We’re going to start adding some extra The Witch’s Kiss content to the site: some deleted scenes and perhaps some brand new writing too! First up is a scene between Jack and Meredith, in the Dark Ages setting of the fairy tale. If you want to read what happens when Jack gets sent to Helmswick, it’s on page 220 of the book.
Every day, Jack prayed.
He prayed for the people he had murdered, and he prayed that, when night fell, Gwydion would not send him out to murder again.
Mostly, he prayed for death.
And yet, death evaded him. He tried stabbing himself, but Gwydion had somehow enchanted his skin so it healed instantly. He tried to hang himself, but no knot held once placed around his neck. He even tried starving himself. But Gwydion had dragged in the girl who cooked and waited on Jack and threatened to torture her in front of him if he refused to eat. Jack wondered, sometimes, whether he should have starved himself anyway. To sacrifice one girl in order to protect who knew how many others: that surely would have been the correct choice. But he couldn’t do it. For the past five months, Meredith had been the only human being he had spoken to, apart from Gwydion. And Gwydion didn’t really count.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Are you awake, Jack?’
‘Yes. You can come in, Meredith.’
‘I’ve brought your supper. Mutton stew, tonight.’
Jack dragged himself off the bed. The stew smelled good, but his mouth was so dry. He sat at the table and started stirring the food around the wooden bowl, trying to summon up the ghost of an appetite.
‘Please try, Jack. I’m not ready to die today.’ Meredith sat on the bed, watching him. Jack forced himself to take a few mouthfuls. The pity in her green eyes made the weight on his chest even heavier, but to be alone again would be even worse.
‘Do you know what hour it is, Meredith?’ Gwydion had last sent Jack out two nights since, but Jack was still tired; someone had been screaming again last night, up in the tower above. Horrible, agonized screams. He couldn’t ask Meredith if she’d heard them too. It was terrible enough to think about what the wizard was doing, let alone speak it aloud. ‘I have slept away most of the day, again.’
‘The evening draws on, Jack.’ She reached out and touched him gently on the arm. ‘He will be here soon. Eat.’
Jack choked down a little more of the stew and drank some of the weak ale Meredith had brought him. The knowledge of what was coming next… It sliced his guts like a knife. Some of the enchantments Gwydion had put him under were permanent, at least as long as the wizard lived. But the spells that allowed the curse to take hold, that turned him into the monster he was becoming – they needed to be renewed every few nights. The magic was old and dark and powerful. And it had to be fed.
The door opened: Gywdion walked into the room. He frowned at Meredith, and she jumped up off the bed.
‘I do not know why I tolerate you, girl.’ He beckoned her over, and when she was standing in front of him he grasped the back of her neck. Jack gritted his teeth, holding himself rigid, forcing himself not to react as Gwydion pulled Meredith close. ‘You’d best watch your step, or I’ll find another use for you.’ He released her.‘Now get out. You can come and clear this away later.’
Meredith hurried out of the room without another glance at Jack.
But why would she look at him? She knew what he was going to become. What he was going to be sent out to do.
‘Come, Jack.’ Gwydion was holding the door open. ‘We have work to do.’
Jack – as The King of Hearts – is sent to Helmswick. But his attempt to kill his younger brother fails….
Jack lay on the floor in his cell, trying not to move. Even breathing hurt. Gwydion’s rage, when The King of Hearts returned empty handed, had been beyond anything Jack had witnessed before. The wizard had stripped him almost naked – flogged him – kicked him, screaming and storming the whole time. Jack had passed out in the end.
There was a noise on the far side of the room. Jack opened his eyes a little; Meredith was kneeling by his head. There were tears on her cheeks.
‘Oh, my poor Jack, what has he done to you?’ She lifted his head a little and pressed a cup to his lips. ‘Drink a little, then I will look to your wounds.’
‘No – no, Meredith. Don’t…’
‘Please Jack, try the medicine.’
Jack swallowed a little of the liquid. It tasted sweet and spicy, and eased the pain in his lips and throat.
‘Don’t help me, Meredith. I should suffer. I deserve to suffer. I nearly killed – I nearly –’
‘Sssh, don’t talk now. Rest, while I put bandages on. Then we will talk…’