The Last Huntsman
Publication date: September 9th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
No women. No children. No torture. The Huntsman has his rules.
For years, Tobin has done his emperor’s bidding, eliminating threats to the Empire of Morvansk. But when he is ordered to kill the lovely Princess Mara, Tobin’s absolute loyalty ends. The emperor’s punishment is swift and lethal, and Tobin is left with only one desire: vengeance.
Stay quiet. Stay hidden. Stay free. These are the rules Ever lives by.
Raised as a boy by her overprotective father, Ever has something the Morvansk emperor covets: mirror magic. With it, she can see anyone, anywhere, through the mirror’s glass. The emperor stole her mother years ago for this same magic, and now, he wants Ever, too.
When Ever’s mirror shows the wounded rebel huntsman approaching her village, she’s compelled to help him. But as Tobin and Ever grow closer, and their secrets intertwine, they’ll have to follow the rules they’ve always lived by—or break free from them, once and for all.
“They’ve probably come looking for girls. Girls your age, Ever. Your mother always worried he’d come for her, and perhaps for you. She swore she’d never break, that she’d never tell Frederic our plans for where I’d hide you should he take her away…but if she did, if she was finally forced to tell him…” He trailed off and let go of my arm. “Stay hidden.”
Perhaps it was a trick of the moonlight, but as my father turned to leave the barn, I thought I saw his eyes glistening.
“I’ll hide her,” the huntsman said. Father brushed past him without a response and ran for the tavern.
“Don’t you have something more important to do?” I asked, fighting the shivers attacking my arms and legs. The very thing my father had feared for sixteen years was unfolding in the streets of Rooks Hollow.
“Why is your father so worried Frederic is here for you?” he asked as he followed me into the loft.
The huntsman was right. Father was worried. He was overacting. The women were just screaming because that’s what women did—they screamed.
“The only reason you’re here in Rooks Hollow is for this moment,” I said. “For when Frederic will come rolling through the streets and you can get revenge for what happened to your family. Aren’t you?”
“Yes!” he said in a low whisper. “But if you’re in some kind of danger—”
“He’s here because of his daughter’s murder. My father is wrong; he’s not here for me.”
The huntsman shook his head of dark curls. “That’s what he wants everyone to believe.” He paused, closing his eyes, his long, black lashes pressed against his pale skin. “He’s not here for that reason, Ever. I don’t know why he’s here, in Klaven. I don’t know why he wants to invade. But I do know it’s not because of what happened to the princess.”
I stared at him, speechless. If Frederic wasn’t here for that reason…
“You told me your father despises the emperor. And now he’s half crazed with worry that Frederic and his warriors are here to seek you out. You,” he said. “Why?”
The sounds of splintering wood, peals of metal and steel, bells ringing and glass shattering joined the screaming in the village. I worried that the tavern was being ransacked. That father was in danger.
“It’s nothing I can tell you about,” I answered. “Not right now, Huntsman. Please.”
We both froze as the clinking of metal echoed through the meadow. Toward the barn.
“If Frederic isn’t here to avenge his daughter’s murder,” I whispered.
“Then he’s here searching for something else,” he finished.
Ice crackled through my veins. Father might have been right after all.
The clinking metal—armor, I realized—grew louder. The huntsman took my hand and pulled me to the stack of hay in the eaves of the loft. The stack I used for bedding, the one I used to hide the silver mirror. He hurried to part the loose hay with both of his arms, though I knew it was heavy and must have been straining his injury.
I bent down to help him create a crevice for me to crawl into. It was like a small burrow as I wiggled my way in. He started to cover back up the opening, but I grasped his hand.
“No! You’re of Morvansk. Your marking. If these warriors find you…you’ve abandoned them. They’ll kill you.” I tugged at his arm. “Hide with me.”
Hiding wasn’t something he wanted to do. I saw it in the wounded pride flashing over his expression. He was disgusted by the mere thought of it. But he stared at my fingers, gripped tightly around his. With the muscles in his jaw jumping, he lifted the loose mound of hay some more and climbed into the burrow with me.
Heavy footfalls of armored feet clattered on the floorboards of the barn. Hilda snorted a nasty greeting, and the hens and goats were unrelenting in their abuse. We tangled arms and smacked wrists as we worked to fill the opening in the hay. It was pitch black inside the mound when the ladder leading to the loft rattled. There were no voices. No one shouting orders. I wondered if only one warrior had entered the barn.
The huntsman positioned his body on top of mine, my face buried in his neck. His skin smelled of sweet hay and sweat. His chest was tight against mine, his arms a cage around me, his legs bracketing mine. It was as if he wanted to bear the brunt of an attack should the warrior spear the hay with a pitchfork or sword. I tried to pay attention to the sounds of the armored warrior lifting himself into the loft, but with the huntsman’s body adhered to mine, it was impossible. The rapid beat of his heart slammed out of rhythm with my own. I stopped breathing as the scrape of metal and the warrior’s aggravated breaths penetrated the oppressive hay piled atop of us. Every muscle in his body constricted, pinning me tighter. Holding me closer.
Something like fire erupted in the pit of my stomach and spread to the lowest spaces between my hips. I closed my eyes and listened as the warrior approached the haystack. Any moment now, I expected the tines of a pitchfork, or the point of a blade, to come stabbing through, our shield as flimsy as a breath of wind.
The warrior lingered, the floorboards creaking beneath his weight. I lay rigid beneath the huntsman, his hot, even breaths warming the side of my head. He was so silent. So calm.
At long last, the warrior’s footsteps retreated to the ladder. The huntsman’s muscles relaxed as the warrior jumped off the last rung and crashed to the barn floor. I began to breathe again when the sounds of armor faded, but my breaths were short and fast.
“Wait another moment,” he whispered, his lips close to mine. I remembered them with vividness; the two sharp crests of his upper lip, the fullness of his lower lip.
The tips of our noses met. Neither of us drew back or apologized. We stayed there like that, breathing into each other, as the chaos in the streets began to recede. Or perhaps my ears were only tricking me. It felt like the world was shrinking, molding itself around us as we hid there in the hay.
“You’re safe, Ever,” he said, our lips lightly touching.
“I didn’t say I was afraid.”
Page is the author of THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE CURSED, THE LOVELY AND THE LOST, and THE WONDROUS AND THE WICKED, young adult gothic thrillers critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin. Page’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her next book, THE LAST HUNTSMAN, is a reimagining of the Huntsman and Magic Mirror from the tale of Snow White. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their three daughters, an English Pointer, an arrogant cat, two boring bearded dragons, a one-eared bunny, a bunch of chickens, and during the summer and fall, their neighbor’s two sweet horses.