Princess between Worlds (4 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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Once again Big Boy shuffled beside Rupert as the prince started walking. Crossing the room, they stopped at a large wooden chest. While the prince rummaged inside, Annie took the time to look around. The room was well lit from oil lamps, some on tables and a few hanging from the ceiling. Two of the walls were covered with cases holding books. A comfortable chair was positioned near the bed; Annie and Liam were seated on two of the three identical chairs placed near a large table in the middle of the room. Tapestries depicting mountain scenes covered the wall on either side of windows that looked out toward the mountain pass.

When Annie turned toward the prince again, he was returning to his seat, holding something in his hand. He seemed to lose his balance when he tried to sit. Big Boy nudged him into the chair and he sat down heavily.

Extending his hand toward Liam, Prince Rupert said, “Here, you can wear this. Act like it's the source of your magic and people will believe it. Then if someone were to steal it, it wouldn't matter.”

“Thank you, sir,” Liam said, looking surprised. “That's a good idea. I'll make sure I return it after our tour.”

Prince Rupert shook his head. “No need. I'm glad I have it to give to you.”

Liam slipped the chain over his head and tucked the medallion into his tunic. “May I ask you a question, sir? Why have you stayed here all these years? This seems like a desolate and lonely place.”

“I thought so, too, when I first arrived,” said Prince Rupert. “Then I discovered just how beautiful it really is and how much I was needed here. Before I came, the trolls attacked every few days, but I found someone to reinforce the gate and now the trolls rarely bother us. This is a peaceful place, for the most part. I've always leaned toward the scholarly side, and here I'm able to pursue my studies as much as I like.”

“Your men mentioned that you bred the troll dogs,” Annie added.

“That's true,” said Rupert. “When I was a young man, I was interested in improving the bloodlines of the horses in the royal stable. There are no horses here, but there were dogs in the fortress when I arrived. I've planned their breeding ever since, and they're becoming bigger and stronger with each generation. Some might find them intimidating because of their size, but they are the kindest and gentlest dogs that you will find anywhere. I see you've noticed my books, Annabelle. I've written
some of them myself. I'm currently working on a treatise about the troll situation. I want the next commander of the fortress to be well informed.”

Rupert shifted in his seat and winced as if in discomfort. Big Boy whimpered and nudged the prince's hand with his head. The prince petted the dog, scratching between his ears. “Now you must excuse me,” he said to Annie and Liam. “We retire early for the night here. Once the sun goes down, the temperature drops even more. One of the men will see you to your chamber. I look forward to talking to you both tomorrow. We'll discuss what you might like to do during your visit and how long you plan to stay. Edda will go with you. She seems to like you and I wouldn't want to be the one to separate you. Edda has never favored one person before, but these dogs are known to form very deep and long-lasting attachments.”

“This is the guest room,” Bascom said as he opened the door. “That's a joke around here. We've never had any guests before. You two are the very first. Breakfast is at sunrise. Be there on time or it might be gone before you show up. Cold air makes big appetites! See you in the morning!”

Annie caught hold of his sleeve before he could walk away. “Wait. Before you go, I need you to answer a question. Is my uncle ill?”

Bascom looked away, no longer able to meet her eyes. “We aren't supposed to talk about it,” he said, lowering his voice as he glanced down the corridor toward her uncle's room. “Prince Rupert thinks it's a big secret, but he scarcely eats and he's grown weaker over the last few years. It's obvious that he's in pain sometimes. The only one he's talked to about it is the captain. He must not want his family to know, or he'd have told you, too.”

“Do you think I should ask Rupert about it?” Annie asked Liam as they stepped into the room.

“We'll be here for a few days,” said Liam. “Let's see if your uncle brings it up first.”

Someone had already lit a fire in the fireplace and turned down the covers on the big double bed, but the air in the room was still icy and Annie shivered. Edda pushed past Liam and he shut the door behind them.

“The room isn't bad,” said Liam.

There wasn't much space, but there was a tapestry showing mountain peaks and clouds on the wall and a thick rug on the floor. A stool rested by the side of the tall bed, and there was a chair beside a small table in front of the window.

“Actually, it's perfect if you're an ice cube,” Annie said, taking off her shoes. “Last one in bed is a frozen egg!”

The blankets themselves were so cold that Annie and Liam had to curl together to try to get warm. After a few minutes of shivering, Annie was tempted to invite Edda onto the bed for extra warmth, but the bed wasn't big enough for the three of them. Liam fell asleep before Annie did and she lay awake with just her face uncovered. When she was finally warm and pleasantly drowsy, she noticed that the wind had stopped blowing. All she could hear was Liam's breathing and a steady thrum. Annie wondered what was making the sound just moments before she fell asleep.

The first thing Annie thought when she woke the next morning was that something was missing. Glancing at the window, she saw that it was frosted over; light could come in, but she couldn't see out. She was up and getting dressed before she noticed how quiet it was. It sounded odd after the continuous howl of the wind the night before. She was about to say something to Liam, when Edda raised her head from where she was lying by the door and whined. The whine turned into a bark as Edda scrambled to her feet and began pawing at the door. Liam opened the door and the big dog ran out, her bark growing louder and deeper. Other dogs were barking now, and Annie could hear shouting in the corridor.

When Annie and Liam left the room, they nearly collided with Bascom. “Here, put these on,” he said, thrusting long fur coats at them. One was the color of cream, while the other was a darker brown. “It's colder today than yesterday and you'd freeze in five minutes without these when you get outside.”

The barking was changing as all the dogs in the fortress began to howl. Annie thought it sounded as if they were being tortured, and she understood what Bascom had meant about the sound the day before.

“Do they smell trolls?” she asked, glancing down the corridor where a man was running with an enormous dog on either side.

“That they do,” said Bascom. “Your uncle said you can come up on the wall to watch. Bundle up first, though. And pull up your hoods. You'll appreciate them in this cold.”

Annie struggled to pull on the coat as she and Liam followed Bascom down the corridor. He led them to a stairwell and they climbed up three flights to the top of the fortress wall. “You couldn't see it yesterday with all the snow, but the wall is twenty feet thick and holds the living quarters. Prince Rupert's rooms and the guest room where you slept are right above the gate. Best view in the fortress, I'd say. Ah, there's your uncle. I should get to my post now. Hear that racket? The trolls must be getting close.”

Annie and Liam hurried to where the prince was standing with a group of men. They were all peering down from the wall at the snow-covered pass where dark shapes were shambling closer. Annie looked up, seeing the mountains for the first time. They rose high above the fortress, their sheer walls too steep for even the most nimble mountain goats to climb. Two vertical walls of stone defined the pass; the fortress filled one end of the opening, built flush with both sides so that it was completely blocked.

Annie glanced down. The trolls were much closer now. She was surprised by how quickly they could move. When she heard pounding below her, she guessed that some had already reached the wall.

“The only way through is the gate below us,” Prince Rupert said when he saw Annie trying to look over the side of the wall. “I don't understand it. The magic has worked perfectly ever since the spell was cast. The trolls learned how fruitless it was to attack the gate, but they seem to think they can get through now.”

“The gate is impenetrable because of magic?” asked Annie. “Someone should have told me! Magic doesn't work around me, remember? And I slept in a room above the gate.”

Her uncle frowned, his eyes flicking from the approaching trolls back to Annie. “Do you mean to say that your presence was enough to remove the spell?”

Annie nodded. “It happens all the time. It works faster if I touch something, but even when I'm close by, I make the magic fade. I didn't know there was magic here. I can hear it when it's present, but the wind was so loud last night, it would have drowned out anything else. Come to think of it, I did hear something when the wind stopped. The sound is gone now, but the magic should return when I'm no longer here. The trolls must be able to hear it, too. That's how they know it's gone. Liam and I should leave now, before they break through the gate. Here, we'll give you back your coats.”

“No, no, keep them on!” said Prince Rupert. “You'll freeze in an instant if you take them off now. I'm glad I was finally able to meet you, Annie. You, too, Liam. I hope to see you again someday.”

“So do I,” said Annie as Liam shook her uncle's hand. “Perhaps in warmer circumstances!”

Annie wasn't sure if she should hug Prince Rupert or not; he didn't seem like the hugging sort. She finally decided that she would and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek besides. He seemed surprised and patted her back as if he didn't know what else to do.

“Ready?” Annie said, turning to Liam.

“Here's the next card,” he said, holding it in front of her.

“Good-bye!” they called to the prince and the men on the wall. And then they touched the middle of the card and were gone.

CHAPTER 4

“More mountains?” Annie said as she looked around. “At least we're dressed for it this time.” She hadn't had a chance to look at the card before she touched it, so she hadn't known what to expect. They had arrived in a courtyard with the white walls of a large palace around them. Tall towers with pointed spires stood at the four corners, and a two-story white stone building took up much of the space. Beyond the courtyard walls, snow-topped mountains rose on every side. The sun was just coming up over one set of peaks, revealing more of the scenery every second.

“If the sun is coming up here, we must be west of Delaroo Pass,” said Annie. “Where do you think we are?”

Liam shook his head. “I don't know. I've never seen any place like this before. This is amazing. It looks as if there's snow on the ground outside the walls, but the air is balmy here. I'm hot in this coat. I'm going to take it off.”

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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