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The Raven's Ballad: A Retelling of the Swan Princess (Otherworld Book 5) by Emma Hamm (1)

Prologue

Once upon a time, in a forest of emerald leaves, a woman ran away from home. Not because her home was dangerous or unlikable, but because adventure beat deep in her heart. She raced through the forest, over hills, beyond the dales, until she grew too tired to continue.

The young woman fell asleep on a bed of verdant moss, unknowing this particular place was home to a powerful faerie. He was a ghastly creature covered in feathers with clawed hands and a warped face. The beast looked upon her and thought, This pretty little thing would look lovely at my dinner table.

Faeries are not kind, and he could not allow a human to enjoy his home’s splendor. So while the young woman slept, he wove a spell that changed her form into that of a swan-like woman. Feathers dusted her shoulders and trickled down her arms like a mantle of snow, her hair turned white as pearls, and her eyes blue as ice.

She awoke amid a banquet. Faeries danced around her, feathers, horns, and fur decorating their bodies until she couldn’t discern which were fae and which were beasts. Delighted by what she thought was a dream, she danced with them until the sun rose.

Exhausted as she’d never been before, the young woman stopped to watch the sky turn violet, then pink, then vivid blue. She sighed in happiness, thanked the faeries for a wonderful night, and turned to leave. Only then did she realize there was no way out. A glass wall stood between her and freedom.

The beastly faerie emerged from the shadows, shaking his great cloak of black feathers and holding out a clawed hand. “I must bid you to stay with me, pretty thing.”

“And if I wish to leave?” she asked.

“I would rather you be guest than prisoner.”

“Then I have little choice.” She took his hand and promised to stay with him for all eternity. In return, he gave her a kingdom of goblins and trolls. She strode through the darkness, her subjects bowing to her as she went, and stepped into a castle made of obsidian stone. Everything the eye could see was hers as long as she never stepped beyond the glass wall.

For a time, she was pleased with her new abode. She ordered his people about and they called her queen. Her feathered husband grew into a kind man, and though he never said he loved her, he was pleasant enough. She found herself much happier in this faerie realm than she had been in her own home.

The glass reflected a world around them that was both beautiful and dangerous. She spent hours watching deer run by, their images warped and glimmering with rainbows. Many times, the young woman reached for these strange visions only to have them disappear the moment her fingers touched the shimmering barrier.

Curiosity bloomed in her breast until she could stand it no more.

She stepped beyond the glass wall.

The city of faerie beasts crumbled behind her, turning to ash and dust in her wake. She turned and tried to catch pieces in her hands, but it was far too late.

On the wind, she heard the voice of her beastly faerie husband. “You’ve destroyed us all.”

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