Princess between Worlds (3 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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“I've been here for ten years!” said the burly man. “Yet you all still treat me like I arrived yesterday. And I've never been anywhere near the castle.”

“Then you have to prove that you are who you say you are,” the officer told Annie and Liam. “Or we'll treat you as we would any spy.”

“We've never had a spy here before, have we, Captain Grant?” said Bascom.

“Not yet,” said the captain. “But there's always a first time.”

The man with the long face shook his head. “We've never had
anyone
here before.”

“Why would someone want to spy on Delaroo Fortress?” asked Delpy. “Unless you were a troll, of course.”

Captain Grant gave the men an exasperated look before turning back to Annie and Liam. “Prove who you are or I'll toss you out into the snow myself.”

“Um,” Annie muttered, thinking hard. “My parents are Queen Karolina and King Halbert. My uncle, Rupert, is
my father's brother and is in command of this fort, or at least he was last time I heard.”

Annie glanced at the older man as he sent a black-haired soldier from the room, but she didn't stop talking. “My sister, Gwendolyn, is the most beautiful princess in all the kingdoms, and she recently married her true love, Prince Beldegard of Montrose. She met him when she woke from the curse.”

“You mean the curse actually came to pass?” asked Bascom. “How did that happen? I've been here ten years, and I still remember how careful everyone was about spinning wheels. My mother was furious when they carted hers away.”

“Queen Lenore snuck one into the castle inside a gift for Gwendolyn on her sixteenth birthday. I was in the room when Gwennie pricked her finger. Magic doesn't work on me, so I stayed awake when everyone else fell asleep. There was no one awake to defend the castle, but magical roses with nasty thorns grew up and no one could get in. I got out of the castle and went looking for the right prince to kiss Gwendolyn and wake her. When I saw that Queen Lenore's men were trying to take over the kingdom, I thought about sending for you men, but there wasn't time.”

“We would have come!” cried three or four soldiers. The others nodded and looked upset.

“Isn't Lenore queen of Dorinocco? Didn't you say your husband is from Dorinocco as well?” asked Delpy.

All the men turned threatening looks on Liam; some even reached for their swords again.

“Yes, but Liam helped me!” Annie hurried to say. “He protected me when I went looking for princes and he fought his brother after Gwennie woke up. Neither Liam nor his father were part of Queen Lenore's plan to take over Treecrest.”

“We're the last ones to hear anything,” complained Bascom.

“What happened after you left the castle?” asked Captain Grant, appearing interested in spite of himself.

“I found princes in the neighboring kingdoms and brought them back. Beldegard was a bear at the time, but it was his kiss that woke Gwennie.”

“A bear! You let a bear near a sleeping princess?” said one of the men.

Annie shrugged. “I knew he was an enchanted prince. I hadn't meant for him to kiss her, but it worked out for the best. Beldegard wouldn't have been able to wake her if he hadn't been her true love. They got engaged right away, but before they could get married I had to find the dwarf who had turned Beldegard into a bear and get him to remove the curse. ”

Annie had moved closer to the table and she took a seat now, turning to face the men when they sat down as well. Edda came to sit beside her, laying her massive head on Annie's lap and gazing up at her with soulful eyes. Annie wasn't sure what to do. Glancing at Bascom, she asked, “May I pet the beast?”

“That's Edda. She just came back from patrol with me and Delpy. And she isn't a beast, Miss, I mean, Your Highness. She's a troll dog.”

“I've never heard of a troll dog,” said Liam.

“That's because they're all here with us,” Bascom said, looking proud. “Prince Rupert has been breeding for them this past twenty years. He wants them big like Edda, although she's small compared to some.”

“Just wait until you see Big Boy!” said a man who was Annie's height. “When he stands on his hind feet, he's taller than Bascom there.” He pointed at the burly man.

“That he is. Big Boy is one of our best. See Edda's thick coat?” said Bascom as he bent down to pet the dog. “It's got two undercoats. Keeps the dogs warm no matter how cold it is outside, and snags the trolls' talons.”

Annie reached out, her hand hovering over the dog's huge head. Her touch was tentative at first, each stroke growing stronger as Edda closed her eyes and relaxed. Petting the animal was soothing somehow, and Annie settled back in the chair, still stroking the thick fur.

“You should hear the dogs when a troll gets close!” said Delpy. “The racket the dogs make is enough to make your hair curl. Trolls stink, but the dogs can smell them long before we can. A troll can't get near this fortress without the dogs telling us it's out there.”

“We take them on patrol so the trolls can't surprise us. We're not trying to fight the trolls, just keep them from entering Treecrest through the pass.”

“Is this the only way through the mountains?” asked Liam.

Bascom nodded. “The pass isn't bad in the summer, but the snow comes early here and stays late. Even trolls can't get through in winter.”

“Go on with your story,” said Gimlet. “What happened next?”

Annie cleared her throat and was grateful when Delpy handed her a mug of cider. She took it with her free hand, still petting Edda. After thanking the soldier, Annie took a sip before she continued talking.

“Once he was a man again, Beldegard married Gwennie. A witch tried to kill me at their wedding. I got a message from my friend Princess Snow White that she needed my help. The witch followed us all the way to Helmswood. I confronted her in the courtyard. When she tried to turn me into snail slime, her spell bounced off me and changed her instead.”

“Very good!” cried one of the men.

“Excellent!” exclaimed another.

“Did I miss something?” asked a man who had just walked in. Although he was younger than Annie's father, he looked years older with pale skin and dark circles under his eyes. He was thinner as well, and he walked with an unsteady gait, leaning heavily on the enormous dog that shuffled beside him. Annie was certain that this was her uncle, Rupert. She thought that the dog might be Big Boy, because he was one and a half times the size of Edda. The dog's fur was black and white, and his head and paws were massive.

When all of the men stood, Captain Grant stepped forward and said, “The young lady was just telling us about recent events in Treecrest, Your Highness. She claims to be Princess Annabelle. If she isn't the princess, she's good at making up stories.”

“When Finlo told me that this girl claimed to be my niece, I looked for the miniatures my brother had sent me a few years ago. Let me see. Yes, here it is. I'd say there is a decided resemblance, although the girl in the picture is much younger.”

Annie pushed Edda's head off her lap and stood to peek at the tiny painting. “I believe I was seven years old when that portrait was painted.”

“Ah, I see. You're considerably older now. That explains it. Yes, I'd say that this is Princess Annabelle! Please sit down, everyone, and continue eating. I've already eaten
in my room, but I would like a cup of that cider. So, what is the news from home?”

Annie noticed that a couple of the men exchanged glances when the prince said that he had eaten. She wondered what that was about as she sat down again. The moment she was seated, Edda's head returned to her lap. Prince Rupert sat across from her, with Big Boy still flanking him.

As most of the men returned to their seats and a few hurried to get cider for the prince and food for Annie and Liam, Annie continued her story. “I was telling them about the witch who tried to turn me into snail slime. After she dissolved in the rain, Liam and I came home. We brought a girl with us who was hiding at Snow White's. The girl was a princess in disguise. When we returned to Treecrest, Liam and I started planning our wedding. The day it was to take place, everything went wrong and a king we'd never heard of before laid siege to the castle.”

“How terrible!” said the prince, while the soldiers looked grim.

“We had to postpone our wedding, of course. The unknown king had a wizard with him and he trapped everyone in the castle with his magic. Liam and I were able to get out to search for someone who could help us. We learned that the fairies and witches in the kingdom had been behind everything going wrong on our wedding day. It took a while to straighten that out,
and then we had to deal with the king who was still outside the castle. When he left we were finally able to get married. Our wedding was yesterday. Coming here was supposed to be part of our grand tour, but we left earlier than we expected.”

“And that brings us to the question I believe we all are thinking,” said the prince. “How did you get here?”

“Magic,” said Liam, and he gave Annie a meaningful look.

He doesn't want me to mention the postcards
, Annie thought.
I wonder why.

“May I ask a question, Your Highness?” asked Gimlet. When Annie nodded, he went on. “Does a pretty girl named Wanda still work in the castle kitchen?”

“Didn't you say that you were there eighteen years ago? That's a long time to be pining over a girl!” said Bascom.

“Wanda is still there,” said Annie. “She's in charge of the pastries and makes the lightest cream puffs you can imagine.”

“Ah, cream puffs!” some of the men said, their eyes glazing over.

“There's something I don't understand,” said Prince Rupert. “You said that magic brought you here, yet I'd heard that magic can't touch Halbert's younger daughter.”

“Most magic,” said Annie. “I've recently learned that certain magic can.”

“There don't seem to be very many soldiers here,” said Liam. “I understand this is a small garrison, but I didn't know it was this small.”

“This is the bachelor's dining hall,” said the captain. “Some of the men are out on patrol, or working elsewhere in the fortress right now. The men with families share a separate kitchen.”

“There are families here?” asked Liam.

“The men are here on six-year rotations,” said the captain. “Some leave as soon as their six years are up, but there are others who like it here and want to stay. It's been quieter and more relaxed than most other postings ever since we had the gate reinforced. A few years ago we had a comparatively mild winter, presenting the men with a rare opportunity. A group of them returned to their home villages and brought their wives back here. It was the only time they could go. Usually the trip is long and perilous; no one makes it unless he must. The most difficult part is the route through wyvern territory. Winter is the best time to travel through that region because cold makes the wyverns sluggish, although it also makes traveling that much more difficult. If we try to return to the settled lands any other time of year, it takes at least twenty trained men to make it through.”

“The year I came to Delaroo Pass, we lost more than half the men accompanying me,” said Prince Rupert.

“That was before we tried traveling in winter,” the captain told them.

“I believe we should retire to my chambers,” Prince Rupert announced. “I still have a lot to discuss with my niece. Captain Grant, please have one of your men prepare a room for our guests.”

“What do you think he wants to talk about?” Annie whispered to Liam as they followed Prince Rupert from the dining hall.

“Lots of things,” said Liam. “But I bet magic is at the top of the list.”

CHAPTER 3

“You obviously didn't want to say anything in front of the men, but you need to explain to me how you got here,” said Prince Rupert. “Telling me that it was through magic isn't enough.”

“I'll tell you, but I'd prefer you didn't repeat it to anyone else,” said Liam. “For all I know, the item may be very rare and valuable. We traveled by postcard.”

“What's a postcard?” asked Prince Rupert.

Liam dug the card showing Delaroo Fortress out of his pocket and handed it to the older man. “A witch gave it to us as a wedding present. I touched it too soon and we came here before we were ready.”

Prince Rupert held the card close to his face to examine it. “Interesting!” he said, handing it back to Liam. “And you're right. Don't tell anyone about it. That's very valuable and I'm sure people would be eager to steal it
from you. If the situation were different, I  might have wanted it myself. I assume you have other cards?”

When Liam nodded, Annie's uncle looked thoughtful. “You need to have something you can tell people. Your sudden arrival will spark interest. People are going to be curious about how you got from one place to another. Ah! I know just the thing.”

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
4.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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