Home > A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(9)

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1)(9)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer

“Hey, buddy,” I whisper, feeling better the instant his warm breath tickles my palm. “Feel like taking another ride?”

As I’m saddling him in the dimness of the stall, I notice something I missed earlier: a large map spanning the opposite wall, running almost entirely from the floor to the ceiling. Emberfall is written in huge cursive letters at the top. I hook the bridle over my shoulder and step across the aisle. I run my fingers over the surface of the map, dried paint slick where it notates cities. Wildthorne Valley. Hutchins Forge. Blackrock Plains. At the center of the map, near Silvermoon Harbor, is an elaborately painted castle.

The map doesn’t look like the United States, that’s for sure.

Behind me, Will stomps a hoof against the ground. He’s right. We need to go.

It’s easy enough to find my way to the woods, especially because the horse seems to know the way. Darkness cloaks the trail, but a cool breeze whispers between the trees. I keep darting cautious glances back at the castle, but I haven’t seen any motion or heard any shouts behind me. A burst of adrenaline surges in my chest, and it takes everything I have to keep the horse at a sedate pace. We did it. We got away.

Without warning, it’s snowing.

I gasp and draw back on the reins, pulling Will to a halt. Snowflakes tumble through the air around us as my breath blows out in a cloud of steam. My brain doesn’t want to process this change, but I can’t deny the sudden frigid chill on my cheeks or the snowflakes collecting in the horse’s mane. Snow coats the trees around us, and the trail ahead is blanketed with white, snow crystals gleaming in the moonlight.

I look behind us, and the trail we just traveled is equally coated in snow. Large flakes filter down through the trees.

This can’t be happening.

I turn Will around and urge him back toward the castle. At once the snow vanishes. Warmth soothes my chilled face. The snowflakes turn to water droplets in Will’s mane.

The castle looms large in the distance, firelit windows winking at me through the trees.


My breathing grows quick and shallow. The musical instruments could have been an intricate trick, but I don’t know of any way to make the weather suddenly change like this. Even a snow machine wouldn’t drop the air temperature by forty degrees.

Will tosses his head, fighting my grip on the reins, begging me to make a decision.

Cursed or not, those men kidnapped me. Back into the snow we go.

The change steals my breath again, especially as I quickly realize I’m not dressed for this. Wind surges beneath my thin sweater, making me shiver. After Will has been trudging through snowdrifts for a minute, I rein him in and dig in the satchel for the heavier sweater. My fingers shake from the cold.

The trees thin gradually before giving way to open fields. The moon hangs huge and white, turning the wide, unbroken drifts into a winter wonderland. Snow stretches on for miles, with no sign of human-made light in any direction. No sign of civilization at all.

The snow is more packed here, indicating people have been through this way at some point. I urge Will into a trot, but my body is half-frozen already, and the gait jolts me out of the saddle. I squeeze him into a rocking canter.

The cold begins to make my muscles tighten, and as we canter on, I still haven’t seen signs of … anyone. I escaped two armed men and a cursed castle, and I’m going to die of exposure.

Just as I begin to consider turning back, an orange glow blooms in the distance. My nose picks up the scent of smoke.

If nothing else, it’s a sign of life after countless miles of moonlit snow. Hope provides a burst of warmth inside me. I urge Will forward, but Rhen’s warnings about curses and there being no soldiers patrolling the King’s Highway haunt me. As we canter on, my thoughts begin whispering fairy-tale warnings about will-o’-the-wisps, about people who followed fairy lights and were never heard from again.

The glow has turned into clear plumes of flame, however, pouring blackness into the sky. For one second, I think it must be a massive bonfire.

Then I hear the screams. A baby wails.

It’s a house. A house on fire.

I shorten the reins and urge Will into a gallop.

Snow swirls from the sky, melting into raindrops from the heat of the flames. In front of the flaming structure, three crying children are trying to hide behind a woman who clutches a squalling infant. They’re all dressed in loose nightclothes. The children are barefoot in the snow.

A middle-aged, red-haired man stands in front of them, his sword pointed at the woman.

I haul back on the reins, skidding to a stop while I’m still cloaked by darkness.

The man sneers at the woman. “You think you can deny us entry? This land will be property of the crown soon enough.” His accent is different from Rhen’s and Grey’s, although I can barely hear him over the roar of the flames.

From somewhere near the blazing house, another man yells, “Kill the children, Dolff. Take the woman.”

“No!” the woman screams, backing up, pulling the children with her.

The man follows her, until the point of the sword touches her chest, right above the wailing baby. She keeps backing up, saying, “You can’t do this. You can’t do this.”

“I do what I’m told. Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it.”

Another man yells, “Keep the girl, too! I like them young.”

The girl is maybe seven.

The woman spits at Dolff. “I hope the monster comes to hunt your family.”

He shifts his blade, and the baby’s wail turns into a high-pitched scream.

I dig my heels into the buckskin’s sides. I have no idea what I’m going to do, but Will responds immediately. His hooves tear up the ground. The woman’s eyes widen as we bear down on them, and I distantly register a small child crying, “Look! A horse!”

Then we slam into the man.

The impact almost throws me off, but I have the pleasure of seeing him go down. His sword flies in an arc of shining steel, clanging to the ground somewhere to my left. I sit down heavily in the saddle and wheel around for another run.

The man is already rising from the ground. Blood pours from a wound at his temple. He stumbles. Good.

I draw my dagger, the point down, intending to swipe at the man on this pass. All I can hear in my head is Grey’s stupid voice saying, Keep wielding a dagger like a sword and you’re likely to lose your hand.

I’m likely to lose a lot more than that. My heels brush Will’s sides, but he’s already galloping.

The man is better prepared. When I reach to swipe at him with the blade, he dives for my leg and pulls me off the horse. I’m grateful there’s a foot of snow on the ground to break my fall—until the man leaps on top of me.

Somehow, the dagger is still clenched in my hand. I raise it, ready to shove it into his—

Wham. I’m seeing stars. It takes me a second to realize the back of his hand has slammed into my face.

It takes another second for the pain to register. Blood is in my mouth. His hand draws back to hit me again.

I jab my arm down against his back. He jerks a little and his hand falls.

I stabbed him. I stabbed him.

Part of me wants to burst into tears.

A darker part of me wants to celebrate. I did it. I saved myself.

The man’s face goes slack, and he slides to the side, landing in the snow.

I look up. The woman stands over me, her blond hair coming free from her braid and her rapid breath clouding in the night air. She’s claimed the man’s sword, and she looks like she was ready to finish him off if I didn’t. The girl clutches the baby. Blood stains the swaddling blanket.

Maybe it’s the blood, or maybe it’s the body in the snow. Maybe it’s the terror on these kids’ faces. But reality hits me like a bullet.

This is real.

“Is the baby okay?” I ask.

The woman nods. “The blankets are thick. Just a scratch.”

Men are yelling, sounding like they’re coming closer. “Dolff! Man, what’s going on?”

“There are more,” says the woman hurriedly. “They will see. We must run.” She puts a hand out.

I grasp it and scramble to my feet.

Or I try to. It’s freezing outside, and my left leg refuses to cooperate. I can barely get to my knees.

“Go,” I gasp. “Run.”

“Hey!” shouts a man. Smoke thickens the air, but he sounds very close.

The woman scoops up the toddler and gets in front of me, blocking me along with her children.

If this woman can be fierce with a kid on her hip, my body can stand up. I force my leg to work, then shift to stand beside her.

Four men face us, all with swords, all in clothing trimmed in green and black and silver. Two of the men are younger, probably not much older than Rhen and Grey. The other two are older.

One has hold of my horse, who keeps half rearing and jerking his head to get free.

Behind us, the children shiver and cry.

The oldest man looks at me and his eyes narrow. “Where did you come from?”

“Your worst nightmare,” I snap.

He laughs like he’s truly amused, then raises his sword. “I can fix that.”

My heart roars in my head. This is it. I’m going to die right here.

The wind whistles, and I hear a swip. A fletched arrow appears in the man’s chest.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark
» My Favorite Half-Night Stand
» Faking Forever (First Wives #4)
» Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)
» Half Empty (First Wives #2)
» Fool Me Once (First Wives #1)
» Winter in Paradise (Paradise #1)
» Sin & Salvation (Demigod of San Francis