The Eldritch Heart (Excerpt)

The following excerpt has been provided by Xpresso Book Tours. Thank you to them and to the author, Matthew S Cox. A Fantasy YA telling the story of a Princess who must choose between duty and her heart’s desire – The Eldritch Heart is available from 1st August 2017. I hope the below whets your appetite!

Half-dressed, Oona paced a circle about the center of her bedchamber, equal parts annoyed and worried. She held her gown to her chest, still open down the back, with the laces trailing after her. Kitlyn hadn’t answered the summons of her pulling on the rope, which should’ve caused a bell in the hall to ring. Not that she so much demanded the other girl dress her, but most of her gowns required assistance getting into.

Where is she?

Early afternoon sun stretched in long rectangles across the floor, split into shadows cast by the columns of her balcony. She frowned at the wavering treetops outside; they reminded her of a world much larger than a castle. A world she’d not seen in about two years.

“Tenebrea take whoever started this war.” She hurried to the thick golden cord again, which resembled a braid of her hair, and tugged at it while holding fabric to her chest with her other hand. The faint jingle of a bell came from beyond the door. Oona fumed for a minute or two before a soft knock sounded upon the wood.

“Princess?” asked Elsbeth. “Are you all right?”

“Where is my handmaiden?”

The door opened enough to allow the First Maid to peer in. Aside from a few stray threads, her mouse-brown hair sat in a neat bun. Her delicate hand sprouted from a white frill at the end of a billowy grey sleeve, and grasped the wood above the knob. “Forgive me, Highness. I am unaware of the girl’s whereabouts. I do not know why she would not answer your summons.”

Oona narrowed her eyes. “Yes, indeed. Why would Kitlyn be too busy to attend to me?”

Elsbeth broke eye contact, looking down. “May I be of assistance, Highness?”

“Fine.” Oona turned her back. “Since you’re here.”

An air of smug victory wafted off the slightly older servant girl as she stole up behind Oona and set to the task of lacing the gown.

They’ll all think me mad or spiteful if I send this one to the kitchens without proof. Oona jostled as the girl tightened laces, tied one set, and moved up to the next. The long sapphire-blue velvet gown had fourteen individual ribbons down the back, which Elsbeth worked into elegant bows. Oona glanced sideways at the mirror to watch Elsbeth, annoyed by her victorious smile. She didn’t want to attend to Oona out of any sense of loyalty or friendship; she believed it her station by birth. Perhaps if I tell them how I feel about Kit, no one else would want to be so near me. She sighed, worried to the point of sickness for a few seconds at the thought of Kitlyn reacting the same way.

“All done,” chimed Elsbeth. “And don’t you look radiant, Highness!” She fussed at Oona’s hair for a moment. “Getting a touch long.” A finger pressed into her back close to where her bottom started. “It is lovely, but perhaps time to shorten it, ma’am?”

“It’s fine for now.” Oona looked down past a spread of embroidered flowers on her chest and front, at the tips of her black shoes peeking from beneath the hem. She’d worn the plain ones, unconcerned with opinion. “Thank you Elsbeth, that is all.”

“Do you need―”

“That is all, Elsbeth. Thank you.” Oona cringed inwardly at the imperious tone in her voice, harsher than she had intended. She hated using it, but her father often warned her about seeming too ‘nice.’ People would not be slow to take advantage. It helped that she didn’t have much fondness for this girl.

“Yes, Highness.” Elsbeth clasped her hands in front, bowed, and walked out.

After taking a few minutes to calm herself, Oona left her bedchamber and stopped at Kitlyn’s room, unsurprisingly empty. She strolled to the garderobe at the end of the curved hall, also empty. A momentary worry seized her mind. She’d once heard a story of assassins climbing up the toilet shaft to gain entry. Her skin crawled. The thought of someone doing that horrified her more than the idea of being killed in her sleep.

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