Home > Heartless(15)

Author: Marissa Meyer

The shadow of a hooded man engulfed her. As Catherine stared, the silhouette lifted an enormous axe, the curved blade arching across the grass.

Trembling, Catherine spun around. A dark shape dropped towards her out of the sky. She screamed and threw her arms up in defence.

The raven cawed, so close she could feel his wing beats as he flew past.

‘Are you all right?’

She gasped and withdrew her arms. Her heart was thundering as she peered up into the boughs of a white rose tree.

It took a moment to find him in the dark. The Joker was lounging on a low-hanging branch, a silver flute in his hands, though if he’d been playing it before, she’d been too distracted to notice.

Her lashes fluttered. Half of her hair had fallen from its chignon and draped over her shoulder. Her skin was burning hot. The world was spinning wildly – swirling with lemon tarts and invisible cats and curved axes and . . .

The Joker tensed, his brow creasing. ‘My lady?’

The world tilted severely and turned black.


‘LADY HATH STUMBLED on this midnight dreary, with a pallor frightfully pale and weary.’ A sombre, melodic voice floated through the encompassing darkness.

‘Duly noted, my feathered friend,’ came a second voice, lighter and quick. ‘Are you sure we haven’t some sal-volatile in there?’

‘I know nothing of your hoped-for salt, though with your plan I find a fault. To keep her from awaking groggy, ’twould be most prudent to make her soggy.’

Something hard thumped on the ground by Cath’s elbow, followed by a quiet slosh of water.

‘No, Raven, we are not throwing a bucket of water on her. Keep looking. Haven’t we a ham sandwich? Or some hay? That always worked on the King.’

Rustling, fumbling, clanks and clatters.

A sigh. ‘You know what? Never mind. We’ll use this.’

The rustle of foliage followed by the snap of a branch. Something soft tickled the tip of Cath’s nose.

She squirmed, turning her head away, and caught the faint perfume of roses.

‘Aha, it’s working.’

She wrinkled her nose. Her eyelids squinted open. Darkness and shadows swirled in her vision. Her head felt heavy, her thoughts disoriented.

‘Hello,’ spoke one of the bleary shadows, sharpening into the court joker. He lifted the soft-petalled rose away from her face. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Nevermore,’ said his Raven, who was perched on the edge of a metal bucket.

The Joker cut him a glare. ‘Don’t be rude.’

‘ ’Tisn’t rude to rebuke an arbitrary greeting, a nonsense question upon first meeting. To be all right implies an impossible phase. We hope for mostly right on the best of our days.’

‘Exactly,’ said the Joker. ‘Rude.’

The Raven made an unhappy noise. Spreading his massive wings, he leaped up into the air and settled on a high branch of the rose tree instead.

The Joker returned his attention to Catherine. He had removed the three-pointed hat and his wavy black hair was matted to his head in places and sticking out in others. The light from a nearby garden torch flickered gold in his eyes, still thickly rimmed in kohl. He smiled at her, and it was the friendly sort of smile that reached to every corner of his face, drawing dimples into his cheeks, crinkling the corners of his eyes. Cath’s heart tumbled. During his performance, she had been hypnotized by his magic, amused by his tomfoolery – but she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.

‘I’m glad the rose worked,’ he said, twirling it in his fingers. ‘I suspect this would be a different sort of meeting had we been forced to use the water bucket.’

She blinked, unable to smile back as the shadows shifted across his face. It wasn’t just the firelight. His eyes really were the colour of gold. The colour of sunflowers and butterscotch and lemons hanging heavy on their boughs.

Her own eyes widened. ‘You.’

‘Me,’ he agreed. He cocked his head to the side, frowning again. ‘In all seriousness, my lady, are you . . .’ A hesitation. ‘. . . mostly right?’

She felt it again, that internal tug she’d had during the dream, telling her that he had something that belonged to her, and she had to catch him if she were ever to get it back.

‘My lady?’ Setting the rose aside, he touched the back of his hand to her brow. ‘Can you hear me? You’re very warm.’

The world spun again, but this time in a delicious, time-stopping way.

‘Perhaps I should call for a Sturgeon . . .’

‘No, I’m fine. I’m all right.’ Her words were sticky and her fingers fumbling, but she managed to grasp his hand before he pulled away. He froze, dubious. ‘Though I can’t feel my legs,’ she confessed.

His lips twisted to one side. ‘Mostly right, after all. Let’s not tell Raven he was correct, or he’ll be insufferable the rest of the night.’ He glanced down. ‘I can almost guarantee that your legs are still attached, though there is an awful lot of fabric disguising them. I’ll go searching for them now if you’d like me to.’

His expression was innocent, his tone sincere.

Catherine laughed. ‘That’s quite generous, but I’ll go searching for them myself, thank you. Can you help me sit?’

Still holding her hand, the Joker scooped his free arm beneath her shoulders and lifted her upward. She spotted his hat lying upside down not far away, and scattered around it an odd assortment of junk. Glass marbles, a wind-up monkey, handkerchiefs, an empty inkwell, mismatched buttons, a two-wheeled velocipede, the silver flute.

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