Home > The Savage and the Swan

The Savage and the Swan
Author: Ella Fields

 

For those who love with a ferocity that reinstalls faith and burns through armor.

 

 

My hand fell away from the door I’d been about to open to bid my parents good night.

“The human prince?” my mother cried. “To hand her to him, to them, is not only a betrayal to our daughter but it is an insult to everything we’ve built while suffering their presence in these lands.”

“You think me unaware of that?” my father boomed. Frozen, I waited, withering on the spot as his voice softened. “We have no other choice, Nikaya. It’s this or await the map of the stars to unfold, and we both know what he will do to her, to any of us, should he be given the opportunity.”

My mother gave no response, and I could picture her serene face mottled with concern, ruby cheeks twisting with her worrisome thoughts.

“They will take her, this I know, and although she might not care for the prince, nor he for her, she will be safe.”

“Safe?” My mother half laughed. “They may fear us and do our bidding, but make no mistake, Althon, they mock us all the same,” she seethed, her voice uncharacteristically cold. “They will be anything but pleasant to her.”

Water welled in my eyes, my hand shaking as I lifted it to open the door. My father’s next words stopped me. “Better for her to be uncomfortable than to be tortured or to meet her end before she can produce an heir like Joon. This grants protection and therefore time for Opal to ensure the Gracewood line continues.”

I turned away at that and raced downstairs to the empty kitchens below, my nightgown fluttering behind me, catching the gathering wind as I exploded through the door and into the rear gardens. Uncollected fruit and leaves splattered and crunched, but I didn’t stop.

The sky deepened with darkness as I forced my feet to carry me faster through the ankle-deep grass. As I tried to outrace my thundering heart.

The swish of the blades, the lavender fields, the stars overhead, and the spray of dirt beneath my bare feet were the only witnesses to my escape.

I ran for the shelter of the pitch-black woods—to the path through them I’d memorized by heart as a child long before the attacks and bloodshed began—and I didn’t stop until I’d reached the mouth of the low-lying cave.

There, I crawled through, rising to my full height as the tunnel grew deeper while yawning slowly down toward the cliffside of the ravine. The dead tree, hollowed out and nearly as wide as the castle towers, blocked the exit. I walked through it, desperate to escape the damp dirt and feel the breeze and starlight upon my wet cheeks once more.

A branch, gnarled and blanketed in moss, tucked against the inner belly of the tree, awaited my soiled feet. Up they climbed until my head breached the hole, and I could grip the knots on either side of it to haul myself up to sit aside the opening.

For precious moments, I just breathed, the bark warm and rough against my legs, my feet dangling high over the water that trailed beneath the tree. It danced its way between the two lands, turning the numerous bends as it gradually headed out to sea.

The moon’s reflection wrinkled and warped, the stars winking within the ripples and gurgling bubbles. This tree hadn’t always been here, though it’d been here far longer than I had. Long ago, two gigantic bridges kept Nodoya and its mystical kingdoms of Sinshell and Vordane joined—its people united.

They said we were once a whole. Though something told me that wasn’t precisely true, else there would never have been such a divide. A crack was all we needed to create a chasm. And a chasm would only grow and deepen over time.

Staring down into the ravine widened from war and hatred, the rotted remains of wood and stone from decimated ships and a long-ago bridge, I cursed and brushed my hand beneath my nose, willing my eyes to dry. I’d known since I was a youngling that I’d be forced to marry and likely before I was ready, but I had never dared to think it would turn out like this.

That most suitors would be dead—and the only one who remained was human.

It wasn’t that I hated the idea of marrying a human. Quite the opposite. Prince Bron was handsome. He carried himself with an air of nonchalance that struggled to veil his arrogance. He was lean and tall with deep brown hair struck through with streaks of gold from his many days spent outdoors hunting and training in the sun. The few times I’d seen him, he was wearing a smile that never failed to make the heart stall a beat.

I’d spent countless hours afterward trying to capture the way that smile touched his dark eyes on my pad of parchment, never quite satisfied I’d gotten it right. He’d seldom even looked my way. Though when he had, his lips had lowered and flattened, eyes assessing.

To him, I was nothing but a faerie—just another creature who could not be hunted.

If history was anything to go by, many of us did stupid things out of fear, so I wouldn’t allow myself to fall into wishful thinking. To believe that, should we wed, he would be happy about it.

And although I thought him handsome and charismatic, my mother was right. I would live in perpetual discomfort at best and in fear for my life or injury at worst.

“And here I’d thought I had this rotted-out corpse of a tree all to myself.”

Startled, I scrambled back over the last remaining crossing that linked the lands of Nodoya and nearly fell, my nails scoring into the bark. Never, not once, had I encountered another soul in my hiding place.

The hooded figure slipped a broadsword inside a sheath at his back and crept closer along the rocky cliffside with alarming agility.

I should’ve moved. I should’ve demanded he go back the way he came. Though something whispered that either would be futile.

He was not of gold blood, nor was he human. His scent of smoke and cedar washed over me, into me, raising every tiny hair on my body. “You cannot be here.”

“Says whom?” he asked with a tilt of his head that exposed pieces of white-blond hair. His voice was lemon and chocolate—decadent and bitter, rich and low.

“Says me,” I declared, thankful my words did not shake.

“Ah.” He then dropped with eye-widening speed and accuracy onto the fallen tree, the hole—my only exit—between us. “And who might you be?”

I was too stiff to be offended, every part of me locked and preparing to flee. “You know very well who I am.”

Removing the hood of his cloak, he slowly lifted his eyes to mine. “We are a realm divided, Princess, so do not expect us all to recognize you.” My heart raced, my mind skipping over avenues of escape. All the while, his dawn blue eyes tracked over my face. “I’ve no interest in hurting you.”

I blinked. “You’re crimson. I can scent it…” My eyes slid over his tunic and cloak, both a midnight black fringed with red. “As well as see it, so if you don’t mind—”

“Why are your eyes wet?” Gazing at my cheeks, he murmured, “You’ve been crying, oh sunshiny one.” I made to slip back inside the hole, but his next words halted me. “I wouldn’t do that just yet if I were you.”

He’d barely finished speaking when footsteps, howling hounds, and snarling shifters carried over the breeze, the water below. “You’re on patrol.”

“They’ll move along soon.”

Confusion twisted my features. He watched with an amused glint in his eyes.

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