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of Maidens & Swords

Melissa Marr

  Of Maidens & Swords

  Melissa Marr

  “Of Roses & Kings” © 2020 by Melissa Marr; originally published by

  “Knee Deep in the Sea” © 2019 by Melissa Marr; originally published in Lightspeed.

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  “The Nameless” © 2020 by Melissa Marr; originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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  “The Devil’s Due” © 2020 by Melissa Marr; originally published in Once Upon a Ghost.

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  “Changing Guards.” © 2019 by Melissa Marr.

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  “Love Hurts.” © 2019 by Melissa Marr.

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  “Summer Bound.” © 2020 by Melissa Marr.

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  “Winter Dreams.” © 2020 by Melissa Marr.

  Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Marr

  Cover By PsyCat

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Partial Book List

  Signed Copies:

  To order signed copies of my books (with ebook included in many cases), go to

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  Recent Adult Fantasy :

  The Wicked & The Dead (2020)

  Cold Iron Heart (2020)

  Cursed by Death (2020)

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  Adult Thriller:

  Pretty Broken Things (2020)

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  Upcoming Adult Urban Fantasy:

  The Kiss & The Killer (March 2021)

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  Backlist of Interest:

  Adult Fantasy for HarperCollins/Wm Morrow

  Graveminder (2011)

  The Arrivals (2012)

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  PAST Collections:

  Tales of Folk & Fey (2019)

  Dark Court Faery Tales (2019)

  This Fond Madness (2017)

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  Young Adult Novels with HarperTeen

  Wicked Lovely (2007)

  Ink Exchange (2008)

  Fragile Eternity (2009)

  Radiant Shadows (2010)

  Darkest Mercy (2011)

  Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales (2012)

  Carnival of Secrets (2012)

  Made For You (2013)

  Seven Black Diamonds (2015)

  One Blood Ruby (2016)

  Faery Tales & Nightmares (short story collection)

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  All Ages Fantasy for Penguin

  The Hidden Knife (2021)

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  Coauthored with K. L. Armstrong (with Little, Brown)

  Loki’s Wolves (2012)

  Odin’s Ravens (2013)

  Thor’s Serpents (2014)

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  Co-Edited with Kelley Armstrong (with HarperTeen)


  Shards & Ashes

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  Co-Edited with Tim Pratt (with Little, Brown)

  Rags & Bones



  “Of Roses and Kings”

  “The Nameless”

  “Knee Deep in the Sea”

  “The Devil’s Due”

  “Changing Guards: A Graveminder Prequel Story”

  “Love Hurts: A Wicked Lovely Story”

  “Summer Bound: A Wicked Lovely Story”

  Winter Dreams: A Wicked Lovely Story

  Cold Iron Heart: A Wicked Lovely Prequel

  The Wicked & The Dead (Faery Bargains Series)

  Hex on the Beach

  Cursed by Death

  Praise for Melissa Marr’s books:

  About the Author


  Sometimes the short form is the right one--to extend a world, to clear my mind between novels, to explore an idea. In January 2019, I started to sort through some ideas about violence, about the perils of life as a woman, about folklore, and about the dangers of love, life, and politics.

  “Of Roses and Kings” springs out of my love of Alice in Wonderland. I still have my childhood copy, pages falling out, inscribed to me with the date of the gift (1977). I was five, and yes, I could and did read it. Repeatedly. Alice was formative. This Alice-inspired story is about falling into that mad, mad world and how sometimes we fill the role we are assigned the best we can. I wrote it as a gift for my partner, whom I met via swordfighting, but then sent it to an editor (who bought it for It might be a love story—or madness.

  “The Nameless,” likewise, came from reading. This time, both Red Riding Hood and Herland (a 1915 feminist novel) played out in the story. What if there were those in a village whose role was defending from the wolves? It’s a bit dark, but for the first time since selling a novel I sent a story to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. They published it (January 2020), and thereby fulfilled a career goal of mine. It’s a story of sisterhood and survival.

  The influence for “Knee Deep in the Sea” is a different animal. Not fairy tale. Not literary. It’s rooted in Orkney, on beaches I’ve walked and pubs I’ve visited. It may be a woman sick of “mansplaining,” or it could be a murderess of mythic origins. It might also be a love story—or madness.

  My dark streak continued in “The Devil’s Due” wherein a young woman must cope with a nagging ghost, missing sisters, and a vicious man—a Bluebeard figure. There is love, family, and survival. Again, there is sisterhood.

  To round everything out, I added a prequel Graveminder story because some maidens carry pearl-handled pistols in the land of the dead.

  But not everything is dark or fairy tale!

  I’ve included three “love stories” from my Wicked Lovely world. “Love Hurts” is a sequel, telling of Irial, Leslie, and Niall. This story takes place after the original series, and it includes wrestling with a world-shifting secret. That secret sets up Cold Iron Heart (and is thus included in the back of that novel).

  “Love Hurts” was followed by a sequel story, “Summer Bound,” also set after the series. The Summer Queen meets a long lost relative, an advisor to the court finds love, and pieces are in places for a series sequel novel.

  This collection also includes the prequel story, “Winter Dreams.” That just released in ebook in December, but as I was inundated by requests for a print version, I made that available in this collection, too. “Winter Dreams” is set in the 1990s, when a young Moira Foy met faery kings—and Donia still had hope for Keenan’s love.

  These three Wicked Lovely stories are all stand-alone pieces, but they—as with the other WL stories in years past—add to and expand the series world.

  In all there are maidens, swords, madness, love, and the occasional murder ahead…

  * * *



  “Of Roses and Kings”

  “To the dungeon.” Those were the last words she said to me, and the reasons for them should be what I ponder. Instead all I can think about is the way her mouth curved, the tip of her tongue between her parted lips as she spoke.

  The Red Queen controls everything. Such is the power of money, of influence, of her lovely, lying lips.

  “It’s not my fault,” I protest, even as I step outside the palace into the dusk.

  My escort, one lone guard, glances at me curiously.

  “It’s not my fault,” I repeat.

  He shoves me, hand between my shoulder blades. “Keep moving.”

  “I’m not guilty.”

  He doesn’t answer. I could kill him if I had a mind to, but I don’t. He’s just doing his job. It’s
not personal. I’m accused of . . . well, honestly, I don’t know the list of charges this time. All I know is that I was in the Red Queen’s chambers, and now I’m in custody.

  “I’m not innocent, but neither am I guilty,” I explain, more to myself than him.

  He’s no one. His opinion means less than nothing.

  He keeps silent as I follow him through the garden. My shoes are gone, and the road we follow is anything but soft. Knowing her, I wouldn’t be shocked if she had extra rocks or shards of glass carted in to cover the path. She’s always quick to remind me she’s in charge.

  I lift my gaze from the path at a soft chuff of laughter to my left. The guard doesn’t notice the sound, but he’s not paid enough to notice. Or maybe he’s simply one of the rare Wonderland-born people. They never find the oddities worth noting, not the way those of us who came from the Original World do.

  I stare into the wild foliage. There, nestled among rose blossoms as big as a child’s head, is Tom. With his dark skin, the garden, and the flowers, all I see is his eerily wide smile. No one else has such a grin, though, so there’s no mistaking him.

  “Who goes there?” he calls out, official-like, as if he has the authority to question my transportation. Perhaps he might. Politics are a peculiar thing in any world, including this one.

  The guard halts and peers into the greenery. “Guard 39, sir.”

  Tom steps out with a bit of a pounce. He always gives the impression of something feral, grinning as he does, popping out of unexpected shadows more often than not.

  If I were to like a man, I suspect it would be him.

  “Ahhh, you have Rose.” Tom looks me up and down.

  “Beatrice,” the guard corrects.

  “But a rose by any other name is . . . If you are not a rose, what does that make you?”

  The guard scrunches up his face in a most unflattering way. “This is Beatrice, the Red Queen’s maid.”

  “Today.” Tom’s grin vanishes. “There are tomorrows and yesterdays, though. Are any of us both who were then and now?”

  The guard nods as if this makes sense. I suppose, in a manner of speaking, it does. Once, a very long while ago, my name was not Beatrice. Before that, in the Original World, it was something else entirely.

  Tom sidles up next to the guard and takes the keys from where they hang at the guard’s hip. The guard watches him, as do I. Who can resist such a being? Tom moves the way the loveliest music comes into being, as if it’s suddenly woven from nothing into something remarkable. Tom is like that—except he knows things in a way that makes me suspect he’s sometimes here when he’s not.

  “I shall take Rose,” he pronounces.

  Guard 39 looks perplexed at this. “Did the queen change the orders?”

  Tom’s wide grin flashes back into being, and we all three undoubtedly know that whatever comes next is not the whole truth.

  “Ah, does she ever not change them?” Tom asks.

  The guard hands me over with no more than a cursory glance at the castle. Tom, for all his deceits, is trusted as few beings ever are in Wonderland. He is not in her employ, but he is not her enemy. Truthfully, I think he’s as much in charge as she is.

  As the guard leaves, I feel Tom beside me, nearly vibrating with the difficulty of stillness. We stand there, watching Guard 39 return along the path we’ve traveled. I’m not sure if he’s going to the castle to ask for clarity or simply resuming whatever task he should’ve been attending if not for my sudden arrest.

  Once the guard turns a bend in the garden path, Tom extends an elbow to me. “Come, my dear Rose. We shall walk a while.”

  He doesn’t unshackle me, so linking my arm with his is not possible. I rattle my restraints slightly in answer.

  “I see.”

  Instead of removing the manacles, he twines his arm around mine, and we perambulate through the jungle-like growth. Tendrils seemingly reach out, snagging my hair and skirt. There’s a wildness here that suits me.

  After several quiet moments, I tell him, “I never lied to her. I need you to believe me. I need someone to trust me.”

  Tom’s toothy grin flashes in the dark. “Shall I admit I don’t care, dear Rose?”

  “Why did you stop him from taking me to the dungeon, then?”

  “That, my dear one, is a fine question.” He pats my arm as if I have earned a point in a game I didn’t realize we’d begun. Unlike me, unlike Alice, Tom is a native of this peculiar world. In the best of moods, he seems to consider if you’re worth toying with for a while or if you’re beneath his notice. Neither seems particularly pleasant.

  “Do you believe me?” I ask.

  He laughs, mouth stretching wider than human mouths ought to stretch.

  “Alice would not like it if I believed you,” he says, bluntly getting to the lone truth of things. “Of course, she would not like it if I doubted you either.”

  “I serve her best interests,” I tell him. “Whatever name you call me, or she calls me, I serve Alice.”

  This is the truth that has left me here, chained in the garden, plucked from her room. It is also, apparently, the answer Tom sought. He peers at me, and then he reaches out. I don’t flinch—although any man reaching toward me is cause for discomfort. The side of his hand grazes my face as he plucks a dripping rose from a wild tangle of vines and thorns. A good third of the petals rain over me as he frees the blossom and weaves it into my hair.

  “I serve Wonderland, Rose. Not this Red Queen. Not the last. Not the one before her . . . or the one who will follow Alice some day.”

  “She trusts you.” It’s all I can say as we follow the sinuous path toward the dungeon—where, apparently, I am still going.

  “More’s the pity,” he says.

  We drift to silence then, broken only when he opens my cell door. The clank of it seems welcoming. Tom’s company has become oppressive.

  I pull it closed. The keys clatter as he locks the cell and then reaches in to unshackle my wrists and attach the manacle to my ankle.

  “Never unchain a killer unless you must,” he says cheerily.

  “I serve the queen,” I repeat.

  “No one with a bit of sense doubts that. They might not admit they realize it, and you will likely still lose your pretty head, Rose, but those of us who pay attention have always known where your loyalty belongs.” He pats my cheek and grins as he backs away, white teeth gleaming out of the shadows.

  And then he’s gone.

  * * *

  The first time I stood before the queen, I knew she was why I’d fallen into Wonderland. She is my reason. I was meant for her.

  I’d been here for four months, not entirely sure where here was or if being here was to last forever. Nothing made sense some days, but I’d been keeping my head down and had taken a position as a maid. It wasn’t much, but it kept me in tea and jam.

  The day that changed my life was a Wednesday. Admittedly, most days here are Wednesday, but still, I noted it. Details matter when the queen is rumored to be a litigious sort.

  “You, there.” A guard stood over me, close enough that I briefly considered mopping his shiny black boots. “Stand up.”

  That part was easy enough—welcome, even. Being on my knees wasn’t a natural position, especially not before a man. Don’t mistake me: I’m not a misandrist. I dislike most people, men and women both. I maybe just dislike men a touch more.

  “The queen needs you to clean the throne room,” he ordered.


  He stared at me as if I were daft. “Of course, now. Everything she orders is now.”

  Months later, I’d understand, but I hadn’t yet learned that the Red Queen had made it a habit to lack patience. It was part of the illusion she crafted. No one thought her capable of the ruses she set into motion because her carefully constructed persona was that of an impatient, slightly mad, entirely indulgent woman.

  But I digress.

  The Red Queen had summoned me, and so I went t
o the throne room. It was a marvel of black and white tile, an elaborate game board where pawns maneuvered for power. She sat like a goddess on high, watching the courtiers seeking her attention and pointedly refusing them. The king, for all that he existed, was a shell of a man. He nodded and spoke as if she crafted lines for him at night and glancing at her with such hunger and fear that I pitied him almost as much as I envied him.

  (I know now that this was the moment of my demise. She knew somehow, before I realized it, before I could hide. She knew I was hers to use and discard.)

  When she turned to look at me, my fate was sealed. Golden ringlets framed a face that sculptors have carved and painters have captured. Her lips tilted into the smile that Helen once used to launch a war. I knew then that Lucifer fell for the same reason Adam did—because she willed it.

  So, when she crooked her finger, I did what any sane woman would do: I turned and walked out of the room.

  That was the first time she had me tossed in the dungeon. I wonder if today will be the last.

  * * *

  It’s midnight when she visits me. I know she’s here before the guard slips out of the small side door into a courtyard. Like I said, everyone knows she’s deadly, but no one else is mad enough to cross her.