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.
Though Valia wanted to flee she would not let this man know she feared him. She walked between the men to the garden. A breeze carried the scent of summer flowers. Chimes in the trees produced a sweet song. With a wave of his hand her father sent the guards and gardeners away.
A strange lethargy stole over Valia. She sank onto a garden bench. Her father sat on another one. The wizard spoke quietly. Her father’s eyes closed. When Valia tried to rise she could not move. She called to her father but he failed to answer.
The wizard approached her bench. His midnight blue robe swirled around his ankles. As he raised his arms the wide sleeves billowed. He held a wand. “Sire, do you agree to the terms I set?”
“I do.” The king’s voice sounded as though he was at a great distance.
Valia frowned. What were the terms and what did they mean for her? Shouldn’t she be the one to accept or refuse?
The wizard chanted strange sounding words. He walked three times in a clockwise and three times counter around the bench. The seventh circuit followed the clock.
Valia felt as though the bench formed a cage to keep her in place. Images of becoming a marble statue for the duration of the spell brought fear. How could she fulfill her father’s demand to wed if she remained an unmoving figure seated on a bench?
The wizard faced her. He waved his wand from side to side. Her gaze followed. His gibberish changed to words she understood. They unnerved her.
“For seven weeks this new form will be yours. There is but one chance to escape your fate. If you find a prince and convince him to kiss you, you will return to your own shape. To do this you will have a single word. The first one you utter to another will be all you can say. If seven weeks pass and you have not found a prince you will become my smiling silent bride.”
Valia wanted to protest. She had no desire to be the wizard’s wife. She looked at her father. He appeared to be asleep. Had the wizard cast a spell on the king?
The wizard’s wand twirled faster until Valia could no longer see the gem at the tip. The sight transfixed her. “Seven times seven,” the wizard shouted. “The spell is complete.”