International bestseller Holly Black will be very familar to Starburst Readers. Who works include The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Darkest Part of the Forest and Magisterium. Her latest book, The Stolen Heir is set in the same world as the award winning Curse of The Air. The new book can be ordered here.
We’ve been able to nab an extract of the book for your reading pleasure.
“Come out, come out,” she says.
I step from behind the screen, taking a sharp breath as I do so, dreading seeing myself in the mirror and feeling the burn of further humiliation.
The little seamstress pushes me toward a polished bronze thing that looks like a shield. My reflection stares back at me.
I am taller than I remembered. My hair is a wild tangle despite my attempts at finger combing and washing it back at the motel. I never gotout all the knots. My clavicle shows at the top of the collar, and I know I am too thin. But the dress clings to my chest and waist, skirt flaring over my hips. The tattered edges give it a haunting elegance, as though I am wrapped in the shadows of dusk. I look the picture of a mysterious courtier, rather than someone who sleeps in dirt.
Habetrot drops boots beside me, and I realize how long I’ve been standing there, staring at myself. A different kind of shame heats my cheeks.
I twist my hands in the skirt.
The dress even has pockets. “I knew I kept these,” she says, indicating the footwear. “If he’s half as taken with you as you are with yourself, I imagine he’ll be well pleased.”
“Who?” I demand sharply, but she only shrugs and presses a bone comb into my hand.
“Fix your hair,” she says, then shrugs again. “Or make it wilder. You look lovely either way.”
“What will you want for all this?” I ask, thinking of all the faerie bargains I’ve overheard, and of how much I like the dress I am wearing, how I could use the boots. I understand the temptation felt by every fool in a forest.
Her bead black eyes study me, then she shakes her head. “I serve Queen Annet, and she bade me gift whatever the prince of the High Court asked, were it within the scope of my talents.”
Of course someone must have told Oak where Habetrot’s cham bers were and assured him that she could do what he asked. So it is not Habetrot I owe, but Oak. And he owes Queen Annet in turn. My heart sinks. Debt is not easily dismissed in Faerie.
And the Court of Moths are showing off what good hosts they are.
“The gown is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen,” I say to her, as I can pay her no other way without insult. It has been a long time since I have been given a gift, barbed though it may be. “It does feel as though it might come from a dream.”
That makes Habetrot’s cheeks pink. “Good. Maybe you will come back and tell me how the Prince of Sunlight liked the Queen of Night.”
Embarrassed, I step out into the hall, wondering how she could believe that a dress—no matter how beautiful—could make me into an object of desire. Wondering if everyone at the revel would think that I was dangling after Oak and laugh behind their hands.
I stomp back through the hall to my room and swing open the door, only to find Oak lounging in one of the chairs, his long limbs spread out in shameless comfort. A flower crown of myrtle rests just above his horns. With it, he wears a new shirt of white linen and scarlet trousers embroidered with vines. Even his hooves appear polished.
He looks every bit the handsome faerie prince, beloved by everyone and everything. Rabbits probably eat from his hands. Blue jays try to feed him worms meant for their own children.
He smiles, as though not surprised to see me in a beautiful gown. In fact, his gaze passes over it quickly, to rest with an odd intensity on my face. “Striking,” he says, although I do not see how he could have possibly given it enough attention to know.
I feel both shy and resentful.
The Prince of Sunlight.
I do not bother telling him what he looks like. I am sure he already knows. He brushes one hand through his golden curls. “We have an audi ence with Annet. Hopefully we can persuade her to send us to the Thistlewitch swiftly. Until then, we have been invited to roam her halls and eat from her banquet tables.”
I sit on a stool, pull on my new boots, and then tie up the laces.
“Why do you think she took Hyacinthe?”
Oak rubs a hand over his face. “I believe she wanted to show she could. I hope there’s no more to it than that.”
I take the comb from a pocket of my new dress and then hesitate. If I begin to untangle my nimbus of snarls, he will see how badly my hair
is matted and be reminded of where he found me.
Good. He will leave, and then I will be able to wrangle my hair alone.
But instead he steps behind me and takes the comb from my hands.
“Let me do that,” he says, taking strands of my hair in his fingers. “It’s the color of primroses.”
My shoulders tense. I am unused to people touching me. “You don’t need to—” I start.
“It’s no trouble,” he says. “I had three older sisters brushing and braiding mine, no matter how I howled. I had to learn to do theirs, in
self defense. And my mother…”
His fingers are clever. He holds each lock at the base, slowly teasing out the knots at the very ends and then working backward to the scalp.
Under his hands, it becomes smooth ribbons. If I had done this, I would have yanked half of it out in frustration.
“Your mother…,” I echo, prompting him to continue in a voice that shakes only a little.
He begins to braid, sweeping my hair up so that thick plaits become something like his circlet, wrapping around my head.
“When we were in the mortal world, away from her servants, she needed help arranging it.” His voice is soft.
This, along with the slightly painful pull against my scalp, the brush of his fingertips against my neck as he separates a section, the slight
frown of concentration on his face, is overwhelming. I am not accustomed to someone being this close.
When I look up, his smile is all invitation.
We are no longer children, playing games and hiding beneath his bed, but I feel as though this is a different kind of game, one where I do not understand the rules.
With a shiver, I take up the mirror from the dresser. In this hair and with this dress, I look pretty. The kind of pretty that allows monsters to deceive people into forests, into dances where they will find their doom.