Heiress of Rebellion

A Pox of Stars

From the most magnificent castle in the known world, I gaze out upon a pox of stars.

I have grasped an alliance with our ancient foe, monsters with skin the hue of storm and mouths that teem with fangs.

I blame the spiteful court for driving me here, because it is humans who concoct the honeyed confections that rot the teeth and spoil the child. It is the court that laced me up in a corset of iron rods, shaped my face into a genteel mask, and convinced me I was a thing of power.

Armed with straitlaced austerity over an unbending spine, I plotted my life through lavish balls and schemed beneath teardrop chandeliers. I supped on moist cakes that sugared my discontent, simmered with caustic calumnies on airy terraces, and sipped dark wine until the fermented berries painted my lips poppy-blossom red.

Everything in that court overpowered the senses: dancing with the First Magnate’s impassive sons dizzied my mind, and perfumes of lilac and jasmine jammed my lungs.

All of it weighed as heavy as lead, my belly gorged on meat a-drip with juice.

Burdened and cumbrous, I grew too fatuous to flee.

My fate began to close around me like a circle of foes: a marriage was arranged with some vile unsightly man, a man thrice my age and distantly related to the magnate of the Second Demesne.

My corset became a cage; I began to suffocate from the cast-iron mold they shut me inside. I did not fit; it constricted my freedom.

I could not breathe.

Can you understand?

At night I lay in my plush bed, sick at heart and bloated with the day’s cruelties. I envisioned my fate spanning the decades ahead.

My obedience turned into a changeling at my breast: a maddened creature sharp of tooth and dark of eye. Once a mask, my rancor now fused with my sinew and bone. I would become as virulent as the pinch-faced woman who’d birthed me: a vinegar-sour purse of lips, a curdling of gimlet eye.

I would pucker up like a sour mouth painted as dark as blood.

I wanted out.

Do you finally grasp?

I railed against my fate. I fled—where else but to the chapel of our Absent God?

What solace, though, can one find in a god who abandoned humankind to fend for itself centuries before?

When I prostrated myself before the altar, imploring, nothing but discomfort seeped from the stone. No hope flickered in the naves—only candles.

And the unheard entreaties of the thousands who had knelt there in vain before me besieged me with unanswered echoes.

Denied succor, I rose to abandon our Absent God as He had abandoned me.

But then.

The ringing of bells entreated my soul to stillness.

Riveted by the melody, I swore I heard in it… a promise.

A lure.

In the hushed resonance of its finale, I glided up the staircase like one whose heart had been tied to a string. That string pulled taut and led me up to a bell.

Beneath its engraved iron, I curled up in a nook of shadow, a forlorn girl in frothy lace.

I released my grief in a torrent.

And there, in the belfry, appeared a boy scarcely older than I. Garbed in a robe from head to toe, he possessed a face so pretty I thought, strangely, that his lips must taste like cherries, and his hair shone in the starlight like the finest silver.

For the first time in an existence bound by strictures and corsets, my lungs expanded, full and astonished, and the breath there felt like a laugh.

Or the prelude to one.

And I had never truly laughed in my life.

On that near-soundless night, when I could hear the beating of my heart, the boy had discovered the trail of sorrow that led to me.

Now, here, upon this parchment, I tender my confession, patched together from torn-off bits of agony that I have purled away from my soul.

Peek between the droplets of heartache in the blurred ink, the stains of blood raked out by my ragged nails, and find my love: my foundling in the belfry.

After that night, he became my breathless escape.

Although he had no voice—born mute—he conveyed everything through a duck of head, a sheepish blush, the ruffle of his hand through his hair, or through a luminous smile.

We were always sneaking together into shadowed naves, forgotten corners, or the chapel’s cramped library, where the priest set out raisin-nut cakes and steaming cider among scattered parchments.

But mostly, we sneaked into happiness. At day, at dusk, and once, in the night-hushed belfry, he knelt upon my flowing gown that pooled around us like a foamy sea.

He brought our pulses a mere hairsbreadth apart… and then our lips were no longer apart at all.

For a single moment, during that wondrous kiss, everything else in my life was rendered insignificant.

But I’d been hatched in the poisonous court, and that vipers’ nest never sets its victims free.

That cursed day!

I skipped from the chapel—and ran straight into the magnate’s eldest son.

We both bounced backward, hurling apologies, and then stopped, recognizing one another.

I was a flushed young noblewoman, prettily in love.

He was the handsome future king, enigmatic and mussed.

To everyone in the treacherous court, we could be the perfect match.

To the future king and I, born and bred in that ruthless cradle of schemes, we could be the perfect match.

And although both our hearts had tangled in poorer places—his with a penniless girl, mine with a mute foundling—and pierced us with briars in the secret forests of our love, those matches were unacceptable for a noble marriage.

The future king and I, we understood. We could appease the court by joining with each other and meeting our lovers in secret, after we’d produced the royal septuplets.

When he offered for my hand, I snatched at the chance to rid myself of my former betrothed, that Vile Unsightly, for he could not compare to this new match to a future king.

My family dumped the Vile like a slug.

And truth be told, part of me reveled that, by marrying the magnate’s eldest son, I would one day be Queen. I would bear the next royal septuplets.

But I had to tell the boy.

I tried to explain to him the rules of royalty, that I would become the mother of the future rulers, and how the entire court now expected this of me. If I reneged, my family would be exiled for the dishonor. I would be ruined. I had given my word to our future king, and a promise spoken in court was not one revoked.

The boy and I could still be lovers—in secretly snatched bits of time, after my king and I wed and I bore him the next rulers. I had to, after all, make sure the rulers were royal.

But the boy didn’t understand. He couldn’t comprehend the workings of humans who didn’t esteem the heart, who stingily parceled it out piecemeal to this lover and that husband.

And I didn’t understand the workings of the heart at all.

*

The magnate’s son and I married in my mute foundling’s chapel.

I was resplendent in a gown of scarlet. People threw petals upon our upturned faces. A fresh breeze whisked through the open windows and banished the overwhelming perfumes to the vaulted ceiling, leaving only the faintest scent of blossoms.

Tamed doves swooped overhead, their feathers floating down as we knelt amid flowers and smiles, with the sweet taste in our mouths from ceremonial wine.

I strained my ears for the bells my love would ring. Bated for his song, I waited for the moment I could escape my husband and promise the boy that I loved him most.

But his heartache spread its wings in the belfry.

They found him folded, lifeless, beneath the bell where my gown had once frothed around our kisses.

*

They groomed me for hubris.

They prepared me for spite and envy.

They instilled in me the importance of never crumbling before the court, for a queen must never fold.

And I have not. Only a few have glimpsed through the cracks of the steel mask I present to the world. Only a few have peered through the fissures down to the stew of madness that boils in my core.

I dare you to stroke the iron curve of my spine. Its spikes will disfigure your courage.

Only I feel the blood seep through the thousands of holes in the sieve of my heart.

It can hold nothing anymore. My blood is only good for bruising. It no longer brings heat, life—no wild pulse. No more and never again.

All the lessons beaten into me—the thousands of hours of comportment, repartee, vilification—worthless.

Nothing prepares you for heartbreak. Nothing prepares you for the atrophying of a heart.

Those who say, “Rally and love again!”—how dare you strive to strike a spark in the heart that I have shut?

You have no concept of the changeling ghoul I’ve rocked to sleep in the fading day.

The lullabies I’ve sung to bloodied hands.

*

Let me tell you of the pleasure of my king and I.

Anything our bodies wrought together was mechanical and feeble, a shudder of flesh and tissue without any heart. A rapid pulse without passion.

My song had silenced with the boy, and after our first consummation, the future king stumbled from our bed and retched out the window while I lay limp and willed my soul to leave.

Any time he held me was an apology. He stroked my hair in a game of pretend that I pretended to believe. Every kiss to my brow, every halfhearted smile, every tentative touch that faded too quick was his apology for not wanting to be with me, because we had to succeed. The Demesnes needed the next seven rulers.

Eventually, we settled.

He made love to me often, and I shut off my mind and cried out in the meager pleasure of our coupling. We sat calmly on our thrones every day.

But we wore our guilt like cloaks of ravaged wishes.

And a series of stillborn years made me the disappointment of an entire kingdom. No septuplets were born alive.

Only a single girl child survived the devastated ruins of my hateful womb. The daughter I hate and have turned the entire kingdom against.

And my king’s lover still lived. His visits to my bed dwindled while his visits outside the castle increased.

In disguise, I followed him once to a dingy shack in the poor quarter, where a statuesque woman laughed wryly when he propped his foot into her cracked door.

Oh, she made a display of protesting when he swept inside, telling him he hadn’t shown up for years and surely he was happily wed and must sire the septuplets, but he was already kissing her, and she got no farther than those husky breaths.

Was it fair that he still had his love and I had lost mine?

No.

But I was Queen, and coins of gold can cascade so effortlessly from the fingertips of a woman scorned.

Straight into the purses of brutes.

They ensured that my king’s lover suffered at the end.

Try to slink behind my royal back, my darling, and you will receive more than a benevolent slap on your wrist.

As he had destroyed me, so I destroyed him. Is that not fair?

The daughter he got on me, though, has not proven as easily slain. Her existence is a thorn that pricks me every day with the reminder that I’ve failed to bear the Seven Demesnes’ next seven rulers.

Now my King no longer visits my chambers at all. He takes lovers, one woman after another.

Every one is worthless, of course, for none can bear the royal septuplets; the Book of Promises clearly decrees that no illegitimate babes born outside our marriage can rule.

Which means if I don’t bear the rulers as his wedded queen, no one will. And I must. I wish to. Even our kingdom grows restless for their birth.

But our hopes for it wane, as futile as my hopes for my king’s return to me.

In this empty life, in this empty bed, even an empty man is preferable to nothing at all.

But not even this empty man returns.

They taught me that a queen never crumbles, never caves, not even with the entire world set against her.

Not even when her own heart has turned its face away… when it taunts her with dreams where I never skip out of that chapel.

In those dreams, I stay with my foundling mute. He wraps me up in his shabby coat—

But dreams are lies, deceits, and the warmth escapes through his coat’s myriad holes, and although I press near, and nearer, he disperses into a phantom formed only of regret.

The true boy who could have warmed me decayed long ago.

*

Now, madness flickers at the edge of my mind like a forked tongue that whispers of intent and power.

And I heed.

I plot.

I am sick of it all. I did everything right, all that they bade, and what have I to show?

I am beaten, spurned, unloved, used up.

Is it any wonder that now, behind the shutters of night, I’ve conspired with our ancient foe?

I made with them a pact to spare the worthy and doom the undeserving.

Monstrosities honed of barbarity and vigor are coming: around the corner, prowling shadows with eyes of flame and bladed claws; a razor-toothed smile above a slumbering girl.

The city walls will not ward them off forever. These creatures steeped in nightmare will stake victory in the night. They will lay justice at the feet of the wronged, rid our world of the corrupt, and they will enable my aging womb to fill with the septuplets of my king.

Nothing can save the wicked now.

Definitely not a daughter birthed in my loveless bed. Not when I am forged anew, with a steel heart, an iron spine, and an indomitable will.

A Scarred and Shadow-Enshrouded Heart

Reclining upon my silks, a jaded queen in her time of glory, I am frivolous with magic.

Not my magic, of course, for like most in the pathetic demesnes, I was born bland, magicless, powerless.

But the monsters have staved off my impatience for the septuplets with distraction—with their magic. Their king has gifted me a frosted-glass vial containing filaments of gold. Each honey-hued ribbon within is a magical spell.

At a fingertip’s touch, I can unhook a strand from the snarl, convey to it my wish with a whisper, and if I leave my eyes open, the golden thread will play any event I wish in the air before me, whether past or present.

And if I shut my eyes, I live the scene inside the body and mind of the person I chose; I experience the hammering of their heart, their indrawn breaths, their pinch of flesh.

I may spy upon anyone I want, anytime, in any place.

But these are naught but fibrous fancies and wasted time, unable to achieve what I most crave: to bear the septuplets and slay my daughter.

While she prances about and my magnate ruts with his mistress, what consolation does spying on past or present offer me?

And yet what else remains me but to wander the bleak and barren moor of my despondency? For in this empty room, in my empty bed, my empty life taxes my every breath.

Why is emptiness so heavy? How can something so vacant belabor our steps?

What irony it is that love is like ripe and full-fleshed fruit while loneliness a worm-riddled pear, a shriveled and juiceless husk, and yet loneliness proves a far weightier burden to bear than love.

And so, I wander.

What curiosity tempts me first?

I am curious about the foe, the shadow-hungry hultshar—their leader—whom I’ve only met through a surface of glass.

Some people doubt they exist, this undisputed enemy of humankind, but I know. His kind inhabit the shadowlands far to the south, where the skies crackle with lightning and nothing thrives in their fractured terrain, no plump fruit, no flush orchards; not even grass straggles from its desert fissures.

I glimpsed the constant chaos of their sky from a window in the wall behind him once, when I spoke to him in the mirror.

But when I attempt to disperse a thread to spy on them, the golden strand mocks me by doing nothing.

Faulty?

No, for when I murmur to it to show me my magnate, a square-shaped scene that contains him forms on the air.

In a lushly appointed antechamber of gilded chairs and hanging mirrors and velvet draperies, he is rocking back on his silken heels, dressed in a mauve waistcoat that glitters with golden threads, and white leggings over thick calves that tauten with muscle. His hands clasp at the base of his back, his manner majestic.

He is observing a painting he commissioned of me.

Nude, I stretch across the divan of the canvas, my body like an uncoiled snake that is primed to attack. My lips practically curl on a hiss. I look as though a deadly serpent is slithering in spirit behind my eyes, exuding lethal schemes into my human skull.

I had not wanted to pose for an artist, but Declan had weaseled me into it, promising he’d wield his power to banish a noble who had fallen from my favor.

Now my magnate eyes this painting with—what kind of look indeed?

And then: delicate hands slide across his shoulders, and Swannie Welf, his current mistress, slides herself against his figure, without a stitch of clothing on her. Her firm and fleshy buttocks quiver while she rises on her toes to—

I spit in a rage, and the image disperses.

Philandering dog!

And her—filthy harlot!

I calm—or attempt to—by pacing my chamber and whipping my thoughts until I foam at the mouth.

What a mad thing I am!

Mad enough to swallow the spittle and seize upon the realization that the threads showed my magnate, but had not shown me the shadow-hungry king.

Thus, I presume that I am not permitted to spy on the foe.

No matter.

I will spy upon my own. But on whom?

Perhaps on the healer, who is a woman revoltingly obsessed with hope, repellent with kindheartedness. She glides through my castle’s corridors like an over-cloying blossom.

Surely she hides something behind that innocent sham. A nasty secret that I can root out.

Yes. What does she hide behind that supposedly compassionate face? What does she truly do behind closed doors with her oh-so-compassionate hands?

For the first time in years, I feel almost… whimsical. And inimical. I stroke my gem-encrusted bodice for a spate of composure.

I settle on my bed, my hands beringed, my burgundy gown a luxurious cascade.

From my idle sprawl, I smile extravagantly into the dressing table mirror, my lips as dark as plums, my thoughts infested with ill will.

I twine a magical golden thread like a worm around my fingers.

And I spy upon the past.

*

Here is how my daughter was born: slick and bloody, half-dead but still squalling, she slid from my womb—from me, her first enemy—only to land in the thrall of her second.

My husband’s wizard was a pretty young man who nurtured mangled emotion in place of a heart. All of his kindness had been wrung from him by some past travail, and, lacking succor, the apathetic world had made his empathy shrivel.

He worked his spells in his dark lair: our highest tower.

There, he clinched my daughter’s infant soul within his dark magic.

He readied to peel her essence from her bones.

And then.

* ♛ *

Thirteen years old, Iminique Demascus—untried, untrained, and tiny even for her age—hurtled from the castle ballroom.

She wasn’t chasing the screams of the queen in childbirth, but was tracking the traces of an infant’s soul. A boy babe had already been born slain, his soul pulled out of his squalling body, turned forever silent. And now his twin sister, a princess, was sliding from the womb on his heels—in the grip of the same unseen mage who had killed her brother.

Iminique’s healing—clumsy, scarcely used, only half-learned—fended off the mage while she clasped the baby’s soul and raced through the castle toward the birthing room.

Why resist? purred a silky voice in Iminique’s mind. The child is mine.

She fought on, harder, but with more ferocity than skill, and the wizard was too strong. The web of his spell became an iron net around her throat… and he took out her soul along with the princess’s.

He held them both, but her, Iminique, he pinned inside his heart. And there, he immersed her in unbearable pain.

Not her pain, but his, for inside his heart, she found him: a man ruined, his dreams shattered, his hope torn, his body stolen.

Lost amidst these broken things, she understood his torment, its depth, and with her dying strength and undying compassion, she quit fighting and merely held him, a man wounded beyond repair.

But no. Nothing was beyond repair.

And she was a healer without match.

She loved without compare.

And faced with this inconceivably ravaged heart, she did what healers do best.

He let her go.

* ♛ *

The stupid healer! I think.

Not only thinking she could heal a deadened man, but saving the princess, a child nobody wanted. Our seven cities wanted seven boys to rule the Seven Demesnes, septuplets, not a single princess hardly worth nothing!

Like I, the rest of the cities would rather she had let my daughter die.

And perhaps my daughter would have died, if left to us, to me, to perish wrinkled up and unloved in a disregarded royal cradle.

But the royal midwife had suggested the healer as a nursemaid.

* ♛ *

At the palace’s summons the day after the infant’s birth, Iminique’s father blustered—she was, after all, an aristocrat, a growing noblewoman, not a member of the caste that served as nursemaids—but Iminique answered the midwife anyway by presenting herself at the castle.

Scarcely had she dared that small defiance against her father than she found herself kneeling in the throne room, with the royal babe in her arms.

She suddenly held the attention of a cold court.

Courtiers in peacock-hued waistcoats of ruby and emerald and indigo peered at her from dark-painted eyes. The glacial queen glared loftily down a patrician nose. The uninterested king picked at his nails and let these flinders of skin scatter into his ruffed sleeves.

And their court mage, twenty-one but with a boyish face and a headful of pretty curls, stood in a shaft of sunbeam behind the thrones. His bright and laughing gaze told her he recognized her.

She recognized him, too, despite not having previously seen those curls that shimmered like sun-kissed honey halfway down his back, or the belted blue tunic he wore that matched his fair-lashed eyes, with gold embroidery that matched his hair.

She had woven back together his heart.

And she knew that, despite his pretty face, his was not a pretty heart.

It harbored an ugly secret: he had killed the boy babe, had nearly slain the newborn princess, and had nearly strangled Iminique’s soul, too, before inexplicably letting her and the infant girl go.

He had followed Iminique last night into her dreams, where he’d ambled lazily, like a curious visitor making himself at home there.

He was keeping the septuplets from being born, killing the royal children as they emerged from the queen’s womb.

Faced with him now in the throne room—their own mage, brimming with amusement!—Iminique could not remain silent.

And so she balanced the baby on one arm, ignored the drip of drool on her wrist, and curtseyed to the magnate and his stone-faced wife. “Your wizard,” she began, but then her tongue rebelled and left the rest of her sentence unsaid.

The magnate turned his head partway toward the mage posted in the sunlight behind him. “My wizard?”

Iminique surreptitiously wiped her damp palms on the gurgling baby’s frilly lace. “He’s young. And striking.”

No. She hadn’t meant to say that.

Hadn’t you? the wizard’s voice somehow intruded into her mind, his glee dancing at the fringes of her consciousness.

“Impertinence!” The queen snarled at the baby. “Have her dismissed at once, Declan, and the babe killed.”

The magnate raised a hand, silencing the queen, and leaned forward. “Our wizard is young, Iminique Demascus, though I’d wager to say a good six or seven years older than you. And he’s powerful, too.”

Powerful and a killer, Iminique tried to say. It emerged: “Powerful and alluring.”

Her face flooded with heat. What was wrong with her?

“Declan!” The queen snapped shut her fan. “You can’t mean to—”

The magnate touched the queen’s hand, quieting her once more. “Alluring?” He steepled his hands and measured Iminique, his next words soft. “Even to one so young.”

No. Iminique fought her rising panic. He’s keeping the septuplets from being born! she wanted to cry. He killed your son, nearly killed your daughter, will likely continue to kill more…

Her lips parted on another attempt.

Better not try, the wizard spoke again directly into her mind, the solemn tone at odds with the mirth physically evident in his face. Next time I’ll embarrass you more.

You can’t control me! Iminique defied him.

His angelic smile widened in challenge.

Doggedly, she spoke again. “He’s divinely, wondrously, exquisitely…”

Her mouth clamped shut.

The magnate’s brow bunched. The queen inhaled for another tirade.

And Iminique, petrified by the disobedience of her voice, the inappropriateness of her words—in front of the entire court!—the mortification, the embarrassment—and the frost of rage that rimmed the queen’s eyes—

Iminique Demascus, for the first time in her life, came close to babbling. She scrambled to repair her gaffe. “Your majesties, I beg your forgiveness!” She executed her loveliest and most deferential obeisance, a flawless curtsy that brought her nose to the red carpet, difficult but not impossible to do with a baby in one’s arms. “I was merely taken aback by his—youth—”his dark heart, she added in her mind, winning the mage’s beatific smile from him behind the magnate’s throne “—and I gravely misspoke. Please, I entreat your tolerance.”

The nobles snickered, and another girl might have blushed, but Iminique recovered her poise before she rose and presented only a marmoreal serenity for the magnate to judge.

She awaited her fate.

* ♛ *

My nails dig white indentations into my palm.

The wizard has been keeping the septuplets from my womb? I merely thought he was taking the worthless babes, not the necessary ones.

I wish to flay him alive, but if he can control minds as he controlled the healer’s, what can I do against him, magicless as I am?

It is better he believes me as ignorant as before so that I retain my autonomy.

The monsters. When they storm our walls, they will make him pay for his perfidy.

I will ensure it.

And the healer with him.

I focus on her rather than on my helpless rage. On how sickeningly trite it was of her to charge into battle for a female babe. She should have focused her power on protecting the septuplets.

But she is so falsely overstuffed with good intentions that it revolts the stomach with falseness. Her soul is as fattened with goodness as a meat pie. No wonder the nobility wanted to roast her alive.

She succeeded with her entreaty to my magnate, that day in the court—if one can call it success for an aristocratic girl to be appointed as the royal baby’s nursemaid—and from that day forth wafted through my castle like an unspoiled mist.

But something must have cracked her at some point. No one can live life without being shattered at least once.

I harvest another golden thread.

Show me, I whisper, show me her downfall.

* ♛ *

Although Iminique wasn’t permitted into the throne room after that first infraction, whenever she crossed paths in the corridor with a noble, or the magnate himself, she attempted to speak the truth, for she refused to relinquish her endeavors to expose the mage’s duplicity.

She failed.

Every time she opened her mouth, other words materialized on her tongue—flattering words about the young mage’s beauty—and made her seem puerile.

She always caught herself too late, which made her appear a strange, flustered, stuttering child.

She even attempted to set out the truth in ink on paper. But no matter how many times she scrawled out the confession, only other sentences emerged while his secret stayed firmly locked in her mind.

Day in and day out, the young mage forced her to live with the knowledge that he was an enemy of the demesnes and she was powerless to do a thing to stop it. She had to watch him stroll into private councils, any plans there poured straight into the ears of their enemy, while the magnate consulted with him and acted based on his advice.

Moreover, she had to keep the baby princess alive—and herself alive—while the mad queen commanded that no one feed them, and then actively dispatched assassins in the night to slay them.

Every corner presented a different struggle.

No one would help her, feed her, and she was castigated, shunned, half-starved, publicly whipped, wrongfully blamed, viciously scorned, and precariously numb from sleep-deprived and assassin-fraught nights.

As if that weren’t enough for a thirteen-year-old girl to bear, Iminique, in her attempt to save the princess’s life that first night, had unwittingly bound her life to the princess’s.

If the babe starved, Iminique starved. If Iminique perished, the babe perished.

No one even named the babe.

No one helped Iminique but the perfidious mage.

When the kitchen staff denied her sustenance, he presented her with cheese tarts and spiced pheasant and mincemeat pies.

When assassins skulked in the dark, his warnings came in her mind—Im, quickly, wake up!

He was always in her mind.

Wizard, she named him.

My name is Quentyn, he corrected her.

And he was always saving her life.

Once, when a female assassin came to kill the babe, he went so far as to bind the assassin’s soul, enslaving the trained warrior to Iminique’s will.

Thus, he gifted Iminique with a protector.

It did not make sense. And yet Iminique, left no recourse and blocked off every other way, had to accept his help to live.

She stepped down the path he offered and found herself on a peculiar and dangerous course: feasting on his raspberry tarts, on honey cakes and steaming, crusty bread.

With every bite, though, she burrowed herself ever deeper into the debt of an enigmatically smiling mage with a scarred and shadow-enshrouded heart.

* ♛ *

So begins her wayward foray, I think, her descent into moral ambiguity.

Still, she nauseates me with her goodwill.

I skim more years of her life.

* ♛ *

When the surviving babe was six months old, Iminique contrived an encounter with the king in the castle corridor.

Politely—Iminique never strayed from courtesy—she begged the First Magnate to name the child.

The king, after having barely glanced at the babe since her birth, now raised his brows at the ferociously pumping arms expressing the babe’s exuberance.

Then he smiled, disarmed. He touched her fingertips, chuckling when his neglected progeny happily attempted to pound him with pinwheeling arms.

“Seriah,” he said. “She has the ferocity of a Seriah.”

* ♛ *

Was that the moment when my king’s affections fell to the child? Had I finally given him something he could love, only it was a creature I abhorred?

I still longed to kill her, but that proved impossible. Her protectors, by then, were the healer, the healer’s soul-bound assassin, and the septuplet-murdering mage.

Inside that protective circle, my daughter flourished despite a world that loathed her. She became alternately exuberant and solemn, as sedate as a willow and rampant as a weed, with wide eyes almost swallowed by black, and hair so pale it shone almost white: hair that curled into spirals so tight it invariably defied combs.

She was a solitary child, a spurned child, and the healer worried about her so.

Still mawkishly good, that healer.

Such a bore.

With another strand and a yawn, I jump to her eighteenth year.

Here.

Here, finally, hides the downfall I want, for the white gauze of the healer’s canopied bed begins to ripple around empty sheets.

Where did she go at night?

And there, I find it: she yielded to beloved ruin in the mage’s windowless lair.

For all that I hate him for stealing the septuplets from my womb for years, I commend him for this: he wrecked the healer’s immaculate virtue.

Amid his rich dark furs and swaths of silk, she succumbed to his golden body. He enfolded her with her perspiring limbs tightly wrapped around his, both of them agleam with sweat in the candlelight.

For all that she presented the alabaster mien of one untouchable in public, she let the mage touch her everywhere at night.

Her shamed morning scurries from his tower could not undo what she consented to in the dark.

She justified her capitulation to the traitorous mage by reasoning: where better to fight the foe than where she could pull the strings of his heart?

But she never unknotted those snarled strings.

He merely entangled her in them whenever it pleased him. And it pleased him often.

* * *

What do you think? Do you like this beginning? If you want an ARC (Advanced Readers’ Copy) before it comes out (though seriously, y’all, I have NO IDEA how long that might be!), send an email to sonyalakadosch@yahoo.com with the subject line “Heiress of Rebellion ARC” and put either “Please add me to the Heiress of Rebellion ARC list” or whatever else you want in the body of the mail (but be nice – I’m a sensitive soul hahahahaha)

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Sonya Lano

Sonya Lano

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

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