The Wonder (Queen of Hearts Saga #2)

The Wonder (Queen of Hearts Saga #2)

Colleen Oakes

Chapter One

Leaves crunched loudly beneath Dinah’s back as she turned over in the Twisted Wood, her eyes weaving through the maze of living trees. Yes, the trees in the Twisted Wood were alive. Not alive in that they spoke or walked or had faces, but that they saw her; of this Dinah had no doubt. It was strange and unnerving, these eyes without eyes. She lay on her back, blinking in the midafternoon light, watching the tree branches as they swayed in the wind, so far above she had to squint to make out their budding leaves. The trees of the Twisted Wood were taller than the Black Towers, and sometimes just as wide. Their thick, gnarled trunks of pine and oak choked her passage, and the night before Dinah had found herself not so much walking as maneuvering through them. Each tree was so different—some had bountiful blossoms of pink that swirled through their branches and up their trunks, some had velvety ferns that draped from weeping branches, and some were barren, with only their branches to shelter them. There were trees that grew sideways—they were long and low. Others were spindly towers of wavy bark, their branches shooting straight into the heavens. Some trees looked as though they had been burned; they were as black as night and their trunks gave off a faint aroma of ash. They were alive and thriving, however, as evidenced by the black and white swirled flowers that danced on the tips of their branches. It was incredible—and terrifying.

As Dinah lay still, she considered how the trees knew everything—they knew where she had been and what had happened; they knew that she had once been the Princess of Wonderland Palace. They knew that her father, the brutal King of Hearts, had betrayed her mere days before her coronation to the throne and murdered her beloved brother, the Mad Hatter, by throwing him out a window. They knew of the stranger who had sent her on her way, fleeing the palace on Morte, the devil steed, a Hornhoov whose bloodthirst was legendary. They knew Wardley, the love of her life, had promised to come for her. And they knew that her father was probably tracking her now as she lay motionless under a pile of leaves. She closed her eyes for just a moment more. It wasn’t just Dinah’s history that these trees knew—she could feel their keen awareness in her bones. These trees of the Twisted Wood knew who drew the location of the stars night after night, and who formed the Todren. They knew each Yurkei and Wonderlander, those who embraced the dark and those who chose the light. Yes, the colossal trees of the Twisted Wood were aware, and that fact had both frightened and comforted her as she trekked into the wood that previous evening, with Morte following her, always at a distance of at least twelve paces. Farther and farther they wove their way into the wood, as the trees groaned and cracked around them, always knowing.

It wasn’t until Dinah collapsed in a particularly thick tuft of muddy leaves that they stopped. With her last bit of effort, she pulled her wool cloak over her and closed her eyes. Sleep took her immediately. The slumber was dreamless, a black nothingness, and she was grateful upon waking that she had not been visited by any night terrors. Now, blinking her eyes in the morning light, Dinah marveled at how much clearer her mind was after a night of rest. Morte slept nearby—Dinah could hear his loud breathing. She prayed it would warn away any other wildlife in this corner of the wood. He sounded terrifying, a creature of nightmares.

She rubbed her eyes gently, grimacing as her broken fingers ached with a sharp pain. Her back rattled in protest, as it felt like she had been sleeping on a stone slab rather than a bed of leaves. Her stomach gave a loud growl and Dinah reached for her bag, but not before she settled Wardley’s sword close beside her. She untied the brown straps attached to the muslin and slowly laid out its contents, taking a full inventory of what she had: two white linen tunics, a belt, one heavy black dress—so odd!, eight full loaves of bread, twelve large pieces of dried bird meat, a bag of rapidly rotting berries, an ancient rolled map of Wonderland, the remnants of her bloody nightgown, and a sharp dagger. She pulled the dagger out of the bag. It was obviously expensive, the hilt inlaid with dozens of amethysts, interspersed with rich swirls of silver and gold. The black gown beside it was heavy and completely devoid of color—it was the kind of thing that Dinah would wear, but Vittiore would never let such a thing be draped on her shoulders.


Dinah ground her teeth together, gripping the dagger. No doubt Vittiore would soon be crowned Queen, taking Dinah’s place on the throne next to her father. She had always been part of the plot, always waiting in the wings to get her hands on Dinah’s crown. She had always suspected that Vittiore wasn’t exactly the poor child found in a sack that she claimed to be. Vittiore had been in on it from the start, the plot to frame Dinah, the plot to kill her brother Charles. Dinah angrily closed her fists around the dagger hilt before forcing herself to calm down. She turned the dagger over in the sunlight. Maybe I can exchange it to buy food, Dinah thought, before she realized how silly that sounded. She would be going to no villages, no towns. Her father and Cheshire expected her to be weak, to look for help amongst Wonderlanders. She wouldn’t. She would just disappear into these woods, forever. I will learn to survive, she thought, I will wait for Wardley and then we will find a boat and sail to the Other Worlds. The thought made her weary and morose. Heavy despair seemed to hover around her, waiting for the perfect opportunity to overwhelm. If Dinah didn’t keep moving, then it would come for her swiftly. Her legs were sore when she pushed herself up onto her feet, strapping the sword firmly across her back. Morte slumbered on, and Dinah thought it best not to wake him. He no doubt needed the rest as much as she did, and waking an angry Hornhoov might lead to being crushed to death. Better to let him sleep.

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