“Suspense” or “Princess in Waiting”

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.

Mermaid plus Giant less than Bald

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!

“BSaT 6” or “Is It Getting Hot in Here, or Is That Just the Volcano?”

The last segment of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” saw Princess Terren the Fair left in the keeping of the Enchantress, there to stay until Prince Jaron’s successful return from three seemingly impossible tasks. Given how little cause we’ve been given to fully trust Jaron, what are the odds Terren will be stuck there forever?


Several minutes passed. Of course, since she was in the Enchanted Forest, it felt like hours to Terren. Couple that with her anxiety at being left alone with some strange Enchantress, and it felt even longer. At last, the Enchantress spoke.

“You are wondering how it came to pass that the King of Nikos is a horse,” she said.

Terren didn’t much like having her mind read by creepy Enchantresses, but whatcha gonna do? “I am,” she nodded.

“Eleven years ago,” the Enchantress began, “King Jakob came to me, the young Prince Jaron with him. He wanted me to tell him what lay in his son’s royal future.”

“What, art thou all-knowing or something?”

“Nah, I just get these random bursts of information. Anyhoo, after I had received payment for my services, I informed him that Jaron would never rule as king. This upset Jakob a bit, but it upset Jaron much, much more. He threw quite a tantrum about it; you know what five-year-olds are. I told him he’d best get control of himself, else something ill-fated happen to him, but of course he did not listen; you know how Jaron is. In his boisterousness, the young fool knocked over a bottle containing one of my curses.”

Terren frowned. “Who keeps curses in a bottle?”

“Uh, Enchantresses? Duh? May I finish my story, please?”

“Sorry, sorry, by all means.”

“I thank thee. So, Jaron breaks my bottle, and out pops the curse.”

“Um, begging your pardon, but what exactly does a curse look like?”

“Not unlike a pox,” said the Enchantress impatiently. “Do not interrupt me again. So the curse comes out and it incants:

Four hooves, flowing tail and mane,

A horse for all time you’ll remain,

And never human form regain.

Then it leapt at him, for to bring the curse to pass. But Jaron was a quick lad, and with his small dagger deflected the curse away from him. Curses are much akin to light in that you can turn them away with a reflective surface. Unfortunately – or not, depending of your point of view – Jaron set his dagger at such an angle that the curse bounced off of the dagger and onto the king. And so it was that King Jakob was changed into a horse; an immortal horse, but a horse nonetheless.”

“So who— Oh, sorry, were you finished?”

“More or less.”

“Oh, good. So who has been ruling over the kingdom of Nikos all these years if not King Jakob?”

“Why, Prince Jaron of course. And a fair job he’s been doing too, take it all ‘round.”

“But you said—!”

“I said he would never rule as king. Since King Jakob is not dead nor has he formally passed down the crown, Jaron can never officially be king. He will forever be a prince. So, I was right, ha-ha.”

If Terren hadn’t much liked having her mind read, she liked even less being ha-ha-ed. She determined to change the subject. “So, these things Jaron is to bring you… You were not in earnest about them, I hope? For how can one draw blood from a stone that hath no blood, or sweat from a pig, when swine sweateth not? As for the tears of a crocodile, surely ‘twould be a dangerous thing to attempt to gather them. What’s your angle, lady?”

“Tasks assigned by magical folk and spoken in riddles are always 100% doable,” the Enchantress said pompously. “Jaron is a moderately intelligent and very resourceful young man; he will find a way to do what I ask of him. Either that, or you can stay here with me forever. But I believe he will find a way.”

“One can hope and do no more,” Terren sighed.


“Elements – Fire” by CassiopeiaArt, as seen here: http://browse.deviantart.com/?qh=&section=&q=volcano+woman#/d32tnkv

Jaron reigned in his horse, a.k.a. his father, a.k.a. the King of Nikos. “Whoa, man,” he said. “This is as far as I will make you go. Do not move from this spot unless it is entirely necessary that you do so. I will return as quickly as I am able.”

Carrying nothing but his sword, the prince pushed forward alone. Before long he reached the foot of a relatively small mountain and began to climb. On and on he climbed. Roughly halfway up, a band of the mountain’s rock was soft. Here he stopped a moment, for to hew from the mountainside a fair-sized chunk of this soft rock. This chunk he carved with the tip of his sword until he had made it into the shape of a bowl. This bowl he placed upon his head like a helmet, and then he continued his ascent.

The nearer he came to the top of the mountain, the hotter the air and stone beneath him became. For this was no ordinary mountain. Very little in the Enchanted Forest was ordinary; most things in it were enchanted. (Huh, figure ye that). This mountain was a volcano, home to the deadly Fire Maiden.

Jaron knew all about the Fire Maiden, for there was a chapter on her in the required reading at Prince School. (Princes must be taught about these things, or how else are they to do their jobs properly in magic-infested society?). Jaron remembered every word from the Fire Maiden chapter – indeed, he remembered every word from every chapter from every book concerning uncanny and weird fairytale beings. How did he remember it all? Easily: He had a portrait memory. And so armed with this knowledge of the Fire Maiden did Jaron seek her out.

The Fire Maiden, sensing the heat of another creature, rose from her magma chamber to meet whatever this other creature was. When she saw it was a young man – and a prince, at that, if his noble bearing meant anything – she smiled a sultry smile. The Fire Maiden’s favorite prey was princes.

“Hey, you…” she called to him seductively. “Get over here, baby, and get in on some hot lovin’.”

This was the Fire Maiden’s allure. She was hot; in every sense of the word. Her long hair was blue flame, in her mouth was a tongue of fire, and her eyes smoldered like burning coals. Men found her simply too much to resist. And so she drew them to her… where they were devoured in her fiery passion.

“Come on…” she called again, and Jaron listened. The Fire Maiden assumed she had him, just as she had so many others before him. But little did she know, Jaron had the edge. First, his eyesight being what it was, the stunning spectacle that was the Fire Maiden was little more than a bright but blurry sort-of-woman-like shape. Second, he was wise to her tricks, and therefore better prepared to resist them. And third, he was on a quest, and a prince on a quest was not a thing easily sidetracked; especially if that prince was Jaron.

As Jaron drew closer, of course, it became more difficult to stay focused. Particularly because the Fire Maiden was coming more into focus the closer his nearsighted eyes came. Plus it was getting hotter by the second (which, in the Enchanted Forest, seem like years).

At last, Jaron and the Fire Maiden were but a hand’s-breadth away from each other. The light from the Fire Maiden’s burning eyes reflected in Jaron’s dark ones. Her breath caused the perspiration on his face to evaporate before it had a chance to dampen his brow.

“Kiss me,” she whispered, for if they kissed, all would be over for him.

But Jaron had only just the other night discovered in himself the power to resist a woman he really wanted if he made up his mind to do it. His mind was made up now. He did not hesitate, but plunged his sword into the Fire Maiden’s belly. With a hiss like steam, the Fire Maiden fell.

Now Jaron had to act quickly; for without the Fire Maiden to keep it at bay, the volcano would erupt. According to the book Jaron had memorized thanks to his portrait memory, he had ten minutes before the volcano blew. In an instant, he slit the Fire Maiden’s throat. Hot lava gushed out, for that was the blood that flowed in her veins. With the bowl-shaped rock he had cut out of the mountain, Jaron collected the lava as it poured out, filling his rock not quite up to the brim. That done, he high-tailed it down the side of the mountain like his life depended on it; for as we know, his life did depend on it.

Jaron’s feet had scarcely touched the foot of the volcano before it erupted. Not out of danger yet, he fairly flew to his horse (his father, the king…), leapt on, and cried, “Get outta here! Go! Go! Go!” They raced for almost an hour (which seemed like but a second) before the prince was satisfied that they were safe from harm; in volcanic form, at least.

Jaron checked his bowl to be sure that it had not been damaged. He was pleased to see that it had not broken, and the surface of the lava had cooled off and hardened into rock, sealing the still liquid lava inside.

“Score,” said Jaron, wiping the perspiration from his brow.

Ah, perspiration. That reminded him of his second task: To fetch the sweat of a pig.

“Where the heck,” Jaron muttered to himself, “am I going to get that?”

Jaron mulled over this for a minute or two (which felt like… oh, you know the drill). And then came the notorious gleam in his eye.

<<< End of Part 6 >>>