The Witch Collector
by Charissa Weaks
Series: Witch Walker Series
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: New Adult/Adult
Published: November 2, 2021
Publisher: City Owl Press, LLC
Shown on page: Child Murder, Violence, Battle (some mild gore, blood), Animal Violence (crow), Adult Language, Open-door Love Scene, Loss of Parent, Grief and Guilt
Alluded to: Suicidal Ideation
“You can’t handle the truth!” • We’re Not in Kansas Anymore • “Lalalala… A little but Alexus.”
Every harvest moon, the Witch Collector rides into our valley and leads one of us to the home of the immortal Frost King, to remain forever.
Today is that day—Collecting Day.
But he will not come for me. I, Raina Bloodgood, have lived in this village for twenty-four years, and for twenty-four years he has passed me by.
Raina Bloodgood has one desire: kill the Frost King and the Witch Collector who stole her sister. On Collecting Day, she means to exact murderous revenge, but a more sinister threat sets fire to her world. Rising from the ashes is the Collector, Alexus Thibault, the man she vowed to slay and the only person who can help save her sister.
Thrust into an age-old story of ice, fire, and ancient gods, Raina must abandon vengeance and aid the Witch Collector in saving the Frost King or let their empire—and her sister—fall into enemy hands. But the lines between good and evil blur, and Raina has more to lose than she imagined. What is she to do when the Witch Collector is no longer the villain who stole her sister, but the hero who’s stealing her heart?
The Witch Collector is book one in a thrilling romantic fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Sarah J. Maas, and Jennifer L. Armentrout.
Chapter One: Raina
Under the bruised light of early dawn, I sneak through the rear door of the baker’s hut, swipe two loaves of fresh bread off a cooling rack, and slip into the silvery fog creeping through our sleeping village. No one sees me. No one hears me. I’ve been quiet and stealthy all my life, used to being the overlooked witch without a voice. But I’ve never been a thief, and I’ve never been a murderer.
People change, I suppose.
With the bread bundled inside my apron, I rush into the empty cottage that I share with my mother and drag my pack from beneath the bed. That sweet yeast-and-honey aroma makes my empty stomach grumble, but I must stay focused. The stolen bread might save us in the coming days.
The last few weeks have given me reason to believe that those I love can have a different future than the one that has stretched before us for so many years—one of fear, dread, and loss. Finally, we can leave Silver Hollow and this valley, find a new life far away, someplace safe from the heavy hands of immortal rulers.
I just need to kidnap the Frost King’s right-hand man first, force him to guide me through the forbidden Frostwater Wood, ambush the kingdom’s guarded castle at Winterhold, kill my enemies, and take back my sister.
Once I’ve added the loaves to the other items I’ve prepared for our flight, I shove the pack back to its hiding place. Most young witches in the village are probably huddled with their families, worried about being taken, while I’m plotting a one-woman uprising.
But unlike the other witches in the vale, I’ve never feared being chosen. Witch Walkers sing their magick, in Elikesh, the language of the Ancient Ones. Born without the ability to speak, I learned to weave magickal constructions by translating Elikesh using the language Mother taught me—a language of signs spoken with hands.
Creating magick in this way is a difficult skill. Sometimes, I get it wrong. A word here, a refrain there. That struggle, and the fact that not a single witch’s mark lives on my skin, has made me invisible for the choosing. The chosen Witch Walkers help protect the northernmost borders and Winterhold itself. What would Colden Moeshka, the Frost King, want with an unskilled witch like me?
A grin tempts my lips.
If only he knew all that I can do.
A hard thud smacks the door, and the sound reverberates through my bones. At first, I think it might be Mother, her arms overloaded with apples as she toes the door for me to let her inside. But the unmistakable scent of death wafts beneath the threshold. The smell is weak, but it’s there.
When I drag open the door, a dove lies on the ground, its wings splayed and unmoving. With a gentle touch, I cradle the bird in the bend of my arm, trail my fingers over her head and breast, and carry her inside. Her neck looks damaged, but she’s still alive, though barely. I have a few minutes to save her, but that’s all.
More often than not, the chance to help passes me by. It’s safer if no one knows that I’m a Healer. I’ve never dared tell my parents or anyone else. Not even my friend Finn. Only my sister, Nephele, knows that I have this skill. She always said to be thankful that I have no witch’s marks, because the power living inside me makes me valuable.
And valuable things get locked away.
As the scent of death grows sharper, I sit in Mother’s chair near the hearth and nestle the dove in my lap. Her death smells like pine needles and damp moss mixed with a hint of chilly rain. On a deep inhale, I close my eyes, absorbing that scent, and watch as the shimmering, coiled strands of the dove’s life unravel like a spool of thread.
I’m not sure this is my wisest decision given what I must do today. Healing can be tiring, depending on how near death is and the size of the life I’m weaving back together. A tiny dove should be a small effort, though. I can’t just let her die.
Concentrating, I imagine the dim strands becoming a gleaming braid, and the dove soaring over the valley. This is the first part of every rescue—to manifest a vision of my will. Next, I drudge up the ancient song I’ve known since the first time I saw the threads of life in a dying doe and form the lyrics with my hands.
“Loria, Loria, anim alsh tu brethah, vanya tu limm volz, sumayah, anim omio dena wil rheisah.”
The strands glow and tremble, drawn together like iron to lodestone. I keep singing, repeating the words until the strands have entwined and the gilded construct of life is once again solid and resplendent.
The dove’s wings flap and ruffle. When I open my eyes, her heart pounds so hard that her breast moves with each beat. Her little eyes open too, and she’s up, flying from wall to wall. I shove open the shutters and watch her take off into the cold, vanishing in the distance near the forest’s boundary.
I’m a little tired and dizzy, and cold sweat slicks my brow, but I’ll recover. The strangest part of healing a life so close to its end is that the stolen death coils inside me like a shadow. I only have a handful of deaths tucked away, but I feel the tiny darkness of each one.
I begin to close the shutters, but instead, I pause and take in the view of morning in the village—possibly my last. To the west, where Frostwater Wood curves over the hills, the midnight shift of Witch Walkers moves along the forest’s edge near the watchtower, gliding through the gloom like ghosts. And in the mist, just beyond the village green, a few women appear from the east. They carry baskets of apples on their heads, surrounded by clouds of their own breath. All else is calm, for now, a village on the cusp of waking for the most dreaded day of the year.
After stoking the fire, I exchange my cloak for a shawl and head to my worktable. The sun is almost up, which means that Finn will wake soon, and like the others carrying their apples, Mother will return from the orchard any moment. There’s work to do, a plan that I must see to the end, though it’s hard to imagine leaving all I’ve ever known.
But I cannot stay. We live in a world where wars simmer between two of Tiressia’s continental breaks—the Eastland territories and the Summerlands to the south. For centuries, every eastern ruler has tried to conquer the southern lands, longing to claim the City of Ruin—a citadel believed to hold the Grove of the Gods, and the burial ground of Tiressia’s deities.
Or so says the myth.
To the Frost King’s credit, I’ve never known war. The Northlands have remained neutral, but our citizens—whether protecting the coast, the mountains, the valley, the Iceland Plains, or the king himself—must live according to the Frost King’s wishes, guardians above all else. I believe I have the power to change that, to end his immortal life and make us a free land governed by its people, free to live as we choose.
And that’s what I aim to do.
Father’s old whetstone sits at the bottom of his trunk. I gather it from beneath his other work tools and scoop a cup of rainwater from the wash bucket for the grinding task. Just as I sit to work, Mother bursts into the cottage carrying a bushel of apples. She kicks the door shut, but not before a bitter wind out of Frostwater Wood follows her inside. With a grunt, she drops the laden basket.
The cold wraps around me, and I tug my shawl tighter, the colorful one Nephele knitted ages ago. Lately, her memory is everywhere. Even the rime-covered apples at my feet make me think of her. Nephele loved the orchard and enjoyed the Collecting Day harvest. She also didn’t mind living on the Northland break of Tiressia’s shattered empire, nor was she bothered by the touch of winter that clings to our valley after every harvest moon.
I’m the opposite. I hate living in the Northlands. I hate the Collecting Day harvest, and I hate this time of year. Each passing autumn day is another reminder that the Witch Collector is coming and that Silver Hollow, with its rolling green hills and sun-washed flaxen fields, will soon be buried beneath winter’s suffocating frost.
Mother wipes a strand of graying hair from her brow and props elegant hands on her wide hips. “I know you’ll think me foolish,” she says, “but this will be a good day, my girl. I feel it in my bones.”
Mother’s witch’s marks are few, her magick simple. The swirls of her ability glisten under a fine sheen of cold sweat, faint silver etchings curving along the tawny skin of her slender neck.
Setting the cup of rainwater aside, I force today’s first smile. My fingers are stiff with cold when I sign. “I am sure you are right. I should get to peeling.”
A beat later, I spin on my stool, turning away from her and those knowing eyes.
My smile vanishes as I light the candles that illuminate my work area. I want to avoid this conversation. It happens every year, and every year the Witch Collector proves Mother’s intuition wrong.
Still, I would never call her foolish. Though a dreamer with her head in the stars, my mother is the wisest person I’ve ever known. It’s just that this day is never good, and this year it might be worse than ever before.
Because of me.
I unlock the worktable drawer and retrieve our salvation, the reason I’ve found such bravery for taking back our lives: Father’s old knife. The God Knife, he called it, said to have been fashioned by an eastern sorcerer from the broken rib of a long-dead god. It had been missing since the winter after my sister was chosen, lost in the snow-covered fields the day Father’s heart stopped beating.
A few weeks ago, a group of farmers found the blade during harvest, half-buried in the soil of a soon-to-be fallow field. One of them, Finn’s father Warek, recognized the knife by its unusual white granite hilt, strange black blade, and the amber stone set into the pommel. He made sure the farmers returned the find to my mother.
“What is so special about a God Knife?” I asked one night when I was still small enough to sit on Father’s knee. My father carried that knife everywhere he went. There was no question that it was important.
He’d just come in from harvest. I still remember the way he smelled—like musk and field. I traced the veins in his hand, following his witch’s marks—the marks of a reaper—that branched like tree roots over his knotty knuckles.
“The God Knife is a god remnant,” he answered. “God bone, fashioned by the hand of Un Drallag the Sorcerer. It harkens to the soul of the god from whose body the bone was taken. It can kill anyone and anything, the blessed and the cursed, the forever living and the risen dead—even other gods.”
“Yet you keep it,” I’d said, not understanding the depth of his words or the fact that they would one day change my world.
His only reply had been: “Yes, daughter. I keep it. Because I must.”
Like Nephele, thoughts of my father are never far from my mind. Why he went to the fields the day he died—in the dead of winter—will forever remain a mystery, as will the question that might haunt me until my last breath: If the blade is so all-powerful, why didn’t he use it to save us? To save Nephele?
He had possession of the knife for years—a god killer, an immortal slayer, a divine weapon. Never once did he use it against the Frost King to change our circumstances.
Mother leans over my shoulder and unties her cloak as she eyes the knife. The scent of cloves, fallen leaves, and smoky coldness floats from her skin and clothes.
“You’re sharpening that old thing?”
She holds no faith in Father’s tales of finding the God Knife along the Malorian seashore. Though she’s kept the blade hidden away since its rediscovery, Mother still doesn’t believe in its myth and claims it has no power.
But I believe.
Because I feel it.
In answer, I hold the dull, black edge to the candlelight. I need this knife sharp enough to penetrate sinew and bone, and I only trust one pair of hands to make sure that it can. Unfortunately, those hands aren’t mine.
“Carry on, then,” Mother says. “But we have better knives for peeling apples, Raina.”
I need to get the knife to Finn. He usually works with iron mined near the Mondulak Range, but his hands are the hands I trust. I just need an excuse because Mother is right. We have other blades for the day’s work. I’ve no reason to be so focused on this one, none that she’ll believe anyway, and it’s not like I can explain my plan. Something tells me she wouldn’t be too keen to learn that her daughter means to kidnap the Witch Collector today at knifepoint.
Mother hangs her cloak by the door and crosses to the hearth to pour a mug of mulled apple cider. When she returns to my side, she watches over my shoulder as I position Father’s whetstone on a piece of oiled cloth. She says the knife isn’t made of bone. What bone is black as night and cold as ice?
But it’s bone. God bone. Not flint or steel. I’m so sure of it. Something deep inside that old marrow vibrates with every pass, as though I’m bringing it back to life.
More sweat beads on my brow as I work, sliding the edge along the stone with careful measure. What if I damage it? Can god bone be damaged? And what if the Witch Collector bests me today when I hold this blade to his throat?
My hands tremble at the thought of standing against him, enough that I falter in my work. Bone catches against stone—a nick of my fingertip. I gasp and suck the wound.
Gods’ death. Only I would accidentally kill myself with the very weapon that could save me.
“Raina, careful.” Mother sets her mug aside and studies the cut. She touches my chin, love softening her eyes. “I know you consider this knife a connection to your father, but maybe Finn should have a look at the blade if you’re so determined to use it. I prefer your beautiful hands intact.”
My pulse quickens. I feel like a child again, a little girl hiding something from her mother. But this is the perfect moment. I couldn’t have designed it any better.
“Finn is probably on his way to the shop,” I sign. “I will take it to him, and I will finish the apples long before noon. I promise.”
“Go.” She smiles. “But don’t be long. The harvest supper won’t prepare itself.”
I throw on my cloak, wrap the knife in a piece of animal skin, and head for the door.
I glance over my shoulder, and Mother crosses the small distance between us.
“You try so hard to hide it,” she says, “yet a mother knows her child better than all else. Do not let your loathing lead you—or us—to trouble, Raina. If you’re going to promise me anything, promise me that.”
Her sharp, indigo eyes dart to the bundled knife like she knows my every intention, and guilt and shame squeeze my heart for what I’m about to do. What I must do.
I lean in, kiss her soft cheek, and lie anyway.
“I promise,” I sign, and slip into the cold, gray light of day.
1. What inspired you to write this book?
This story was originally written to theme for an anthology. The theme was that the story needed to have some concept of witchcraft and an enchanted forest. Raina began telling me her story and the rest is history.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
To trust myself. We authors often struggle with the confidence that we should be writing at all. That feeds into the idea that we don’t really know what we’re doing and are about to be slaughtered by the reading public. I learned to just listen to my intuition and write the damn thing.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
Ooh. Well, because this was a novella beforehand, I had the main turning points of the story plotted. But, as I expanded and revised the story to fit novel form, I pantsed everything else. So…many moments were surprises as I drafted. Especially toward the end.
4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
My titles either encompass what the overall story is about or they have double-meaning. TWC has double meaning. Yes, The Witch Collector is about my heroine, Raina Bloodgood, and her journey with Alexus Thibault, the Witch Collector, but that title has layers of meaning as the reader—and Raina—learns more about Alexus.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
No. I don’t think I’ve ever based a character off of a real person. They might have bits of me buried inside them, but they are their own entities.
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
Sure. I always try to teach my characters something. In this book, there are a few lessons:
Things are not always as they seem.
There is no love without fear.
There is no victory without sacrifice.
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
Totally the love scene. I adore that neither Alexus or Raina know where their burgeoning feelings will lead them, but they can’t resist the desire to find out.
8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
The villain—the Prince of the East. Mainly because he didn’t exist in the novella, so I had to come up with his storyline. And I just generally struggle with making characters bad.
9. What are your immediate future plans?
To write my fingers off 😉 The Witch Walker trilogy is now a 5-book series thanks to my publisher agreeing to expand the story. I’m currently completing edits on City of Ruin, book two, which releases on September 27th 2022.
About the Author:
CHARISSA WEAKS is an award-winning fantasy author. She crafts stories with magic, time travel, romance, and history–and the occasional apocalyptic quest. She is a foodie and book-buying coffee addict who loves to travel and visit antique stores. She believes the souls of memories live in shadowy places and inside the things we cast away.
Charissa is a member of the SFWA, is active in the Historical Novel Society, was named 2019 President and Pro-Liaison for her local Romance Writers of America chapter, and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Association.
Charissa resides just south of Nashville with her family, two wrinkly English Bulldogs, and the sweetest German Shepherd in existence. When she’s not writing, you can find Charissa lost in a good book or digging through four-hundred-year-old texts for research. To keep up with her writing endeavors, and to gain access to writing freebies and book giveaways, join her newsletter, The Monthly Courant or her reader group on Facebook.
Starts: June 2, 2022 at 12:00am EST / Ends: June 8, 2022 at 12:00am EST