And HERE IT IS. Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales is finally released into the real world! Please, please read it and tell us how you like it! The reviews have been coming in on Goodreads and every time a new one comes out I feel a little thrill of parentship over this collection my author friends and I have been compiling since the summer. It doesn't matter whether the review is favorable or not, I just love to know that the stories are not sitting in the deadspace of Microsoft Word. Give 'em air, friends. Give 'em air! To celebrate, Suzannah Rowntree, Elisabeth Foley, J.Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Hayden Wand, and I are sharing excerpts of our particular stories. So here, friends, is a scene pulled from my contribution: She But Sleepeth. Read a bit of it here, then scurry off to Amazon to buy your copy and read the rest! This scene occurs just hours after the main character, a modern set-designer, stumbles through a staircase into Romanian history...
(from She But Sleepeth by Rachel Heffington)
When their fruit had been eaten and coffee sipped, the queen excused herself.
“Come to me soon, Mariechen. Your father would speak with you.” She rested her gentle hand on Maria's shoulder in passing.
Supper began to sit unsafely in Maria's stomach at the thought of being left alone with that sober, wood-faced king. He was her father but when had he yet showed the slightest warmth or love for her? Was he angry at her return? Did he hate the sight of her? Those years in foster-care chalked a panicked, inaccurate score in the sudden blank of Maria's thoughts: not smart enough, not pretty enough, not young enough, not old enough. People always had a reason you were not enough to let you stay. Perhaps her father, even now, would not want or allow her to stay.
The queen's footsteps pattered away toward the sanctuary of her colored-glass music-room. Maria wanted to follow her instead of remaining here with a man no gladder in face than the peculiar Eastern rooms were in decoration, but he was her father and, she mused, her king.
Many long, unripe moments of silence. Maria kept her eyes on the empty table and waited.
“Itty, my...my child.”
Were those...tears in his voice? Maria's eyes snapped to the king's countenance. Moisture gleamed in the corners of his eyes. Candlelight sparked on something wet in his beard. Ioan, as usual, kept to his own business across the table. His long, waxen hands fingered the stem of his glass and his lips spread in that non-smile.
King Carol rubbed his thumb against his forefinger. His eyes spoke things she didn't want to guess at, they were so bare and heavy. “Come here, child.”
She hesitated a moment, then scooted back from the table and came to him, hands folded in her skirts. Her father put a hand to her cheek. Metal kiss from his signet ring, trembling flesh eager, yet cool against her face. She hardly dared to do so, but Maria raised a hand and tentatively covered her father's with it.
“Doamne, I've missed you,” the king softly swore.
It was just a flash of a moment, hardly seen before he shuttered up again behind his unfathomable face. But Maria's heart lurched happily as she nestled her hand again in her voluminous skirts. No one had ever spoken to her in that intense, immediate way. Somehow it reminded her of Heath – the same slow, slumbering fire unleashed all at once before growling back to sleep.
“I am so pleased to have you back, Maria,” her father continued. “I am not a man of gentle or numerous words, but that does not mean I lack love for you. I love quietly, by my loyal service and long peace. This is something which confuses your mother.”
“She thinks you do not love her?” The moment Maria said it, she regretted having asked so personal a question of a man who had already bent knee before her.
But the king only stood and managed a smile which wobbled on one side from lack of use. Maria thought it a darling expression, and her heart warmed even as he bade her goodnight and requested Ioan escort her to her mother, the queen.
Presently, Ioan stood and slid to her side. Everything about him chilled Maria but even she could not deny his beauty. He seemed like a white moth to her, ever fluttering in darkness, flirting with the light. What harm could he do her? If her father trusted the man he must not be a bad sort. Not likely he could have helped being born with a bloodless face and would she hate him for that?
Ioan bowed and crooked his arm. “Will you come, princess?”
“Sure.” She slid her arm into his.
He pressed her against his side as they exited the dining room and led a leisurely pace down the hall. When they reached the great hall, Maria thought her arm had spent long enough in the secretary's possession. She extracted herself and clasped her hands behind her back.
“It's a beautiful night,” she remarked. “Why don't they roll back the ceiling?”
Ioan pinched off a smile for her. “If Your Highness wishes it, I am sure an exhibition of that wonder can be arranged, though it is generally kept for parties and guests of state.”
Leave it to that bleached, brittle man to make her feel like an idiot for asking. All Maria's black dislike pooled again in her skull. “Yeah, because I'm not important or anything.”
His answer surprised her. “Yeah, I mean, I'm just the missing princess come home. Not like that's worth celebrating or anything.”
Ioan did not answer right away and when he did, his bland disgust slapped limply at her: “You say you are the missing princess.”
“You don't believe me, do you.”
“I watched you die. I watched them bury you.” A helpless anger swayed his body. “I watched them carefully as they mourned your passing, to be sure they did not mourn themselves into their own graves. It was finished.”
“The king and queen know I am their daughter,” Maria sad. “Why would you doubt them?”
Ioan sliced a hand through the air. “Folk will see what they most desire to see. You are but a clever impostor at best. My king and queen lost a child – their only child – and it is only the basest of people who would intrude on that sorrow and exploit it for profit.”
Maria watched the rage and suspicion war within him. He really believed her a pretender, did he? Well, she was sorry to disappoint but she'd never have attempted such a coup d'etat on her own volition.
“I am the princess,” she said quite simply.
“And yet, here I am,” Maria answered. She held his gaze for an uncomfortable moment, then tipped her chin and breathed in the beauty of the glass ceiling. “If you'd be so good as to tell the king, I would like to see what that roof can do.”