Fairest Beauty

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In this young adult fairy tale retelling by Melanie Dickerson, a woman arrives in Hagenheim claiming the young woman betrothed to the duke’s son, Valten, is still alive. With Valten injured, his younger brother, Gabe, defies his family to find Sophie himself. When Gabe arrives at the castle, Sophie must make a choice: go to the Cottage of the Seven and fend for herself, or trust the handsome stranger who seems ready to do anything to keep her safe.

Transcript of Fairest Beauty

FairestTHE

BEAUTY

ZONDERVAN The Fairest Beauty Copyright 2012 by Melanie Dickerson This title is also available as a Zondervan ebook. Visit www.zondervan.com/ebooks. Requests for information should be addressed to: Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530 ISBN 978-0-310-72439-1 All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are paraphrased from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Any Internet addresses (websites, blogs, etc.) and telephone numbers in this book are offered as a resource. They are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement by Zondervan, nor does Zondervan vouch for the content of these sites and numbers for the life of this book. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. Published in association with the Books & Such Literary Agency, 52 Mission Circle, Suite 122, PMB 170, Santa Rosa, CA 95409-5370, www.booksandsuch.com. Cover design and photography: Mike Heath/Magnus Creative Interior design: Publication Ser vices, Inc. and Greg Johnson/Textbook Perfect Printed in the United States of America 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 /DCI/ 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Other books by Melanie DickersonThe Healers Apprentice The Merchants Daughter

Prologue sPinnosa passed through the town square andthe cobblestone Marktplatz. Hagenheim Castle loomed straight ahead. Once she passed the guard at the gatehouse, she would need to find her way to the young lord. A chill passed over her thin, old shoulders. This fever, brought on by rain and exhaustion, would probably kill her, but if she could only make it to the castle, could only tell them that Sophie was still alive, Pinnosas life would not have been in vain. Perhaps God would forgive her for helping the duchess perpetuate so many lies. She plodded forward, wanting to hurry, but she could only force her swollen feet to take slow, mincing steps. Sweat dripped from her eyebrows even as she shivered and fought the urge to drop to the ground, close her eyes, and sleep. Who goes there? Pinnosa stopped, then leaned her head back as far as she could. When she parted her cracked lips, no sound came out. The guards face began to blur, her knees trembled, and the ground quickly came up to meet her. Strange how she didnt . . . even . . . feel it.

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ChaptersSophie kept her head bowed as she waited forthe duchess to speak. She started to clasp her hands together but stopped. Clasped hands presented an image of idleness, the duchess often said, and the gesture sent her into a rage every time. Sophie let her arms hang limply at her sides. Carefully, she peeked through her lashes at Duchess Ermengard. The womans skin was unnaturally white, her hair dyed ebony using black hickory hulls. Her lips were stained red from berries, and her teeth were so white they made Sophie want to shade her eyes. Did the duchess ever think of anything besides beauty? The irony was that she was naturally beautiful and would look better without all the powder and dye. The duchess stood unmoving, not making a sound. The silence began to crowd against Sophies ears. Duchess Ermengard liked to draw out the waiting, knowing it only increased her victims apprehension. Having to stand and wait to hear what her punishment would be was perhaps the worst part. At long last, when the duchess addressed Sophie, her hoarse voice sent a chill down Sophies spine. So this is how you repay my kindness to you? You, an orphan, and a girl at that. I could have let you starve by the roadside. Others would have done so in my place. No one but you would be so cruel. Sophies breaths came9

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The Fairest Beautyfaster she was dangerously close to speaking but she forced the words down. How could you be so audacious as to think . . . when I rightfully punish one of my servants . . . No. No, I want you to confess what you have done. You seem to enjoy prayer. Surely you enjoy confession as well. Now confess. Sophies skin crawled as the duchesss voice lowered to a slow, quiet whisper. What . . . did . . . you . . . do? Sophie almost wished the duchess would scream instead. A dark feeling of oppression, of an evil presence in the room, came over her, as it often did when the duchess was interrogating her. Jesus, help me. Take away my anger. The oppressive feeling subsided. Following the rote formula required by the duchess, Sophie began, Duchess Ermengard, your servant Sophie confesses to sneaking food to your servant Roslind while Roslind was being punished in the dungeon. Sophie curtsied humbly. Oh, God, please, please, please let it be enough. Let my confession be enough to appease her. And let me appear meek before her. Silence. Again. With a churning stomach, Sophie waited for the duchess to speak. Her hands trembled but she dared not hide them behind her back. The duchess had a rule against that as well. Sophie waited so long for the duchesss next words that her mind began to wander, imagining what her friends, the other servants, would be doing now. But she pulled herself back, bracing herself for what the duchess would say or do next. You confess as though youre not truly sorry for what you did. Please forgive me, Duchess Ermengard. Sophie suppressed a shudder. This was not going well. It was no longer a matter of if shed be punished, but how severely. She bowed her head lower, hoping to appear truly repentant. Even though she wasnt. And there is more, isnt there? Once again, the duchess let the silence linger.10

Melanie DickersonWhat would the duchess accuse her of now? Sophie searched her mind for things she had done that the duchess may have uncovered. She had given food to some starving children who had come begging at the kitchen door, but that had been days ago. She searched her memory for something else . . . Then she remembered. Yesterday she had followed a guard into the woods, and after hed heaved a sack of squirming puppies into the river, against her better judgment, Sophie had dived in after them. Dragging the heavy cloth bag from the bottom of the shallow river, shed dumped out all five creatures on the riverbank, wet but alive. Someone must have seen her and told the duchess. She couldnt read minds, could she? Nothing to say? You know what you did. You defied me. The duchesss voice sounded like the hiss of a snake. You followed the guard to the river in order to save those worthless, mongrel puppies. You are a disobedient, deceitful, horrible little wretch. She spat out the words as if they were venom. Sophies mouth went dry. Duchess Ermengard hated dogs, especially lap dogs. Anything small and helpless incited her hatred. And these puppies would never grow anywhere close to the size of hunting dogs, which the duchess gave to Lorencz the huntsman to use in his deer hunts. I expect my orders to be obeyed. I dont expect my scullery maid to defy them. She said the words scullery maid the way she always did, as though they were a curse. Sophie thought about the tiny dogs shed saved and remembered their soft fur and the way theyd whimpered and licked her hand. For a moment she could almost feel the little brownand-white one snuggled against her cheek. The feel of his furry little face against her skin had made her feel loved, as if he knew shed saved him. You are a wicked . . . The cold, hard edge of the duchesss voice tore Sophie out of her pleasant memory.11

The Fairest BeautySophie closed her eyes. I will not listen. I will not listen . . . . . . rebellious, disrespectful girl. You will learn to respect me. You were nothing, a changeling orphan, an ugly child. You wouldnt even be alive if it werent for me. I am not wicked. I am not ugly. The duchess was snarling now, her voice growing louder. You will learn not to treat my rules with contempt. You will be disciplined. Sophie didnt have to open her eyes to see the malicious glint in the duchesss eyes or to see her lips pressed into that tiny, pinched, cold smile, the smile she always wore when doling out punishment. I am not wicked. I am not rebellious . . . Sophie longed to touch the wooden cross that hung from her neck, to squeeze it and feel comforted by the thought of her Saviors suffering, his compassion and forgiveness. But she didnt dare. If the duchess found the cross that was hidden under her dress, she would tear it away from Sophie and destroy it. For your wickedness, the duchess went on, slowly, as though savoring each word, you shall spend the next two days and nights in the dungeon with no food or water. Two days and nights. Sophies heart seemed to stop beating. But at least, maybe, the duchess was finished with her. Sophie curtsied, keeping her head low. She focused on replying according to the duchesss rules. Let it be as you say, Duchess Ermengard. I am your servant Sophie. Two soldiers came forward and grabbed her by her arms. Just as she relaxed slightly, Sophie heard, Wait! Bring her here. Sophies stomach dropped. What would the duchess do now? Sophie determined not to show panic as the two guards dragged her forward. Any expression of fear would only make things worse. Look at me, the duchess ordered.12

Melanie DickersonSophie lifted her face, preparing herself for the black emptiness of the duchesss eyes. As soon as their gaze met, the duchess lifted her hand and slapped Sophie across the face. Stunned, Sophie closed her eyes against the sting, tasting blood on her teeth. Her eyes watered but she refused to cry. She took deep, slow breaths to drive away the tears as the duchess kept up her cold stare. I mustnt show weakness. Time and silence hung heavy in