Meanwhile, Pennah discovers that she is not the only captive in her castle prison. As she unravels the mystery behind her kidnapper, she begins to understand what it means to be a part of the magical Black Forest. What if, for the first time in her life, Sable cant save her? Will Pennah be able to save herself?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.42(d)|
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SABLE: PRESENT DAY
"Witchcraft!" The villagers I had grown up with were all suddenly against me. Their eyes full of rage to cover the fear.
"Please! It's not witchcraft, I've just been cursed!" I tried to explain. Somehow, believing I — a girl this entire village had watched grow up — was a witch was easier than grasping the idea of a fairy curse. Witches were seen more often than fairies, I supposed, but these people knew me. Or I thought they did.
"Get her!" Two men grabbed me. Thin snakes with red and black stripes slithered out of nowhere, draping across my shoulders and hissing at the men until they jerked away.
"I promise, it won't hurt anyone!" At home while explaining to Mama, none of the snakes or spiders bit us. The only time was when I called the fairy an ugly hag. A garter snake bit Pennah and it was painful enough to make her cry, but it wasn't venomous.
"Stop!" A steely voice rang out amid the chaos. It was my late father's brother, my uncle Morrin. I had explained it to him first, and so far he was the only one to believe me. "A fairy from the forest cursed my niece. She is not a witch. Now leave her be." He held a sword, but I doubted he would use it in my defense to harm any of the villagers. The crowd seemed less sure of their safety, though, and they stepped away from the man with arms and shoulders muscled from years of working the forge.
It took a little more convincing, but eventually my life was secured and the villagers dispersed, grumbling and glaring as they went.
"Thank you, Uncle," I told him once we were alone in the empty market. Yearning for someone to tell me it was going to be alright, I reached for a hug, but he stepped back.
"This is all I can do for you," he told me impassively, keeping a few feet of distance between us. "Tomorrow I will be leaving."
"But ... why?" I was fifteen years old and I' d been taking care of my family for years, so why did I feel like a child again? Tears burned behind my eyes, but I held them back.
"This whole family is cursed, Sable!" he exclaimed, waving the sword around like a madman. Anxiety rippled across my skin seeing him do that, and I wished he would put it away. "First my brother dies far too early of a sudden illness, then your mother took ill and hasn't left that cottage in four years. That second husband of hers, as despicable as he was — rest his soul — was murdered and now you are fairy-cursed. Pennah is unscathed for now, but I have no doubt that soon, she too will fall to the bad luck of this family. I am leaving while I still have my hide." He stalked away, finally sheathing his sword as he left. Unwilling or unable to move, I wasn't sure which, I watched him until he was out of sight. For a moment, I was alone in the mulch-lined street.
I was about to turn and head home, though comfort was scarce there as well since my mother was so angry with me for upsetting a fairy, when I caught a glimpse of dark hair and blue eyes peeking around the corner of a building. When I made eye contact with him, he flinched but didn't move.
"Godric, you're still here." I let a smile show as I rushed over to where he lingered behind the wall. Godric had been my best friend since we were toddling about the dusty alleys of this town. When we were children, he taught me how to skip rocks in the pond. When I was thirteen, he was my first kiss, and last May he said as soon as I was of age he' d start courting me properly. Just a few months ago I turned fifteen.
"Sable, I —" He stumbled on his words. I shrank away, knowing what he was going to say. "I just wanted to say good-bye." Tears flowed down my face now, uninhibited. My eyes burned, more than they normally did when I cried. He was going to say more, probably about how truly sorry he was that I had been cursed, but instead a look of fear and disgust appeared on his face. "What is that?!" Before I could ask what he meant, he ran away, stumbling as he disappeared around the corner. A full grown man, nearly nineteen, was sprinting away from a skinny girl in terror.
At first, I assumed a spider or snake I had failed to brush away was the cause, but when I wiped the tears off my face, my hands were covered in a dark purple liquid.
A few months later, I figured out my tears were venomous. Very deadly, too. It wasn't snake venom, though, nor any kind of natural poison anyone had heard of. It seemed to be my very own brand of toxin. When the baker's dog licked my teary face, he was dead in less than a minute. It was then that I understood what Mama meant when she said I looked like a demon when I cried, bleeding from the eyes.
With a shiver, I pushed the memories away and focused on packing my things. It was time to pick up more supplies, which meant braving the town again. I dropped my pig bladder canteen into the bag and slung the whole thing over my shoulder, strapping it over the scabbard already secured between my shoulder blades. The sword was heavy, but it was a comforting weight. It was the one thing my father had left me before he died. It was old and rusty and dull, but it hadn't failed me yet. I had been attacked before in the woods on the way home from the village. The first time I had only been armed with my words, which were deadly on their own, but the second time, when the villager thugs thought to gag me, I had come prepared with a real physical weapon. After that, there was only one more attempt to attack me, this time in a way I couldn't hope to defend again with a sword. One of the vendors in town — I'm still not sure which one — tried to slip belladonna berries in with the pastries I bought for Pennah's fifteenth birthday. Luckily, I ate mine first and all that happened was a long, uncomfortable nap. It was proof that I could suffer the pains of being poisoned to death without actually dying.
"Please, could I this once go into town with you?" Pennah begged me on my way out the door. She looked up at me through her dark lashes, her full lips pouting. I had managed to keep her on our secluded grounds deep in the forest and away from the village for three years. I wasn't giving in now.
I tied the knot around my waist that kept my pants in place, double knotting it for good measure. Ever since I had to sprint away from villagers in a dress, I realized pants were much easier to move in so they became a regular part of my wardrobe, something that Pennah also never understood.
"One of these days we are going to have to lock you in a tower and never let you down," I told her roughly. A large tarantula, having appeared out of thin air, crept up my arm before I brushed it off absent-mindedly. Over the last few years, I had grown used to the constant sight of snakes and spiders and scorpions. Unless my words were vicious, the creatures never were. "Besides, who else is going to take care of Mama while I'm gone?"
Pennah sighed and plopped down on the stool in our tiny kitchen, the old stool legs creaking under her weight. "Fine." She crossed her arms with a frown.
Satisfied, I left the house and grabbed the handcart. It was big enough to carry the supplies we needed back from town but small enough for one person to handle, though the journey was never easy.
The walk to town seemed especially long today. My physical exhaustion was only the start, though. As I always did in town, I stayed silent unless communication was absolutely necessary — that was the unspoken deal. I had written down everything I needed and showed the vendors in town my list and gave them the money. They were happy to help me first. So happy, in fact, they always added a new piece of parchment to my supplies so I could make a new list next time I came into town. That way, I was in their stores for the shortest amount of time possible. Only one woman screamed when a scorpion crawled over her foot. A man standing nearby smashed it quickly, and they both sent me withering glares. I would have argued that the thing was tiny and brown, and therefore harmless, but talking would have only made the situation worse. Just as I finished, I heard a small child squealing.
"Mama! Mama! Look at this!" I came in closer. Just as the mother pulled her child further away from me, as if I would harm a child, I caught a glance of a sparkling blue gem in the girl's grubby hand. Pennah.
Even if someone would speak to me, I couldn't ask anyone if they'd seen my sister. That would draw too much attention to her. Everyone already thought I was an evil witch holding her sister captive in the woods. Half of them assumed I'd killed my mother off already. The best I could hope for was that Pennah would reappear at home when I arrived.
"How was the village?" Pennah asked cordially when I got back, her amiable tone accompanied by the scent of roses. It wasn't surprising that she'd gotten home before me since I was dragging a full cart behind me.
"I don't know, how was it? You were there, weren't you?" I narrowed my eyes at her accusingly as I began unpacking the pile of supplies I had brought home with me.
"No," she continued to deny it, blinking her wide eyes in false confusion. "I was here with Mama the entire time." She lied without hesitation. After all, Mama was probably sleeping, so she wouldn't disagree. She may not have even realized she was alone for a few hours. What else had Pennah lied about?
I wiped the sweat off my brow tiredly. Summer was beginning to cool into fall, but high afternoon was still quite hot, especially when hauling a heavy load along the worn path to the house. "If you were going to sneak around in the woods, you could have at least helped me bring all the supplies home."
Pennah finally had the decency to stop lying and look guilty. "How did you know? I thought I was being careful."
I set down the sack of ground wheat in the corner of the kitchen and snatched up one of the ever-present jewels lying around the house. It was a good thing we never got visitors. I held the tiny ruby up to her face. "You leave a trail of very expensive bread crumbs, little sister. And people are finding them. This is the very reason we keep you here." I muttered the last part more to myself, but she still heard me.
"And how is that a bad thing? Making a few villagers a little richer? We could buy a castle with all the gems in the pond." Over the years, we had so many jewels spilling from Pennah's clothes, mouth and sometimes just falling from a nearby tree, as if a bird dropped it from its nest, that we had to put them somewhere. Unlike my venomous creatures, the gems didn't crawl or slither away. I had started bringing them to the pond just east of the well and tossing the piles of riches in. The dirty pond floor masked the sparkle and kept our secret hidden.
"Richer villagers would just be the start. There are selfish people in the world that would do anything to steal the gems." She couldn't comprehend that people would resort to anger and violence just to get their way.
"They can take all they want! We have plenty to go around. I don't understand what the problem is!"
"Of course you don't understand what the problem is! You're still a child!"
"I'm fifteen!" She stamped her foot into the dirt floor. "Technically I'm of marriageable age, but it seems that will never happen since I haven't seen a boy in three years!" Of course this was about boys.
"Oh, I'm sure you saw plenty of boys in town today when you blatantly broke the rules, acting like an ungrateful, childish fool!"
"Ow!" A snake had snapped at my sister's ankle, drawing blood. In a panic, I quickly checked the stripes on the thin snake. It wasn't venomous. I had let things go too far. I never meant to hurt Pennah.
"I'm sorry," I said, my voice faltering. The frustration I'd allowed to build up fizzled into shame.
Not saying a word she turned on her heel and went back to our room. I heard a clink. A small diamond tear had fallen and struck a stone on the floor.
I knew exactly what Sable would say. She'd say I was sulking because I didn't get what I want and I should act my age. Ever since Mama got sick, Sable has taken care of me. So now I had two mothers telling me what to do. Though Mama usually let me do what I want. It wasn't as if she could stop me.
A small brown scorpion crawled onto my bed, struggling to clamber over the folds of my blanket. After all these years of sharing a room, house and life with Sable, all of her accursed creatures still gave me shivers. We had learned which ones were not venomous, though. The scorpion wouldn't hurt me, but it didn't mean I wanted it crawling on my bed. I brushed it off, pushing a few pieces of straw of with it.
I peeked out the small window, spotting Sable through the gap in our old shutters. She was practicing her sword forms again. She moved slowly, adjusting each stance until it was perfect, her figure just a silhouette against the twilight sky. The decrepit sword glided from one position to another, blocking the invisible strikes. I had once asked her why she bothered practicing. Our uncle had trained her a little to use the sword her father had made her, but now that he was gone, she had no way to practice real moves on anyone. She simply said no one would bother her if it appeared she knew how to wield a sword.
Sometimes Sable's logic was so beyond me, I didn't even bother trying to understand anymore. First of all, no one even talks to her in town; no one would initiate a confrontation. The villagers were all too superstitious to approach the girl surrounded by snakes and spiders, both of which were considered bad omens. Secondly, that sword was so old and rusted, I doubted it would strike fear in anyone's heart. A butter knife was probably sharper.
At a snail's pace, Sable struck a nearby tree lightly, leaving no markings behind. The tree didn't fight back of course, but Sable's focus on defeating the imagined enemy didn't waver. She implemented several more strikes before I turned away from the window.
Dead flower petals crunched under me as I laid down, trying and failing to put Sable out of my mind. Often I'd wake up surrounded by flowers and petals, but those didn't even faze me anymore. It was when I had particularly good dreams that sharp topaz and sapphires appeared, jabbing me in the back and waking me up.
We had so many riches from the fairy's curse that Sable had started throwing them away. In town, I had seen skeletal children trying to scrounge for food. People were starving and I had the power to help, but Sable was selfish and wanted to keep me hidden away. Even during the worst winters, when using just a few jewels could have had us eating like queens all year, Sable refused to use more than one at a time. She always said it would look suspicious if a family of three women who earned a living by selling vegetables in town suddenly had a wealth of gems. Sable's collection of serpents and arachnids helped keep the pests out of the garden, but not enough to start a full-fledged farm large enough to warrant the sudden manifestation of a small fortune.
After Sable apologized, I almost did too. But before I did, I realized I shouldn't have to. The rule keeping me at home shouldn't be there at all. I didn't talk much when I was in town. And if I dropped anything that sparkled, I kept a small bag with me to hide it away. Clearly I had missed one or two. At least some family would eat well for a while.
While I shifted on the bed, a purple gem dug into my arm. Standing up, I began pacing around the room, stepping carefully so nothing crunched underneath my feet. It was a challenge to move anywhere in this house without tripping over a gem or something skittering across the floor.
A little green snake twitched as I got close. It was tiny and harmless, so I picked it up. The creature did not appreciate the gesture, biting me the second my fingers were around it. With a jerk, I dropped it.
"You're just as paranoid as Sable," I told it as it darted out into the hall. After brushing the dead petals and sparkling rocks from my bed, I sat back down.
Paranoid might not be the right term. Worrisome, maybe. Either way, it made it incredibly difficult to deceive her. The only time I could sneak away from the house was when Sable's prying eyes weren't there. And that only ever happened when she was going into town. So I'd usually leave right after her, going the long way so she wouldn't see me because I knew Sable had the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a bat. I had secretly been going to town for two months now, and frankly, I was surprised Sable hadn't figured me out until now. It helped that everyone assumed I was being held captive by my wicked sister, which meant none of the villagers were going to tell her I was in town. Some even tried to "rescue" me, and it took some persuading to get them to let me go home.
Excerpted from "Words of Venom"
Copyright © 2017 Hannah Polanco.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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