Princess between Worlds (7 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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Annie's eyes were as red as Mara's when she started down the slope toward the castle.

Liam met her when she was halfway down the slope. “Annie!” he called when he saw her. They hurried toward each other as fast as they could in the deep snow. “I've been looking everywhere for you! Where did you go?”

Before Annie could answer, he was there, hugging her until her ribs ached and kissing her so hard that her lips felt bruised.

“I never should have left you alone!” Liam said. “Something awful could have happened to you! I came back when it started to snow, and you were gone. I was hoping you'd found a cave for shelter. These mountains are riddled with them. I found one myself and stayed there for the whole storm.”

“I was in a cave,” said Annie. “But it wasn't anywhere near here.” She told him all about being abducted and finding out that her captors thought they were rescuing her. Liam was angry then—at himself for leaving her, and at the creatures for taking her. When she described the creatures, he admitted that he'd never heard of such beings before.

“I'm sure the king can tell us about them,” Liam told her. “Let's go back to our room. You need a hot bath and some rest.”

A bath sounded good to Annie. She knew that she smelled musky and slightly acrid like Mara, and was glad that Liam was gentleman enough not to mention it.

Annie sank lower in the tub and groaned. The hot water felt wonderful, and she loved the perfume and rose petals the servants had poured into the water. She had been surprised when the serving woman had led her to this room just down the hall and shown her the tub big enough for a small family.
This kingdom is full of surprises
, thought Annie.

She stayed in the tub until her muscles had relaxed and the water was getting cold. When she climbed out, she dried herself off and put on the loose gown that the woman had left for her. The woman had left a jeweled
band for her hair, as well, which Annie used to hold it back. Gathering up her dirty clothes, she returned to the room that she and Liam were sharing and lay down on the pillow-covered bed. She fell asleep instantly and was still sleeping when there was a knock on the door and Liam answered it.

“His Majesty King Lalidama requests your presence in the dining hall. I am to accompany you.”

Annie woke up enough to recognize the voice of the bearded man who had shown them to their room. She sat up, the thought of food making her aware of how hungry she was and how little she'd eaten that day. While Liam opened the door just enough to talk to the man, she crawled off the bed and changed into her own clothes. The people who lived in Westerling might wear loose gowns, but Annie didn't really feel dressed unless she was wearing her own undergarments and a fitted gown with lacing.

Annie was brushing her hair when Liam asked the man to wait and closed the door. “I thought you were asleep!” he said when he saw her.

“I was, but the man's voice woke me. I'll be ready in just a minute,” Annie told him.

“Here, let me help with that,” Liam said, taking the brush from her hand. He brushed her hair, gently working out the snarls while she stood with her head tilted back.
“I went to see the king to tell him what had happened, but he was still meditating. We'll talk to him at supper.”

Annie tried to hold her head still as the brush tugged at her hair. “It seems almost like a dream now.”

“Don't move,” said Liam. “I'm almost done.”

When he was finished, Annie caught up her hair in the band again and turned to smile at him. “I wish you would do that every day,” she said, and gave him a kiss.

Tossing the brush on the bed, Liam pulled Annie into his arms and returned her kiss with one that was long and slow. They didn't move apart until there was another knock on the door. When Liam raised his head, Annie's breath was ragged and her cheeks were flushed.

“I'd be happy to do this every day,” Liam said with a smile.

They went to the door together and followed the obviously impatient man down the stairs to the dining hall. It was a bigger room than the one they had eaten in before and was already filled with people standing around the long, low tables. The bearded man positioned them at the head table before leaving the room. Annie could feel the eyes of everyone in the hall on her. Although it made her fidget, it didn't seem to bother Liam.

Less than a minute later, everyone stood at a signal from the man with the beard. King Lalidama strode in through another doorway with Queen Shareeza on his arm. Going to the head table, they smiled graciously at the people in the room. As soon as the king and queen took their seats, everyone else sat as well. The room rustled with the sound of fabric on fabric as people made themselves comfortable on the floor pillows, but no one spoke until the king lifted his glass of crystal clear water, took a sip, and nodded. Then everyone began to talk in a low murmur.

There were only two other people at the head table besides the royal couple, and Annie and Liam. One was a middle-aged man with a military bearing; the other was his wife, who looked down her nose at the servants and barely spared Annie a second glance. Liam smiled and spoke to them as easily as if he had known them for years, and they were both soon talking and laughing with him. Even so, Annie could tell that Liam was waiting for his chance to talk to the king, who was holding a quiet conversation with his wife.

Annie was nibbling a piece of pickled fruit, listening to Liam's conversation, when Queen Shareeza turned to her and said, “I'm curious. What did you do all day?”

“We explored, as you suggested,” said Annie. “Your palace is even lovelier than I realized. I could see how it
would be conducive to meditating,” she added, glancing at the king. “And then we went to the meadow you mentioned. It's extraordinary that so many flowers can bloom in the snow.”

“You did what?” the queen said, turning a shade paler. The king glanced at Annie, the first time he'd done so since sitting down to eat.

“I saw a lot of tracks for the rock dodgers you told us about,” Liam said, entering the conversation. “But I didn't see a single animal.”

“You went outside the palace walls?” said the king, an odd note to his voice.

“We did,” said Annie. “And the most extraordinary thing happened. Liam was just out of sight when some creatures came along. One of them picked me up and carried me off. They took me to a cave where we waited out the storm. They were actually quite nice to me. One brought me back to the meadow after the storm was over.”

Annie had the strangest feeling as soon as she started telling her story. Something wasn't right, but she couldn't imagine what. From the horrified looks on their faces, she thought they might be worried about her safety, but they only seemed to get more upset as her story progressed.

“Annie and I have never heard about creatures like these,” said Liam. “They were big, you said, and covered with white fur, right, Annie?”

“Yes, and the males were bigger than the females. The children were—”

“Enough!” roared the king. “You come uninvited to our home on one of our holiest of days and violate the taboo that no one has challenged in a thousand years. No one can be as ignorant as you claim to be. Everyone knows what a yeti looks like! And everyone knows that you do not go outside the palace walls during Shumra, the heart of the yeti migration. To do so means certain death. It also means that you scorn our laws and traditions. Wasn't it enough that you didn't join us in meditation? But to make up lies and call the yetis kindly beasts is inconceivable! Yetis are terrible monsters that spring from the snow itself. They are solitary monsters; there are no yeti females or children. There is only one kind of yeti, and they do not protect girls in snowstorms. You mock our beliefs on our holiest of days! Go! Leave my table. You are no longer welcome guests in my home. Guards! Take them back to the room they are using and make sure they do not leave. And take that medallion from Prince Liam. They cannot use magic to escape what they have done. Deeds like this do not go unpunished. I will meditate and decide your fate tonight.”

Annie was aghast. She and Liam hadn't been lying, nor had they meant to be disrespectful. No one had told them that they shouldn't go outside the palace walls. Nor had they ever heard about yetis before. She got to her feet even as a man in a loose gray robe jerked the medallion off Liam's neck and turned him toward the door. When another gray-robed man reached for Annie, she hurried after Liam, not wanting the guards to touch her.

Liam took Annie's hand as the guards hustled them up the stairs. They were moving so fast that she would have tripped if he hadn't held her upright. When they reached the room, the guards shoved them inside and closed the door. The scrape of the lock seemed loud in the silence that followed.

“So there were guards after all,” Liam said as he reached into his pocket.

“And they must use the weapons we found in that room on the yetis,” said Annie. “Poor creatures. They aren't nearly what the king claimed them to be. No females or children? How can these people live in their midst and know so little about them?”

“Fear, most likely,” said Liam. “But we're not going to stick around to talk to them. It's time we moved on. Ready?”

“Let me get our coats,” said Annie. She ran to the bench where they'd left them and was back a few seconds later. “Now we can go.”

Liam held out the next postcard. Together, they touched the center and vanished.

CHAPTER 6

It might have been hard to tell where they were when they arrived at their next destination if the sky hadn't been clear. Although it was night, the multitude of stars twinkling overhead allowed Annie and Liam to see for miles.

“Look at that!” said Annie. “It's amazing!”

“We're in the desert,” said Liam. “There's nothing to block our view except the city over there. It must be the one in the postcard, but it looks very different at night.”

Annie looked where he was pointing and nodded. “You can't see much of it now, can you? The castle is well lit, but the city isn't.” She shivered and handed Liam his coat. “We should put these on. It's cold here. I would have thought a desert would be hotter than this.”

“Not at night,” Liam said as he pulled on his coat. “I wish I knew what kingdom this is. It must be far from Treecrest and Dorinocco. The stars aren't in the same places as they are at home.”

“Let's go find out,” said Annie. “There's a road over this way.”

“I hope they'll open the gate for us this late at night,” Liam told her.

They had to be careful where they placed their feet on the uneven ground at first, but once they reached the road, they were able to look around while they walked. There was a wall around the city, which didn't look very big but grew larger and larger as they drew closer. A castle prickly with spires loomed over the tallest buildings like a monster hovering over its prey. Some of the spires were ablaze with lights, while others were so dark, they were visible only because they blocked the stars behind them. Annie thought the castle was the ugliest building she'd ever seen, and wondered why the woods witch had included it in the postcards.

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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