I return to my home in the dead of night. The house is dark and silent. I know of no potions that can reverse a curse such as mine, but perhaps there is something in one of my books that I have overlooked. I have to try. But first, there is something I must do.
The floorboards creak beneath my strange new body as I walk through the door. I move as silently as I am able through the front room so that I might not wake anyone. My condition will be difficult to explain, considering I can’t even say my own name. But this is my home, and I have nowhere else to go.
I shield my eyes away from my reflection as I pass by a mirror. I have already seen the damage Galaea has caused. This face is not one I wish to look upon if I can help it.
The stairs make more noise than the wooden floor, so I tread lightly. Markius sleeps like the dead when he’s been drinking enough, but because I’ve left the girls in his care tonight, he may be sober. I hope he is, anyway.
The wind blowing outside and the house settling are the only sounds I hear as I slip into the nursery. I have to check on my daughters to make sure they are all right.
Volya is sleeping peacefully in her cradle. I watch the steady rise and fall of her chest for a little while. Her breathing puts my mind at rest, if only for a moment. She is my strong, healthy girl. And she is fine.
She does not stir a muscle as I stroke her hair, the color of pomegranates, as mine used to be. I lightly kiss her on her forehead and she makes a happy, sighing noise in her sleep.
“My baby…” I whisper so lightly the words are but a breath on her cheek.
And then I move to Donya’s crib. My snow white beauty. My heart’s greatest desire come true. My firstborn.
Her breath rattles with a slight wheeze. But even though she sniffles in her sleep, at least she appears to be sleeping deeply.
I cup my hand to her forehead and find it cool to the touch. So her fever has broken. Thank goodness!
She jumps up immediately and opens her eyes.
“Hello, my little darling,” I whisper.
She looks upon me with confusion in her eyes.
“It’s me,” I tell her, trying to make my tone sound sweeter.
Donya throws her head back and starts to wail. I am a stranger to her. And not just a stranger. A thing of nightmares.
“Donya, please don’t cry,” I beg her. “It’s me! It’s you’re—”
But before I can say Mama, my throat tightens once again. I struggle to form the word on my lips as my heart starts to race. I can feel it squeezing just like my vocal cords.
Woman who birthed you.
Like my name, these titles cannot be spoken. For they are also who I am. I struggle to force the words out, but the curse is stronger. I have lost every way to identify myself. Now I am nothing.
“No one,” I whisper. And the curse lets me go. My throat untightens. My pulse returns to normal.
I can hear Markius shambling down the hallway muttering something about the “damn baby”.
My body tenses as he walks through the nursery door.
“Who are you?” he demands when he sees me. “What were you doing to my daughter?”
“N-nothing,” I stammer. “I was just…”
“Out with it, hag! Who are you and what are you doing in my house?!”
“I meant no harm,” I say quickly. “I’m…” My throat threatens to close again as I think of uttering the words your wife. That will not work, either. So instead, I tell him, “…But a weary traveler who has lost my way.”
Clearly, he does not remember the gown I wore tonight. But I look into his eyes, hoping that he will recognize mine. That he will see me and know who I truly am, and perhaps even recall a time when he once loved me… or at least thought he did.
But he does not.
“Got so lost you ended up in my house?” he snarls.
“Please, sir, I…”
“You what?” he snaps.
As he looks upon me without a trace of pity or compassion, I can’t help but remember the night I came to him after my mother died, when he held me in his arms and carried me to his couch so I could sleep warm by the fire. I remember the cold, bitter night when he helped me deliver Keiry’s baby to his father. Who is this man before me now? He is just as much a stranger to me as I am to him.
“I was hoping for a place to stay,” I say quietly.
This is my house, I long to say. These are my daughters. This is my life!
But how could he understand? How could I make him believe me? The Corynne he knows is beautiful.
No one is anything but.
“Please don’t send me away.”
“Does this look like an inn to you?” he shouts.
“Now get out of my house before I have you arrested for breaking in!”
“I said get out.”
“How… do you know me? Who are you?”
“I…” My voice breaks. “I’m no one.”
“My apologies,” I whisper and walk out of the room, with Markius ranting and Donya screaming behind me.
“Crazy old woman!”
He continues to yell until I leave.
And then I walk away from my only home, into the unwelcoming night where I belong nowhere.
But I will return. There has to be a way to break this curse and get my identity back. I'll search everywhere... try anything. I will find a way.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than losing Lothar. Harder than leaving him.
Oh, my dear daughters. If only I could take them with me, but they don’t even know who I am.
My sweet Donya…
My precious Volya…
I will come back for you. I will break this curse. I promise.
I love you.
End of Book One.