Chapter no 17 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

Evangeline didn’t touch her wine, although she seemed to be the only one abstaining. The merriment of the dinner party continued after Apollo left. Soon it wasn’t just the courtiers who were drinking; a number of the guards were imbibing as well.

There wasn’t a clock in the Court of Columns, but she could tell from the movement of the moon overhead that some time had passed since Apollo had left, enough time to tell her that whatever had pulled the prince away was significant.

Evangeline briefly wondered if they had found Lord Jacks. But she supposed that news would have made the prince happy, and he had not looked glad before he’d exited. No, it must have been something else.

She continued to wonder through the dinner’s third course until someone halfway down the table made another toast. Northerners, it seemed, were quite fond of toasting. This particular toast was to the archer who’d felled the birds they were feasting on, and suddenly Evangeline remembered. Archer.

Her insides did a quick somersault. She looked around the court once more, hoping that he’d finally stepped inside. But there was still no sign of him.

Now Evangeline had never thought of herself as a reckless person. Others might argue with this. But Evangeline would say to them that she was merely hopeful of what could be, whereas others were fearful as to what could go wrong.

Evangeline knew that especially given recent events involving a well, sneaking away from the dinner without her guards in search of Archer may have posed a bit of danger. But Evangeline also imagined that with Apollo gone and so many people distracted, this was perhaps the perfect time to try to find Archer again and hopefully regain her memories.

She pondered the different distractions she could cause in order to sneak away. First she considered tugging on the tablecloth to topple the platters of food. She imagined spilling the wine. Then another toast began, and she realized that this was her opportunity.

Lord Vale was giving the toast. He was actually doing a rather spectacular job of it, vividly explaining his desire to rebuild the Merrywood in an effort to rally others to his cause. Even Evangeline found it difficult to look away from him.

Lord Vale drew every eye as he stood and raised a glass high above his burly head. “This restoration is for the entire North!” he declared with a voice like thunder. “We rebuild to banish the ghosts of our pasts that dare to keep haunting us. For we are Northerners! We are not afraid of the myths and the legends! We are the myths and the legends!”

The room erupted in shouts. “We are the legends!” “Who will join me in this rebuilding?” Lord Vale cried. “Count me in!”

“My House will be there!”

The room exploded in a cacophony of impassioned voices as men and women and even guards all over the court raised their glasses and cheered.

“We will begin right after the Hunt!” Lord Vale bellowed.

Evangeline chose this moment to slip from the table and through the closest set of doors. She focused on being quick more than being quiet. The riot of the court was loud enough to drown out the sounds of a war.

And so it wasn’t until a few minutes later that Evangeline heard the footsteps echoing behind her.

She quickly reached for Archer’s dagger and spun around.

“It’s only me.” Aurora Vale raised her hands defensively. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. When I saw you slipping away, I thought I would

join. My father’s toasts can go on for days. I remember a particular wedding where he toasted from sunset until sunrise.”

“Didn’t anyone try to stop him?”

Aurora laughed. “No one tries to stop my father. I don’t imagine tonight’s toast will go on that long, as he seems to have rallied enough of the dinner party to his cause. But we should move on before anyone notices.” Aurora bounced forward, swishing her violet hair. “Where are you going? Do you have a secret lover? Or perhaps you’re off to see your personal witch who tells the future?”

“Oh no,” Evangeline replied quickly. “I don’t have a lover or know any witches. I was just planning on going back to my suite.”

“Well, that’s disappointing.” Aurora sighed. “Still, I suppose walking you back to your room is better than listening to my father.” She linked her arm with Evangeline’s.

Earlier, Evangeline had liked Aurora, but now there was something about the girl that didn’t feel right. Or maybe it was just that she was ruining Evangeline’s plans to find Archer.

“Thank you for the offer,” Evangeline said carefully, “but I’d actually prefer to be alone.”

Aurora gave her a dubious look before she flashed a brilliant smile. “So you do have a secret lover after all?”

“No,” Evangeline repeated calmly. “I’m married.”

Aurora twisted her mouth. “That usually doesn’t stop other people. There’s really not a guard or handsome stableboy who has caught your eye?”

“There’s only Apollo,” Evangeline said firmly. Although, even as she spoke, her thoughts flashed to Archer. She pictured him standing there on the bridge in the rain, shirt clinging to his chest as his eyes clung to her. But she didn’t want him as a lover. He was reckless and uncivilized and he’d lied about knowing her. She only wanted to find him so he might spark a new memory.

But it seemed that wouldn’t be happening tonight.

Footsteps had begun to pound down the hall. Aurora had waylaid Evangeline long enough for her guards to notice her absence and finally catch up.

Disappointment made Evangeline tired. As her guards had walked her to the room, she kept looking over her shoulder for Archer. She didn’t know if she really thought he could appear, or if she just wanted him to arrive so much that she thought she could will it to happen.

She imagined colliding with him in the hallway and regaining all her memories in a sudden rush that made everything in her upside-down world make sense.

But alas, after an uneventful journey, she was returned to her room, where she found herself undressing for bed and thinking words like alas.

She didn’t know when she crawled into bed exactly, or how long she’d been there. She was somewhere between asleep and awake when she heard the floor creak beside her. It didn’t sound like Apollo’s confident stride. It sounded like someone sneaking in. Evangeline dared to imagine it was Archer as she opened her eyes—

A broad hulking figure loomed over her bed.

Not Archer or Apollo.

She tried to scream.

But the assailant moved faster. In the time it took her to open her mouth, he was on the bed, slamming a large gloved hand over her lips and pressing her down with the weight of his body.

He smelled like sweat and horses. Evangeline couldn’t see his face—he wore a full mask that left him with only a pair of dull eyes exposed.

She tried to scream again. Tried to bite his hand. Archer hadn’t taught her what to do in this position. But she could hear his words from this morning. If you stop fighting, you die.

She kicked, aiming between her assailant’s legs.

“It’d be better if you stayed still.” The assassin flashed a knife the length of her forearm.

Help! Help! Help! she cried wordlessly, frantically fighting to buck him off.

He lowered the knife, parting the top of her nightgown. Then she felt the blade’s sharp tip carve a painful line beneath her collarbone.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” growled Archer.

Evangeline hadn’t even noticed him enter the room, but suddenly he was there—golden and glowering and possibly the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. He ruthlessly grabbed the assassin by the neck, yanked him from

the bed, and pinned him to a bedpost, holding him aloft so his legs dangled as uselessly as a doll’s.

Evangeline scrambled off the bed. “I tried to fight him.”

Blood streamed down her chest as she tightened her robe with hands that wouldn’t stop shaking.

Archer’s eyes narrowed on the blood and Evangeline swore they flashed from blue to molten silver. He looked back at the assassin and snarled.

The sound that came out of his mouth was purely animal. He ripped off his mask, pulled out a knife, and brought the blade to the man’s left eye. “Who hired you to harm her?”

The assassin paled but gritted his teeth.

“I’ll ask you one more time, then you lose the eye. And I almost hope you don’t answer, because I’d love to cut out your eye. Who hired you to kill her?”

“It was anonymous,” the assassin rushed out. “That’s too bad for you.” Archer lowered his knife.

“I swear, I don’t know,” the man spit out. “I was just told to make it slow and painful and bloody.”

Evangeline went numb all over. It was one thing for someone to want her dead, another to learn they wanted to torture her.

“Did they say why?” Evangeline asked. The assassin clamped his mouth shut.

“Don’t be rude. The princess asked you a question.” Archer lifted the man higher and roughly shook him by the neck until his head rocked to the side. “Answer her.”

“I dunno why,” the man spit out. “I was just told to make it hurt.” Archer’s nostrils flared.

“You’re lucky that I’m kinder than your employer.” He cocked his golden head, looking almost thoughtful. “This will hurt, but not for long.” Then he took his knife and stabbed the assassin in the heart.

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