12 days of Fated to Die! (day 11) The countdown begins.
As promised, I am continueing the 12 days of giving on my blog. Today, I will post chapter 2! Pinterest page for this novel https://www.pinterest.com/taragallina/fated-to-die/
See yesterday's post for book premise and chapter 1.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
FATED TO DIE
I've only just fallen asleep—at least that's what it feels like—when the door to my bedroom flies open. Quick feet patter across the floor. I squint in their direction.
Wearing matching sage dresses, a large bow peeking out from the back of each, my sisters don't slow down when they approach the bed. "Did you see it, Praya?" Carys asks, her blonde curls bouncing over her shoulder as she hops onto the mattress. "Did you see the sun flash brighter?"
"Of course, she did." Calyssa jumps on the other side of the bed, the two of them caging me in. "Everyone saw it. It was like the sun burst in the sky." She turns her wide gaze to the window.
Like always, they sit across from the eye color of mine that matches theirs. Calyssa is on my left, her sapphire eyes matching the shade of that iris, while Carys sits on my right, her shamrock eyes identical to the color of that eye.
"The sun flashed already?" I push pale tendrils from my face. They must be mistaken. That only occurs when the sun is the highest in the sky to mark the Summer Solstice.
"That's what we just said." Calyssa rolls her eyes. "Why do you think we're in here? We waited for you to come out. You never did, so Father told us to wake you up."
"What time is it?" I try not to look too worried as I rub the sleep from my eyes.
"It's an hour before the ceremony," Carys says and Calyssa adds, "If you don't hurry you're going to be late."
I wrench my head off the pillow.
The twins giggle and point to my hair. "That's what happens when you take a bath at night," Calyssa says.
"We heard you." Carys's mouth twists with embarrassment.
"Do you have to be clean?" Calyssa follows me as I climb out of the bed and stumble to the mirror.
My hair looks like a stack of bleached hay. "Oh, my." I grab a brush from the vanity and try taming the long strands. The soft curls that usually form at the end of my hair are frizzy and wild like I was out riding my horse all day.
"Is that why you took a bath last night?" Calyssa stops by my side.
"What are you talking about?" I give up on combing my hair and tie it back in a braid with a few loose strands hanging around my face. It will have to do.
"Father told us." Carys stands by the foot of the bed, her cheeks bright pink.
"Told you what?" I head to the bathroom leaving the door open as I wash my face with cold water. I can't believe I slept so late.
When I enter the bedroom, Calyssa and Carys are standing by the large armoire, the white dress I'm to wear for the ceremony hanging on one of the open doors.
"The tale," Carys answers.
"Which one?" I ask. Father tells so many, some of them made up, and some from books. It'd be impossible for me to know which one she means.
Calyssa pinches the sheer overlay of the full skirt, lifting it as she asks, "The most important one, about the curse and the Choosing Ceremony. He said not to worry and that you won't be chosen. Does that mean you are not a virgin?"
I stop mid-step, halfway across the room. "He told you...." My throat closes before I can finish the sentence. Two nights ago, Father was supposed to tell them the tale about the Washer Woman, but when he walked in on them playing dolls in their pink and yellow room, ruffles and bows everywhere, he couldn't do it.
Despite that I'd been eleven when I learned the tale, the appropriate age according to the Council, he wasn’t ready to steal their innocence. Recalling how Mother shared the same fears when it came to telling me the truth about the curse, I didn't push him. Apparently, he got over it last night and told the girls anyway.
"How do you become not a virgin?" Calyssa presses.
This is not a conversation I have time for. "I'll explain it to you later. For now, I need to get ready." I take the dress from the armoire.
"We could help you." Carys tilts her head with the sweetest smile on her face.
I touch her cheek. "Thank you, but I need this time for myself."
"Are you scared?" Calyssa steps in front of me when I turn to walk away. "Father says you have nothing to be afraid of."
"I know!" I snap and am hit with a wave of guilt. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I'm mad at myself for sleeping in and so thankful to you both for waking me up. Now be good girls and tell Father I'll be ready to leave shortly." I tap the tips of their noses.
Carys beams but Calyssa has an uncertain look on her face.
"Go on." I shoo them out.
With a pout, Calyssa does as instructed, Carys at her side. Their dresses bell with their steps as they leave the room.
I exhale a sigh of relief and close the door so I can change. The material of the dress is light and wispy with pink flowers around the bust, the puffed short sleeves, and the high waist. Mother had sewn on each by hand. Would she have approved of me being with Tristin last night? Mother wasn't one for following the rules, but could she have agreed to something that could punish the entire family if caught?
I take Mother's brooch from the drawer, grateful to still have it. For luck, I kiss the jeweled wings and slip it into a hidden pocket on the dress.
Father is waiting for me at the front door. He peers up as I walk down the curving staircase. "Beautiful, just like your mother." Pride lights up his blue eyes and I’m struck with more shame.
"Thank you." I manage a smile and take his elbow, praying he doesn't notice the slight tremble in my hand.
His brows lower. "Don't look so nervous, dear one. Everything has worked out as planned. If our secret weren't safe, the Council guards would have come for us by now. All is well." He kisses my cheek. "Now let's get this over with so we can return home and carry on with our lives."
I nod, but my muscles remain clenched. Please let Father be right. I send a prayer to the Blessed Ones as we step outside. The full moon sits low on the horizon, a silver globe against the purple twilight sky.
Father and I take the carriage into town. We only have one left. Like the manor, it's worn and in need of repair, but business hasn't been the same since Mother died. The whispers in town say Father has lost his touch with the sheep. They no longer produce the best milk and wool. Their heads are often down as if their moods are tied to Father's—who has more sad days than happy.
Outside the window, a field of long grass and wild flowers sway in the breeze. Lush woods wrap the land in rich shades of green. The ivory town and castle stand out like a pearl in a sea of green, with Mount Loras in the background, thick trees cascading down its tall sides. The river flows from the top of the mountain to the village, hugging it like a moat before it curves back into the woods. The Washer Woman resides in there, risen from the depths, waiting to choose her Messenger.
A chill whispers over my skin. The carriage stops near the entry of town. With shaky steps, I climb out and cross the bridge with Father. He pats my hand on the crook of his arm, oblivious to my deceit and the fate that could await us. I should have mated with Tristin, then I'd be calm like him.
White cottages sit shoulder to shoulder along cobblestone streets. They lead to the fountain in the town square. No one is out sweeping front door steps or watering potted plants. They stay behind locked doors and shutters, hoping the curse won't reach them.
The grand fountain looms ahead. Four tiers of white stone with Queen Alys standing at the top. Her cold expression earned her the nickname Stone Beauty, which has been passed down to me for how I ignore the snide remarks of villagers in town.
Muffled chatter mixes with the sound of trickling water. Father and I join ten or so virgin maidens gathered around the large stone base. Each girl looks as white as her dress. Some clasp their fingers in front of them, others cling to their parents' arms.
The bell tolls from the castle tower, the haunting sound marking the setting of the sun. Sweat beads above my lip, and I tremble. One of these girls will be torn from their family tonight.
"Go on then." Father nods toward the podium where Mr. Winthrop, the head Councilman, stands.
"I need to join the other fathers and appear to be as terrified as they look." He kisses my cheek. "Relax, dear one. It will all be over soon."
I almost grab his hand when he backs away. He probably thinks I'm acting nervous so no one suspects my betrayal, which makes me feel even worse. I should have told him that I didn't mate with Tristin, instead of leaving him in the dark.
Maybe it will be fine. Maybe my unpopularity with the villagers will extend to the curse.
I force my feet to move. With each step, fear presses on me, stealing my breath. I approach the girls flocked together like sheep in a pen. They stand in the center of the street. The cobblestone path leads to the bridge at the end of town where it crosses the river to the woods.
"Take your places," Mr. Winthrop calls out from the wooden platform.
No one is allowed past this point, except for us.
"Today we witness the offering to the Washer Woman. One maiden pure and brave will sacrifice herself for the good of the village. Our prayers and blessings go with her. May she obey the demands placed upon her and earn her freedom on the seventh day. Our strength lies in our ability to submit to the curse, and to the rules laid out by the Council to keep us safe." He lifts his arms and face to the sky. "Blessed Ones, here our plea for a small reaping this week. Bring peace to our hearts as we stand beside loved ones who are Fated to Die, unable to help them. Shower us with your love and understanding so that we can move forward come the seventh day and reclaim our lives as we see fit."
He lowers his head and peers down at us with sad eyes. "You may begin your journey."
Reluctantly, I migrate down the street along with the other virgin maidens. Silence fills the air as if everyone has gone home.
I look through the girls straggling behind me to the crowd. My gaze locks with my father's as he stands amidst weeping parents. He smiles and gives a reassuring nod. Before I can respond, I crash into the girl in front of me.
I swing back around. "Sorry. So sorry."
"My shoe." The red-haired girl stares at her satin slipper on the cobblestone street.
"Here." I scoop it from the ground and place it down in front of her so she can easily slide in her foot.
"Th-Th-Thank you," she says through several quivers.
"Are you all right?" I ask, noting the green tint to her skin. I've only seen her a few times. Like me and the other girls here, we are still virgins because we're considered unfit to marry in some way. Tulia has a large scar down the side of her face from a burn when she was a child.
"I can't stop sh-sh-shaking," she stutters, "and I feel like I might throw up."
"How about I walk with you?" I loop our arms as we continue down the street. The cottages have all been turned into shops along this stretch. No one wants to live on the "Cursed Road," as villagers call it.
During the day, these stores are bustling with families. My favorite shop comes into view. Mrs. Potterfield's bakery. The twins love her pastries. The raspberry buns are their favorite, but I prefer the butterscotch pudding. I should have gotten them a few. The treats would have been a sweet distraction for them, especially since they know what is happening.
We reach the last of the cottage shops and stop at the foot of the bridge. Tulia shakes beside me, or maybe I'm the one trembling with fear.
Thick fog rolls from the woods to cover half of the bridge. The temperature drops and goosebumps raise my skin. Is it a sign? I don't know. I don't know what's going on. Dread unfurls inside me like a snake sensing danger. My senses heighten. Every sniffle, whisper, and whimper pierce my ears. The fog rises like a wall, blocking the trees.
Nighttime falls in an instant. Tulia gasps and glances over her shoulder. "Look," she whispers.
A hedge of fog moves in from the rear as if the two vapor masses intend to squash us. We huddle closer, shaking against each other as we wait.
"Look," a girl calls out.
I follow her finger, pointing at the wall of mist by the woods. Gold sparks appear like star bursts in the gray haze. They twirl and dance, drawing together to form a name—the name.
I focus on my white skirt, as if not looking will ensure the name won't be mine.
"You can let go of me. I’m not afraid anymore." Tulia wiggles her arm out from mine.
I'd forgotten we were linked. "You're not?" I look up.
She tucks a strand of red hair behind her ear, her features soft with relief. "The first letter is not a T."
My gaze drifts to the girls around me. Some of them appear to be as relieved as Tulia.
"You should look at the name," she says.
Her lips press together with a sad smile. "It starts with a P."
My mind races to think of names starting with that letter. A few girls in the village come to mind. Penelope. Petra. Prism. Those three happen to be newly married, but there are more girls whose names start with a P. I am sure.
Collective sighs pour from the girls, cutting the tension in the air. They're hugging each other. Why? Is it done?
I turn to Tulia. She's no longer at my side. Instead, she's backing away from me along with the other maidens, sorrow etched on her freckled face. "Sorry," she mouths.
My stomach drops to my feet. It's not me. It can't be. Slowly, I turn to read the golden name before it fades into the mist.
Dread fills my veins. "No," I cry in a whisper.
"Come ... to ... me ... Messenger." The voice slithers through the air like a chill, seeking me out. From the fog, a bony hand forms with long pointed nails.
It reaches out to me. I stumble back and trip. The mist winds around me and draws me across the bridge.
"No!" I cry out, struggling to get away. I reach out for the girls—for Tulia. "Help me!"
They watch in horror from a safe distance.
My father bursts through the huddled girls. "Praya," he shouts.
A few men grab him and hold him back.
The look on his face, I'll never forget. It's not fear or worry dragging his features down. It's hurt and heartache because he knows I betrayed him. He knows I didn't go through it last night. I gave him false hope and, in my selfish act, have ruined the family forever.
A sob breaks from me and my knees buckle. I don't collapse. The fog won't let me. Like a dense cloud, it surrounds me on all sides, squeezing my body and blocking my sight.
Any tighter and it will crush me. Maybe it should.
Maybe I deserve it for betraying my father and sisters.