Princess between Worlds (10 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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“I have told you everything you need to know!” said Nasheen.

“Not if I'm going to help you,” Annie replied. “You need to find out what she likes and dislikes. Is there anything she dreams of doing someday? What attributes does she value in a person?”

“Does all that really matter?” asked Nasheen.

Annie nodded. “Very much. You find out the answers and I can help you.”

“That is nothing,” Nasheen said, waving his hand as if shooing away a fly. “I can have my servants learn the answers to those questions. Now tell me what
I
must do.”

Annie had never considered herself an expert on love, but she had learned a few things when helping others. While trying to wake her sister from a curse, Annie had taken part in a contest that Prince Andreas had held to find a bride. She had won the contest because she saw how important shared interests were to the prince. “You need to know what she likes and show her that you are interested in the same kinds of things,” Annie began. Her friend Snow White had wanted to marry a young man who loved her for herself. “Show her that you really know and care about her.” Glancing at Liam, she added what had made her fall in love with her own prince. “Be good to her and let her know how special you think she is. Be honest and true and brave at all times.”

“Those are all easy things to do!” Nasheen announced. “I am already all of the good things you mentioned. This is much easier than what I had planned.”

“What was that?” asked Liam.

“Perhaps you have not noticed that I have had my tent placed beside this beautiful lake. Every year on the same night, a monster emerges from the deep cavern in which it dwells below these waters. Every year, it roams the land, devouring men, women, and
children for two days. When the monster is no longer hungry, it returns to its cave, where it remains for another year. This year I intend to wait here by the lake for the monster to emerge. It will crawl out of that water tomorrow night, bringing its terrible hunger. I have planned a feast for tomorrow night and have already invited Sarina and her father so they might witness my heroism. However, I like your suggestions and will give them deep consideration. Servants, find excellent accommodations for my two royal guests, Prince Liam and Princess Annabelle!”

Annie and Liam stood as the servants came to usher them away. “Nasheen,” said Annie. “Your men took away some things that belong to us. May we please have them back?”

Nasheen stopped with a golden cup halfway to his lips. “All in good time,” he said. “After I have won my bride.”

CHAPTER 8

The next morning, Annie and Liam had a wonderful time. They ate breakfast while still in bed, which Annie thought was strange at first, but then decided it was something she could easily get used to. While it was still cool out, they went for a walk through the trees, exclaiming over the exotic birds and unusual plants. The two guards who had found them went along, and when Annie almost stepped on a snake, one of the guards chopped its head off with his curved sword before it could bite her.

The day was unbearably hot when they returned to their tent and nibbled fresh fruit and lightly seasoned stew made of vegetables and a tender meat. After they ate, Annie wanted to wade in the lake. They strolled down to the water, hand in hand, with the two guards trailing behind. Annie slipped off her shoes and stepped into the water, hiking up her gown to keep it dry. “The water feels wonderful!” she told Liam, who was hovering at the edge of the lake. “You should try it!”

“I'd rather watch you in case you need rescuing,” he told her. “I'm not sure you should do that if there really is a monster in the lake. Don't go any deeper.”

“I won't,” said Annie. “The possibility that the story about the monster might be true is the only thing keeping me from swimming. What do you suppose Nasheen is doing today? His tent has been awfully quiet.”

“He's probably gone to see that girl Sarina,” said Liam. “Watch out! I see ripples in the water over there!”

Annie turned to look. “It was probably just a fish. The water is so clear that you can see them swimming.”

“I'd feel a lot better if you'd get out of the lake,” Liam told her.

Annie sighed. “Then I will. I don't want to make you worry. You know, this would be a lovely visit if I didn't feel as if we're prisoners.” She glanced at the two men who had been with them all day. One of them was watching the water. The other was watching Liam.

“What do you want to do next?” asked Liam.

“Take a nap? It's too hot out here. I feel as if my brains are cooking.”

“That sounds good to me,” said Liam. “The nap part. Not the cooked brains.”

Dragonflies zigzagged over the surface of the water, their greens and blues bright in the hot sun. Annie retrieved her shoes and slipped them on before hurrying back to the tent and away from prying eyes. She
had wanted to talk to Liam, but the heat made them both drowsy and they fell asleep on the bed. They slept through Prince Nasheen's return and the jingling of the bells on his harness as he passed by their tent. They slept through the arrival of the merchant and his daughter, whose escort included twice as many guards and servants as the prince commanded. However, when a musician began to strum his lute in Prince Nasheen's tent, Annie rolled over and sat up.

Liam was still asleep when she crawled off the bed and went to look out the door. Feeling damp and sticky, she wanted nothing more than to wade in the lake again, and splash some water on her face and arms. After debating whether she should wake Liam or let him rest, she left him undisturbed. She knew that one of the guards was following her when she passed between the tents to the water's edge, but she didn't mind. He had already dispatched a snake that day. If the monster showed up early, maybe he could handle that, too.

Annie didn't go far once she reached the water. She was still in sight of the tents when she took off her shoes and waded in just as she had that morning. Holding the bottom of her gown bunched in one hand, she was bending over to scoop water onto her face with the other when she heard splashing behind her. Thinking that the guard had decided to cool off as well, she turned to say
something, but the words died on her lips when she saw a lovely girl her own age entering the water.

“Hello,” said Annie.

The girl looked up, surprised. “You are a stranger! How odd. I did not expect to find someone from another land here.”

Annie smiled. “I'm a little surprised myself. You must be Sarina. My name is Annie. I'm here with—”

“If you are Nasheen's lady friend, you need not tell me. I don't care one way or another. The prince's business is his own until he and my father come to an understanding. At that time, all of Nasheen's business
is
my concern. I came outside so they could negotiate in private. When I saw you, I came to tell you to pack your things and prepare to leave at once.”

“I'm not Nasheen's girlfriend!” said Annie. “We don't even like each other! I'm here with my husband and we don't intend to stay long.”

Sarina gave Annie a scornful look. “There is no need to make up lies. Nasheen is a most desirable man and the crown prince of Viramoot. Any girl would be happy to marry him. As you can see, he has chosen me, not you!”

“Annie, is everything all right?” Liam called from the shore. He was rumpled from sleep and his hair needed brushing, but Annie thought he was the handsomest man she knew.

“Just fine,” Annie told him. “I was telling Sarina that you and I are on a grand tour, after getting married just a few days ago. Prince Nasheen is an acquaintance of ours, nothing more.”

“This man is your husband?” said Sarina.

Annie smiled. It would be a pleasure to set this girl straight. “This man is Prince Liam, crown prince of Dorinocco, and I am his wife, Princess Annabelle of Treecrest. We met Nasheen when he was trying to win the hand of my friend Princess Snow White. But don't worry, she chose another prince, so Nasheen is still available.”

“Her loss is my gain,” the girl said, trying to look haughty, but Annie thought she no longer looked quite so sure of herself. “Ah! If you will excuse me, I see my father is looking for me. He and Nasheen must have completed their negotiations.”

Annie watched as Sarina waded out of the water. The girl that Nasheen had claimed was a natural beauty had become quite plain while standing near Annie. And apparently her inability to acknowledge him had been a ploy. She certainly seemed eager to accept his proposal now.

“I came to tell you that it's time to get ready for supper,” Liam said as Annie waded toward him. “They say we're eating early so Nasheen will be ready to fight the monster.”

“Have I told you how much I love you?” Annie asked, putting her arms around his neck.

“Not in the last few minutes,” he told her, holding her even closer.

They were sharing a kiss when the guard who had followed Liam cleared his throat loud enough to get their attention. He didn't say anything, but his glance to the group of tents was enough. Seeing the flurry of activity in front of Nasheen's tent made them hurry off the beach and back to the tent they were using.

Annie and Liam cleaned up as best they could without a change of clothes and were ready to go a short time later. When they arrived at Nasheen's tent, they found a group of courtiers that they had never seen before, along with Sarina and her father. Everyone stood until Nasheen arrived, and then Sarina and her father were seated beside him. Annie and Liam found themselves seated at the far end of the table, which didn't bother Annie at all.

The food was brought out one course after another. Most of the dishes were so exotic that Annie didn't recognize them. Some were so heavily spiced that she couldn't eat them, and one was so hot that her mouth burned no matter what she ate or drank after that. Liam was able to eat more than she did, but neither of them ate very much. Prince Nasheen and the merchant, however, seemed to eat more than anyone.

They had just finished a dessert of a lumpy liquid that was cool and sweet when Nasheen stood up. Everyone stopped talking and looked his way. “I have an announcement to make!” he said. “The lovely Sarina and I are to be wed in one month's time. In exchange for her hand, I have agreed to give her father fifty goats, twenty horses, and a chest of gold that weighs as much as my new bride. I have also promised him an exalted position in my court.”

While the others called out their congratulations to the engaged couple, Annie and Liam exchanged glances. Nasheen had gotten his bride, but would he say that Annie had helped and let them go, or claim he had done it on his own and lock them away forever? Neither of them thought very highly of the prince or his promises.

When the meal was over and everyone was leaving the table, Annie pushed past the last of the well-wishers to confront Nasheen. “You said that you would give our things back to us and let us go once Sarina accepted your proposal. May we have our possessions back now?”

“I said that I would give you back your trinkets, but I never said that I would let you go,” said Nasheen. “Guards! Return them to their tent and keep them there until my arrival. I will reveal their future to them then.”

“I am so glad Snow White didn't choose him,” Annie told Liam as the guards hustled them between the tents.
“He would have made her an awful husband, but I think he's perfect for Sarina!”

Annie hoped the guards were taking them back to the tent they had just left, but she knew as soon as they turned a different way that they were going to the small, dark tent where she and Liam had first waited for Nasheen. Even before they reached the little tent, servants began to pack up the rest, loading them onto wagons. Annie and Liam sat in the tent listening to wheels creaking and men shouting, wondering what Nasheen had planned.

When the prince finally arrived, he had a lantern and more guards with him. While two guards held their swords aimed at Annie and Liam, two others fastened shackles on their wrists and ankles. “I have been told that the monster would be satisfied with royal blood and not seek any other until the next year, but the theory has never been tested until now. Recently, a wizard stopped by to warn me that you two were coming here. He suggested that I use you to sate the monster's hunger. I thought it was an excellent suggestion and was pleased when you actually showed up. That reminds me—I did promise to return your possessions, worthless as they are, and I always keep my promises.”

When Nasheen gestured, a guard handed him two bags. The prince dumped the contents of one bag on the ground beside Liam. Annie was relieved to see that
the postcards were among the jumbled belongings. Before returning Annie's items to her, Nasheen plucked something from the bag, then poured the rest onto the ground.

Nasheen held up the blue stone that the yetis had given to Annie and inspected it closely. “I'm told this is a calming stone that can calm the fiercest beast or most horrible monster. When I saw it, I thought about keeping it for future use, but I think I'll give it to you as a kind of insurance. After the monster eats you, he'll have two people and the calming stone in his belly. If you two aren't enough, the stone should make it less vicious and I will have my men slay it. Either way, I will have killed the monster and become a hero in the eyes of my beloved and my people. To ensure that the monster swallows the stone when it eats you, I think I'll place it somewhere you can't remove it. No need to risk you trying to feed it to the beast in an attempt to save yourselves. This should do just fine,” he said, tucking it down the back of Annie's gown.

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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