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The Librarynth of the Lost

Assassinating the crown prince is a complex job...especially when you're also trying to protect him.

Fairy Files Prequel

By Taya Okerlund

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Being a crown prince may look good from the outside, but its a deadly job. 

Princess Gloria would be a better ruler of Fairy, and knows it, but she'd never do serious harm to her older brother. 

She wouldn't, but her shadow would. And when she becomes separated from her shadow while exploring the subterranean depths of The Librarynth of the Lost, the shadow is bent on correcting the birth order and rights of succession. 

And Gloria will have to make some very dirty deals to keep Peter alive.

The Library and the Labyrinth
Fairy, The Year of the Shadow

Peter was first born and heir, though I can hardly call him my elder brother now; he’s such a child. Some might blame me for that. It would be fair. I am to blame, but I think he got what he wanted in the end.

I was the second born and without legacy, and it was the greatest mistake in birth order Nature ever decreed. I had to fix it and did things to ensure a rightful outcome. I say I did things, dark things, which I judged necessary for the sake of gaining something greater for myself. The problem was, something greater did come, and it still ranges abroad, casting its ashen shadow over the whole kingdom.

*

Often, but particularly on exam mornings, Father ate breakfast with us in the day room of the Great White Hall, beneath the noses of our fey ancestors’ portrait paintings, an audience of proud royalty who stared down at tea with the disdainful expression of those who wouldn’t eat anything, even if we did offer them something. We never offered.

Even Mother had risen from her bed to breakfast downstairs with us, making our exam morning something like a holiday. A nightmare holiday. My brother’s problems in school worried both parents, and they hovered, more or less literally, around him, trying to urge him to pursue something practical, if not intellectual. He resisted all of their efforts with a rebellious streak I almost had to respect, it was so stubborn.

“Peter pay attention. Now tell me, what is the antidote to the Fantasmagoric Itch?”

Peter glanced at the portrait of our great grandfather Melvin as though the image might mouth him the answer. But that old trick worked only twice before my father got wise to it and Grandpa Melvin turned a peevish glance up to the crown molding.

“Wormwood and psyllium husks?” Peter guessed.

“It’s—” I started to answer, but Father silenced me with a glance.

“Son, you need to apply yourself, or you’ll never be ready for the responsibility coming to you. Do you or don’t you want to be king one day? Now, tell me how to curse a wyvern nest to prevent reproduction.”

Peter frowned. “Father, we don’t have a really serious problem with wyverns, right now.”

“We had a narrow escape from one in my time, and do you remember the year that happened?”

“Wasn’t it 1430, something?”

Father’s face turned crimson. “How old do you think I am?”

“It was The Year of the Nymph, Peter, 1635,” I put in. “Father averted a great famine in all Faerie because of that curse. He earned six laurel branches from each of the Five Kingdoms. Don’t you know anything about the family legacy?”

Peter’s emerald green eyes ignited, but he was helpless to shoot sparks, as I would have done, and we both knew it. “You—swords! Noon in the west lawn!”

“Done!” (I was no coward.)

“Absolutely not!” Mother set down her cup so firmly it cracked down the center and her tea escaped all over the table linen. “Gloria, I forbid you to assassinate your brother!”

“A duel is not assassination! Mother, why won’t you let him fight? You’re always coming unglued every time Peter gets the least bit dizzy from blood loss. It’s embarrassing.”

Peter shook his fist. “I’ll beat you this time, Gloria!”

I sniffed. Peter could never back down from a fight. He was always tangling with opponents who were way over his head, and losing in fantastical style. I admired his spirit, and one day it might get him somewhere, but at the moment, by fey standards, he was quite hopeless.

“Children. To the school room. And Gloria, the west lawn is out of bounds for you. Don’t you even dare!”

“Fine. Long live the heir!”

“Peter, defend your dignity by passing the exam today,” Father said. “That’s all the heroics we’re interested in right now. Gloria, wipe that gleam out of your eye. I know you are proficient in the destructive arts, but impress me by doing something—anything—well controlled. Both of you, finished or not with breakfast, away with you.”

In an instant, our plates vanished along with the seats beneath us. Peter hit the floor and jumped to his feet. I didn’t need to. I had wings, which was yet another point of inequality between us.

I had wings, but they almost dropped me when I turned around. There on the threshold stood Dr. Hoarfrost.


*

Dr. Hoarfrost presided over the education of all of the children living within The Great White Hall. Besides Peter and myself, her students included ten children from the nobles of my father’s court and one or two of the higher-level staff’s children. Three additional tutors assisted in lectures in Manipulation of Magic, and Advanced Immaterial Multiplication.

Hoarfrost stood up at the front of the school room. She glared hard at me and Peter. She despised me for learning like a sponge, and Peter for learning like a rock. It was her job to hate us both—else Mother would dismiss her. Fey princelings are not to be indulged by their tutors.

Hoarfrost’s wiry gray eyebrow hairs grew straight out from a severe, much wrinkled brow. She wore nothing but spiders with cobwebs and ashes and she spoke in a harsh, spirit crushing voice like the sound of scraping glass. I suspected she faked the voice only to scare us. It worked marvelously. I had nightmares of her.

We formed a line of perfect regularity and marched into the classroom where we found our cold hickory chiseled seats with iron brackets with caustic screws that worked their way loose, and punished us by pinching our bottoms when they got tired of our weight resting on them. It was worst for me, because I was the oldest and tallest in the class and my seat screws got tired early and pinched hard. It was everything I could do to just to keep from crying aloud during lessons. I knew if I complained about a few pinching screws, I would get no sympathy.

At the front of the room, Hoarfrost lit two candles, wicks igniting with a startling crack! to begin the clock for our exam.

We opened our exam booklets and wrote furiously while the wax dripped and the wick burned slowly down into a pool of soft wax. Pages flipped and flew like leaves in storm, pencil leads eroded down to tiny nubs. Some of us stained our exam booklets with sweat, or tears, or both. One second year got a nose bleed and blotted his essay with blue fey blood.

Not Peter. On his exam booklet, he drew a picture of a sprite and a pixie in hand to hand combat. He couldn’t even manage a very good likeness of a sprite.

At length, the candlewick extinguished with another loud crack, making our spines straighten and our pencils wither like useless noodles. The exam was over, and we handed our booklets forward to the head of each row of desks.

Dr. Hoarfrost collected them with the help of her assistant, which was no more no less than a disembodied, invisible Hand and we watched the exam books hover in the air until the Hand dropped them into a neat pile upon her hardwood desk. “You are dismissed to leave, but remember this warning: don’t talk about the differing exams. They are all enchanted, and you’ll be plagued with nightmares if you disclose even one of their secrets.”

With Dr. Hoarfrost as our headmistress, we were plagued with nightmares either way, but all of us took the warning seriously, and said nothing of the battles we had just fought between the pages of our exam booklets. And so they remained our own personal volumes of private terror.

My classmates filed out of the room and off toward to the kitchen, exhausted and famished. Another second, and I would have been out, too, but Hoarfrost muttered something under her breath and in an instant, the invisible Hand pushed me back inside the classroom, and the door flew shut in my face with a slam!

That Hand! It might have broken my nose. Someday I was going to corner it with a bottle of permanent ink! Migraine pink, if possible. Ink-stained, I could always see it coming.

“A word, Ms. Gloria,” Hoarfrost never used my royal title. “Come sit down.” The Hand lifted up a chair and set it squarely in front of Hoarfrost’s desk.

I glanced wearily at the open seat, not wanting another pinch on my already chaffed bottom. “Can’t I stand?”

“Sit down!”

I sighed and gathered my skirt thickly in back and sat opposite her, but it was at least five or more minutes before she said anything and while I waited, I twisted my fingers in my lap. I could almost feel Hoarfrost’s sticky tangle of web on my skin. “Ms. Gloria, you have acquired a certain quantity of knowledge in my classroom over the years. Easy knowledge, I should say. You are a natural student and magic-lectual.”

This soft opening felt like a trap and I lowered my eyes and answered with a cautious, “Thank you, Dr. Hoarfrost.”

“A certain quantity of knowledge—but not the kind of knowledge you want most. Listen to me and give yourself a chance, Ms. Gloria. You have potential, but a struggle is before you. How you choose will determine the quality and character of the fey you finally become. Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, mean—er yes, ma’am.” I was, in fact, mesmerized by an orb spider which had spun a thread from Hoarfrost’s grizzled ear lobe and while dangling from that thread, began swinging with subtle motion like a hypnotic pendulum.

Hoarfrost cleared her throat. “You are your own worst enemy, Ms. Gloria—your own worst enemy. There are many voices inside of you. And it’s your job to find out which of them is worth listening to.”

The spider’s body gathered momentum with each pendulum swing. What was it doing? It was almost as if…my chair pinched my bottom hard and I squeaked, “Yes, ma’am,” all the while staring fixedly at the dangling arachnid, balled into a very leggy orb at the end of the web.

“I urge you to reflect—to think about who you are and what you wish to become.”

Did Hoarfrost really not notice the orb weaver? And if it did manage to swing from her lobe across the desk toward me, would I be justified in defending myself?

“Don’t even think about it, Gloria.” Hoarfrost quipped just as I had raised my hand to strike.

“Drop it!”

I flinched and jumped up just as the spider released from her earlobe and sailed on its thread across the desktop, narrowly missing my face.

I swept up an exam book and let it fall with a whack on the desktop, but the spider raced across its surface in a mad dash of spindly legs.

I whacked again, and the sound of Hoarfrost’s livid shrieks filled the empty classroom. The Hand caught me from behind, pinning me by the wrists! I struggled against it, but the Hand gripped hard. With my free legs, I turned and kicked out and dropped the weight of my pinned arms down against Hoarfrost’s desk. Right on top of her letter opener. I caught the pointed edge and the pressure of my weight thrown upon the desk, battered the Hand hard. It released me at once.

“Get out! Get out of my sight!” Hoarfrost pointed to the door and I lit out of the classroom like narrowly escaped prey.

I glanced down at the broken skin on my right hand. When I’d thrown myself against the Hoarfrost’s desk, the letter opener had sliced a shallow cut across my palm. It had bled blue fey blood. I smiled at the wound—not because it pleased me, but because I realized: my blood had stained the Hand. It wouldn’t realize it had been marked, and Hoarfrost’s eyesight was bad enough. She wouldn’t notice it either. I would, though. I would be able to see The Hand by the mark of my own blood. And I would follow it.

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Books by Taya Okerlund

About Taya Okerlund

“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” Otto von Bismarck.

This is me. The voices! What else can I do but write books? I write historical fantasy under T. Cook. YA contemporary realism, fantasy, and MG fantasy under my married name Taya Okerlund. My husband Nathan co wrote my latest MG fantasy with me. We're very excited about it.

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