The Tunsey Men #1
by Wendy Stone
Princess Lisette, knowing her evil stepmother wants to kill her, flees the castle and runs into the woods. After a terrifying and exhausting night out, she finds a cottage in the woods owned by the Tunsey brothers. They listen to her tale and agree to allow her to stay. They are all appealing but she falls for the oldest, a man named Gifford. When Gifford finds her in trouble, there is nothing he wouldn't do to save his charming Lisette.
Release Date: April 10, 2011
Genre: Historical | Fairy Tale Retelling
Lisette heard the sound of her stepmother’s voice echoing harshly in the wide common room of the castle. She crouched lower in her hiding place near the stairs, trying to make her slender form disappear. If she were found… It didn’t bear thinking of the punishment she would be given this time.
“I cannot believe that you let one lone girl escape your sight,” the queen grouched. “I give you so much and ask so little from you.” Lisette heard her sigh dramatically. “One small girl and you can not keep her in check. She could ruin everything! I need her found and then I want her killed.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” the queen’s personal guard answered quickly, used to the ways of this royal lady. “It shall be as you wish.”
“Ah, but you mustn’t do it here. Her father must not hear of this. You must take her out deep into the woods. There you will kill her, bury her body but bring me her hair. I wish to use it to braid into bindings to enchant the king. He will think he killed his daughter and the grief will drive him mad.” She laughed the evil sound sending chills of horror down Lisette’s spine.
She had to flee and quickly. She couldn’t think of letting her father blame himself for her death. He was a good man, though somewhat weak willed which had led him to becoming enchanted by Edwina Hollister’s spell to begin with. He’d brought her home, thinking her the perfect woman to become mother to his teenage daughter.
Instead, she’d made Lisette her slave, forcing her to serve morning, noon and night until her back ached and her hands were red and chapped. She was slapped and kicked, pinched cruelly, the bruises hidden by Edwina’s witchly craft. Her father saw her as she once was, not the abused and too thin girl she had become.
Dressed in rags, a thin shawl her only protection from the elements and heavy wooden clogs upon her feet, she snuck from the castle, finding her way through what had been her mother’s beautiful rose garden, now left to grow wild and choked with weeds. Her heart was in her throat as she found the small iron door in the thick wall that protected the castle, yanking with all her meager strength against the lock until it finally slid back.
She lifted the rusted ring, praying that the door had not grown stuck with corrosion. Pulling, she winced at the loud squeal it made, opening just enough so that she might squeeze her thin body through, pulling it back shut behind her.
She was free! But she could not afford to celebrate her freedom yet, for she was too close to the castle. With a small cry, barely discernable in the noise made by the evening insects, she hurried off, staying close to the wall until she came to where it was closest to the forest. Then she slipped into the woods, unafraid, as thoughts of what she’d left behind her sent her terror spiking more than anything she could face here.
She ran until it grew too dark for her to see one tree from the next and a slight rain began to fall, clouds obscuring the moon. Drawing her ragged shawl closer around her, she sought shelter from the rain under the wide spread branches of a huge tree. There she leaned against its rough bark; her legs curled under her and let her eyes close, too tired to worry about any of the noises coming from the woods around her.
Lisette woke with the first hint of dawn, its pink rays touching on her skin, warming her. Stretching helped to take out the kinks from her unusual sleeping position. Her call of nature was achieved by squatting next to a small bush, her eyes darting furtively around her.
The woods were unfamiliar and she had no idea or which way she’d entered, being turned around in the darkness of the night before. All she could do was pick a direction and hope that it took her further from her stepmother and her cruel ways. Her belly grumbled with hunger and she gave a happy cry when a small berry bush, heaping with the black succulent treat grew close to her path. She ate her fill then took the kerchief off her head, filling it with more of the beautiful berries to eat later. Her fingers grew stained from their juices as did her lips, but she didn’t notice. It was the first time in weeks that she could remember her belly not hurting from hunger.
By the time the sun was at its highest peak, Lisette was once more tired, the abuse she’d suffered draining much of her natural stamina and strength from her. When she came upon a tiny clearing in the woods where a cottage stood, its door standing invitingly open, she couldn’t resist a peak inside.
“Hello?” she called her voice timid and frightened. Who knew how far the power of her stepmother went?
She received no answer and glanced around. Seeing no one, she stepped inside.
The room was a shambles, dirty clothing and dishes everywhere, boots left to drop dried mud on the wooden floors. Food left sitting out was rotting, cheese turning green with mold. Lisette wrinkled her nose at the smell. Why would anyone want to live in this squalor?
Around a small table were three chairs, all left pushed back from the table. A huge pot of congealing oatmeal sat in the center, bowls left with spoon sitting in them. Lisette picked up one bowl, sniffing at its contents before pulling it away from her face. With a sigh, she dumped the bowls in the pot and took the mess over to the big sink on one wall. A hand pump fed icy water into the sink and she emptied out the pot, filling it with water and hanging it over the still burning fire in the fireplace.
Whoever lived here were terrible housekeepers and worse cooks, she decided. If she were to clean and cook for them, perhaps they would let her stay for a while, at least until she had some idea of what she was going to do next.
She spent the next few hours scrubbing and cleaning, washing clothes, mending holes with the small sewing kit she found tucked away on a shelf. A door in the back of the cottage led to a small basement where food hung in the cooler air. She brought up a slab of meat and some vegetables and sat about making a savory stew, mixing up dough for biscuits to go with it.
By the time she was through, the room shone and smelled fresh and clean, clothes fluttered in the breeze on the line outside and the smell of the stew was drifting through the open doorway. Fluffing the last pillow on the three huge beds she’d found up a ladder into a loft, she yawned hugely, laid down for just a moment on the soft bed and instantly fell asleep.