Chapter no 16 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

It was the sort of dinner party Evangeline had pictured when her mother had told her fairytales as a child—a beautiful ballroom full of charming people wearing dazzling things. And she was one of those people now. Dressed in a sparkling gown, on the arm of a prince—or she had been, until he’d raised his goblet to make a toast.

Apollo kept his wine high above his head as people gathered round and raised their goblets as well.

Evangeline did the same, although she didn’t feel much like drinking after hearing that Hansel and Victor were dead. They had seemed so kind, and it was still difficult to believe that they could have had anything to do with the attempt on her life. But that was one of the problems with having missing gaps of memory—it made so many things difficult to believe.

She tried to covertly look around the gathering of courtiers and guards in search of Archer. Earlier, she swore Apollo had caught her looking and had seemed to become a little upset, almost jealous.

Now he was occupied with his toasting, which gave her another chance to glance around the room. It was much like when she’d first entered—all glowing columns and elaborately dressed guests.

She didn’t glimpse anyone who looked like Archer as Apollo cried, “May all those in this room who seek true love find it, and may those who

stand in its way be cursed!”

The crowd all clinked their goblets and cheered with Apollo. “To love and to curses!”

Evangeline lifted her goblet to her lips. But she couldn’t bring herself to drink. She understood toasting to love, but not to curses. It was disturbing that no one else seemed to feel the same way. The heady scent of wine filled the court as the partygoers drained their goblets and stained their lips.

And for just a second, Evangeline had a fleeting thought that if this was happily ever after, she was no longer sure she wanted it.

“You’re smart not to drink to a toast like that,” chimed a musical voice. Evangeline turned slightly away from Apollo to find the source.

If she had thought her world to be strange moments ago, it was about to become even more peculiar.

The girl who came up beside her truly looked like a fairy princess from a fairytale, the sort in which people toasted to things like honor and valor instead of careless curses. She had a heart-shaped face, bright bottle-green eyes, and hair the shimmery color of violets.

With locks the color of rose gold, Evangeline was used to being the only girl in the room with unusual hair. She half expected to feel a small bolt of jealousy—but when this girl smiled, it was so incredibly sweet, Evangeline felt a sort of kinship instead.

“Did you know,” mused the violet-haired girl, “there’s an old Northern story that says you don’t need magical spells to enact a curse? It was believed that when the North first came into being, it was so full of magic that sometimes the word curse was enough to enact one—as long as the people who heard it believed what was being said.”

“Is that what you believe happened tonight?” asked Evangeline.

The girl sipped her goblet with a catlike smile. “I believe that magic fortunately died long ago. But I also believe anything is possible.” She winked. “I’m Aurora Vale, by the way, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.”

The girl dropped into a perfect curtsy and whispered, “Now you get to meet my parents.”

The air changed as two more people approached. Moments ago, everything had been cheers, clinking glass, and the tart scent of plum wine. But now, as Aurora’s mother and father approached, it all went strangely

quiet. Glasses stopped clinking, footfalls ceased, people paused conversations to look at the pair curiously.

Evangeline felt curious as well. As with their daughter, this couple made Evangeline think of another era where blood was spilled more often than wine, and even the softest of people had to be hard in order to survive.

Aurora’s mother moved unlike everyone else. Instead of doing her best to shimmer and shine and show off her gems—which wouldn’t even have been possible, as she wore no gems—the woman glided through the crowd like an arrow through the night, graceful and sure. She gave Evangeline the impression that she was used to walking through battlefields instead of ballrooms.

Aurora’s father appeared as rugged as his daughter was beautiful. His shoulders were broad, his beard was full, and the scar that ran down the right side of his face looked so brutal, Evangeline wasn’t sure how he’d survived the cut that produced it.

She watched as the man clapped Apollo on the shoulder with one bearlike hand. “Thank you for inviting us, Your Highness.”

“Of course,” said Apollo. His grin was wide, but it also looked somewhat tight around the corners, as if he, too, sensed the power of this couple and it made him nervous. “Evangeline, let me introduce you to Lord and Lady Vale and their daughter, Aurora, whom it seems you’ve already met.”

“It’s a pleasure,” said Evangeline.

“The pleasure is all ours,” said Lady Vale, who immediately wrapped Evangeline in a hug. She was a fraction of her husband’s size, but her hug was unexpectedly ferocious and quite warm. “I’ve heard such wonderful things about you from your beloved prince, I almost feel as if I know you.”

It might have been a trick of the room’s shimmering candlelight, but it looked as if Lady Vale’s eyes filled with tears as she pulled away.

Evangeline wanted to ask if she was all right.

But then Apollo, who still looked a little uncomfortable around the family, spoke up before she could. “The Vales have come to Valorfell from the far reaches of the North,” he said. “They’re bravely taking on the immense task of rebuilding the Merrywood.”

I know that name, Evangeline almost said. But she didn’t know it, not really. It had just sounded familiar. Maybe she had heard it mentioned earlier that night. Or perhaps she was remembering. . . .

“What’s the Merrywood?” she asked.

“The Merrywood encompasses all the lands that belonged to a former Great House. There’s a forest, a village, and a manor that burned down hundreds of years ago,” explained Apollo.

Evangeline had a flash of a ruined house where all that remained was a smoldering staircase. It was probably just her attempt at imagining, but for a second, she wondered if it really could be a memory. Maybe this was why Apollo was nervous about this family, because they were rebuilding a place that was somehow connected with her missing memories.

“How did the manor burn down?” she pressed.

“No one really knows,” Apollo said. “Most of the story has been lost to time and the story curse.”

“Not entirely lost,” said Aurora brightly. “Although I can imagine why it doesn’t get repeated much. It’s quite tragic.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t repeat it, either,” said Lord Vale. “But the princess asked about it,” protested Aurora.

Both Lord and Lady Vale peered at their daughter with looks that bordered on scolding, as if they didn’t want to make a scene but they also did not wish to have this particular conversation.

“I did ask,” Evangeline said, not wanting to get Aurora into any trouble.

But she was also eager to know more. To see if it helped her remember. “It’s not really a tale for a party,” said Lady Vale, who now looked

distinctly uncomfortable.

“I’d still like to hear it,” Evangeline said. “I don’t know nearly as much Northern history as I’d like.”

“Well then, let me educate you,” said Aurora.

Her parents both appeared nervous, but Aurora wasn’t to be stopped. “Vengeance Slaughterwood of House Slaughterwood was once engaged to the most beautiful girl in all the North. Only this girl didn’t love him. Her parents refused to let her out of the engagement, but she refused to marry without love. On the day of the wedding, she ran away. Of course Vengeance couldn’t let her go—he had a name to live up to, after all. And so when Vengeance heard a rumor that this beautiful girl loved Lord Merrywood’s only son, Vengeance razed Merrywood Manor, Merrywood Village, and Merrywood Forest, thus living up to his terrible name.” Aurora finished cheerfully, the way someone else might end a toast, yet her face was no longer smiling.

Across from her, Lady Vale had gone extremely pale, and Lord Vale had turned an angry shade of red.

In all her life, Evangeline’s father had never looked at her the way Lord Vale looked at Aurora right now. Of course Evangeline had also never looked at her father in the defiant way that Aurora did now. It made Evangeline wonder if maybe she was wrong about this family being connected with her missing memories. Perhaps it was just the tension among them that made Apollo so uncomfortable. That was all the story seemed to bring about. It didn’t elicit a flicker of anything else.

“Hopefully our rebuilding of the Merrywood will help to restore some of that which was lost,” Lord Vale announced, in a clear attempt to change the subject.

This time Aurora didn’t seem to mind. It appeared she’d said all she wanted to on the matter. “I do hope you and your prince can join us for the rebuilding festival. I’m so excited to get to know you better.”

Aurora hugged Evangeline and whispered, “I have a feeling we are going to be great friends—ouch!” She pulled back with a pained flutter of her lashes.

“What’s wrong?” Evangeline asked.

“I didn’t realize you had a dagger on your person.” Aurora cocked her head, inclining it toward Archer’s jeweled knife, which Evangeline had tucked into her belt.

A crease formed between Apollo’s brows and his gaze turned unusually dark. “Where did you get that?”

Evangeline protectively put her hand over the dagger’s hilt. “I found it in the gardens,” she lied.

She regretted it immediately—Evangeline had never been a liar—but she couldn’t bring herself to stop.

Apollo looked suspicious as he eyed the knife. It was the same way he’d looked earlier when he’d caught her searching the room, but this time the jealousy was unmistakable. His eyes narrowed, a muscle throbbed in his forehead, and Evangeline was glad that she hadn’t told the truth, that another young man had given her the blade. She still feared Apollo might take it anyway.

Quickly she made up a slightly ridiculous story about finding it in the well just before she’d been pulled out. “I feel as if it’s a bit of a lucky charm. But I’m sorry it hurt you, Aurora.”

“It was really nothing. In fact, now that you’ve said it’s good luck, I’m rather glad you have it. But you might want to be more careful with your weapons. I know it’s your charm, but with so many guards around, do you really need it?”

“She’s right,” Apollo said. “I—”

“Ahem.” Someone cleared their throat loudly behind them. Evangeline’s relief was immediate. She was almost certain Apollo had been about to take the knife.

Now his attention was on a new guard who stood at the edge of their circle.

“Your Highnesses, I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s a matter of great urgency that I need to speak with the prince about.”

“And this couldn’t wait another minute?” Apollo turned to the guard with a glower.

The young man visibly paled. “Believe me, Your Highness, if it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t have interrupted.” The guard leaned in close and whispered something to Apollo that made the prince go gray.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid my attention is needed elsewhere.” He looked down at Evangeline. “I hate to leave, but I’ll find you later tonight.”

Before she could ask where he was going, Prince Apollo strode away.

You'll Also Like