Changeling Series Spotlight: ·Forever Wicked Multi-Author Series (Excerpt from Snow by Kiernan Kelly)
Snow (Forever Wicked)
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Copyright ©2017 Kiernan Kelly
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Hunter found Snow in the Royal Kennel, sitting on the floor playing with the newest litter of puppies born to the royal bitch — the one that wasn’t the queen. He cleared his throat and bowed to Snow. “I’m under orders to take you into the Dark Forest, Prince Snow.”
Snow was as handsome as always. His blue eyes glittered like sapphires, and his thick black hair gleamed. His ivory skin was smooth, and his jaw line firm. He wore a short, tight-fitting doublet, and a pair of leggings that clung to every line of his body and left absolutely nothing to the imagination — which was good because Hunter had very little imagination and didn’t need to strain himself.
“Go for a walk in the Dark Forest with a hunter I barely know?” Snow jumped to his feet. All around him, fat puppies squirmed over and under one another and yipped happily while a few pretty butterflies floated here and there among them. “Sure! Let’s go!”
Hunter’s eyebrow arched. He’d really thought it would’ve taken more than just asking to get Snow to agree to accompany him. For a minute, he wondered whether it was some sort of ingenious countermeasure by Snow to throw Hunter off guard, but then he realized, no, Snow was just naturally trusting and enthusiastic by nature. Disturbingly so, actually. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to go off with strangers?”
Snow blinked, but his smile never wavered. “Oh, sure. All the time.”
“Then why are you so anxious to go off with me?”
“We’re not strangers. You’re Hunter, and I’m Snow.”
“Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know me.”
Snow’s smile slipped a bare notch and the tiniest of frowns dimpled his forehead. “So, I shouldn’t go with you?”
“No, you should.”
Snow’s smile returned full force, and the brilliance of it made Hunter feel the need to shield his eyes from glare. “Ah. Okay. Good.”
“No, not good. You shouldn’t just run off with strange men whenever they ask you.”
“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t go with you.”
“No, you need to come with me.”
Hunter stared at Snow for a moment. “Yeah, me, too. This way, your highness.” He ushered Snow toward the door, careful not to trod on any of the fat, squirming puppies.
Snow’s smile was back, and accompanied by a little giggle as he let himself be led. “Oh, I’m not high. At the moment. Well, maybe just a little.”
“No, no. I didn’t mean that sort of highness. It’s your title.”
“I have a title? Like a book?”
“No, like a prince.”
“What a coincidence! I’m a prince.”
“I know. That’s why I called you…” Hunter frowned, feeling more confused than ever. “Oh, never mind. Come on. I’d like to get this over with by dinnertime.”
Snow hummed some sort of jaunty little tune as he followed Hunter out of the castle and along the path leading to the Dark Forest. Hunter couldn’t name the song, but it was catchy, and found himself joining Snow in an impromptu hum-along. A few little bluebirds began circling around their heads, adding their chirps. He frowned and swatted at them. One of them pooped and he had to sidestep quickly to avoid getting splashed.
Then a couple of fat rabbits hopped over. Before he could say “rabbit stew,” some bushy-tailed chipmunks and squirrels appeared. Hunter glanced behind him and suddenly realized a virtual petting zoo was following them, all of them bleating, chirping, neighing, mooing, barking, or meowing the same tune.
Hunter turned around, planted his feet, gave them all a stern glare, and pointed meaningfully to his bow and quiver. His lips tilted in a smirk when every last one of the animals instantly fell silent, then dashed away, most leaving trails of excrement behind them.
Snow had continued on walking and humming, seemingly unaware Hunter had literally frightened the poop out of his adoring animal followers. Hunter turned back and hurried to catch up.
They reached the outermost edge of the Dark Forest, denoted by the sufficiently decrepit sign reading, “Dark Forest. Enter at Own Risk.” Hunter hustled Snow past the sign and into the forbidding gloom of the woods.
The moment they stepped past the periphery of the forest, the sun disappeared, blocked out by the gray canopy of leaves provided by the gnarled trees. Hunter, being, well, a hunter, was very familiar with the forest. He knew every inch of it. In fact, he often thought it should’ve been called the Gray Forest, since everything in it was gray — the tree trunks, the leaves, the dried grass underfoot, and the animals. Even the one unicorn who called the forest home was more of a dingy gray than white. It was sort of sad.
“This forest is so sad,” Snow observed. “Everything is so –”
“I was going to say depressing.”
“Yeah, it’s that, too.”
“Why isn’t it green and lush like other forests?”
Hunter shrugged. “There’s a curse.”
“I don’t know. There’s always a curse of some sort or another involved, or so I’ve been told.”
“Oh. Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” Snow seemed satisfied with Hunter’s answer, lame though it was, and pushed on deeper into the forest with Hunter trailing behind.
They walked and walked, pushing through dense gray shrubs, deeper and deeper into the forest until finally Hunter judged them to be at its center. The heart of the forest seemed an appropriate place to take the heart of the prince, or so it seemed to him. “Okay, your highness. This is far enough. Would you be so kind as to remove your doublet and lie down here?” He shrugged off his bow and quiver, then placed them on the ground. Finally, he removed his hunting knife from its sheath. The silver blade glinted in the dull gray light. “I’ll make this quick.”
“Make what quick?” Snow arched an eyebrow, and his lips quirked in the least innocent smile Hunter had ever seen. “Cutting out my heart? Oh, please. Like you’re the first one who has tried that line on me.”
Hunter blinked in confusion. “Huh?”
“This isn’t my first joust, pal.” Snow sighed heavily, and placed a hand on Hunter’s shoulder. “I know my stepmother put you up to this. Let me tell you how this is going to play out, okay? See, I fake being all naive and stupidly happy all the time because if my stepmother knew I actually had a brain in my head she would try a lot harder to kill me. Plus, all the syrupy goodness irritates the hell out of her, which I count as a bonus.
“Anyway, should she succeed, my death would throw a big, fat monkey wrench into my plans for world domination. So, I act dumb, and she keeps ordering knights, guards, stable boys and, oddly enough quite a few nuns, to kill me. None of whom have succeeded. You can tell that by the way I’m still breathing.
“They all take me here, to the Dark Forest, too. I have no idea why she thinks this is such a great place to kill me — the lighting is atrocious. But here we are yet again. Seriously, I’d give my left nut for somebody to just once try to kill me at the seashore. Or up in the mountains. I’ve heard they’re beautiful this time of year. But no, she always orders everyone to bring me to the Dark-fucking-Forest.”
Hunter blinked faster, as if blinking could help make sense of what he was hearing. Instead, it just made it harder to see. “I don’t understand.”
Snow sighed. “Okay, let me spell it out. You’re not going to kill me. We’re going to head back to the castle, and stop at a pig farm I know along the way. The farmer there will give you a great price on a pig heart — I throw a lot of business his way. Then you take the heart and give it to my stepmother and tell her it’s mine.”
“What happens when she sees you? She’ll know I lied!”
“No, she won’t. She already thinks I fart magic. She thinks nobody can kill me because of a curse. What curse, you ask? I don’t know and neither does she. Nor does it matter. Lots of things are blamed on curses around here, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Well, that’s true, for sure. She mentioned the curse, I think.”
“See? There you go. Anyway, it’s a great plan, and it’s worked before. You seem bright enough to carry it off, too. The others were all as dumb as mud.”
Hunter looked at the knife in his hand. “But it would be easier and safer for me to just to cut out your heart for real.”
“Maybe. I’d make it worth your while not to do it, though.”
“Coin? There are lots of them in the Royal Treasury, and I have a key to the vault.”
Hunter considered the offer. Snow had effectively told him to name his price in coins of the realm. Problem being, he had coin, quite a bit, actually. His father, thickheaded though he was, had invested wisely in pork bellies. And pork ribs. And bacon. Heavy on the bacon. His family owned several pig farms, in fact. Maybe even the one Snow wanted Hunter to buy a pig heart from. He suspected it might be his Uncle Herb. He’d always suspected Uncle Herb was dealing on the pig heart black market. “Nah. I got enough coin, thanks.”
“Okay. What about power? How does the title of Chief Royal Hunter sound to you? You’d oversee all the other hunters, get to order people around, take the best hunting spots for yourself…”
“Naw, that’s Lloyd’s job. He’s a nice enough guy. I don’t want to kick him out of his office. He’s got a potted plant in there and everything.”
“Huh. You’re a tough nut, aren’t you? Well then, there’s this one other thing I can do. It’s sort of a specialty of mine, and I don’t offer it to just anybody. Learned it from a traveling bard my stepmother once ordered to kill me.”
Snow grinned at him. “It needs to be experienced to be understood. Describing it just can’t do it justice. Tell you what — I’ll give you a free sample, and if you like it, you can agree not to kill me afterward.”
Hunter was intrigued. What did he have to lose? He slipped his knife back into his sheath, and stuck out his hand to shake. “It’s a deal. So, what is it called, this specialty of yours?”
“Do you speak Modern Latin?”
Hunter snorted. “I barely speak Olde English.”
Snow smirked. “Fair enough. It’s called fellatio, from the Latin fellare.”
“Sounds like some sort of creamy dessert.”
“Funny, it does usually end up that way.” Snow dropped to his knees and reached for Hunter’s breeches. “All you have to do is stand there and I’ll do the rest, okay?”