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The Golden Curse
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-389-X
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 223 Pages
Published: November 2017

From inside the flap

No one starts out a hero or heroine. We’re all born a little selfish in fact – it’s an imperative of survival. Sometimes it takes a series of fairly unusual circumstances to change an ordinary girl into the kind of heroine who can turn the tide of generations long war.

Gilda, the beautiful daughter of a carpenter, is being raised alone in a cottage in the woods by her kindly old Gran. This is, what she has always believed. But the beast who watches her from the shadows knows much more. It knows that her entire life is a carefully constructed web of lies, and it knows why she is an orphan.

When Gilda is accused of witch craft at the annual village fair, she is rescued from burning by her unseen watcher. She slowly discovers who the creature is, why it is there, and which of them truly needs to be rescued. They are all part of the same long story, a tapestry connected by blood and fear. Only together can they hope to survive the tide of evil that is coming.

The Golden Curse (Excerpt)

The Golden Curse

'The first sunlight that touches your cheek will touch not the face of a man, but the hide of a beast.' - From the Witch's Curse

Prologue: Outskirts of Edenhoven - Northern Europe 1687 AD

The beast hid behind the long dripping branches of a willow tree. He could see her, but she would never know he was there. Frustration clouded his vision as he watched the little golden girl. Her Gran was in the cottage garden quite a ways away tending to her vegetable patch. She was not paying the slightest attention to the child. He growled softly. He couldn't reveal himself as he was - the girl would be more frightened of him than she would be of drowning. The death of her parents had left her terrified of large toothed animals, and he would be no exception. He leaned forward slightly, his claws clicking on the wet rocks by the stream.

The pretty little creature with her fluff of dandelion hair began throwing flowers into the water. Sunlight sparkled on the surface of the stream as the ripples branched out from each petal. Recent rains had swelled the meager creek until its banks could scarcely contain it, and it would be better called a river. It rushed with new currents and eddies, delighted in its larger more important life. The girl was still young and after her recent growth spurt, she seemed to be unable to keep track of her own arms and legs. She leaned perilously over the edge. He waited in expectation of the inevitable.

"He loves me." She said tossing in a petal. "He loves me not." She said with a giggle as she tossed in the second to last one. "He loves me!" She said as she threw in the final petal. She watched as it became trapped near some tree roots where the stream had strayed from its banks. It wouldn't be able to chase its friends down the river. "Oh. I think I'm supposed to save that one." She said, cocking her head to the side as she examined it. How did she plan to get to it? The creature exhaled a hot breath as he watched the girl try to ford the stream toward the little white petal. He knew that she could not swim. She was a very small nine years old, and the stream had found speed in addition to purpose with its recent promotion to 'river.' He stepped forward, closer, then back into the shadow. He wasn't supposed to do anything. There were rules. The others would not appreciate him saving this particular girl. She was becoming a large concern for them.

Her foot settled on a very slippery, very mossy rock as she struggled to retrieve her petal. "Darn thing doesn't want to be caught does it?" The girl said out loud as she reached for it, only to have it slide to a crevice further down. The creature bit back his reply. She wasn't talking to him - she didn't know he was there. She leaned further forward to try to reach the escaping petal. Her foot slipped off the mossy rock and she slipped right along with it. Unlike the petal which escaped gleefully to freedom, the child was in every danger of drowning. He could run as fast as the river could flee, but there was every chance that she would see him... and he was only supposed to watch... not to interfere.

Chapter 1: An Otherwise Ordinary Walk In The Woods - Edenhoven 1696

'Dark and shadow will be your respite, and you will have your true form again.' - From the Witch's Curse

"Breathe Damn you! Breathe you little thing, Breathe or I'll... " Sunlight forced its way in through a tiny crack in the poorly made walls of Gilda's room, waking her from the dream that always felt like memory. But just like all her repetitive dreams, it was just that. Or so Gran had always reassured her.

The obnoxious little ray of sunlight trickled up the golden skin of Gilda's shoulder, danced along the curls of her blonde hair and came to rest directly on her eyelid. Gilda opened her eye warily, and was rewarded by temporary blindness from the impudent little beam. She blinked her amber colored eyes in irritation and sat up. Gilda rubbed her sore shinbone and glared at the sunlight as if it were its fault that she'd slept on her old creek injury wrong. Almost ten years and the tendon was still twingey when she didn't sleep in the right position. With a deep sigh, she swung her legs over the edge of her bed. It wasn't as if she could stay in it all day anyhow.

In all honesty, she was actually rather anxious to wake up today. Today was the first day in which her dreams had the barest chance of becoming reality. They had to be. Being a peasant of no consequence could not be borne much longer. The problem with allowing peasants (like herself) to learn to read, was that it made them aware of how utterly untenable their own existence was. Gilda shook her head at the dour nature of her own musings. She slid a woven wire cloth back and forth over her little blade before putting it into her leather waist pouch. If her snares were full today, she could get enough money to buy the blue dress in the window of Mr. Grummold's shop. Once she had the blue dress, becoming Queen of the Faire was nearly assured. Queen of the Faire was, almost certainly, the only way to crawl out of the proverbial coffin that was her life.

She didn't feel particularly vain for thinking that she was sure to be Queen. Honesty was not vanity. Modest people were simply dishonest people playing down their attributes in order to receive more compliments. In fact, if a pretty girl even tried to sound diffident, it only irritated people more. She was beautiful, and the most beautiful girl in town was always made Queen of the Faire.

Gilda looked down at her reflection in the bowl of water, pausing before washing her face. Her features were unusual, and far too alluring for her own good. What good was great beauty if it did not inspire the sort of epic love story usually reserved for gothic romances? Where was her gallant knight ready to whisk her from obscurity into grandeur? Late. That's where. So she had to do all the whisking herself. She brushed a stray eyelash off of her golden skin.

For years the village boys had teased her about her uncommon appearance. Recently, they had stopped teasing, and had instead, started staring. It was like they forgot to breathe when she was close by. More than one of them had actually fainted. In general, they just turned red, stammered and became nearly senseless in her presence. She didn't mind being beautiful, that in and of itself was rather pleasant... but she hated the "nonsensical idiot" effect that it seemed to have on men. Beet red faces, gasped out greetings, and sweaty palmed kisses of the hand, were not the grand romance she had in mind.

Her grandmother's morning knock startled her from her mooning over her reflection. She suspected that Gran intentionally knocked early to keep her from spending too long admiring her own appearance. It wouldn't have been the first time she had been caught doing so.

"You wake yet Gilda?" She called out in a raspy voice. Gilda wished her grandmother's speech wasn't so common, but Gran was far too old to be taught, so there was nothing she could do.

"Just dressing Gran, I will be out as soon as I am decent." Gilda said as she pulled on her pale yellow dress and leather boots. She sighed as she did up the lacings on the ugly things. She would need new shoes also, as these would never do for a Queen. She swung open the coarse wooden bedroom door and stepped into the kitchen. The house was small. No, small was generous. The house was tiny. Even house was a stretch... it was a hovel. The kitchen was the dining room as well as the living room. Her Gran slept in what had been her parent's room and she herself slept in the little added on room that her father had built before his death. Her room was scarcely more than a "lean to." All told, the spare rough-hewn dwelling had three rooms. Gilda sat down in her chair at the table. It was a simple wooden chair her father had made, nicked all over with chisel gouges that he had not bothered to sand out. Gran set a bowl of porridge down in front of her.

"Eat up Gild-a-lily, you've got a long walk today." Gran said kindly. Gilda looked at the porridge. Her Grandmother invariably made it two ways, boiling hot and thin as milk with no flavor what-so-ever, OR cold, lumpy, nearly chewy, and overly sweet from too much honey or treacle. She imagined it was possible to make it somewhere in between, but not for Gran, so there she was. She took a tentative bite. It had the texture of beef steak, and was cold enough to make her believe that it was from the previous morning. A large amount of honey seemed to have been dumped on top to disguise that fact. She resented the expense that the unnecessary honey was causing. It wasn't as if the honey was doing anything to make the breakfast more palatable.

"I'm actually none to hungry this morning." Gilda said taking two large, painful bites and washing them down with a gulp of milk. Uck, it was soured. Gran seemed to have no sense of taste, it was a wonder she had survived long enough to be this old. "It's just that I'm very eager to get to the traps and see if I have any decent pelts out there." She said standing up and pulling her shawl off the hook by the door.

"At least take a long a little something then." Gran said wrapping what was most likely roasted squirrel in a cloth and handing it to her. She kissed Gilda on the top of her gleaming curls. "Best not fret if there isn't enough to get you that dress Gild-a-lily. You're a mite too pretty to need any trappings an-a-way." Gran said pressing what had to be a second squirrel into her other hand.

"Thank you Gran." Gilda sighed as she let the door swing shut behind her. It wasn't her fault. The door wasn't weighted properly and swung shut hard enough to snap fingers no matter how carefully you tried to close it.

Gilda stepped lightly down the front walkway and tucked the squirrels into the pockets of her apron. She reflected that the main problem with trapping as a source of income, was that one generally had to eat what came out of the traps. A diet of squirrel, rabbit, and the occasional bird tended to be gamey and tough, even when paired with the produce from Gran's garden. Real food was another thing she could look forward to once she was no longer a peasant. If, in fact, she ever escaped the provincial hell to which an accident of birth and parentage had confined her.

Gilda practiced her walk as she meandered down the familiar path into the woods. She kept her head up, shoulders back. A woman's walk spoke as much as her voice. She hated the slumped, furtive way that other peasant women walked. They tucked their chests into their stomachs as if trying to shrink into themselves or hide the obvious signs of their femininity. Having breasts was not the crime that they all seemed to think it was, nor was cleanliness... but that was a secondary criticism.

Gilda, was always clean, and she made every effort to move like a woman of refinement. She glanced down at the roasted squirrels making unsightly bulges in her homespun apron and laughed out loud. Oh yes, she was a lady of quality all right, what with the two dead squirrels and her nose in the air. Gilda grimaced. She would have to eat one of them for lunch, but she could use the second one to bait one of her larger snares.

The trap nearest the house was empty. It usually was. She supposed it was because the animals could smell their brethren bubbling away in her grandmother's soup pot and knew to stay back. Soup was the one thing her grandmother was fairly good at making. Gilda had vague memories of her mother's cooking, which seemed to center around baking. Her mother had been an excellent cook if her early memories could be believed. She had notions of a blonde woman with kind brown eyes pressing warm and flakey treats into what had been pudgy little dimpled hands. These memories didn't really bear consideration, as they could only cause her pain.

Her parents had both been killed by a wolf pack that had once roamed their little corner of the wood. They had been taking a pig into town to be sold during the dead of winter, when the smell of pork had proved too tempting for the pack to ignore. Unusual behavior for wolves, but the long winter must have driven them to it. Gilda tried not to dwell on these circumstances of her past. She didn't like wallowing in her own self-pity, or the pity of others.

Gilda reached the second trap. It held a beautifully plumed pheasant. Pheasant would make a nice change from squirrel meat, and the feathers would fetch a decent price from the milliner. The man had been widowed some three years previous, and had just started flushing and stammering every time she brought him a batch of feathers. He was balding and near-sighted as all milliners were, but she didn't mind the extra coins he had decided her more recent deliveries of feathers had deserved. She tied a string around the legs of the dead pheasant and hung it from a rope around her waist.

Gilda wound her hair up out of her face with twine, and continued walking. She reached her third trap in record time. A stomach that didn't have a lead brick of lumpy porridge in it seemed to lead to faster feet. Her stomach unfortunately didn't agree and was arguing audibly with her for not having given it the timely breakfast it was accustomed to. The 3rd trap was disappointingly bare. More disappointing than the first trap because this one had been sprung - the animal had simply gotten away. Gilda hated having to reset a trap that hadn't even caught its quarry. She groaned and bent down to re-string it.

Gilda's mind began to wander away from her little slip knots. The faire was far more interesting than snares. The question was, if there was even anyone that she hoped might pay court to her, or ask her to dance. Several of the boys in town were handsome enough. It was just that she couldn't stand the thought of one of them holding her waist in sweaty hands, and trying to gasp out a conversation with her during a slow piece of music. Not only would it ruin the blue silk dress, but it would be so very awkward. Would any of the blithering boys actually be able to pluck up the nerve to ask her? She doubted it. Although, in previous fairs nearly everyone had danced with the Queen... so perhaps they would. The only question remaining then, was if she would enjoy it.

A particular face forced itself into her mind. It was that of a tall dark haired man she had seen a few times in town. He seemed... mysterious. He had long brown hair down to his shoulders, angular features and very dark eyes. She had only ever seen him trying to enter shops for last minute trade after sundown, when all the proprietors just wanted to go home. At the time she had moved on quickly, presuming that a man who only came out after nightfall was most likely a highwayman or a thief... But now she remembered that he had been handsome, and he had not blushed or stammered when she passed. Quite the contrary. He had given her a derisive glance and continued about his business. The dancing was bound to be after dark, so perhaps her handsome stranger would be there.

Perhaps not, she thought finishing the trap. Even if he was, what good would it do her? The one man who didn't turn into a puddle at the sight of her and would be capable of a dance without excessive sweating, found her to be inexplicably worthy of his contempt. She sighed. That was rather unfortunate.

Gilda kept on walking. She heard a strange rustling in the thicket to her left. This had been happening more and more often lately. But every time she turned around... there was nothing there. She tried to look absorbed in a pebble on the well-worn path she had made, and then turned rapidly toward her left. Nothing. No surprise there. Perhaps her frequent solitude was driving her slowly out of her mind?

Once again she cursed the foolish notion of her late father to build a house a good distance into the woods, rather than near town. It made perfect sense for a carpenter to be near an adequate supply of downed trees and material... but for a girl of eighteen? It was endless torment.

Gilda stopped motionless in her tracks. Her 4th trap held a struggling young fox. He was gorgeous. Deep red, fading to crystal white on his tail, with perfect little ebony stockings on his tiny feet. Gilda knew well how fashionable it was to wear a fur wrap around one's shoulders made of fox pelt. A fox pelt would buy her the rest of the dress and be a good part way to the shoes. But the noose had caught his delicate little foot, and not his neck. He was still very much alive and looking at her with the most beautiful green eyes she'd ever seen. She wasn't prepared to kill the little gentleman with her hands or her knife. He was too lovely and his eyes too pleading. She'd snapped a fair number of necks, but those had been of birds or rabbits. This fellow was dreadfully endearing.

"Ack." She said kneeling down beside him and grasping him from behind so that he couldn't bite her. Not that he made any attempt, he seemed rather relieved to be rescued, and he didn't even bare his teeth. He just kept turning his head to look in the direction of the rustling that had disturbed her. So she wasn't entirely crazy, this little gentleman had heard it too. Gilda sighed.

"If you knew what your pretty fur was worth my elegant friend, you would appreciate this a lot more." She cut him loose gently, and pulled one of the laces out of her shoe, grasping about the forest floor with her free hand until she found a pair of short sticks. She sat down on the damp earth and fashioned a small splint on his wounded leg. "Sorry about the leg little fellow. This should help heal it if it is broken or sprained." She pulled the roasted squirrel out of her pocket. "Are you hungry?" She asked setting it on the damp ground in front of him. He seemed too frightened to eat, although he sniffed it hungrily. He still had made no attempts to bite her, which she found very odd. She heard the rustling again, it sounded like a very large animal. She quickly snapped her neck to the side to look. Nothing. Why she expected any different after all this time, was beyond her. She tossed the roast squirrel as far as she could in the opposite direction of the rustling and let go of the fox.

"Go on then." She said. "I can't stay here listening to phantom noises and talking to foxes... that would really make me senseless wouldn't it?" She asked the little fox as he took off in a funny three legged gait toward where she had thrown the squirrel. Asking a fox for its opinion of your mental status was perhaps a bad sign. Oh well. Gilda got up and brushed off her dress. She was now muddy, missing a lacing, and down one perfect fox pelt. She wondered if kindness and foolishness were linked qualities. It often seemed that way. She had even given it her lunch... or bait out of guilt over its little injury. Silly Gilda. She admonished herself as she continued her walk through the woods.

Morning was giving way to midday if the filtered sunlight through the tree canopy was any indication. She took a regretful bite of the remaining food. It was stringy and tough and oddly fishy. Definitely a squirrel. It took a lot more chewing than she would have liked in order for it to go down. She took another bite, if only to pacify her stomach. Her mouth was decidedly in disagreement with her about it.

Her 5th trap, the one for wild cats or wolves, was still empty. In all honesty, it had never been full. The old bait was still there. She cautiously kicked the dried out rabbit leg out of the trap without tripping it. She placed the remainder of her squirrel meat into the noose. With any luck she would catch something large and furry and worth the waste of her lunch. A wolf would be nice. It would feel oddly satisfying in a morbid sort of way to catch one. She knew the pack was gone, but she still couldn't help resenting their species for leaving her parentless.

Her parents had been very well liked in the village. When they had died, there had been quite a bit of outcry. The men of the town had armed themselves nightly and gone hunting until all the local wolves had been killed or driven on. The older men of her little village still tended to wear wolf skin coats in the wintertime as marks of their great heroism. Gilda had a strange macabre liking for the fashion and wanted one of her own. No one had thought to give her one from the wolf massacre, and they probably would have thought her desire for one was unhealthy.

It wasn't as if she could wear it anyway. A trapper in a wolf skin coat would never be Queen. Perhaps a nobleman's son would come to the faire to buy a ribbon for his betrothed. Perhaps he see her, and be so taken with her beauty that he would abandon his wealthy fiance. Gilda smirked. Her nobleman would forsake his cold and aloof betrothed, for the beautiful village girl and they would have a scandalous runaway marriage. She sighed and rubbed her forehead. Her fantasies must have truly gone too far, as she noticed she was editing them as they occurred because they were so ludicrous.

Gilda kicked a rock in the path. Her vivid imagination seemed to serve two purposes. To keep her from despair in her less than ideal circumstances... AND to drive her half mad with desire for a better life. She took the twine out of her hair and used it to rethread her boot, as it was it was threatening to come off with each step.

The 6th trap held a very plump and fluffy dead rabbit. She tied it to her sash alongside the pheasant. Its fur was dark brown and velvety in texture. This one would actually be worth a few coins. It was scarcely worth bringing in the grayish brown cotton tails she usually trapped. They were common enough to worth next to nothing from a fair merchant, and only a pittance from a besotted one. She didn't even want to go to Mr. Grummold's shop if she didn't have a significant amount of decent pelts. He had been distressingly enthusiastic toward to her lately.

Gilda attempted to banish these thoughts by practicing her recitations of poetry. The sonnets and well known verses were too boring to distract her from her hunger, so Gilda began making up her own.

"A walk I took in the wild wood upon a summer's day,