“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!

“Sample” or “A Girl in the Woods”

Not even a dozen days left until the release of my fairytale novella, “The Swan Prince (Book One of the Wilderhark Tales)”!

Wait, what?? *double-checks calendar* Holy smokes, it’s true.

Wow.

I can’t tell if this feeling is panic or just wanting so bad for you to read this book that I’m fit to bust. How to tell the difference?

The only swarms I like to think about are readers swarming Amazon to buy my book on launch day.
The only swarms I like to think about are readers swarming Amazon to buy my book on launch day.

Well, let’s try an experiment: I’ll let you all read a “small part of [The Swan Prince], intended to show the quality, style, or nature of the whole”, and we’ll see if the sharing of this piece of the book’s early pages helps to lessen the monarch butterfly migration passing through my midsection.

Ugh! Swarming insects! Why did I choose that analogy?! This sample chapter will now serve a twofold purpose – a lovely “Swan Prince” appetizer for you, and a distraction from disturbing thoughts for me. Enjoy. (:

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~ A Girl in the Woods ~

 

Doctor Villem Deere was not easily surprised.

It was not that he could be said to have “seen it all”; he had only lived a little more than twenty years of life, and had spent much of that time seeing the same few things many times over. And it wasn’t that he had a particularly outrageous imagination. Rather, he was open-minded enough that he could accept almost any circumstance as being a perfectly probable one, and if it was only likely that something would happen, it would be foolish to be surprised when it did.

So when – one autumn morning, not long past dawn – his door was thrown open by a panicked young nun, Doctor Deere took it entirely in stride.

“What’s the matter, Sister?” he asked with efficient calm, already reaching for his medical bag and shrugging into his favorite twill jacket. “An illness at the asylum?”

“A girl in the woods!” gasped the nun – Sister Ariana, by name. “Her leg’s caught in one of those ghastly steel traps meant for things like bears and wolves and mountain lions and— well, never mind! The point is, it’s trapped a girl! Please, Villem, come quickly!”

The supplies of his profession in hand, the fair physician followed his dark-haired friend out of the quiet village of Wilderhark and into the vast forest that bore the same name, working to make sense of Sister Ariana’s disjointed explanations all the while.

“I was taking my daily constitutional, the same as I’ve always done – for the past four years, anyway – or has it only been three? Well, never mind, that’s hardly the point: The point is that it wasn’t the same as I’ve always done.

“Normally, I circumvent the woods, but I didn’t today, because I heard this terrible, tortured sound coming from inside them! I can’t really put a name to it or describe it and I very much hope I’ll never be able to reproduce it because I just knew that such a sound could only be the result of overpowering agony!

“And I hadn’t even gotten over the shock of the first noise before there was a second one; what sounded like ragged, tearful breaths. I followed them to their source, and— ah! There she is!”

As one might reasonably suppose, the girl with her leg clamped tight in a steel trap had not gone anywhere.

In the ungainly-looking girl’s childish face, Villem observed the signs of physical distress one would expect to see in the expression of one in her situation. But what he had also expected to see, and yet did not see, was relief; relief that salvation had arrived, that she would soon be liberated from her entrapment. Instead, Villem saw no small amount of fear in her hard, staring eyes, as if the girl viewed him not as a source of deliverance, but as just another threat. He sought to reassure her.

“It’s all right,” he said soothingly. “I’m Doctor Deere, and I’m here to help you. Can you tell me your name?”

The girl’s voice was shaky, but she managed an answer. “Sula.”

“All right, Sula. Now, how did this unfortunate accident happen?”

Assuming that it was an accident, Villem thought. It most likely was, but you never could tell what some people might do to each other; it was a mad world, and everything was probable.

“I was… running,” Sula said tentatively. “It was dark. I didn’t see the trap until too late.”

“What were you running from?”

“I—” Sula began, hesitated, and began again. “I was running from a bear.”

“A bear.”

“Yes.” Sula nodded several times. “I mean, I thought there was a bear. Maybe there wasn’t, but I thought I had better run, in case there was.”

“I might have known there was a bear involved!” Sister Ariana cried. “I’ve heard of more than a dozen reported bear sightings in this area since this past spring alone. It was very foolish of you, dear,” she chided the girl, “to go into these woods at night; that’s when these local bears tend to be most active, I’m told. Your parents ought to have known better than to let you— Where are your parents, by the way?”

Sula’s answer was near inaudible. “I don’t have any.”

“Oh, you poor thing, how terrible! Well, never mind – I have just the place for you to stay. Would it be safe to move her there right away, Doctor, or will she need special care elsewhere?”

“Oh, she’s quite fit to be moved,” Villem replied, finishing his careful inspection of the girl’s entrapped leg. “You’ve been very fortunate, Sula: Somehow, your bone has withstood any breakage. How old are you, seventeen?”

“Sixteen.”

“Remarkable,” Villem murmured. That a girl of sixteen should have fared so well when a grown man’s leg would almost surely have been snapped in two by such a powerful contraption…

Perhaps something is the matter with the trap’s springs, he reasoned. He would have to look into that later.

“So I can take her to the asylum now?” Sister Ariana asked.

“Once I’ve cleaned and bound her wound, yes.”

“Thank goodness. Now, don’t you fret, Sula,” she said, noting the panicked look that had reappeared in the girl’s gray-green eyes. “We’ll soon have you where you won’t have to worry about getting hurt by traps or bears anymore.”

If she was worried about bears to begin with, Villem thought.

It wasn’t that Sula’s story had been an improbable one; but for reasons he had yet to scrutinize to his scientific satisfaction, Doctor Villem Deere was unconvinced it was the whole one.

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To be continued… on May 31st!