First two chapters – full length novel available on Amazon
TO WEAR A FAE CROWN: The Fair Isle Trilogy Book Two
*NOTE: this is an early sneak peek at the unedited edition of To Wear a Fae Crown. Some changes may be made to the final published edition.
By Tessonja Odette
My throat burns as if the words I uttered were laced with poison. The last word I spoke surely had barbed edges, for I can’t seem to rid myself of its echo as silence swallows everything else in its wake.
War. War. War.
We’re going to war.
The dining room at Bircharbor Palace feels like it’s growing smaller, shrinking around its three occupants—Aspen, Foxglove, and me—until it’s nothing more than a pinprick of light. The summer heat wafting through the open expanse cut from the wall behind me sends waves of dizziness to my head. I take in a deep breath, then another, but I can’t seem to get enough air. I’d give anything for a cool breeze. For the usual Autumn Court weather to return and dry the sweat beading my brow.
The sound of paper crinkling pulls my attention to the letter in Aspen’s hand, now crushed into a ball within his fist. The room ceases its spinning as I focus on that letter, on the shape of Aspen’s fingers curled around the paper. Finally, my breathing begins to ease. My eyes remain on my mate, suddenly aware of the anger written in the rigid set of his shoulders, the tick in his jaw. The sight of his rage snaps me out of my stupor, and I feel my own fury rise to meet his. A willing partner in a fiery dance.
“No,” I say through my teeth. “This isn’t happening. Not after everything we’ve been through, after everything we’ve done.”
“Are you honestly surprised?” Aspen mutters.
“Yes, I’m surprised. We did everything the treaty called for. Our wedding is set for three days from now—the exact date the human council gave us. We met every deadline.”
“Apparently the council doesn’t care about deadlines. They’ll use any excuse to keep us from solidifying the pact.”
“How can you say that? They can’t want war any more than we do. Besides, every suspicion you had about the human council being a threat to you has proven to be misguided. Cobalt was behind every action that kept you from securing the treaty thus far.”
“If that were the case, they wouldn’t have sent this.” He lifts his hand and the paper crumpled in his fist.
“What exactly did it say?” I look from Aspen to Foxglove. “They must have given a reason to invalidate our alliance.”
“Well they—” Foxglove cuts off abruptly at a sharp look from Aspen.
A chill crawls up my spine. “What is it? What aren’t you telling me?”
Foxglove looks to Aspen, lips pressed tight as if he’s fighting to keep from blurting some dangerous truth.
I step closer to my mate. “Tell me what it said or let me read it myself.”
He doesn’t meet my eyes. “I’ll take care of it.”
Fury roars through me, arguments storming from my mind to my lips. Before I can utter a single one, the ground rocks beneath my feet, forcing me off balance. From the corner of my eye I see water shooting into the sky from the explosion. Aspen’s guards have been working on the beach all morning. The sound of them sealing the entrances to the coral caves with explosives brought me down here to begin with. Surely, they must have blasted them all by now.
The rumbling begins to cease, but before I can properly right myself, another blast shakes the palace. Aspen pulls me close to keep my feet beneath me. I lean into him, and it’s for more than just support. His closeness makes me wish we could erase the moment where Foxglove came in with the letter. If only we could go back to where we were moments before, enveloped in each other’s arms with tender words on our lips.
But that moment was shattered, and even this slight reprieve is stolen away as the sound from the explosion is replaced with shouts. Screams of terror.
I reluctantly part from Aspen and turn toward the rail along the open wall. Several figures limp away from the site of the most recent explosion. I can’t see much else through the spray of sand and water, but I’m almost certain there are dark patches covering the beach. Blood.
My heart pounds at the sight, echoed by footsteps tearing down the hall and growing nearer with every beat. I can hardly move, can hardly tear my eyes from the scene below as I wait for the rubble to clear.
“Your Majesty.” I whirl toward the panting guard entering the dining room.
Aspen storms over to him. “What in the name of oak and ivy just happened?”
The guard’s youthful face is pale, eyes wide as he explains, “It was Prince Cobalt’s fae, Your Majesty. They were spotted in the caves, trying to thwart our efforts. I was sent to tell you—”
Aspen brushes past him and into the hall. His voice is almost a roar. “I knew he’d be back. Where is he?”
The guard follows hard on his heels, as do Foxglove and I. “The prince hasn’t been spotted,” the guard says, “but the fae were clearly his. They ambushed the detonation team, but your soldiers were able to keep Cobalt’s fae back while they set off the explosion. Only two caves remained uncollapsed at that point, and detonation teams were sent in at once. That’s when I was ordered to come to you.”
Aspen’s jaw shifts back and forth. “I take it from the shouts, there have been casualties.”
The guard goes a shade paler, and we descend a set of stairs. “I was already on my way here when I heard the last two explosions go off, Your Majesty. But the second blast shouldn’t have happened so close to the previous. Not unless…”
“Not unless it were necessary to set it off early,” Aspen says through his teeth. “Have any of Cobalt’s fae emerged from the caves? What about the caves leading to the tunnels in the palace?”
“Those tunnels were the first we collapsed, and I didn’t see any of the prince’s fae make it to the beach before I left.”
Aspen is nearly running as we descend farther and farther down the palace. We must be near the bottom floor.
I quicken my pace and address the guard. “Where will the injured be taken?”
He opens his mouth, but Aspen stops in his tracks, spinning to face me. “Why are you following me? It isn’t safe.”
“I came to help.”
He faces the guard. “Take Miss Fairfield somewhere secure.”
The guard steps toward me, but I freeze him with an icy glare before turning it on Aspen. “No, I’m going to help the injured.”
“You need to remain—”
“I’m going to help the injured,” I repeat, louder, slower, each word pointed as my eyes burn into his. “It’s what I’m trained to do.”
“Fae can heal without your help.”
I raise a brow, eyes roving his torso before narrowing on the site of his former wound. A wound that would have been the death of him if it hadn’t been for my intervention. I cross my arms over my chest. “Oh, can they?”
He lets out a frustrated sigh. “Fine.” He returns his attention to the guard. “Take her to the east wing. That’s where the injured will be. If you so much as sense a breach in the palace, take Miss Fairfield to safety.”
The guard nods, and I don’t dare argue with the order. Aspen’s eyes find mine as his fingers grasp my palm, giving it a soft squeeze. The gesture says more than his words can, cuts through his temper to soften my heart. I can only enjoy the touch for a single breath before Aspen releases me and starts off down the hall again. As I move to follow him, the guard puts a hand on my shoulder. “This way is faster to get to the east wing.” He nods toward another set of stairs. We take off, but I realize Foxglove has remained on the landing, wringing his hands as he stares at me with an open mouth. Like he wants to say something.
“Foxglove, with me.” Aspen’s voice echoes from down the staircase.
The bespectacled fae closes his mouth and gives me an apologetic smile. I don’t want to read into what it means. But I’m sure it has to do with the letter
I steel myself as I enter a familiar room. Three stone tables are lined up in the center, and upon each lays a writhing fae guard: two male, one female. They’ve each sustained several wounds of varying severity, blood pooling on the tabletops beneath them as uninjured guards assist in removing their bronze armor.
I shudder, remembering the last time I was here. There was but one table then and Aspen’s was its occupant. It’s hard to believe that was less than two weeks ago. Back then I wouldn’t have cared if Aspen died.
I shake the morbid thought from my mind and join Gildmar, a tiny fae with bark-like skin and leafy hair, at the far end of the room. Her small hands fly over the table as she lays out her tools—shards of shell, sharp bone, pointed sticks, swaths of spider silk, bowls of water, herbs, and wine. I’m grateful I don’t have to demand wine this time.
“Are these the only survivors?” I ask Gildmar.
She nods. “The last explosion went off while they were still prepping the keg inside the cave. These three were standing nearby. All inside the cave and near its opening didn’t make it.”
I swallow hard, wondering if she’s been informed of the true cause for the early explosion. “What can I do to help?”
“First, ease their pain.” She hands me a vial. I don’t need to ask to know it contains extract of honey pyrus, a psychoactive fae fruit. Its extract works like laudanum, easing pain and allowing a patient’s mind and body to slip into euphoric stillness.
I move from one injured fae to the other, administering a dropperful to each while Gildmar cleans one of the male fae’s wounds with an herb-infused liquid. Once all three patients have fallen beneath the honey pyrus’ spell, I take one of the bowls of wine and approach the unconscious fae female. I cleanse my hands with the wine and inspect her wounds. The fae’s skin is pocked with bloody gouges where her armor hadn’t covered, with shards of coral spearing her flesh in places. I peel back the linen tunic from her torso, finding severe bruising blooming over her chest, likely crushed by her breastplate. I pour the wine over her wounds. “Are they in mortal danger?”
Gildmar shakes her head, though her face remains grave. “So long as we can staunch any bleeding and keep them calm, their bodies should heal on their own. There was no ash or iron involved, so their natural abilities will remain strong. However, if they lose too much blood, their bodies won’t be able to keep up with healing.”
I’m relieved to hear their prognosis is good, although it’s hard to believe any creature could recover after being so close to an explosion. The concussive force alone would be enough to kill a human. “What were the explosives made from? Gunpowder?”
“Marsh gas, most likely,” she says, her voice like the creak of an old branch. “Most often found in the marshes where Fire and Wind courts meet. A beastly practice, if you ask me. We shouldn’t be bottling up nature the way humans do, using the elements for harm. My kind didn’t do that before your people came to the Fair Isle.”
Her tone is more resigned than accusatory, but my stomach sinks with guilt just the same. “How long will it take for them to recover?”
“Their wounds are grave, but it won’t be like it was with Aspen.”
Again, the memory floods my mind, of Aspen near death, veins of black trailing across his skin to show how deep the iron had poisoned his blood. I was concerned about his recovery, but only because he was my patient; I was nowhere near as distraught as I’d be if something like that were to happen now. Not after how close we’ve become.
My heart squeezes. We were growing closer even still before that letter arrived. I finally got him to express his anger over me using his name against him. We were making amends. I was so close to telling him that I…
I shake the memories from my head. Thoughts of Aspen and the mysterious contents of the letter will have to wait. For now, I have work to do.
It’s midday by the time I finish helping Gildmar, my body heavy with exhaustion as I make my way from the east wing, Aspen’s guard trailing behind me. Being this tired isn’t a bad feeling, considering it’s the result of a job well done. The three patients’ wounds have been cleaned, stitched, and bandaged, and their bodies have been moved to a more comfortable room with actual beds where they can recover. All were dozing peacefully when I left them to rest in the recovery room, but before that I sat with each, resting my hands over their torsos for several minutes at a time.
Luckily, my guard remained outside the door during my visit. If anyone would have seen what I was doing, my cheeks would have blazed with embarrassment, no matter how benign my actions would have appeared to onlookers. For inside me burned the hope that my hands were doing more than just providing comfort. I’m still not positive I had anything to do with healing Lorelei’s wounded leg, or in aiding Aspen’s sudden recovery from iron poisoning. I don’t know if it was by some power of my own that helped me perform Aspen’s surgery without the tools I’m used to.
If I’d considered such a notion two months ago, I would have laughed, deeming myself delirious. But now, after everything I’ve seen and done and experienced…
I believe in possibilities. Especially if they allow me to help others.
As we near the end of the east wing hall, a second guard awaits. She looks hesitant as she approaches us. My heart leaps into my throat as I begin to fear the worst. “Has Aspen returned?”
“No, he’s involved in a skirmish with Cobalt’s fae not too far from here,” she says, “which is why I’m coming to you. Queen Melusine is on the beach, surrounded by our guards. She’s demanding to speak with you.”
“What does she want to speak with me about?”
“She wouldn’t say. Only that she’d make a binding promise not to harm you and called upon the protection of a peaceful exchange of words. This means violence would be forbidden during your talk. If she were to attack you, each attack could be met blow for blow.”
I bite the inside of my cheek. “What did you tell her?”
“Nothing. It is up to you whether to hold an audience with her. With King Aspen absent, you’re in charge.”
My head rushes from the weight of her words. I’m in charge.
The guard Aspen left to watch me clears his throat and faces me. “King Aspen wouldn’t want you to meet with her without him present. He wouldn’t deem it safe.”
“Then you better see that no harm comes to me.” I turn to face the fae female. “Take me to Queen Melusine. I want to know what she’s up to.”
It might not be the smartest move, but Melusine could know something about today’s attack. She may have information about Cobalt, about Amelie, about the letter and the treaty—no, I’m getting ahead of myself. If she knows anything at all, she’ll hide it behind a web of deception and weave it to her own advantage. I should harbor no false hopes regarding her whatsoever.
I inhale a heavy sigh to steady my racing thoughts and follow the guards to the beach. With the caves beneath the palace closed off, we take the long way down, skirting around the palace to a steep staircase cut into the cliff wall.
When we reach the bottom, I find my unwelcome guest. Like the first time I spoke alone with the Sea Queen, Melusine perches on the shore, chin held high with a confident smirk. This time, however, she’s surrounded by a circle of Aspen’s guards. Luckily, she appears to be alone. Her beauty is as prominent as ever, with her dazzling stormy eyes, coral-red lips, and her long, indigo hair that flows in waves over her bare human-like upper body. Her blue-green serpent’s tail props her up from her waist to where human feet should be, while the rest of her tail undulates behind her in anxious ripples across the sand.
“My, my, don’t you look dreadful,” she says in her melodic voice before flashing her sharp teeth in a semblance of a smile. My two guards flank me as I stop several feet away from her. Only now do I consider my state of dress. Foxglove and Lorelei always had me outfitted and pruned with the utmost care before meeting with the queen. Now I come to her wearing a bloodstained robe and hair still mussed from sleep.
I narrow my eyes as if my appearance is the least of my concerns. That much, at least, is true. There are far more pressing matters at hand. “Why are you here, Your Majesty?”
“I wanted to know what my dear son was doing to my beautiful caves,” she says with a pout.
“Your son doesn’t want to speak with you.” I hope she can’t sense the omission in my voice—that my words obscure the fact that Aspen isn’t currently here. That is, if she doesn’t already know as much.
“It’s clear he doesn’t want to speak with me. I tried making contact every day since the incident with his brother.”
The incident. I bristle. That’s a mild way to refer to Cobalt’s attempt to steal Aspen’s throne. “So you decided to speak with me instead?”
She shrugs a bare shoulder. “It worked, didn’t it?”
I hate that she’s right. Aspen had the sense to ignore her, yet here I am giving in at her first request. My curiosity always does get the better of me. “Cut the iron-laced kelpie crap and get to the point,” I say with a sweet smile. “Why are you really here?”
She rolls her eyes and lets out a huff. “I want you to speak to Aspen for me.”
“And tell him what?”
“Tell him I want to form an alliance.”
My mouth hangs on its hinge before I can speak. “An alliance? Isn’t that what the council is for? Weren’t you already supposed to be his ally when you sought to replace him with Cobalt?”
Her cheeks redden, lips pressing into a tight line, looking flustered for the first time. “I was wrong. I never should have supported Cobalt’s claim.”
I let out a bitter laugh. “Why, because he turned on you? Lied? Because you realized he was never going to be your unseelie puppet?”
“Cobalt stole lies from a human and turned them on me,” she hisses through her teeth. “That is unforgivable. More than that, I respect the decision of the All of All, which he did not and will not abide by. The All of All should not be questioned. The unseelie know this in our blood.”
“I’m sure Aspen will appreciate your acceptance of the All of All’s verdict,” I say without warmth. “Why do you seek an additional alliance?”
Again, she purses her lips as if her next words pain her to say. “I seek his protection.”
“His protection? From what?”
“From my other son.” Each word is punctuated with her growing rage. “He’s all but taken over my court. Half my soldiers think they serve him, and that wretched human pet of his struts around in her selkie skin like she’s the Queen of the Sea.”
I narrow my eyes. “That wretched human is my sister.”
She meets my gaze with a glower. “Then you know just how wretched she is.”
My nails dig into my palms, irritation growing hotter inside me. “Melusine, you’re one of the most powerful fae alive. You have the entire sea at your beck and call. What protection do you need from Aspen that you can’t provide yourself?”
“I can’t defend myself against my son when he can meet my powers underwater. I need somewhere on land to stay until he can be dealt with.” Her shoulders tremble visibly.
I’m caught off guard by how truly shaken she seems. How can Queen Melusine fear Cobalt, her own son? He may have power over the water element, but he can’t be anywhere near as fearsome as she is. Right?
As if she can sense my question, she adds, “I can’t trust Cobalt now that he’s ceased to be bound by fae rules. He can lie like a human and betray his allies without so much as blinking. Now that he’s won over so many of my soldiers, I don’t know what he’s going to do next.”
My heart sinks. Unless she too has stolen the power to lie, she’s serious.
She slithers closer, but Aspen’s guards stop her from closing the distance between us. With a grumble, she says, “Speak to Aspen on my behalf. Please.”
“You’ve already told him all this yourself?”
“He won’t listen.”
“What makes you think he’ll listen to me?”
Her expression hardens. “You hold sway over him like no one ever has before.”
Is she referring to my ability to use his name…or something else? She must know I’d never use Aspen’s name on her behalf. It was hard enough using it to save his life. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Is that a promise?”
Her lips pull into a smirk that looks close to admiration, then she nods her head in a semblance of a bow. “Very well.” With that, she faces the ocean and slithers toward it. The guards maintain a tight circle around her, careful not to stumble over the shards of coral littering the beach. I don’t take my eyes off the queen until the last flick of her tail glides beneath the water.
When I return to the palace, there’s still no word on Aspen’s current status. My heart races as I consider the myriad of concerns plaguing me—the skirmish Aspen’s involved in, Melusine’s fear of Cobalt, the letter. The letter. My stomach turns every time I think about it. I wish he’d left it for me to read. I need to know what it says, what it means, why the treaty has been broken, why our pairing has been invalidated. I need to pull it apart and analyze every sentence, every word, every loop and curve of the pen which wrote it to understand it. I must know…what does it mean for Aspen and I? For me?
With nothing to do but wait for Aspen’s return, I make my way to his bedroom to change out of my bloody clothes. Behind the dressing screen, I exchange my ruined nightdress and robe for a gauzy blue gown with a multi-layered, flowing skirt. When I come out from behind the screen, Lorelei enters the room. Her smile is warm as she approaches me, a shimmering swath of opalescent silk hanging over her brown arm, her petite frame swaying with every step.
“I was told you’d returned from surgery,” the wood nymph says. “Did everything go all right?”
“It went well,” I say, although I can’t bring myself to feign a grin. “The patients are recovering.”
She furrows her brow, clearly reading into my lack of enthusiasm. Still, she doesn’t pry and instead holds out the luxurious fabric. “Your wedding gown is ready for its final fitting.”
My eyes lock on the dress, and a shock of pain sears my heart. My emotions threaten to overwhelm me, but I force them down, force my voice to remain level as I say, “I don’t know if there’s going to be a wedding, Lorelei.”
She lays the dress over the arm of the nearby couch and takes me by the shoulders. “Why would you say that? Did something happen between you and Aspen?”
I open my mouth and snap it shut. “I…I don’t know.”
“Whatever he said or did, you’ll get through it. You know he loves you, right?”
That word—love—unravels me. Tears spring to my eyes, a sob building in my chest. “No, I don’t know and I might never know.”
“What do you mean?”
I squeeze my eyes shut, fingers clenching into fists as I swallow my tears and let anger replace my pain. “I’m so tired,” I say through my teeth.
She takes a step away. “Then I’ll leave you to rest—”
“I’m tired of living in fear of this treaty.”
I open my eyes to find her nibbling her bottom lip, expression brimming with concern. “It’s been hard, I know.”
“It’s been more than hard,” I say, my anger growing, burning the anxiety from my mind, the sorrow that tugs at my heart. “We’ve done everything we were supposed to. We had the mate ceremony. We performed the Bonding ritual by midnight on the required date. We won Aspen’s throne from Cobalt. Our wedding is scheduled. Now we get a letter from Eisleigh’s council saying our pairing has been invalidated.”
Her eyes bulge as she processes my words. “Invalidated? But that would mean…”
I nod. “That would mean the treaty is broken. That we’re going to war.”
She shakes her head. “No, there must be a misunderstanding. King Aspen will take care of it.” She takes my hand in hers. “You must believe he will.”
I wish I could say I agreed with her, but there’s only so much he can do. Besides, what if Aspen was right? What if the human council wants war? What if they fabricated this invalidation to give them what they wanted all along? “I feel like everything is working against me and Aspen. Maybe we aren’t meant to be together. Maybe there’s a reason things keep coming between us.”
“Don’t say that. There’s a genuine connection between the two of you. I can sense it with more than just my eyes. Whatever comes, you and the king will face it together.”
Her words manage to stabilize some of the rage and anxiety writhing within. Yet they don’t comfort me completely. There’s a much darker cloud hanging behind all of this—the possibility of war. If war comes to the Fair Isle, it won’t be as simple as facing the challenge at Aspen’s side. At least not for me. Not when my people—my mother included—will be suffering on the other side of the wall. They’ll be facing death and destruction because of a broken treaty my marriage was supposed to keep intact.
Anger returns to me in a rush. “There must be something I can do to fix this.”
“There might be.” Foxglove stands in my doorway, wringing his hands. “But you aren’t going to like it.”
Thank you for reading this excerpt of To Wear a Fae Crown! The rest of the story will be released on August 31st. 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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