First four chapters – full length novel available on Amazon
TO CARVE A FAE HEART: The Fair Isle Trilogy Book One
By Tessonja Odette
Every young woman dreams of marrying a royal. A king, a prince, it doesn’t matter, so long as he’s richer than sin and handsome enough to fake a smile at. What else could a girl ask for?
Well, a working brain, for starters. And I do suggest all young women have one of those. That way, she’d know marrying a royal would be The. Worst. Thing.
You see, here in Eisleigh, all young women are eligible to be married off to a king. There’s just one problem.
He’ll probably eat you before you make it to your wedding bed.
And I’d rather not get torn to shreds by razor sharp fangs, thank you very much.
So you might be wondering why, after such a declaration, a sensible young woman like me would be traipsing through the woods toward the faewall in the middle of the night. I’ll tell you why. To bribe my way to freedom.
Some might call it superstition to leave gifts for the fae. If fae weren’t real, I’d agree. Unfortunately for the residents of Eisleigh, they are real. Dangerously, terrifyingly, blood curdlingly real. And I’m not about to offend them tonight.
I hear a rustling nearby. The snap of a twig to my left. The crinkling of falling leaves. I whirl to find nothing but the silhouette of an owl launching from a branch overhead to soar into the night sky. With a shaking breath, I pull my heavy wool cloak tighter around me and refocus on the path ahead. Even with the moonlight speckling the forest floor, I can barely make out the well-worn trail between the trees.
Yet I manage, trying my best not to trip on twining roots and rocks and all sorts of earthly assassins bent on making me regret coming here alone. It’s usually Mother who comes to the faewall with me. Or Amelie, my sister. Tonight though, it’s just me. I’m too old to need the protection of my mother, and Amelie—well, I’m usually the one protecting her even though she’s two years older than I am. Besides, she has better things to do tonight.
You’re welcome, Amelie. I hope you’re enjoying your date. Hopefully my hard work can keep us both from certain doom! In all honesty, I can’t blame her for not being with me tonight. For all she knows, this might be her last night of freedom.
Once the trees begin to thin, I catch a glimpse of the faewall up ahead. The wall is always an unsettling sight, no matter how many times I’ve seen it by now. It’s composed of massive standing stones, twice my height and three times as wide, set a dozen or so feet apart. Between the stones, all you can see is dense mist towering high into the sky, showing nothing of the fae lands beyond. The wall spans from one end of the Fair Isle to the other, dividing it in half to separate the human lands of Eisleigh from the fae lands of Faerwyvae.
A shiver crawls up my spine as I approach the wall. There’s no mistaking the danger radiating from between each pair of stones and the mist beckoning behind them. Each between is an entrance to Faerwyvae, the place humans never go on purpose and never return from when they do.
My heart quickens, and I pat the sheathed dagger that hangs from the belt around my waist, feeling the comfort of its weight against my hip. With slow, creeping steps, I make my way to one of the stones, then unshoulder my bag. From within, I remove a plate and saucer—both marked with my family surname and the name of my village on the bottom—and set them on the ground at the base of the stone. Then I take out a heel of fresh brown bread and a canteen of goat’s milk, placing the bread on the plate and pouring the milk into the bowl.
My movements are routine and reverent, following the tradition Mother taught me every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Hundred Year Reaping. It’s meant to curry favor with the fae in a way that will ensure my sister and I won’t be chosen for the next Reaping. Since the Hundred Year Reaping comes at dawn tomorrow, I could use that favor now more than ever.
I stare at my offering, then look at similar ones farther down the wall. At the next stone over, I see a patterned scarf with a sparkling, moonlit brooch perched upon it. Farther down, I’m almost certain I see the silhouette of an entire deer corpse.
I return my attention to my offering of bread and milk. It’s always been bread and milk, ever since I was a girl. Mother says anything fancier could draw the attention of the Reaping, while anything less could be seen as an insult fit for punishment. It seems the only way to guarantee my sister and I won’t become the brides of monstrous fae is to remain respectfully unmemorable.
Why the fae give a lamb’s ass about silly human offerings in the first place is beyond me. We couldn’t possibly give them anything they don’t already have in the fae lands. Besides, do fae even eat? Aside from human brains and the tears of young maidens?
I take one last glimpse at my offering, hoping it’s enough to keep me and my sister safe, then turn around.
A new wall blocks my path.
A towering, brooding wall of shadow and teeth. I gasp and launch a step back. My vision clears and focuses, revealing the figure of a man, taller than me by two heads. He’s dressed in dark, nondescript clothing beneath an equally dark cloak that makes it impossible to get an impression of anything but his face. That accounts for the shadows I saw at first glance. As for the teeth, I must have been mistaken, because there are none to be seen beneath his self-righteous smirk. My eyes trail from his mouth to his upturned nose and angled eyes.
A fae. Great.
It isn’t unusual for fae to be seen on this side of the wall, but there are only two reasons one would be here at all. First, to cause trouble. This is most often performed by lesser fae—goblins, sprites, trolls. Second, to clean up said trouble. This is usually done by the fae ambassadors, sent by the high fae who like to pretend their kind mean us no harm. So which one is he? Trouble? Or charm?
It doesn’t matter, I suppose. Even the most refined seeming fae can tear out your heart before you see it coming.
I steady my breathing and put on a brave face, reminding myself to blink as I hold his gaze. If I forget to blink, he could maintain eye contact long enough to glamour me. Or, more accurately, he could maintain eye contact long enough to suppress the proper functioning of my amygdala.
This fae is just like any other creature, I remind myself. A dangerous creature, yes, but a creature bound by the laws of science. Science, I can understand. Science, I can confront.
Despite my mantra, I know I’m in the presence of danger. I’m vulnerable, small, wildly aware of my state of undress. My cloak suddenly seems too frail a thing to hide the fact that I’m wearing a thin cotton nightdress tucked into trousers. Why couldn’t I have put on a proper top? Then again, I wasn’t expecting to find anyone here, much less a fae. A towering, beautiful, horrible fae.
Luckily, his eyes don’t stray to my clothing as he extends his hand toward the stones and the offerings at their bases. “Seeking favor, human? Hoping you’ll be chosen to win the hand of King Aspen?” His voice is low and deep, dripping honey.
I suppress a laugh. Does he honestly believe any of us would want to be chosen as a bride of the fae? It’s called the Reaping for a reason. Otherwise, we’d call it the Hundred Year Whimsy. Now, how do I answer that question without getting my face ripped off? “I ask only that my offering is received fairly and that my relationship with your kind maintains its good and distant standing.”
His lips twitch, but I can’t tell if he’s on the verge of smiling or scowling. “Your gift comes too late. The Chosen have already been selected.”
The blood leaves my face. The two Chosen have already been confirmed? But the announcement isn’t made until dawn. “Is that why you’re here? To finalize the names?”
“I just returned from doing so.”
So he must be an ambassador after all. But if he just came from finalizing the names…then that means…
I can hardly finish the thought. No other village but my own is near this part of the faewall. I can only hope he came from farther south. With a deep breath, I say, “Might you tell me their names?”
He takes a step forward, a dangerous glint in his dark eyes. “For a price.”
Of course. I should have known better than to step into that predictable trap. No peace of mind is worth making a bargain with a fae. “On second thought, I’ll wait until dawn. I’ll just be on my way then.” I step to the side to skirt around him, but he’s faster.
Again, his wall of a body is blocking me. “It will be an easy bargain. Give me your name and I’ll give you theirs.”
“Ha, I’m sure!” I regret the outburst as soon as it’s made. Mother did say my mouth would be the death of me. But he’s ridiculous if he thinks I’ll fall for that! I know what he’d ask after I gave him my name. Is that your true name you’ve given me? Such an innocent question—if you’re daft. But anyone who knows fae knows affirming he has my true name is all it takes to put me under his complete control. It would go beyond the power of a simple glamour, giving him the ability to make me do unspeakable things. A glamour, at least, ends by cutting eye contact. But giving one’s name? Rumor has it only death can sever that level of control.
I gather my poise and put together a more polite reply. “Clever wording, but no, I will not give you my name.”
He smiles wide. My eyes move to his mouth, looking for sharp teeth. In the dark, I barely get more than a flash of white between his full lips. “How about you tell me your name then. In return, I will tell you theirs.”
My eyes flick back to his, and I turn his words over a few times in my head. I don’t think he’s left room for a trap. Breathe. Blink. Breathe. Blink. “Fine. I will tell you my name. It’s Evelyn.”
I plaster a pleasant smile on my face. I’m sure it doesn’t reach my eyes. “First names will do. Now it’s your turn.”
He glares, but his lips are curled with amusement. “You aren’t afraid of me, are you?”
How could he ask me that? Surely, he can hear how loudly my heart is pounding in my chest. “Why would I be afraid?”
He lunges forward, lips peeling back with a snarl. Instead of lurching away, I stand my ground, dagger in hand as his fingers reach my neck. I raise my blade. He freezes, his nose an inch from the iron tip.
We hold our positions. His fingers are wrapped around my throat, the pressure uncomfortable, but not tight enough to constrict my breathing. My chest heaves. If he squeezes even the slightest bit more, I’ll plunge my dagger into his eye socket. It wouldn’t be easy. I’ve never killed a fae before, or anyone for that matter. But, as a more than capable surgeon’s apprentice, I have a steady hand and am no stranger to cutting a blade into flesh. I know just how much pressure is needed to slice through every kind of tissue, know how deep and how hard I would need to thrust to reach vital organs.
His finger flinches at the base of my collarbone. I prepare to strike.
In the blink of an eye, he’s taken a step back and his head is thrown back in bellowing laughter.
I keep my dagger raised, chest heaving with rage. “What’s so funny?”
“I love being surprised. You’re scared after all. Scared but unflinchingly prepared. You’d have killed me.”
I swallow hard, resisting the urge to rub my neck as I glare back at him. “And you?”
He sobers from his laughter, but his smile remains wide. “I wasn’t going to kill you. I simply wanted to see what you’d do. You’re wise to carry iron around here.”
“Thanks,” I say through my teeth. “I’ll be going now. Let me pass this time.”
He turns to the side, extending a hand toward the forest in a perfect impersonation of a gentleman. I brush past him, the hilt of my blade still clenched in my fist.
“What about our bargain?” he calls after me. “Don’t you want to know the names of the two Chosen?”
I pause, hesitating before I turn to face him. “Go on.”
He doesn’t move toward me, just holds my gaze for endless moments.
Breathe. Blink. Breathe. Blink.
Finally, he utters the words I’m waiting to hear. “Theresa and Maryanne Holstrom.”
The Holstrom girls. From Sableton. My village. I should feel terror for them, anguish for their families. We grew up together, after all. But all I feel is relief. Sweet, overwhelming, glorious relief. I can’t fight the smile that tugs at my lips, and I tip my head back and close my eyes. “Thank you,” I whisper, although I don’t know who I’m thanking. The fae? The stars? The Great Mother above?
I hear an amused laugh not too far away and remember the presence of the fae male. My eyes fly open and dart his way. But he’s gone.
I whirl around, expecting him to be waiting menacingly behind me, but it seems the forest is empty. Good riddance. I return the way I came, no longer jumping at the sounds of snapping twigs or rustling leaves. Nothing can shake my joy right now. Nothing.
For the first time in my eighteen years of life, I can consider myself safe.
My bed trembles beneath me as if the very earth is shaking. And yet, I can’t be bothered by it. Not when there’s such delicious sleep to be had.
“Evie. Evie! Get up!”
The voice startles me fully awake, and I open my eyes to find Amelie’s face an inch from mine. I groan and roll away from her. The bed returns to shaking, in earnest this time. Amelie is on her feet, bouncing from one side of my mattress to the other.
“Evie, how can you sleep? You haven’t heard the news yet!”
The news. She must mean the announcement of the Chosen. How long did I sleep? Finally, I roll onto my back and look up at my sister. Her copper hair is backlit by the morning sun coming in through my window. Her green eyes are bright beneath her long, feathery, black lashes. She’s dressed in one of her finest daytime dresses, a cream, lowcut gown with a mauve floral pattern. Of course, she’s outfitted in a fancy dress. That’s how she celebrates.
Amelie plops down on the bed next to me and takes me by the shoulders. She’s grinning so wide, I can see all her neat, perfect teeth. “It’s the Holstrom girls! It isn’t us!”
I realize I should act surprised. There’s no reason to tell her about my encounter last night, which would be the only excuse I’d have for knowing the news she’s bursting at the seams to share. I sit, trying to look eager. “Oh? The Holstroms?”
Amelie’s smile turns into a frown as my blanket slides from my shoulders. I follow her gaze and realize I’m still wearing my cloak. She pulls back the rest of the blanket, revealing the dirty hem of my trousers and mud splattered boots.
“Really, Evie? You didn’t even bother to remove your shoes before bed?”
I stretch and shift my legs to hang over the side of the mattress, then begin working at the laces of my boots. “I was tired. You know, from securing our great victory?”
Amelie floats to my dressing table and stares at her reflection in the mirror that hangs above it, prodding at her brows and cheeks. “That explains why I didn’t see you at the plaza. When Mother and I left to hear the announcement, your boots weren’t by the front door. We figured you’d already left.”
I kick off one of my boots and begin unlacing the next, still puzzling over how deeply I slept last night. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well in my life. Relief will do that to a girl, I suppose. “Did I miss anything? Aside from the announcement itself, I mean?”
Amelie whirls toward me, grinning. “You should have seen the look on Mrs. Holstrom’s face when Theresa and Maryanne’s names were called. She almost fainted!”
A pinch of guilt tugs my chest. Would our mother have fainted if she’d heard our names? But the sinking feeling evaporates before it can take hold. I’m still too grateful it wasn’t us. “Fainted? That must have been a sight.”
“Almost fainted. She did cry. A lot. The girls have already been taken beyond the wall. You should have seen the coach that came for them! Gold and pearl with dark, lustrous wood.”
I stand and cross the cold floor to my window. “They’ve already been taken to Faerwyvae? What time is it?”
“It’s almost noon.” I meet Amelie’s gaze and she frowns at my hair. She pats the chair at my dressing table. “Come. You look like a dead bird.”
I should be offended, but I’m used to my sister finding fault in my appearance. She’s always been the pretty one, the silly one, and the one most beloved by all the folk in our village. There’s a reason she was out with a man last night while I was alone in the woods. She likes company and men and friends. I like practicality. And sleep.
I take a seat and Amelie stands behind me, immediately worrying at the knot in my hair that once was a braid. In the mirror, the contrast between us is stark. My sister is all copper hair, bright green eyes, pale peachy skin, and a smile that remains even when she’s frowning—which she’s doing now at my hair.
I, on the other hand, am a more subdued version of the girl behind me. My hair is a dark auburn that only looks remotely copper in direct sunlight, my eyes are a dull blue instead of green, my skin is far too bland to be considered peachy, and too dark to be considered fair. Then there’s my smile. Let’s just say the women in the village call it a perpetual pout when they’re trying to be honest about my looks without being insulting. I do appreciate how sultry my perpetual pout makes me sound, but I know the truth of it. I look like I’m angry. All the time.
Once Amelie has finished undoing my braid, she sets to brushing out my tangles, a task that earns me a deeper frown from my sister. I smile. No matter how futile, she never gives up trying to make me presentable. “How was your date last night?”
I catch her eye-roll in the mirror. “It can hardly be called a date. It was nothing more than batting my lashes at Bertrand from across the parlor while stuck in awful chatter with his boring sisters for three hours straight.” She pauses, then smiles. “We did kiss behind the stables before I left though. I thought we were going to be caught when his driver came looking for us. Thank the Great Mother Bertrand’s fingers are like sausages, or he’d surely have had me out of my corset by then.”
“Will you be seeing him again? Now that you know you’re a free woman?”
“Why would I? I’m seeing Magnus tonight.”
I furrow my brow. “Magnus?”
“Magnus Merriweather.” She pauses her brushing, eyes going wide as she meets mine in the mirror. “I haven’t told you, have I? That’s the best part! After the announcement, Magnus invited me to dinner. Through his cousin, Annabel, of course. But I saw the way he looked at me from across the plaza. He and Theresa Holstrom were practically engaged. Now that she’s…well, you know…he has to marry me!”
“Well, Theresa was obviously his first choice, but I’ve always known I was a close second.”
“And you’re happy about that?”
Amelie’s smile grows radiant as she returns to brushing my hair. “Magnus is the most handsome man in Sableton. Maybe all of Eisleigh, though I haven’t traveled the Isle much, as you well know. But I can’t imagine a man more dignified than he. And now he’s stuck with me. I couldn’t feel luckier, Evie.”
I try my best to suppress my laugh. Despite Amelie being what I very much define as a silly person, I never go out of my way to make fun of her. She may be two years older, but she’s more fragile than I am, like a tiny violet in a patch of weeds. That fragility was almost the death of her once. I’ll never forget what it felt like to think I was going to lose her, and I’ve been fiercely protective of her ever since.
“We’re both free women now,” Amelie says, shaking me from my thoughts as she pins my fully brushed hair into a low chignon the way I like. She’s given up trying to get me to wear my hair down like hers. “How are you going to celebrate?”
My eyes fall on the stack of books on my dressing table. All are either human anatomy or medical guides, to aid my studies as a surgeon’s apprentice. Hidden beneath the stack of books is a letter. A letter I’ve read and reread a dozen times or more since receiving it last month. I’ve been waiting to respond to it until this very day—the day I can declare my absolute freedom.
I feel my cheeks flush before the words are out of my mouth. Not with shame. With excitement. “I’m going to mainland Bretton. To medical school. I’m going to become a real surgeon.”
Amelie’s eyes go wide as if I’ve just told her I plan on exchanging my head for a new one. “The mainland? You’re leaving the isle?”
My heart drops at the hurt in her tone. It was always my plan to leave the Fair Isle after the Reaping. I would have left already if it would have been allowed. According to the treaty, all young women who would come of age during the Reaping are forbidden to marry or leave the isle three years prior. You can only imagine the influx of weddings and moves to the mainland that took place three years ago. I was livid Mother wouldn’t comply with my wishes and leave with us immediately. Amelie was furious she was forbidden to marry at age seventeen. But mother was fixed on staying in Eisleigh, convinced our offerings would keep us safe. I understand the fae, she would say. We will not be driven from our home or forced into rash behavior. We’ll work with them. You’ll be safe, I promise.
Mother was right. We’re free from the Reaping once and for all. Now I can do what I’ve always wanted to do. “I’ll still visit you and Mother.”
Amelie forces a smile, but I can tell she’s hurt. “When will you go?”
“I’ve been invited to join the fall quarter at Bennings University of Medical Arts. It begins at the end of the month.”
My sister sighs, pinning the last strand of hair in place. She steps back, admiring her work, then places a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll see me get married at least, right?”
I feel my throat grow tight as I stand to face her. “Of course I will.”
Amelie pulls me into a hug with her slender arms. My head barely reaches her shoulder. “It won’t be the same without you.”
I blink back tears. “Nothing will be the same without you.”
She releases me but keeps her hands on my shoulders. “Have you told Mother?”
“Told me what?”
I whirl to find Mother standing in the doorway.
“Evie is leaving us for medical school on the mainland,” Amelie says with a pout, then floats away from me, past Mother, to my door. “Meanwhile, I have a man to steal. Good day.” With that, she disappears into the hall, leaving me to face Mother alone.
“Is this true, Evelyn?” Mother asks, her voice soft. “You’re moving to the mainland?”
I feel my shoulders collapse and have to turn away to avoid her tear-glazed eyes. “It shouldn’t be a surprise.” My voice comes out more defensive than I intend, but I’m not sure what to say. I wasn’t ready for this conversation yet. Thanks, Amelie.
I grab a pile of clothes from my table and move behind my dressing screen. Again, I’m surprised to find my trousers so dirty and recall the night before. The wall. The offering. The fae male. I shake the memories from my mind and peel off the pants and nightdress and toss them to the floor. I don a fresh pair of wide-legged trousers, then retrieve my stiff corset from the floor. With a grimace, I wrap it around my waist. A moment later, I hear Mother’s footsteps approach from behind, followed by the gentle pull of the laces. She knows better than to lace it as tight as Amelie’s. Mother dislikes corsets almost as much as I do. However, she’s convinced it’s the burden we must bear for propriety’s sake. At least until they fall out of fashion.
With my corset done, Mother returns to the other side of the screen, and I put on a cream satin blouse with round pearl-like buttons, followed by a short-waisted coat in a deep gray. I still can’t meet Mother’s eyes when I step out from behind my dressing screen, but I can feel her scrutiny at my trousers. I’m likely the only woman in my village who prefers trousers to dresses, and Mother hasn’t decided her stance on them when it comes to propriety.
Not that propriety is Mother’s only concern. She has her own curious ways, like her trailing scarves, colorful hair ornaments, and mismatched shawls. She’s an odd mix of both me and Amelie, as if we were split from two sides of her personality, each taking an equal half. On one hand, Mother is whimsical, fair, and pretty like Amelie, with the same copper hair and green eyes. She knows how to fit into society and earn the acceptance of her peers. On the other hand, Mother has always been a bit of a secret rebel. She came to the Fair Isle from the mainland after she parted ways with my father. Yes, she willingly parted ways with a decent man, leaving the more traditional structure of the mainland for the less judgmental people of the isle. That’s how she explains it, anyway. I’ve never known the residents of Sableton to be anything other than petty gossips with empty heads and rigid ways.
But the people here respect her, lone mother of two, witch of Sableton. Of course, she prefers the term healer. I prefer the term charlatan.
“When did you even apply to university?”
Finally, I meet her eyes. “I sent my application in the summer and received the reply a few weeks ago. They’ve invited me to join the next class. Ma, this is huge for me.” I’m hoping the excitement in my tone will lift the corners of her mouth, but it doesn’t.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I knew you’d be upset. Besides, I didn’t want to say anything until we were safe from the Reaping.”
“After all the work I’ve done to make sure I won’t lose you, I’m going to lose you anyway.”
I take a step toward her. “You did all that work to keep us free. That means giving me the freedom to choose.”
Her eyes are pleading as she closes the distance between us and puts her hand on my cheek. “Couldn’t you be happy here? Continue your path as a surgeon’s apprentice for Mr. Meeks?”
With a groan, I skirt around her and head for my door. I hear Mother’s footsteps fall behind me as I enter the hall and descend the stairs. “I don’t want to be an apprentice forever. I want to be a full surgeon. Do you think Sableton has room for another one? No. Mr. Meeks will be surgeon here until he dies, and his son will be surgeon after him.”
“Well, that’s not a bad idea, Evelyn,” Mother says as I reach the platform at the bottom of the stairs. “You could take the Meeks’ example and do the same with me. You could learn my craft. You could help me run the apothecary.”
Irritation courses through me. She’s never stopped trying to convince me to learn her craft. I round on her. “Ma, we’ve had this discussion a million times. I don’t want to brew silly potions and make up stories from tea leaves. I don’t want to lay my hands on people until their made-up ailments dissolve from their imaginations.”
Mother’s face falls, and I know my words were too cutting. “Is that what you think I do all day? Fool around and take people’s money for nothing? How do you explain the things I know? The miracles people experience after working with me?”
I release a sigh and continue down the hall, past the parlor and the door that leads to the public shop that is Mother’s apothecary. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just…there’s a rational explanation for everything. I’m sure what you do helps people. Just not in the way I want to help people.”
“But you have so much potential. I can feel it in you.”
I enter the kitchen, where I take a seat at the thick wooden table, reaching for what remains of this morning’s loaf of bread. “Mr. Meeks says I have potential too. Real potential. He says I have a steady hand and the right disposition for surgery. When I graduate from university, I’ll have the skills I need to make a difference in the world. I can do more than just make people feel better. I can save lives.”
“Someday you’ll realize you have the power to save lives already inside you.”
A wave of anger sends heat to my cheeks. “You mean, like you?”
Tense silence grows between us, and a flash of guilt crosses Mother’s face. “You’ll never forgive me for what happened with your sister, will you? It kills me that your sister suffered for my mistake, but I promise you, I would have taken her to Mr. Meeks before things got too far.”
Again, I know my words were too harsh, but it’s the truth. Amelie nearly died four years ago, not because of some mistake, but because of Mother’s entire belief system. Mother may help people in her own way, but she doesn’t save lives. Pretending she can, only hurts the people who actually need medical intervention.
I avert my gaze to avoid the hurt look on her face, instead taking in the jars of herbs lining the shelves spanning each wall, strands of drying plants hanging from the ceiling, tinctures and potions brewing on the countertops in glass jars. The sight makes my muscles tense. It’s chaotic and messy and none of it is me. I crave the order and neatness of a sterile surgery room, not the messy kitchen behind an apothecary. I let out a heavy sigh. “Ma, you know I forgive you. Amelie forgives you. But the fact remains that Sableton isn’t where I belong. Eisleigh isn’t where I belong.”
“You’ll never be happy on the mainland. There’s no magic there, no—”
“I don’t believe in magic. You know this.”
Mother’s lips flicker into a sad smile, and her tone becomes wistful. “You used to believe in magic. You used to help me make draughts and potions. You used to sit at my side all day and read the tea leaves of the shop patrons. Don’t you remember what it was like back then? Amelie would play the piano and sing while you and I would lay our hands on the sick and cleanse their energy. You were so powerful then.”
I shake my head. “I was a child. A little girl who confused her imagination for magic and thought she gave offerings to the fae because they were friends with the humans. I know better now.”
“If you don’t believe in magic, how do you explain the fae?”
“The fae aren’t magic. They’re creatures like any other. Everything they do can be explained with science.”
“Science doesn’t explain everything,” Mother says. “Sometimes you have to follow your heart.”
With gritted teeth, I force a smile. “Lucky for me, both science and my heart are telling me to go to the mainland. That’s my choice. You won’t change my mind.”
We hold each other’s gaze, and I try my best to maintain my composure, even as Mother’s eyes fill with tears. The bell rings from inside the shop. A male voice calls out, a patron entering the apothecary, but Mother makes no move to greet him. She looks like she wants to say more to me, to find the right words that will convince me to stay with her. Nothing will convince me. Nothing.
Finally, Mother averts her gaze and peeks out the window that looks into the shop. “Mr. Anderson is here for his tincture,” she whispers.
I take the opportunity to shove a piece of bread in my mouth, but after the argument with my mother, its taste is bitter.
Mother leaves the table and heads to the doorway. She pauses beneath the arch, back facing me. Her voice comes out with more sorrow than I expect. “Don’t lose all faith in magic, Evie. Keep at least a flicker of it alive in your heart and know no matter how far you go, you can always come back home.”
She disappears into the shop, and I hear her cheerful voice greet Mr. Anderson. I should feel victorious after winning the argument with Mother. I should feel excited about medical school.
But all I feel is empty, the haunting tone of Mother’s words still echoing through my head.
The tang of blood mixed with the sharp aroma of alcohol fills the air of the surgery room. I refuse to tremble as I hazard a glance at the mangled limb of the patient and what used to be a hand. All that remains are strands of tissue, muscle, and bone in unnatural angles dangling from the forearm. Hank Osterman groans on the operating table, writhing beneath my hands as I keep a firm grip on his shoulders.
“Chloroform, Miss Fairfield,” Mr. Meeks says, his voice calm yet firm.
I rush to obey, soaking a cotton cloth in chloroform, then placing it inside the metal inhalation cone. “It’s going to be all right, Mr. Osterman.” I try to mimic Mr. Meeks’ calming tone as I cover the patient’s nose and mouth with the cone. After a few breaths, his groans subside and his body grows slack.
“Tourniquet,” Mr. Meeks says.
I fix the strap above Mr. Osterman’s elbow, then turn the screw that tightens the slack. The flow of blood begins to lessen.
I reach for the saw. My stomach dives as Mr. Meeks takes it from me. I’d hoped he would let me operate the bone saw this time. With hardly a blink, I swallow my disappointment and keep my eyes trained on Mr. Meeks’ every move. His motions are smooth and deliberate. In no time, the lower arm is completely detached. I dispose of the mangled remains, then hand over clamps, needle, and thread, watching Mr. Meeks’ deft fingers as he ties off arteries and stitches the skin together over the wound. Like always, I’m at a loss for words, awed with the power a surgeon like Mr. Meeks has. The power to save lives.
Sweat is dripping from my brow by the time the operation is over.
Mr. Meeks looks at me for the first time since the surgery began. His gray eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles. “You did well, Miss Fairfield. I’m glad you were able to get here so quickly. It would have been quite the challenge without you, dear girl.”
His praise lifts my shoulders, and I grin with pride. Never mind his tone erred on the side of patronizing. I like to tell myself he simply thinks of me too much like a daughter to forgo with the cosseting. “I’m glad I could be here too. Every chance I can learn the trade is a chance I’m eager to have.”
“Yes, well, my son is on holiday on the mainland, as you know. Since he couldn’t be here today, I’m pleased I was graced with the next best. Now, my dear, do clean up if you will. Mr. Osterman will be awake soon and I’d rather he didn’t have to see this mess.”
I deflate as Mr. Meeks shuffles out of the room. He didn’t mean to insult me, I’m sure, but sometimes the old man can be quite daft, regardless of his genius status amongst the people of Sableton. I know he’s fond of me as his apprentice, but he never hesitates to make it clear his son is his successor, not me. His special little fop of a son, who I’m sure hasn’t spent half the time in the surgery room as I have. He clearly cares more about taking one holiday after the next than helping his dear old father.
Great Mother above, help the injured residents of Sableton once Mr. Meeks retires and leaves the village in the hands of his idiot son.
I shake out my wrists, realizing my nails have dug into my palms. Never mind that. Never mind. It’s not my concern anyway, I remind myself as I grit my teeth and haul the tray of bloodied tools to the stove. I’m going to medical school. I’m leaving Sableton behind for good.
Once the tools have been cleaned, boiled, and dried, I untie my bloodstained apron, adding it to the basket of soiled laundry. I heft the basket and start toward the door when I hear a moan from behind me.
“Mr. Meeks!” I shout into the hall, then rush to the operating table where Mr. Osterman is beginning to stir. His eyelids flutter as he lets out another pained groan. Without so much as a tremble, I reach for the bottle of laudanum, extract a dropperful, then place the dropper between his lips. “This will help.” He grimaces but doesn’t fight me as I drop the liquid—thirty drops, with precision—into his mouth. I call for Mr. Meeks again. Even though I have everything under control, there’s one thing I can’t do alone, and that’s help Mr. Osterman to the parlor. His towering weight would crush me, even if I could get him to walk mostly on his own.
The patient’s groans subside, and his muscles begin to relax. “The fae did this,” he mutters drowsily, one word rolling into the next. His lids are still fluttering over his eyes. “She tricked me. She made me put my hand…in a bear trap.”
I freeze. A fae is responsible for this? Hank Osterman is one of the best hunters in Sableton. What kind of evil creature could trick him into doing such a thing? And why?
He lifts his head. It wobbles, giving him a glance at what remains of his arm before he rests it back on the table. He bares his teeth in an angry snarl. “I thought she was a woman. She looked like a woman.”
His tone chills me, leaving me without a reply.
“Ah, Mr. Osterman, you’re awake,” Mr. Meeks says as he approaches the table, his surgeon’s calm never faltering. “Come, let’s get you to the parlor to wait for your wife.”
“My wife,” Mr. Osterman echoes.
“Yes, she’s bringing the carriage. Come now.” Mr. Meeks puts his hand behind the patient’s head, helping ease him into a sitting position.
Mr. Osterman steadies himself with his good arm, and the amputated limb twitches, as if trying to copy the movement of the other. A wince of pain shoots across his face, and he closes his eyes.
I reach for the bottle next to me. “More laudanum.”
Mr. Meeks shakes his head. “No, he’s had enough for now. We’ll send him home with a bottle for his wife to administer. Now, come Hank. On your feet.”
Mr. Osterman doesn’t obey. Instead, he opens his eyes and glances again at the severed arm. For endless moments he just stares at it. Then his shoulders heave, head falling into his remaining hand. Sobs tear out of him.
All I can do is stare with wide eyes as Hank Osterman—undoubtedly one of the strongest, burliest men in my village—is completely undone.
And the fae are to blame.
My heart sinks. I think about the Holstrom girls, gone nearly a week now. What’s it been like living in Faerwyvae, in that horrible, monstrous place? Are they being tormented by the same heartless creatures that did this to Mr. Osterman? The thought ties my stomach in knots. Now that the giddy relief over Amelie’s and my safety has worn off, it’s much easier to feel bad for the Holstrom girls.
As the minutes tick by, Mr. Osterman’s sobs don’t seem to be letting up, no matter how much Mr. Meeks tries to console him. Finally, Mr. Meeks takes a step away and turns to me with a whisper. “Poor man. I wish we could have done more for him.”
I keep my voice low. “He said a fae was responsible. Do you think he was glamoured?”
Mr. Meeks looks back at his sobbing patient, expression grave. “He may have been, although I’d be surprised if that were true. He was wearing rowan berries around the arm we removed. I think it may be a matter of simple fae trickery.”
“Rowan berries?” I’m shocked. Not by Mr. Osterman wearing them, but by Mr. Meeks’ belief in them. He’s always sharing his scientific theories with me, explaining the fae through logic. I never took the wearing of rowan berries to be anything more than superstition. A false magic.
“Rowan berries have proven to be effective at preventing a glamour,” he explains. “It hasn’t been studied thoroughly, but those of us in the scientific community believe rowan berries release a chemical upon skin contact that somehow helps preserve the function of our amygdala in the presence of the fae. That way, one need not rely solely on severing eye contact to prevent a glamour.”
Awe washes over me as my lips pull into a grin. Logic never ceases to have that effect. “That actually makes sense.”
Mr. Meeks pats me on the head. “Such an apt pupil. Now, run along, Miss Fairfield. Mr. Osterman wouldn’t want a young lady to witness him in such a state.” He tilts his head back at the sobbing man.
My grin slips from my lips. I want to remind him I’m more than just some young lady. I’m a surgeon’s apprentice and soon-to-be medical professional. However, Mr. Meeks has always been the one person I can’t bring myself to argue with. His mentorship has been my ticket to freedom. If I spoke to him the way I speak to most people, I never would have gotten the apprenticeship, much less kept it for the last two years. Instead, I nod and wish him a good evening.
As I’m about to pass through the door, Mr. Meeks says, “Oh, and don’t forget the laundry, dear.”
I grit my teeth, finding the basket I’d dropped earlier when Mr. Osterman woke. With an irritated sigh, I take it to the laundry room.
The September air is mild when I leave Mr. Meeks’ house, the sun beginning to set. At the end of the drive, a carriage comes my way. It must be Mrs. Osterman. I refuse to look inside as I pass it, not wanting to witness the woman’s worry. She must be terrified for her poor husband.
I take my time back to Ettings Street, where most of the shops are located. Once there, I stop at the post. We already got our letters this morning, but I’m eager to see if anything has arrived for us since. It’s silly of me to expect anything from the university so soon. It’s only been four days since I sent my acceptance letter. But that doesn’t stop me from checking twice a day. A girl can’t be sensible in all things, you know.
I leave the post empty handed, then continue my walk. At the other end of Ettings is Mother’s shop—Fairfield Apothecary—which is also our home. It’s nestled between the baker and the dressmaker. You can imagine Amelie’s delight to be so near a dressmaker. As for me…I prefer the bakery.
My stomach growls at the thought. Surgery always works up an appetite for me. After all the gruesome parts are well past done, of course.
I can think of nothing but warm soup and buttered bread as the bakery comes into view. Then something unusual snags my attention—a figure walking toward me with sure, calculated steps. It’s then I realize how quiet Ettings Street is. The few villagers passing between shops seem frozen as they watch the figure make his way along the sidewalk.
My mind brings forth visions of the fae I met at the wall, and I try to find what I remember of his features in the male coming my way. But this fae is undoubtedly shorter, stouter. He wears thick-rimmed spectacles, which I didn’t know fae wore, and a long, burgundy and bronze jacket that reaches his ankles. Beneath the jacket, he wears a pair of cream trousers, a russet waistcoat, and a bronze cravat in a floral pattern. The only similarity between him and the fae from the wall is the smug smile.
I don’t meet his eyes as he passes by, but a shiver runs down my spine once he’s behind me. I can guess where he’s heading. He’s clearly a fae ambassador and likely on his way to smooth things over with the Ostermans.
A fae drawing human blood could be seen as an act of war—should be seen as an act of war. Yet, I already know that’s not how things will go. The ambassador has probably already spoken with the mayor, delivering sleek words and sorry excuses for the troublesome fae’s unwitting behavior. Then he’ll go to the Ostermans, offer to pay for the surgery we performed and make financial amends for loss of limb and income. The council will let it slide. Again. Just another accident. A misunderstanding.
I’m so angry, I could explode. It’s then I notice the street has remained quiet. The villagers are still loitering outside the shops, staring at where the fae ambassador went. I whirl around, but he’s out of sight. It makes me wonder if something else happened. Maybe the mayor didn’t cave for once.
Whatever the case, the mood on Ettings Street has me rattled. I quicken my pace, forgetting the bakery as I make a straight line for home. That’s when I realize the villagers aren’t staring after the fae ambassador. They’re watching me.
Nausea wrenches my gut as my mind begins to spin. There’s a reasonable explanation for this. Maybe they’re only staring because I had the nerve to walk past the fae while everyone else stood frozen in fear.
I want to be right. I have to be right.
As I reach the door to the apothecary, I’m surprised to find it in the process of opening. I’m more surprised when Harriet, the baker from next door, is revealed coming from behind it. Her face is pale, and when her eyes find me, her lips pull into a sympathetic frown. She reaches a hand and places it on my shoulder. “I brought you some bread, dearie.”
“Bread,” I echo, brows knitting together as I try to puzzle together her words with her expression. It isn’t unusual for Harriet to bring us bread. We buy some from her almost daily. So why is she saying it like an apology?
Harriet nods. “I had plenty left over after I brought some to the Holstroms.”
I stare at her, unable to make sense of her seemingly disconnected statements. “What’s this all about?”
Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open, but she doesn’t say anything.
Terror seizes my chest. “What’s going on?”
She squeezes my shoulder. “You should talk to your mother.”
I don’t wait to see Harriet the rest of the way out the door before I rush into the shop. The front is empty, so I barrel into the kitchen, then to the parlor. That’s where I find them.
Amelie is lying on the couch, her head in Mother’s lap. Her cheeks are flushed and streaked with tears as she sobs uncontrollably into a white kerchief. Something sparkles from the finger of the hand she’s dabbing her tears with. A ring.
I meet Mother’s eyes and find her staring blankly ahead, face devoid of all color.
“Ma, what happened?”
She slowly turns to meet my gaze, but her expression remains empty. “The Holstrom girls are dead. You and Amelie are being sent to Faerwyvae in their place.”
Thank you for reading this excerpt of To Carve a Fae Heart! The rest of the story will be released on May 20th. You can find it here on Amazon.***
©Copyright 2020 by Tessonja Odette. This work may not be reproduced or redistributed in any way.
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