Normally I would start by sharing the first chapter of the book with ya’ll, but since I know we are all in the Christmas spirit right now, I have decided to share this chapter with you first. This is about halfway through the book. Ginny has moved into the castle with the prince, who has ascended to the throne of king by this point in time. The curse is ravaging the land. They are celebrating Winter Holiday, which is pretty much a solstice celebration.
Ginny tried to ignore what Jeremie had said about the holiday approaching. They had never done much to celebrate at the orphanage. The girls had usually given each other gifts that they had handmade from whatever had been lying around. Knitted scarves or socks were popular. Ginny never received anything, subsequently it wasn’t a big deal to her. Sure, she felt a pang of emptiness in her heart as the other girls exchanged presents and hugged each other, excluding her. But she was actually grateful; it was the one day annually that they never were outright cruel to her. If that was their gift to her, she would take it in a heartbeat. Would’ve been nice if it could last two days, or three, or a week though.
But apparently Winter Holiday was a much bigger affair at the castle. Jeremie kept assuring her that this year would be a small celebration, nothing like when he was a boy and his father had still been alive. He told her of how there had been visitors from foreign lands, including singers and dancers. They would perform at the great dances that were held in the castle’s main ballroom. Ginny had accidentally walked into the empty space once when she had gotten lost upon first arriving at the castle. The room was ginormous. It was bigger than Miss Peters’s cottage, the bed house, and the barn—combined. Jeremie assured her that it used to be filled to the brim with tables jam-packed with every delectable food you could think of (which Ginny could only think of two) and guests suited in their most elegant attire. She could not imagine it. And being an avid reader, she was usually good at utilizing her imagination.
Ginny was in awe of all the decorations that adorned the castle. Green boughs hung in the main hallways, the ones to and from the dining hall and the royal chambers. She had lost count of the number of pine trees that had been chopped down, brought inside, and decorated. The baubles and tinsel were so plentiful as to conceal any branch imperfections brought about by the plague. One ornament on any given tree looked like it was worth more than the orphanage had taken in in any single year. Ginny couldn’t help but imagine if the girls from the orphanage ever got in here. They would be picking the trees bare of all their trinkets, not really caring about them, only what value they would have for resale.
On the last night of the Winter Holiday celebration, local musicians were brought into the castle to perform. There was a modest buffet of food for the intimate collection of guests. Ginny was curious, but she knew her place, knew that she did not fit in with that crowd. But she desperately wanted to listen to the music, and maybe a little of the voices of everyone else’s merry-making. Accordingly, she hid in the library, with the door slightly ajar. She had a book in her lap, but found that her attention was not in it. She had been on the same page for over an hour, her eyes trailing over the same words but not comprehending them. Her concentration was with all the festivities nearby.
She jumped when the heavy wooden door groaned with movement.
“So this is where you are hiding yourself. You know, I almost had to send Luke out in the snow to search for you.”
“You know I get cold easily. It is unlikely I would run off out in the weather.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“That’s true,” she bowed her head, pretending to study her book.
“Why aren’t you attending the party?”
“It would make me uncomfortable.” It was the truth, and with a nod of his head Jeremie seemed to accept her answer. “I am enjoying the music though. I have heard so little in my lifetime. This is a rare pleasure.”
“Well, we will have to see about getting more of it into your life.”
They were both quiet for a moment. Jeremie moved to take a seat in the chair next to the settee Ginny was stretched out on. He leaned his head way back and exhaled, as if entertaining guests was an effort for him. Then he sat back up and met her eyes.
“I was hoping I could catch up with you before you turned in for the night.”
“I have a present for you.”
“Why? No, I don’t need it. Your taking me into the castle is gift enough.”
“You make it sound like the castle is another orphanage. From the few stories you have told me, I think I am insulted by that.”
“Well, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“You are not free-loading. You are here because you are contributing to the Curse Task Force. And you are doing an excellent job. And—and that is why I want to give you this,” he stuttered thoughtfully.
He reached into an inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a small leather sheath. When he held it out to her, the light from the fireplace caught the silver in the handle and she had a loud intake of breath. She found herself reaching for it even as she said, “But I couldn’t…”
“My father gave this to me when I was a boy. I mostly used it to whittle wood and stab scarecrows. But I’ve had it cleaned and sharpened, therefore it should be in excellent condition for you to take with you on the road.”
“You mean I will be traveling with the company?” Ginny was dumbfounded. She had never expected this.
“Of course. I need my number one girl with me.”
Her heart fluttered, although she knew he didn’t mean it. Not in the way she wanted. Even then, even if someday he grew to like her as she did him, it was all for naught. Ginny knew she could never even allow herself to dream of one day marrying a king. The people of the kingdom would never allow it. Not that there was likely to be any kingdom left whatsoever.
“But you will need it for protection,” she argued.
“I will have my sword, and several knights protecting me. But on the occasion you may get separated, it would be wise for you to have your own weapon.”
Ginny relented and slid the knife from the sheath to examine it. She tried it out, stabbing the air in front of her. It was the perfect size for her chubby, female hands. “Alright. But when the mission is done, you must let me return it.”
“I would never think of letting you do any such thing,” he snickered.
Ginny smiled wide in spite of herself. But her head was bowed, so he couldn’t tell, she didn’t think.
She reached into a fold of her dress and pulled out a small book, handing it to Jeremie.
“What is this?” he asked, studying the plain brown leather cover.
“A gift. I uncovered it in the library.”
“If it came from the library, then it is already sort of mine, isn’t it?” he chuckled, looking at her sideways.
“But you would never think to go in there and poke around yourself. You needed me to find it for you,” she smirked, knowing she had him. “Plus, what do you get the king who already has everything?”
“OK, I give. What is this?”
“It appears to be a history of the kingdom that Merrick kept on his own. I found it in a bureau drawer, almost as if someone was trying to hide it.”
“Weird. So, it mentions my father a lot?”
“I only peeked, but it has your grandfather too.”
He shifted it from one palm to the other, as if weighing the information contained within.
“Thank you for this. And for your friendship.”
“Thank you. Blessed solstice to you.”
“The same to you.”
From the broken mind of Jennifer Friess, the joining of hearts & souls…
NOW AVAILABLE! Troll Gurl and the Cursed Kingdom