Home > A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(5)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(5)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer

I unlock the door and swing it wide, then nod toward the back of the room. “Through that door, you’ll find a hot bath. Through the other, a dressing room.” I glance down at her ragged, sweat-dampened attire. “You should be able to find clothes, if that … suits your fancy.”

“And you’ll leave me alone?”

She sounds doubtful, but I nod. “If that is what you wish.”

Harper eases through the doorway slowly, looking around. A finger traces the length of the side table, pausing for just a moment by the food—though she takes nothing.

I frown and glance at her feet, her legs now encased in the too-large boots of a livery boy. Her left ankle appears crooked, making her steps uneven. “Are you certain I cannot provide assistance of some sort?”

She turns in surprise. “What?”

“You are clearly injured in some way.”

“I am not …” She hesitates. “I’m fine.

I cannot tell whether this is pride or fear or some combination of the two. While I am trying to puzzle it out, she says, “You told me I could be alone.”

“As you wish, my lady.” I give her a nod.


I stop with my hand on the door, surprised. “Yes?”

She bites her lip, then gazes around at the lush offerings of Arabella’s chambers. “This place. The music. Is this all some kind of …” Her voice trails off and her expression turns sheepish. “Never mind.”

“Enchantment?” I suggest, then raise an eyebrow.

She inhales almost hopefully—but then her expression darkens into a scowl. “You’re mocking me. Forget it. Leave me alone.”

“As you wish. I will return at midday.” I pull the door closed, but I do not move from in front of it. This season has gone so terribly wrong. She will never trust me.

I will fail again.

I put my hand against the door. She has not moved from the other side. “I was not mocking you, my lady.” I pause, but she says nothing. “Ironrose is not enchanted.”

She speaks from just on the other side of the wood. “Fine. Then what is it?”


With that, I turn the lock and take the key.

As usual, I take out my frustrations on Grey.

Or maybe he takes his out on me. I’m good with a sword, but he’s better.

We’re in the training arena, and clashing steel sings through the rafters. I see an opening and swing for his midsection, but he steps out of the path of the blade, twisting to parry and deflect. His attacks are quick and nearly lethal—which is good, because I need something to require my full attention.

Grey’s sword slams into mine, driving me back a step. We’ve been at this for an hour and sweat threads through my hair. I recover enough to counterattack, my boots cutting neatly through the dust of the arena. I swing hard and fast, hoping to put him on the defensive.

It works at first, and he gives ground, backing away. But I know better than to think I have an advantage. He’s not yielding; he’s waiting for an opening.

His patience is always endless. I envy that.

I remember the day he was first assigned to my personal guard, though I’m not sure why. I barely gave any of them a glance then. Just another subject, swearing to lay down his life. If something happened to one, another would be along shortly.

But Grey had been eager to prove himself. I think that’s what I remember most clearly: the eagerness.

I quickly destroyed that, just like I destroyed everything else.

In the arena, Grey feigns an attack. I think I see an opening and I swing hard, the blade arcing wide. Grey ducks and bolts forward to drive his sword hilt into my stomach. He follows with a shoulder.

I go down. My sword skitters away in the dirt.

“Quite the demonstration, Your Highness.” A feminine voice speaks from the railing at the side of the arena, accented by slowly clapping hands. For a wild, crazy moment, I think Harper must have found her way down here.

But it’s not Harper. It is Lilith. The last—the only—enchantress in Emberfall. My father banished them from the kingdom once upon a time.

I was too stupid to know I should have done the same.

I fetch my sword and roll to my feet as Lilith steps into the arena. Not even the dust dares to cling to her skirts.

I force myself to sheathe my weapon instead of raising the blade and plunging it into her chest.

I’ve tried that before. It never ends well.

I bow low as she approaches, taking her hand to brush a kiss against her knuckles. I infuse my voice with false charm. “Good day to you, Lady Lilith. The morning light favors you, as always.”

At the very least, that is true. Soft skin, pink cheeks, rose-colored lips that always seem to be keeping a secret. Hair the color of a raven’s wing, perfect curls falling over her shoulder. An emerald silk dress clings to every curve, accentuating her narrow waist, the soft rise of her breasts. The color brings out the green in her eyes. In the sunlight pouring through the windows overhead, she’s exquisite. She turned my head once, for all the wrong reasons.

“Such manners,” she says, a faint trace of mockery in her voice. “One would think you’d been raised as royalty.”

I know better than to let her bait me, but it’s an ever-growing challenge. “One would think,” I agree. “Perhaps some lessons take longer to learn than others.”

Lilith glances at Grey, who stands silently behind me. “Did Commander Grey honestly think that scrap of a girl would be the one to break your curse?”

“From what I understand, she was not his first choice.”

“Yet you throw away an opportunity by leaving her to languish alone?”

“She refused my company. I will not force myself on an unwilling girl.”

“How chivalrous.” She sounds as though she doesn’t think it’s chivalrous at all.

“I have played your game for well over three hundred seasons. If I allow one to languish, as you say, another will be along eventually.”

She frowned. “That is not playing. That is giving up. Are you truly so tired of our little dance?”

Yes. I am. So terribly tired.

“Never,” I say. “I find each season more enjoyable than the last, my lady.”

She is not easily fooled. “For five years, your kingdom has been falling into poverty. Your people live in terror of the fierce creature that steals lives with horrifying regularity. And yet you abuse a chance to save them all?”

Five years. Somehow both longer and shorter than I thought—not that I have any means to track the intricacies of her magic. I knew time had passed outside the grounds of Ironrose. I knew my people were suffering. I hadn’t realized how much.

Fury sharpens my words against my will. “I will not take full blame for casting my people into poverty and terror.”

“You should, my prince. One must wonder how many opportunities to save them fate will grant you.” She glances at Grey. “Do you tire of your gift, Commander? Perhaps the ability to cross to the other side at the start of each season is wasted on you.”

I freeze. Her words always carry an element of threat. Once, I was too foolish to see that, but I can clearly read between the lines now.

“I never tire of the opportunity to serve the prince, my lady.” His voice is emotionless. Grey is well practiced at never answering more than what is asked, at never offering an opportunity to start trouble.

He likely learned it from serving me.

“Commander Grey is grateful for your generosity,” I say, trying to appeal to her vanity. If she removes his band, he will have no way to cross over. My chance of breaking this curse will be even more dire than it is now. “I have heard him remark often on your magnanimity and grace.”

“You are such a pretty liar, Rhen.” She reaches up to pat my cheek.

I flinch—and she smiles. She lives for this moment, the space between fear and action. I all but hold my breath, ready for my skin to split and blood to spill.

Her eyes shift past me, though, and she frowns, turning to face Grey. “What happened to your neck?” She lifts a hand, but hesitates with her fingers an inch away from his throat.

He holds absolutely still. “An unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding?” She traces a finger along the uppermost scratch, and as her finger moves, the cut turns bright red. A trickle of blood spills down his neck. “Did that girl do this?”

He does not move, not even a twitch of muscle along his jaw. “Yes, my lady.”

I am frozen, wanting to stop her, knowing that would likely end up worse for him.

She glides closer. “If she drew blood from the great Commander Grey, I believe I like her a bit more.” She traces another line, her finger glowing red this time. More blood flows.

Grey still doesn’t move, but he’s not breathing. His eyes are hard.

I clench my jaw. I once thought the monstrous destruction was the worst part of the curse, but I’ve long since learned that it’s not. It’s this, the repeated humiliation and punishment. The powerlessness to reclaim what is mine. Being forced to watch as every dignity is stripped away.

She traces her finger along his neck a third time, her expression one of intrigue.

Grey flinches and hisses a breath. I smell burning flesh.

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