The Hero - Stephen
The solstice full moon had just touched the horizon, Stephen Riva, crown prince of Rivand, stared at the Witch of the Woods. With her hair the color of spun amber and eyes the brilliant blue of summer skies, her beauty fascinated him. The words she spoke made him uneasy. He frowned and turned toward his father. The king glared at the woman.
The witch pointed a finger at the king. “You have not won. Fire will not destroy the garden or drive me from the home I have created.” She spun and waved her hands. All traces of the fire set by the king and his men vanished. She grasped Stephen’s hand and pulled him into the garden. “Confess your love for me.”
He shook his head. “How can you speak of love? Love does not strike in an instant and set a heart on fire. Love grows like a flower from a seed, planted and carefully tended.”
A dreamy expression appeared on her lovely face. “The moment I beheld you I knew you were mine. Your dark hair, your handsome face and your muscular body have enchanted me. I could drown in your moss green eyes.”
Stephen shook his head. In all his twenty and one years he had never heard such nonsense. “You will not have me. I have a duty to Rivand, the land I will one day rule.”
“Do you have brothers?”
“Then one of them can take on your duty to the land. You have no reason to reject me.”
Stephen shook his head. “There are three reasons. Duty, honor and love. My duty as crown prince of Rivand is to take the throne. Should I run away from doing this I would lose honor? I do not love you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So be it. If you will not be mine you will not be Rivand’s king. A curse I lay upon the House of Riva. Every hundred years a prince will be given a chance. To give his heart to me or be taken into the amber orb and spend his life on another world.”
Stephen looked at her. “I pray one day you will learn love does not happen in an instant and cannot be given on command.”
She smiled. “And you may learn love can occur in an instant and become eternal.”
Though there were no clouds thunder rumbled. A streak of lightning flashed across the sky and struck the ground near Stephen’s feet. He saw the sparks coalesce into a sphere imprisoning him behind the walls. Stephen stretched his arms toward his father and the Witch of the Woods. The walls of the orb were too distant to touch. He turned and stared at a mass of trees.
The rustling leaves became voices urging him to walk. His strides lengthened until he ran. Was this a dream? The branches of the trees scratched his face and arms. He groaned. Truly he had been brought to another place.
Stephen had no idea how long he walked. The clusters of trees thinned. Beyond them he saw a road and some distant buildings. Before stepping onto the hard-packed earth he removed his coronet, his sword and most of his jewelry. As a stranger in an unknown land he dare not appear hostile. He wrapped his possessions in his cloak and hid them in a hollow tree. With his boot knife he marked the spot. Then he stepped onto the road and sought his new destiny.
The Heroine and the Villain - Princess Valia The Wizard
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.
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.
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 in her direction.
She rose and flicked away the hand extended to assist her. “Prince Hogen, 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? Hogen 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. 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.”
The lethargy Valia had felt vanished. She stared at the sky. The sun touched the horizon. Soon darkness would come. She rose and nearly fell. She put her forepaws on the ground and walked to the garden pool.
Valia stared at the water. Though the sunlight faded she could see what she had become. A scream built and was swallowed when the remembered what the wizard had said. Her first and only word could not be a “No” cried with anguish, anger and despair. She leaned for another look. Nothing had changed. She was now a five foot tall amber dragon.
Ugly, she thought. Where she had been the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and all the surrounding ones she was now ugly enough to scare people.