The Stolen Heir by Holly Black



passerby discovered a toddler sitting on the chilly concrete of an alley, playing with the wrapper of a cat-food container. By the time she was brought to the hospital, her limbs were blue with cold. She was a wizened little thing, too thin, made of sticks.

She knew only one word, her name. Wren.

As she grew, her skin retained a slight bluish cast, resembling skimmed milk. Her foster parents bundled her up in jackets and coats and mittens and gloves, but unlike her sister, she was never cold. Her lip color changed like a mood ring, staying bluish and purple even in summer, turning pink only when close to a fire. And she could play in the snow for hours, constructing elaborate tunnels and mock-fighting with icicles, coming inside only when called.

Although she appeared bony and anemic, she was strong. By the time she was eight, she could lift bags of groceries that her adoptive mother struggled with.

By the time she was nine, she was gone.

As a child, Wren read lots of fairy tales. That’s why, when the monsters came, she knew it was because she had been wicked.

They snuck in through her window, pushing up the jamb and slashing the screen so silently that she slept on, curled around her favorite stuffed fox. She woke only when she felt claws touch her ankle.

Before she could get out the first scream, fingers covered her mouth. Before she could get out the first kick, her legs were pinned.

“I am going to let you go,” said a harsh voice with an unfamiliar accent. “But if you wake anyone in this house, you will most assuredly be sorry for it.”

That was like a fairy tale, too, which made Wren wary of breaking the rules. She stayed utterly quiet and still, even when they released her, although her heart beat so hard and fast that it seemed possible it would be loud enough to summon her mother.

A selfish part of her wished it would, wished that her mother would come and turn on a light and banish the monsters. That wouldn’t be breaking the rules, would it, if it was only the thundering of her heart that did the waking?

“Sit up,” commanded one of the monsters.

Obediently, Wren did. But her trembling fingers buried her stuffed fox in the blankets.

Looking at the three creatures flanking her bed made her shiver uncontrollably. Two were tall, elegant beings with skin the gray of stone. The first, a woman with a fall of pale hair caught in a crown of jagged obsidian, wearing a gown of some silvery material that wafted around her. She was beautiful, but the cruel set of her mouth warned Wren not to trust her. The man was matched to the woman as though they were pieces on a chessboard, wearing a black crown and clothes of the same silvery material.

Beside them was a huge, looming creature, spindly, with mushroompale skin and a head full of wild black hair. But what was most notable were her long, clawlike fingers.

“You’re our daughter,” one of the gray-faced monsters said.

“You belong to us,” rasped the other. “We made you.”

She knew about birth parents, which her sister had, nice people who came to visit and looked like her, and who sometimes brought over grandparents or doughnuts or presents.

She had wished for birth parents of her own, but she had never thought that her wish could conjure a nightmare like this.

“Well,” said the woman in the crown. “Have you nothing to say? Are you too in awe of our majesty?”

The claw-fingered creature gave an impolite little snort.

“That must be it,” said the man. “How grateful you will be to be taken away from all of this, changeling child. Get up. Make haste.”

“Where are we going?” Wren asked. Fear made her sink her fingers into her bedsheets, as though she could hang on to her life before this moment if she just gripped hard enough.

“To Faerie, where you will be a queen,” the woman said, a snarl in her voice where there ought to have been cajoling. “Have you never dreamed of someone coming to you and telling you that you were no mortal child, but one made of magic? Have you never dreamed about being taken from your pathetic little life to one of vast greatness?”

Wren couldn’t deny that she had. She nodded. Tears burned in the back of her throat. That’s what she had done wrong. That was the wickedness in her heart that had been discovered. “I’ll stop,” she whispered.

“What?” asked the man.

“If I promise never to make wishes like that again, can I stay?” she asked, voice shaking. “Please?”

The woman’s hand came against Wren’s cheek in a slap so hard that it sounded like a crack of thunder. Her cheek hurt, and though tears pricked her eyes, she was too shocked and angry for them to fall. No one had ever hit her before.

“You are Suren,” said the man. “And we are your makers. Your sire and dam. I am Lord Jarel and she, Lady Nore. This one accompanying us is Bogdana, the storm hag. Now that you know your true name, let me show you your true face.”

Lord Jarel reached out to her, making a ripping motion. And there, underneath, was her monster self, reflected in the mirror over her dresser—her skimmed milk skin giving way to pale blue flesh, the same color as buried veins. When she parted her lips, she saw shark-sharp teeth. Only her eyes were the same mossy green, large and staring back at her in horror.

My name isn’t Suren, she wanted to say. And this is a trick. That’s not me. But even as she thought the words, she heard how similar Suren was to her own name. Suren. Ren. Wren. A child’s shortening.