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Into the Dark Woods Book 1
BY JACLYN ROCHE
“Never had he craved the taste of another’s flesh as much as he hungered for the Royal Princess. Forbidden to him. Any illicit dalliance with her would be fatal.” — Hanraí, third Prince of Elrad
Halfling Princess of Cinder, Elle must escape her pretty cage in the sky, a tower room in Castle Daes; stay hidden from her father, the king, or die trying…
Charming Elle by Jaclyn Roche is available in the limited edition, Once Upon Another World: A Twisted Tale Box Set by Monique Singleton, Joel Crofoot, Zack Hacker, D.E. Chapman, Erin McFadden & K.L. Bone, Jaclyn Roche, L.R.W. Lee, JB Trepagnier, Silvana G. Sanchez, Cassidy K. O’Connor, Jude Cocaigne, M.L. Garza, Hunter S. Jones, Aldrea Alien, Amari Ara Dreamer, D.C. Gambel, Krista Ames, K.A. Fox, Christa Ann, Iris Sweetwater & Chandra Trulove Fry, and Lianne Willowmoon & Phillip Shadowdragon
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Dread churned within her gut, as if to say, I told you so.
Two weeks had passed since she was caught and returned to her pretty prison in the clouds. In the process, she learned things, vile things, ones that would haunt her until the end of time. Information she never wanted. Never needed.
Oh, Mother. How could he? How dare he?
Pain lanced through her, and she crumbled to the floor in sobs. Elle didn’t know how many hours she spent pouring her pain out on the castle floor, but it had been many. The sun began its descent, giving way to the dark of the night. With the ruby pendant clutched in her fist, she raised herself up to the too-small window. The view blurred as she blinked away tears, stifling her sobs and trembling mouth with the back of her hand. She wanted to wail with grief, thrash with anger, destroy everything and everyone with the madness threatening to overcome her.
Oh, Mother…I’m so sorry. I wish you had told me. I could have saved you. I would have tried.
Elle didn’t know whether she should she stay or go. Were those even viable options? Stay and be her mother. Go and chance capture—or death. Freedom. Freedom called to her soul. Would there be another chance to escape? Could she risk it?
So many questions. No answers. To stay wasn’t a risk Elle wanted to take. Her father would marry her, kill her, or…worse. Whatever the seer had been about to say had to be worse. Deep down, she knew. Otherwise, the woman would have presented the other unknown first.
Elle frowned. It had already been a rotten day, and her attempt had made it near unbearable. To wish death upon his daughter—her person—was an abomination she couldn’t be part of. She wouldn’t die. Not at his hands. He was disgusted by her, but her mother kept the extent of his hatred from her.
The turret could fall, and she’d be lost forever in the depths of the water beneath. That wouldn’t be so bad. She would rather drown than die at the hands of her father or one of his minions.
Elle continued to stare out over the blue-green sea, calling for her little bird. She was sure he had helped her escape earlier, and she needed him to do it again. The water stretched farther than the horizon. It was said to go all the way to Elphyne, the birthplace of all fae.
Servants had spoken in hushed tones, recounting the orders from her mother and the other leaders to retreat after the end of the war. Though some stayed behind. Choosing not to risk the journey over the volatile southern seas
Ships sailed from port, but none traveled past the spire. Not to explore and find new lands. Nor to go around the peninsula eastward bound to raid another kingdom. That way was forbidden. All men who had dared before the war had been lost forever. Few tried after, but never returned. Except one: the dungeon master of Cinder. It was said the fae had put a curse on the sea.
“Never sail the south sea. Go north, go west, go east, but never, ever south,” sailors and others had warned.
To pass into the south seas, a ship would have to travel between the two rock giants hunched over their swords with boulders between their shoulder blades. They had been frozen a quarter century ago to await the return of the fae—to be awoken and fight once more for freedom, peace, and equality. The boulders would slide down their backs as they stretched to full height, effectively sealing the entrance, giving the fae the advantage.
Just like any who traveled past the giants, Elle didn’t stand a chance. She was stuck here forever. Escape was a dream. The one opportunity she had to leave she got caught and returned to the tower. Elle made it to the king’s landing and easily slipped into his apartments unnoticed.
She had been so close to the secret passageway she was able smell the salty mist. Had she taken a mere five steps; she would have been able to descend into the bowels of the castle to a seaward exit.
No, her escape did not happen by happenstance. Someone had facilitated it by unlocking her door. She recalled their footfall heavier than Anna’s, but lighter than the guard’s. She had a friend—two if she were to count Anna. She could work with that and try to figure out who had aided her escape. Did she dare hope whoever helped her would do so again?
Elle’s heart twisted. Her breath came erratic. Her head spun. She didn’t have another month to wait. She would be dead by then…or married, should her father change his mind. Both had the same outcome: death. Death would, however, be more merciful than the incestuous alternative of marrying her father. Her stomach rolled. She bent over to place her head between her knees, trying to ward off the threatening sickness.
No wonder her mother kept her from being underfoot whenever the king was present. Elle had thought the woman sought to spare her feelings from the shame of being a halfling—the shame punctuated by the king’s own actions and words. Elle harbored the belief that somewhere deep inside, King Ignatius felt love for her. If she’d had an inkling her father had been perverse before this, it was now confirmed beyond a shadow of doubt. The King of Cinder was indeed a narcissistic and cruel ruler.
Elle straightened and leaned into the breeze through the tiny window, tilting toward the light. Strands of hair that had broken free of the elaborate coif tickled her cheek. Mist from the waves crashing against the rocks below kissed her face. The synchronous cacophony of wind and waves blustering in unity washed over her, melting away each worry one at a time. She could almost forget where and who she was. Almost.
The glow of the sun calmed her, recharged her mind, body, and soul. Her mother, queen of the Aerie Court, had often said the elemental sprites would assist a downtrodden fae. Sprites of all the fae courts—not just the one they belonged to.
“Look to nature, child. There are many opportunities to borrow or lend magic. Give, and you shall receive.”
Elle moved to lay in the epicenter of the prison. All things pointed here, but being a circular tower, of course they would. Elle had spent hours upon hours of her interment beneath the crystal peak of the ceiling dreaming of a better life. One where she was not ridiculed for being fae. One where she was free to dance in the forest of her mother’s people and be amongst them.
As the sparkling sunlight created dancing shadows in the room like a child’s mobile above a crib, the events of the last two months replayed in Elle’s mind. The briolette pendant, clutched tight within her grasp, grew hot—almost too hot—but she refused to let it go. It was all she had.
“Mother, I wish you were here. I miss you.” Tears of salt rolled down her cheeks, staining her skin and lips. She wiped the moisture away with the back of her hand, sniffling as more threatened to drop.
She wished to be far from here. She wished for someone to save her. For her to save herself. She dropped her hand from the ruby, letting it settle against her breast. Elle had never liked the fairytale where the prince saves the damsel in distress. She much preferred the damsel save herself. Elle did not want a knight in shining armor, but she did need help.
Thunder rolled, shaking the stained-glass panels above. Elle shot to her feet, concern washing through her. The weather had been sunny a moment prior. Lightning struck the tower, and Elle rushed to the window, shutting it against the wind howling with the fury of a banshee seeking prey.
Once wrestled shut, the storm abated as sudden as it had begun. She threw the window open once more, angling her head out to peek. All was well. As if nothing had happened. The sea lapped gently against the rocks below.
Jaclyn loves to write stories with a bite!
Her Dark Fantasy Romances are packed with paranormal delights.
She is inspired to pen novels that bewitch her reader’s hearts and souls. You can usually find her in her weaving together those remarkable tales. She hopes they are ones you will think about long after you read, The End.
She lives in the middle of the woods in Maine on a mountain across from a lake. Sharing wonderland is easy when it is with a loving husband, wild children, goofball dogs, fat toads, and a naughty cat who has not learned her lesson and still tries to eat them!
Jaclyn’s a recovering English teacher who digs in the garden but kills everything she plants and burns almost everything she cooks! Good thing she knows how to write!
Links to Jaclyns‘s website, blog, books, etc.
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