Excerpt from The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Boneless Mercies

by April Genevieve Tucholke

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke X
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2018, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 368 pages

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ONE

They say dying makes you thirsty, so we always gave our marks one last drink.

I reached for the flask of black currant Vite I carried in my pocket and put it to her mouth. "Here," I said. "Drink this, lamb."

She took a long sip. I pulled the flask away and wiped a drop from her lips. They felt plump and warm under my fingers, like a red plum in August just picked from the tree. I called all our marks lamb. Even the big ones with thick beards and hands the size of boulders. Even the mean ones with cold, shriveled hearts and dried blood under their fingernails. This lamb was neither.

She was covered in black silk, head to toe. The silk clung to her curves and moved lightly through the air as if woven from soft summer breezes. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to wear it. Our thick Vorse wool and furs and leather kept us warm, but they were utilitarian and plain next to her delicate dress.

"You're from Iber." Runa stared at the woman's clothing as well.

The woman nodded. "I grew up with soft white sand instead of snow. The sun shone bright and brazen, and women had fire in their blood."

She'd hired us herself. She wanted to die. Her husband, children—all dead from sickness. How she ended up in a dark, sod-roofed house on the other side of the Black Spruce Forest, I didn't know.

The woman in silk was tall, taller than me, taller even than Runa. She had deep brown eyes and pointed ears like the Elvers in Vorse fairy tales. She took another sip of Vite when I offered it, and then slipped a gold coin into my hand.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Frey," I said. I didn't ask hers in return.

She sighed and leaned against me, her soft arm against my hard shoulder. I pulled her black hair away from her cheek, gently, gently, my knuckles across her skin. Her hair felt heavy on my palm, and it bore scents of the south. Myrrh and frankincense.

"We will do it quick, lamb," I said. "As promised." She looked up at me. Her smile was swift and kind and sad.

I motioned to Ovie in the shadows near the cold hearth, and she came forward, taut but quiet, like a snow cat on the hunt. Juniper, our Sea Witch, began to pray in the corner by a pile of hides and an old loom. Trigve stood by my side, and Runa simply watched us from the doorway.

Ovie handed me her knife—it was better made, sharper than mine. I took it and slit the woman's neck. A flash of sharp silver, and it was done. The woman kept her eyes on mine until the end, never looking at the knife. I caught her as she fell to the floor.

Juniper finished her prayers and came over to us. She put her hand on the mark's chest, and her curls fell over the dying woman's cheeks. Juniper's hair was blond, with a faint shimmer of pale, pearly sea green, the same as all the witches of the Merrows.

We waited for the mark's breath to slow. Slow, slow, and stop forever.

"I bet she was fierce when she was young." I closed each of her eyelids with a gentle push of my thumb. "Fierce as the Iber sun. I wonder if she was banished here, to the frigid north, for some fierce, heroic deed…"

Runa looked at me, sharp.

She said it was dangerous, this way I had of thinking about our marks after they died, imagining how they had lived, dreaming how their lives had played out, the twists and turns they had taken. She said all that dreaming was either going to get me into trouble or turn me soft.

Runa wasn't soft—she would have made a good Mercy leader. She could have gone off and started her own Mercy pack. Though when I admitted this once to Juniper, she'd just shrugged and said leadership took imagination as well as strength.

Runa stood then and began to explore the cold, empty house. I knew she was looking for food and clothing and weapons. I caught her halfway down a shadowed hallway leading to more dark rooms, old bearskins hanging in the doorways.

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Excerpted from The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke. Copyright © 2018 by April Genevieve Tucholke. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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