Princess between Worlds (2 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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“I'm afraid so,” said Annie. “It took place yesterday. We're sorry you couldn't make it in time.”

Holly sighed. “This sort of thing happens to me all too often. I'm terrible at keeping track of the days. Ah well, it can't be helped now. I do appreciate your asking me, though, and I still want to give you your gifts.”

“That won't be necessary,” Liam told her.

“Of course it is!” said Holly. “I bought them for you, didn't I? Now, where are they?”

Annie and Liam watched as the little witch rummaged around in her many pockets, muttering to herself. Finally she pulled her hand out of one of her deepest pockets and held up a packet of cards. “Here they are! I got you postcards. I thought you might like to see a bit of the
world before you settle down, and what better way than with postcards? These should take you to places you've never seen before. I say that because I've never seen them, either. Have fun! Let me know which ones you liked best when you get back.”

Suddenly, the little witch was gone, leaving only a few drifting leaves and the smell of pine needles. Although she hadn't been standing near the table when she disappeared, she'd left the postcards squarely in the middle. One of the guards picked them up and inspected them. “They look harmless,” he said as he handed them to Liam.

“So did she,” said Annie. “Postcards! What a very odd gift! Do you recognize any of the pictures as places you've visited, Liam?”

Liam shook his head as he thumbed through the cards. “It's an unusual assortment, but then, she was a little off herself.”

“It was a nice thought,” said Annie. “Let's go look at the map again. Do you think we could take a detour to the Southern Isles?”

They were on their way back to the meeting room when the fairy Moonbeam called out to them. Most of the wedding guests had already gone. Annie had seen Moonbeam off herself, so she was surprised to see her back again so soon.

“Oh, good! I was afraid I'd have to flit all over the castle looking for you,” said the fairy. “Selbert and I were on our way home when we heard the most awful news! That horrible wizard Rotan escaped from King Dormander before they set sail for Scorios. Rumor has it that Rotan still wants to make an alliance with Clarence, but to do that he has to get rid of you two. My bet is that Rotan thinks if you're no longer in the picture, Clarence will be the next king and he'll make Rotan the royal wizard of Dorinocco. I know you were planning to go on your grand tour soon, but you might have to change your plans. Where were you going?”

“We've been talking about sailing along the coastline,” said Liam.

“Oh, no!” Moonbeam said, looking aghast. “That wouldn't do at all! It would be far too easy for him to arrange an accident if you were out on the water, or at any of your stops along the way. Did you have anything else in mind?”

Annie glanced at Liam and shook her head. “Not really.”

“I suppose we could go to one of those places we saw on the postcards,” Liam said, reaching into the pocket where he'd tucked them.

“Postcards?” Moonbeam said, her eyes lighting up. “Let me see them.”

“A witch named Holly just gave them to us as a belated wedding gift,” Liam said, handing them to the fairy. “Some of them look interesting, but they aren't labeled, so I wouldn't know how to find them.”

“You wouldn't have to,” Moonbeam said after one glance. “These are magic postcards. All you need to do is place your finger on the middle of the card and wish you were there. Oh my! She gave you quite a few! What was her name again?”

“Holly,” said Annie. “She said that she's a woods witch.”

Moonbeam tapped her finger on her chin. “Hmm. The name isn't familiar, but that doesn't mean anything. I don't know the names of most of the witches in Treecrest. Whoever she is, she gave you a lovely gift and I think you should use it. These cards could take you to some marvelous places that you could never see otherwise, and you would be safe from Rotan. He wouldn't know where to find you! This is your grand tour right here!”

“But they're magic cards,” said Annie. “Magic doesn't work around me, remember?”

“Well,” said Moonbeam. “That's not entirely true.”

“What do you mean?” Annie asked, frowning.

“I gave you the christening gift that kept magic from affecting you, and I'm a fairy. That means that the magic of any fairy or witch won't be able to touch you. But there's another kind of magic that you don't generally
see in our part of the world. Dragon magic is the most ancient and most powerful. It can overcome any fairy or witch magic like a shark can overcome a guppy. These postcards were made using dragon magic, which is why they work anywhere in the world.”

“Do you mean that a dragon made them?” asked Liam.

“Not at all!” said Moonbeam. “Just someone who used a dragon scale or bit of fang to strengthen it. Whoever it was could have been in an old dragon cave when she made them. That alone would be enough to make the magic stronger.”

“Why didn't I hear about this before?” Annie asked with a catch in her voice. The one thing that she had believed about herself her entire life might not be completely true! She couldn't decide if the information was good or bad.

Moonbeam shrugged. “Most people don't know it, and those who do don't want to admit that their magic isn't the most powerful. Besides, it's usually irrelevant in this part of the world. There are no dragons, and very little dragon magic reaches us here.”

“I thought there were dragons on the way to the Delaroo Pass,” said Annie.

“People call them dragons, but they're really wyverns,” Moonbeam told her. “Their magic isn't nearly as strong.”

“So you think we should use these postcards?” said Liam. “And all we have to do is touch them?”

Moonbeam nodded. “You have to touch the middle of the card showing the place you want to visit while thinking about how much you want to go there. While you're on your grand tour, I'll find Rotan and lock him away for good. With my fairy friends helping me, we should find him long before you come home.”

Liam examined the card on the top of the pile. “We could go to this one first. The views from that mountain are amazing! Look, Annie, the picture looks so real, almost as if you could feel the snow.”

“Liam, no!” Annie shouted, grabbing his free hand as he touched the middle of the postcard with the other.

An instant later they were gone, leaving Moonbeam staring at the spot where they'd been standing.

CHAPTER 2

One moment Annie was standing in the great hall of her parents' castle. The next she was out in the open, with icy winds lashing her with snow and freezing her to the bone. She was still holding Liam's hand, so she knew he was there, but the snow was so heavy that she could barely see him. As the wind whipped the snow into her face, she began to shiver and it only grew worse as she looked around. With the snow coming down so thick and fast, she wasn't able to see much, although she thought there might be a low wall a few feet in front of her.

“Sorry!” Liam shouted over the wind. “I didn't mean to leave yet. We aren't at all ready for this. We don't have money or a change of clothes or anything else we might need.”

“Really
warm
clothes would have been good,” Annie shouted back, her teeth chattering. “Can we please find
somewhere out of the wind to talk about this? My toes are already numb and my ears are so cold, they hurt.”

“It's hard to see . . . ,” Liam began. “Wait, don't move. I think we're on a castle wall. The edge is just a few feet behind us. That might be a tower to my left. Yes, I think there is. Follow me and don't let go of my hand. Careful, there's ice under this snow.”

Annie ducked her head against the wind and took one slow step, then another, following behind Liam. The wind blew over the wall, whipping her long skirt behind her and pushing her toward the edge of the walkway. By the time they reached the tower, her lungs hurt from breathing in the frigid air.

“I think the door is frozen shut!” shouted Liam, yanking on the handle.

Annie moved closer to him, her teeth chattering so violently that she could hear them over the wind.

“Stay right there!” Liam shouted as he let go of her hand. Turning his shoulder to the door, he threw himself against it. On his fourth try, the door flew open and he tumbled into the tower. It was dark inside. Annie couldn't see him until his hand shot out and grabbed hers, pulling her into the small room beside him.

It was almost as difficult to close the door as it had been to open it. This time Annie lent her strength to Liam's. With both of them shoving it with their shoulders,
they were finally able to close it, cutting off the wind and snow. Even with the door closed, Annie didn't think it was much warmer inside the tower. It was darker, however, and now Annie couldn't see a thing.

“I saw stairs over this way,” said Liam as he took her hand again. Feeling their way along the wall, they found the stairwell and started down, one tentative step at a time. The stairs wound around the tower in a spiral; the small amount of light that came under the door was blocked out when they rounded the first curve. The howling of the wind was still loud enough to make a conversation nearly impossible, so they didn't speak except to say “Ouch!” and “Careful on this step.”

Annie had no idea how far they'd gone until Liam announced, “That's the last step. I wish I had a flint with me. Even a spark of light would tell us something.” They both started patting the wall with their free hands, hoping to find a door or some sort of opening.

“Listen!” Annie said suddenly. “I think I hear something over the wind.”

“Voices!” Liam said after listening for a moment.

They turned toward the sound and spotted light coming from under a door at the same time. The door opened easily, and they found themselves in a torch-lit corridor. Although the light wasn't very bright, it was enough to make Annie blink and squint after the absolute darkness that they had just left. When their eyes
had grown accustomed to the light, they saw that the corridor was lined with doors. One of them stood open, letting firelight spill into the corridor. A roar of laughter erupted from the room, drawing Annie and Liam toward it.

When they reached the doorway, they stopped to peer inside. A group of men were seated at a long table, talking and laughing as they helped themselves from platters. Annie thought it smelled like roast mutton, and her mouth began to water. However, it wasn't the food that she found the most appealing, but the heat from the dancing flames in the fireplace. A large, brown bear rug was stretched across the floor in front of the fireplace, and the whole picture was so inviting that she stepped into the room without thinking. The snow on her hair and clothes began to melt away. Water trickled into her eyes, blurring her vision, but it looked to her as if the bear rug stood up and was coming straight at her.

Annie was rubbing the water from her eyes when the beast let out a deep, resounding bark and tackled her, knocking her to the ground. Liam began to shout even as a wet tongue slapped her face, coating her in slobber. A moment later, the men who had been sitting at the table were on their feet with their swords drawn.

“Who are you? How did you get here?” demanded the oldest of the men. Although none of them were wearing any insignia, he had the bearing of an officer and looked as if he was in charge.

“Call off your beast and I'll tell you!” Liam shouted as he tried to drag the animal off Annie.

“Edda, to me!” shouted one of the men. The beast gave Annie's cheek one last lick before backing off, her tail wagging. When she shuffled to the side of a big, burly man with bushy hair, he patted her head and she sat down grinning.

“It's a good thing that was Edda and not Big Boy, or we'd be scraping the girl off the floor!” said a man with a droopy eye.

Liam was helping Annie to her feet when the officer asked again, “Who are you?”

“Tell me where we are first,” said Liam.

“This is Delaroo Pass, of course,” said the burly man. “Where did you think you were?”

“If this is Delaroo Pass, we're still in Treecrest,” Annie told Liam.

The officer scowled. “Still? Where are you from?”

“Treecrest! The castle, actually,” said Annie. “I'm Princess Annabelle and this is my husband, Prince Liam of Dorinocco.”

“And I'm the king of Floradale,” said the man with a droopy eye.

“When were you in Floradale, Delpy?” asked a man with a long, thin face.

The officer turned to the portly man beside him. “Gimlet, weren't you stationed at the castle for a while?”

“Eighteen years ago. When I was there, the king had just married the princess from Floradale.”

“That's the problem,” said Delpy. “Most of us have been here so long we wouldn't recognize half the people who live in the castle now. What about you, Bascom? You came here just a few years ago.”

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
6.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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