• Brandie June

Curse Undone Prologue

Here's a sneak peek at Curse Undone with the prologue.


Prologue



Cover of Curse Undone

“Is that natural?” Casper asked, staring out at the dense mist that spread through the trees ahead, filling the distance with a milky cloud. He had never seen a fog appear so suddenly nor so thickly, but he had never lived in the Biawood Forest, not the way Nor had. He wasn’t going to tell her she was keeping them alive as they made their way home, but they both knew that her years as a swindler and thief living in the woods made her adept at surviving on their trek.

Casper was well aware that he would have poisoned himself the first day of their escape from the fay, had Nor not yelled at him to drop the wild mushrooms he’d gathered, the ones that to him looked so similar to the ones the royal chefs would sauté in butter and serve with garlic back at the Rose Palace. He had not thought to dig up edible roots, nor noted how the ground was littered with acorns and pine nuts. And until Nor pointed it out, he had not seen the wild asparagus, chicory, garlic grass, and clover that grew in abundance. All things Nor had noticed with familiar ease. He would have admired her skills, appreciated the protective way she watched out for him on their way back to Reynallis, would have loved learning this new aspect of Nor had he not walled off his heart to her. The sting of her trickery was still sharp as knives. It was easier to focus on their survival and escape. He could ignore the rip in his heart till they were both safely back at the Rose Palace.

Nor met his eyes for only a moment before she followed his gaze. She turned the way they had been coming, back toward Magnomel, land of the faeries. The air was clear, the bright sun filtering through the leaves, a reminder that it was still summer. Her brows knit in concern as she turned back to the gray fog.

“I highly doubt it.” She bit her lip, sucking in air through her teeth, a habit of hers when she was trying to solve a problem. Casper had seen her do it countless times in his study, back when they were engaged and she was going to be his queen. He had loved watching her analyze a situation, loved the way her mind came up with solutions he would never have considered. But that was before she betrayed him. His heart ached at the memory, but he pushed it away. He had to focus on returning to Reynallis, returning to his country and his palace.

“Perhaps we should wait for it to disperse?” Casper eyed the wall of mist uneasily.

“We don’t have time to wait,” Nor said, pacing anxiously along the fog barrier, as though her quick steps could break up the mist. She kept glancing the way they had come, and he knew she was wondering how close the Faerie Queen Marasina and her soldiers were to catching up with them.

“Is this some faerie trick?” he asked. The word “faerie” tasted bitter on his lips.

“How would I know?”

“You might.” Casper knew he was being harsh, but he couldn’t help it. Every strange thing in the woods reminded him about the fay, and the fay reminded him that Nor had lied to him, chosen a faerie over him. He told himself that those details alone were enough. Though the fact that the faerie had been a handsome young man made him burn.

“I don’t know.” Nor sighed, running her hands through a tangle of her hair, getting even more frustrated as her fingers pulled on knots. She looked almost feral; her dress dirty, ripped shreds that had once been fine velvet. A ruined skirt of broken loops that had been gold embroidered spinning wheels only days ago. Her various cuts from the battle with the attacking fay had scabbed over to crusty scars, and several bruises had healed to a sickly greenish purple. Despite it all, she still looked beautiful to him, strong in ways he had only learned about, a survivor.

She lied to you. She worked with your enemy. Casper remembered lying on the cold stone floor of the cathedral, a faerie with gold hair and snake-like eyes holding a blade to his throat. He was the one Nor had called Pel or perhaps Rumpelstiltskin. The sickening moment when Casper realized she knew their attacker; was even friends with the creature. He had every right to be suspicious of her. But it would all be so much easier if he didn’t find her so beautiful.

Casper watched as Nor stepped up to the mist wall, tentatively reaching her hand into the mist. He held his breath until she pulled her arm back, examining it. Tiny droplets of water dotted her hand, but she seemed unscathed.

Suddenly she yelped in pain, staring down at her wrist. The thin gold bracelet that Nor wore at all times was glowing a hot white, searing her skin. It only lasted a moment, the bracelet returning to gold even as an angry red line in her skin formed from where the gold touched it. Nor pulled at the golden thread, trying to yank it free, but despite how delicate the bracelet appeared, it held fast.

“We have to go. Now!” Nor looked over her shoulder, back toward Magnomel, as though the fay would be charging through the woods at any moment.

“What was that?” Casper asked, no longer looking at Nor’s wrist, but rather staring into her eyes, eyes the color of polished wood.

Nor swallowed hard, meeting Casper’s stare. She was tense with fear, like a rabbit catching the scent of a wolf.

“When I saved Pel from the bandits in the woods, he changed a strand of wool from his shirt into gold and gave it to me.” Casper ground his teeth together, forcing himself to stay silent. “It was how I could contact him to . . . repay the debt.”

The room full of gold, Casper thought. He knew about her debt all too well. He had not known about the significance of the bracelet she wore, and learning it was from the faerie caused another stab of pain in his heart.

“And you kept it?” Casper didn’t bother to keep the disgust from his voice.

“Not by choice,” Nor snapped, pulling at Casper’s sleeve. “Pel cursed the Chace-forsaken thing, so it won’t come off. But now he knows where I am.”

Casper immediately understood Nor’s panic. His stomach clenched in fear, knowing the fay would be able to track them even if a tiny piece of him was relieved that Nor had not lied this time.

“We should separate, it’s safer for you. Please take care of my brothers when you get home.” Nor turned to run when Casper grabbed her arm, his grip firm enough to hold her in place.

“We are getting home together.” His words were hard, with the assured authority he used as a ruler, even when he was faking such confidence. Even with the war going on in his heart and the anger he felt toward Nor, he was determined to get her to safety.

Casper released Nor’s arm and extended his hand to her. Tentatively, she took it. There was a familiar warmth with her smaller, calloused hand in his. He tightened his grip.

“We don’t want to risk getting separated. We’ll walk one foot in front of the other to avoid going in circles.”

“Right,” Nor agreed.

They stepped into the fog.

The mist immediately swarmed around them, making it hard to see farther than a few feet. Casper had been sweating in the forest, but now the air was damp and chill, tasting vaguely of mint. The mist mingled with his sweat, cooling his skin. He would have been grateful for the refreshing sensation if the surroundings weren’t so strange. Moments before, the Biawood had been vibrant greens and browns; everything now was muted to pale grays. The ghostly mist was so bright that his eyes hurt, but he forced them open, even as tears ran down his face.

He stepped slowly, one foot in front of the other, holding tight to Nor’s hand, as their grip grew clammy. The world had gone silent, he noticed with a surge of unease. There was no birdsong, no falling leaves, or scurrying of woodland creatures. It didn’t even feel like a true silence, rather as though his ears were filled with cotton. There seemed to be a weight to the mist, the air growing colder the deeper they went. Casper ignored the goosepimples forming on his skin. Beside him, Nor shivered.

Something moved.

Casper froze, trying to make out the shadow in the gloom. He could feel Nor stiffen, her hand squeezing his. Something loomed to his right. He pointed, before realizing Nor couldn’t see his hand in the thick mist. He stopped walking, trying to peer through the fog. Everything was once again a hushed stillness.

“What is it?” Nor whispered close to him, her breath warming his ear.

“I thought I saw something.” Casper took a tentative step to the right, straining to make out the shape in the distance. Nor pulled his hand back, stopping him.

“We’ll get turned around.”

“Just a few steps. You stay here.” Reluctantly, Nor dropped Casper’s hand and he took several more steps, his nerves alight, terrified that something would ambush them. Dimly, something large took shape in front of him, an ominous dark gray figure in the gloom. The figure stood still and silent. His heart pounded in his chest, and he instinctively got ready to fight, putting himself between the shadow and Nor. He reached for his sword, only to remember it wasn’t there. Biting back his fear, Casper plunged ahead, ready to face this new monster head on.

His hand met moss-soaked bark. Casper let out a gurgle of a laugh. Where he had seen a tall figure with long limbs, he now viewed a tree, branches replacing the outstretched arms of his imagination. The spike of energy dissipated into giddy, self-conscious relief.

“It’s only a tree, Nor,” he said, returning to her.

Nor smiled at Casper, the tension in her shoulders relaxing. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Your valor to put yourself in harm’s way over any dangerous trees.”

Casper gave a small smirk. “I am also feared in all the lands by enemy shrubs. And don’t get me started on hedges.”

Nor giggled, the first time Casper had heard her laugh since the fay attack. “We should return to our original path and get out of here. Who knows what other plant life may be plotting against us.”

“Indeed,” Casper said, but then he heard another noise. He stilled. “Do you hear that?”

“No need to mock me.”

“Hush,” Casper hissed, straining to make out the sound. It was growing louder, a soft song floating on the mist, dark and deadly.


One dark night I’ll walk into your dreams

And tear out your heart to hear your screams

Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny hey.”


“Run!” Nor cried, and Casper heard pure terror in her voice. He reached for her, to grab her hand, but he was too late. Invisible hands reached out, pulling him backward, away from Nor.

“Nor!” he screamed. He could no longer see her in the fog, and for a moment any resentment he had for Nor vanished, and all he could think was how he needed to keep her safe. He fought against his attackers, but there were too many of them, faerie hands and faces coming into view as they pulled him to the ground, restraining him. He kicked and clawed, bit and punched, but he was no match to the surrounding faeries. The mist seemed thicker, slowing his movements, and almost suffocating him with cold, heavy, wet moisture that filled his lungs and stung his eyes. In the distance, he heard Nor call his name, but it was drowned out by another verse of the chilling song.


“I’ll lock your heart in a crystal jar.

So never again shall you go far

Hey nonny nonny, hey nonny hey.”


A face loomed over him, one with golden hair and green snake eyes.

“Chace take you,” Casper swore at the faerie. It was the one that Nor knew, the one she had whispered secrets to and had chosen over him. Jealousy and rage ignited in Casper and he struggled again against the fay. The faerie was unconcerned, knowing Casper couldn’t move as four or five other faerie soldiers had him pinned to the ground.

The faerie slowly pulled out a short, sharp dagger and held it to Casper’s neck. Casper wondered if this was how he was to die. The faerie pressed the dagger further into his skin, a shallow cut, but Casper could feel the blood sliding down his neck.

“You shouldn’t have tried to escape with Nor,” the faerie said, his voice flat. “My queen might have accepted Nor’s escape if she had left the kingling.”

“If you hurt Nor, I will kill you,” Casper said, staring into the fay’s strange, green eyes.

“I think not,” the faerie said, placing one palm over the cut on Casper’s neck. Casper tried to flinch away, but more hands came, securing him in place. Casper waited for the faerie to tighten his grip, squeeze the air and the life from him. But the strange creature merely rested his hand there, covering the shallow cut.

Dormir sange,” the faerie said, his voice soft as a lullaby.

“What—” Casper started, but ice suddenly filled his veins, making every movement a struggle. His limbs grew too heavy to move and black spots bloomed in front of his eyes, eyes that were fast becoming too heavy to keep open. A calm settled over him, and he wondered if it was the feeling of dying. Far away, he heard yelling. Maybe it was Nor. Casper blinked, slowly, before his eyes closed, and the world slipped away.

***

Curse Undone is available in hardcover, audiobook, ebook, and large print. I'll also be giving away book swag until the end of the year here.

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