Eleven days left until the release of my second self-published fairytale novella, “The Stone Kingdom (Book Two of The Wilderhark Tales)”! Only eleven / eleven whole days, omigaaaaurgh, hurry up already!
To help us all better handle the “pleasant excitement as to a decision or outcome”, today I am pleased to share a sample chapter from the book – an excerpt which, coincidentally, has all to do with a countdown between the now and the fearfully exciting things to come.
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~ Princess in Waiting ~
It sometimes felt to Rosalba as if she must have spent those few, eventful minutes wide awake and miraculously cognizant for a baby less than a month old.
She could quote every word the uninvited witch spoke, mimic every expression on the faces of her parents and their guests. But she knew full well this was only because she had heard the story of that fateful day almost as often, over her lifetime, as she had her own name.
In her very early childhood, the tale had frightened her. Every time she heard it repeated, she would cry and cower in her nurse’s apron, declaring, “Rosa’ba no want to reach fisteen! Never, never, never!”
As she grew a little older, she began to see the bragging rights that came part and parcel with having been as good as cursed on her christening day. “Oh, yes,” she would say, nodding solemnly at her playmates. “I imagine that something quite dreadful will happen to me. Perhaps I’ll be abducted by a giant, who will force me to be his bride. Or maybe I’ll be turned into a mermaid, and will live in the lake behind the castle for the rest of my days. Don’t worry – I shall see to it that I’m given a splendidly big party on my fifteenth birthday, so you’ll all have the chance to watch whatever happens, right up close. It will give you something to talk to your grandchildren about, anyway.”
By the time she reached fourteen, some of the old fear began to spring up anew.
Only a year left, she would think.
Then, Only half-a-year left.
Only three months left.
Only three weeks!
And she would worry again about what might befall her.
“Oh, heavens…” she gasped at one point. “I hope that madwoman doesn’t make me bald!”
For while Rosalba strove not to let herself be carried away by useless vanity, the idea of her looks being spoiled by a witch out of sheer spite struck her as cruel and unnecessary.
She took pleasure in sharing her father’s willowy form and self-possessed countenance, her mother’s resolute mouth and chin, as well as her eyes, an elusive gray-green more subtle than sage. Above all, she was proud of her hair – so long, it reached nearly to her knees; a brown so fair, it was almost wheat-gold.
She thought she would rather be a mermaid wedded to a giant than lose her wonderful hair.
At last, in due time, the sun rose on Rosalba’s fifteenth birthday, and the kingdom held its breath.
Since the night before, a dozen armed guards stood outside the princess’s bedchamber, and another half-dozen stood just inside it.
She was allowed no visitors save for the king and queen themselves, who did visit, quite often, just to reassure themselves that nothing had changed in the three minutes or less since they’d last visited.
She was not permitted to eat so much as a mouthful of food which had not first been tasted by at least two servants selected at random. If she so much as felt a sneeze coming, her mother would grab hold of her so tightly that sneezes became the least of the princess’s worries, paling in comparison to the possibility of fainting for lack of breathing room.
It was, without question, the longest and most intensely miserable day of Rosalba’s life.
“If the witch’s intention was that my curse be endless hours of overprotective torture,” she said crossly, following the fifth crushing embrace of this sort, “I suppose we can surmise who is having the last laugh!”
Nor was the ordeal to end anytime soon. When anything failed to happen to Rosalba on the first day of her fifteenth year, the king ordered that similar precautions be taken on the second day; and then the third. In all, an entire month passed in this fashion, and still there was no sign of any witch or any curse.
At the end of this month, security was gradually allowed to relax. The guards outside Rosalba’s bedchamber were reduced to four, and the guards inside the room were reassigned elsewhere.
In another week, she was permitted to leave her room for an hour or so at a time, under the four remaining guards’ escort. A week more, and she was free to roam anywhere on the castle grounds for as long as she wished, with only two guards trailing nearby. And by the end of the second month of her fifteenth year, she was only assigned one guard, and then only when she left the castle walls.
It was still a bit more of a nuisance than Rosalba would have liked (especially as she could tell that the food served to her was still being picked over), but it was such a vast improvement over the previous month, she withheld her complaints.
With the panic over and the threat seeming more insubstantial with every passing day, the king and queen turned their attention to a matter which had hitherto been rather far down on their list of necessities pertaining to their daughter: A husband.
Obviously, when there had been a reasonable doubt the princess would survive her fifteenth birthday, arranging a marriage for her had hardly been a priority. But as it now appeared she did indeed have a future ahead of her, that future needed to be looked to.
Rosalba was thrilled. Many of her childhood companions, the daughters of lesser nobles and higher-ranking servants, were already being married off, and from what Rosalba observed, the process of being wooed was an enjoyable business.
The flowers, the gifts, the love songs… If one was lucky, the secret meetings in the gardens by moonlight…
The thought of a prince of her own – plucking wildflowers for her, showering her with costly trinkets, composing poetry about her eyes and sharing the honeyed words in a whisper so the night-watchmen on the opposite side of the hedge would not hear – filled her with smiles, even as she heard the lock turn on her bedchamber door every night.
And once I am married, she would think drowsily, perhaps I will cease to be treated as a privileged prisoner.
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To be continued… on September 20th!