When young Fae awakens in a locked and deserted castle, she remembers nothing. Who she is, where she comes from, none of it.
Beauty from all the ages graces the castle – medieval towers, renaissance columns, and gothic vaults – but underneath the loveliness a lurking evil stirs.
Fae hates the loneliness and the sense of hidden malice oppressing her. Even more, she hates the feeling that just around some receding corner of lost memory lies the answer to her predicament – an answer just out of reach.
An answer essential to surviving this castle’s dangers – both subtle and not so subtle.
Somewhere in her forgotten past lies the key.
A mythic tale of family and betrayal told with all the twists and moments of sheer joy that J.M. Ney-Grimm brings to epic fantasy.
You may also order it from your local bookstore.
EXCERPT FROM CAUGHT IN AMBER
Beneath her happiness lay something darker, something fear-stricken, something cruel and cold.
It skulked and lurked.
It coiled beneath the threshold of awareness, seeking a vulnerability, seeking entrance.
It was evil, and it threatened her.
But she awoke happy.
The glad sun streamed in through four point-arched windows, filling her bedchamber with light.
She stretched and blinked and rejoiced. Then fell back against her banked pillows, grinning and studying the rollicking cornice molding that stretched around her room where the walls met the ceiling. Small carved suns with curling rays and merry faces somersaulted along the frieze as though they couldn’t keep still. That was the way they should be: energy-filled, laughing, and replete.
She threw her covers off. The soft, oh-so-soft white sheet with lace edging it. The light wool blanket, white with a satin band. The sky blue silk quilt, tied with crimson knots and embroidered with silver swans and golden stars. Lovely and cozy and comfy.
Phlumph! The covers landed at the foot of the bed.
She laughed and turned her own somersault, flopping atop the tumbled bedding in a tangle of white nightgown and untied ribbons, her braided hair unraveling in dusky curls around her shoulders.
She lay there a moment staring up at the ceiling, painted to depict a gloriously blue sky and a towering cloud castle from behind which burst the jolly sun, cousin to the ones in the cornice.
The darker something that hid behind her content loomed a moment, then fell back.
Quiescent for an interval, but ready to strike.
She considered attending to it, pursuing it, finding its dread lair, confronting its terror. But her happiness called her. Why be scared (or terrified), when you could be happy? She could be happy, so she would be happy. Hah!
Embracing happiness, she scooted down to the end of her bed and sat up, legs dangling over. The head of the bed was tall: two gilded gryphons with wings upraised, ready for the downbeat that would lift them into the air, red cherries clutched in their beaks. The bed’s foot was much lower, a simple curve of wood, gilded to match the gryphons, which barely cleared the thick mattress. It pressed into the backs of her thighs, mundane and comforting. She would be comforted. Clinging to comfort, she scooted forward a bit more to rest her bare feet on the floor, satin-smooth red oak boards, cool and unadorned.
She studied her surroundings. They felt familiar. They should. This was her room.
It felt familiar. And yet it wasn’t. She didn’t know this place.
Which was scary.
The looming shadow underneath the sunshine reared up within her.
She blinked in bewilderment. How could this cheerful room harbor monsters?
Blue-and-white striped wallpaper covered the walls from the cornice to the chair rail. Paneled wood painted soft blue filled the space between chair rail and floor. That cheerful shade of blue seemed the very color of pure happiness.
Three tall, tall windows with their pointed arches at the top and deep sills at the bottom pierced one long wall. And the sunlight flooding through them belonged to the summer morning of a day filled with treats and surprises.
And yet . . . a shadow, a doubt, a devouring hunger poised . . . somewhere. Where?
She could feel it, cruel and biting.
She felt as though she were two persons. One sitting in the sun and anticipating loveliness. The other crouching in darkness, fearing the advent of . . . what? Something dreadful. Something ravenous. Something hostile. To her.
It scared her. And this strange split within her scared her more.
She glanced at the sunlit striped walls of her room, the merry suns in its cornice, wanting to keep their promise of delight.
I can choose, she told herself. Choose the light. Or choose the darkness.
Her hands clenched the silk of the quilt beneath her, crumpling the smooth softness with her fingers.
I choose the light.
And the darkness fell back before her determination.
A fourth window occupied the wall to the right of her bed’s head board. It gave onto a view of rolling hills, grassy with stands of trees green in summer leaf. She was high up and could see a long way to the distant horizon.
Where was this beautiful countryside?
She didn’t know it, even though it too felt familiar.
There was that peculiar split again. Something that felt familiar, but had no place – none at all – in her memory.
She shivered despite the warmth of the air.
Within her room – it was generously sized and high-ceilinged, but not so spacious as to make her feel small – two wardrobes and two blanket chests of red oak, a gilded dressing table, and a writing desk stood against the walls. Fine, heavy stuff. Two armchairs upholstered in crimson were placed before an elegant marble hearth. No fire or wood there, just the polished brass andirons. The air was pleasantly warm from the sunlight.
She paused, there on the end of the bed, fighting to retain her confidence.
What came next? In this room that was hers and yet . . . wasn’t?
Why could she remember so little?
Why did this room seem both familiar and utterly strange?
Where was she?
And what should she do next?
A memory of waffles assailed her, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, their pockets dripping with melted butter and strawberry preserves. She could smell the savory strips of bacon beside them and the citrusy orange segments in a small dish next to the plate.
Breakfast! Breakfast was what came next.
She stood abruptly and hurried to the paneled oak door, turned the brass knob, and slipped out.
The door opened onto a small vestibule, more a passage through a very thick wall than a real antechamber. Its walls were coffered wood painted white, blending into the white marble of the hallway just beyond.
She pattered out to the hall, bare feet on cool marble floor, nightgown swirling around her ankles, as she gazed wonderingly around.
The hall was so grand, carved with marble pilasters and marble alcoves and rounded marble vault overhead. Frosted glass globes held by white brackets in the shape of wings adorned the walls.
So . . . she was in a palace or a castle.
She looked to her left.
The hallway dimmed in that direction, with no windows to light it, only the subdued glow of the glass globes on the walls. She felt an intuition that she should go that way, but it didn’t look very promising.
Did the dark terror that nibbled at the edges of her cheerful curiosity lie that way?
She wanted to find people – friends? – someone she could ask questions of. Someone who might help. She did need help, didn’t she?
Her mood wobbled again, from blithe to scared and . . . alone?
Uncertain, she touched a finger to her lips. They were very dry, so dry that flakes of rough skin tickled her fingertip.
How long had she been without water? Her lips shouldn’t be this dry after merely a night of sleep.
But she wasn’t thirsty. Not even a little bit.
She looked to her right.
That was a more inviting prospect.
The glass globes remained unlit, for their glow was unneeded. Large bay windows along the left wall – overlooking a diminutive enclosed court – flooded the hall with cool light.
Numerous doors lined the right wall, and the hall’s end offered a choice of ways: several branching passages, stairs up, and stairs down.
She would go in that direction. There had to be someone else waking up behind one of those many doors.
She fought her fear yet again and turned right.
The first door yielded a parlor that looked like a wedding cake. Silver gilt, white satin and lace, crystal and mirrors. The pretty clutter of it repulsed her. As did the faint scent of roses lingering on the air. Someone she knew – an enemy? – did she have enemies? Someone she didn’t like, at least, would have loved it.
She didn’t go in.
The next door down revealed a child’s playroom, with bright murals and vivid red, green, and blue furnishings.
But no children. No nurse. No one at all.
The tall rocking horse seemed to mock her. She could remember rocking on just such a plaything in the past – back and forth, back and forth – feeling comforted by the motion.
The snippet of happy memory – contrasted against this empty, lonely room – chilled her.
The formless dark that waited under the veneer of the castle swelled and overpowered her.
She huddled against the door frame in terror of something she couldn’t see or understand. A formless animosity.
What was this place?
Why did it seem both wonderfully splendid and ominously haunted? And where was everyone?
With effort, she pried herself away from the playroom doorway and set off down the hallway.
The next room was a water closet. Oh, piffle. That was the last place she’d find help.
She wouldn’t bother checking the rest of these closed doors. This wing of the castle felt deserted. A slew of parlors and nurseries and bedchambers would do her no good, if they were all untenanted. She trotted to the end of the hall and turned left. There had to be someone somewhere.
The castle was huge.
Corridors and more corridors, with chambers along all of them. Vast galleries with views of interior courtyards. Spiral stairs to more towers than she could count. Formal staircases down to grand receiving rooms. Ballrooms, stillrooms, dining halls.
And all of them unpopulated. All of them subtly tainted by a wrongness beneath the splendor. A hostility that roused itself at intervals before receding again.
Where was everyone? What had happened? Why was she here?
Who was she?
That question shocked her.
She hadn’t realized – not really, not truly – that she didn’t know who she was. How could that be? She felt dizzy.
Only blankness greeted her when she tried to cast her thoughts back to before she awoke in that sunny bedchamber – her bedchamber. Nothing and more nothing.
Abrupt terror shot through her.
How could she not remember anything? Not even her own name! She desperately wanted answers. But how could she find answers when there was no one to ask?
She sagged beside a square pilaster in a barren reception hall, fighting tears.
Her lips were even drier than before, the skin flaking off when she ran her equally dry tongue over them. She should be thirsty. She’d been trotting through this pile of a castle for . . . who knew how long? It felt like a long time. Her legs were tired, and her bare feet ached from pounding against the hard marble floors.
How could she not feel thirst? But she didn’t.
She pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead and swallowed hard, gathering determination. She would hunt through the castle as she might hunt game in the woods.
She would dig up some answers. Somehow.
Straightening her shoulders, she set off again, twisting and turning through the sprawl of corridors, choosing her way almost at random.
When she stumbled upon a small, square, white door – unpretentious – hidden behind a fluted white column, she felt her first whisper of hope.
Every other space she’d visited had been obvious, open to anyone. Open to her.
This door was secret, meant only for those in the know. Which was definitely not her. She knew nothing at all, even the things she should know. Perhaps there were answers beyond this portal.
She’d almost given up on people. Surely she would have seen some sign of them, if anyone were present. But answers . . . she could not give up on finding answers.
She turned the unadorned brass doorknob, pushed the door open, and looked through.
Her heart leaped within her.
This had to be it!
The door was hidden behind a column on the other side also, a column of polished green marble in a whole line of them, like cypresses along an avenue. Across the hall – more magnificent even than any of the hundreds of spaces she’d passed through – another line of green marble columns flanked the wall.
She stepped through the door.
And almost fell.
Like the blow of a giant’s sledgehammer, or a mountain falling on her, the animosity lurking behind the castle’s grand veneer slammed down on her more terribly than any of the other times it had roused.
Her knees shook, as though she bore a heavy weight on her shoulders. The hatred oppressing her was that palpable.
She could hear her breath whistling in and out as though she drew near the end of a grueling race. Could she stand?
No, that wasn’t the question. She was standing. Standing and trembling.
Could she take a step? Could she walk?
She wanted desperately to step back, step out of this pounding animosity. Return to the empty desolation she’d been ranging through, where the malice slept uneasily, but slept nonetheless.
She took a step forward.
Oh, gods! Not forward. She wanted to go back.
And yet . . . back held no answers, no people, nothing. She had to go forward. If she could.
She took another step forward, and another, passing around the towering green column into the open space of the hall and along it.
She found she could walk. Walking was no more difficult than standing. It was just being here that was hard, withstanding the malevolence that powered down so unceasingly.
She went on, steadily. Clinging to some trace of stubbornness inside her that quivered under the onslaught, and yet did not succumb.
All the spaces beyond the concealed door were very grand: vast in size with tall coffered ceilings and impressive colonnades, connected by broad halls and impressive stairways. These rooms were for show, not use. Receptions for heads of state, audiences for ambassadors, award ceremonies to honor heroes.
Still she went on, determined to learn something from the differences in this wing of the castle. Wrest some advantage from them.
The enmity increased. She could feel pieces of herself – not her body, which trembled, but her self – shredding away. If she kept going, would even her stubbornness be pounded into oblivion? Taken the way her memory had been taken?
The malevolent presence was worst in the resplendent entrance hall.
The capitals of the columns, far overhead, dripped with crystal and gold ornament. Enormous fresco murals depicted warfare between colossal heroes and equally colossal monsters. Black marble flooring, polished to reflectivity, gave the illusion that leviathans swam its dense shadow as kraken hunting the sea.
Most daunting, the great double bronze doors to the esplanade outside – formed of eight panels each, depicting yet more battle scenes – were barred shut.
She sank to her knees. Which hurt, more hostility slamming up from the dark marble.
There was nothing for her here. Not even exit.
She’d not let herself think of escape until now, when the sight of those doors – the heavy bars above her head – proved it impossible.
She was trapped in this awful castle.
Her mouth stretched in a silent scream.
The skin of her dry lower lip split, its pain sharp within the bludgeoning hatred.
She felt warm wetness well from her split lip, saw the shining scarlet drop of her blood fall through the air, and splatter on the polished floor, wherein the bright reflections and dark shadows moved, signs of the leviathans hunting below the surface.
Were they the source of the malice pounding her? Would one immense behemoth surface to the taste of her blood, open its cavernous maw, and swallow her down?
She cringed, there on her knees, bent and expecting her destruction.