The courtyard bustled with activity and the air crackled in anticipation of the upcoming royal festivities. Villagers abounded, wearing their finest clothing. Scholars clustered arguing opinions. Jesters danced in abandonment and jousters readied horses, preparing for the tournament. Wild boars turned on spits and the scent of roasted meat wafted across the crowd and beyond, luring more through the gate.
The event of the year would last all day and well into the night. It was not to be missed—hosted by the King, himself—in honor of his heir, Prince Sebastian. Before the Queen’s passing two years ago, her dying wish was for her husband to see that their son, and only heir, was well and truly married.
What should have been a period of mourning following her death, the King proclaimed a year of gaiety, as he used his many connections, arranging for various suitable young Ladies of age from all over the world to visit his Kingdom each month, in hopes to fulfill his Queen’s wish, that an interest to at least one young lady would take root for his son.
The mysterious courtships had played out in the castle, around the grounds and gardens, and at the seasonal market fairs like clockwork—much to the exhausted chagrin of the Prince. That he went along with the King’s charade, was only due to his mother’s wish, a behest that felt like a death sentence to the Prince. The whole affair was preposterous, he thought, and if it had to be, then the king would have to choose, not he. He found them all shallow and boring.
In private, the King was furious with his son by the end of the year. But, as promised to all the participating royal families and kingdoms, to his own townships, a royal declaration, announcing the identity of the bride-to-be for Prince Sebastian, would be forthcoming, the day of the scheduled festival.
Rumors and speculation passed from hut to hut, field to field, and even ship to ship. Betting money had exchanged hands within the townships. Would it be, Bahar of Nishapur, because her dark exotic beauty rivaled no other? Or maybe it would be the stoic Asheni of Galle; whose name—meaning diplomatic and serious-natured—matched perfectly with her personality and demeanor. Others thought surely one of the two contending Mediterranean kingdoms, that produced the flirty Flavia or zealous Zelina, would be chosen as they brought much wealth with them. Whomever the next Queen was to be was not nearly as important to the villagers as missing the event. That was a royal snub no one dared commit.
~ ~ # ~ ~
Haiden sat on a log of driftwood at the rocky bank of the calm river. The peaceful area was her private haven, the place she found solace since her mother’s death as a young child. She ripped and plucked furiously at her morning prey, a dead grouse. Course feathers, along with fluffy down, floated to the bed of rocks at her feet. Her hunting bow rested beside her and a pile of birds yet to be cleaned lay beyond that. Her worn brown pants were rolled up at the ankles and her overlarge blouse was stained scarlet, as was her face and hair, streaked from bloodied hands constantly swiping wayward strands of auburn aside. Her long thick hair, tied at the nape, threatened to come loose.
“Well, Neela,” she said, speaking to her faithful companion of ten years. “If nothing else, we can finally put an end to this long year of forced smiles, stupid curtsies, foolish frivolity. Not to mention, the unending amount of additional work that has been forced upon us.”
Neela barked in agreement, panting and drooling and eyeballing the blood and guts.
She continued to take her ire out on the dead birds, snapping a wing joint with more force than necessary. “Lady So-and-So-of-Such-and-Such is expected this week,” she sneered. “More grain, wine, meat, and fruit will be needed at the castle by the end of week,’” she said, mimicking the messenger’s monthly call to action at the village square—the amounts required depended purely on how much human baggage their ladyships brought with them.
She cracked a bone and sliced through tendons. “That’s all well and good, but to whom does this extra work for all the never-ending food supply fall to?”
Neela whimpered a yawn and lowered her belly to the rocks, laying her head on front paws. She sighed, well familiar with this temperamental side of her mistress. It usually meant a longer wait for the warm entrails.
“That’s right. The hardworking class, people like father and me—and even you, Neela.” She picked up a bird and offered it to the air, feigning a royal presentation. ‘”So happy to provide the sustenance for your amusement, Sire. We live only to provide for your every dish and for the long string of visitors you’ve procured.” she said, presenting an upturned wrist and batting her eyes. “‘And while we’re at it, milord, may I open a vein for you?’” She rolled her eyes skyward and mumbled under her breath.
“We don’t need to eat at all, do we Neela? No, we, super-humans survive on air alone and are pleased to work ourselves to death for royalty. All for—this—‘Prince Charming and his procession of Ladies.'” She jeered, with extra panache.
Tossing Neela the bloody pile, she was finally finished. She got up and rinsed off the dressed birds and put them in a leather pouch, then scrubbed her hands and forearms. The reflection looking back at her was a gruesome one, a red-haired warrior back from battle. This made her oddly happy and she smiled. She yelled a victory yodel to the sky, dubbing it her official battle cry. It echoed down river.
Looking down, she saw the mess on father’s field clothes and decided she’d better wash and dry before they stained and before he missed them tomorrow. She looked around, wary, hesitating only a moment before laughing at her foolishness. “No need for modesty. Everyone in God’s creation is at the bloody castle today, right Neela?” The dog paid her no attention, as she licked rocks clean of the gelatinous mess.
Haiden took off her scuffed shoes, stripped off the garments, and placed them in the water to soak, then weighted them with a large rock on top. She stood and toed the water. Stepping naked into the river, she walked waist deep, then plunged into the liquid coolness. She dove under, coming up scrubbing her face and the ends of her hair with handfuls of sandy silt. Back under she went to rinse. After repeated washing, and rinsing, she swam back to Neela.
Feeling better, she squeezed the dripping water from her hair while walking to a huge flat rock, a sandstone platform, the size of her small bedroom floor. It was her favorite childhood place to play when she was young, acting and dancing on a pretend stage. The stone bed felt heavenly, heated by the sun, and she reveled and basked in it’s warmth to dry.
She drifted to sleep for only a moment—Neela saw to that licking her foot. Just as well, she thought, remembering the bloodied clothes. She dunked and scrubbed each stain separately with sand and rock until satisfied the blood was out, spreading them across the sandstone to dry.
Returning to the water to cool her reddening skin, she swam farther into the deep middle. With a sigh, she flipped to her back and let her body go limp in complete relaxation, allowing the built up anger of the past year flow out. Her long thick hair billowed around her like a fan. Arms spread wide, she floated without a care; milky-white breasts bobbed and pink nipples pointed to the sky.
Suddenly, her peace was pierced by the sound of someone choking and coughing profusely. It was horrible, sounding like someone swallowed a fistful of sticks, or a bag of bones, and no amount of coughing would hock it up. She drew up in a ball and scrunched down in the water to her chin. In the sudden movement she sucked water up her nose. She joined the invisible stick swallower, spitting and coughing. When she finally had it under control, turned in a circle and called out.
“Who’s there.” Neela barked from the side of the river, jumping up and down on her front paws. But she saw no one and there was no reply. No noise at all, except for barking. “Shush, Neela.”
When the dog quieted, she heard rustling, and tried to pinpoint where it was coming from. The area across from her side of the river, she’d never ventured to before. It was dense, thick with trees and vegetation, and hardly passable as an enjoyable walk in from any direction as the land rolled gentley with hills. The six-foot embankment was like a wall next to the deeper water.
All seemed normal. Still. But, a slight movement caught her eye. She spied one full branch, loaded with leaves, shaking high up in a tree. The rustling stopped abruptly, and again there was silence. Then, a ground-shattering THUD. Followed by a loud, “Oooof—“
A moment later, came a buzzing noise. First, the hum was low, but grew louder into a frenzied swarm. A yell erupted, and a man, dressed much like herself in work clothes, burst free of thick bushes. He was barefoot, wildly swatting air. He ran to the edge and jumped off the high embankment, hitting the water below in a headfirst dive; the angry swarm of bees, hot on his trail.
Haiden watched the spectacle, giggling, until it dawned on her, he dove in her direction. And the swarm was following. Quickly, she dove under, kicking powerfully downstream. Hoping it was far enough away from both obstacles—man and swarm—she surfaced with lungs burning.
A head popped up within two feet of her own a second later. She looked at him, and he at her, both gulping air through open mouths, water dripping off faces. She had the presence of mind to glance down at herself, thankful that the murky deep prevented him from seeing through to her feet. She looked all around for the bees, but thankfully they had scattered.
It grew awkward in the continued silence, and if it were even possible to feel more naked, she did. She made a display of making sure the bees were gone, searching all directions again.
The man just kept gulping deep breaths of air. She thought about turning around and swimming away. But—where could she go? She couldn’t get out of the water. Not with him here. He’d have to leave first.
When she couldn’t avoid him any longer, she looked directly at him. He shook his head like a dog, spraying water, then rubbed his hands over his face and slicked the dark shoulder-length hair back. He seemed about her age, maybe, probably. Actually, no, he looker older with the shadow of a beard, as if he’d forgone shaving that day. He was handsome, she supposed, in a refined way. Pretty, even. Dark brown eyebrows, thick, but not too much. A perfect nose and generous lips.
But those eyes, she thought, staring . . .
Cobalt blue—like twilight sneaking into the horizon—framed by enviously long lashes. Her mouth dropped into an ‘O’, and she found it impossible to look away, fascinated by the tiny beads of water clinging to those thick-lashed ends. And that blue depth pulled, pleaded, willing her to drown in them, to sink deeper into their darkness. She wanted to look away, and she tried but,
Instead, her gaze fell to his lips . . .
~ # ~
His chest rose and fell with labored breathing, and all he could do was stare . . .
Her eyes—the color of new furled leaves, budding green—flashed bright, unsure, yet defiant. Their brilliance pierced his soul, captivating him, and he felt the hook as surely as a caught fish floundered on a line. He traveled her heart-shaped face. Flawless and beautiful. And young. Younger than her body had led him to believe from his vantage point up high. Smooth shoulders and end of an upturned nose were pale pink, freshly kissed by the sun. Tiny freckles dusted across her cheeks. Thin eyebrows hinted dark red, as did her long wet hair, brushed back from her face. His gaze lowered, then came back up and settled on
Those lips, though, he thought . . .
~ # ~
She stared, mesmerized by . . .
His lips—wet and thick. He licked the lower one, then teeth, white and straight, raked over it, hard, sucking the water off them. She swallowed watching his tongue and teeth work over the fullness. She reacted and licked her own, tasting a hint of salt. She heard him suck in a quick breath. Odd flutterings, deep inside, pulled as if trying to turn her inside out. Her insides puddled and
She shivered, but wasn’t cold . . .
~ # ~
His heart sped up, an increased pounding that had nothing too do with that long swim underwater. He couldn’t take his eyes off . . .
Her luscious lips—bright pink, like a climbing sunrise—parted slightly. Alluring, pillowy soft. A hint of white pearls glistened beyond them. Her pale neck constricted; slender tendons moved as she swallowed. He reacted with a swallow of his own. Her tongue peeked out, dabbing at the water droplets. First on the upper lip, then the lower. He tasted the saltiness on his own. He looked back into her eyes and found her gaze fastened on his lips.
His stomach contracted. His loins fired . . .
~ ~ # ~ ~
They remained transfixed, staring in silence, until the dog’s urgent barking broke the oldest of nature’s spell. She recuperated first, finding her voice.
“Just–who are you? And why are you here–at my river? Were you the one I heard coughing?” She shot off questions. That was stupid, she thought, of course he was. Then at the thought of just how long she went naked–walking around, washing the clothes, sprawled out all over the rock her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in embarrassed shock. She felt her face burn.
He remained silent, and started pounding his head.
“Just how long have you been here and–wait–why aren’t you at the royal feast?” She said, confused, as she glared at him. “I—can’t get out of the water, first. I need you to leave.”
He remained silent. His eyes unconcerned. He shook his head his head at her and stuck a finger in his ear.
“Are you a simpleton? You were spying on me weren’t you? Invading my privacy like a—a deprived beast. Well my father will not take this lightly and I—I am highly skilled with a knife. You need to leave. Now. Immediately.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” He finally spoke, but a slow smile crossed his face; a smirk, as if he was sitting in a theater watching a play unfold and the scene had turned amusing.
“Aaaugh!” Haiden cried out in frustration, grinding her teeth. She turned and angrily swam away, then stopped short just a few feet away. He was waiting her out. To see her—
We will just see about that, she thought, swimming back to him.
~ ~ # ~ ~
He finally breathed, not realizing he had been holding his breath. He concentrated solely on deflating his desire. He gulped, trying hard to focus on her words.
Her voice seemed to escalate with each garbled word and her eyes heated. He opened his mouth wide and leaned his head to one shoulder, then pounded at it. He stuck a finger in his ear wiggling it around. Finally, emptying his ear of water, he found clarity.
Sputtering something about his intrusion, she berated him, called him out for rudely spying and interrupting her bath and would he now swim back to his side of the river and please leave, post haste?
He frowned. Her countenance turned from the soft gentle nymph of his dreams to a hot-headed ranting shrew he wanted nothing to do with in a matter of seconds. He stayed quiet, but remained where he was, treading water. Amused, he watched her face turn beet red and her eyes flash a warning. He waited for her to tire and run out of air.
He rotated a sore shoulder. In less than a ten minutes, he had gone from dirt-planting his frame from an eight-foot height while unsuccessfully obtaining his prized honey; to sudden sexual tension he knew they both felt moments ago; to a lashing from her barbed tongue about what a low-life fiend he was; to how he now deserved a thrashing from her father and possible slicing by her. It had him feeling as if he’d just returned battle-worn and weary from war. Not to mention, the welts that stung like a son-of-a bitch from a few bees.
She spun in the water, giving him her back. She made only two angry stokes toward her refuge and her dog before drawing up, still as a reed in the water, then whipped around, paddling back to him. To verbally lash him some more, he was sure.
Instead, she extended her hand out of the water. “I need your shirt. To get out of the water,” she said, pursing her mouth, nose high in the air.
~ ~ # ~ ~
An old woman in tattered clothes stood in a clearing just beyond the trees by the river. Her wild long hair, the color of salt and pepper, stuck up in all directions from her head. She stirred a small pot over a campfire. Looking up, she immediately dropped the small ladle into the boiling stew. She could not believe her eyes. Never in her wildest dreams would she be presented with such an opportunity.
Out of the blue, two heads, one male and the other female, popped up in the middle of the river. It appeared they were squabbling. A toothless smile dawned, as she recognized one of them. Her sharp eyes belied her age by a few hundred years as she poked the fire with a stick and cackled with barely contained glee.
“Look upstream, Tinble,” Agatha said, sighing when the beast looked downstream. Faithful as ever, he was. Smart as a whip, he wasn’t.
The small scaly dragon flapped long orange-feathered wings, and flicked a long snake-like tail back and forth, then looked in the direction her bony finger pointed. Thin, overly long, ears drooped, giving the unusual beast a timid and innocent appearance. But many, young and old alike, had met their demise because of their foolhardy assumption. It had blunt square snout like that of some snakes and a mouth, once open, revealed two rows of needle sharp teeth. It’s chicken-like feet clenched and unclenched the moss underneath, and looked back at her for instruction.
She pet the small scaly head. “It appears, my dear Tinble, the chance I’ve been waiting centuries for, has swam right up to us.” She whispered excitedly through her gums.
Tinble’s reply was an strange combined sound—a hiss, a cluck and a purr—as he strutted around the fire, hoping for battle.
“No, this will take a more subtle approach, I’m afraid, my friend.” She rubbed her chin in thought.
His eyes were sad and she gave him another pat. How he loved his battles. Such a good pet he had become. He not only looked like a cross between a dragon, rooster, and snake, but he was a cross between them all. She stumbled upon a farmer and the unfortunate three, a day long ago. One was about to strike the other, who was about to axe the third, and all was about to be charred and broiled by the fourth. She whipped up a fast spell, saving each from their respective fates. And Voila! Tinble was born. To his credit, the creature served her well and she found his small size could get in and out of many places and situations much better that a larger dragon or some such beast could. His long forked tongue licked her withered hands, halting her reverie.
“Yes, yes, you’re right,” she said, kicking dirt into the fire, extinguishing it. “We’ve not a minute to waste. Fetch my vaporous vial, the one marked with a wavy red line, a water sign on the front. It’s on the shelf at the back of the cave. Behind the owl livers and goat horns—And hurry.”
Tinble took to the sky, returning a few moments later with the glass vial.
“Fool girl. Just look at her, Tinble. Has no idea who she’s arguing with. No idea, her beauty held the undivided attention of Prince Sebastian. Well, that is, right up until the moment she opened her mouth and spoke her mind.” She rubbed the vial absently, then turned quickly. “Ready, Tinble?”
~ ~ # ~ ~
Bastian shook his head at the red-headed vixen, and unbuttoned his shirt. He shrugged out of it and handed the slopping heap over to her. She grabbed it quickly. He laughed at her attempts to put on the uncooperative material, floating on top of the water, while not revealing anymore skin and tread water at the same time. She settled for laying it flat up against her breasts, tying the hem around her waist, and the arms around her neck. She looked ridiculous. The collar covered her mouth.
“I’ll put it on correctly the very minute I can touch with my feet,” she said, though the wet material. Then a look of horror came over her face—he was tugging off his pants as well! He wadded them into a ball and threw them to her side of the river. They landed with a splat on the rocks.
“I feel like a relaxing swim, myself,” he said. “Oh. And when you get out, would you mind fetching my pants? Then put them on that big ole flat rock to dry–next to your nice clean clothes.” He grinned. “And a bird or two sure would taste good cooked over a fire.”
She glared at him, then squinted, eyelids nearly touching. He raised his eyebrows and waited—
In a moment, her eyes grew wide, then wider still, as his off-handed orders answered all the questions she demanded earlier. She sucked in a mouthful of wet collar the moment she caught his meaning; his admission that he had seen everything, had been watching her for some time. From the beginning. And–and he’d heard the questions too!
Grabbing at material, she sputtered and tugged the infernal thing down from her mouth. It cupped her chin awkwardly at an odd angle. She left it there and growled, splashing a barrage of water at him.
There it is, he thought mischievously chuckling, as he raised his hands from the attack.
Two could play this game, he grinned. And either way it played out now, he had already won with the show she gave him from his perch high in the tree. He could only smile in satisfaction, remembering. It had been well worth the fall. Even worth the bee stings.
She threw daggers at him with her eyes. “I don’t know who you think you are, or even why you’re still here, but spying on people is just—I hope you were stung a thousand times,” she spat.
He ignored the comment. “I thought about tossing the pants on my side of the river, since I’ll have to retrieve my boots, but—your side is a lot more interesting. And you have food.”
Her face turned the color of a ripe tomato, and her screeching growl reached dangerous levels. She turned sharply and swam away.
The water seemed to amplify his laughter.
~ ~ # ~ ~
The witch slit her palm with a single pointed fingernail, made of steel, she wore on her right middle finger. Carefully uncorking the vial, she released a black vapor. It swirled with life, into the air, toward her mouth. The witch inhaled deeply, sucking it into her body. She held the empty vial under her folded hand, squeezing the wound, dripping blood. Her blood filled the vial, and her body began to shrink. Her clothes, however, did not, becoming looser, hung limply off her form.
Smaller and smaller she shrank until it appeared she was no more: dirtied skirt and blouse piled over laced boots. Then all of a sudden, the black smoke rose from the filthy mound of material. The vial laying on the ground shook as the blood inside bubbled, coming alive. The bottle righted itself. And the black smoke floated up into the air like a snake-charmer’s cobra. Attached at the end of the vaporous rope was the minuscule body of the witch, hovering only a moment, mid-air, before flying straight into the small vial–witch and all.
“Now pick me up, Tinble,” her tiny voice echoed from inside the bottle, “you know what to do.”
Tinble picked up the cork with his mouth, held the bottle between his talons and leaned down, resealing the vial. Clasping it tightly, he flew toward the couple in the water. He approached the arguing humans, and circled over them. He bit at the cork. Once open, he tipped the vial. A blood-red vaporous stream snaked out in a slow steady line to the water. It gathered, coiling around itself, away from the couple, until the last of it was out of the bottle: the tiny witch holding on to the tail. She was covered in blood. The red vapor skimmed just above the water’s surface toward the oblivious couple. Winding back and forth, it slithered, like an anaconda.
It singled out the girl.
~ ~ # ~ ~
Neela’s urgent barking became a vicious growl. A warning that went unheeded by Haiden.
She was sick to death of this—this puffed-up vagabond’s mocking and goading, and wanted nothing more than to split him from stem to stern with her hunting knife. Her anger was such that no words were left to effectively hurt him, none left to assuage her humiliation, either. She swam toward the riverbank, to comfort Neela. She would forget this day ever happened and put the brute out of her mind forever.
Her strong stokes hit the water, splashing hard, and quickly put distance between them. Suddenly she felt strange and began to slow. Coming to a complete stop, she felt almost nauseous. Then numb. She panicked. What was happening? The water seemed, looked–odd, like blood, but it wasn’t hers. A thin line of blood-red smoke rose up from the top of the water. It looked alive, like a snake ready to strike. Paralyzed, she couldn’t move. She opened her mouth to scream. She couldn’t. The vapor reared up. It entered Haiden’s mouth in a rush, sliding down her throat, until gone.
Haiden felt dizzy, so sleepy then–amazingly wide awake, happy– as a mercurial change came over her. She was suddenly calm, free. Her offended and ill-tempered attitude dissolved as she stared straight ahead at nothing; her eyes blank.
She smiled and inhaled a deep cleansing breath, exhaling slowly, as if she just woke up from a nap. Gone was the angry, defiant, and very naive girl, as Agatha’s presence surfaced, coursing through Haiden’s veins. She flexed her new fingers and wiggled in the new body. A sultry low chortle came out of Haiden’s mouth as Agatha stretched her arms high above her head, seductively.
She thought of Prince Sebastian, and unlike that stupid virgin, she could remember well what it was like to be with a man. He couldn’t know that Haiden was gone, of course. Agatha giggled. She was more than ready to play his game.
To Agatha’s surprise, she could feel Haiden, her anger, struggling in her new imprisoned soul. She was a strong one, true, but–why is she still alive, Agatha wondered. Then suddenly, the girl thoughts emerged in her head.
Don’t you touch him, you hag. He’s—he’s—mine.
Now you want him, you stupid girl? When you can’t have him? Your naivety is so cute. Watch and learn, my dear.
She forced the girl from her thoughts. She wanted to stretch like a cat, then run, loving the feel of a nubile young body again. Instead, she untied the shirt from around her neck and waist, and let it float away. Turning around, she kicked with purpose, swimming toward Sebastian.
When she reached him, she gave him a sweltering hot look. Her fingers walked up his chest and clasped behind his head. She looked at his lips, parting hers in invitation, then slowly brought her eyes up to meet his.
His look was wary, confused. “I thought you were leav—“ His curt words trailed when she arched her back, thrusting her breasts forward. Her nipples found him; two hard points, yet soft and featherlike, lightly brushed against his bare chest. He inhaled sharply through his teeth.
She watched him go from defensive—his jaw working behind a closed mouth—to compliant, as her bold move melted his resolve like wax over a flame. His desire rose, high and hard, between their bodies. And she rubbed against him. His eyes darkened, and his breath sped up. He grabbed her, pulling her to him, then swam them both closer to the river’s edge, finding footing. He dipped his head. Their lips met, gently at first. Then with a growl, Bastian opened his mouth and devoured her with a ferocity that shocked and pleased them both.
When they finally parted, he looked deeply into her eyes and held her face firmly between his hands. Forcing his desire under control, he said, “To hell with my father and his parade of females. What is your name?”
“Haiden,” she said.
You bitch! I will find a way to break free and when I do . . .
Hush, you little twit. Be a good girl and take a long nap.
His hands dropped to her bare shoulders. She turned her head aside to kiss his hand so he would not see the furious green flames sparking in her eyes.
How dare that girl. She would have to figure out what had gone wrong. She should have died the instant I took over. Perhaps, the vial had lost it’s potency sitting for so long on the shelf.
She glanced to the rocks. Neela bared her teeth at her and growled menacingly low, her front paws worrying back and forth in place. She would have Tinble do something about that cursed dog. She turned back to the Prince, presenting a serene face.
“You haven’t told me your name, yet,” she said, and lowered her eyelids.
“Sebastian,” he said. “But, most call me Bastian—are you from around here?”
She thought a moment. What to answer. . . Hmm. Yes, would mean she knew about the festivities at the castle. Better to remain anonymous for now, so she shook her head sweetly from side to side.
“My father has been searching far and wide, impatient for heirs, when all along, what pulls at my heart is right–Will you come with me. Now. To the castle to meet my father?” he said, grasping her shoulders squeezing gently.
Haiden smiled at his excitement. “Well,—she hesitated, then pouted, “I’m afraid I don’t have the proper clothes.”
“This morning I had decided to defy my father and not go to the feast, but now—I will see that you are clothed in finery, give you anything you desire—if you will but honor me by becoming my wife.”
Agatha dropped her head to her chin, wet hair fanned around her face as she smiled wickedly down at Haiden’s beautiful reflection in the water. Her green eyes glowed feverishly in victory. There! That was what she wanted to hear. She could also hear Tinble circling with impatience high overhead and willed him to the cave for now. He would have to be patient about the dog.
“Yes, oh yes,” she breathed.
How easy this was. She wanted to laugh, long and loud, shout into the wind, dance all day, make love all night, play in the rain, ride a galloping horse, run up a hill—youth was hers again. Instead she bit her lower lip, and demurely looked up at Bastian, holding promises in her eyes, while she began to plan her future as Queen.
Patience, Agatha, she told herself. Plenty of time for all that. It would be easy to control this young one, with her wiles and tainted wine goblets. For now. But, the Old King would have to go first.
You evil whore, I won’t let you kill Neela, or the King, or—Bastian. You will not succeed. I will see to that. Haiden’s warning came over loud and clear in Agatha’s mind.
Oh pfft. There is nothing you can do. How about you relax? We’ll call a truce and just—share him. Bastian is awfully yummy.
I will kill us both, before I let you become his bride.
Careful, Haiden. Besides, what are you going to do? I am a witch, alive and powerful from the eleventh century. You, little girl, are only a sneeze in my world. I am in your body, after all, and remember, I have access to—your father, anyone you love, really. So be very careful spewing idle threats at me. Now go away. I have much work to do. I have waited centuries. CENTURIES! Nothing, and no one, is going to stop me from reigning as Queen.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, fanning the flames so to speak, she thought. She threw her head back and laughed in abandonment. Her long auburn hair touched the water behind her. Then, she reached up, long hair dripping, and placed her hands on Bastian’s wide shoulders and jumped, wrapping her bare legs around his waist. She kissed him as if she’d not kissed anyone in two hundred years. And of course, she hadn’t.
She was more than ready to take this to the next level.
~ ~ # ~ ~
Bastian grinned beneath her lips, grasp a soft cheek in each of his hands, and walked them out of the water to the warm bed made of stone.
He had no idea what had come over her, going from shrew to literally the nymph of his dreams, but this was one feast he wasn’t about to miss.
They had plenty of time before leaving for the castle. . .
~ ~ # ~ ~
The End (or is it just the beginning?) 😉
By Ronda K Reed
Photo credit: Ukrainian Illustrator, Vladislav Yerko
Is it hot in here to y’all? Ha ha. I have to admit, writing this was a very different kettle of fish from what I usually write. Stepped way out of my comfort box on this short story. Writing romance is HARD. So many descriptions–I mean this is the longest short story I’ve written, to date. Good thing I’ve read a romance or two in my time, as it sure came in handy! :wink,wink::
Thanks for reading. I’m not sure if Haiden will find her way back to Bastian, or not. I will have to think on it, but I’d be interested in knowing what y’all think?