Home > The Glass Queen (The Forest of Good and Evil #2)

The Glass Queen (The Forest of Good and Evil #2)
Author: Gena Showalter

PROLOGUE


   A glimpse into the past

 

 

Enchantia

The Provence of Fleur


   When Good Intentions Have Evil Ends

   Hear ye, hear ye! On this day in history, King Philipp Anskelisa of Fleur and Queen Charlotte Charmaine-Anskelisa welcomed their first child into the world. More than anything, the king had longed for a son. Alas. Fate gave him a daughter instead. A sickly one, at that.

   Princess Ashleigh Charmaine-Anskelisa entered the world as quiet as a mouse, as still as a statue and as blue as a morning sky. The frantic midwife worked to aid the child’s breathing while shouting for mystical healers, who burst into the chamber minutes later only to discover their magic couldn’t fix the child’s malformed heart. While they could heal injuries given after birth, they could not affect the injuries created before it. The infant continued to struggle, on the verge of death.

   Propped on a bed with a mound of pillows behind her and a feathery blanket draped over her lower half, Charlotte reached out to demand, “Give me my baby.” Though she was weak, tired, and sore, she would not relent in this. “Give her to me now.”

   Tradition demanded that fathers leave their sickly infants in the Enchantian Forest as an offering to the Empress of the Forest, whoever she happened to be at the time. In return, the empress would bless the parents with another child. A healthy one.

   Would Charlotte’s husband expect to trade little Ashleigh?

   As one of the healers bundled the child in wolf’s fur and passed her back to the queen, the king paced at the foot of the bed, his expression hardening with determination.

   He would, she realized with growing horror. He really would.

   “Husband,” Charlotte whispered, cradling her precious darling close to her chest. “You must summon a witch sooner than royal tradition suggests. If Ashleigh is given an infusion of magic, it will work inside her rather than from an outside source, as with the healers. She will recover.” Surely.

   A stoic Philipp paused long enough to snap, “Don’t be foolish, Charlotte. The babe is going to die. And this is right. This is good. Clearly you’ve made a cuckold of me. She cannot be mine. My lineage has never—will never—produce a child that is less than perfect.”

   Hurt encompassed the queen, a denial resounding from deep inside her. “I have never been untrue to you.” Though she’d wanted to be. Philipp might be a handsome man, but he had the personality of a snake. “Ask the royal oracle. She’ll tell you of my innocence.”

   He wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter now, anyway. In Fleur, the firstborn is the heir, whether a boy or a girl. This child isn’t worth saving. What if she dies in a week? A month? A year? The infusion of magic would be for nothing. A waste of precious resources.”

   Charlotte swallowed a sob. “A single minute of time with her is worth everything.”

   His expression remained impassive. “Yes, but not all life merits the amount of coins required to pay a witch for a magic infusion. So, I will summon the oracle, after all. If she tells us the child isn’t part of a prophecy or that she’ll bring destruction upon my kingdom, I will give her to the Empress of the Forest, so that we may be blessed with a second child, a true heir, and you will let me do so without protest. If the child is part of a prophecy, if she’s someone who will bring great wealth and power to my kingdom, however, I will let you keep her.” He looked to the midwife. “Go. Fetch her.”

   The midwife rushed out of the chamber.

   A barbed lump grew in Charlotte’s throat, nearly crushing her airway. The odds of keeping her precious Ashleigh were becoming slimmer by the second. The prophecies Philipp had mentioned were also known as “fairy tales,” because they’d been spoken by the oracles, the most powerful of the fairies, centuries ago. Like everything else in the world, these fairy tales came with a blessing and a curse.

   No matter the story involved, those blessings and curses always arrived in the form of a person. A king or prince. A queen or princess. A servant. A witch. Wealth and happiness usually accompanied select characters, while all others tended to welcome some kind of evil force to a kingdom or become evil themselves.

   Charlotte rocked her squirming baby and fought for calm. “You will live, my love,” she whispered. “You must be part of a fairy tale. And just look at you. How could you ever be part of a curse. No, oh, no. You are the blessing.”

   Philipp was part of a fairy tale, so, why not Ashleigh? A fate the queen had previously hoped to avoid for her child. The tales were mostly symbolic and always offered more questions than answers, leaving everything up to interpretation and imagination until the last battle.

   There was always a battle.

   And there was only one reason Philipp had proposed to Charlotte—his own prophecy, “The Little Cinder Girl.” He’d considered himself the marriage-minded prince and Charlotte his perfect Cinder. At the time, she had believed him.

   At Charlotte’s birthing, her parents had chosen not to let an oracle tell her future. Back when her older brother, Challen, had been a crown prince rather than king, he’d been predicted to play a part in “Snow White and the Evil Queen.” The news had quickly spread, and the family of a neighboring kingdom sent an assassin to kill him, just in case he came with a curse.

   Challen had survived, thank gold, but her parents’ desire to know the future hadn’t. Because they’d never paid an oracle to glimpse Charlotte’s fate, they’d never expected anything to come from her life, all but forgetting her existence. She’d always regretted the lack and wished she’d known...until her marriage to Philipp.

   During their courtship, the dashing king had promised her a true happily-ever-after. Soon after they’d married, however, she’d learned that her new husband lacked any kind of honor. He couldn’t be the marriage-minded prince, and Charlotte couldn’t be his Cinder.

   Tremors racked her so strongly she shook the bed. What if I married...the villain?

   Philipp’s selfishness knew no bounds. He had everything, but he took more from those who had nothing. He kept multiple mistresses, and he despised anyone with a supernatural ability, even Charlotte at times, because the power he’d acquired as a child had never manifested. His body had rejected the magic, something that only ever happened to a rare few. The lack had always infuriated him. Of course, he liked to blame the witch who’d given him the infusion, rather than himself. But then, Philipp was utter perfection—to Philipp. He cared for his own well-being; everyone else was inferior to him.

   A fact that terrified her. As “The Little Cinder Girl” fairy tale promised, the dishonorable characters would not, could not receive a happy ending. They sowed only discord, so, in the end, they reaped only discord. What if Philipp’s terrible fate had spilled over to Ashleigh, cursing her to misery and death?

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