Read an Excerpt From Alexandria Warwick’s The North Wind

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The North Wind, a romantic fantasy by Alexandria Warwick, out from Saga Press on May 21st.

Wren of Edgewood is no stranger to suffering. With her parents gone, it’s Wren’s responsibility to ensure she and her sister survive the harsh and endless winter, but if the legends are to be believed, their home may not be safe for much longer.

For three hundred years, the land surrounding Edgewood has been encased in ice as the Shade, a magical barrier that protects the townsfolk from the Deadlands beyond, weakens. Only one thing can stop the Shade’s fall: the blood of a mortal woman bound in wedlock to the North Wind, a dangerous immortal whose heart is said to be as frigid as the land he rules. And the time has come to choose his bride.

When the North Wind sets his eyes on Wren’s sister, Wren will do anything to save her—even if it means sacrificing herself in the process. But mortal or not, Wren won’t go down without a fight…

The North Wind’s welcome involves a grand feast held in his honor. In theory, there is to be a decadent meal of many courses, as if to be chosen, stolen away to the Deadlands, is cause for celebration. But the reality is Edgewood fades year by year. Nothing grows in the frozen earth. The livestock, except for a few malnourished goats, have all perished.

Thus, this grand feast is only slightly better than paltry. Edgewood has no massive ballroom to host the king, no suckling, spit-roasted pig or extravagant spread of candied meats or diced roots. Instead, hard, pitted evergreen berries are collected and mashed into an acidic sauce the color of blood. There is soup: salted water flavored with wilted herbs. The meat—old goat—is the most unappetizing thing I’ve seen in my life.

I hope the king chokes on it.

The fare may not be to his liking, but he doesn’t come for the food. The seven women who drew short straws, all lovely and pristine, currently gather in the town meeting hall, where a long table has been set for the evening meal, a fire warming the stone hearth. They are dressed in their finest: woolen gowns cinched at the waist; hair washed and combed and braided; long, thick stockings and tired dress shoes. They have concealed their wind-chafed skin with oils and colored creams. I smile wryly. My imperfection cannot be so easily masked.

“How do I look?”

I turn at Elora’s voice. A blue, knee-length dress I stitched years ago hugs her slender frame, and black stockings showcase willowy legs. Curled, dark lashes shield her downward gaze. That rosebud mouth twitches with nerves.

Despite my attempts to steady my voice, it croaks out. “Like Ma.”

At this, her eyes fill. Elora nods, just once.

The longer I stare at my sister, the more intensely my stomach cramps. He will take her. She is too lovely to escape his notice.

Miss Millie, a middle-aged woman who loves gossiping almost as much as she loves straying from her husband, emerges from the kitchen carrying two wooden pitchers. Bloodshot eyes and ruddy cheeks reveal her increasingly distraught state. Her eldest daughter is one of the seven. “Glasses,” she snaps at me.

I fill the drinking glasses with water. My hands tremble, blast them. The women huddle in one corner like a herd of deer in the cold. They don’t speak. What is there to say? By the end of this meal, one of them will be chosen, and that woman will not return.

Miss Millie’s youngest, a boy of twelve, lights the last of the lamps. Beyond the shuttered windows, the townsfolk gather in the square, awaiting the king’s arrival. His last visit occurred more than thirty years ago, before my sister and I were even born. He took a woman named Ada across the Shade. She was only eighteen.

As I’m smoothing the wrinkles from the white tablecloth, I hear it—the clop of hooves on stone.

The women press closer together, grabbing each other’s hands. No one utters a sound. Even their breathing has ceased. Elora’s gaze meets mine across the room.

I could do it. Take my sister’s hand, flee through the kitchen, and pray the snow hides our tracks from the villagers who would be sent to bring Elora to justice.

“Places,” Miss Millie hisses, motioning for the women to take their seats at the table. Noise clangs in the air—shifting chairs and whispering cloth and the dreaded clop, clop, clop, closer and closer.

I’m halfway to Elora’s side when Miss Millie snags my arm. Her fingernails bite painfully. I can’t pry them loose. “Let me go.”

“It’s too late,” she breathes. Clumps of gray-streaked hair stick to her round, sweaty face. The lines bracketing her mouth deepen.

“There’s still time. Lend us your horse. I’ll take your daughter with us—”


Miss Millie shoves me into a corner as the front door opens. Its hinges squeal like a mutilated animal. Around the table, the women flinch, shrinking back into their chairs as a gale bursts through the doorway, guttering half the lamps and plunging the room into near-darkness. I freeze against the back wall, mouth dry.

In steps a towering figure, etched black against the shadows. Cloaked, hooded, alone.

He stoops to enter the room, for the buildings are constructed with low slanted ceilings to conserve heat. When he straightens, the crown of his head brushes the rafters, darkness coiling inside his hood. Two pricks of brightness glow within.

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The North Wind
The North Wind

The North Wind

Alexandria Warwick

Miss Millie, bless her heart, shuffles forward. Terror has bleached her face white. “My lord?”

He lifts a hand. Someone gasps.

But he only pushes back his hood, revealing a countenance of such agonizing beauty that I can only look at him for so long before I’m forced to turn away. And yet, only seconds pass before my attention returns, drawn by some unnamed compulsion to study him in greater detail.

His face appears to have been hewn from alabaster. Low lamplight illuminates the smooth plane of his forehead, the angled cheekbones and straight nose, that jaw of cut-glass. And his mouth . . . well. I’ve yet to see a more feminine mouth on a man. The coal shade of his hair drinks in the light, having been pulled into a short tail at the back of his neck. His eyes, the lambent blue of glacial ice, glow with unnerving intensity.

My hand clenches around one of the knives arranged on the table. I dare not breathe. I’m not sure I can, given the circumstances. The Frost King is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on, and the most wretched. It takes everything in me not to drive this blade into his heart. Assuming he has one.

He takes another step into the room, and the women scramble to their feet. The Frost King has yet to speak. There is no need. He has the women’s attention, and mine. We have prepared for this.

Judging by the cool disgust curling his upper lip, he is displeased by the lack of welcome. Tight black gloves encase his hands in smooth leather. Wide shoulders stretch the heavy material of his cloak, which he removes to reveal a pressed tunic the color of a rain cloud, silver buttons stamping a line toward the collar strangling his neck. Below, he wears fitted charcoal breeches and weathered boots. A dagger hangs from his waist.

My attention drifts to his right hand, which curves around the haft of a spear bearing a stone point. I’m positive he wasn’t holding that a moment ago. When it vanishes a heartbeat later, many of the women sigh in relief.

Releasing my grip on the knife, I let the utensil drop onto the ground. The clatter startles Miss Millie into action. She takes his cloak, hangs it on a peg beside the door, then pulls out a chair at the head of the table. Its legs scrape against the floor, and the Frost King sits.

The women sit as well.

“Welcome to Edgewood, my lord,” Miss Millie offers quietly. Her attention flits to the woman sitting on his immediate left—her daughter. The women drew sticks to determine which unlucky souls sat closest to him during the meal. Elora, thankfully, is seated at the far end of the table.

“We hope you enjoy the meal we’ve prepared for you.” The king scans the fare, unimpressed. “Unfortunately, our harvest has been lean in recent years.”

What she means is nonexistent.

“The soup is one of our specialties—”

He lifts a hand in silence, and Miss Millie’s voice peters out, her jowls wobbling as she swallows. And that he seems to decide, is that.

It is the longest, most excruciating dinner in existence. Glass clinks as Miss Millie and I refill drinks, replace sullied napkins. No one speaks. The women I can understand; no one wishes to draw the king’s attention. Our guest has no excuse, however. Can’t he see we have gifted him what little food we can spare? And not even a word of acknowledgment?

Elora barely touches her food. She hunches over her plate in an attempt to make herself smaller—my recommendation—but she does not escape the Frost King’s notice. For that is where his gaze alights, time and again.

Slowly, my nerves fray to ruin. When the pressure in my chest threatens to squash my lungs, I retreat to the kitchen, fumble for the flask tucked into my waistband, and take a healthy swallow. My eyes sting from the burn that feels like deliverance, like salvation. We should have fled when we had the chance. It is too late now.

Taking a deep breath, I return to the dining hall. As the dinner crawls by, I pour the wine. The women guzzle it down, glass after glass, red droplets slicking their bloodless lips, cheeks deeply flushed. My throat begins to ache with violent craving. Halfway through the meal and my flask lies empty.

The Frost King barely touches his wine. It’s just as well. I have absolutely zero desire to serve him in any way, shape, or form, unless it’s to show him the door.

Unfortunately, Miss Millie doesn’t share the sentiment. “My lord, is the wine not to your liking?” Her show of concern makes me want to vomit. I’m sure she believes if she treats him kindly, he’ll pass over her daughter for another.

In answer, he brings the scarlet liquid to his mouth and drains the glass, eyes flaring dully above the rim. It’s as though his pupils hold a remnant of light, rather than light itself.

That leaves me to see to his needs. Moving to the Frost King’s side, I begin refilling his glass. In the process, our arms collide, and the wine slops onto his lap.

Ice in my blood, in my veins.

The Frost King’s gaze is a slow, crawling thing that drags from the stain spreading across his tunic to the bottle I still hold, before eventually locking onto my face. His pale blue eyes exude a devouring cold that creeps across my puckered scar. The old, toughened skin has long since lost sensation, but I swear it prickles beneath his scrutiny, as though his attention is a physical touch.

“Apologize to the king!” Miss Millie demands shrilly.

What is a little wine compared to the loss of a life?

No, I think I will keep my apology to myself. I can’t imagine it’s worth much to him anyway. “Only if he apologizes for stealing our women.”

Someone gasps. The king studies me as he would a small animal, but I am no prey.

“My lord, I apologize for her absolutely wretched behavior—”

He lifts one long-fingered hand, his focus wholly on me. Miss Millie falls silent. “What is your name?”

The title he bears extends to his voice as well. It is low, deep, riddled with a chilling lack of emotion.

At my silence, a few women shift uncomfortably in their chairs. The temperature continues to plummet despite the fire. The North Wind may be a god, but I will not break. If nothing else, I have my pride.

“I see.” He taps a fingertip against the table.

“Wren, my lord. Her name is Wren!” Elora leans forward in her chair, fingers gripping the arms. A choked exhalation follows her outburst.

My teeth grind together in frustration even as my stomach hollows out. This is exactly what I was afraid of: Elora and her soft heart, an utterance that will surely draw the king’s notice. If I hadn’t let my emotions cloud my judgment, this could have been prevented.

“Wren,” he says. Never have I heard so elegant a word. “Like the songbird.”

There are no songbirds in the Gray. They all perished or flew elsewhere.

After a lingering study of my face, his attention shifts to Elora. I want to claw his eyes out for how he drinks her in. “There is a certain likeness to your features.”

“Yes, my lord.” Elora bows her head in a gesture of respect. I could slap her for it. “We are sisters. Identical twins. I am Elora.”

A peculiar tilt to his head as he compares us. I am sure he finds me lacking.

“Stand up,” he demands.

Elora pushes her chair back as my voice whips out. “Sit.”

She stills, hands curled around the edge of the table. Her attention flits between me and the Frost King. Meanwhile, Miss Millie appears on the verge of passing out.

An unbalanced light flickers in his narrow pupils, like a candle wavering in darkness. He stands in one fluid motion, startling me. I imagine no one has challenged his word before. No one has been foolish enough to try.

“Come,” he says in a voice like thunder, and Elora shuffles toward him, meek and spineless. The sight of her defeat rips through me. How dare he? We are not chattel. We are people with beating hearts in our chests and breath in our lungs and lives we’ve managed to carve from this cursed, frozen existence.

As Elora stops in front of him, he lifts her chin with a finger and says, “You, Elora of Edgewood, have been chosen, and you will serve me until the end of your days.”

From the book: The North Wind by Alexandria Warwick. Copyright © 2024 by Alexandria Warwick. Reprinted courtesy of Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

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