The carriage slammed into a rut. It careened on its side, threatening to
pitch over, but fortunately didn't. The driver cracked his leather
whips, spurring on the horses. Mihai wasn't sure who was following them
or why, he only knew they were after his Mama, whatever the cost.
He glanced out the side window of the carriage as it shook, hoping for a
glimpse of his pursuers. Instead, he spied the setting sun casting
golden shadows over the treetops of the surrounding woods. In the
distance, torches blazed with tall flames as they lit up the turrets of
his ancestral castle overlooking the Black Sea. He prayed they could
make it far enough up the road to find the protection of his father's
His mama withdrew from the rear window. "Mihai, come here."
He sprang into his mother's arms. She ran her hands over his thick, wavy
hair and cupped his cheeks. "I know you're young, but you must be
He stiffened his shoulders and held up his head. He was the Crown Prince
of Moldavia, and he would not let his mother be hurt. "I am, Mama," he
announced, knowing this was a grave situation. He just didn't know why.
"Mihai, you are just a boy."
"I'm old enough to protect you!" He was ten now. Why did she still think
of him as a boy?
The carriage shook violently. It took another sharp turn and barely
"She's close." Mihai's mother gripped his shoulders.
"Who is it, Mama?"
"My dear sweet son, I am not truly Alice deBusch, Princess of
Weisgarten. My given name is Esmeralda Vacay, and I was raised Roma -- a
Mihai stared at her, confused. What did she mean? His father was the
King of Moldavia.
He would never marry a gypsy.
A loud pop thundered in his ears. The carriage jerked, stopped, then
tumbling end over end before landing upside down. Mihai was cushioned in
his mother's arms. He crawled out from under her, clutching her hand.
"Mama!" He didn't feel very brave anymore.
She squeezed his hand back, gasping for breath as she attempted to get
to her knees on the overturned ceiling of the carriage.
"I'm a gypsy witch, Mihai. Your father knew precisely who I was when we
fell in love. He came up with the identity of Alice deBusch so we could
marry," she continued between deep, hurried breaths.
"But witches are bad, Mama," Mihai said, recalling the tales and legends
he had overheard from the servants in the castle.
"No, Mihai, not all witches are bad, believe that." She paused. "I have
never used my power darkly. I did, however, incur the wrath of the witch
who follows us because I wouldn't do her bidding, and I wouldn't do it
because she is a dark witch." His mother ripped her skirt, tying it
around her bleeding leg.
The carriage rattled as if a heavy stick had prodded it.
"Son, I am far too impulsive for my own good. Guard your heart, be
"Get out, Esmeralda! Get out and face me, cowardly snit."
Mihai hugged his mother again, unwilling to let her go. She pushed the
upside down door open and forced her way out of the carriage. He sat
there, shaking with fear. After a deep breath, he dared to raise his
head level to the window.
"I've finally found you, Esmeralda, hiding behind the skirts of a queen,
no less. Well, I'll have from you now what you wouldn't give then."
Fear was replaced with courage, and Mihai scampered out of the carriage,
his own neat, Venetian clothes now torn and dirty. He ran to his mother,
who knelt before an old haggard woman. Their pursuer wore a dark cloak,
and her face was lined with wrinkles. The knife in her hand glowed an
eerie shade of obsidian fire. Her hateful eyes stabbed into the growing
darkness, bent on revenge. A quick glance in the direction of the driver
told Mihai that he was severely injured. He couldn't help them, and the
two horses that were pulling the carriage were absent.
"Leave my Mama alone!" Mihai yelled.
His bold declaration only brought his mother's hand down on his
shoulder. She squeezed it hard, making him flinch. Why did she do that?
He was a prince. He had to save her.
"Be quiet, son!"
"Why, Esmeralda, you dared to spawn," said the old witch. "Well, no
matter. If you don't pay your debt, I'll force your boy to pay it."
"Don't insult my son, Hecuba. He seeks to protect me, like any son would
his mother." "He's a pretty one, Esmeralda. Shall I have him pay for
"No," his mother snapped. "I will not use my power to curse another
"You owe me, snit. I did as your father wanted. He promised me your
service. You were in no position to forsake your family's debt."
Hecuba's voice was as cold as the night air. Mihai swallowed. The
witch's evil glare made him afraid.
"I will not do evil on your behalf."
"Then I'll take what's owed to me -- your son."
Mihai's mother pushed him to the ground, and he took in a mouthful of
dirt. Coughing and choking, he raised himself up on his elbows, the
growing twilight now taking the place of the sunlight. He watched in
horror as a powerful blast of lightning shot out from the old witch's
knife, only to be parried quickly by his mother as she withdrew her own
dagger from her torn skirts. Its bright white fire splayed the obsidian
lightning just inches from his body.
He stayed on the ground, frozen. Cold sweat ran down his temple, but he
was a prince, and a prince would show no weakness. His father had taught
The old witch reached into the pocket of her cloak and withdrew a sharp
pointed dart. His mama's eyes grew wide. Hecuba flung the dart directly
at Mihai, but his mama directed her dagger's fire at it, knocking it
"I've had enough of this game, Esmeralda."
Mihai heard the old woman chant words he couldn't understand. His gaze
cut to his mother. She stiffened her back. A dirty blue flame sliced the
air, striking his mother in the chest.
Hecuba took a step forward. "Now, I will cancel out your debt to me,
"No!" His mama slithered in front of Mihai, taking a second blast of
Her eyes rolled back in her head, and blood dripped from the corner of
Drawing a deep breath, she scrunched up her body, summoning all that she
could, and released a blast of her white energy, causing the old witch
to fly off the ground, and strike her back against the hard bark of an
oak tree. Hecuba slid down the trunk, her back awkwardly crooked against
the wood. The roots then lunged out of the ground, fastening her wrists
to the dirt.
"Mihai, son, I love you."
He couldn't stop his body from shaking. "I love you, too, Mama. Don't
She turned to face him. He threw himself into her arms, his chest aching
"My father asked her for the gravest of sins -- to kill another for
revenge, promising his firstborn child into her service as repayment for
the debt. I learned the ways of the witch as a young girl and when I
came of age, I refused, leaving my family without honoring that debt.
Shortly after that, I met your father. You understand, don't you?"
"I do! I do! Don't die, Mama! I love you!" He hugged her tighter, hoping
that his hug would make her live.
"My death will pay the debt. Be a good king, Mihai. Don't be impulsive
or reckless like me. Guard your heart. I could have made better
choices," she gasped.
His lower lip trembled. What did she mean? Why would she tell him about
things he didn't understand?
She jerked her hand forward, finding his. Her grasp was hard and icy.
"It is too much for you. Go to your father and tell him what has
happened. He will understand."
"Mama, don't die," Mihai sobbed.
"You are a witch, too, my son. It is in your blood as it is in mine."
She hung her head and grew limp in his arms, the light in her eyes
slowly fading. Deep inside his wounded heart, he knew his mother was
dead. It was just too much to handle. Filled with rage, he grabbed his
mother's dagger. It bled drops of white light onto the ground. He ran up
to Hecuba, placing the blade against her neck.
The old witch's eyes snapped open, making Mihai jump back. She struggled
to get up. "Think to kill me, snitty boy?"
"If you kill me, my coven will haunt your family forever." Mihai's hand
shook. "Shut up."
"From a witch you were born," Hecuba began. "Witch's blood runs in you."
"To witch a wife you'll take." Hecuba struggled against her bonds.
Mihai clenched the knife in his hand, his knuckles turning white.
"You'll forever be in debt to a witch, sweet prince."
Mihai lunged out, anger overcoming his fear of the witch. He sliced
Hecuba's neck just deep enough to draw blood. The sight of it unnerved
him and he backed away, shaking. What was he going to do? Blackness
surrounded him. The sounds of the night seemed to thunder in his ears.
Owls hooted, hogs grunted as they skirted the wood line. His only hope
was the flames from the torches on the castle's turrets. He turned
around and sprinted up the road, clenching his mother's dagger. It
seemed like he ran forever, with Delfin Castle coming into view by bits
and pieces. When he finally ran up the steps and entered, he went
directly to his father's study and collapsed.
His father's mouth twisted unpleasantly as Mihai told him how the old
witch had found them in Constanta and given chase. His father reacted
immediately, taking his best soldiers and racing down the road from
which Mihai had just come. When his father returned less than an hour
later, he carried his dead wife's body in his arms.
Excerpted from "The Wolf's Torment (Moldavian Moon Book 1)" by Stephanie Burkhart. Copyright © 2011 by Stephanie Burkhart. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.