Home > A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(8)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(8)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer

He steps back to stand against the wall, his right hand gripping his left wrist. Something has changed about him, and it takes me a moment to discern what it is. He’s fully armed, from his long dagger to his throwing knives to the steel-lined bracers guarding his forearms.

Grey hasn’t been fully armed in ages. We so rarely leave the castle grounds, and there’s certainly no one here to pose a threat. I smile as I pour. “Does this girl have you spooked, Commander?”

“No, my lord.”

His voice is even, unaffected. He never lets me bait him.

Like his refusal to drink, this is part of Grey’s unfailing commitment to duty. It’s something I envy, but also something I hate. He is not a friend or a confidant. Maybe he could have been, once, if the curse had begun a different way. If I had not failed in my obligations—and if he had not failed in his.

I drain the second glass. I could order him to drink. He would obey then.

But what fun is a drinking partner if you have to order him to do it?

Grey was like this in the beginning, too, before the curse trapped us in this hell together. Then, he felt he had something to prove. He would have carried lit coals between his teeth if I’d ordered it. He’s lucky I never thought of it or I might have.

The thought makes me wince. I don’t like to think of before, because too many memories crowd my mind, until the weight of loss and sorrow makes me want to fling myself from the ramparts. But Grey weaves through so many of them.

Grey, fetch me fresh water.

No, I said fresh water. Bring it from the waterfall, if you must.

Grey, my meal is cold. Fetch me another from the kitchen.

Grey, my meal is too hot. Tell the cook I will have you bring me his hands if he cannot do better. Make him believe it.

Grey, the Duke of Aronson says his man-at-arms could ride a full day without food or water, then win a sword fight at sunset. Could you do that? Show me.

Grey could do that. He did do that. I watched him almost die trying.

I pour a third glass and take a sip. “Grey, I have orders for you.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“When I begin to change, I want you to kill me, while you still can.”

I’ve ordered him to do this before. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

This time is different.

I’ve watched him long enough that I know he is weighing the words. “If Lady Lilith has declared this to be our final chance, killing you would be a true death, not a new beginning.”

“I know.”

“I swore an oath to protect you,” he says. “You cannot order me to break it.”

“I can,” I snap, then wince as my body protests this motion. “And I will.”

“You would leave your people with no one to rule them.”

I want to slam the glass down. “There is no one to rule now, Grey. If this is our last season, I will not risk destroying more of them. I refuse.”

He says nothing.

“You will do this,” I say.

“I can lead the monster through the forest. I can keep it away from the people. We have been successful for many seasons.”

It. The monster. As if we both don’t know what I become. What I can do.

“Silver hell, Grey. Are you prepared to lure me away from the people forever?” I gesture at the window, at the sunlit stables beyond. “Are you prepared to run a horse to ground every night for the rest of your life?”

He says nothing.

“Are you prepared to die, Grey?” I demand. “Because that is all that exists at the end of this path. I am sure of it. This was never a curse to be broken. This is a death sentence. The true curse has been the thought that we might find escape.”

His eyes flash with something close to defiance. “We may yet escape.”

“If I have not succeeded by the time signs of the change begin to appear, you will do this, Grey. It may happen quickly, so I am giving you this order now. I will release you from your oath.”

“So you limit your final season to what … six weeks? Eight?”

“If I have not broken this curse by then, there is no hope once I am lost to the creature.”

His voice is cold now, irritated. “And once it is done? Do you have further orders?”

“Find a new life. Forget Emberfall.”

“An easy task, I am sure.”

“Grey!” I slam the glass onto the bedside table so hard that the base chips and glass tinkles to the marble floor. “This is my last chance. I can offer you nothing here. I barely have a kingdom left to rule. I have no life left to live. Nothing. I can offer fear and pain or death, or I can offer you freedom. Do you understand?”

“I do.” Grey is unmoved by my outburst. “But you owe me nothing. You are all that matters here. You alone can break this curse. You must find a woman to love you. You, not me. If Lady Lilith wants to break me again, I would ask you to let her.”

“I will not watch her cause more damage, Grey.”

“Time and again, she finds your weakest point.”

I look away. Once, I would have punished him for voicing my vulnerability.

Now I feel nothing but shame.

Darkness is beginning to crawl across the sky. I meet his eyes. “You will obey, Commander.”

“Yes, my lord.” He does not hesitate. He’s said his piece.

I sigh. I’m so tired of this.

One last season.

I throw the chipped glass into the fireplace. It shatters into a thousand sparks that flare and die.

“I will dress for dinner. Let us play this game one last time.”



I’m going out the window.

I’m also trying not to think about it too hard, because if I do, I’m going to panic and change my mind.

From outside the castle, the wooden trellises along the back wall didn’t look too tall—but from up here, all I can see is my future in a body cast. Or a coffin.

Flowers and ivy climb each trellis frame, set at even intervals between the windows. Most of the windows are too widely spaced for this to matter—I’m not ten feet tall. But the windows in the bathroom and the closet are pretty close together, and the trellis sits almost near enough for me to reach it.

I shift on the windowsill and keep my eyes off the ground. This is the most reckless thing I’ve ever done.

Wait. No. The most reckless thing I’ve ever done was attack a guy on the street with a tire iron. So I guess this is fine.

I found a satchel in the closet, and I’ve filled it with an extra sweater and everything from the food tray, but none of that is going to be helpful if I can’t get out of this room.

And if I don’t get out of this room, it’s going to be painfully obvious that I was planning to, and they might lock me somewhere else next time—somewhere I won’t have a chance at escaping.

My breathing has gone thin and reedy. The trellis is six inches out of my reach. I can jump six inches.

My heart pounds and says I can not jump six inches. It says that falling thirty feet to the ground will hurt. It says I am an idiot for even considering this.

If Jake could see me, he would be losing his ever-loving mind.

But then I think of my mother, possibly dying alone in her bedroom.

Without warning, my eyes well. The day has been too long. My chances keep running too short.

Okay, I need to get it together. I swipe my sleeve across my face. Those six inches might be the only gap I need to cross to see my brother and my mother, and I’m just sitting here crying? Darkness is maybe fifteen minutes off, so I need to chop-chop.

I check the strap of my bag, steel my nerve, and leap.

My hands close on wood and tangled vines. The satchel swings wildly from my shoulder and my right foot struggles to find a ledge to grip.

There! Relief washes over me, sweet and pure. I press my face into the ivy and almost sob. Thank you.

The wood beneath my feet snaps.

I fall.

And scramble.

And scream.

But then my foot finds purchase. A decorative stone ledge that juts out an inch from the castle wall. I’ve come to a stop ten feet below the window, clutching at the trellis. My fingers burn like I lit them on fire, and my knees have crashed into the exposed rock, but pain means I’m alive.

Stars spin overhead and for a terrifying moment, I think I might faint.

No. I can’t faint. I have like NO TIME HERE, so my body NEEDS TO WORK.

Wood cracks. The trellis gives way again.

I keep grabbing, fighting for a grip, but my muscles won’t respond quickly. The wood keeps breaking. Raw knuckles. My biceps burn. Wood is splintering everywhere. Ivy scrapes my cheeks. I’m going to crash into the ground and die.

No. I crash into the ground and hurt. I can’t breathe.

Oh, this was a spectacularly bad idea.

I lie in the grass for the longest time, debating what would be worse: death, or those guys finding me like this.

But after a while, breath floods back into my lungs, bringing with it a sense of clarity. I hurt, but nothing feels broken. The splintering trellis slowed my descent. This is like falling from a horse, and I’ve already done that once today.

I finally manage to roll onto my stomach and rise to all fours. It’s almost fully dark. Time isn’t on my side. I need to get to the stables before they discover I’m gone.

I find my way back. Will whickers to me when I put out a hand.

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