot, my hand resting near his knee. He sniffles. “The king’s guard took him away.”
I shift closer now, pressing my back into the cool mud wall, feeling him trembling next to me. I remember the first time I saw someone taken away from our village. Those gold-and-purple uniforms, that serpentine insignia, the way Mummy seized up like a statue and hid me in her skirts. I can still hear that lone Oluso’s screams as they tied him to their metal poles and carried him off . . .
I stare at the boy, and he stares back, sorrow heavy in his eyes. I sigh. “You promise not to tell anyone?”
He smiles. “I don’t have anyone to tell.”
I don’t know what that means, yet Mummy’s warnings fly into my head, remembrances that I wear like the cowry shell bangles that grace my wrists: Trusting another person is like swimming in a river. You can rest in the currents, but you must be prepared for the whorls that will come, and know there’s a chance that, one day, you will crash against the rocks and drown in the raging waters.
This thought is powerful, and yet so are his eyes—so earnest— gazing at me.
I spread my arms wide. My magic against my skin. The musky, hot air in the room swirls about my fingertips, and within seconds there are glowing white spheres flying about the room. One glides to my fingertip and, touching it, I think of the violet, of flowers in full bloom littering the forest floor. The white spheres shift into flowering shapes, swimming about like lilies on the water. He gasps, reaching for one, but the white flower floats away from him. “How?” he whispers.
“They’re wind spirits. I asked them to join us for a little while.”
I wave my hands in the air, picturing the sparkling brightness of the stars littering the night sky. All at once, the flowers shift into a shower of tiny lights, raining all around us. He jumps again, trying to catch one, but they slip through his fingers and zip around him. I watch with amusement. Before my magic first woke, I was like that, too, eager to touch the wind spirits that flitted about my mother. As though touching them would help me find the missing piece, the hidden path to my magic that lay in me all along. It is inevitable that this boy, too, feels the call, that his spirit desires to taste the magical world where it first drew breath, a world that has been sealed away from Aje like him. Seeing his beaming face awakes an ache in my chest, sorrow for the joys he will never experience, a silent mourning for the threads of his magic that were cut before he left the womb.
“How do you do all this?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I just think of them and ask them to come. Then I think of what shape I want them to arrive in.”
“But where do they come from?” he asks excitedly. “How does the magic work?”
I raise an eyebrow. “They really didn’t teach you anything up in the north, huh?”
He lowers his eyes. “As I said, we’re told magic is evil, and unless we control people like you, you’ll use it to murder us.”
I fling myself to my feet and all at once the wind spirits fade. I am not sure if it’s the heat or my anger that burns my skin when I speak again. “Is that what you think? That Oluso are murderers?”
The boy shakes his head vigorously. “No, it’s just—”
I wave a hand and green fire bursts from my fingertips, coiling itself around his arms and legs like vines creeping along a wall.
August 8, 2023
Ehigbor Okosun, or just Ehi, is an Austin-based author who writes speculative fiction, mystery thrillers, and contemporary novels for adult and YA audiences. Raised across four continents, she hopes to do justice to the myths and traditions she grew up steeped in, and honor her large, multiracial and multiethnic family. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with degrees in Plan II Honors, Neurolinguistics, and English, as well as Chemistry and Pre-Medical studies and is a Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentorship Award finalist. When she’s not reading, you can catch her bullet journalling, gaming, baking, and spending time with her loved ones. Forged By Blood, out on 8.8.23, is her debut novel.