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The Witch Collector (Witch Walker #1)
Author:Charissa Weaks

Little screaming figures burst from the darkness at the edge of the village, red faces tear-stained and carved with panic, hands waving as if to swat us away.

Every person on the green stumbles around, stunned and confused, whether by ale and wine or from calling down the moon. Still, many parents gather their wherewithal and lunge toward their crying children. Everyone is focused on the little ones, on their nonsensical words, but I glance back to the darkness. This time, I pay attention to the scent saturating the air.


Something moves in the shadows outside the village. Beyond, along the horizon, shines what looks like giant fireflies in the deep bend of the valley. Mother stands on the other side of the fire pit. She bristles with energy, her skin glistening in the moonlight. I force every ounce of emotion I can onto my face and motion west.

“Elders! Wardens!” she screams. The tendons in her throat strain with effort, but the people tasked with guarding our village sit at a table wearing lost expressions.

“Look! There!” A little girl points past the farrier’s cottage.

A horse, dark as night, charges into the light, hooves pounding the ground so hard that clumps of grass and earth fly up behind him. Villagers scramble out of the way. It’s as if the horse means to storm right through the green.

But the horse has a rider—a rider who jerks the reins and brings the looming animal to a halt.

A rider hidden beneath a black cloak.

The Witch Collector whips the beast around. “Get your feeble and young to the orchard!” His voice is so deep and commanding that every drunken villager sobers, including me. “Wardens, gather your horses and weapons and all the torches you can find! Witch Walkers, prepare your magick! Fill every bucket and pitcher with water from the troughs! Dowse the thatch!” From his side, he frees a sword that carries the stain of blood and aims the blade toward the fiery amber moons growing to the west. “Eastlanders are coming! And they’re going to set this village alight! Hurry!”

Parents scoop up their babes, and wardens finally run to find their blades and beasts. Elders and Witch Walkers chant the opening refrains of protective songs, all while rushing to the troughs to fill buckets. Families scatter into the night, some heading for the orchard and vineyards while others stumble around bewildered.

Mother rushes toward me and takes me by my arms. “We have to help! Let’s get to the well!”

We start across the green, but I look over my shoulder. Panic crawls down my throat and grips my heart as I scan the sea of faces for Finn, but I don’t see him. I need that damned knife. I also need him. I need to know he’s safe, but there’s such disorder, such confusion.

Gods, I should’ve watched the waters. I should’ve stayed true. I could’ve seen. Could’ve stopped this.

I can’t go to the well. I must stand and fight.

Mother stares at me in confusion when I jerk her to a halt. I glance around, searching not for a bucket but for anything to use as a weapon. There’s nothing save for musical instruments, drinking vessels, and too many dishes of food. I know where to find what I need, though.

Something sharp. Something deadly.

With that thought, I grab my mother’s hands, too scared to let her far from my sight, and run barefoot toward our cottage.



I storm through the back door and rush across the garth to the small outbuilding where we keep our harvest tools. Heart pounding, I snatch my scythe from its mount and spin around to find Mother gaping.

“No.” She holds up her hands as if that alone will stop me. “You are not a warrior, Raina.”

She’s right. I’m not a warrior. I’m a witch, and not a very good one on most counts, but I’m not helpless. All my life, at least until he died, Father taught me to use a scythe in nearby meadows. And though no one knows, Helena has taught me so much in the last year. Hel is a warrior, if anyone cared to pay attention to the blacksmith’s daughter. Her lessons alone have made me skilled enough that I don’t fear facing a sword if I must.

Resting the scythe in the crook of my arm, I bring my hands together. “I can swing a blade,” I sign. “An extra weapon could mean saving our home. I cannot stand by while you sing magick and hope it is not met with greater magick.”

I think of the stories Father used to tell me, the lessons about the world beyond the vale. Of all the kingdoms, the one I least want to fight is the Eastland Territories. The Summerlanders, brutal as they are, fight for life and land, but the Eastlanders fight from a place of greed, a place of sheer privilege and perceived domination. Their sovereign, the Prince of the East, is more like a mythical figure than a true leader. Father always assured me he exists, a man who somehow steals life and magick from others to grant himself immortality and power his own dark desires.

A man made of shadows, souls, and sin.

The Eastland armies have never invaded the Northlands, though, and I can’t imagine why the prince would deploy them here now.

Hurt flashes across Mother’s face. She opens her mouth to protest, but hoofbeats resonate, accompanied by war cries. We race through the cottage where she snatches one of her kitchen knives, and we hurry to the green, which has descended into disorder.

Turning in a circle, I search every terrified face one more time and let out a familiar whistle. It’s a little bird call that Finn taught me so I could summon him from a short distance. But he doesn’t rush to my side. He’s nowhere to be found.

Surely he and Hel did the same as me. Surely, with all their weapons, they’ll stand against what’s coming. I just pray they stay safe.

Mena leads a chorus of voices, chanting a curtain of magick around our village, even while those same singing Witch Walkers haul water from the troughs. Mother tucks her knife into her corded belt, grabs a pail, and joins the crowd in their song. Sadly, the protective construction struggles to rise, a silvery veil lifted by distressed witches.

A western wind slips over the failing construct. I bury my nose in my elbow, nearly gagging from the eye-watering stench of death. It reeks like a thousand fading souls.

Gods. Am I smelling death from other villages?

I stare at the many flickering flames coming nearer and nearer, a strange pulse beating in the air, bringing a sense of doom I’ve never known.

Then I see him—the Witch Collector. He rides right past me, his uncovered head turned the other way.

One glance at him and all the hurt, pain, and fear inside me twists into rage and loathing. Armies don’t attack innocent people for no reason. The Frost King had to have done something to cause this. More loss I can lay at his feet.

The Witch Collector turns his stallion this way and that, scouring the village like he’s searching for someone. He shouts at a man who shrugs and shakes his head before running away. He yells at another man running past, but there’s too much noise to hear them.