COPYRIGHT 2014 BY DEE ANN PALMER ISBN-13: 978-0-9891237-3-0 COVER DESIGN BY WINTERHEART
This novella was inspired by an illustration in the now closed Realms of Fantasy magazine. A beautiful princess rode through a flowery meadow with her entourage of elves and other magical creatures, and I wanted in the worst way to tell her story. She evolved into a shapeshifter as I wrote, but don’t ask me how or why. She just did.
Before she fulfills her sacred destiny, Gloriana, Princess Royal of the Golden Dragons of the high mountains, is required to mate and produce an heir. As Arondele, in human form and hiding her true nature, she’s fallen in love with Rodick, a powerful knight in the enchanted kingdom of Ahnerion. Only after making a serious mistake with him does she learn that, for not being pure when she mates for the first time as Gloriana, the penalty is death. For both of them. Terrified for his life, she abandons him. They will slay her, but he will live.
Blazing passion fuels Rodick’s hunt to find her. When he learns what she is, and knows to have her he must either outwit or challenge in battle her father, the powerful and fearsome King of the Goldens, will his love stand the test? Will he and his princess survive?
Xertan began to snort and paw, stirring up the richly scented loam on the forest’s floor just as Rodick’s gaze fell on the fairest woman he’d ever seen.
He’d pulled the destrier up at the edge of the forest, but now Xertan was turning in circles in an attempt to retreat back into the woods. Rodick brought the great stallion under control. He wanted to gaze longer at this perfection.
That she rode alone surprised him, for her head was crowned with a golden circlet with four high prongs. It was the headpiece of a princess-royal, although of a house unknown to him. He knew of no princesses resembling this one, and he was acquainted with, or thought he was, those of every castle in the area. Had even bedded a few of them, he thought with a wry smile. But this woman, instinct told him, would fulfill every fantasy a lusty man could have in bed. And then some.
The horse she handled with such ease was a dappled grey, and its trappings and harness were decorated with tassels and ornate embroideries. Her flowing gown and cape were the color of emeralds and the cape fastened over her breasts with bright ornaments. Sunlight splashed on her long, blonde tresses, spinning them to gold.
She sat her seat straight and yet relaxed. If her dress and the horse’s rich caparison hadn’t told him, he would have recognized she was a royal just by her carriage and dress. That she would be traveling without knights and outriders still puzzled him. Did some enchantment protect her?
A silence had settled over the meadow at her appearance. The buzzing of bees and the calls of birds quieted. The breeze died away. It was as if the entire meadow and its creatures held her fresh beauty in awe.
Resting an arm on the pommel, he felt for the first time the fine tremors in the horse beneath him. Here was another puzzle–even in battle his warhorse had never trembled. Rodick didn’t know why he did so now. If he’d smelled wild boar or some other menacing creature, Xertan would’ve bolted into the clearing. Instead, he obeyed his master’s commands to remain still, but trembled as if in fear.
It was odd. But there was always something odd in this forest. If there’d truly been danger, Rodick thought he’d have sensed it.
Enthralled, he watched as the princess’s horse picked its unhurried way on the path paralleling a stream that ran through the meadow. Periodically, the vision of loveliness looked up, seeming to search for something, but the cerulean sky remained empty, as if the sun refused obscurity while she rode. Other than that occasional watchfulness, it was obvious she wasn’t in flight from anyone or anything. Nor did she exhibit fear. Instead, she seemed content to meander in the lush meadow among the flowers that grew near the gurgling water.
Without warning, Xertan turned and carried Rodick back into the forest. By the time Rodick had pulled him up and around again, the young woman had vanished. A fine, cotton candy mist drifted in to fill the void with sweet mystery.
Zertan no longer trembled, and Rodick reached to rub his neck. “What’s the matter, boy? What scared you?” He didn’t expect an answer. Even in Ahnerion horses didn’t talk.
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