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La Dame à La Licorne

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La Dame à La Licorne


Danger hides in the darkest of places

Always obey your father. That’s what Katherine’s done her entire life. She studies dead languages and practices knife-throwing. Now Pappa’s listening to a virtual stranger, and she’s convinced the stranger cares more about killing monsters than her own safety. Pappa won’t even tell her what they’re going after. He says it’s because if she knows too much, then she’s tainted by that knowledge and it will spoil the hunt.

Can she trust Pappa’s judgment or leave her future in the hands of the stranger? With only her wits to protect her, she joins them in the most terrifying night of the year.

Virtue is persecuted more by the wicked than it is loved by the good.

~ Miguel de Cervantes

6 January 1875

Lille, France

Deep purple bruises stand out starkly against the skin of my pale arm. They are a testament to last night’s events; the ghosts of fingerprints pressed firmly into my skin.

Pappa has been up to our rooms several times today. He brings hot drinks and sweets, never once looking me in the eye. Never once has he promised that what occurred last night won’t happen again. Even though I feel the weight of a guilty conscience, I am careful not to cry out, Mea Culpa! Perhaps aware of this, Pappa fidgets to make sure our rented rooms are sealed off from the mid-winter storm outside. He stokes the fire and fusses with the heavy blankets draped around my shoulders and over my lap. He avoids staring at my bruises.

He has kept to the ground floor, giving violin lessons to the innkeeper’s two boys. The ear-splitting sounds remind me of my first violin lesson. Pappa had been buzzing with barely bridled energy, so proud was he to introduce me to “humanity’s greatest instrument” on that faraway winter’s morning. It was the only birthday present he could manage to give me. He had oiled his battered violin until I could see my face in its surface. Mamma beamed with pride and claimed that with my parentage I would be the world’s youngest violin prodigy. Younger than even Mozart himself, and I would be the first girl to do it. Pappa’s hands were warm and sure as they guided mine to play those first few notes. The sound was rich and warm. A sound to keep the long winters at bay. The strings hummed under my touch. Then Pappa let me try to play without his expert hand. What issued next was hideous. Pappa’s face fell, and he tried valiantly to hide his disappointment from me. At three years old, I knew I never wanted to disappoint him again.

The last time Pappa was in my sitting room, Dr. Aiguille accompanied him. I said nothing, and they returned the silence. However, Dr. Aiguille placed a book on the tiny cherry wood table beside the upholstered settee where I have spent most of the early morning hours staring out the window as the snow gathers like sugar on the clay roof tiles. The book’s cover is tattered and stained. Inside, the pages are yellowed. Pappa instructed me in Latin, Greek, French, and our native Swedish. When I squint to read the title, it is in an unfamiliar language. Is this a subtle hint that I’m not studying hard enough? Further proof of my culpability and inexperience?

The pictures are hand drawn and must be slightly different in every book. Each page is a tiny work of art. They are all filled with unicorns. Drawings of single horned heads lying in maidens’ laps. Tangled vines run along the borders, hinting at some threat to the maid in the forest beyond the drawing's edge. Others are of majestic beasts carrying princesses on their backs, all golden hooves and milky hides, etched into the thick hand-pressed paper. I want to run my fingers along the pictures and believe in the pureness and splendor represented there. These are the images that every girl dreams would come true.

I close the worn leather cover knowing without being able to read the words that they are nothing more than faery tales meant for children much younger than me. Innocent children who never need to know the truth about the monsters lurking under their beds or hiding in the shadows. After last night, I know that such naiveté will never exist again in this world -- at least not for me. I have seen what the darkness hides. I am not afraid, not exactly, but I will never be naïve again.

  • Word Count: 4,800
  • Author: Anne Marie
  • Website: Anne Marie
  • ISBN: 978-1-61937-514-7
  • Artist: Kelly Shorten
  • Editor: Ellen Brock

Long and Short of It

Reviewer: Astilbe

Rating: 4.0

Review: It’s only after the bruises fade and you’re well enough to try again that your true self emerges. Katherine worried me from the opening paragraph.…

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