Authors: Suzanne Weyn
He lay in bed in a room much grander than any he had ever seen before.
His eyes were so swollen, he could only view the room around him as though seeing through a chink in a wall. Then he remembered the beautiful young woman who had saved him from the well and brought him in here.
Where was she?
Turning his head, he saw her standing by the window, gazing out. He had never seen so exquisite a young woman. And when she'd spoken to him in the well her voice was like honey or velvet or a warm Louisiana sunset.
Would a creature so elegant ever look fondly on him? Was it too impossible to consider? Back home the girls had liked him but they were not like this, so fine and lovely.
As he lay there gazing at her with half-closed eyes, he knew he wanted her love more than he'd ever desired anything else in his life.
"ONCE UPON A TIME"
IS TIMELESS WITH THESE RETOLD TALES:
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By Cameron Dokey
Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of "The Little Mermaid"
By Debbie Viguié
Snow: A Retelling of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
By Tracy Lynn
A Retelling of "The Frog Prince"
BY SUZANNE WEYN
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that
this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to
the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any
payment for this "stripped book."
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people,
or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents
are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual
events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 2006 by Suzanne Weyn
All rights reserved, including the right of
reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
SIMON PULSE and colophon are registered trademarks
of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
The text of this book was set in Adobe Jenson.
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Simon Pulse edition October 2006
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Library of Congress Control Number 2006927340
"Why am I crying? I'll tell you. My golden ball fell down the well, and I've lost it now forever."
"I will help you," said the frog. "But what will you give me if I bring back your plaything?"
--"The Frog Prince," by the Brothers
Grimm, as retold by Naomi Lewis
"... British forces continued to push the Germans back a few hundred yards at a time toward the high ridge at Passchendaele. The Germans fought back with mustard gas, a notoriously slow-acting chemical agent that maimed or killed enemy soldiers via severe blisters on the skin or internally if breathed... . The British reached Passchendaele on October 12 during a driving rain that turned the landscape to impenetrable mud."
World War I,
--"Breathe (2AM)," Anna Nalick
"What a fool I was!" Emma Winthrop muttered, furious at herself as she stared down at Lloyd Pennington's handsome face in the photo in her opened locket. She sat on a stone wall outside her family's estate with the two halves of the locket open in her hand. When the locket lay open like it did now, it resembled an orange that had been cut in two with its halves side by side. When closed, it was a perfect golden ball worn on a slender gold chain.
She had taken this photograph of him herself and placed it inside her locket. At the time, it had seemed wildly sophisticated to carry a picture of a good-looking boyfriend--one she'd often sneaked out to meet after dark. Back at the Hampshire Girls' Boarding School she used to kiss the photo of Lloyd each night before shutting off her lamp in the dormitory room she shared with four other girls.
The locket had originally belonged to her great-great-grandmother and had been handed down to her great-grandmother and then to her grandmother and to her mother, who had given it to her. Sometimes it annoyed her when she slept, its round surface digging into her chest, but not even that could compel her to remove it. Back then she'd wanted Lloyd's picture beside her heart at every moment.
How she'd missed him! Dreamed of the day they would be together again. All these months the thought of him had been her only consolation.
And then, yesterday, she'd received a letter from him. A farmer friend of Claudine, the housekeeper, had brought it by. Mail was so rare these days. Hardly any got through enemy lines. She hadn't received word from anyone back in London for nearly five months.
Trembling, nearly weeping tears of joy, she'd ripped the letter open.
But his words slowly filled her with stunned coldness. He'd said that rumors were spreading that her mother had run away from her father, had gone home to her family estate, taking Emma along with her. It was causing quite the scandal in their social circle. No one expected this shocking news from such a socially prominent and respectable family. As a result, his own parents had strongly expressed their wishes that he break off his relationship with Emma. While this pained him, he understood their point. He had to think of his parents and their place in society. He had to consider his future law career and his possible political future, as well.
Finally, he got to his point: It was perhaps better if they didn't see each other anymore.
He apologized for telling her this in a letter. He'd have preferred to tell her in person, but since she was now right on the Western Front of the Great War he hadn't any idea when she planned on returning.
In conclusion, he hoped Emma would understand. It was regrettable, but one had to be realistic and deal with society on its own terms. It was the way of the world, after all.
She remembered his words as she continued gazing down at his photo. How she'd adored him! Now she couldn't stand to see Lloyd smirking at her for one more second! The smile she'd once found so irresistibly attractive now seemed merely smug and self-satisfied.
She swore under her breath in French, a habit she'd picked up in the girls' dormitory at the Hampshire School. "You imbecile!" she snarled at his picture. "My mother hasn't run away. She hasn't returned home because she's dead!"
Snapping the two halves of the golden ball shut, Emma hopped from the wall and strode purposefully to the old stone well several yards away. "To hell with you, Lloyd Pennington, you lying two-face!" she shouted as she hurled the locket. She'd always had a strong throwing arm and acute aim. As intended, the locket sailed into the well.
Emma looked up sharply when the German plane appeared. The sunset of pink and gold filtering into the room had drawn her to the high, arched window. The brilliant quality of the light, so vibrant and yet still, poised between day and night, filled her with a quiet sadness.
But the unexpected appearance of the plane jolted her from her melancholy, diverting her into a state of hyperattentiveness.
Sometimes a lone plane like this was only spying on the Allied troops, reporting back their numbers and position in the field. At least that was what she'd read in the newspapers. In minutes, though, another plane appeared over the rolling fields below, first as a dot in the sky and then slowly coming into clearer focus. She could just barely make out the high whine of the planes' propellers.
Two planes was not a good sign. It meant they were bombers, not reconnaissance planes. These fighter planes always showed up first, and the strategy seemed to be to bomb from above before attacking with ground troops.
Emma sighed bitterly. It was amazing how much she'd learned about war these last few months. Back at the Hampshire School when she had studied art, music, mathematics, English literature, German, French, and Latin, she'd never have suspected that months later she would become a student of war.
Nothing was more important than war now. In fact, everything else seemed almost ridiculously irrelevant. Back in London she'd pored over the papers, which were full of the war--troop locations; whether they were winning or losing; what nations had joined the fight.
In Belgium she'd learned about war firsthand, seen much more than she'd ever expected or wanted to know. She'd seen things she longed to forget.
Had her parents really thought the Great War wouldn't touch them; that she and her mother could safely visit their family estate in Belgium? How shortsighted that decision now seemed; though back in early September of 1914, her father had been certain all the fighting would be concentrated on the Russian border--the Eastern Front--and Belgium's neutrality would be respected.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The insectlike buzz of the plane grew louder. Surely they weren't going to bombard the village of Ypres again. What could possibly be left there that hadn't already been blasted into rubble?
Lately she drifted from one empty day to another here in the huge, rambling estate with only old Claudine and Willem, the manor's caretaker couple, there to help her. Thank god they'd stayed on. If they'd left, Emma knew she wouldn't have been able to cope at all.
She'd been stuck there for nearly seven months, since last September. The seventeenth-century manor house sat right on the line between the Allied French, English, Dutch, Canadian, and Belgian troops and the enemy, the Austrians and Germans. Both sides had dug in to filthy trenches on either side of the fighting. She was right on what had come to be known as the Western Front of the Great War.
The mansion sat on several miles of elevated cliff known as The Ridge. It gave her a perfect view of the trench-torn fields below. It was just like her to be stuck in the thick of things, right smack in the middle of trouble. Only, unlike the schoolgirl mischief she'd gotten into back at the Hampshire School, this was a mess to end all messes--a disaster on a worldwide scale. Some people said it was the end of the world.
like the end of the world.
She and her mother should have gone home right away, but then a week later, the German hydrogen vessels, the zeppelins, flew over England and dropped missiles. No one had expected that!
Her father sent a telegram saying it might be better to stay where they were for the moment. But they'd waited too long. Now a fight had begun to control the North Sea, and the English Channel wasn't safe to cross. The Germans had declared any vessel in those waters fair game for attack. Besides that, she couldn't get past enemy lines in the north.
If only her mother were still there with her.
Rose Winthrop had been too near a missile that exploded in Ypres during an assault on the medieval city. They'd been in a restaurant having lunch. The owner pulled the shutters closed and barricaded the door when the attack began, but the blast tore open the entire front of the restaurant. Emma had desperately mopped blood from her mother's brow and watched the once vibrant eyes grow dull as she slipped away.
It infuriated her to think that people thought her mother had run off, had abandoned her father. It was awful! Why didn't her father set the ugly rumors straight? Hadn't he told people that she had been killed?
It suddenly struck her that maybe he didn't know! Her mother had been buried outside of Ypres. Emma had written her father a letter, telling him what had happened; but maybe he'd never gotten it. She hadn't received a letter back from him in all this time. She'd assumed it was because they couldn't get letters across the enemy lines. It had never occurred to her until that moment that her letter to him had not made it to London.
A knot twisted in her stomach. Did her father think she and her mother had abandoned him? Was that why no one had come to get her?
In the beginning, right after her mother's death, she'd spent every day expecting her father to show up, to console her, to take her home. But he never came. No one came. She hadn't known what to think of this but she'd imagined every possible scenario: her father getting the news and dropping dead of a heart attack; England being attacked and her father taken prisoner; her father being killed in another missile attack. Her imagination spun out endless reasons why he had not come. Most likely, he couldn't get through to her just as she couldn't get to him, but it still didn't stop her from imagining the worst.
This letter from Lloyd meant that her father was alive but not telling anyone that her mother was dead, leaving them to think that she--and Emma--had run off and left him. Was it truly what he thought had happened? If so, how could he think that of them? Her mother would never do that--her loving, good mother--never!
Thinking of her mother made Emma's eyes well with tears. It was so senseless! So stupid! Her mother had died for no reason! Her mother had always been the one she could count on to understand her feelings; the one ready with a hug and comforting words. It was her mother to whom she'd always confided. How she missed talking with her.
And though her mother would have been her first choice, it would have been a pleasure to have
at all to talk to these days! Willem and Claudine only spoke Flemish. And, although the sounds of Flemish were a bit like French--and somewhat like Dutch, which was likewise akin, in some ways, to German--she found it nearly impossible to communicate with the couple. Many Belgians spoke German, French, or English. Emma was fluent in all three, having excelled in language at school. Her own mother had been able to speak German and Dutch, being raised as a girl here in the manor. But with Claudine and Willem, it was Flemish or nothing, and so it was nothing.
The rattle of the first round of shelling drew Emma's thoughts back to the planes. Two more fighter planes had joined them, their red and white cross insignias just barely visible from her window.
Her hands flew to her ears, covering them against a sudden deafening blast. The nearest field erupted in white light, shot through with dirt and debris. Even from up here on The Ridge, back a safe distance from the fighting, her window rattled slightly with the impact. The shells were raining down fast now. It always began with a whistle, like ascending fireworks, and then the jarring, bone-rattling explosion. Though she'd heard it before, she could never get used to it.
Staring hard, she tried to see into the trenches out there in the fields. She couldn't detect movement in the long ditches dug into the dirt, but that didn't mean soldiers weren't there, hunkered against the dirt walls, gripping their machine guns, hand grenades, and pistols; waiting, tensely white-knuckled, for the other side to stand and advance first, foolishly exposing itself to their gunfire.
Another shell hit the ground, spraying up more blinding light and deadly debris.
Emma turned away from the window, her face tight with the effort of keeping tears at bay. How much longer could this madness continue?
So many people had died already. Her mother's death loomed larger than all the others to her, but she knew that every death was monumental to someone; every soldier a friend, boyfriend, husband, father, brother, or son. Every civilian and soldier killed was someone's dear one and an irreplaceable loss to that person. And yet the killing went on and on. The death tolls reported in the papers were staggering.
she thought again. If she heard one more shell fall she might lose her mind altogether.
She crossed the large master bedroom that had once been used by her parents. She'd moved into it because her own bedroom had a leak when it rained and it had been a rainy spring.
The four curved posts of her parents' mahogany bed nearly reached the top of the ceiling. A maroon-colored brocade cloth was draped from post to post. The matching bedcover lay rumpled across the unmade bed.
Emma crawled into it, kicking aside the knotted sheet before pulling her legs into a fetal crouch. Her tears flowed freely now into her pillow, until she had sobbed her way into the relief of sleep.
She dreamed she was having tea with the girls in her dormitory. They sat downstairs in the school's parlor, so happy to be back in the familiar safety of the school once again, back among friends. They were gossiping about someone. She heard their words but couldn't make sense of them. "Who are you talking about?" she asked.
"Don't you know?" asked a girl named Theresa. "It's that Rose Winthrop. She ran away from her husband and then she abandoned her daughter in Europe somewhere--just dumped her and ran off with some man."
"She did not!" Emma objected angrily.
Theresa and the others giggled knowingly. "Yes, she did, silly. Everyone in England knows about it," a second girl named Augusta insisted. "Mr. Winthrop has disowned the mother
the daughter, both. He wants nothing to do with either one of them. He has forgotten them entirely and has begun a new family."
"He has not!" Emma screamed, red-faced with humiliation and outrage. "Stop saying that! Stop it!"
She sat straight up in bed, wide awake once again and realizing she'd shouted out loud.
The rapid staccato of machine gun fire now filled the blank spaces between the bombings from above. But something new was happening, something she had never seen before. She noticed it the moment she gazed toward the window.
Swinging her legs out of bed, she returned to the window for a closer look.
Out in the fields, a sickly, greenish-yellow vapor came rising up from the ground. It was like no color she'd ever seen before.
The ghostly mist seemed strangely evil and filled Emma with an icy dread.
For a moment, both the bombing and the machine gun fire ceased. Her ears adjusted to the sudden silence and she became aware of another sound.
She wasn't certain ... but ...
She thought she heard a voice ... no.
It was many voices.
And they were screaming.