It's finally here! After months and months of work my contribution to Enchanted Kingdoms is ready for you lovely readers!
(For those who haven't heard, you can catch up on all the Enchanted Kingdoms info here.)
As you probably know, I was tasked with writing a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for the collection. It was an interesting experience for me, as Snow White has never really been my favorite fairytale, but the idea for this book struck me and wouldn't let go. Writing it was a wild ride, from the sparkly nobility our protagonist grew up with to roughing it in the woods, and through all the ruthless witches and oh-so-fun romance. I ended up really putting my spin on the story and I hope the world and characters are as enjoyable for all of you as they are for me.
Without further ado, take a peek at The Ruin of Snow:
I was the last of my sisters to arrive, which was just the way I liked it.
They waited gathered at the front entrance, Mother at the head in bold and regal black and white. Sarafine held herself by the door like a frosty queen, white-blonde curls piled atop her head, eyes like glacier pools, and cast me a calculating look as I descended the steps. I returned it for an instant. She wouldn’t give up until she’d figured out my plans for tonight, but I didn’t mind letting her stew. Tulia hid her intentions in white lace and a velvet smile, but I could taste the magic on her. Not a curse, but something like a lure. She was after a new suitor for a few nights, then, and wouldn’t be getting in my way. Good.
The quick glance she gave me said she didn’t miss that I’d recently been working magic too, and her eyes shone with interest for half a second. I ignored her, chin up, gaze straight ahead. I was ready for the game. A wolf ready for the lamb it had gotten the scent of.
For the rest of the noble families, tonight was another in a long line of winter parties, each family taking their turn showing off for the others. None of them knew what would make this one different, what game would be played tonight. Not even my sisters. I had my orders and they didn’t need to know about them.
The carriage ride was short but quiet, a familiar kind of cold. I went over my plans again in my head, while Sarafine and Mother chatted softly about nothing. Finally, the Meadowrain house rose into view like a star, lit up with lanterns and the jewels of its arriving guests. Our carriage rolled to a gentle stop, the coachman pulled the door open with a flourish, and the game had begun.
Mother exited first and we followed one by one. Eyes watched us as soon as we were in view, as always, and I kept my attention fixed in front of me. Let them watch. Let them whisper behind their lace fans.
I was five years old when Mother was widowed—the same plague that had taken my aunt and brother—and I held few memories of my father, but I knew the story, or at least the one the public knew. Their marriage had been blessed by the gods and their four children as good as angels walking the earth. Mother had been too devastated by Father’s death to consider remarrying. As the years wore on, her would-be suitors turned their attentions from her to her daughters, and their sons soon followed. Some men were content to admire from afar, and some determined to give chase, but every woman of the city seemed to indulge in the gossip whenever possible. After all, the husbands of Morningspell women seemed to suffer terrible strings of bad luck.
The wealth and influence must have been worth the risk.
My sisters and I split apart, going our separate ways to mingle, and I watched Mother greet the lady of the house. When I was sure she was no longer waiting to see my first move, I smoothed my skirt and wandered along the edges of the crowd. A ball like any other. The same guests. With winter setting in the choices the servants carried on silver trays were warm and heavy with lush autumn vegetables and expensive delicacies brought from the southernmost tip of the continent. I passed them up in favor of a glass of wine, sipping it as I watched the crowd. Noblemen and ladies danced to a song I’d heard a million times before. I could have joined their dance without missing a step. Those who chose to eat, drink, or talk did so with practiced smiles and carefully chosen tones. The empty talk of the wealthy. Nothing I cared much to listen to.
I searched for the glimmering forms of my sisters. Tulia’s lace gown caught my eye at the edge of the dancers, one of the several young men vying for her attention requesting a dance. She gave him a perfectly performed girlish smile and offered her hand, though I knew she had no interest in him.
And there, at the center of the dance, was Sarafine. Always in the center. She danced with her fiancé, and though most would have seen nothing more than a young woman blissfully in love, I knew the look in her eyes. The set of her spine. She was on the hunt as much as I was.
“Neyva,” a smooth, deep voice broke through my quiet observations. I couldn’t help the smallest tug of a smile.
“I didn’t see you arrive.” A lie—the left corner of Desmond’s lips always twitched ever so slightly when he lied. “You look stunning.”
“Thank you.” I smoothed my skirt, feeling the faint curve of the pouch of ash below, and glanced down to catch his eye from beneath my fanned lashes. “You do as well.” He did; Desmond was not particularly handsome to begin with—average at best, with close-cropped chestnut hair and dark eyes that never strayed from mine when we spoke—but he was built more like a fighter than a pampered young nobleman, and the white and gold he wore tonight suited him.
“I’m honored you think so.” He gave me a wide smile and offered one hand. “I hope I haven’t missed your first dance of the evening?”
I handed my cup to a passing servant and took his hand, letting him lead me to the center of the room as the music softened and changed. “Of course not.” Desmond had held my first dance at every event since my sixteenth nameday, the day our future had been as good as set. Mother approved, and thus it was to be done. And though I was here for one simple task, it wouldn’t do to seem suspiciously unsociable. And so I danced, and between talk of the weather and the coming holiday and the few pieces of news that had come up since the last time we’d seen each other I watched. But nothing seemed out of place.
“What has your mind tonight, Neyva?” Desmond asked, and I tore my gaze from Sarafine, still dancing, to his face.
“Only my sister’s wedding,” I lied. “It’s been quite an affair, planning it. I hope it’s as lovely as she wants it to be.”
“Ah.” His attention travelled over my shoulder towards them, a smirk playing at his lips. “She looks dressed for a wedding every time I see her. I do hope she has something even more lavish ready.”
I soft snort escaped before I could stop it, and his smile widened. “Lavish would be the correct word, yes.”
“No expense spared for the eldest Morningspell’s marriage, of course.”
“No expense spared for any Morningspell’s marriage. Though if Tulia ever settles I think my sisters will clear the city of wedding finery before I’m engaged.”
Desmond scoffed. “Never. I’ll call for the finest tailors across the continent if need be. You’ll have a dress of spun gold if you like.”
“Sarafine favors gold. She’d have my head if I copied her.”
“Like you copied her tonight?” He glanced down to the pale golden shade I'd chosen to wear, not far off from Sarafine's gown.
I grinned. “I do like to play with fire.”
When the danced ended Desmond swept my hand up and pressed a feather-light kiss to my knuckles. I took advantage of the instant his eyes were down to survey the crowd again. “Another dance, or can I get you a fresh drink?”
Violet silk stirred between another couple, the tang of magic on the back of my tongue following it like a cloud, and my heart picked up. “I would love another dance, but there’s Emilia—I need to ask her something.”
“I’ll walk with you.”
I turned, one hand against his chest, and met his eyes with a smile. “It’s wedding talk, Desmond. To be kept between women until the day. I’ll be back in a moment.”
He returned the smile and inclined his head. “I’ll be waiting.”
I left him there and followed the flash of purple silk and summer-brown curls, woven with a violet ribbon twin to the one I’d burned earlier. I kept every step light, easy. No sense in chasing her down. Nor in following a straight path; I wove between others, keeping her in my periphery until we reached the same point beside a servant offering drinks. “Emilia!” I exclaimed with a wide smile.
She returned it, sweet and beautifully false, as she delicately lifted a glass. “Neyva! I was sure I saw your sister and thought you must be here somewhere.” We exchanged pecks on the cheek, and I studied her fine gown. The fluffed, tulle-wrapped layers of skirts weren’t my style, but she didn’t need to know that.
“Oh, you look incredible tonight. Where did you get that gown?”
“Father had it made for me. Lovely, isn’t it?” She spun in place with a short giggle.
“You must get me the seamstress’s name.”
I took a drink as well and sipped. I’d already had one, and it wouldn’t do to lose my senses here. “How have you been?” I asked.
“Quite well, and you?”
“The same, thank you.”
Emilia Meadowrain, the only daughter of our gracious hosts tonight. She was a year older than me, a pretty and vain little bit of air wrapped in silk and jewels, courted by some Lord’s son who was about as engaging as the roast fowl being served. Far from exciting enough to warrant suspicion but…
I knew that ribbon well, and there was no mistaking the magic clinging to her skin.
I sipped my drink again, ever so slightly. “And your courtship?”
“Terrible,” she replied without hesitation, and in my periphery I caught the tension that rose in her shoulders and neck. The silent horror at having let the word slip out, and yet she kept talking. “I’m worth a hundred of Bram and yet Mother and Father see it fit that I likely marry him. Altair Perrymoore, though,” she added quietly, eyes slipping to Sarafine and her fiancé.
I brushed my free hand along my skirts, to the folded pocket that protected the ashes. “Altair is quite handsome,” I agreed.
“Handsome and of a far higher status, and a true gentleman. And your sister looks at him like her equal.”
I’d never bothered to care about what Sarafine did with her personal life, or how she felt about her fiancé. Altair was kind, by all accounts, and of good breeding, and that was enough for me. My relationship with Sarafine was far from the best example of sisterly love. But she was my sister nonetheless, and something deep in me bristled at Emilia’s tone.
Sarafine was my competitor, and little more. An obstacle in my way to proving my worth to Mother. But she was a Morningspell, and that made her no one’s equal but mine.
I kept the little lance of irritation buried down, where it settled and quieted so I could work. “Do you know Altair well? I’ve never noticed you speaking much.”
“I know him quite well,” she said with a little, hidden smile that confirmed everything I needed to know.
I slipped the pouch into my palm, glancing to Emilia again. “Are you hungry? Tulia was raving about the food and I haven’t had a chance to try it.”
“Yes, I suppose so. There are lovely looking apple pastries Mother insisted be served, and I haven’t yet had one.”
I smiled again and scanned the room. “They sound wonderful. I’ll fetch us some.” I left Emilia in our spot to seek out the nearest servant, and minutes later studied the plate he presented me with. As soon as he’d vanished again, I cast a quick glance to Emilia, ensuring she was watching the dance, enthralled, before I wriggled a pinkie into the neck of pouch and passed it in an instant across one of the pastries. The ash sprinkled across and vanished, blending into nothing more than a bit of extra sugar on top.
“They smell as lovely as they look,” I told Emilia as I returned to her side, offering the plate with the enchanted pastry angled towards her. She plucked it up with hardly a glance and smiled before she took a bite. I took my own and we passed idle chatter back and forth as we ate.
“Your family truly outdid themselves tonight, Emilia,” I said as she finished hers off, then caught Desmond’s gaze across the floor. “Do give your cook my compliments.”
“Of course, Neyva. She’ll be delighted to hear them.”
“I’ve promised Desmond another dance, but will you save one for me before the end of the night? It’s been too long.”
She clasped my hand with the same smile we all gave one another. Empty, pretty promises. “I wouldn’t dream of ending tonight without one.”
I started for Desmond, leaving the whore at my back. Halfway to him, I met Sarafine and Altair, tired of dancing, and Sarafine gifted me with an icy-cold smile that expressed she’d seen my every move. She knew.
“You’re welcome,” I breathed to her as I passed. “Don’t let him stray again.”