Chapter no 39 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

More festival bunting seemed to have sprouted overnight. Merry little triangle flags in all sorts of fabrics and colors covered the entirety of the bustling Merrywood Village—striped peach, mint green, speckled robin’s-egg blue, sunset pink, and polka-dot purple all waving happily in the gentle breeze.

The brilliant yellow sun was beating down, unobstructed by clouds, although there was a dampness in the air that made Evangeline feel as if it might rain, even without the clouds. She pictured the sky cracking open as if cut by a knife.

Discreetly she adjusted the wig she’d taken from Aurora’s lair, the brown one that had fallen out of one of the books. Evangeline hoped it would help her blend in and avoid any guards as she and LaLa searched for Aurora. The plan was to find the former princess among the festivalgoers, then follow her in the hopes she would lead them to wherever she was actually keeping Jacks’s heart.

Yesterday Aurora had mentioned her interest in all the Merrywood festival booths and treats and pretty things. Thinking back now, Evangeline remembered how happy Aurora had seemed, how she’d worn a flower crown and a buoyant smile. In hindsight, Evangeline wondered if that joy had in fact been because she finally had taken Jacks’s heart.

Evangeline scanned the crowd for Aurora, looking past the vendors of saws and hammers, berries and beer, and endless baubles. Around them, children giggled and squealed as they ran with spinning paper pinwheels. Happiness swirled through the air like pollen. It was everywhere, touching everything except for Evangeline. All she could feel was a tightness around her chest, a sense that time was closing in on her.

It had already been a day since Aurora had taken Jacks’s heart.

What if Evangeline was too late? What if the reason she couldn’t see Aurora was because she was off somewhere with Jacks and his heart had already been changed? What if—

“Do you see the evil princess anywhere?” asked LaLa.

Evangeline shook her head. She saw people bartering, chattering, and helping to rebuild. But she did not see a girl with violet hair.

“Dragon-roasted apples, get your dragon-roasted apples!” cried a vendor wheeling a sweet red cart. It appeared to have been carefully painted. The words Dragon-Roasted Apples were written in an elaborate curling script, and around them were delicate paintings of little apples and outlines of adorable dragons.

He slowed the cart to a stop in front of LaLa. “We’re not interested, thank you,” said LaLa.

“But someone has already bought something for the young miss.” The vendor, a young man with a friendly, open face, smiled. But it was a little off, a little wrong, like a grin that a child might have added to a master’s painting.

The vendor’s fingers trembled as he handed Evangeline a small scroll tied up with a crisp white ribbon. “I was asked to give you this first.”

Nervously she unrolled the scroll.



There was no name, no initial, but Evangeline instantly knew who it was from. Jacks.

She turned back to the apple roaster. If Jacks was telling her not to look for him, then he was thinking about her. There was still hope.

“When was this given to you?” she asked.

But the young man didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at her. The vendor appeared to be in some sort of trance as he poured a sack of sugar over the top of his precious apple cart and then turned to his little dragons. There were three of them. One was brown, one was green, one was peach.

“It’s time,” the young man said quietly. The dragons whimpered.

“Just do as I say,” he muttered, still ignoring Evangeline.

He must have been under Jacks’s influence, Evangeline realized with a start. She’d seen Jacks do this before, control other people, but in the past, it had always been to protect her.

She had a horrible feeling that was not the case now as she watched the vendor swipe a tear from his eyes right as the dragons breathed out sparks of fire, igniting the sugar. In seconds, the entire cart was blazing, covered in white and orange flames. The vendor stood motionless beside it, as though pinned to the spot.

“We need to get some water!” Evangeline called to LaLa, turning toward the well in the center of the square.

“No!” LaLa grabbed her arm. “We need to go.” She dragged Evangeline away from the vendor and the square, just as the royal guards appeared to catch sight of the burning cart and festivalgoers began rushing over with buckets of water.

The young man was now crying. The little dragons were crying.

The fire was already out. But the cart was destroyed, reduced to just smoldering pieces of ashen wood.

“I can’t believe Jacks would do this,” Evangeline murmured as LaLa urged her farther away from the crowd. “That just seems unnecessarily cruel.”

“Jacks is unnecessarily cruel,” said LaLa. “He used to do things like this all the time. You don’t know this Jacks because he’s always been different with you.” Her voice softened and although she didn’t say it aloud, Evangeline sensed that LaLa was thinking that version of Jacks was gone now.

“Do you think that Aurora has already changed his heart or given him another one?”

LaLa bit her lip but didn’t answer, which seemed like a yes to Evangeline.

The sun beat down hard on Evangeline’s face as she and LaLa reached the edge of the village.

It was the time of day where there were no shadows. Everything was bright and light. A girl like Aurora should have been easy to spot in a crowd like this, where most people wore homespun clothes and had plain-colored hair.

“I don’t see her,” Evangeline said. A part of her worried that she was too late. That Aurora had already changed Jacks’s heart or given him another one. But Evangeline couldn’t give up on him and she knew that if he was still her Jacks, he wouldn’t give up on her if Evangeline lost her heart.

“I think I may have found her.” LaLa pointed away from the village to a trail of pale pink flower petals that led into Merrywood Forest. Then she rolled her eyes. “When Aurora was younger, she wanted people to think that she left a trail of flowers wherever she went, so she would often carry baskets of petals and toss them when she walked. I bet if we follow that trail, we find Jacks’s heart.”

The trail of pink flower petals dotted stones and grass and even a few sleeping dragons, taking LaLa and Evangeline on a circuitous path that led into the shadows of Merrywood Forest. Following the petals reminded Evangeline of a story that she couldn’t quite remember, but she was fairly certain it didn’t end well.

Evangeline wanted to hope her tale would be different. She believed that every story had the possibility for infinite endings, and she tried hard to hold that belief in every breath she took and every step she made.

Until at last the trail of petals came to an end.

It stopped at the base of a tree. There was a fox there. It was reddish brown and white, with a gorgeous bushy tail. But the tail wasn’t moving and neither was the fox; it was lying at the base of the tree, a golden arrow shot straight through its heart.

“Oh no!” Evangeline dropped to her knees and checked for the fox’s heartbeat. But all she found was a note attached to the arrow.



“I hate him a little right now,” Evangeline said. “At least it’s not a person,” said LaLa.

“But it will be soon. That’s what this note is really saying.”

First he’d destroyed the cart. Then he’d killed this fox. Next it would be a human.

“Does this mean you want to give up?” asked LaLa. “No. I’m going to save him.”

“There is no saving him now,” droned a voice from the tree. A second later, the wood creaked, a hidden door cracked open, and Aurora Valor stumbled through.

Her violet hair was disheveled, her face was pale, and there was a great bruise forming at her temple. “If you’re here for Jacks’s heart, you’re not going to find it. You’re already too late.”

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