Publication date: September 5, 2023
Welcome to Blackthorne Faire, a place of wild music and unbridled dance! Of theatre and pageantry! Of deadly duels and rapier-fast quips! Of roasting turkey legs and boisterous drinking bouts!
Welcome to Blackthorne Faire, a place of whispered rumors of unexplained disappearances. Of mystery, intrigue, and murder.
Welcome to Blackthorne Faire, a modern Renaissance Festival where nothing is what it seems. It is a place where a lost tune rediscovered in The Hidden Book of Secret Knowledge stirs long forgotten magic, and where never-before-seen tarot cards foretell unexpected futures that always, always come true.
Welcome to Blackthorne Faire, where true love is found and lost and lost again in the shadow of a coming war between sinister mortals and the Courts of Faerie.
Beware, mortal, oh, beware the sounds that echo over the hills, across the bluffs, and through the winding pathways, for no one can hear the horns of Elfland and remain unchanged.
“Blackthorne Faire is masterful fantasy storytelling. Unexpected, wild, deeply weird, and wicked fun! John Adcox spins real magic as he brings unexpected chills. I really loved this quirky novel. Bravo!”
-Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Cave 13 and Kagen The Damned
“Adcox lays on a splendid pageant. Blackthorne Faire is a thrilling riff on folkloric fantasy, skillfully paced and vividly peopled. I loved the characters and the story was gripping, with some lovely twists and turns.”
—Mike Carey, author of Infiniti Gate and The Book Of Koli, and the Graphic Novel Series Lucifer
About the Author
John Adcox (he/him) has been a cross-media communications and content strategist, producer, user experience designer, and writer for more than twenty years. Currently, he is the CEO of Gramarye Media.
Over the course of his career in advertising, marketing, and new media John has held a number of titles including Executive Producer, Vice President of Digital Media, Creative Director, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services, and CEO.
In addition, he has hosted a radio show, acted professionally (although not since age 15), designed and written scripts for computer games, written a play for a professional theatre company, taught university astronomy, and written reviews and articles on topics including mythology, psychology, technology, religion, marketing strategy, and fantasy.
John was the Lay Leader at Inman Park United Methodist Church, and is now a member of Neighborhood Church Atlanta, a progressive, challenging, intellectually-engaging, warm, tightly-knit, and activist congregation that encourages connection, questions, and exploration.
His many, many interests include books and literature (he is insufferably proud of his library), religion and philosophy, mythology, the Arthurian legends, travel, baseball, science fiction and fantasy, marketing communications, Celtic music and lore, new media, theatre, and politics, not to mention astronomy and cosmological physics, as well as the lesser sciences.
John was knighted by the late King Richard Booth of the nation/village of Hay-on-Wye (the famous book town on the border between England and Wales) and was ordained a minister on the Internet (he recently performed his first wedding). So he is properly the Right Reverend Sir John. He is very happily married to the fabulous Carol Bales (Lady Bales of Hay). The couple makes their home in Atlanta.
John has published three novels, Raven Wakes the World: A Winter Tale, Christmas Past: A Ghostly Winter Tale, and The Star in the East: A Winter Tale of Ancient Mystery. His novel Make Up Test: A Rom-Com Winter Tale is coming in November, 2023.
Erin pulled her harp closer. For a moment or two, she simply brushed her fingers across the strings. Then she began to tune. Almost before she realized it, the tuning became a melody. Music filled the tiny apartment, haunting and lovely, a timeless Celtic air, Turlough O’Carolan’s Sí Beag is Sí Mór. The final note faded into lonely silence before Erin realized she had an audience.
Carter clapped his calloused hands sharply. Erin jumped a little, startled. She hadn’t heard him come back up. He grinned. “Lassie, you play like an angel straight from heaven, sure.”
The big Scot had a ready smile—that was one of the reasons Erin liked him so much. That, and the fact that with his blacksmith’s muscles, wild red hair and beard, and gold earring, he looked like a pirate. In his half of the shop beneath the apartment, Carter crafted swords, well tempered and strong. They drew the crowds, but the other things he made—the candlesticks, goblets, and delicately crafted jewelry—paid the bills. “More O’Carolan?” Carter asked.
“Turlough O’Carolan wrote the best harp tunes ever.” Erin crinkled her nose as she returned the smile. “Why start my morning playing anything else?”
“I can’t argue.” Carter rummaged around in his battered chest. “So, did you take a look at that musty book yet?”
Erin snapped her head around. “What book?”
Carter looked up sharply. “Huh? Oh, Cate didn’t say anything, then?”
Erin shook her head. “What book?”
“Uh oh. She must be saving it for a surprise.”
“She is in fact, Master Cavern Mouth,” Caitlin called from the other room.
“And,” said Carter, “since I don’t want her taking it out on me all the way to Boston, sure, I’m not going to ruin it.”
“Wise man,” Caitlin called back to him. Carter grinned again.
“How about a hint?” Erin asked.
Carter shook his head. “Sorry, darling. You’ll have to wait for the Missus.”
With that he stepped into the other room and closed the door.
Erin chewed her bottom lip. The list of things she loved as dearly as music, or nearly so, was a short one: red wine, dark chocolate, black coffee, and old books, and not in that order. She adored the books Caitlin wrote, scholarly collections of fairy lore, folk tales, and Celtic mythology. Caitlin’s surprise must surely be some newly discovered collection of lost tales; Erin would have bet good money on it. Delicious anticipation danced through her body. She put her hands on the harp strings again and played, thinking of long-forgotten mysteries hidden in graceful rows of ink beneath illuminated capitals and drifting in the heady, musty scent of dust and old leather.
Caitlin reappeared at last, carrying no hint of book or package. She brought the dress, however, and Erin gasped out loud. She tried it on and found the fit perfect. The skirt, which fell nearly all the way to the floor, was the deep and secret blue of a clear sky in the instant before twilight, with accent panels of silver embroidered with gold thread that shimmered like sunlight on a mountain lake. The bodice—the same shade of blue—fit beautifully over Erin’s blouse. The neckline swooped low and rose to puffs at the shoulder, slashed and accented with glistening silver. The dress had only half sleeves; the sleeves of Erin’s blouse would be plenty in the Georgia summer, and they would keep her arms free for harping. She spun around and laughed as the skirt twirled and danced and hugged itself around her legs. The dress was more elaborate than the garb she usually chose, and certainly less modest. Erin loved it. “How do I look?” she asked Caitlin.
“Girl, you’re going to break hearts. I expect a full report.”
Erin looked away. “Oh, I don’t know about that. . . .”
“Trust me. Here, let me check the hem line one last time.” Caitlin knelt down and fussed with Erin’s skirt. “And remember—a full report.”
“I hear and obey.” Erin nodded gravely. “Now then, you said something about a surprise. . .?”
“I did not. My loudmouthed lug of a husband did.” Caitlin didn’t look up from Erin’s skirt. “There, raise your leg a little. That’s right . . . yes, there. Good.”
Erin freed the grin to blossom. “When can I see it?”
“Hmmm. Let’s see. Okay, this is done.” Caitlin stood and sat back down at the table and finished the last sips of her tea. “Now then, you still have a decision to make, don’t you? Something about what you’re going to do with yourself until the summer fair opens?”
“I do,” Erin admitted. She’d received her degrees in art and music from the University of Georgia at the end of winter semester, and she planned to start graduate school in the fall. That gave her more than half a year of glorious freedom for experience, adventure, and simply living. The quarterly Renaissance festival filled three weeks at a time, and she’d planned to find a job during the weeks when it closed between the spring and summer seasons.
But Caitlin had made an intriguing offer.
She and Carter traveled like gypsies, selling their handcrafted wares at Renaissance fairs, medieval and Celtic events, and folk festivals across the country. Caitlin had invited Erin to accompany them to fairs near Boston and Washington, D.C., and then back to Atlanta in time for the summer season at Blackthorne Faire. Erin would make money performing—her fondest wish—and she would earn a little extra helping Caitlin research her new book. She found Caitlin’s offer more tempting than unwatched chocolate.
“You’re coming back next year,” Caitlin reminded her. “Everything will still be here, won’t it?”
Erin looked at her hand, and the callused places on the tips of her fingers. “It’s not the place. It’s the people.” These were the final months she’d have with the last dear friends she’d made as a child, and the first she’d made as an adult, before life and the world pulled them inevitably away, despite their most earnest promises to stay close forever.
“Ah.” Caitlin nodded. “And a part of you wants to make the good-byes last as long as possible. It’s hard to let go with so little time left to cling fast, isn’t it?”
“I guess I have some thinking to do.”
“And not too much time to do it.”
Erin’s brow crinkled as she frowned. The vague uneasiness that had troubled her for the past few weeks stirred again and sank in her belly, like she’d swallowed a stone. But she had to admit, the feeling was not without a certain attraction; it was a delicious kind of fear, the moment at the top of the rollercoaster, the last breathless second before the plunge. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Caitlin nodded. “Here, finish your tea, dear heart. Why don’t you come back when you take your lunch break? We can talk then.”
“Wait! What about the surprise?”
“Hmph. Come back at lunch. Maybe I’ll tell you about it then.”
“I’ll give you this little taste and then no more. It’s an old book filled with lost and secret things.” Caitlin’s smile widened to a wicked grin. “There’s music in it. Lost music.”
Erin moved her mouth to speak, but no words came. Caitlin’s grin grew wider.
“Music no one has heard for more than two and a half long centuries. Lost, until now. And a secret only two men in all the world ever knew.”