First chapter sneak peek – full length novel available on Amazon
HEART OF THE RAVEN PRINCE: A Cinderella Retelling
By Tessonja Odette
There’s a certain music about being alone. One I rarely get to hear outside of a single hour each morning. It’s my peaceful respite before the sun rises, before anyone seeks to fill my day with a cacophony of demands. After dawn, I’ll have to climb down from my rooftop hiding place and return to my chores and obligations. But for now, at least, I hear it. The subtle song of a sleeping city.
The hoot of an owl brings my attention to the adjacent rooftop where a pair of bright yellow eyes in a dark silhouette watch me. The owl hoots again, as if eager for me to acknowledge his contribution to the predawn song. “I hear you,” I whisper, then lean my head against the brick chimney behind me. My legs, shielded from the chill air by thick wool hose, extend along the flat narrow ledge that rests between the two sloping sides of the roof. This, in all its unkempt, soot-dusted glory, is my sanctuary. My seat at the unseen orchestra.
Closing my eyes, I let the music wrap around me—the owl, the soft wind whispering in the black sky, the echo of crickets chirping from the countryside surrounding the city. Then I hear a familiar beat, the pitter-patter of a raccoon approaching the many waste bins that clutter the narrow alley between my apartment building and the next one over. “I hear you too,” I tell the raccoon and wrap my wool coat tighter around my nightdress.
I let the lullaby continue to play around me while I bask beneath the fading moonlight that kisses my closed eyelids. It’s only a matter of time before the sun’s light will conquer the moon’s territory. Not even here in the Lunar Court are we free from daylight’s domain and the bustle of activity it brings. Of the eleven courts on the isle of Faerwyvae, Lunar is the only one that hosts a perpetual twilight quality during daylight hours, diffusing the sun through an eerie haze. Still, the morning hour will bring the chiming of bells, just like any other court. The city of Evanston will wake from slumber.
And I will face another day paying off the stupidest bargain I ever could have made.
At least I have this moment.
Soon, I’ll have more moments like this. Soon, music will fill my days and illuminate my nights. Soon, I’ll be free from my stepfamily, free from my past and everything I’ve had to endure. I’ll be able to become someone new.
Only then will I find a place I belong.
The thought brings a smile to my lips. I open my eyes and reach into the pocket of my coat, retrieving a treasure I always keep at my side—a train fare voucher—my literal ticket to freedom. In two weeks, I’ll be leaving everything I know behind and boarding a train from Evanston Station to the city of Lumenas in the Star Court. As the music capital of Faerwyvae, Lumenas is famous for offering boundless opportunities to aspiring musicians. I have every intention of joining a musical troupe once I’m there. After that, it’s the open road. No attachments. No stifling bonds. Music at my fingertips.
I caress the smooth paper, careful not to smudge the date or proof of fare. After saving for nearly a year, I was finally able to purchase the ticket in secret last week. Now I can hardly believe it’s real. That freedom is truly so close.
Two more weeks.
The ticket suddenly flickers a shade of blue. With a startle, I look up to find three bright blue wisps bobbing above my head. I’m surprised to see them. While Faerwyvae is both ruled and inhabited by the fae, Evanston is a primarily human city that is seldom frequented by wild fae creatures like the wisps. This close, I can see their tiny faces amidst their bright, round, flame-like bodies, and their stubby arms and legs. They stare down at my ticket with curious expressions.
“Traveling, yes?” one says with an ethereal, feminine voice.
I gently fold the ticket and place it back in my pocket, saying nothing in response.
“Why take a train,” says another, her voice slightly higher than the first, “when we could guide you where you want to go?”
I snort a laugh. Everyone knows wisps are not to be trusted, especially when it comes to journeys or directions.
“Come with us,” says the third. This one has a more masculine tone. “We will take you there now.”
“I’m not ready to go right now,” I say, which is only half true. If it were up to me, I would have left my stepfamily long ago. But the bargain I made deems it impossible until the day I turn nineteen.
“Then perhaps you should play with us instead,” says the first. She floats in a spiral higher overhead. “Come fly.”
I level a stare at her. “I can’t fly.”
“You’re of the wind,” the second one says.
A hollow ache throbs in my chest. How can she tell? “I am. My mother was a sylph.”
“Was,” she echoes.
“She died eleven years ago.”
“Then fly with us,” the male wisp says. “Honor her.”
“I already told you I can’t. Just because I’m half fae doesn’t mean I can fly like my mother could. I’ll not let you use my grief against me.”
The first wisp clasps her hands in an innocent gesture. “But you’ll miss the sunrise. It’s nearly at the horizon. Don’t you want to see it?”
Sunrise. That means my peace is almost at an end. My heart plummets at the thought of all the chores, mending, and verbal insults that await once I return to the apartment. I glance toward the horizon but can see no evidence of the sun, not with the towering smokestacks that invade the view. Yearning tugs at my unruly fae side, urging me to give in. With it comes an echo of a promise made long ago.
Always be wild. Promise me.
Setting my jaw, I rise to my feet, keeping my balance steady on the rooftop ledge. I pivot to face the chimney. Extending my arms, I rise to my toes and grasp the chimney’s crown, ignoring how the soot darkens my hands. The wisps swirl around me, giggling as I pull myself up. Climbing has always come easy to me because of my mother. She taught me to climb my first tree, helped me scale the roof of our manor so we could watch the sunrise together. The memory threatens to pull me down, but I use it as fuel instead. Once I’ve heaved myself onto the crown, I rise to stand, bracing my feet on opposite sides of the gaping flue, and face the horizon again.
“Jump. Fly,” the male wisp begs, but I ignore him.
“Sing,” says the first wisp, a hint of taunting in her eyes. “I know you want to.”
My shoulders tense at the dare while a sudden tightness in my throat begs to be freed. Climbing this high up, giving in to even a portion of my fae nature, always tempts me to sing. Just considering the action of setting my voice to a tune, letting it mingle with the quiet music of the morning, sends a painful longing through me. My throat bobs, pleading for a hum, but I swallow it down.
I shake my head. “I don’t sing.”
The wisps continue to taunt and tease, but I tune them out. Instead, I focus on the view, gazing above the smokestacks and factories that make up the Gray Quarter, a neighborhood as bleak as its name. I look out at the rest of the sprawling city beyond my neighborhood, then at the mountains and countryside in the distance.
I don’t notice when the wisps get bored and float away, but soon I’m alone again, frozen in place, letting the breeze rustle my coat and dance through my hair while I listen to the shift in music.
First comes the beat of opening and closing doors, then the quiet pound of footsteps on cobblestones as the factory workers leave nearby apartments and workhouses for another grueling day of labor. Next comes the rhythm of horse hooves and carriage wheels, then of gears turning, of machinery roaring to life. My fingers flinch at my sides, eager to tap along to the tune, each digit haunted by the ghost of piano keys. It’s been months since I last played. Months since I felt that comforting, familiar weight of ivory against my fingertips, of sound reverberating through my bones. Even though I refuse to sing, I still find comfort in playing the piano. Still find a connection to my mother through it.
Or at least I did. Before my stepmother sold my pianoforte.
Sinking into the song, I allow my fingers to tap against my thighs. A crying babe screeches out, disrupting the melody like a missed note. As if on cue, the first blush of sun peeks over the mountains beyond the city, painting the sky in muted shades of blue and gold. I watch as it bathes the countryside at the base of the mountains. My breath hitches. Somewhere amongst that gold-flecked green lies my childhood home. The modest country estate where I spent the happiest years of my childhood.
Until it all changed.
Until the last time I sang.
And killed the only living person who loved me.
I swallow the searing lump in my throat and return my attention to the rising music, listening to it grow louder and louder, letting it drown out my hidden sorrow until it’s nothing more than a whisper in the audience. The tempo both quickens and slows as multiple musicians battle in disharmonious tandem. My fingers resume their tapping, chasing one beat, then the next.
Then I hear it. The chime of morning bells.
Good sense tells me I should get down and cleaned up before my stepmother seeks me out, but as the sun continues to rise, I find myself unable to look away. I remain in place, watching the golds grow brighter. The sun kisses more and more of Evanston. Any moment, it will illuminate even the Gray Quarter.
A flash of panic rushes through me, but a rebellious fire has my feet rooted to the chimney’s ledge. I will remain. Just a second longer…
The grating voice has my back stiffening as it reverberates through the apartment below, sending all prior sense of rebellion leaking from my bones.
“Ember Montgomery!” my stepmother calls again.
Closing my eyes, I clench my jaw and reach for the locket at the base of my throat. Squeezing it tight to steady my nerves, I take a deep inhale and a slow exhale. Then, releasing the locket, I climb down from the chimney. From peace. From music.
All to fulfill a bargain I never should have made
Thank you for reading the first chapter of Curse of the Wolf King! The rest of the story will be released on August 13. You can find it here on Amazon.***
©Copyright 2021 by Tessonja Odette. This work may not be reproduced or redistributed in any way.
***This page contains affiliate links to Amazon. Clicking these links may provide me a small commission. Thank you for your support!