Authors: W. R. Gingell
Twelve Days Of Faery
Shards Of A Broken Sword
Many thanks to Jack Heckel,
whose delightful work gave me
the story-seed that became
Twelve Days Of Faery
Also by W.R. Gingell
The Two Monarchies Sequence
Stand Alone Titles
A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend Series
Volume Two (2016)
Shards Of A Broken Sword Novellas
Twelve Days Of Faery
The First Chill of Autumn (Feb 2016)
Copyright W.R. Gingell 2015
Cover images from Shutterstock
Twelve Days Of Faery
There’s a fine line between the perception of coincidence and intent when it comes to a series of unfortunate events. Three dead fiancées, two lost sweethearts, and a few mutilated flirts tended to slip from the realms of coincidence and into that of deliberate misadventure, thought King Markon. The fiancées, sweethearts and flirts were not his: they belonged—or
belonged—to his son, Prince Parrin.
King Markon sighed. It had been easy to dismiss the first fiancée as dreadful happenstance. The child had fallen from her horse, after all. And the second, a younger princess from the neighbouring kingdom, had been attacked by bandits in her own lands.
At first the danger had only been to fiancées. Then, as Markon grew wise to the problem and discouraged immediate thoughts of marriage, Parrin’s sweethearts began to have unfortunate accidents as well. Parrin fell in love so quickly, even for a boy of twenty, that it was hard to keep the girls out of danger.
It wasn’t until Parrin’s first sweetheart vanished without a trace that the murmurs began. To Markon’s astonishment, the murmurs only doubled the interest in his son. It was spoken in whispers around the kingdom that any woman who freed the prince from his curse, be she shepherdess or princess, would marry the prince and be queen in the course of time.
The first three girls could be blamed on the curse, if curse there was. The others, thought Markon, with a surge of sudden distaste for himself, could only be laid at his own door. He’d heard the rumours; and instead of squashing them, he’d allowed them to run their course, hoping that one of the girls
be able to break the curse. There hadn’t been any shortage of them, and he’d personally vetted the few determined young women who pretended to be Parrin’s fiancées after the real ones died.
Each of those young ladies had died, disappeared, or been injured grievously within a week of being affianced to Parrin.
King Markon pulled distractedly at the silvering hair at his temples. There was a lot more of it there lately, along with a suspicious thinning of hair at the top of his head. Stress, Parrin told him. Markon was more inclined to think that he was simply getting old. Still, the stress didn’t help; and now his steward had come to him with the unwelcome news that an enchantress had come to try her luck at the curse.
On one hand, thought Markon, struggling to decide if he should allow the enchantress to do her best or if he should send her safely on her way; an enchantress really ought to be able to take care of herself. On the other, the curse’s latest victim was a poor noble maiden who had merely chanced to catch Parrin’s eye and exchange a flirtatious smile with him. Markon wasn’t sure the unfortunate girl’s hair would ever regrow. That was the sort of thing a woman took seriously, enchantress or not.
The steward, who had been waiting with commendable patience while his master thought the matter through, ventured to say politely: “Sire, should I bid the enchantress enter?”
“Why not?” said Markon tiredly. The only other option was to lock Parrin in his suite where unwary damsels wouldn’t catch his eye. “Send her in.”
He was gazing out the window when the steward announced: “Althea of Avernse, your majesty.”
Markon turned his head to meet a dark blue pair of eyes that were quiet, shuttered, and surprisingly sharp. The owner of those eyes curtseyed in a short, precise manner, her gaze never leaving him, and then folded her hands in front of her. She was less...enchantressy...than Markon expected. Part of that, he was ruefully aware, was because he was getting rather old, and Althea looked ridiculously young. The other part of it was the sensible, well-cut frock of blue cotton that had not a glitter of the kind of decorative magical furbelows that enchantresses usually sported. Her back was as straight as a poker, prim and no-nonsense, and her hair was braided to within an inch of its life without so much as daring to curl at her temples, though it was plainly aching to do so. Markon thought of the little countess sprawled in the courtyard at her horse’s feet, the weaver’s daughter and her horror at her severed hand, and the two lost ladies.
He said instinctively: “I’m sorry, but we’re no longer accepting applications.”
Her head jerked back, surprise and—was that annoyance?—on her face. It was gone almost immediately: Althea’s eyes narrowed on him in distinct interest.
“Is that so? I was under the impression that the curse was still very much in effect.”
Althea let the words hang in the air, turning over her own thoughts; and Markon, who should have called back the steward and had him show the child out, simply watched her think. She was too old for Parrin, of course, by a good five years or so.
And far too young for you
, thought Markon, startling himself with the direction his thoughts had taken him. Besides, an older woman might be just the thing for the boy.
“I’m curious,” said Althea. While he had been thinking, she had come to her own conclusions, and was now watching him. “Why not just have another child?”
Her eyes swept over him, absorbed and assessing, and Markon felt a slight warmth creeping up his neck to the back of his ears.
“You’re young enough to marry again. Handsome, too: you wouldn’t have any problem finding a wife.”
She took a lot upon herself, this enchantress! thought Markon. But that was enchantresses for you: they considered themselves equal with royalty– at the very least. He said, with gentle sarcasm: “Being king helps with that, too.”
Althea’s eyes grew deeper blue: a sign of amusement, Markon thought. “So you did think of it.”
“Of course. An heir who can’t fall in love and marry can’t produce an heir of his or her own.”
“You thought the same thing would happen to any other child you sired,” she said accurately.
“Yes. We don’t know who cursed Parrin, or what the curse entails– we don’t even know that it
“What will you do, then?”
Markon caught himself tugging at his silver hairs again and folded his arms instead. “Lock Parrin up. Choose another line of succession. Find someone to investigate the curse from the outside. As a matter of fact, Wyndsor–”
“I can investigate from the outside,” said Althea, as Markon’s inevitable reflections on the subject of Wyndsor caused his sentence to trail away. “I think it makes more sense to investigate from the inside, but we couldn’t depend on his highness to fall in love with me, after all. And if it makes you uncomfortable–”
“It’s not about my comfort,” said Markon, unsure whether he was exasperated at Althea or at the thought that it would be only too easy for Parrin to fall in love with her. “Perhaps I should take you to the infirmary. You might like to see the young ladies who have been unfortunate enough to fall foul of the curse.”
Althea gazed at him in silence for a few moments. Then she smiled; a brilliant, joyous smile that transformed her serious face and took his breath away.
“That would be very useful,” she said.
thought Markon, as he strolled the Long Gallery with Althea on his arm. Stroll was perhaps a weak word for what they were doing: Althea stepped purposefully, entirely without the sedate glide that usually characterised the walk of an enchantress. She actually seemed to
, her interest palpable. Why would she find a viewing of the young ladies afflicted by the curse to be useful?
She wouldn’t, Markon realised, unless she was already investigating the curse. He sent a keen look down at her, amused and slightly irritated, and when Althea glanced up to meet his gaze he thought he saw a delicate flush of colour come and go on the cheek closest to him.
“These young ladies in the infirmary,” she said, rather hurriedly. “Why keep them here? I assume they
“You feel responsible.”
“I expect you paid their families, too,” said Althea thoughtfully, with another look up at him.
“Through here,” Markon said, avoiding the question. The cheek of the child! She was laughing at him! He thought he saw approval in her blue eyes along with the amusement, and felt a little better. “Some of them are rather badly hurt. Try not to disturb them more than you must.”
That took the amusement out of her eyes. She nodded, and followed him into the infirmary.
The infirmary wasn’t exactly an infirmary, as such. Like the gallery that adjoined it, it was a vast room that ran along the outside wall of the west wing: but where the Long Gallery had a massive tapestry or oil painting every couple of hundred yards, the infirmary had been divided into smaller suites. Eight of the ten suites were occupied by various of Parrin’s young ladies and a few of the enterprising women who had sought to break the curse. Markon approached the fourth of these and knocked politely on the door. He could have taken Althea to the first room, which contained only the young lady with the lost hair, but he felt that he would like to discourage her as strongly as possible.
The door was opened by a tall, neat nurse with a capable face and even more capable hands. She curtseyed deeply to Markon, and nearly as deeply to Althea, who looked her swiftly up and down, and said: “You studied at Holbrooks, didn’t you?”
The nurse went very slightly pink. “I did, lady. How did you know?”
“I’d know that technique anywhere,” said Althea, rather to Markon’s bemusement. She was looking at the nurse’s hands, but he had the distinct impression that she was seeing a lot more than he did. “You’re very talented.”
“Thank you, lady. Will you come in?”
There was a furrow between Althea’s brows, straight and deep. Once again, Markon wasn’t sure what it was she was seeing, but it was evident that it surprised her. She advanced on the bed carefully, and he would have thought she was suffering from a weak stomach if it wasn’t for the fact that her eyes frequently darted to things he couldn’t see. It looked as though she was studying a vast, complicated whole instead of one broken young girl.
At last she said: “That’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the nurse. “Every bone in her body was broken: shattered to pieces. And as soon as I get one of them fixed and go onto the next, the spell creeps back and undoes all my work.”
“Is she always unconscious?”
“It seemed kinder,” said Markon, avoiding the sight of the girl’s bruised and swollen body by keeping his eyes solely on Althea.
She laid one hand on the girl’s rubber-like arm and asked: “Did she fall from some height?”
“A foot-high dais.”
“I see.” Althea didn’t look surprised. “It’s a nasty bit of magic: a spell I haven’t seen before. I believe that if we could heal her fast enough to beat the re-shattering, having her whole body reknit all at once would break the loop.”
“I thought so, too,” said the nurse. “But I couldn’t equal the rate of shattering
heal enough bones at once.”
“If I slowed the rate of shattering, do you think you could heal her completely?”
Markon frowned. “I thought the magic was unfamiliar to you.”
“Not the magic: the spell. I know the
of magic very
“I thought I knew every variant of magic that there is,” said the nurse. “What is it?”
“It’s not something you would have come across,” said Althea. “I’ll come back tomorrow to help.”
“I told you,” said Markon. “We’re not accepting applications.”
“I know,” she said, and then to the nurse: “I’ll come back tomorrow. We’ll need a few hours at least.”
Althea left the suite in an energetic bounce. At first, Markon thought she was merely eager to see the other girls, but as they moved swiftly from suite to suite he saw the storminess in those deep blue eyes. She was
. When they were back in the gallery proper, she stood for a full minute in silence with her eyes on the carpeted floor while Markon watched, smiling faintly.
Just as he was beginning to think she wouldn’t speak again, Althea said: “This is not acceptable.” Her mouth was pursed, her nostrils flaring. “It’s ridiculous to allow this to continue: those poor little girls!”
“We’re no longer accepting applications,” repeated Markon flatly. That eager sense of justice needed to be protected from itself. It was a wonder that Althea, young as she was, hadn’t yet dug herself in over her head with some valiant cause or other.
“So you said. But what about those girls? And what happens
time something goes wrong?”
“My dear child, you’re barely older than my son! How could I live with myself if the curse caught you too?”
Althea gazed at him for a very long time, her mind almost visibly clicking and whirring. She was trying to decide whether or not to tell him something, Markon realised.
At last, she said: “Will it help if I tell you that a curse will have absolutely no effect upon me?”