Ever After

Prometheus_Ever-After_v2 for web

40,000 years ago, at the dawn of Homo sapiens, an advanced alien civilization sent a nearly immortal artificial intelligence probe to Earth in order to monitor human development.

The probe can adopt male or female form based on our DNA and is in constant contact with its home world. In this short story, the Prometheus Probe, in the form of two mysterious women, conveys the same Cinderella story to Giambattista Basile in 1594 and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1811. How cultures change and retell this story over time reveals humanity’s soul to those who listen.

Ever After is one of thirteen stories in The Prometheus Saga, a consortium of twelve award-winning and talented authors who will change the short story experience.



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The print anthology including all thirteen short stories is available here: AMAZON

Ever After

by M.J. Carlson

Play a game. Sit in a circle of friends. Whisper a story to the person next to you. Let your story travel around the circle. Listen to what returns. What does this exercise tell us about these people, their beliefs, their society? Extend the circle to include a town, a country, a culture, a millennium. Whisper a special story, quiet as a butterfly’s dance, into the right ear. Let that story weave through a people, changing with time and retelling until it returns, like birds flying home in the spring. Hear the secrets it brings. What do those secrets reveal about us?

Venice, Italy, 1594

In the hour before dawn, Giambattista Basile lay back and sighed. “Scusimi,” he whispered. He shifted and straightened the bed sheet where it had bunched under his back. Always the gentleman, he reached across the woman he knew as Yu Yan and tugged the top sheet over her nakedness. She reacted by throwing the sheet off.

“Too warm,” she murmured, and rolled onto her side, facing him before snuggling in and working her shoulder into his embrace. She flipped her hair over his encircling arm and stretched against him, rolling the tension from her muscles, then sighed contentedly, her head on his chest.

He pulled a pillow under his head and allowed his gaze to caress her. Her hair cascaded over his arm and down her back, a waterfall of black silk. Tiny beads of sweat clung to her coppery bronze skin in the flickering candlelight. He inhaled slowly. Their lovemaking added a musky scent to the humid, salt-tinged air from outside.

Water in the canal below lapped against the stones of the building, soothing him. He smiled and turned his attention to the open window. Above the silhouetted rooftops, the moon descended toward a rose-hued horizon. Rain today. Perhaps they would stay in all day, listening as fat drops on the tiles sang them to sleep in a lover’s lullaby.

As he returned his attention to the woman in his arms, his lips brushed against her hair. “Mia bella amore.” He let the words trickle out, hoping she was awake.

“Yes?” Her murmured reply betrayed no hint of sleep.

“I wish,” he said, “this moment could last forever. It is like a soap bubble in the sun.” After only a month he had already noticed the first stirrings of restlessness in her – the way her eyes moved to the horizon for a moment, or a smile in conversation, as if her thoughts were elsewhere. In his experience this was something unusual in women and it made her all the more interesting to him.

She shifted. Her muscles tensed under smooth skin before relaxing again. “Forever is a very long time to maintain perfection, Giambattista.”

Si,” he said. “You are right, of course.” The wisdom of a thousand years in one with barely a quarter of a century. No wonder her people were so exotic. “I so loved the story with the little enchanted man and the spinning wheel.” He moved against her. “Perhaps you would grace me with another?”

Promethea lifted her head and settled her chin on his chest. Her lips curved as she blinked eyes the shape of almonds and the color of pitch. “A bedtime story?”

“No, my dove. Just a story, so I may hear your voice. It is incantare – enchanting.”

“Are you familiar with the tales told by the Greek courtesan Rhodopis while she was a slave in Egypt?”

He thought for a moment. “No, I’m sorry. Please, I would love to hear one.”

Her single chuckle was deep and throaty. “Yes, my love.” Her fingers trailed down his abdomen. She cupped him in her hand. “Then, perhaps we can spend the day searching for perfection.”

And she began the story…


Ella sat alone on the granite stairs leading to her garden as the sky cleared. The rain-soaked, fresh growth on the trees loosened fat drops of water into puddles beneath. The birds chirped out season’s change. These things always brought her joy.

No longer.

The back door of the house creaked open. Martha stepped out, tossing Ella a look as unyielding as the stones on which she sat. “There’s work to be done.”

With a sigh, she followed Martha into the dark, stuffy kitchen. “Finish making supper while your sisters get dressed, and be quick about it.”

Tears trickled down Ella’s porcelain-smooth cheeks again at the thought of her step-sisters wearing her dresses to the party. At least she had been spared the indignity of having to make the adjustments to fit them. Marie and Ruth had become accomplished seamstresses and easily made the changes. Marie, who’d shed the last of her baby fat, and Ruth, who was a year older, but no taller than her sister, were often mistaken as twins. Their long, rich, auburn hair and burnt ochre eyes were identical to each other’s and perfect copies of Martha’s.

“Why won’t you let me go along? I might find a husband to get me from underfoot.” Ella expected the answer to be no different this time. Her real longing was to leave this stifling town forever and visit the places her father had painted in her imagination with his stories.

Martha’s laugh was a stiff, mirthless bark. “Who would want the likes of you? Scrawny, with stringy, straight yellow hair, taller than most of the boys your age.” She regarded Ella with a sneer. “And of what use is a wife who can read? You’ve become almost passable at women’s work with direction, but honestly, I do not understand what your fool of a father was thinking, teaching a girl to read. It’s a useless skill for a woman.”

“My father –”

“Is dead.” Martha’s eyes narrowed. “I am your father’s widow, and everything that was his, is mine. My daughters will inherit from me. I will find suitable husbands for them, a spice merchant or perhaps even a banker. As soon as I can find a nice, stooped pig farmer,” Martha said, brushing her hands together, “I will be done with you.” Her mouth formed a thin, sour smile.

Anger flushed Ella’s cheeks. Everything was so different when her father was still alive. Martha had been kind, telling Ella and her stepsisters bedtime stories, teaching the girls manners, and managing the house. Her father had grown happy again. She pulled her thin shoulders back and defiantly locked eyes with her stepmother.


The slap seemed to come from nowhere, catching her off-guard and reddening her cheek.

“Bastard child! I have told you to refer to me as Stepmother. If you ever dare to look at me in that manner again, I’ll pluck your eyes out and feed them to the crows. Now, finish preparing supper, and afterwards, you’ll help your sisters to dress for the party. When we leave in the coach, you will clean up and start the bread for tomorrow. Do you have any questions?”

“No, Stepmother.” Ella blinked and dropped her gaze to Martha’s shoes. Her lye-soap blistered hands formed fists, hidden in the pleats of her dress. She would rather pluck her own eyes out than give Martha the satisfaction of seeing her cry. It wasn’t her fault her father had doted on her, bought her books, and taught her to read. Nor was it her fault he had never married her mother, who died in childbirth.


Ella watched from a window while the trio rode away in a carriage, laughing. It was time to act. Her secret plan had been in the works for weeks.

In the pantry that had served as her bedroom since her father’s death, she glanced over her shoulder before removing the false bottom in the basket containing the family’s supply of ground rye for bread. Her last party dress was carefully folded inside. Working late at night by candlelight, she had altered the dress to fit her now thinner and taller frame.

She brushed her long, straight, blond hair until it shone. Then, with trembling fingers, she pinned her tresses onto the top of her head, allowing a few golden tendrils to frame her face. Satisfied, she ran upstairs, and taking a deep breath, stole into Martha’s room and sprayed rose water onto her exposed neck and shoulders.

She hurried down the stairs and out of her house, headed for High Street. As she approached one of the houses, an old woman dressed head to foot in black stepped out. The woman spilled water from a wooden bucket onto the stone steps and scrubbed them with a stiff-bristled broom. She stared up at Ella without blinking, her opaque onyx eyes set in a face creased by cares. If Ella stayed, the years would rob her of her youth and beauty, her strength draining away in the street like the spilled water until she found herself old and worn out, too.

“No,” she whispered. Perhaps someone of royal lineage would notice her. One of them would never marry a commoner, of course. The best she could expect was to become a plaything, but being a royal mistress wasn’t a bad option. Even this was preferable to scrubbing floors until her fingers bled. She had seen the Duke’s son and occasionally even dreamt of him on warm nights in the pantry.

The evening air swirled around her. Iron horse shoes and wagon wheels on cobblestones made her turn. Her heart thumped in her throat as a friend of her father’s approached, late in his delivery of wine to the castle. She smiled.

“Well, well.” Eric’s creased, hairy face broke into a toothless smile, as he stopped his cart alongside her. “Who is this I find walking to the castle? It must be a princess. Where is your fine coach, highness?”

Returning Eric’s smile, Ella curtseyed. “Fine sir, I find myself with neither coach nor driver. I might impose upon your kindness for transport to the castle, but only if I can trust you not to take advantage of a defenseless girl.”

He laughed. “Highness, you cut me to the quick. I’m no brigand or scoundrel to make gain of a girl’s disadvantage.” He held out his hand to her. “Please, Miss, do me the honor of allowing me to fetch you to yonder castle.”

Ella’s step onto the cart exposed her feet, upon which were her old, scarred, leather shoes she had almost outgrown and could no longer lace properly.

His face clouded over. “Alas, lady, it seems someone has stolen your fine velvet shoes.”
Sitting next to him on the rough wooden seat of the cart, she silently moved her feet under the cover of her dress.

With the brake released and the cart moving again, he glanced at her from the corner of his eye.

“And how are things at your father’s old house?”

“Times are hard.” Ella shrugged.

Eric harrumphed, his attention returning to the ox pulling the cart. “Not so hard we’ll come upon your generous stepmother or her darlings walking this evening, I’ll wager.”

“She’s often praised for her magnanimity for giving me a roof and food. We should speak of other things,” she said, quietly.

His smile returned. “Are you off to the dance to find a fit husband? The Duke’s son, perhaps?”

Ella slipped her arm around Eric’s. Her head found a resting place on his shoulder. “Branos? Hardly. But perhaps you’d be interested in a fine young wife. I’m told I’m passable at women’s work, even if I can read.”

Patting her hand with the same affection he had shown her as a child when he had done business with her father, Eric sighed. “A beautiful girl with your intelligence can do better than a worn out old man. There is more to the world than this tiny town, highness.”

“The world is too big a place for a woman alone.”

He shook his head, his eyes sympathetic. “No one who can read and write is ever truly alone.”

As they rode along, Eric told Ella stories of her father and her real mother. Her laughter sparked for the first time in what seemed a lifetime.

Ahead, the castle loomed over the northern edge of town. Eric stopped the cart, easing on the brake. Without a word, he slipped a small, gold ring off his little finger and onto her right middle finger.

“No,” she stammered. “I can’t. It was your wife’s.”

Eric smiled as though from far away. “I cheated your father out of it when you were two. It should have been yours, and now it is again. For luck.”

Her lips touched his cheek. “I will never forget your kindness since my father’s death. I’m sure a special place awaits you in heaven.”

“So Father Thomas tells me,” Eric said, holding her hand for a moment. “Now, off to find a good husband and a future full of children and grandchildren.”

Working her way into the castle was easy. The guards were drunk, and young, pretty, well-dressed girls came and went without question. Ella slipped past alcoves with ornate woven tapestries. In no time, she was in the main ballroom. Everywhere, vases held flowers caught in explosions of color, filling the room with delicate scents. The polished marble floor stretched on forever, shimmering in the candlelight. On the floor, people floated and spun, butterflies caught in a whirlwind of music. Overwhelmed, she exited through one of the floor-to-ceiling doorways onto the balcony to catch her breath. The whole town stretched out beneath her feet. Columns of gentian, lilly, and jasmine scented the night.

Her nerves vibrated under her skin in the darkness. A sound to her left alerted her and she stepped behind a column as Marie walked by, arm in arm with a pasty-faced boy who looked as though he might panic and dart away at any moment. Marie had already been the recipient of several trips to the punch bowl, and her eyes shone like brown glass orbs as she passed. Ella turned and scanned the room. Ruth was on the dance floor. Martha huddled in a corner with a tight knot of matrons quietly plotting their children’s destinies.

Movement and sound drew her inside again. In a surprisingly short time, handsome young men surrounded her. She hoped one of them would find her interesting enough.

Then she saw him. Or rather, they saw each other. The Duke’s son strode purposefully across the ballroom floor. A gold medallion hung around his neck. The ribbon it hung from formed a scarlet V on the front of his crisp, white linen shirt. The other young men melted away as he approached. His hand extended to her in a command to dance with him.

He whirled her onto the floor. After a few minutes, her head swam. Her breath came in gasps, her cheeks warmed.

They stepped through the crowd. He pulled her into one of the alcoves. His lips were rough on hers. He bit her lower lip and clawed savagely at her breasts, trying to undo her bodice. He forced her onto a small divan against a wall. Pinning her with his weight, he forced his knee between hers. The mumbled words that passed his lips were garbled and incoherent, but his intentions were obvious.

“No.” Her choked-out words could have been from someone else’s throat.

His blue eyes were glazed, his face was flushed, and his breath reeked of brandy. He murmured a slur so ugly it revolted her. Not like this, she thought. Not with a beast like him.

“No,” she said again, louder, struggling. Fury filled her. Her bodice ripping matched her nails raking his face.

He let go of her and found his feet, swaying, mouth open in disbelief, a hand over the bright red rivulets crossing his eyelid and cheek. He glared at her as she stood to face him, her anger and loathing matching the hatred in his eyes. He started for her.

Visions of prison and torture and worse filled her. Her foot reacted reflexively, with all the strength in her young leg.

The blow landed hard. Branos coughed once and doubled over, his arms crossed in front of his belly. He hit the floor in a lump, face crimson, eyes locked closed. Too shocked by pain to scream, all he could manage were quiet grunts.

Blood roared in Ella’s ears as the implications of her actions washed over her. She would certainly be imprisoned and probably executed. Her youth and beauty were forfeit in a moment’s foolishness. They might even give her to the other prisoners as an amusement, to be torn apart when they’d finished taking turns with her. Mouth dry, she covered her exposed bosom with the remnants of her party dress and stole toward the nearest exit even as the clock chimed.

Excited voices sounded an alarm behind her as she tripped while descending the main stairway, narrowly escaping a tumble down the marble steps by grabbing onto the banister. As she approached the doorway, the guards passed her headed in the other direction, ignoring the silly girl with the torn dress.

At the main gate, Ella stopped to catch her breath. “Damn,” she said out loud. One of her shoes was missing. She dare not return for it. Now she was completely undone. There would be no hiding. She had to get away to someplace where she could think. First though, she had to get home.

She kicked her other shoe into the bushes and ran along the same road she and Eric had traversed only a few hours ago. It seemed a lifetime ago. She cursed the full moon riding high in the cloudless sky. If she could have arrested its arc by will alone, it would have returned to its cradle below the horizon, giving her running silhouette refuge in the gloom.

Arriving at home, she scrambled, gasping up the stone front steps. She threw open the door and tumbled into the foyer in a panic. Running to the kitchen, she packed some bread, cheese, and two bottles of wine into a burlap bag. To these she added her meager belongings, what remained of her father’s silverware, and his traveling dagger, all the while looking over her shoulder, expecting her stepmother to burst fuming into the foyer – or worse.

The moon had moved toward the horizon when Ella stole out the kitchen door. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she crept through her garden for probably the last time. She hadn’t used her proper name while at the party, but the town was small enough that if the Duke wanted to find her he would have no trouble – and she was fairly certain he would want to find her.

With Martha’s cloak wrapped around her shoulders, she crept through the alleyways. A pair of Martha’s shoes clicked on the cobblestones, strips of linen wound around her feet, allowing her to cinch them properly. After what seemed an eternity, keeping to darkened streets and alleys and melting into the shadows at any sound, she found herself at Eric’s small house at the edge of town. The sky was just lightening in the east as she tapped on his door.

The door creaked on its hinges as it opened a crack, then wider. “My poor girl. Come in, quickly.” Eric’s voice was inviting. Closing the door behind her, he spoke without lighting a candle, his tone quiet. “I was still at the castle awaiting payment for my delivery when Branos regained his senses. Never have I seen anyone so furious. He searched the guests for you then sent everyone home. I overheard them planning to use bloodhounds to track you.”

Ella’s hands covered her mouth, her eyes closed. “He wanted to… tried to… I couldn’t, not like that.”
He brushed a stray hair from her face. “You did the right thing. Unfortunately, the right thing often brings a price.”

“Oh, Eric, tell me he doesn’t know my identity,” she sobbed.

Eric placed his hands on her trembling shoulders. “Not yet, little one, I only recognized you from the description of your dress.”

“I’m not safe here,” she said through her sobs. “You aren’t safe as long as I’m here. If I can get to the river…”

“It’s too far to walk with them searching for you. Come with me.” He led Ella through the house to the back door, out to the barn, where the ox was still yoked to his cart. Eric spread a blanket on some straw in the cart. “You lie here, highness, I will secret you to a safe distance.”

Ella’s eyes widened. “But the hounds…”

“Shh.” Eric held his finger to his lips. “I have a plan. Something your father and I did.” He cleared his throat. “From time to time,” he added and gave her a grin.

Eric left her alone while she crawled onto the cart, then made herself as comfortable as possible while she waited in the early, pre-dawn chill.

He returned, placing a small package next to her on the blanket before he quietly led the ox from the barn.

“Lie down now, and be quiet,” he whispered, covering her with a second blanket. She lay swathed in the woolen shroud, under an additional weight pungent with the odor of straw while he loaded dung into the cart on top of her.

Entombed as she was in the cart, hours seemed like days as the sun rose. Under the straw, Ella sweltered. She managed to slip loose of her stepmother’s cloak without shifting the straw, and fortunately, the dung above her was dry. Seepage would have been unbearable.

They were stopped only once by soldiers. Ella listened intently, hoping they had at least gotten her description wrong, but they knew everything about her except her whereabouts. There had been a distinct scarcity of blonde girls in green and yellow dresses at the party.

The story they told left tears in her eyes and her stomach fluttering. Upon arriving home, only shortly after Ella had departed, Martha immediately discovered the missing items, especially Ella. She had gone to the Duke to ingratiate herself, claiming Ella was insane and had escaped from where she was normally confined in the attic.

As the day cooled into evening, Eric pulled the cart off the roadway. It shifted as he got down from the seat and removed the overlying layer of dung. Ella threw off the blanket and sat up, taking her first deep breath in hours.

“I shall never be rid of this smell,” she said, wrinkling her nose and smiling at her savior.

Returning her lightheartedness, Eric replied, “But highness, better to smell like a dung heap and be alive, than a rose and crushed under the Duke’s boot heel.”

“Or broken on the rack,” she agreed, shivering. She slid to the rear of the cart, preparing to step onto the ground.

“Indeed,” Eric said, offering her his hand. “While Branos toasts to your health with hundred year old brandy.”

“How can I ever repay you?” she asked, hugging her friend.

Sniffing, with a wrinkle of his nose, Eric replied, “No need, little one. Your safety is my repayment. Your father wanted more for you.” He sneered in the castle’s direction. “In truth, I never held much regard for your stepmother. Perhaps Branos will find in her a suitable substitute for his wrath.”

She shook her head. “I wish her no ill fortune.”

He eyed her. “A good heart. You are your father’s daughter. Over the next hill, you’ll come to a stream where you can wash your clothes. Half a day’s walk further on is a town with a way station. The coach will take you to Hamburg, and from there, to your new life.” He handed her the package he had laid next to her in the cart. “Some food and a bottle of wine. Also, there is sixty heller. I only wish there was more. Now you should go, or I might be tempted to take advantage of a defenseless woman alone on the road.” He smiled.

She slid the dagger from her belt. “And you would pay dearly.”

His smile broadened, and her dagger found its sheath again.

“I shall miss you, my prince,” she said and kissed his stubbled cheeks.

He turned his cart in the direction they had come and walked alongside his ox, patting its ears gently as Ella strode into her future.


Hanover, Germany, 1811

Wilhelm Grimm watched from under the brim of his hat as his brother Jacob sat back in his seat, his mouth agape. He regarded the mysterious, dark-haired woman in the seat opposite Jacob. The coach rocked in its gentle rhythm while German farms rolled past outside, verdant and lush, the scent of fertile land full on the breeze flowing in through the coach’s open windows.

“What a wonderful story.” Jacob smiled. “We can give you five kreutzer for the right to include it in our book.” He nudged Wilhelm, who still slouched on the seat next to him. “I especially like the morality about reaching too far. It reminds me of that Greek story – Icarus.” He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “Yes, tried to fly too high and the wax holding her wings melted. We’ll have to change some of the details, of course, and the names.” He counted out the coins.

“Harrumph.” It was the first sound Wilhelm had made.

“You disagree?”

“With paying fifty heller for a story which will in all probability get us arrested for sedition and questioned by the King himself? I should think so.” His hat still lay low over his eyes, as it had while she told her story. Next to where she sat on the smooth-worn, wooden seat, his stretched out legs were crossed at the ankles.

“Skinflint.” Jacob snorted. “It’s a good story. We’ll change some particulars.”

“Please forgive my older brother, Miss. He forgets only the illiterate resort to name calling,” Wilhelm replied as he sat up and removed his hat. He blinked at the late-afternoon sunlight slanting in through the window.

Jacob smiled at his brother. “It’s a good story, and you know it. We can use it for the book.” He turned back to her. “In the pantry, were there cinders from the stove? Did they get into her hair and eyes? And mice, there must be mice.” He jotted notes in his book. “And a fairy of some sort. Every story needs a supernatural element.”

“Of course,” she said. There was a flicker of something on her face – amusement, or indulgence, perhaps. Her gaze shifted from one brother to the other. “You are storytellers?”

“We are story collectors,” Jacob said with a proud grin. “And you?”

She shifted, leaning forward. “When you were children, did you ever play a game,” she asked.

“Where you sit in a circle and whisper into the ear of the child next to you, each one retelling the story until it returns?”

“Of course,” Jacob said. “The story changes so that one hardly recognizes it.”

“Echoes in a mountain pass,” she said. “Always the same, yet different.”

Wilhelm regarded the attractive, olive-skinned young woman. Her black, shoulder-length curls, intense, pitch-dark eyes, and high, smooth cheekbones lent her an exotic look. There was something mysterious and open about her in the same instant – like stained glass, allowing light to pass through, or reflecting it back, depending on one’s perspective. He spoke softly. “Give her ten kreutzer, and chalk it up to charity, spendthrift. My God, she looks half-starved.” In truth, she looked nothing of the sort. Her clothes were travel-worn, but well-cut, and she had a healthy glow. Wilhelm allowed his gaze to skim over her, then forced his thoughts into more polite channels.

Jacob counted out the coins and placed them in her hand. “If we take some of the intimacies out and change the names, the King himself may not even recognize it, Willie.” He winked at her.

Wilhelm shrugged. “Or, Jerome will have us in prison, or worse yet, expel us from the library.” Ten kreutzer for a story? He almost laughed.

She slipped the coins into her pack. When she looked up at Jacob a smile flowed onto her lips, which he returned, brightening his face.

Wilhelm watched them. Jacob seemed interested in this young woman. Sometimes he became so obsessed with work that Wilhelm worried for him. He absently wondered how this one and his Dorchen would get on, but pushed the thought aside. Before there could be any further discussion, the coach neared the station and slowed. Wilhelm stirred, preparing to get up.

“Where are you going?” She covered her mouth with her hand for her lack of manners and looked away with a coquettish gesture. “I am sorry. It is none of my affair. I just thought…”

“We’re stopping at Hannover for a day or two,” Jacob blurted out, caught up in his excitement.

“We’re here to gather a local story about a girl raised in a tower by her …” he hesitated for a moment. “Her aunt, I think. Oh well, it sounds like a wonderful story, and I’m sure it will be a perfect addition.”

She considered for a moment. “I have another story, if it pleases you, kind sirs. About a little enchanted man and a spinning wheel, or one about a young woman who falls under an enchantment to awaken to a new life.”

“I knew it.” Jacob grinned and handed her his card. “A story-teller. Happy coincidence. Come see us at the King’s library in Cassel in a week’s time. If the other stories are good… who knows? And you say you can read?”

She nodded.

“You see,” Jacob said to his brother. “Perhaps she can organize our notes. What did you say your name is, dear girl?”

She hesitated. “Anastasia,” she said from behind a shy smile.

“Anastasia. A Greek name, is it not?” Wilhelm asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“And you can speak several languages?”

The woman traveling under the name Anastasia let her gaze float to the floor. “I can.” Her smile never faltered.

“Wonderful.” Jacob’s grin widened.

Her smile struck Wilhelm as mischievous and reserved in approximately the same measure. It intrigued him. The coach jerked to a stop at the station, the pungent scent of the horses wafted over them. He reached out and retrieved Jacob’s card from her. Kneeling, he pulled a pen from its holder, uncorked a tiny bottle of ink, jotted an address on the back, and blew on the ink to dry it.

“Our sister, Lotte Grimm,” Wilhelm said as he handed her back the card and returned his pen to its holder. “She will help you with food and lodging until our return.” He stole a glance at Jacob, whose eyes never left her.

A few dozen yards away, ash and smoke from the farrier’s smithy cast a haze in the air and floated in the open window.

“Cinders. They get into everything,” Jacob said, as the brothers shuffled out of the coach and stretched, leaving Promethea alone and looking out the window, watching and listening.


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