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Gilded (Gilded #1)
Author:Marissa Meyer

Gilded (Gilded #1)

Marissa Meyer



For Jill and Liz—

Ten years and fifteen books together.

Your continuous support, encouragement,

and friendship are worth so much more than gold.





All right. I will tell you the tale, how it happened in truth.

The first thing you ought to know is that it wasn’t my father’s fault. Not the bad luck, not the lies. Certainly not the curse. I know some will try to blame him, but he had little to do with it.

And I want to be clear that it wasn’t entirely my fault, either. Not the bad luck, not the lies. Certainly not the curse.

Well.

Maybe some of the lies.

But I should start at the beginning. The true beginning.

Our story began on the winter solstice nineteen years ago, during a rare Endless Moon.

Or, I should say, the true beginning was in the beforetimes, when monsters roamed freely outside the veil that now separates them from mortals, and demons sometimes fell in love.

But for our purposes, it started during that Endless Moon. The sky was slate gray and a blizzard was being heralded across the land by the chilling howls of the hounds, the thunder of hooves. The wild hunt had emerged, but this year they were not only seeking lost souls and aimless drunkards and naughty children who had risked misbehaving at a most inopportune time. This year was different, for an Endless Moon only occurs when the winter solstice coincides with a bright moon in all its fullness. This is the only night when the great gods are forced to take their beastly forms. Enormous. Powerful. Almost impossible to catch.

But if you should be lucky enough, or skilled enough, to capture such a prize, the god will be forced to grant a wish.

It was this wish the Erlking sought that fateful night. His hounds howled and burned as they chased down one of the monstrous creatures. The Erlking himself shot the arrow that pierced the beast’s massive golden wing. He was sure the wish would be his.

But with remarkable strength and grace, the beast, although wounded, was able to break through the circle of hounds. It fled, deep into the Aschen Wood. The hunters again made chase, but too late. The monster was gone, and with sunlight nearing, the hunt was forced to retreat behind the veil.

As morning light shimmered off a blanket of snow, it so happened that a young miller arose early to check on the river that turned his waterwheel, concerned that it would soon freeze over in the winter cold. That is when he spied the monster, hidden in the shadows of the wheel. It might have been dying, if gods could die. It had grown weak. The gold-tipped arrow still jutted from between bloodied feathers.

The miller, cautious and afraid but courageous all the same, approached the beast and, with much effort, snapped the arrow in two and pulled it free. No sooner had he done so than the beast transformed into the god of stories. Expressing much gratitude for the miller’s help, they offered to grant a single wish.

The miller thought on this for a long while, until finally he confessed that he had recently fallen in love with a maiden from the village, a girl who was both warm of heart and free of spirit. He wished that the god would grant them a child, one who was healthy and strong.

The god bowed, and said it was to be.

By the following winter solstice, the miller had married the village maiden and together they brought a baby girl into the world. She was indeed healthy and strong, and in that, the god of stories had granted the wish precisely as requested.

But there are two sides to every story. The hero and the villain. The dark and the light. The blessing and the curse. And what the miller had not understood is that the god of stories is also the god of lies.

A trickster god.

Having been blessed by such a godparent, the child was forever marked with untrustworthy eyes—pitch-black irises, each overlaid by a golden wheel with eight tiny golden spokes. The wheel of fate and fortune, which, if you are wise, you know is the greatest deception of all.

Such a peculiar gaze ensured that all who saw her would know she had been touched by old magic. As she grew, the child was often shunned by the suspicious villagers for her strange gaze and the bouts of misfortune that seemed to follow in her wake. Terrible storms in the winter. Droughts in the summer. Diseased crops and missing livestock. And her mother vanishing in the night with no explanation.

These and all manner of horrible things for which blame could easily be thrust onto the peculiar, motherless child with the unholy eyes.

Perhaps most condemning of all was the habit she developed as soon as she learned her first words. When she talked, she could hardly keep herself from telling the most outlandish tales, as though her tongue could not tell the difference between truth and falsehoods. She began to trade in stories and lies herself, and while the other children delighted in her tales—so full of whimsy and enchantment—the elders knew better.

She was blasphemous, they said. A most despicable liar, which everyone knows is nearly as bad as being a murderer or the sort of person who repeatedly invites themselves over for a pint of ale but never repays the favor.

In a word, the child was cursed, and everyone knew it.

And now that I’ve told the story, I fear I may have misled you before.

In hindsight, perhaps it was a bit my father’s fault. Perhaps he should have known better than to accept a wish from a god.

After all … wouldn’t you?





Chapter 1




Madam Sauer was a witch. A real witch—not the way some petty people use the word to describe an unlikeable woman with a haggard appearance, though she was that, too. No, Serilda was convinced Madam Sauer was hiding ancient powers and enjoyed communion with the field spirits in the darkness of each new moon.

She had little evidence. Just a hunch, really. But what else could the old teacher be, with that surly disposition and those yellowish, slightly pointed teeth? (Truly—look closer, they have an unmistakable needlelike quality to them, at least when the light hits them in a certain way, or when she is complaining about her flock of wretched schoolchildren again.) The townspeople might insist on blaming Serilda for every tiny misfortune that befell them, but she knew better. If anyone was to blame, it was Madam Sauer.

She probably crafted potions from toenails and had an alpine newt for a familiar. Icky, slimy things. It would fit her temperament just right.

No, no, no. She didn’t mean that. Serilda was fond of the alpine newt. She would never wish such a horrible thing upon them as being spiritually attached to this abhorrent human.