Bound by Annie Oldham by Annie Oldham - Read Online



After her mother dies, Elowyn Challis would do anything to bury the pain, but being shipped off to boarding school isn't what she had in mind. Things could be worse. Wyn finds a place for herself in the academy and living in the capital is just sparkling. But under it all, her mother's death still haunts her. Then Wyn discovers a secret that changes everything she believes: the bedtime stories her mother told her as a child are real, the faerie realm exists, and she is the Binder—the one mortal on earth with the power to seal the gate to Fae. It's a power Wyn's not sure she wants or can even wield. But she must confront her nightmares and her grief, or two worlds will be torn apart.

Published: Annie Oldham on
ISBN: 9781476219387
List price: $2.99
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Bound - Annie Oldham

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Chapter One

Wyn wrapped her arms tightly around herself as she walked down the cobblestone lane away from the town center and back toward her three-story apartment. She didn’t brace herself against the cold—it was an unusually warm October—but against the darkness. She had snuck out almost every night for the past two months, and she still wasn’t used to the oppressive darkness at one o’clock in the morning. And tonight, she felt someone watching her.

Wyn’s feet ached from dancing, and her head throbbed from the loud music and the layer of cigarette smoke hanging over everything like a shroud. If the darkness didn’t remind her of her mother or the shadows filling her father’s study, it would have been a relief from the garish electric lights of the dance hall.

Her mother died six months ago, and Wyn had been trying her hardest to forget. At first she thought the dance hall with its music and blur of light and color would help numb her mind, but it hadn’t.

When the illness that crippled her mother’s brain first appeared a year ago, Wyn had shadowed her. Her mother wandered the halls, forgetting where her armoire was, and she wore her blue silk dressing gown for hours during the day. She would lean back against the walls and wave her hands in front of her face like she was batting away flies. Wyn stilled her mother’s hands and led her back to her sitting room and chose her clothes. Like a small child, her mother obediently put them on. She sat and rocked on the edge of the bed.

The golden threads are beautiful, aren’t they? Then she would smile happily and start batting in front of her face again.

After another month, she no longer put the clothes on, but would throw them out the window or rip them to shreds. The day she started tearing at Wyn instead of just the clothes was the day she had been put into the institution.

Then came the day she didn’t recognize any of them. Two months later, she was gone.

Wyn missed her mother, and the sharp ache the longing formed in her chest was excruciating. She had too many memories of cuddles in the parlor and making caramel apples for All Hallow’s Eve. It would be All Hallow’s Eve in just a few days. Already the black and red crepe paper lined store fronts, and candles stood in every window along the darkened street. On All Hallow’s Eve they would be lit, their light flickering on every street.

It would be the first time she hadn’t spent the holiday with her mother. Cook had offered to make caramel apples with her, but Wyn just gritted her teeth and stumbled away. The whole walk up the stairs, she had seen her mother’s face flushed with the heat of stirring the big pot of caramel, the way she playfully batted Wyn’s fingers away.

It’s too hot, she’d said. Later, dearest. Let it cool.

Then she’d let Wyn dip an apple in again and again, layering on such a thick layer of caramel, it was more candy than fruit.

Wyn had refused to cry until she was alone in her room.

Clouds crossed over the waxing moon, and Wyn hurried away from the darkness and the deep shadows that felt like they were hiding something, toward the porch light up ahead.

She pulled the key from her hand bag and climbed the steps. This was the tricky part, fitting the key into the large lock and turning it without a click that would wake the whole house. Wyn took a deep breath and looked over at the candle peeking its feeble light from behind the glass in the window. Why would Mildy light it? The candles weren’t to be lit until sundown on All Hallow’s Eve.

Wyn looked again, but the candle stood dark, nothing more than a ghost in the window, the wick white and pure. The golden reflection of candle flame snaked away from the edges of Wyn’s sight. She shook her head, and in her negligence, the bolt whipped back with a crash.

Now I’m done for, she muttered as she peeked her head around the door.

Mildy sat on the bottom step. Welcome home, Elowyn.

Please don’t start, Mildy. Not tonight. Wyn shrugged off her wrap and hung it on the coat tree.

Well it’s time someone started with you. You may not be silent like your father, but you’re on a slippery slope, just like he is.

Wyn leaned against the door frame and closed her eyes. I won’t cry until I’m in my room.

There’s something you need to know, Elowyn.

She couldn’t open her eyes, not yet. She had almost pushed the tears aside.

We’ve enrolled you in the academy.

She opened her eyes and faced Mildy. You did what?

I know you’ve been sneaking out for a while now, and I haven’t stopped you. I figured it was something you needed to do, but it hasn’t stopped. You’ve only gotten worse, and with the way your father is, I don’t know if it’s good for you to be in this house any more than you already are. You’ll start at the academy next week.

Sneaking out to the dance hall was supposed to help her forget, but it had only resulted in her enrollment in Morane’s Academy for Fine Young Ladies.

Does my father know?

Mildy wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Wyn couldn’t bear it. She had tried to forget her mother for six months. Anything was easier than remembering. The only thing worse than missing her mother was not talking to her father. He hadn’t spoken to her for almost six months, not after the debilitating depression struck him the day after her mother died. Tonight Wyn couldn’t make it to her room before she started to cry.

Six days later the black car from the academy arrived, and the driver honked once. Wyn watched from her window as Mildy and Cook lurched down the front steps, red-faced and puffing over Wyn’s suitcases. The driver slipped around to open the trunk with a white-gloved hand. A golden reflection from the window glared at the edges of Wyn’s vision and she shifted back to look at the apartments on either side.

The neighbors stood on the front steps, watching. It was one reason she was glad to be going. She had no friends. Anyone her age who had been remotely friendly went from talking, to smiling, to nodding, then to ignoring her altogether as her mother’s illness progressed. Mental illness was inherited after all, and no one wanted their sons or daughters to be around the Challis girl when her illness finally manifested. At sixteen, Wyn should have been asked to the dance hall, spent time at the cinema with girlfriends, or taken picnics in the small scrap of park in the town center, but she wasn’t.

Wyn pulled the drapes closed and walked down the stairs. She knocked on the heavy door of her father’s study even though she knew he wouldn’t answer. She turned the latch, the door swung silently open, and the dim light engulfed her. She stood in the doorway a moment, letting the light from the hall burrow into the dark corners. There her father was, in a chair by the fireplace. The fire had died down to embers, and her father leaned his head against a hand, staring at the coals. The room was chilled now without the fire, and it reminded her of the sepulcher in the cemetery.

The room pressed in on her and she wanted to escape, but she walked forward. She needed to tell him she was going. Maybe one day he would wake up and want to know where she was.


He didn’t move. His glasses slipped down to the end of his nose, and his watery eyes glimmered in the half-light. She touched a line of gray hair at his temple.


He finally looked at her, a thin smile scratched in his lips.

Oh, Moira. You look lovely today.

Wyn jumped back as he touched her hand tenderly. Her mother’s name brought the prickly tears to her eyes. She forced herself not to flee. Her muscles ached to resist.

No, Daddy, she’s gone. It’s Wyn.

Her father reached out another hand to pull her next to him. You always did look lovely in blue.

Then she obeyed her straining muscles and she wrenched herself from him with a sob catching in her throat.

No, Father. She stood straighter, hoping he wouldn’t rise out of the chair after her. He was a short man, but strong. He didn’t follow her. Once he no longer looked at her, the fog in his eyes returned and he went back to the fire.

I’m leaving now. For Morane and the academy. I don’t know when I’m coming back. I wanted you to know. Mildy and Cook will take good care of you.

The room was neat and tidy. A tray of dirty dishes with the remnants of a half-eaten breakfast on them sat near his elbow; Mildy would come soon to clear them away. He was her father, and he could hardly take care of himself.

I love you. There must be more to say to this man she loved but couldn’t be near anymore, but she was afraid of him and the emptiness in his eyes.

He didn’t look at her, so she fled back to the hall. There was nothing left for her here.

The driver glanced back at her through the mirror every now and then. He seemed about to say something, but then his mouth would tighten and he looked straight ahead. The anguish in Wyn’s eyes probably silenced him. She wrapped her arms around herself as she sat on the plush seat, the gentle jolt of the car rocking her.

The fields rolled by. Every few miles they passed a troop of soldiers marching, their helmets strapped low to their heads, their dark blue uniforms crisp from pressing, their pistols polished and stowed at their sides. The civil war was still fifty miles to the south, but every day it grew closer. It was only a matter of time before it reached the capital. Wyn wondered if it would sweep over her town as well, if her father sitting in his chair would even move if their apartment burned.

How much farther?

The driver swerved when she spoke. She hadn’t spoken since leaving her father’s study; she hadn’t even said good-bye to Mildy. Three hours later, her throat was creaky from disuse. The driver quickly righted the car and grinned sheepishly at her through the mirror.

A little over half an hour, Miss. Twenty more miles.

Twenty more miles.

It was the farthest from home she had ever been. Wyn had been furious no one in the house had talked to her about going to the academy. Then she had sat in her room too long and the fear took over. Now she was almost hopeful.

What’s it like, the capital? Wyn played with a loose thread on her skirt. There was nothing to do in this expansive car.

You’ll love it, Miss. The academy is right across the royal plaza. The palace is on the east to herald the rising sun. Then the parliament building is on the north as the northern star to guide us. Then the academy on the west.

Wyn tried to imagine it. She had seen the brochure, of course, on the fine thick paper. It had a tiny line drawing of the royal plaza, just as the driver described, but the buildings looked cold and impersonal.

The academy used to be the queen mother’s personal home. Before she passed away, she willed it as a girls’ school. That was seventy-five years ago.

Are there any other schools nearby?

The driver nodded. None as close to the palace, of course, but the boys’ military academy is five blocks away. The two schools host dances.

At the dance hall, Wyn had spun wildly with several boys older than she. She had felt their sweaty hands on her own as they wove to the band music, but she had never talked to them. That kind of dancing and the smoke overhead and the loud music wouldn’t allow for much conversation, and what would she say? My name’s Elowyn. Wyn for short. My mom died—slowly went insane—and now everyone looks at me like they expect me to. My dad is so sick with missing her, he thinks I’m her. He scares me, actually.

Of course she couldn’t say anything. Those memories were dizzying, and sitting in the car with the sharp sunlight through the windows, Wyn wasn’t sure if they were entirely real. She picked at her hem again, and the thread came loose in a five-inch-long strand. She was too anxious. They needed to get to the capital soon or her dress wouldn’t make it in one piece.

Mind if I turn on the radio, Miss?

Wyn shook her head. It was a welcome distraction.

The announcer’s smooth voice came on. Avoid the main thoroughfares today. His royal highness returns from his tour through the unrest zones and will parade through the streets at sundown.

The driver muttered to himself. Hmm. Forgot about that.

Will we be in the middle of the traffic? Wyn asked.

He shook his head. Shouldn’t be, Miss, but it will be busy. You’ll be able to see the spectacle tonight. The prince’s parades are always sparkling. At least that’s what the young ladies at the academy say. He laughed.

They stopped at Morane’s gate. A soldier stepped out from the shadow of a small gatehouse. The driver cranked his window down, and the soldier bent down and peered into the car. Wyn gasped a breath. A tattoo curled all along his right temple and around his piercing icy blue eyes. He looked hard at Wyn, and she felt her stomach clench under his gaze. He was boring into her, turning her inside out, and his calm, almost glowing face made her tremble. Then he looked back at the driver, and she could ease back into the seat again.

Another one? the soldier said.

The driver nodded and leaned back. The officer needs your papers, Miss. You know the rules, only those with official documentation are allowed in and out of the city.

Wyn’s hands still trembled as she rifled though her hand bag. There was the cream-colored envelope, sealed with the thick wax disc of the academy. The driver handed it to the officer. He made a show of inspecting the seal, breaking it with a faint snap, and looking through the documents. Wyn’s face burned at the detail she knew it must contain, why she was going to the academy, why her father could no longer care for her as any proper father should, how those penetrating blue eyes would see it and see her. She looked at her shoes against the gray carpeting. She noticed a small run creeping up the side of her left stocking. She scrutinized it. She needed a distraction.

The officer stepped into the gatehouse. He pulled a stamp and ink pad from a drawer and stamped the papers. He came out again and passed back the papers.

Everything appears to be in order. Good luck at the academy, Miss Challis. Drive on.

The car wound through the streets lined with people ready for the prince’s parade. The sun wouldn’t set for another five hours, but the crowds pressed against the curb, eager for a first glimpse of the royal procession. Wyn shrank back in her seat. She didn’t like feeling they were all looking at her. As they drew nearer the palace, she saw girls in gray and red plaid dresses—academy uniforms—dotting the crowd.

The head mistress declared it a holiday, the driver said. Otherwise those young ladies would still be in classes. Said though, because it was supposed to be a school day, they had to wear uniforms. I’m sure you can imagine the grumbling.

The car slinked around one last bend, and then they were in a plaza. A fountain dominated the open space, with a twenty-foot-tall mermaid spiraling around a large coral. She held both her hands to the sky, and the sunlight sparkled in the water pouring from a vase in her hands.

To the right, marble pillars supported the palace’s grand facade, their shadows drifting into the darkness behind them. Ten gargoyles perched on the roof, their grotesque faces glaring. Soldiers in traditional dress flanked the red carpet up the steps, and the plumes in their brass helmets floated behind them in the breeze.

Out of the corner of her eye, Wyn saw a small person, possibly a child, huddled behind one of the pillars. She looked closer. He watched the soldiers with hungry eyes, and his fingers looked claw-like as they clung to the pillar. He smiled, and too many sharp teeth crowded the small space. That couldn’t be right. Wyn shook her head. Her eyes were tired from staring and too much sunlight. She closed them, and a few bright lights flared around the edges of her vision. There had been too much sunlight today. When she opened her eyes again, the child was gone.

Behind the mermaid stood Morane’s Academy for Fine Young Ladies. It was made of gray granite, and while the palace was dazzling in its whiteness, the academy was austere. Wyn found it hard to believe the academy had been the queen mother’s personal home. It looked more like a monastery.

The car drove past the front entrance and under a high arch to the parking lot in back. Two porters dashed out and opened the trunk and grabbed Wyn’s luggage. The head mistress sashayed down behind them, and her mouth lifted in an exquisite smile.

Ah, Miss Elowyn Challis. I am so sorry to hear about your mother. She extended her hand for Wyn to shake.

Wyn please, ma’am.

The head mistress’s eyes flashed, and she tsked. Nonsense my dear. You are now one of Morane’s fine young ladies. No childish pet names here. I am Headmistress Dagmar. I’ll show you to your room.

She turned with a sharp click of her heels and then she floated again, her shoes ringing on the metal stairs as she took the longest strides her pencil skirt allowed. She reminded Wyn of the ginger alley cat back home: beautiful, deigned to be petted, but could scratch your face in a heartbeat. She kept her distance.

The lush interior of the academy caught Wyn’s breath. Dark wood paneling, thick scarlet carpets, tapestries, paintings, suits of armor, and chaise lounges adorned every inch of space. When they reached the main hall, a round table overflowed with a vase of bright flowers. The headmistress stood still, her hands folded demurely in front of her, as she watched Wyn admire it.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Wyn nodded and then looked up at a stained glass window above the front doors. It must have been hidden by the awning in front because she hadn’t noticed it as they drove by. Now it threw shards of colored light on the carpet.

Hmm, yes, all the girls do think so. We have an enrollment of two hundred, ages twelve to eighteen, but you read that in the brochure of course. She smiled expectantly at Wyn, her lips parted.

The headmistress must be one of those people who enjoy hearing themselves talk. Wyn turned to her, willing her smile to become radiant.

Of course. The words felt strange on her lips, the cloying, pleasing quality of them. She would try her hardest to belong here. Headmistress Dagmar laughed pleasantly.

Such a fine young lady. Whatever the current circumstances, my dear, your parents did an excellent job with your upbringing.

Wyn’s chest constricted, but she kept the smile on her face. She would make it to her room before her face crumpled.

Now then, let’s ascend the stairs and I’ll show you your room. There’s an elevator, of course, just there in the corridor, but we shall take the stairs so you get a better feel for your new home away from home.

The second and third floors weren’t quite so ornate as the first, but the carpeting and floral wallpaper and paintings were still finer than anything Wyn had ever seen. She wondered how much her tuition was.

Most schools require their students to share rooms, but at the academy we do not allow it. Young ladies need their own space to grow and discover themselves. So every young woman here has her own room.

Wyn sighed in relief. That was one point not included in the brochure, and Wyn dreaded having to room with another girl who would try to draw out every detail of her life—things she didn’t like to talk about with herself, more or less another person.

Of course when this was still the queen mother’s home, rest her soul, these were all grand apartments. They were converted into private rooms before the school opened. Here we are, room 324.

The headmistress fitted a small brass key into the lock and was just about to turn the handle when she noticed two girls in the hall.

Miss Thistle, Miss Rose, what are you doing here? All the young ladies have gone out for the prince’s parade.

Two tall, willowy girls stood several doors down, and they watched Wyn carefully. They were beautiful in an otherworldly