Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale
Publication date: March 20th 2018
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult
Nora knows three things: she is a servant, her parents are dead, and she lives in the kitchen house with her adoptive family. But her world is torn apart when she discovers that her birth father has always been right there, living in the house she serves.
This discovery leads Nora to more questions. Why was she thrown in an ash-covered room for asking about her father? Why is a silver-bladed knife the only inheritance from her birth mother? Why is magic forbidden in her household—and throughout the province of the Runes? The answers may not be the ones Nora hoped for, as they threaten a possible romance and her relationship with the adoptive family she loves.
With the announcement of a royal ball, Nora must decide what she is willing to give up in order to claim her stolen birthright, and whether this new life is worth losing her family—and herself.
Excerpt #1: 1,082 words
I wheeled around to face Sarah, the head maid.
“What are you doing here?”
I looked at the floor. The grey and green grain of the marble flowed like the lines on one of Sir Alcander’s maps. I ran the tip of my shoe along one of the paths.
“I’m looking for Robert,” I said. “I need to talk to him. It’s important.”
“He’s taking dictation for Sir Alcander.” Sarah looked past me down the hall. “He’ll be done soon. Come with me.”
She put a hand on my back and ushered me in the direction from which I’d come.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” she said.
“I know.” I tucked the cameo into my pocket. “But it’s important. Don’t tell Greta, please.”
Sarah glanced behind us. The pressure of her hand on my back became more urgent.
“It’s not Greta I’m worried about.” She opened the door to the servants’ quarters and pushed me inside. “Stay here. I’ll get Robert.”
She left the door open a crack and hurried down the hall. I sat on Robert’s bed. A long piece of straw poked out of the mattress. I pulled it out from the fabric and broke a piece off the end. By the time Robert arrived, shutting the door behind him, there was a small pile of straw on my lap. I leapt off the bed, spilling it on the floor.
“Sorry.” I bent down to sweep the straw into my hand. Robert knelt to help me.
“Nora, what are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be—”
“I need to talk to you,” I said. “It’s about my—” The word stuck on my tongue. “Um, Siobhan and Annabelle said that…” I took the cameo out of my pocket. “Who is this?”
Robert snatched it out of my hand. “What are you doing with this?” My cheeks burned. “I found it on the shelf. Is it your wife?”
The angry lines on Robert’s face softened. “No, it’s my sister. She died a long time ago. Why do you ask?”
I sat on the bed. I felt heavy enough that I might sink into the straw and never come out.
“Siobhan and Annabelle said they heard Lady Portia and Sir Alcander talking, and they said that my”—I choked out the word — “father was in the main house. I thought that you might be—”
Robert moved away, dropping the straw into a bucket next to the bed. I sank farther into the mattress. Being poked with spindles of straw was preferable to the silence in the room.
“Your father?” Robert said. “Nora, the man who was your father is long gone.”
“But you have to be,” I protested. “Your hair, it’s just like mine.”
“What, this old mess?” Robert ran a hand through his hair and sat down next to me.
My voice dropped to a whisper. “It has to be you.”
“I’m sorry, Nora. I don’t have any children. Peter’s been a good father to you, hasn’t he?”
“Yes.” I could feel each razor of straw jabbing into my skin. “I just thought—”
Wait. What did he say?
“You know who my father was!” It came out as a statement, not a question. Robert jumped up from the bed.
“No, Nora, you misunderstood. I—”
“Yes, you do!” I leapt up after him. “You said he was gone, but you know who he was. Tell me!”
Robert’s eyes darted back and forth as if he were looking for a way to escape the conversation before fixing on a point behind me. Panic tinged his voice.
“She was just bringing a message from the kitchen house.”
I turned to see Lady Portia standing on the other side of the door. I hadn’t heard it open. Waves of anger passed through her cold ocean eyes. I had only ever seen Lady Portia angry, but this was different. This was rage, and it was aimed squarely at me.
Robert put a protective arm around my shoulders.
“I’m sending her back right now.”
“Eleanor.” Lady Portia’s voice was ice cracking. “You are not permitted in here.”
“I’m sorry,” I croaked. “I’ll go back.” This was different from Sarah’s confusion at finding me in the hall or Robert’s initial anger at discovering his cameo in my hands. Different, and infinitely more dangerous.
Before I could move, Lady Portia was in the room, grabbing my arm and wrenching me from Robert’s grasp. I could feel her breath on my cheeks as she pulled me close.
“You are supposed to stay in the kitchen house,” she hissed. She jerked me out of the room and down the hall.
“Ma’am—” Robert started after us.
“Stay where you are,” Portia said without turning to look at him. “This is none of your business.”
I looked back, panicked, as I flailed in my attempt to keep up with Lady Portia’s long stride. I heard the sound of the back door being thrown open. I could only hope Robert was going to get Greta or Peter.
Lady Portia’s fingers burned on my arm as she pulled me behind her, making a series of turns through the hallways. Anytime I opened my mouth to protest, to apologize, to cry, she jerked me forwards, and my words were swallowed in a yelp of pain. She finally stopped in front of a plain, wooden door. It felt out of place next to the other doors in the hallway, which were lacquered and covered in carvings. Its austerity didn’t belong, just like I didn’t.
My wrist glowed red when Lady Portia let me go, and I rubbed my arm to quell the pain. My mouth ran ahead of me, spitting out every apology I could think of. She ignored me as she sorted through the keys on a ring she took from her dress pocket and fit a large iron key into the lock. The door creaked open. I couldn’t make out anything inside—there were no windows to let in the light. The darkness in the room felt different than when the kitchen house darkened after sunset. This darkness was hungry. I turned to run.
Portia caught my wrist and shoved me into the room. I fell on my hands and knees. Small pieces of something—dust? ash?—rose up around me, making their way into my throat. I started to cough.
“Never ask about your father again.” She slammed the door, plunging me into the dark.
Excerpt #2: 501 words
Light spilled into the room. I opened my eyes into small slits and peeked through my fingers. I could just make out a female figure, waist tightly corseted and gown flaring out at the hips.
“Don’t be daft, Eleanor,” Lady Portia said. “Get up.”
If I had the strength to move, I would have run from the room as fast as my feet would carry me. Instead, I curled into a ball on the ground. Even though I squeezed my eyes shut, I could still see the orange glow from the torches in the hall.
“I said get up.” Lady Portia grabbed my arm in the exact spot where she bruised me before. I cried out as she hauled me to my feet.
“Have you learned your lesson?” Her breath was sweet, like lavender. I wanted to retch on her shoes. I could feel the darkness reaching for me with sticky-slick fingers.
“Yes, ma’am,” I whispered as loud as my dry throat would allow.
“I can’t hear you.” She tightened her grip on my arm, and it was all I could do not to whimper as my eyes finally adjusted to the light.
“Yes, ma’am,” I repeated, louder. My head pounded. She released my arm.
Gold eyes stared at me from a mirror that hung on the opposite wall, daring me to make a move. The girl in the mirror had swallowed the darkness of the room; my shadow-self stared out from the glass. Her skin was dead black. I looked down at my arms. They were covered in ash from the floor of the room with no windows. I screamed.
Lady Portia’s hand cracked across my cheek. “Stop that,” she hissed.
I scraped my arms with hands that were just as black. I smelled ash every time I breathed in.
Siobhan and Annabelle’s laughter echoed through the hall. I had to get out of there. Lady Portia grabbed the back of my shirt as I braced to run.
“Girls!” she barked as Siobhan and Annabelle rounded the corner. “No running in the hall.”
The girls skidded to a stop in front of us.
“Ella-Della!” Annabelle said. “What happened?” She looked up, appealing to Lady Portia. “Mother, she didn’t really break my bird. It was an accident!”
“Don’t call her that name, Annabelle,” Portia said. “You sound like an imbecile.”
“An imbecile who got her own toy stuck in a tree.” Siobhan swatted Annabelle’s sleeve and cocked her head at me. “You look like an owl with those yellow eyes. You’re so dirty they’re all I can see. Are you hungry, Owl Eyes? I’ll see if I can find you a mouse for supper.”
She laughed and began to hoot. Annabelle joined in, and Portia sighed with disgust.
“Take her back to the kitchen house,” Portia said. “And get these two ready for dinner.”
I hadn’t noticed Sarah and another servant standing there. Sarah ushered Siobhan and Annabelle back down the hall.
“Bye, Owl Eyes,” Siobhan called over her shoulder.
Excerpt #3: 629 words
I shot up from the bed, screaming, and scrambling backwards before falling off the mattress onto the planked wood floor. A boy crouched next to me with his elbows balanced on his knees and his chin resting against his palms. He wore an old, light blue shirt that was much too large for his small frame. A piece of hay stuck up from the mop of brown hair on his head.
“Jack!” Liana called from the kitchen. “Don’t wake Nora.”
“Too late,” the boy called back.
“Who are you?” I pressed my hand to my chest to keep my heart in place. “Why were you watching me sleep?”
“I wasn’t watching you sleep,” the boy said. “Peter and me just got back from the Market, and I got up here and found you on my mattress.”
“Your—” I sputtered. I took a deep breath and tried to inhale the motherwort from the candle. “This is my bed.”
“Well, no one said it was yours, did they? I claimed this bed when I got here, and no one made a peep.” He crossed his arms and looked at the floor. “They were probably too worried if you were okay to care about where I was sleeping. You looked pretty rotten.”
“I was sick,” I said, staking my spot on the mattress again.
“No, I mean you actually looked like you’d rotted. Your skin was all black. Are you sure you’re not a spirit who’s talking to me now?”
I grabbed his arm and pressed my palm to his. “No spirit,” I said. “I’m here.”
He grinned. I shoved him on the floor.
“I’m Jack,” he said as he picked himself up.
“Are you Greta and Peter’s daughter?”
“No.” I regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. They were true, but I chewed them like a lie. “I mean yes. Sort of.”
“How are you only ‘sort of’ their daughter?”
“I mean, yes, I’m their daughter. They’re just not my real parents. My real parents are dead. Or gone. Or something. My mother is dead.” I was rambling. I pulled the candle closer to the mattress, hearing Greta’s voice in my ear warning me that the flame could catch the straw on fire. I didn’t care. I lowered my face and breathed in.
“Does your ma’s spirit ever talk to you?” Jack asked.
“What?” I stared at him. “That’s stupid. How old are you that you still think that can happen?”
“I’m thirteen.” Defensiveness crept into his voice. “And I only asked because I can talk to my pa anytime I want to. Or at least I could when we lived in the Vale. His spirit lives in the river there.”
Sir Alcander had hired a crazy person to work in the kitchen house.
“No, he doesn’t.”
“He does so! I’ll show you sometime, and you’ll see.”
I flopped back down on the mattress and rolled over so I was facing away from him, pulling the candle to the other side with me. I could feel Jack watching me.
“Your ma is nice,” I said, still not facing him.
“Thanks. I think so too.” There, finally, was something we agreed on. “I’m going to bed now. You can keep your spot. I didn’t want it anyway.” I peeked over my shoulder. Jack lay down on a new mattress I hadn’t noticed next to the wall.
“Thanks,” I said. In the dim light of the candle, his eyes looked almost gold. I smiled.
“It’s all right,” he said. “I can sleep almost anywhere as long as I’ve got enough space. I don’t like feeling closed up in small places.” The dark room pulsed behind me. “Me neither.”
Now we had two things in common.
Excerpt #4: 1,069 words
The Castle wall towered over us. I trailed my hand along its rough surface, catching my fingers in the slots that were left open at varying heights (“So we could get speared from the inside with a halberd or a sword if we were trying to invade, or if we’re caught trespassing,” Jack reasoned), being careful not to shred my skin on the thorns of the climbing roses that covered the stones.
We walked along the wall to where a number of forest paths combined into a wide road flanked by a line of white oaks. Just setting foot on that road made me feel special, like I was doing exactly what a daughter of Sir Alcander of the Runes should.
At the end of the path, a pair of large doors was set into the wall, carved with the royal insignia: a rose was emblazoned on each door, and a tall sword was split in the center. On either side of the doors, lookouts kept watch in towers.
“Nora—” Jack pointed to the tower on the left where the guard was holding a crossbow and eyeing us suspiciously. The thunder of hooves sounded behind us.
“Make way!” the guard on the right shouted. We jumped off the oak-lined road as horses galloped past. Four guards on horseback carrying halberds and dressed in mail surrounded the riders in the center. The doors opened from inside, and the horses disappeared onto the grounds of the Castle proper. The guard with the crossbow called out to us as the doors shut, gesturing with the weapon. “Shoo!”
Before the doors closed, I got a quick view of the Castle grounds. They were enormous, much larger than the estate at the Runes proper. There was as much distance between the wall and the Castle as there was between the forest and the wall. Smaller buildings dotted the grounds, and I had the faintest glimpse of servants going about their work outdoors.
Suddenly, I realized the foolishness of this endeavor. What was I hoping for? To walk into the Castle and announce my presence to His Majesty? To blend in among the Castle servants in my Runes green skirt? I wanted to see the building before my sisters did, and I probably hadn’t even done that. With their status, they’d almost certainly been invited to the Castle before. As for me, there was still a giant stone wall and a pair of armed guards in my way. I’d need a title, a name, an invitation to actually go inside.
I yanked at my servant’s skirt—the coarse material was hot and scratchy against my skin—and walked back in the direction from which we came. Jack pivoted to follow.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This was stupid.” Stupid to think I could have gotten here first, stupid to think that we could get onto the grounds of the Castle proper, stupid to have stopped. Imbecilic, Portia’s voice said in my head.
“It would have been a good story,” Jack said. “A tale to rival Peter’s, even if you’d been shot with a crossbow. Especially if you’d been shot with a crossbow.”
He stopped walking, attention piqued.
“What?” I said. I wanted to get back to our wagon before another guard shooed us away. Jack pressed his eye to one of the halberd holes in the wall and motioned for me to come look. I pushed a rose aside to look through a lower opening. I could just make out a path and the edge of a building.
“Shh,” Jack whispered. “Listen.”
Snippets of conversation mingled with the sounds of horses. The building must have been one of the royal stables.
“—can’t believe you’re so cavalier about this.” The first voice, a man’s.
“Why is everything a matter of life and death with you?” A second voice, female.
“Who is it?” I whispered. Jack shook his head and moved along the wall, peeking through the halberd holes. I followed until I had a better look at the speakers. The man paced, appearing and disappearing as flashes of brown trousers and a white shirt in my thin window. The woman stayed squarely in view, watching the man with amused detachment as she flipped her blond hair over her shoulder.
The man’s voice floated in and out with his movements. “…isn’t going to change what Father said…don’t pick a husband, he’s going to pick for you…and I have to…”
“You?” The woman laughed. “You look like you’re ready to jump out the window whenever a lady comes to court!”
“It’s Princess Callista,” Jack whispered. His voice was hoarse.
“And Prince Edward,” I whispered back.
“Let’s go before we get a halberd to the eye,” Jack said, tugging on my sleeve.
“Absolutely not.” I strained to hear more of the conversation inside. “I’d prefer defenestration to some of those girls,” Edward said. He stopped pacing and stood with his back to the wall. “Did you know that Lady Grace actually asked to try on Mother’s crown?”
“Nora,” Jack said. His eyes were beginning to water. The smell of the roses around us was overwhelming.
“Just a bit longer.” I ran along the wall, following the Prince and Princess. Now that they were a bit farther away, I could see them better. Their brown riding clothes were snug on their figures. Princess Callista walked with her hands on Edward’s shoulders, hanging on his back and laughing. A pair of guards followed them.
“Poor Edward,” Callista cooed. I ran to the next opening in the wall in time to hear, “—if you can’t find someone then, you might as well let Father pick for you.”
Edward wheeled around, shaking her off. “I don’t want a marriage of convenience! I want to be happy.” I had my first look at his face, which had changed quite a bit from how I remembered him years ago. He had grown to be tall and striking, with dark hair and handsome features. The opening in the wall wasn’t large enough for me to see him well, but from what I could make out, I could easily imagine noble girls fighting over him.
“So be happy,” Callista said. “And while you’re at it—”
Jack sneezed. One of the guards looked back at the wall.
“Uh-oh,” Jack said.
I jerked back as the point of a halberd jutted through the hole.
This is my “Chapter 14 Playlist,” which I created to set the mood while writing one of the climactic and most emotional scenes of the book. I think it reflects the mood of the chapter…and my totally random taste in music.
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Across the Universe Soundtrack
Sleepwalker – Adam Lambert
Hollow Moon – AWOLNATION
This Unthinkable Place – Bushwalla
The American and Florence/Nobody’s Side – Chess (Original Cast Recording)
Fight Sounds, Part 1 – Circlesquare
Bethlehem Steel – Delta Rae
I Will Never Die – Delta Rae
Happy Together – Filter
No Lie, No Lie – Florence and the Machine
Best of You – Foo Fighters
Midnight Radio – Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Radioactive – Imagine Dragons
Plane – Jason Mraz
My December – Josh Groban
Bleed it Out – Linkin Park
Thistle & Weeds – Mumford & Sons
Let the Monster Rise – Repo! The Genetic Opera (Cast Recording)
Shout – Tears for Fears
Heavy Dirty Soul – Twenty-One Pilots
Fairly Local – Twenty-One Pilots
Goner – Twenty-One Pilots
Car Radio – Twenty-One Pilots
Love You to Death – Type O Negative
Thousand Eyes – Of Monsters and Men
Molly Lazer is a former associate editor at Marvel Comics, where she worked on books such as Fantastic Four, Captain America, New Avengers, and cult favorite comic book Spider-Girl. After returning to graduate school to receive a degree in education, she began a career as a high school reading, writing, and drama teacher. She also serves as a professional critiquer for Comics Experience, helping aspiring comic book writers finesse scripts for publication.
In 2016, Molly received a MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. Her short stories have been featured in numerous literary magazines including Gone Lawn, LIT, and Silver Blade. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and twin sons. Owl Eyes is her first novel.