Disclaimer: If you haven’t read Scarred Beauty, you may want to avoid this due to spoilers. If you are simply here for a story, read on and may you be enchanted.
A Prince’s Story
In the beginning, all the prince of Bitterhelm could see was the curse.
By day he walked the shadowed halls of his forefathers, the bitter remnant of his kingdom. By night his bones snapped in a moment of agony, until his cries fell into roars. He learned quickly, after wreaking havoc to all the furniture in his stately chamber, to confine himself to the dungeons. There, only the other beasts could hear his screams.
Once the night was through, his manservant, Odym appeared with keys to lead his master back to his chambers. The broken furniture had been discreetly cleared away by the other servants, replaced by pieces from the king’s vacant rooms. Grendall had been too weary to punish them, though his skin crawled for different reasons, lying in the bed of his father.
At first, he could almost pretend his own mother hadn’t killed his father and damned them all. His people continued to perform their duties, even as their luminous forms faded each night into ethereal shades.
Until unmated maidens of mixed bloodlines started appearing at his door. Dark majik had led them here, Mother’s curse at its cruelest work. This too, had not seemed so terrible at first. In truth, he thought his manic mother was in jest when she claimed he must find a wife. There were plenty in Bitterhelm with majikal blood, no matter how much his father had pretended otherwise.
In the beginning, so many came that they filled the guest wing and spent their days at their leisure. While his mangled body recovered from the horrors of the night, his lovely guests explored the grounds or the library. Every night he took turns dining with one, in full confidence the mummer’s farce would be over quickly. So he placed heirloom gems on their fingers and about their necks, dressed them in the finest silks and velvet frocks. He treated them like the princesses they could and often wanted to be. Why wouldn’t they? He had been considered beautiful by his kingdom since birth. Once he came into his power, his choice of princess was at his leisure. Even after his mother’s revenge, as his power was stripped away like the wings he had inherited from her Fayere bloodline, he believed in himself. But over time, as he courted each in turn, hiding trembling hands in his coat pockets and bruises beneath layers of princely clothing, they too faded. A sickness took hold of them each night at midnight.
Grendall felt fear like he knew after his first change as he watched the familiar symptoms overtake them. The first maiden died before her body could transform into that of a monster, before the curse claimed her. The others were not always so lucky.
His night form had to be chained after this, as other dungeon cells were filled with fresh prisoners. Every morning as Odym led him up to wash the blood and filth from his body, he looked through the bars of their cells with hope. None changed back. None had been strong enough to break the curse. He forced Odym to recite his mother’s prophecy again and again until he knew it by memory.
Too late he understood his mother had not necessarily meant for him to find a wife, but the mate to his majik. Many children were born of such unions, but none like him, a child of both worlds—yet another fact his father had chosen to forget. To find his other half, the right complement to his stripped powers, the prince knew none in his realm could match. It was a fool’s hope.
Grendall’s mangled body developed enough scars to numb the worst of his nightly transformation. The light of his youth faded along with the former splendor of his home. His fellow courtiers turned into monstrous versions of their selves. Often, the worse their crimes had been against people like his mother, the uglier the transformation for his people. His servants were treated kindlier by the curse. Like his mother, they faded slowly until they lost all ability to hold onto their physical form. Their voices lingered behind, whispered from the walls and moved through the tapestries, until the prince could hardly bear to look at them.
Fewer females arrived at the castle entrance. The curse would only allow those of the right bloodlines inside, lines the inhabitants under his father’s reign would have quickly murdered on sight. Those who did came with fear in their eyes and whispers of his “forgotten city.” Still, he dressed impeccably, and his handsome, kindly face was yet enough to sooth their worst fears. No amount of chivalry or courtesies could save them from his mother’s cruel revenge.
After an age, all the females of mixed bloodlines in Bitterhelm had either died or lived cursed lives in his dungeon keep. Only then did he begin to understand the depth of his punishment, he who could have stopped his father’s madness and chose to ally with him instead. He had made the wrong choice. As punishment, he was forced to court the very kind he was taught to hate and to acknowledge the truth long buried.
“She must have hated me, because I was like him,” he had confessed his darkest thought to Odym once.
“Not because you were like him, boy. Because you chose to be like him,” the old Wyne had replied.
Five hundred years after the curse, Grendall Bitterhelm entered the room his mother had occupied before she enacted her revenge. His father had thrown her inside once the truth of her coup came to light.
Because you betrayed her, the voices in the walls liked to remind him. She had sent him on a quest, what he later learned to be a way to send him far away as she took over his father’s throne.
“Retrieve my mother’s amulet,” she had said. “It has been in our family since it was first gifted to us by the Furies in the first age. Our power is linked to it, and with it, you shall be invincible.”
He had crossed through the Veil for her, fought through dangers the like no one could imagine. All for power. Once, before his father’s madness took hold, he might have done it for her—for honor. She taught him then how little honor or faith she truly found in him.
His mother’s death was her choice, a side effect of enacting such a powerful curse. “My body shall fade, but my will remains regardless.”
The amulet he crossed worlds and continents for sat where her body had last faded. Five hundred years ago, he would not have dared enter her chamber, her spirit was still too present. But now—now he only heard the whisper of her voice slide against his consciousness as he picked up the amulet and felt nothing.
Not the all-consuming cool fire the amulet once surged, amplifying his raw majik tenfold. Now there was nothing. He was nothing. Or so he believed, until the day she came.
Odym appeared in a fluster. “Your Grace, I have been searching for you. Quickly, a guest has just arrived. I have shown her to a room, but you must ask her to sup while you still may.”
Grendall’s fist closed over his mother’s amulet and sick dread filled his gut. “Please, I cannot do this tonight. I shall sup with her on the morrow…”
“But, Your Grace, she is the first to arrive in half a century. Surely we cannot turn her away?” Odym’s gaze narrowed on the amulet in his hand, then settled resignedly on his face.
Grendall pocketed his mother’s amulet with a snarl and stormed from his mother’s room and into the corridor with a snarl. “She will join me or starve!”
Let Odym invite her himself, the stubborn old fool. Grendall would take no further part in this cruelty. Better to send her away than dare hope, or worse, watch her turn.
He didn’t bother with fine cloaks or finery that night, didn’t shower her with diamonds and fancy frocks. She came to him in worn leather boots and an exquisitely embroidered dress, like the maids from the outer villages had worn. Her braided hair shone like molten silver in the candlelight and her pale green eyes took in his measure with a wry upturned grin.
He forgot his fury in her presence, gaping at her severe beauty.
She laughed at him then. “Not even going to invite me to sit, then? Very well, I can help myself, Prince.”
He snarled then, “Don’t call me that.”
Her hand rested atop a seat two chairs down from him, rather than the opposite end of the table and a single silver brow cocked in question. “While you certainly do not look the way my mother said you should, I know who and what you are.” Her smile revealed faintly pointed pearly teeth.
“What is your name?” He found himself asking, despite her impertinence.
“Well met, Grendall Bitterhelm.” Her laughter rippled against his barriers, wearing him down further. “My name is Luanor Iceveins.”
The prince knew the family name as well as his own, a very old and powerful mountain clan. Descendants from the Veil. Wolv-kind, his mother’s voice taunted his mind.
Perhaps it was his mother’s voice in his ear that made him rebel against all sense. Or it could have been the way the candlelight played against Luanor’s moonlit hair and milky skin. No matter the reason, he did not send Luanor Iceveins away that night, nor the next. Not even after the roughest transformation he had endured in years. Instead he woke the next morning with a hunger he had never known. Without looking too closely at what such an unhealthy craving could mean, he allowed Odym to escort him upstairs. He scarfed down the breakfast laid on his gilded tray and, despite his manservant’s protests, fled the memories in his chamber.
His hunger did not abate until he had found her outside in the stables with her horse. This had surprised him. He hadn’t known the clans used horses still. Wolv kind especially had been known to make other beasts skittish in their presence. Perhaps that had changed in the past five hundred years. There was much he could not see beyond his gates.
Luanor answered his questions about the world beyond, once she overcame her fright upon his sudden appearance. “You know, I thought you were one of those poor ghosts who have been following me, at first.”
He didn’t like her words, so near the truth and dug his nails into his palm until he felt the sting in his very real flesh.
I am not a ghost yet.
“Tell me of your home, Luanor Iceveins.” Her surprisingly warm grin was his undoing. She would be his undoing.
As time passed, Grendall Bitterhelm sought out his new guest at every opportunity. Something about her awoke a part of him he believed long dead. Even before the curse, he had not allowed himself such intimacy, this deeper sharing between souls. It became clear to him that the hunger he felt was for her companionship, her scent, her easy smile and the way she made him feel alive again. He knew before the first moon since her arrival he was in love with her.
Most astonishing of all was how she discovered his secret by revealing her own first. In the light of a half moon, she transformed into the animal beneath her skin. Only here, where the Veil majik was strongest and the curse most potent, did her Wolv form remained upright, a cross between woman and creature he found just as beautiful. In this form, she offered to stay with his own beast. They remained in the rose garden together, monsters of a different kind.
The prince knew she was the mate he had long sought, his equal in every way. He told Odym and the others to prepare a grand banquet the like they had not seen in an age. “She is the one we have waited for, old friend. I want to show her what it was like here before.”
Odym eagerly agreed, “I feel you are right, Your Grace. The castle has come to life with Luanor’s presence.”
So Grendall wished, so desperately, as only fools can dream until their vision comes to life. The cursed remnant of Bitterhelm gathered their resources, dusted furniture and polished until the hall of mirrors was ready for dancing once more. Grendall found a dress that had been his mother’s and told the handmaids, Myrel and Lyttia to refashion it to for their guest.
“I want her to shine like a star in this,” he told the ghosts.
Luanor was beauty incarnate as she slipped her gloved arm over his waistcoat, surveying him with laughing eyes. “I find you much to my liking, Prince.”
He tried to snatch her by the waist with a devious tilt of his eyebrow. “Come closer so I can feel that extra skin.”
She giggled as his lips covered the bared skin at her neck. “Keep that up and we shall never leave this hall. The others worked so hard you know.”
Grendall lifted her in his arms and carried her to the dining hall, insisting she sup in his lap. “I want to make certain you try every dish, Starlight.”
Luanor tipped back her goblet with a sigh. “A Wolv could grow accustomed to this.”
That night, they danced among the Hall of Mirrors, as summer moonlight filtered through the windows. He had kept them closed for so long, but wanted to see the way the stars played off her hair. She was light and laughter incarnate.
He proposed after their prancing steps fell into a sensuous lilt. She sucked in a breath, indeed every servant and even the walls seemed to still, waiting for her reply.
Her smile was soft as she whispered, “Yes.”
Their laughter spilled past jubilant kisses. He spun her in circles, dancing with her until they had reached the rose garden. It would be midnight soon. But this time, he knew he would not transform. She had changed him. They had changed one another.
They planned their future together.
“My brother will surely come to the castle again, now. I have written to him and Mother. They will want to see my new husband.”
“You may invite whomever you wish, my starlight.”
“Tonight, I am so happy I won’t tease you, my prince.”
He kissed her, until she froze beneath him with a sudden jolt. Grendall barely caught her neck as her back spasmed. “Lou? Luanor, my love, what is it?” Her eyes stretched wide and unseeing while tears fell down her cheeks. Her mouth stretched open only moments before an unholy scream poured from her throat.
Grendall knew, even as he cried over her, begged her to come back to him, to “fight it!” As Odym and Hvalla and the others helped him carry her to her room. And later, as he was forced to leave her behind for the dungeon for his black cell. Her screams followed his every step, accompanied his transformation when he lost all sense of self. And in the morning, when he woke, Odym’s expression told him she was lost to him forever.
“Where is she,” he stated, too flat and lifeless to carry emotion.
Odym led the prince to Luanor’s new cell. The dungeon was so full, only two rooms were left unoccupied now. She lay curled in the corner, a broken, whimpering creature. When he pressed against the bars, whispering her name like a kiss, she snarled and turned on him. She was nothing like the glorious Wolv he had seen before. Now she was a twisted, tortured mockery of her former beauty. The curse had done this to her. His mother had ruined the one beautiful thing he dared to keep.
“I did this,” he whispered to Luanor, to Odym standing silent behind him.
“You could not have known, boy. None of us would have thought…” the old wyne choked on a sob.
Grendall swallowed back the bile forming in his throat and his voice sounded harsher then, as he gripped the iron bars. “I want you to find mother’s steward and bring him to me.”
“B-but Your Grace, you exiled him not long after Sor—after she faded.”
Grendall growled at the fear in his manservant’s voice. “Then you shall find him and give him exactly what he wanted when he helped her murder my father.”
Odym gasped but did not dare touch him. “No, you must not! You cannot give up. Please…I promised—”
“Tell him,” Grendall interrupted, “I am no longer Master of this castle. Tell him he can be the prince of what is left of my kingdom. I do not want it any longer.”
Odym sighed, too old and heartbroken to argue further. “What will you do? You cannot leave the boundary, she saw to that.”
Grendall pressed his forehead to the bars, his gaze locked with the amber eyes of the beast he would love eternal. “I will remain here, where I belong until the stones around us fade to dust.”
Discover what happens to Grendall and Luanor in Bound Beauty: Wylder Tales Volume 3 to be released, December 21, 2018.