Chapters three and four – 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
I jump to my feet as Foxglove enters the room. “What do you mean I’m not going to like it? Where is Aspen? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine,” Foxglove says. “The threat has been dealt with, and the king is uninjured.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Where is he now?”
“He’s in his study, but that’s not why I came here. I came to talk to you myself. There are…things I think you have the right to know before you speak with the king.”
“What does that mean? Is he hiding something from me?”
“I wouldn’t say that, it’s just…” He sighs. “We should all sit down for this. Trust me.”
I feel like my legs will give out as I lead us to the couch. I can’t bring myself to sit next to the silky wedding dress strewn over the arm, so I take a seat in the chair across from it. Lorelei and Foxglove lower onto the couch.
Foxglove adjusts his spectacles, lips pulled into a grimace. “Oh, I just hate being the bearer of—”
“Just tell me.”
“Very well. As you know, the human council has sent a letter invalidating your pairing with King Aspen.”
I nod, leaning forward in anticipation. “Did the letter say why?”
He swallows hard. “My dear, might I ask you something? Are you of fae heritage?”
I whip my head back in surprise. “No, of course not. I’m obviously human.”
He raises a brow. “Is there not the slightest chance you could have fae blood?”
I open my mouth, but too many arguments fight for dominance, making it impossible to utter a coherent word. Why would he ask me such a thing? There’s no way I could be…I could be…
“I would know if I were,” I finally say.
“Would you, though?” His face is full of apology.
“Yes. How else would you explain my ability to touch iron? The fact that I don’t possess the sort of rapid healing the fae do? That rowan protects me from glamour?” My hand moves reflexively to my neck, seeking the feel of the red beads. I somehow managed not to lose this strand, even after being captured by Cobalt and journeying through the sea with the kelpie. However, it is by far the worse for wear, with fraying thread where beads have broken off, and haggard, lopsided berries. I can’t seem to bring myself to take it off, and it isn’t just because it protects me from being put under a glamour. It also reminds me of Mother. Amelie, too, for better or worse.
“The differences between the fae and part-fae are not well known,” Foxglove says. “We’ve always assumed human-fae offspring had all the fae weaknesses and very little power. But when would they have had the need or opportunity to find out? I doubt any of the previous Chosen’s children have been tested with iron. For all we know, they could be exactly like you.”
“But my—” I stop myself. My mother is human, I want to say. She would have told me if I wasn’t. Right?
But she isn’t my only parent.
I shake the thought from my head. “Why are you asking me this? What does it have to do with the letter?”
“The human council is under the impression that you aren’t fully human. That you and your sister are part-fae. Since the treaty requires a pair of human girls be sent to Faerwyvae…”
“Then a part-fae girl can’t validate the treaty,” I say under my breath, shoulders sagging. “But why do they think I’m part-fae to begin with?”
“The letter says they have proof.”
Foxglove shakes his head. “That they didn’t say. Can you think of any way it might be true?”
I can hardly believe I’m entertaining this possibility, but I force myself to voice it. “My father, I suppose, but that’s highly unlikely. Mother never gave any indication that their relationship was unusual. She never said a cryptic word about him, always said he was a decent man.”
Lorelei squints as if pondering. “You never knew him?”
“I was still a baby when they separated.”
“Where is he now?” Foxglove asks.
I shrug. “Still on mainland Bretton, I assume. Mother said they parted ways because he wouldn’t move to Eisleigh with us. That’s what doesn’t make sense about this ridiculous suggestion. How could a fae, or part-fae, or whatever we’re hypothesizing my father was, sire me on the mainland? Isn’t being so far from Faerwyvae certain death for the fae?”
I remember the story Cobalt had told me, about the exile of the Fire King at the end of the war. They sent him to the mainland to die as punishment for being the first to engage humans in organized violence. In return, the humans agreed to the tradition of the Hundred Year Reaping. The very thing that got me into this mess.
“It is indeed death for fae to leave the Fair Isle,” Foxglove says, expression grave. “Even being on the human side of the wall creates a drain on our magic. Without that magic, our lengthy lifespans are forfeit.”
“So, the exiled Fire King definitely died, then?” My stomach churns. I don’t want to admit the ludicrous train of thought that prompted the question.
Foxglove nods. “The exiled king lived out a mortal lifespan after arriving on the mainland. Ambassadors were sent to confirm his death when he passed.”
I let out a sigh. That removes one absurd possibility. “Have there been others? Any other fae who’ve been exiled this century?”
Foxglove and Lorelei exchange a glance. “Not that anyone knows of,” Foxglove says. “And no fae would go to the mainland willingly.”
“Then it makes no sense. Either their proof is false and the human council is fabricating this excuse to break the treaty, or there’s been a misunderstanding.”
“I’m going to find out which of those possibilities is the case tonight,” Foxglove says. “King Aspen is sending me to meet with Sableton’s mayor and get to the bottom of this at once. If it is a simple misunderstanding, I’ll take care of it. I’ll offer whatever compensation they desire to make up for the error that led them to believe this. Then your wedding to the king will continue as planned.”
Lorelei slowly turns to Foxglove. “What if it isn’t a misunderstanding? Or if there’s no way to dissuade them from believing their accusations?”
“Then the treaty is broken,” I say, “and we go to war. Right?”
The grimace returns to Foxglove’s lips, and he adjusts the bridge of his spectacles with trembling fingers. “Not necessarily.”
His words should bring relief, but his expression is not one of hope. “What is it?”
“This is the part—one of many, I should say—that you won’t like,” he says. “The human council offered the king one final option to secure the treaty. If their suspicions about you prove correct, he’ll have to accept two new Chosen and perform all three parts of the alliance at once. The mate ceremony, the ritual, and the human wedding. All of it. They’ve gone so far as to confirm the names of the potential new Chosen. Some Maddie and Marie Coleman. And the council insists Aspen be the one to marry, no minor cousin or other relative as has often been the practice during previous Reapings.”
My stomach sinks as his words cleave my heart in two. Not only will Aspen have to marry someone else, but he’ll have to marry Maddie Coleman. The girl I despise more than any other in my village. “Of course it’s her,” I mutter, a bitter smile on my lips. I remember how jealous she’d been when we met outside the Holstrom farm, how she’d boasted about being selected as backup Chosen if the Holstrom girls didn’t work out. She was livid when she realized Aspen had requested me by name. Of course, I was livid too. Still…could this somehow be her doing? Her jealousy might be believable, but I can’t imagine her having the power to orchestrate this new development, even with her uncle being Sableton’s mayor. No, there’s something much bigger behind this.
With a deep breath, I curl my fingers into fists, nails biting into my palms. “This is the only way to avoid war?”
Foxglove nods. “The mayor wants me to agree to this new arrangement when we meet tonight. If I do, I’ll be leaving Sableton with the new Chosen by midnight.”
I don’t know what to say, so I remain quiet, eyes shifting out of focus as they fall on the wedding gown hanging near Lorelei’s arm.
Foxglove wrings his hands. “King Aspen, however, has ordered me to refuse.”
My eyes snap to his. “What?”
“If it comes down to breaking the treaty or accepting the new Chosen, he’ll take the former.”
“And bring war to us all?”
“He has his reasons,” Foxglove says, “and many of them are sound. Even as an ambassador, I understand there’s only so much one can take before fighting back.”
I rise to my feet with every intention of storming to Aspen’s study and breaking down his door. But Foxglove rises as well, palms held up facing me, as if to keep me in place. “I didn’t tell you this to use as fuel in a fight with the king.”
I let out a bitter laugh. “Well, I’m using it anyway.”
“I told you this because it’s far more personal to you than you know. The mayor has your mother. She’s being detained by order of the human council. If Aspen refuses to accept the new Chosen, not only will there be war, but your mother will be executed.”
The blood leaves my face. “They’re going to execute my mother? What does she have to do with any of this?”
Foxglove’s brows knit together. “She’s being imprisoned, charged with treason for hiding your supposed fae heritage. It’s illegal for any fae to live on the Eisleigh side of the wall, much less pose as a human. She’s being held responsible for jeopardizing the treaty. While Aspen’s decision to accept the new Chosen should have no impact on your mother’s life, I’m guessing they wanted to make it harder for him—or you—to refuse.”
Rage heats my core, and it takes all my effort not to strike the nearest piece of furniture. “When are you leaving to meet with the mayor?” I say through my teeth.
I’m about to say more when a shadow darkens my doorway. I don’t need to face it to know it belongs to Aspen.
Lorelei comes up beside Foxglove, shoulders tense. “We should give you some privacy,” she says, then pulls him toward the door. Their heads bow low as they approach the king, but his eyes burn into Foxglove.
“You told her,” he says with a snarl.
Foxglove, to his credit, meets his gaze without so much as a tremble. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. She deserved to know.”
Aspen steps aside, allowing the two fae to pass, then slowly meets my furious gaze.
“Were you just going to let my mother die without telling me her life was at risk?”
He closes the distance between us. “I came to tell you everything.”
“Everything? Everything, everything? Or just the parts you wanted me to know?”
“I wasn’t going to let them execute your mother.”
The fact that he didn’t fully answer my question tells me plenty. I put my hands on my hips. “Oh, and what were you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know yet.” He throws his hands in the air. “I would have come up with something. Break her from imprisonment. Steal her to Faerwyvae. Slaughter everyone in my path until I had her safely away.”
I’m surprised that he’d be willing to go so far for my mother, yet terrified at how easily he can consider taking lives to save her. Even so, it would only solve one problem, not all of them. “That still wouldn’t save the treaty, Aspen. They gave you another option, and you told Foxglove to refuse.”
“Yes,” he admits without shame.
“Because I’m not going to lose you.” The hurt in his eyes takes my breath away. My heart threatens to crumble at the vulnerability on his face, the fear in his eyes. But then I remember what it means, what his dedication to me would cost.
“Don’t make this about us.” My words come out with a tremor. “We are nothing compared to the importance of saving the isle from war.”
His vulnerability fades, retreating beneath the steely mask he wears so well. When he speaks, his voice is barely above a whisper. “Nothing? Is that really what you think we amount to?”
No, we’re so much more than nothing. You are so much more. “Yes.”
He shakes his head, narrowing his eyes at me as his lips pull into a bitter smirk. “I don’t believe you.”
I take a step toward him, meeting his smirk with a glare. I know my next words will sting, but they’re the only weapon I have. My only defense against his fierce dedication, even though I know it will kill me to use. “Why? You think you know me so well just because you took me to bed once?”
His expression hardly falters. “I do know you.”
“If you did, you’d know I’d want to do anything to keep the treaty from being broken.”
“Even if it means giving me to another woman?”
My stomach churns at his words, at the images they conjure. I swallow the word I really want to say and replace it with a lie. “Yes.”
He turns away from me and storms over to the decanter of wine on the bedside table. “I’m not going to do it,” he says, then knocks back a glass of the deep red liquid.
“Yes, you are. If that’s what it takes to save the treaty—”
“Maybe the treaty isn’t worth saving.”
My eyes go wide. “How can you say that? If the treaty protects our people from war, then of course it’s worth saving.”
He lets out a shaking breath, running his hands through the blue-black hair between his antlers. “This isn’t a treaty, Evie. It’s a blade our councils toss from one side to the other, waiting to see who gets cut first. I’m tired of playing the game. I’m tired of watching both sides point that blade at me.”
His words send a chill down my spine. I can’t let myself consider whether he’s right. Didn’t I say nearly the same to Lorelei? I’m tired of living in fear of this treaty. I shake my head. “If maintaining the treaty means lives can be saved, then it is worth saving in return. So long as there’s a choice that means peace, then that’s the choice we have to make.”
“It isn’t a choice if I have to make it.”
For the love of iron, he’s stubborn. “Even if you’re right about the corruption of the treaty, do you think war is going to make things better? Can you honestly live with yourself, knowing you’re the cause of the destruction that will follow?”
“If it’s in the name of freedom, then yes.”
Heat rises to my cheeks. “Well, I can’t.”
Aspen pours another glass of wine and knocks it back, chest heaving as his eyes remain locked on me. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I can’t be the reason my people suffer. You know this.”
“Your people. You do realize war would affect both humans and fae, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“But it’s the humans you care about more.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “I’m trying to protect your throne too. I didn’t face Cobalt for nothing. If you refuse the human council’s offer to maintain the treaty, the fae council will finish what Cobalt started.”
“The All of All chose me. The council will honor that.”
“The All of All chose me,” I argue. “If the Council of Eleven Courts thinks the treaty has broken because of me, the ruling of the All of All won’t matter. They’ll turn on both of us.”
He presses his lips tight but makes no argument. Probably because he knows I’m right. “There must be another way.”
I uncross my arms, letting some of my rage drain out with a sigh. “I hope there is too. That’s why I’m going with Foxglove tonight, to see if I can prove I’m not what they think I am.”
“Like hell you are. It isn’t safe. If the humans consider your mother a traitor, you could be in danger as well.”
“I’m not going to sit here while my mother suffers, not if there’s something I can do about it.”
“If anything can be done, then Foxglove will do it. There’s nothing you could do that he cannot.”
“I could prove they’re wrong.”
“And if they aren’t?”
I can’t consider that possibility right now. I can’t. Not when it means…
“If they aren’t,” I say, “then I face the consequences.”
He sets the wine glass down, shoulders slumped in defeat. His voice comes out like a growl. “I don’t want to lose you.”
I force my words past the lump in my throat. “If Foxglove can sort out this madness, then you won’t have to. My mother will be released, the treaty will be secured, and I’ll return to you.”
I shake my head. “I need a promise from you. Promise me if I don’t come back, you’ll marry your new Chosen.”
His fingers curl into fists at his side, but he remains silent.
I burn him with a glare. “Promise me you’ll do what needs to be done for the good of both our people. Promise me you’ll save the treaty. If you can’t do it for the sake of the isle, then do it for me.”
He glares right back. “I promise.”
“What are you promising to? All of it?”
“I promise if everything goes to hell, I’m going to make a decision neither of us is going to like,” he says through his teeth.
It isn’t the promise I asked for, but at least it’s one he can keep, considering there’s no solution I like. I hate all of it. The dissolution of the treaty. Aspen marrying Maddie Coleman. My mother being imprisoned and threatened with execution. Where do I stand in all of this? What happens to me?
“Fine,” I say as I turn toward the door.
I shouldn’t stop, but I do. Not daring to look back at him, I focus on his slow footsteps drawing near. A thousand heartbeats seem to pass as I hold my breath in anticipation of him. My pulse races even faster as his body presses into my back, hands wrapping gently around my waist, fingers splayed over my stomach. My body responds to his touch, a wave of desire blooming inside my chest as I breathe in the rosemary and cinnamon scent of his skin.
“Don’t leave yet.” His voice is deep, pleading, heavy with emotion as he nuzzles into my neck.
I close my eyes and angle my head, allowing him closer, his lips grazing the skin at my collarbone.
“We have time,” he whispers. “We should make the most of it, just in case…”
He doesn’t need to finish the sentence for me to know what he means. If everything goes terribly, this could be our last moment together. Ever. I might never see him again.
The thought is so crippling, tears spring to my eyes, and I feel my knees buckling beneath me.
With one hand warm on my stomach, the other brushes along my jaw, turning my face toward his. Our lips are just a breath away. “Evie.”
I want nothing more than to close the distance, to feel his lips on mine. With one move, I could fold myself into him, feel the comfort of his arms, the heat of his body. What if this really is our last moment, our last memory together? My breaths are shallow as I fight the searing desire pulsing through me. I know I must fight it. Because if I give in now, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the strength to leave again.
I turn my lips from his and step out of his grasp. “I have to go.”
This time, he doesn’t stop me as I make my way to the door. But as I reach the threshold, he says, “Come back to me, Evie.”
I pause for only a second. “I can’t promise that.” Then my feet fly beneath me, taking me as fast from Aspen’s room as they can go while sobs tear from my throat.
I may not be able to promise Aspen I’ll return, but I can vow that every step I take away from him feels like a knife twisting in my heart.
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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