Favorite Fairy Tale
What is your favorite fairy tale? I mean the one that you keep returning to again and again. Every time you encounter a retelling of it, you are tempted to buy it no matter the status of your budget. Yeah, Beauty and the Beast is that kind of fairy tale for me. I love the message of seeing the value of a person despite physical deformity or social status divide.
So, when I began plotting out a fairy tale-inspired series of novels, it was a natural choice for the first book. Here is a first look at the debut novel of Once Upon a Duchy, Grace by Contract. The hero, Silas, the Duke of Brackenhurst, is meeting the heroine, Grace, and her youngest sister, Beauty. The scene is from Silas’ perspective.
“Pardon, is this where tenants meet the bailiff?”
I lowered my cup to find two women had joined us beneath the pavilion roof. Rambler coughed on his wine. Our guard blinked back tears as he swallowed awkwardly. Only Terida answered them.
“Yes, it is. And who might you be?”
“I am Grace Eldon, and this is my sister, Beauty.”
Grace assessed us all with dark eyes far too keen and bright for my comfort. She was sturdily built despite her diminutive stature and slender build. Her second-most remarkable feature was her full head of dark hair. Bound as it was and tucked beneath her thin woolen cloak its texture remained a mystery, but the thickness of it made me wonder what it felt like. Her sister was as fair as Grace was dark, with a hungry look about her that made me fear she would fade before my eyes.
“We come on behalf of our grandmother, Harmony Faye.”
“Ah, Madam Faye.” Rambler opened his ledger and leafed through the pages.
“Would you like sustenance while you wait?” I indicated the mush that Terida had brought me.
The fair sister eagerly reached for the bowl, but her sister stopped her. “We are not here to accept charity, we are here to barter.” The dark-haired sister frowned as she eyed Rambler’s ledger. “Our grandmother owes five measures of barley meal and half the harvest of honey from her bees.”
“As well as a half measure of ground oats for each adult living on her land.” Rambler leveled an assessing gaze across the table at the sisters. “How many live in your grandmother’s house now?”
“We are seven.”
Rambler nodded to indicate she passed the test. “And how much of this payment do you bring with you?”
Grace straightened her shoulders and tightened her grip on her sister’s hand. “None, my lord.”
“I am not your master,” Rambler replied, as though he corrected people several times a day. “I am no nobleman, merely a servant.” He marked something in his ledger. “So, how do you wish to pay what is owed?”
Again the young woman stiffened her back. “We have no money. Is there a way to work off the debt? My sister and I are strong and hard workers.”
Rambler frowned. “The usual arrangement is financial compensation, not labor.”
Beauty reached again for the offered food.
“We have nothing to offer except labor.” Grace tugged on Beauty’s other hand, and the fairer sister hid her fingers in her skirts. “My father requires my remaining sisters’ help to care for our grandmother and keep the house while he works the land. We have hopes of being able to pay what we owe next year, but there is no chance of that this year.”
“Not even a small payment?” Rambler asked. His pale eyes assessed her with the narrowed intensity that brought rough and belligerent farmers all over the area to account. However, they had no effect on the diminutive pair before him.
Grace’s jaw clenched as though bracing for a blow, but her gaze never wavered. “As it is, we will starve with seven mouths to feed. Beauty and I need to find work even if Lord Brackenhurst forgives our debt.”
“Indenture.” The word passed my lips before I intended to speak. Rambler turned to regard me with a puzzled glare. The pair of girls looked up with matching expressions of surprise. However, their responses to my scarred features were completely different. Beauty turned away, hiding her face in horror. Grace, on the other hand, recovered quickly, meeting my gaze directly.
“I hope our difficulties will not become the latest topic for the gossip mill.” She glanced at Terida, who was clearing away the now-empty mugs. The tavernkeeper’s wife ignored her, leaving the shelter of the pavilion to dash for the tavern across the road.
“Are you sure you want to go that route, my lord?” Rambler asked with an emphasis on my title.
I inclined my head slightly and avoiding what was certain to be an awkward realization at who I was on the young women’s part. “Seems the best fit, considering the needs on both sides.”
“One or five years’ contract?” Rambler asked as the two of us turned our attention back to the young women.
The younger sister had maneuvered herself behind Grace, completely ignoring the awkward angle of her sister’s arm in her efforts. Grace regarded the pair of us with a mixture of horror and pain. I hoped the source of her discomfort was more her sister’s arm-wrestling than Rambler’s suggestion. Then she blinked and all emotion drained from her face.
“What benefit would a five-year contract be?”
“A greater length of reprieve from the yearly tributes,” Rambler suggested. “A wage, perhaps, could be negotiated, especially considering there are two of you.”
Grace’s already pale features turned almost white. For a moment, I feared she would faint. Was the prospect of being indentured to me that horrible? Or perhaps it was the thought of signing away five years of her life?
“Who would be required to sign the contract?” she asked.
“Your father.” Rambler sat and reached beneath the table into the strong box of documents he lugged to and from each assize. “Here.” He produced a thin piece of vellum and reached for the pen and ink. “I will list the terms.” He scratched a swift summary of the usual agreement before sliding it across the table. “If the length of the agreement is five as opposed to one year in length, a wage will be added to your earnings to offset the lack of debt.”
“So, one year and my grandmother’s account will be debt-free?” Grace asked as she stepped forward and picked up the contract.
Her sister squeaked and hurriedly hid behind her sister again.
After a few moments of Rambler spouting numbers and figures, Grace nodded. “Might I bring this home to my father? He will wish to consider the options.”
“Have your father bring the signed contract to the duke’s gate by the first of the month. Then we can discuss the details.” Rambler began packing up his strong box.
“If your father doesn’t appear, he will be held accountable for the sum in full come the fifteenth of the month,” I clarified.
Grace avoided my gaze as she tucked the contract beneath her layers of clothing. Taking her sister’s hand, she guided her out into the still pouring rain.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Rachel! I was fortunate enough to be an alpha reader for Grace by Contract and this is such a fun, exciting, and, yes, romantic reimagining of Beauty and the Beast! I cannot wait for this new series to begin launching. Until then however you can explore another part of this story world with the Novels of Rhynan (with some of my favorite heroes and heroines ever, especially Dentin and Elsa), which you can find here.
Rachel Rossano specializes in medieval fantasy with adventure and romance. As a homeschooling mother of three, she splits her time between wrestling through math problems with her kids, designing book covers, and writing more novels.