Breath of Angel: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle)

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9780307730121: Breath of Angel: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle)
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The stranger’s cloak had fallen back, and with it, a long, white, blood-stained wing.
 
When Melaia, a young priestess, witnesses the gruesome murder of a stranger in the temple courtyard, age-old legends recited in song suddenly come to life. She discovers wings on the stranger, and the murderer takes the shape of both a hawk and a man.
 
Angels. Shape-shifters. Myths and stories—until now.
 
Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm. When Melaia becomes a target, she finds refuge with a band of angels attempting to restore the stairway. But the restoration is impossible without settling an ancient debt—the “breath of angel, blood of man,” a payment that involves Melaia’s heart, soul, and destiny.

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About the Author:

Award-winning author Karyn Henley has written over one hundred titles. An accomplished songwriter, Karyn has been a Dove Award nominee and received a regional Emmy Award as music composer for a television special. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, a jazz drummer.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The prick of the thorn drew blood, but Melaia smiled. The last ramble rose of the season was well worth a pierced  thumb. She carefully drew the blossom from the vine that clung to the side of the temple. As she breathed its rich, sweet scent, she sensed someone watching and looked up, expecting to see one of the novice priestesses. She saw only dry leaves skittering across the flagstones of the walled courtyard, along with a black feather, no doubt from a bird scavenging seeds in the woodpile.

Then a haggard young man stepped through the gate, and Melaia drew back. The chill autumn breeze riffled the edge of his dirt-stained cloak, revealing the corner of a journey pack and the hilt of a dagger.

Melaia gave him a tentative nod.

“I’ve come—” His voice was dirt dry. He wiped his fist across his mouth.

“I’ll fetch water.” Melaia tucked the rose into her waist sash and headed for the stone urn by the arched doorway. "Travelers are always welcome at our temple. We’ve pallets if you wish to stay the night.” She would have to check
with the high priestess, but Hanni rarely turned away weary travelers.

“My thanks,” the man croaked.

Melaia flipped back her loose honey brown braid and dipped a pottery cup into the cool water. “I’m chantress here, always eager to hear new tales from travelers.”

The young man looked too weary to tell tales. Or too ill. His dark-ringed eyes darted from one afternoon shadow to another, and he cocked his head as if he heard something beyond the walls.

“We’re healers here as well,” she offered.

For a moment his wild eyes focused on her. Then he glanced above her head, and his hand went to his dagger.

But he never drew it.

A hawk, larger than any she’d ever seen, shot like an arrow past Melaia and sank its talons into the stranger’s chest. The man’s raw screams pierced the air as the hawk’s beak knifed at his throat.

Melaia stood stunned and speechless. But as the hawk flapped its great wings and lifted the man a handbreadth off the flagstones, her senses surged back.

She snatched a branch from the woodpile and swung it at the hawk. The raptor screeched and dropped the stranger. “Fight!” she yelled at him. “Fight back!”

But it was the hawk that fought, its wings beating at her stick as its claws snagged the man again. At last Melaia struck a solid blow to the hawk’s head, and it skidded sideways. She chased after it, but the raptor took to the air, quickly rose, and soared away over the domed roof of the temple.

Melaia flung aside the stick and fell to her knees by the bloodied man.

Then she covered her mouth and swallowed a bitter taste. “Most High, have mercy,” she croaked. Seeing wounds so deep and blood flowing freely, she wasn’t surprised that the stranger’s mistlike spirit had emerged from his body. As a death-prophet, she could see the shadowy echo writhing around his form as he struggled to live.

“Mellie? Is it safe?” Dark-eyed Iona stood in the temple doorway, holding back the other two novices. At fourteen, she was the motherly one, although Melaia was two years older. Curly-haired Peron, still baby plump at six, peered around Iona, clutching her skirts, while twelve-year-old Nuri broke away from them and ran across the yard, her usual dimpled smile gone.

“Is he dead?” Nuri asked.

“Not yet,” Melaia told her. “Take Peron and fetch a basket of plumwort. And water.”

Nuri stared at the man’s wounds. “We saw the hawk.”

“Go!” said Melaia. “I need plumwort to stanch the bleeding.”

As Nuri dashed away, Melaia wondered why the high priestess hadn’t appeared.

“Where’s Hanni?” she called to Iona.

“Summoned to a birthing. The weaver’s wife.” Iona nervously twisted the end of her black braid.

“Then come help me carry the man inside.”

Melaia hesitated. She was often called to the bedside of the dying to confirm the moment of death, but never had she been required to reach through a spirit to touch someone. Of course, other people did it all the time, she told herself. They just couldn’t see the struggling, mistlike layer. She took a deep breath, grasped the man’s bloodied cloak, and pressed it to the gashes in his chest. His spirit pooled around her wrists, vibrating like a throat quivering with speech.

“Can you hear me?” Melaia asked, keeping pressure on his wound.

The stranger’s spirit thrummed frantically, as if he were trying to say something.

“Where’s the plumwort?” Melaia yelled.

Nuri ran across the yard, sloshing a jar of water. Peron trotted behind her with the basket of plumwort. Iona knelt at the man’s feet, her mouth moving silently in prayer.

Melaia reached for the plumwort, but the man’s spirit slid off his body, thinned into a stream, and seeped through a crack in the flagstones. A sudden, grim silence fell over the yard. Melaia shook her head at Nuri and Peron and closed the man’s green-flecked eyes.

Peron stuck out her lower lip. “I was too slow.”

“No, I was.” Nuri’s shoulders drooped.

“No one’s at fault,” said Melaia, but she couldn’t help thinking that the man might still be alive if she had only laid into the hawk sooner. “Let’s get him inside.” She lifted his upper body. For his bulk he was surprisingly light.

Iona lifted his legs. “Starved twig-thin,” she said. “Poor man.”

They carried the stranger to the sanctuary altar, the bier for those who could afford no better. Melaia took a deep breath, wishing Hanni were there. “Iona, find me a winding-sheet,” she said. “Peron, go with Nuri. Fetch more water and scrub the courtyard.”

“But it’s bloody,” said Nuri. Peron wrinkled her nose.

“Would you rather clean the man’s body?” asked Melaia. Nuri and Peron scrambled out the door. Iona followed.

Melaia gently eased the man’s cloak from his chest and winced, wondering where Hanni would begin. She exhaled slowly. “Start with the easiest,” she murmured.

She untangled his pack from one forearm. As she slipped it free, she noticed the end of a small scroll clenched in his fist. “First the pack,” she told herself, glancing around. Her gaze fell on a shelf of incense bowls. She stashed the pack there, then turned back to the altar-bier and froze.

The stranger’s cloak had fallen back and, with it, a long, white, bloodstained wing.

Melaia’s knees almost buckled. “An angel?” she whispered. It couldn’t be. Angels were found only in legends. Chanters’ stories. Bedtime tales.

Iona’s voice echoed down the corridor. “Do we need more water?”

Melaia jerked the cloak back around the man.

Iona strode in with a bundle of white linen. “Do we need more water?”

“We need Hanni,” said Melaia.

“You look as if you’ve seen the man’s ghost.” Iona looked around. “Has he returned?”

“Just go get Hanni.”

Distant drums signaled the closing of Navia’s city gates and the change of watch on the walls. On the altar-bier in the temple, the winged man lay serene and clean, covered in white linen up to his chin. Melaia didn’t often sit with the dead, but as she lit the oil lamps behind the bier, she decided that tonight she would request a vigil. She hoped the high priestess would join her, for she had a night’s worth of questions to ask.

But so far, the high priestess hadn’t returned. She had sent Iona back to say that the birthing was a difficult one and she must stay with it, although she was upset at the news of a death in the side yard. Hanni intended to stop by the
overlord’s villa and bring his advisor, Benasin, back to the temple with her.

As Melaia held the flaming twist of rushweed to the last wick, she eyed the three girls munching their supper on a reed mat across the room. With Hanni gone they had asked to stay with Melaia instead of eating in the hearthroom down the hall. She was glad for their company. She felt as shaky as they did, although she hadn’t told them about the stranger’s wings. She wanted Hanni’s opinion first.

Melaia tossed the spent rushweed into the brazier in the center of the room and stirred the coals into flame. For a moment she watched the smoke curl up and drift like a dying spirit out through the roof hole above. Except dying
spirits always drifted down, not up.

“I’m saving my scraps for the chee-dees,” Peron said, scooping her crumbs into a tiny hill.

“Fetch your crumb jar from the storeroom, then,” said Melaia. “When you’ve finished cleaning up, I’ll tell a story.”

Peron stared warily at the dark corridor that lay beyond the bier.

“I’ll go with you.” Nuri slipped one of the lamps from its niche. With an uneasy smile she guided Peron to the corridor, giving wide berth to the bier. Iona stoppered the olive oil. “Peron is telling tales again. This time it’s about two falcons scaring away her songbird friends.”

“She must have been inspired by the hawk in the yard today.” Melaia stacked the empty wooden bowls and glanced at the stranger who should have eaten a meal with them tonight.

“Peron said the falcons were darker than closed eyes,” said Iona.

“I can picture that.” Melaia lifted her harp from its peg.

“And they had people hands.&r...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781933803265: Breath of Angel: A Novel (Angelaeon Circle)

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ISBN 10:  1933803266 ISBN 13:  9781933803265
Publisher: Andon Press, 2011
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9780692200346: Breath of Angel

Jill G..., 2014
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