Genre: YA Fantasy Romance
Cover Artist: Julia Debski
The Hazel Tree revisits a classic Cinderella tale of abuse and sought after freedom from the confines of a cruel life.
Ivy Lune is not your ordinary girl for within her blood flows the secrets of an ancient species of werewolf; a secret that also foretells of a great war and a struggle for ultimate supremacy.
Ivy lives a life of isolation torment at the hands of her aunt and cousins for the majority of her life. Mistreated and neglected, she longs to escape the shackles of her prison-like life. And in that longing, she learns the truth of her identity. She learns her place in a long line of events that were set into motion many years ago. She finds intimacy and belonging in a much larger family.
All the while, unknown to her, there are dangerous forces are at work; old blood ties and murderous plots threaten her chance at happiness beyond her current life.
The Hazel Tree is a tale of mystery and romance set against a supernatural backdrop of terrifying and awesome power.
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/a6y2fro8eG8
Nestled deep within the dark mountains that neighbor the Black Sea lay an ancient castle in a valley, forever hooded by a swirl of thunderous clouds. It looked as though some god or deity had taken an inkbottle and poured the contents into the dip between the mountains. It cloaked the ground, the water, the stone, and even the air. To each molecule of oxygen clung a droplet of shadow, tinting the air so black no torch could pierce it. The air hung heavy, masking Waelwulf Castle and its residents. Any sign of Mother Nature’s beauty had long escaped this land, all vegetation long gone. In its place resided an evil force, something far more vicious and deadly than any visitor could imagine. It belonged to the family who lived within the impenetrable stonewalls: the royal family of Wulf, the head of the Black Sea Pack, the sole survivor of the Great Wars, the most ancient and powerful pack on planet Earth.
In front of their home was a vast plain, stretching deep into the darkness. Two massive wolves emerged from the shadows simultaneously. Upon catching sight of each other’s glittering eyes in the blackness, their hackles rose and growls erupted from deep within their chests. Circling slowly with teeth bared, each step was calculated, measured, carefully placed. Wolves crossing paths on the barren grounds that surrounded the castle were rare. A direct challenge such as this was always met with death for the offending party. Both wolves had this in mind as they faced each other off.
A howling wind brushed across them then, curling around their paws and tails and the hills of their tense raised shoulders before sweeping into the darkness. With it though the wolves caught each other’s scents and relaxed with recognition. They moved in unison towards the castle.
They reached the scarred metal gates that stood a few dozen paces from the castle’s front door. For centuries all that had stood between the foe in battles and the castle had been these gates, somehow untouchable by the enemy. Warriors believed it was protected by magic.
The wolves shifted into their human forms. "Axel," one said, nodding. His appearance was much like his wolf: black hair, confident brown eyes, square jaw, long legs and a tall frame. Even his gait was like his wolf’s, the slow cadence of a predator.
"Robinson," Axel said in return. He was short with a brush of red hair across his head and jaw, and small, nervous eyes. He didn’t have any of the grace his comrade had, due to his short stature.
After the brief exchange, they took the time to make themselves presentable, straightening the rumples in their clothing. The old gate creaked open, allowing them to pass and approach the castle’s front doors. Robinson stepped forward then and knocked evenly three times.
After a long pause, one of the doors slowly creaked open, revealing a thin young man dressed in plain black clothing with royal red embroidering, leaning heavily on a wooden cane. Recognizing the two men, he quickly hobbled aside. They strode past him without any acknowledgement. It was later, after they had moved out of earshot of the handicapped porter, that Axel said something.
"Learn a lesson from Dane, Robinson. Never ever question your superiors. Look at him, once one of the kingdom’s finest warriors. And now condemned to a life of servitude, and with a damaged leg! He doesn’t even have the option of marrying, poor fellow."
Robinson merely nodded. There was not much too be said, in any case, as he knew more about Dane’s offense than Axel thought or knew himself.
Any chance to continue the conversation was ended as they reached the end of the cold corridor. Axel reached out almost hesitantly, and knocked a specific beat on the plain little door. A peephole was opened, revealing a menacing eye staring down upon the two men.
“I am here to see King Cronan. He is expecting me,” Robinson said confidently, silently challenging the eye to deny him.
“I am also here to see His Majesty,” Axel added, a slight quaver to his voice.
The eye flickered from one spy to the other several times before taking a few slow, long blinks. After a long minute, the eye finally withdrew itself and the peephole slammed shut. Then the door opened to reveal the owner of the eye, a large man, taller than Robinson and thicker than Axel’s height, with an array of battle scars that shone in the light as he grunted at them and led them down a narrow hallway.
It eventually opened into a large, majestic room. The walls were covered in looted swords, shields, heads of enemies, and other treasures; priceless paintings of the kings who had ruled over Waelwulf Castle long ago were hung over the multiple crackling fireplaces. Yet even with the candlelight and the fires burning, the room was still dark, darker than much of the castle Robinson and Axel had traveled through.
The most ornate chandelier hung over a painting of a bearded man standing beside a dark brown wolf, their shoulders touching. In the center of the room was almost an exact replica of the portrait, minus the wolf, who had simply been the same man posing in his other form. In fact, it appeared as if the King had barely aged a day since the portrait was finished over sixty years ago.
"Axel. Robinson. I trust you bring news?" King Cronan asked, sipping wine from a silver goblet.
"Yes, Your Highness. I have returned with information of the Orarius Pack, as you requested," Axel announced puffing his chest out grandly.
"And you, Robinson? What do you return with?"
"I return with good news, Your Highness," Robinson replied with a shadow of a smirk. Cronan chuckled slightly, mildly impressed by Robinson’s word choice. Axel didn't find it amusing.
"Your Highness, the descendant we have been watching—his mate is with child," Axel said, disgruntled.
The King’s expression grew somber once more and he focused a penetrating gaze on Axel. "And do you know the sex of the child?"
Axel hesitated before bowing his head. "I do not, Your Highness. My deepest apologies."
"Your apologies will not tell us the gender of the offspring, Axel, no matter how deep they may be," the King said in a cold, detached voice. Axel swallowed audibly.
Suddenly the King snapped his fingers and a dozen wolves emerged from the shadows of the room. They prowled forward, snarls erupting from them one by one as they closed in on Axel.
"It will be a she-wolf, Your Highness," Robinson said calmly, as if the proceedings around him didn't bother him in the slightest—which, knowing Robinson, actually didn’t. He knew that in light of Axel’s disappointing performance, he would be rewarded for the morsel of information.
King Cronan held up a hand, signaling the wolves to halt and return to their designated spots. "And do we know anything about the garden?" he asked, looking thoroughly pleased at the vague wording of his question.
But Robinson understood perfectly. "The tree has sprouted, but it can barely be distinguished from the weeds," Robinson replied.
"So we will have to wait," said the King, making it sound more like a statement than a question. He locked his eyes onto his spy’s. Robinson did not waver, holding his gaze calmly as the atmosphere in the room grew tense until, finally the King began to chuckle and they both looked away at once.
With a flick of his wrist, King Cronan dismissed the two men. Axel was the fastest to bow and turn his back on the king. Eager to leave the room, he didn’t notice the change of his superior’s expression.
Robinson had been slower, and paused at the subtle shift in the air. “You must be wondering why I told both of you to report to me at the same time.” While the question was directed at both of them, the king’s gaze did not waver from Axel’s back. The ginger man had frozen, eyes closed, still facing the door, though there was no denying the fear that trembled through his body. Cronan continued as if he had not noticed. “You see, I suspected that one of you was, perhaps, a spy. An infiltrator.”
Robinson froze as well, despite his best efforts. No, surely no…
Another snap of Cronan’s fingers and the wolves re-emerged, more aggressive and terrifying than before. Half moved towards Axel, the others towards Robinson. Axel turned to his king. “Your Highness—please—I don’t understand.” The words slipped from his tongue and into the room before he had a chance to stop them.
That was a mistake.
Cronan’s nostrils flared and a hand twitched towards the goblet. “How can I be more clear, Axel?”
“Yes Axel, what has His Majesty said that you find so difficult to understand?” Robinson said, against his better judgment. The king’s eyes snapped to Robinson, growing ever more black but still holding a sparkle of amusement. What boring company he must keep for Robinson’s words to hold such humor.
Axel looked at Robinson, eyes full of betrayal and fear. In return Robinson looked back with remorse.
A second snap of fingers signaled two wolves to grab each of Axel’s arms. The cries echoed around the room as sharp teeth sunk into tender flesh. “You see, I think that you know more than you are revealing to me. If Robinson was able to discover the gender of the child and find the tree, surely you would be able to as well. So why not tell me? Ah, yes. Because you had something to protect. Because your loyalties lie elsewhere—with the Orarius Pack, the Coastal Pack,” Cronan spat at Axel.
“You are mistaken, Y-your Highness.” Axel’s voice hitched as the wolf holding his right arm tightened his grip, sinking his teeth deeper into the muscle. Axel’s knees gave out, and his face paled.
“I am not mistaken, Axel. You are. You pledged allegiance to the wrong pack,” the King deadpanned before drinking the rest of the liquid in his goblet. He smacked his lips a couple of times before returning his gaze to the man on his knees, now quietly sobbing. Robinson discreetly bowed his head, but turned it at a slight angle so he could catch Axel’s eye. Through the tears, the doomed man watched as Robinson mouthed sacred words to him: Father Moon, may you carry my brother’s spirit and his wolf safely to the Sacred Land and may you-
Robinson stopped and turned his head away as droplets of blood splattered across his face and screams pierced the air. The sound of tearing flesh was not unfamiliar, but it still made Robinson feel a deep, inconsolable sadness. He finished the prayer in his head, hoping it caught onto Axel’s spirit in time. Soon the screams stopped and silence fell, except for the quiet drip-drop of blood. Robinson slowly raised one hand and wiped away the red stain on his cheek. It smeared instead.
“Well then, I suppose we will just have to pay them a visit. Go find Prince Naples and tell him to get ready,” Cronan, said, continuing the conversation as if nothing had happened. And indeed, it appeared as if nothing had, the wolves having returned to the shadows while King Cronan and Robinson stood facing one another. The stench of death was easy to ignore if you tried hard enough. The sound of dripping blood, however, still echoed.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Robinson said. He stowed away his remorse and grief for Axel. They had only known each other briefly and compassion was not welcome in the Mara Negra’s court. Turning his head away, Robinson allowed himself a small triumphant smile. Everything was going according to plan.
The king rose from his seat, empty goblet in hand. He approached Axel’s torn and mangled body and lowered the goblet into one of the deeper pools of blood, making sure to fill it as much as he could before he took a sip. So perhaps it had not been wine.
Julia Debski was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1996. Her family moved around a lot during her childhood before finally settling down in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It wasn't until the 8th grade that she found her passion for writing. It was thanks to a particularly inspiring English teacher and a story that needed to be told. So she began to write, and she never stopped.
Four years later she found herself with nearly a dozen started novels and short stories. As junior in high school she was introduced to Greg Wilkey, a self-published independent author of four novels. He soon became a mentor to her as she worked to write and self-publish her own novel. After two years of hard work, and a nearly a year of mentorship The Hazel Tree was published in October 2013.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/juliadebski (@juliadebski)