350 years ago
Breathless and desperate, the boy staggered across the beach. The hard sand was covered in broken shells that jabbed his feet like tiny knives. He ignored the pain and took a deep breath of the fresh sea air. Overhead, gulls screeched: fool, fool, fool! He closed his ears to their goading and tried to clear his head.
His knuckles began to throb again. The numbness that had spread after the punch had subsided and he clasped his fist to dull the ache. He was cold and sore and hungry. But he was free, and his father would never hurt him again. The boy smiled as he remembered the blow he had landed on his old man’s stupid face. His father had been on at him again, calling him a fool and pushing him around to go out and bring money in to feed his hunger.
“You’re a lazy good-for-nothing boy!”
The words still echoed around James’s head and he shut his eyes, squeezing with all his might to rid them from his mind, but he could not purge himself of the memory of the wicked look in his father’s eyes as the man once more raised his fist. Even the thought of it made him catch his breath and his eyes flew open in terror.
He looked around, his heart beating ten to the dozen, scared he was being followed. The beach was empty save for a few seabirds digging for razor clams. The only sounds were the calming whoosh of the waves as they smoothed the sand.
The punch had been totally out of character for James. Normally, he would have taken the beating, but something inside him had snapped. He had decided he would never suffer at his father’s hands again. So he had knocked him down and run out of their tiny farmhouse forever. To go where, he didn’t know.
Now he found himself on a beach, kicking up stones and wondering what to do next. He couldn’t go home, no matter how hard his mother pleaded, so the only alternative was to go south to seek his fortune.
His stomach grumbled, reminding him he had not eaten yet. Not that hunger was unusual. His father drank the few pennies he and his brothers and sisters made from working the land, so there was never enough food. However, today was the start of his new life and he wasn’t about to start it hungry. He searched for a good sharp stone to prize the clams off the jagged rocks. A few looked promising, but as he lifted them he knew they would shatter. On the other side of the beach he spied the perfect specimen. It was a large flattish stone lying at the shallow end of one of the larger rock pools. He bent down, scooped it out of the icy water and weighed it in his hand. It was solid. Perfect. He smiled. The prospect of eating those clams sent his brain into a frenzy of longing.
He was about to walk away from the rock pool to collect some driftwood for a fire when something else under the water, something large and smooth and very white, caught his eye. What was it? It glowed enticingly, almost as if calling to him. Without thinking, he knelt by the edge of the pool and plunged his arm in. There was something strange about this particular stone. It was warm, and as his fingers wrapped around it, the stone began to glimmer as though a shaft of light had struck it. It made a buzzing sound that intensified as it was pulled from the water. James stared at it in astonishment. It was a smooth lozenge-shaped stone, a little bigger than a rugby ball and unlike anything he had seen before. The buzzing grew even louder and the stone’s light even brighter, until suddenly there was a flash and the boy was thrown backward onto the sand. He momentarily blacked out.
“Are you all right, lad?” a stranger’s voice said from somewhere far away.
The boy dragged himself back to consciousness. His eyes fluttered open and he looked at the kindly face peering down at him. He nodded dumbly.
“You’ve found it!” said the man, staring in wonder at the stone in James’s hands. “There were legends of it falling from the sky. Such a bright light, our ancestors said. And they searched the sea for it. The tides must have washed it ashore. What’s your name?” The man’s green eyes sparkled as he helped the boy to sit up.
“James, sir,” the boy replied weakly. “James Montgomery.”
“Colm Breck,” replied the man, holding out a hand in friendship. As James went to take it, the man unexpectedly fell to his knees. “Hail young James Montgomery: Finder of the Eye of Lornish!”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Witch's Revenge by D. A. Nelson. Copyright © 2011 by D.A. Nelson. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.