Read Before the Snow Online

Authors: Danielle Paige

Before the Snow

Contents

The Prophecy

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

THE
PROPHECY

The Snow Prince will fall in love with a witch,

which will be the undoing of the King.

There will be happiness chased by death . . .

chased by happiness again.

When the Lights go out at century's turn,

The progeny of the King will rise to power.

She will either claim the throne herself . . .

or she will give the King more power than he has ever known.

Only she can choose the path for Algid.

But not every path is clear, and there are those who have the power to change the course of fate:

the prince,

the thief,

the thinker,

the secret.

If they are destroyed, the King will surely fall.

PROLOGUE

There was a time when Algid was not frozen.

There was a time when there were seasons.

There was a time when the Snow King wasn't a king; he was a prince.

There was a time when he loved a witch.

Everyone wants to know the Snow Queen's story, but in order to really understand her you have to know what happened before.

The storybooks have forgotten. But the Snow King never has . . .

1

“Get out of the water, Nepenthe,” Mother said again.

Giggling, Nepenthe swam away and stretched out one of her tentacles to splash her mother before swimming back. She stepped out on the hard, warm white rocks of the Grotto beneath their home and looked up at her. Their palace was the only one in all of Algid that had a grotto underneath it, which opened out into the North Sea.

Looking at her mother on the edge of the water, Nepenthe could hardly believe that this woman—whose hair was tied up in the severest of buns, her hands on her slight hips, every bit a princess—had once been the stuff of legend. She could hardly believe that her mother had ever spent any time in the water except in the claw-footed tub upstairs.

But before Prince Eric and happily ever after, her mother was known as Tallula, the Little Mermaid, who grew up into a powerful River Witch. Tallula had two sisters: the Witch of the Woods and the Fire Witch. Together, they had formed a Coven and all of Algid feared their powers. They could cast spells that could strengthen an army—and also ones that could destroy everything. They vowed to protect Algid and all its people, even if it meant sacrificing themselves. Or each other.

But then the River Witch fell in love with a human, Prince Eric. And everything changed. Nepenthe was born, and Tallula gave the water up to be with her prince. It was a trade she had made in order to live on land permanently. But she hadn't let go completely. She had said goodbye to the River, but not to the witches—and not to magic. Most of her power had gone with her tentacles and gills, but she could still do small magic, like healing wounds and small tricks.

“Out,” Tallula repeated, gentler this time. Nepenthe knew that the words held more weight than an urgent need to have dinner. Her mother wanted Nepenthe to make a decision—just as she had before her.

“Whether we want to or not, the world wants us to choose. It is not content with someone who is both of the land and of the sea. You have to be one thing or the other. No one wants half a thing.”

But as she said it, her mother looked at the warm, blue water with a kind of longing that Nepenthe had seen on her face before.

Mother missed it.

Nepenthe didn't want to miss anything.

“But I
am
half a thing, Mother,” she protested.

Nepenthe was half mermaid and half princess, a product of a fairy-tale union. She was what happily ever after looked like.

Tallula draped a soft cloth blanket over her daughter, and she began to dry herself off obediently. Nepenthe's tentacles disappeared. Her arms returned. The gills on either side of her mouth melted back into her skin, like parentheses that had been erased.

She caught her reflection in the surface of the water. She knew she looked like a normal girl: long, flowing auburn hair, two violet eyes, two arms, and two legs. But as she took step after step away from the water, she missed her sea-creature parts the way an amputee still feels a phantom limb.

“Get dressed, little fish. Your father is waiting,” her mother said. She reached over and brushed her hand through her daughter's wet hair.

Father
was waiting for Nepenthe to decide what she would do with the rest of her life, too, just like everyone else. His opinion on who she should be and what she should choose was clear as day in every line of his very human, very handsome face. She knew she was more than Prince Eric's child. She was his heir, and this palace was to be hers one day. And not just the land Prince Eric ruled, but also its people.

As strong as her desire to please her father was, she could also hear the call of the water. She could hear it from miles off the coast, even when Father was talking. Even when Mother was. And she wasn't sure if a life on land—a life spent 365 days a year
only
on land—would ever really suit her.

Love was what anchored her mother to this house and to the land. But Nepenthe had never met a single person who made her want to stay out of the water. Not one.

2

When Nepenthe was just a girl, her mother would take her beyond the River into the woods for every phase of the North Lights. There, hand in hand, she and the others in the Coven danced and sang and performed big magic, important spells that could change the course of history.

Under the glow of the North Lights, season after season Nepenthe would visit her aunts, the Witch of the Woods and the Fire Witch. Her mother had been the River Witch once. Nepenthe could be the River Witch if she chose to be. They would teach her what it meant. That was what was hanging in the balance.

Being half mermaid/sea creature, Nepenthe had inherited certain powers from her mother. She was learning to control water and to harness its force and strength. The Coven taught her more and more each time, pushing her to know when to attack, when to defend, and how to let the water ebb gently. Nepenthe was smart and stubborn. But the water required the ability to release as well as to control. To let it go and to rein it in. As much as it was a part of her, it still seemed to have its own will, its own path. Nepenthe found that that was the funny thing about water. It always finds a way into places.

Each time she trained, Nepenthe never saw her mother grow sad about losing her power. But she could tell that she missed her sisters. And Nepenthe thought, or at least hoped, that no matter what choice she made, the River Witch would still come down to the side of the River.

Then one night in their home above the Grotto, Nepenthe was woken up by her mother just as the moon finished its rise. They were not going to visit the Coven. They were going to see the King of Algid, who needed their help.

Nepenthe's father, Prince Eric, was a prince of one land, but he was not the same kind of royalty as the King. Even Nepenthe's father bowed low in his presence.

Nepenthe's confusion mounted as she took in the King's royal carriage that drove them to the palace. It was so heavy with gold leaf that she wondered how the black stallions that stood before it ever moved an inch.

Nepenthe and her family led a purposely quiet life. How did her mother know the King? And more importantly, how could they help him?

3

The King's royal palace was made of stark white stones that spiraled up toward the North Lights. The sparkly glow danced above all of Algid. It looked like there was magic in the sky every night.

When Nepenthe and the River Witch entered the Throne Room, Nepenthe took in the ice sculptures. There were six of them posed in midaction —but their poses made no sense. The one closest to her looked like a soldier cast in ice midrun. His face was etched in horror. She had heard that the King had eccentric tastes, but this did not look like art to her.

She reached out to touch the ice sculpture . . .

“No, Nepenthe . . . ,” her mother stopped her. She put her arm around Nepenthe and squeezed her close, apologetic.

Nepenthe could feel the cold emanating off the statue. And then realized that these weren't statues at all. They were people who had been frozen to death.

“I am sorry. There is nothing I can do to bring them back to life. I can't help you,” the River Witch said as the King entered, soldiers at his side.

“This was not my doing. It was my son's,” the King corrected.

It was only then that Nepenthe noticed the boy. He was about her age and hiding behind the throne. She knew from the way he was dressed that he was the Prince. And she knew from the expression on his face that he had done this to these people.

“He has the power of Snow,” his father whispered, confirming.

The River Witch blinked hard. She may have given up most of her power. She may have left the water a long time ago. But she had seen things as the River Witch. Terrible things.

Nepenthe didn't realize until this moment, seeing her mother calmly take in a boy who had frozen his staff, that perhaps her mother had seen things worse than what was in front of them now.

“How can I be of service?” the River Witch asked.

The King looked worried. “Make him stop. Make him forget.”

“I can't do that,” she said timidly. “Not anymore.”

“Can't or won't?” he asked.

Desperation etched on his face, the King not so gently pushed Nepenthe's mother back out into the hall. The River Witch shot Nepenthe a warning look that said not to go near the boy. Of course, she could not obey her.

Nepenthe didn't need to hear their conversation to know what her mother was saying. Her mother didn't have enough power on her own for a Memory Spell. She needed to call on her sisters. She needed the Coven. And they would come if she called.

Nepenthe crouched down next to the boy.

“Don't touch me!” the boy said. His voice was deep and filled with emotion. But the look in his eyes wasn't quite right. He was horrified by what he'd done, but he was amazed, too.

She could not do what he did. Hers was a very different power. She could make water move and jump and cyclone. She had even made it rain once.

But Nepenthe had never done anything like what he had done. She had never killed.

Like her, this boy had a power. Nepenthe hated that he hadn't been taught how to use it. Her gift had been just that, a gift. Not a discovery.

“Come now, this is not your fault. You didn't know. You couldn't know,” Nepenthe said.

He rocked back and forth and stared at the statues that weren't statues.

She
could see that one of the women had her hands up, pointing.

“She didn't want me playing in here,” the boy explained in a little voice that was dry of tears. “I got mad. But I didn't mean to do it. I didn't want to freeze them.”

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