First Chapter Reveal: The Enchanted by Elaine Cantrell
Title: The Enchanted
Author: Elaine Cantrell
Paperback: 218 pp.
Electronic: 484 KB
Publisher: Astraea Press
Purchase at AMAZON
Forced by his father into a marriage he didn’t want, Prince Alan soon finds that his bride isn’t the sweet, submissive creature he expected. Morgane has the heart of a dragon and beauty beyond compare, but she isn’t thrilled about the marriage either. When black treachery threatens the kingdom, Morgane and Alan embark on a perilous journey that has an excellent chance of ending in failure and death for them and all of their people.
Keeper Kynthelig’s long, dangling necklaces clinked softly and tangled together as he bowed low to his visitor. “King Bowdyn, it is an honor to receive you. I had no idea that you would come to collect Prince Alan in person, or I would have made arrangements for a feast in your honor.”
The king’s nose flared slightly. The stench of the prison penetrated even these fine apartments. “That is quite all right, Kynthelig. I must collect Alan and leave right away, else we will be late for the wedding festivities.”
“Yes, news of Alan’s marriage has spread throughout the kingdom.”
Bowdyn frowned. “I trust no one here has spoken to him of this matter.”
“No, sir, they have not.”
“Good.” The king’s face relaxed. “I wish to break this news to him myself.”
“Of course. Would you like the guards to fetch the prince for you?”
At the keeper’s nod, one of the guards hurried from the reception room. “Please, sit and make yourself comfortable,” Kynthelig begged the king. “I will send for wine and cake.”
Bowdyn nodded and seated himself in a cushioned chair overlaid with rich, gold brocade fabric while servants ran to do Kynthelig’s bidding. They soon returned with a silver tray loaded with myriad sweet delicacies. A second tray held several bottles of wine and three golden goblets.
A wine taster stepped forward and sampled both wines before Kynthelig or the king drank.
“This is excellent wine, Kynthelig,” the king approved as he sampled the keeper’s offering. “Now I do not feel so dry and parched from my trip across the desert.” He drew a deep breath. “I no longer smell the stench of the prison either.” Reaching for a small, bite-sized cake with pink frosting, he settled himself more comfortably in his chair. “Are you pleased with my son’s progress?”
Kynthelig almost smiled. “Indeed, I am. The prince’s time here has made a new man of him. It is a pity that such steps had to be taken, but as always, you did not flinch from the duty set before you. Your subjects have much to be grateful for. Not all monarchs are so wise.”
The king grunted. “I have little doubt that Alan feels quite differently, but in time I believe he will see that I did the right thing. I pray it will be so. Even though he has been disobedient to his father and king, he is my son.”
The clanking of heavy chains announced Alan’s arrival. The king set his silver cup down and beheld his son for the first time in a year. “I almost did not recognize him. He is filthy, and his hair is disgracefully short, but he has certainly put on a lot of muscle.”
Kynthelig inclined his head. “Indeed.”
The keeper’s servant brandished a fan made of fluffy white feathers and fanned King Bowdyn as he looked Alan up and down. “He looks as if he has worked often in the sun. His skin is quite bronzed.”
“That is so. After a few months of underground work we moved him to the surface. Staying underground too long is unhealthy.”
“Turn around,” King Bowdyn commanded. The prince did so with absolutely no animation. Bowdyn stared at his son’s back. “You whipped him. He bears the scars from the flogging.”
The keeper shifted uneasily as he clasped and unclasped his hands. “He is not stupid. One flogging was all that it took, so the scarring is minimal.”
Bowdyn picked up his wine cup and drained it. “I am glad for the scars. Every time he looks at his back in the mirror he will be reminded of his duty. Did he make friends here?”
“Yes, sir.” A pained look crossed the keeper’s thin, sallow face. “He and another prisoner called Adair were friendly to each other. Naturally, I transferred Adair once I learned of this situation. Isolation is necessary to achieve certain ends.”
The king stood up and walked over to Alan, whose head hung low. “You have not made eye contact with me since you walked into this room. You are not a prisoner anymore. Lift your head as befits the crown prince of the realm.”
Alan’s head came up, and he stared straight ahead. The king smiled. “You have taught him well, Keeper Kynthelig. He no longer speaks his mind without permission.” The king snapped his fingers. One of his guards hastened to present a set of new, soft clothes to Alan. “Wash yourself and put on new garments. We will leave as soon as you are ready. I would cross the Leptan as quickly as possible.”
Keeper Kynthelig motioned for one of the prison guards who stood in the doorway. “Escort Prince Alan to the pool and give him soap and a towel.”
The man nodded and touched Alan’s arm. Alan silently turned around and followed him.
The keeper watched with a face full of satisfaction. “I think you will be pleased with him. I am certain he now appreciates all the advantages of his position.”
“I certainly hope so, Kynthelig. Now, if it is not too much trouble, I will drink another cup of your excellent wine.”
“It is an honor to serve you, my king.”
Alan stopped so abruptly that the guard behind him plowed into his back. How wondrous! A set of stone steps led down into a little pool of sparkling water. Bushy, dense trees surrounded the pool and provided privacy to bathers. His throat sucked dry as he caught the sweet scent of fresh water, so different from the warm, brackish liquid he had been forced to drink for the past year.
The guard prodded him in the back. “Wash yourself.”
Alan stripped off his filthy, ragged loincloth and plunged into the water. He drank deeply as his dry skin soaked up the cool, refreshing moisture.
“Hurry up,” the guard growled. “Do not keep the king waiting.”
Alan soaped himself, rinsed, and left the pool with some reluctance. He dried on the rough towel the guard gave him and donned the traditional hooded white robe worn by most desert travelers.
Without a word, the guard escorted him back to the keeper’s reception room where King Bowdyn was just finishing a cup of wine. His mouth watered as his eyes fell on the plate of cakes on the table. The guards had refused him food that morning, as they sometimes did when they wished to torment the prisoners.
The king nodded to him. “You look much better. Most of the prison dirt is washed away as is the stench. Come. We must ride as far as we can, and the hour grows late.”
The king strode from Keeper Kynthelig’s reception room. Alan followed several steps behind him. They reached the courtyard where one of the king’s servants bowed and handed Alan the reins of a large, dappled gray stallion. “The horse is a gift for you,” Bowdyn said. “I selected him myself. Gawen, who trained him, assures me that there is no finer animal in the kingdom.”
They mounted up and exited the grounds. Alan drew a deep breath as the prison disappeared from view. He had feared that this was only some new torture, and at the last moment, his father would leave him behind.
He and the king rode in the middle of a large contingent of soldiers. They traveled for hours, stopping periodically to rest and water their horses at the small, infrequent pools of water scattered throughout the desert. By nightfall they had crossed about half of the Leptan. King Bowdyn called a halt for the night, and the servants set about making camp long before Alan wanted to stop. The more distance between him and the prison the better.
Knowing the king’s appetite, the cook hastened to assemble and heat a savory meat stew from precooked ingredients he had brought with him. Alan’s stomach growled. He felt almost lightheaded when he smelled the food. The cook served the king first and then offered Alan a tin plate heaping with meat.
He turned to the side, hoping his father would not watch him eat, but he could not stop himself from almost inhaling the food.
“You were hungry,” Bowdyn observed. “Well, no wonder. I doubt you have eaten meat in a year now. Jacca, serve my son more food.”
Jacca hurried to do so, and Alan gobbled that, too.
King Bowdyn finished his meal and laid his plate aside. “Let us get some rest. We still have a long way to go.” He turned to Meryn, his chief servant. “Be certain to keep the fires burning all night. I have no desire to wake with a sand dragon beside me.”
Alan agreed. Sand dragons were about the size of a housecat, but their bite spread noxious venom that destroyed flesh and usually killed. They feared fire, though, no matter how small.
Meryn approached Alan with shackles. “My lord, your father the king commands that we shackle you until you are accustomed to your freedom.”
The muscles in Alan’s arms knotted, but he allowed himself to be restrained with no fuss, looking neither right nor left and avoiding eye contact with either Meryn or his father.
The king’s eyes perhaps held a hint of compassion. “That will not be necessary once we reach home. For now it is simply a precaution. You are undoubtedly another man now, and I do not know as yet whether you harbor ill will toward me or not.”
Alan lay down on the blanket Meryn spread for him and watched the stars. It had been a year since he had seen the moon or the stars. He yawned. His eyelids drooped. After awhile, he turned over and let himself drift off to sleep.
The sharp crack of a whip behind him jerked him from slumber. “Did you really think to escape us so easily?” Kynthelig hissed. He gestured to the burly guards who had accompanied him. “Seize him.”
This time Alan fought back, punching and kicking and cursing the blanket and shackles that hindered him .
A hand clamped down on his arm. “Alan! Enough!”
Gasping for breath, Alan wrenched his eyes open. His taut muscles relaxed. A dream.Only a dream.
King Bowdyn released Alan’s arm. “Sleep. The morning will soon come.”
Meryn awoke them early the next morning. By daybreak they were back on the trail. They rode until the sun was straight overhead before they paused to rest. Alan searched the landscape with eagerness. Things had begun to look familiar to him. In the distance he saw the Desvault Mountains where he and Nealon had roamed as children. They had enjoyed playing in the many caves that honeycombed the mountain. No one knew who had made the caves or why, though everyone thought they were man-made.
Several hours later they reached the castle, a heavily fortified stone structure on top of a steep hill. A red flag bearing the image of a screaming eagle flew from the topmost spire, proclaiming Bowdyn’s pride, glory, and power to the world. Alan heard a horn blow to signal the return of the king. By the time they reached the courtyard, it was crowded with servants, warriors, and advisors eager to greet Bowdyn. One of the grooms took the reins of Alan’s stallion. He dismounted and followed the king into the castle. Queen Donella met them as they entered the high-ceilinged central hall whose mosaic floor was considered a wonder all throughout the kingdom. Castle Bowdyn was the only known structure with such an imposing, costly floor.
His mother stood tall and willowy, with light brown hair, brown eyes, and a porcelain complexion. She approached Bowdyn with the grace of a gazelle and kissed his cheek. “So, he is back, Bowdyn.”
“Has he learned his lessons as he should?”
“I have seen no indication otherwise.”
The queen’s blue satin skirts rustled as she turned and held out her bejeweled hand to Alan. “Welcome home, Alan.”
He bowed and kissed her hand. His mother smelled of cherries and almonds, a signature fragrance King Bowdyn had created for her many years ago.
“I have ordered a special dinner to celebrate your homecoming.” She took Bowdyn’s arm. “My king and my prince stink of horses’ sweat. I will instruct the servants to prepare baths for you.”
The king nodded. “You may go to your room, Alan. I will send a servant to tend you.”
Alan felt his father’s eyes boring into him as he moved toward the stairs. A large, fawn-colored dog darted toward him from behind a tall, heavy curtain. He had raised Amena from a pup, but he paid no attention to her, not even to pat her head. When he reached the landing Alan shot a look at his father, who had wandered over to the window to look out at the activity in the courtyard. The satisfied look on Bowdyn’s face told him his father was pleased with him.
Alan’s jaw tightened. Bowdyn probably thought he had done him a favor by toughening him up. As his father had said many times, they lived in a hard world where dreamers and artists had little place.
The minute the door closed behind him, Alan bent and hugged the dog. “I have missed you,” he whispered as Amena furiously licked his face. As he patted her, he studied his room. Things looked different to him after an absence of a year. Brilliant light and clean, sweet air filled his spacious room. He pressed the bed with his hand. The golden coverlet felt as soft as a spring breeze, and the bed itself was surely made of spun clouds! And oh, he had never noticed how large the fireplace was. He shivered, remembering the coldness of the underground mine.
As he had expected, all traces of his wife had been removed in his absence. Her silver hairbrush no longer lay on the dresser, and her wardrobe held no gowns or shoes. The small painting of her that he had kept on a bedside table was also gone.
The very day his brother had died, he had hollowed out a space under the floor stones. There he kept his greatest treasures, including a good portrait of his beloved Olwyn.
He heard a discreet knock on the door. “My lord, I bring your bath water. May I enter?”
Turi, Alan’s personal servant, entered the room with two other men. Each carried two large buckets of water which they emptied into a small stone tub in a curtained alcove. Then Turi’shelpers left the room. “It is good to see you, Prince Alan,” Turi assured him. “I have worried about you for an entire year now. Are you ready for your bath?”
Alan brightened. “Yes, I am, Turi, and I have missed you too.” He eagerly stripped and stepped into the tub. “Ah, this warm, clean water is a miracle. I sometimes wonder if I will ever feel clean again. It seems to me as if the foul stench of the prison has permeated my very skin. I only pray that with time the dreadful odor will finally leave my nostrils.”
Behind him, Turi drew a sharp breath. “Prince Alan! The… the scars…”
“It is nothing, Turi. Let us not speak of it.”
After Alan bathed, Turi finished his bath by pouring a bowl of water over his head and shoulders. “The king requests your company in thirty minutes, Prince Alan. May I help you to dress?”
Alan inclined his head. “I will be there, but I will dress myself.” He needed a few moments’ privacy to prepare for the coming meal. Under the circumstances, he wished his mother had not prepared a celebration for him.
After his servant left him, Alan donned a soft, rich tunic of red velvet and a pair of skin-tight breeches in dark gold. Both garments fit tightly after his stay in the prison, for as his father had said, he had put on quite a lot of muscle. His lip curled with amusement. Frankly, except for the bath and the food he would just as soon be back in prison. At least there he had known where he stood.
One of Bowdyn’s servants pulled out Alan’s heavily carved chair as he came down the stairs. “Welcome home, Prince Alan. May I serve you?”
Alan nodded, and the man served him a heaping plate of pork, vegetables, and bread. He also brought wine of an excellent vintage. His mother and father had already been served, so the king called, “Let us eat.”
Everyone started to eat with gusto. “This truly is a meal fit for a king,” one of Bowdyn’s courtiers called.
Another man answered, “Of course it is. King Bowdyn serves only the best food and drink.”
As the nobles and military leaders ate their fill, Bowdyn turned to face Alan on his right. “I have news for you, Alan.”
Alan said nothing. The hard, cold expression on his father’s face told him he would not like what he was about to hear.
Bowdyn’s eyes narrowed. “For two months now, you have been a married man.”
Alan had resolved to say little or nothing to anyone, but surprise loosened his tongue. “I do not understand. Olwyn has been dead for four years.”
“Indeed. But you and Princess Morgane, daughter of King Maccus, were married by proxy two months ago.”
Alan frowned as he tried to understand his father. “I have never heard of this thing. What does it mean?”
“It means that as long as both fathers are present, two people can be married even if one of them is absent. This is a privilege extended only to those of royal birth. Due to your confinement, it seemed like the easiest thing to do. King Maccus will arrive with Princess Morgane tomorrow. We will celebrate your marriage with a feast and a ball. At the appropriate time, you and Morgane will consummate your marriage in order to produce heirs for the kingdom.”
Alan’s fists clenched under the ornate table. “I see.”
Queen Donella tapped his arm. “I am told that Morgane is beautiful. I am also told that she is a spirited girl who likes to laugh and enjoy life. I think you will be very pleased with your father’s choice.”
“There is one thing.” The king pursed his lips. “Maccus has told me of Morgane’s beauty, but she has a scar which runs from the corner of her mouth almost back to her ear. It seems that she annoyed Maccus past all restraint one evening, and he punished her by cutting her face.”
“That was foolish,” Queen Donella huffed. “He lessened her value in the marriage market. Who would wed a scarred woman? Is he trying to pawn his defective daughter off on us?”
“To make this alliance, I would not care if she looked like a cow.” The king turned to Alan. “Is this a problem for you?”
Alan swallowed hard and tried not to look his father in the eye lest Bowdyn see the anger and resentment burning there. “No, Father.”
“Good. Then we will celebrate tomorrow.”
After they had finished their dinners, most of the nobles and military men approached Alan to offer words of welcome. In some eyes he saw pity, in others scorn. A muscle in his jaw jerked. Pity! Scorn! Gah!
Once the meal concluded, Alan went to his room, where Amena waited for him. He had brought the dog a piece of meat, which she attacked as if she had not eaten in a long time. “What am I to do?” he muttered. “I would almost rather go back to prison than marry this woman.”
Amena growled over her pork.
“I forgot for a moment, Amena. It is already done. I am a married man.”
He lay down on his bed, reflecting as he did so that he hadn’t had a clean bed to sleep in for an entire year. The backbreaking labor and cruelty of the guards had been no harder to tolerate than the filth in which he had lived. He imagined a strange princess beside him in this clean, soft bed. “No,” he muttered. “I want no part of it.”
A soft knock on the door interrupted his gloomy thoughts. “Come in.”
Cademon, his old tutor, poked his white head around the door. His seamed face lit, his brown eyes sparkled with joy when he saw Alan. “Good evening, Alan.”
Alan jumped up and threw his arms around the old man. “It is good to see you.”
“And you as well.”
Alan indicated two comfortable, deep chairs drawn around the oversized fireplace. “Please, sit down. Tell me all your news.”
“Nothing changes with an old man. I would rather speak of your troubles.”
Alan grimaced. “I had hoped my father would forget this marriage nonsense, but evidently it is not to be.”
Cademon snorted. “Indeed not.”
Alan frowned. “You sound as if you agree with my father. I expected your loyalty to lie with me.”
“As it always does,” the old man placated. “I love you as if you were my own son.”
“Then why do you speak to me in such a fashion?”
Cademon shrugged. “Is it not obvious? Since Nealon’s death, you are your father’s heir. You must marry and produce offspring. I would not have chosen such a way as prison to bring you to your senses, but did you not know that eventually your father would require you to marry?”
Alan shrugged. “I gave it very little thought.”
“I have heard good things about the Lady Morgane. Perhaps you will grow to love her.”
Cademon tapped his knee. “Your father needs this marriage, Alan. It will cement the alliance between our people and King Maccus. We need this alliance. Since you went away, the Baronis to the north have grown bolder in their attempts to take your father’s northernmost provinces.”
“And Maccus lives on our northern border,” Alan finished.
Alan’s face hardened. “Did my father send you to me?”
Cademon nodded. “I will not lie. He did send me. He wants me to report on your willingness to obey.”
“And what will you tell him?”
“That you are a loyal son who understands the necessity of the marriage and will do his part to produce heirs for the kingdom.” Cademon smiled at him and rose from his chair. “Your father was wrong to send you to prison as he did, but all of that is now ended. Take your rightful place at his side.”
Alan refused to tell Cademon what he wanted to hear. “Thank you for your visit.”
Cademon bowed and let himself out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. Amena crawled out from under the bed and snuggled against Alan, who absently stroked her head. “I have three choices, Amena. I can do as Cademon says, but if I do, I fear I may become as cold as my father. Of course I could run away, something I have vowed never to do, as it indicates a cowardly and weak nature. However if I do not run away, the Princess Morgane joins us tomorrow night.”
He paused and poured a glass of water from the jug on the washstand. “I could also challenge my father. If I defeat him in battle, I become the king and can do as I please.”
Amena whined and Alan exclaimed, “I do not like that one either! I do not feel kindly toward my father, but I cannot kill him.”
So his course was clear. He would rather live as a wanderer than become like his father. Tomorrow he would leave the kingdom.