Home > The Hexed & the Hunted

The Hexed & the Hunted
Author: Melissa Marr

 


PROLOGUE

 

 

Late that night I slipped into bed with Eli. The dead were safely nestled back in their graves, and the draugr I hadn’t beheaded were vanished to their dens or nests. And Iggy had crawled back into whatever cave he lived with his antiquated notions.

“How was work?” Eli murmured after kissing me hello.

“Dead,” I quipped.

Eli, proving yet again that he was the one for me, smiled. “Indeed.”

I filled him in, and then snuggled into his arms. I wasn’t exactly sleepy, but tonight’s magic had left me ready for rest. It was a bit alarming to suddenly need sleep, but that was another question for another week. Tonight was for pre-wedding snuggles.

The next thing I knew, the magical alarm that let us know that Allie was here was blaring. It felt like only a moment after I fell asleep, but the light said it was the next morning.

“Breakfast!” my assistant called as she let herself into the house.

“Did you forget to lock the door?” I grumbled to Eli, pointedly not looking at him. I didn’t do well with continuing to grumble when I looked at him. My beloved was almost painfully handsome. No human-born was as striking as even the least of the fae. Add ethereal beauty to a body that was temptation personified, and his baffling decision to choose me of all the far-more-worthy people in his world and in mine . . . well, let’s just say that the only way I had ever resisted him was by constantly avoiding or arguing with him.

Now that I was fallen, it took more effort than my sleepy ass was willing to expend to stay surly when I even looked at him. Love, man, it messed up years of successful surliness.

“I gave her a key,” he said cheerily.

Then he escaped my grumpy morning mood to start to ready himself for the day while I was met with the chirpy “Helloooo, my bridal birdie” of my assistant.

I swore she was cheerful just to piss me off sometimes.

“Come on! Up up up,” Allie said, knocking on the bedroom door. “We need to head out so we can get you all beautified. I have a whole team meeting us there.”

I jerked open the door. “You’re lying, right?”

“Nope.”

 

* * *

 

An hour later when we arrived at Beatrice’s estate, where I was to be married in front of my nearest and dearest, my magic instantly reached out to the dead in the soil, absences in pockets of space. Perhaps for some people, starting a wedding with a counting of the dead would be odd—but I took comfort in it.

There were a number of graves here. Three women in the bayou. Six more men in the ground closer to the house. A child in a grave. And a tangle of bones in a field . . . sixty. . . maybe up to eighty bodies. It was as if I greeted them when I visited, reaching out, finding them, knowing where they were. I was a necromantic witch, as well as being the product of a witch-draugr relationship. That particular pairing should never have created life. Dead things don’t give life, but the dead sperm donor who impregnated my mother knew she was a witch.

As a result, I was an aberration—half-witch, half-draugr. . . oh, and because I’d fallen in love with a faery and bonded with him, able to access fae magic, too. The dead were mine to protect or eliminate. The living were mine to protect, and thanks to Eli, that included faeries now. Assuming I had the time between the attempts on my life to contemplate it, the responsibility on my shoulders might be intimidating. For now, I simply let my grave sight roll out to greet the dead in the earth.

In the city, the dead were always easy to find. New Orleans was a city of graves. Out here in what was once called Slidell, the dead were often hidden—except the draugr.

My sense of the dead was always humming here at Beatrice’s home. Her guards were not all walking dead, but there were enough dead present that I felt hyper-alert the first few times I’d been here. Now, after several visits over the last year, I was getting used to their “signatures.” I could even identify some of the guests by the way my magic recognized them.

Beatrice, queen of the draugr here, swept out the door, and despite her elegant gown, she still looked like she was a moment from declaring war. She was draped in a midnight blue gown covered with hundreds of small glinting gems that gave her the appearance of royalty—which she was among her kind. She was the sort of old that still made my bones tingle at the chill she radiated. When she died, dust and air would be all that remained of her, but over the recent year or so, I had become surprisingly fond of the fanged woman in front of me. Beatrice was, after all, my ancestor.

She wore no shoes today. In fact, a pair of employees at her door were collecting and tagging all shoes. There would be no footwear allowed at my wedding. Fortunately, this was a small, private event, and none of my guests were the sort to disagree. They knew me.

“Your dress awaits,” Beatrice said, motioning us forward.

The hallway was covered with a carpet of moss and flowers. Magic or patience could be responsible. I didn’t ask which it was. I merely followed her to a medieval looking room where dresses were hung in waiting.

Light blue and green dresses for my bridesmaids. And for me, a mid-tone blue dress that was cut to look a bit like a mermaid’s tail. The material was dyed several shades lighter than my hair. Simple, but narrowing at the calf to highlight my shape. It was fancier than I thought I wanted, and there was nowhere to hide a sword.

“I’ll slaughter the world for you,” Beatrice reminded me. “Wear the dress. Relax for these hours.”

I nodded and slipped into the dress. Few beings could outmatch her in a fight. So far, I knew of only one: Chester, the oldest living human alchemist and her once-upon-a-time murderer. If he decided to appear here, we were all doomed.

Beatrice stared at me. “I have sent Alice’s people away to tend the bridesmaids. I know that sort of primping is not your style.”

I muffled a laugh.

Then the draugr queen leaned forward and placed a circlet of gems on my hair. “This is not a veil. It is not a fae crown. It is in place of those things.”

Carefully I met her eyes in the mirror. The crown was obviously a gift, but I could not help but suspect that there was more to it. “You’re not telling me everything.”

Beatrice waved my words away, reminding me of every time my own mother made such a gesture. “Today is not the day to speak of everything,” Beatrice said. “Later you may question me. I shall answer.”

I nodded. Honestly, there was only so much I could handle, and I was at my maximum stress capacity far too often lately.

“Today you celebrate your love here with your family, yes?” Beatrice fussed with my hair.

Behind me, by way of the mirror, I saw my mother, who had just walked into the room. The three of us stood there for a moment, and I realized that today was significant to both of them, too. My mother had fought for me simply to exist, bringing life out of death, and I was the descendent of a woman who had thwarted death in a different way. Strong women came before me, making a path that I had followed.

Beatrice kissed Mama Lauren’s cheek. Then mine. “You are my greatest achievements in these many centuries of un-living existence.”

Before we could think to reply to being called achievements, Beatrice flowed out of the room. I often wondered if emotion was too much for her in some moments. It certainly was for me.

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