Princess Valia stared at the seventeenth prince who had come to Lanton to court her. Since the day her father had decreed she must marry, every available prince from the neighboring kingdoms had arrived at the palace. This young man was her last possible choice for a spouse. She didn’t want him. She’d dreamed of marriage and had yearned for a man who would adore her. A man who made her heart flutter in her chest. Each one who had arrived had the qualities presented by this final candidate.
He was handsome. The way he preened like a peacock meant he knew about his looks. He acted as though his willingness to wed her was a gift and her acceptance a given.
Valia scowled. How dare he think she had no choice? How dare he ignore her? She was tired of hearing about his skill with a sword and of the many maidens who desired him. She was weary of men whose vanity was greater than her own.
There had been no praise of her eyes, the blue of summer skies. He had sung no odes to her amber-colored hair. No poems had been written about her delicate features or her perfect figure. The entire conversation had centered on him. She had not been able to steer him to flatter her. The other sixteen had been the same. Once again, she must turn away a prince.
She rose and flicked away the hand extended to assist her. “Prince Hoggen, I refuse your offer of marriage. You are but a third son and your conversation and manners are tedious. Your pale hair and eyes do little to compliment my beauty. Go home for you have failed the test I set for the man I would wed.”
“And that might be.” His voice held a haughty tone.
“To think of me and not of yourself.” She turned and saw a fierce scowl on her father’s face. The wizard stood at the king’s side. He smiled and his expression caused a chill to slither along her spine. Why was the man pleased by her decision?
The scorned prince halted at the door. “You will go to your grave a spinster. I am the last of the available princes. I will give you another chance to say you will wed me.”
Valia laughed. “I have no need of another chance. Be gone.”
When the door closed with a bang Valia saw her father’s scowl had deepened. Though he stood at a distance, she sensed his anger. His boots clicked on the marble squares of the floor. At the king’s side, the wizard appeared to glide.
“Daughter, what am I going to do with you? Hoggen was the last of the princes available for you to wed.” The king’s eyes sparked with anger.
Valia smiled. “Father, do you think I am beautiful?”
“That has nothing to do with your need for marriage. You must beg one of the princes to return. Surely there is one who is less offensive than the others. I must have time to train my successor to rule when I am gone.”
Valia’s heart skipped a beat. “Do not think that way. You are only of middle age.”
“I must consider the future. Lanton must have a strong ruler. Since you cannot choose I will.”
“Father, no.” Valia’s hands rested on her hips. “I refuse to marry a man who can say nothing about my beauty. I will gladly wed one who adores me. He can take on the boring chores of a king and leave me time to spend maintaining my beauty. I will not wed a man who wants me to worship him.”
The king turned to the wizard. “Do something. Cast a spell to make her change from the vain and selfish woman she has become.”
The wizard smiled slyly. “Sire, I can devise a spell but you might not be willing to pay the price.”
“Gold, silver and jewels will be yours. I will gladly pay you to create a spell.”
Valia stared at them. “Have I no say?”
The king shook his head. “You will do what must be done. Wizard, you will have what you desire. I must have a son to rule when I grow old.”
“As you command, Sire.”
Valia scurried toward the door. Her father grasped her arm. “My child, you must wed before another year passes. You have reached your twentieth year.”
She did not trust the wizard and she had no idea why she felt this distrust. “Why must you be this way? Am I not your greatest treasure?”
“You are and there must be a strong man to guard you when I no longer can.”
The wizard stood on her other side. “The spell I will cast would best be done in the garden.”
A chill rolled along her arms. Couldn’t her father sense what she felt. The wizard reminded her of the rejected princes. His arrogance was more centered in his power than his looks. Since his arrival, her father had turned from her and halted his lessons in statecraft. She had changed, too but how she wasn’t sure.