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Chapter no 6 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

The world had altered overnight, and it wasn’t merely because Evangeline felt butterflies every time she thought of kissing Apollo.

The season appeared to have changed while she’d slept, turning from winter into spring. Instead of looking out her window to see blankets of white, she found eager green trees, happy shrubs and mosses, and glittering rocks. All of it was coated in a fine mist of silver rain that pitter-pattered outside her window.

While it rained that morning, another physician checked in to see if she had remembered anything, which she hadn’t. After that, the seamstresses returned, but they didn’t linger for long.

It seemed there was another appointment on Evangeline’s calendar, although she was unaware of it until an entirely new visitor arrived.

“Hello, Your Highness, I’m Madame Voss. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The woman dropped into a perfect curtsy, the hem of her emerald-green skirt brushing against the stone floor. Madame Voss’s hair was a beautiful shade of silver and her long face was full of deep smile lines that gave Evangeline an immediate impression of warmth.

“I’m going to be your tutor on all things royal. But first, let’s start with all things you.” Madame Voss set a beautiful blue book in Evangeline’s lap.

Inside, the pages were gilded in a shimmering gold that matched the book’s decorative title.

Evangeline read it aloud. “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: The True and Unabridged History of Evangeline Fox and the Prince of Hearts.”

Madame Voss gasped. “Oh, botheration!” Then she swatted at the volume in Evangeline’s lap until finally the title changed to read: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: The True and Unabridged History of Evangeline Fox and Prince Apollo Titus Acadian.

“My apologies for that, Your Highness. This book was freshly printed. I was hoping that since it was so new, it would be immune to the story curse.” She gave the book a chastising look. “Hopefully it’s only the title that’s finnicky.”

“Please, don’t be sorry,” said Evangeline.

Until that moment, Evangeline hadn’t really thought much about the North’s story curse, but her mother had told her all about it when she was a little girl. Every fairytale in the Magnificent North was cursed. Some stories couldn’t be written down, others couldn’t leave the North, and many changed every time they were shared, becoming less and less true with every telling. It was said that every Northern tale had started as actual history, but over time, the Northern story curse had twisted them until only bits of truth remained.

“Where I’m from, books just sit quietly on shelves,” said Evangeline. “I find this delightful.”

She stared at the cover a little longer. This was the first time she’d ever seen the words on a book change before her eyes. Madame Voss treated it like a nuisance, but to Evangeline it was magic. Because it was magic.

But it was also curious that the first title mentioned the Prince of Hearts. In the Meridian Empire, where Evangeline was from, the Prince of

Hearts was a myth—a character found inside decks of fortune-telling cards

—not a real flesh-and-blood person. She wondered if here, perhaps, the Prince of Hearts could be another nickname for Prince Apollo?

She felt an uncomfortable jolt at the thought and wondered what else she didn’t know about her husband, even as she told herself it didn’t matter. She and Apollo would make new memories, as they had last night.

And yet Evangeline couldn’t shake the strange wedge of discomfort inside her as she opened up Madame Voss’s book.

The end pages were stunning full-color portraits of Evangeline and Apollo staring into each other’s eyes as fireworks exploded in the background. Apollo was pictured dressed in a fine royal suit, a cape, and a great gold crown adorned with large rubies and other gems.

For a second, Evangeline thought she saw a third person in the picture— another man appeared to be watching from the edge of one page. But like the book’s original title, this image was there and then gone.

There were more illustrations on the second page, and nothing moved. The top of the page was decorated with images of a sun and a moon and a sky full of stars that hung above the words:

 

 

“Is this true?” Evangeline asked. “Did Prince Apollo swear to never love?”

“Oh yes! Some people thought it was only a jest, but I didn’t think so,” said Madame Voss. “It was a little alarming, really. We have this tradition in the North—a terrific ball called Nocte Neverending.”

Evangeline knew a little about Nocte Neverending, but she didn’t say a word. She still knew nothing about her first meeting with Apollo, and she’d never gotten back to asking him about it last night.

“Apollo had said that once the ball started, it would never end, as he had no plans to find a bride,” Madame Voss went on. “Then he met you. It’s such a shame you don’t remember. It was truly love at first sight. I wasn’t there, of course. The dinner was very exclusive, and the two of you met in a private clearing, protected by an arch.”

She said the word arch differently than all the others, as if it were a bit of magic instead of what Evangeline was probably imagining.

“I take it arches are special?” Evangeline said.

“Oh yes,” Madame Voss replied. “They were built by the Valors, our first king and queen, so that they could travel anywhere in North. But arches are also excellent for guarding things. The prince has one that guards the most magnificent phoenix tree. You should really get him to show it to you sometime. Ah, wait.” She looked down at the book. “I’ll bet there is a picture in here.”

The tutor turned the page, and indeed there was a stunning portrait of Apollo lounging across a tree branch in one of the most magnificent trees that Evangeline had ever seen. Every leaf seemed to sparkle. Half of them were a symphony of warm harvest colors—yellow and orange and russet— but the rest looked like real gold. Glittering, shimmering, dragon treasure gold.

“That’s the phoenix tree,” said Madame Voss. “Once it’s grown and in full bloom, it takes over a thousand years to mature as the leaves slowly turn into real gold. However, if one leaf is plucked before all the leaves have changed, the entire tree goes up in flames. Poof!” she said with a dramatic hand gesture before giving Evangeline a warning look.

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of picking a leaf,” Evangeline said. But Madame Voss had already turned the page.

It was Apollo again, but this time he rode a white horse and was dressed more ruggedly in wood-brown breeches, an open-collared shirt, and a fur vest with crisscrossing leather straps that fixed a golden bow and a quiver of arrows to his back.

“This was when he proposed to you,” said Madame Voss. “It was the first night of Nocte Neverending and he was dressed up like a character from a most beloved tale, The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox.

“I know that story,” Evangeline said. “It’s my favorite . . .”

Or it always had been. As she said the words now, they didn’t feel quite so true.

“That’s wonderful,” Madame Voss replied. “Hopefully you can picture it then. Prince Apollo looked so dashing as he rode into the ball on a mighty white horse. He was dressed just like the Archer—”

Suddenly Evangeline couldn’t hear any more words. Her head hurt. Her chest hurt. Her heart hurt, every heartbeat seemed to pierce her like an

arrow—a thought that also somehow pained her. She fought to remember why memories from her favorite fairytale would trigger so much misery. But all she found was . . .

nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing . . .

The harder she tried to remember, the more her heart ached. The sensation was similar to how she’d felt two days before, when Apollo had found her curled up on the ground in a strange and ancient room. Only now she didn’t want to cry. This pain felt raw, angry—like a scream living inside her that threatened to rip her in half if it wasn’t let out.

Once again, she remembered that there was something she needed to tell someone, only now the thought of it was even more painful than before.

Madame Voss’s eyes went wide. “Your Highness, are you all right?”

No! Evangeline wanted to scream. There’s something I’ve forgotten and I need to remember.

Last night she’d convinced herself she could just let her memories go. But now it was clear that she’d been kidding herself. She knew Apollo had warned that regaining her memories would only hurt her, but some things were worth hurting for, and Evangeline believed this was one of those things.

She needed to remember.

“I’m sorry, Madame Voss,” Evangeline finally managed to say. “I’m suffering from a bit of a headache. May we postpone this lesson?”

“Of course, Your Highness. I’ll return tomorrow. I can tell you the rest of the story then. And we can have our first lesson on royal etiquette, if you’re feeling up for that.”

Madame Voss gave Evangeline a parting curtsy before quietly making her exit.

As soon as the tutor left, Evangeline started reading the book again, wondering if it might elicit any more feelings or memories. But the story inside—her and Apollo’s love story—was more of a picture book that read like a toothless fairytale, one without a villain.

Evangeline had always loved tales with love at first sight, but love at first sight was mentioned so many times that she half expected the story to end with an advertisement for bottles of Love at First Sight Perfume: Tired of Looking for Your Happy Ending? Stop Searching and Start Spritzing!

The book, of course, did not end that way. It also did not provoke any memories. Not even an itch of one.

Evangeline finally put the book down and paced in front of the fire. She racked her brain for any story her mother might have once told her about memory loss, hoping it might help her find a cure. While she couldn’t remember any, she did remember the stranger from the other day who had given her a little red calling card and said, If you’d ever like to talk, and perhaps answer some questions, I might be able to fill in a few blanks for you.

Evangeline searched for the little red card. It didn’t seem to be anywhere in her rooms. Fortunately, the man had a memorable name.

Just then Martine, the young maid who, like Evangeline, was from the Meridian Empire, entered the room with a tray of piping tea and fresh raspberry cookies.

“Martine,” Evangeline said, “have you ever heard of Mr. Kristof Knightlinger?”

“Of course!” Martine’s heart-shaped face lit up. “I read him faithfully every day.”

“Read him?”

“He writes for The Daily Rumor.”

“The scandal sheet?” Evangeline had read the paper just that morning. She could still recall some of the dramatic headlines. Where Is Lord Jacks and What Terrible Deed Will He Commit Next? Impostor Heir to the Throne Still at Large! Just How Heroic Is the Guild of Heroes?

From what she’d gathered, Mr. Knightlinger peppered his scandal sheet with personal opinions. His article about Lord Jacks had been quite similar to what he’d written the day before, but she’d been entertained by his other stories. Mr. Knightlinger’s comments, particularly about the impostor heir to the throne, had been highly amusing. He’d painted a picture that made Evangeline think of an excitable puppy that had stolen a crown simply because it was shiny and pretty and fun to play with. Then Mr. Knightlinger had gone on to speculate that the impostor might be a vampire!

All of this made Evangeline suspect that Mr. Kristof Knightlinger might not be the most reliable source of information. But she did imagine that whatever he said would be a little more varied than the “love at first sight” book from Madame Voss, and perhaps Mr. Knightlinger might finally prompt a memory.

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