Emma Newman visits Fantastic Fables with her newest novel Between Two Thorns. Her story takes the glass slipper part out of Cinderella and brings it into the Split Worlds series. Claudia and Richard (and Imogen) are all minor characters in Between Two Thorns. Between Two Thorns is available now.
A huge thanks to Angry Robot for today’s giveaway! One lucky reader will win a copy of Between Two Thorns.
The Ceremony of the Slipper
Claudia placed the glass slipper on the cushion reverently, smiled at her brother and admired how calm he appeared to be. She knew how tense Richard really was. Poor dear.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as Censor of Aquae Sulis, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Assembly Rooms this evening,” she said to the hushed crowd. “Tonight, as many of you know, is the Ceremony of the Slipper. It’s held every ten years to find the lady my brother is destined to marry, as decreed by our patron, Lady Lavender. It also gives me the rare opportunity to be Master of Ceremonies for the evening,” She waved a hand at him, seated so elegantly in the gilded chair beside the cushion. “As the prize, the Master of Ceremonies must remain silent until the last hopeful has been tested.”
She cast her eye over the three ladies stood in front of her and smiled. “Many beautiful young ladies have stood where you do now, as hopeful as you are. Why, tonight may be the end of my brother’s long wait. Tonight, one of you may win his hand in marriage.” She let the words hang just long enough for one of them to start shaking. Unsurprisingly, it was the Wisteria girl. “But only if the slipper fits!”
The girl looked like she might faint, as did her mother. Did they really think they had a chance of marrying into the most powerful family in Albion’s most prestigious city? Claudia smiled to cover her amusement. “You shall be first, my dear,” she said. The last thing they all needed was a supplicant in a dead faint.
The girl’s hand felt like the last damp leaf clinging to an autumnal tree. Claudia helped her to step up to the cushion.
“I am Harriet Sinensis-Wisteria of Jorvic and I hope very much to make you a fine wife.”
You’ll be more likely to make one out of clay, Claudia thought as the girl pointed her toes towards the glass slipper. She managed to get most of the ball of her foot inside before she started to wince. The shade of scarlet her cheeks were able to achieve was quite startling.
“Is something wrong, dear?”
The girl looked at her mother, whose face reflected her panic. “Mama…”
“Oh, I see the problem,” Claudia made a show of peering down at the slipper. “What extraordinarily large toes you have! I never would have guessed from the rest of you. Well, perhaps there will be a man in Jorvic who doesn’t mind marrying a girl who-”
The girl burst into tears, making the rest of Claudia’s planned social assassination unnecessary. The Wisterias had to be kept in their place, after all. Harriet was pulled off the dais by her parents who left the room to the sound of laughter and fans being tapped against palms. Claudia picked up the shoe the girl had left behind with thumb and forefinger and tossed it behind her to the delight of the assembled.
The next girl was from Londinium, the daughter of the famed Charlotte Persificola-Viola, rumoured to have been selected for marriage into the family by Lady Violet herself. The daughter was pretty enough but it didn’t escape Claudia’s notice that she stepped up to the cushion with reluctance. Perhaps she was hoping to marry another. Her failure was less of a spectacle and one Claudia let slip by like the dozens in the years before.
Then it was the turn of Imogen Reticulata-Iris. Claudia had been surprised to receive the letter from her father putting her forwards. The Irises expected perfection but young ladies had been failing the slipper test for over two hundred and fifty years. Were they so arrogant?
The girl was dressed in a gown beautiful enough to elicit a pang of envy. Imogen curtsied to Richard, no introduction necessary. She slipped off her shoe with such grace that Claudia didn’t realise she’d done it until a stocking toe emerged from her skirts. Imogen paused, pretending to prepare herself for the challenge ahead but Claudia could see she wasn’t nervous at all. Something about the way Imogen’s eyes flicked up from the slipper to Richard and the coy blush that was just enough to deepen the red of her lips, made Claudia pay more attention.
Once Imogen was certain she had Richard’s full attention, she grasped the silk of her skirts to raise the hem a couple of inches higher than before. Her eyes drew him down to the embroidered vine that ran from the arch of her stocking upwards to the hem of her petticoats.
Claudia could hear the breath sucked in between her brother’s teeth and saw the immediate flush in his cheeks. His eyes sparkled in a way she’d never seen in any of the ceremonies before. She was forced to stand there and watch as Imogen’s toes partially entered the shoe, her and Richard’s eyes locked, and then her foot was withdrawn. Richard visibly sagged when the embroidered stocking disappeared from his sight.
“Oh,” Imogen said with a breathless sigh. “It seems I’m not the one destined to marry you after all.”
Claudia watched the girl put her own shoe back on whilst giving Richard such a mournful look she made a pantomime dame look subtle. She was received into her mother’s arms with a look of sympathy, but her father smiled at Claudia and then looked pointedly at her brother. Richard was staring at the girl, crushed.
There had to be a spy in her brother’s household. How else would they have known his weakness for embroidered stockings? The Irises had guaranteed that even if the slipper didn’t fit, Imogen would have the social victory of being the only failure to disappoint the Master of Ceremonies. No doubt they would exploit the inevitable favouritism. “Well. My brother will remain a bachelor for another decade,” Claudia said, desperate to distract him from his lustful idiocy. “Let the dancing begin!”
As the musicians in the gallery followed the cue, she picked up the cushion and slipper. Her brother was rising out of his chair, eyes still fixed on Imogen. “Richard,” she hissed. “Come with me.”
Once they were alone and the slipper was locked away for another decade, Claudia let Richard embrace her.
“Sweetling,” he began, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Couldn’t we possibly make an exception for Imogen? Her family is one of the most respected in the city and-”
“No,” she said, too sharply. “Darling,” she said in a softer voice. “I know it’s hard. But this is what Lady Lavender wants, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but perhaps-”
“And who are we to go against our patron’s wishes?”
“But I do-”
“After all, should we not have faith that she – of all the Fae – would know who is good enough for you and our family?”
He sagged against her. “You’re right, of course. I suppose I’m fortunate. A waltz or two will put it all behind me. Forgive me, dear heart, I had a moment of weakness.”
She smiled, promised to join him soon and watched him leave. Alone again, she unlocked the box to polish the slipper and check the curse was intact. What he was really fortunate to have was such a devoted sister, clever enough to know that no-one could ever be good enough for him and wealthy enough to afford the curse that would prevent the slipper from fitting anyone’s foot. Even the one it was supposed to.
Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres. The first book of Emma’s new Split Worlds urban fantasy series called “Between Two Thorns” was recently published by Angry Robot Books. She is represented by Jennifer Udden at DMLA. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs here, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms. You can sign up for a year and a day of free weekly stories set in the Split Worlds here.
Want to read more from Emma Newman?
This giveaway is provided by Angry Robot!
One lucky winner will win a copy of Between Two Thorns
Available February 26, 2013 from Angry Robot
About this Book:
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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