Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zenith

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Yay! The End! I made it!

Xavier was awakened by the ear piercing screams of his youngest daughter, Althelia. At nine months of age, she had a set of lungs on her that put Valerius to shame. He got up from the cot in the gardens where he liked to nap and went in search of Althelia and his wife, Dianthe. No doubt, Dianthe would welcome some relief from the little ones, as she fussed about the upcoming ceremony.

Dianthe, his beautiful Dianthe had married him six years ago the same evening the old king revealed Dianthe was his seventh daughter. By acknowledging Dianthe, he had paved the way for Xavier to join his kingdom with Quirinus’. The old king had lived a full year after they had wed, long enough to see his first granddaughter, Diedre born.

Diedre, Claudia, Julia, and now Althelia. Xavier smiled to himself as he found himself papa to four girls. Quirinus had had all girls too. Dianthe couldn’t understand how she, who was in high demand as a midwife known to deliver boys, should keep having girls herself. It didn’t matter to him, though. He loved the girls, all as lovely as their mother, and looking nothing like himself. At that moment, he became aware and grateful for the zenith of happiness he had obtained. He closed his eyes, savoring the moment for a few precious seconds.

Xavier’s scars had healed so they were not quite so noticeable. People now looked directly at him without revulsion. It may have something to do with his succeeding Quirinus to the throne. The first year had been difficult, a foreigner coming to rule through marriage. But Cardelia supported him and led the people by example, something for which he would be eternally grateful.

“There you are,” Dianthe said, handing him little Althelia, who was resting on her hip. “I must help Cardelia,” she said, disappearing before he’d even had a chance to give her a peck on the cheek.

Once he’d rounded up all the girls and herded them towards the nursemaids, he put on his finest robes and went in search of his brother.

“Can’t believe it took you this long,” he said as he slapped Valerius’ back. Valerius looked uncharacteristically pale, like he was about to throw up the contents of his stomach.

“Don’t… not today…” Valerius moaned. Which of course meant Xavier would have to double his efforts.

“Are you ill, my brother? Could it have been the greasy pig we had last night? Do you think it may have been rancid? Of course with all the wine you consumed, you may not have--”

That was all it took for Valerius to run towards the low hedge outside. Xavier chuckled as he heard Valerius heaving.

“You ass!” Valerius yelled as he returned from rinsing his mouth out at the fountain. “You did that on purpose!”

“Payback for Cardelia,” Xavier said, as he slung an arm around his brother’s shoulder, reminding him of the day Cardelia had almost drowned so long ago. “You feel better, don’t you?”

Valerius nodded, grumpily. Xavier led his brother down the long corridor to the great room, the same great room where Xavier had pledged his fidelity to Dianthe six years earlier.

“Now, don’t be shy. This is your last chance to ask me any questions regarding what goes on in the marriage bed.”

“You ass!” Valerius smiled.

Valerius took his place before the priest in front of what seemed like the entire kingdom. Xavier and Dianthe stood by his side as Cardelia, lovelier than any goddess or vision he could ever imagine walked the length of the room to join her life with his.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yalena

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts.  Another long one, but hopefully, worth it?? And it looks like I can wrap it up tomorrow! Y is for yay!!!

As the foursome neared King Quirinus’ palace, Dianthe faced a dilemma. She was the only one who was able to handle the flower. Therefore, she was, in theory, the victor of the quest. But the quest meant nothing to her. She laughed at the ridiculous notion of being wed to Cardelia or being given Quirinus’ kingdom to rule.

She could tell the old king she pledged the flower in the name of Xavier but that would mean he would wed Cardelia which she knew would mean unhappiness for both of them.

Pledging the flower in Cardelia’s name would have the same result, as Cardelia would wed Xavier out of a sense of duty.

Which left Valerius, who was the worst choice of all. Pledging the flower in Valerius’ name would mean the two kingdoms would not be joined. Cardelia and Valerius seemed suited for each other but they would be forever plagued with guilt that their union resulted in the demise of Xavier’s realm.

There had to be another way…


The great hall was completely packed, it seemed the entire kingdom had turned up to witness first, the miraculous reappearance of the princess Cardelia who had been missing for more than a cycle of the moon. And second, the two brothers who, it was rumored, had successfully completed the quest.

King Quirinus was weary of the almost daily return of noblemen claiming to have successfully completed the quest. But this was different, for Cardelia had returned with the brothers along with Dianthe.

Cardelia’s hair was shorter, he noticed as he made his way to the high table. He had an idea that she must have posed as a boy to escape the grounds and to travel with the brothers. If the brothers were wrong, he’d have to send one or both of them to their deaths to protect Cardelia’s reputation. He hated the thought, but he could not risk being seen as soft.

Quirinus nodded to the foursome seated before him, indicating his approval for them to begin. To his surprise, it was Dianthe who stood up.

“Your majesty,” she bowed before him. She held the stem of a large plant, the head of which was hidden beneath a large piece of cloth. “We traveled to Mount Olympus, home of the twelve true paired gods.”

Quirinus sat up in his chair, they’d got the location right. He exchanged a knowing look with the priest.

“And found the flower contrary—the Princess of the Night.” Dianthe pulled the cloth away to reveal the enormous pure white bud of a flower. “It sleeps now, to bloom during the dark of night.”

The priest clapped his hands in glee, and everyone in the room knew that the foursome had returned with the correct answer.

“But child,” the king said. “You cannot claim the reward. What would you have us do? You must give the flower to one of the men with whom you have traveled.”

“Yes, that was my thought as well,” Dianthe said, stepping backward from where she stood and then slowly walking toward the massive fire pit that warmed the room. “But no matter to whom I give the flower, it will only bring misery.” With a slow and deliberate motion, she dropped the flower into the fire.

There were multiple gasps as the flames ate up the snow white petals, reducing them to ash. Xavier and Valerius looked incredulous and Cardelia looked ready to murder her. But then the palace guards were upon her and dragging her away, probably to her death.

“Dianthe!” Xavier shouted, coming after her, sword drawn. His brother followed, and Dianthe felt joy that they would defend her, even as she betrayed them.

This was not turning out as he had planned at all, Quirinus thought. Now he’d have to put three young people to death. He was not without mercy, especially towards women. “Do something!” he said to the priest, laying the blame at his feet.

The priest rose and shouted “Stop!”

The guards, and the questers, and all turned toward the priest.

“What is your mother’s name, child?” He asked Dianthe.

Dianthe thought it an odd question, but was glad for the reprieve. “My mother is long dead but her name was Yalena.”

“Yalena,” Quirinus repeated. He was on his feet, and pushing soldiers out of his path, coming to stand in front of Dianthe.

“She was a healer, like me,” Dianthe told him.

Quirinus took Dianthe’s face in his hands, seeing the similarities for the first time. “Yes, you have her look,” he said. Then added “and mine.”

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xavier (there's a reason I named him Xavier)

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts.

“Xavier! Xavier, wake up!”

Xavier felt hands on his shoulders shaking him to consciousness. He rose on his elbows to see Dianthe kneeling before him.

“Look!” she said, pointing towards a far corner of the cave, which was dimly lit by the fire. There in the shadows something moved. He jumped up and advanced towards it, Dianthe close behind. It was a vine-like stem that grew before him, as if by magic.

The others had awakened and the four of them crowded around the plant as it grew ever taller. When the stem hit the roof of the cave, a bud appeared. And then a pure white flower as big as the span of his arms began to blossom.

“The flower!” Princess Cardelia shouted, jubilant that she was not wrong in leading them here. “The poem. It says ‘the bloom you’ll find is quite contrary.’ It is contrary because unlike ordinary flower, this one blooms at night.”

“It is quite rare. I’ve only ever heard of this flower by legend,” Dianthe said. “It is called the Princess of the Night.”

“Apt name,” Valerius said. “The priest was quite clever.”

“The flower is rumored to have magical properties if used correctly,” Dianthe added.

Xavier stepped boldly to the bloom, unsheathing his sword, intent on plucking the flower.

“Don’t touch it!” Dianthe cried, and Xavier fell back, alarmed. “You forget the last line of the poem. ‘The flower of death to those unwary’.”

‘The flower of death to those unwary.’ Xavier had narrowly avoided death yet again, thanks to Dianthe. Xavier gave a small prayer of thanks to the Gods once more for bringing Dianthe into his life.

“You must give me your sword,” Dianthe said. “I think I know the spell to render it harmless to me.”

“You think or you know?” Xavier asked, unwilling to subject Dianthe to danger.

“I know,” Dianthe stated as firmly and coolly as possible. She’d never attempted anything like this but of the four of them, she was the only one who had a chance at the flower. “Hand me the sword, if you please?”

Xavier didn’t move, so Dianthe had to go to him, and take the sword from his unresisting grasp.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Xavier asked, fear evident in his eyes.

Dianthe nodded, then knelt before the flower, reciting a prayer to Diana, goddess of the moon. She was named after the goddess and her mother had required her to memorize the prayer when she was still a girl.

When she was done, she tentatively touched the stalk of the flower. No sting or feeling of pain flooded her so she used Xavier’s sword to cut the flower down.

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Wrong and the Wind

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Apologies but this is another long one.  Hoping to make it to the end by "Z" but I only have 3 posts left... 

The final part of their journey took them upward towards the heavens and Mount Olympus. The Mytika or ‘nose’ as Cardelia called it was their destination, and even in the middle of summer, it was covered in snow. They traveled as high as they could on horseback but had to leave their mounts when the way became too narrow and too steep.

Xavier asked both the ladies, Dianthe and Cardelia if they would like wait while he and his brother went to the peak, but was met with a resounding ‘no’ from both women. Cardelia still did not trust them, and Dianthe said she did not travel all this way only to be denied the conclusion.

They all assumed that Cardelia’s interpretation of the poem was correct. Xavier did not want to think about their plight if Cardelia was wrong.

The air was thin, requiring more energy just to breathe. And more than once, Valerius or Xavier had to catch hold of one of the ladies’ arms to keep them from tumbling downward.

At last, after more than a half day of climbing, they reached the summit. They were on hallowed ground, the home of the Gods. The view was breathtaking, blue sky so close Dianthe thought she could reach out and grab a cloud.

“There are no flowers here, Cardelia. Only snow and rock.” Valerius was out of breath so his tone was weary, not mocking as usual.

So they had journeyed all this way for nothing.


The sun was setting and it was too dangerous to attempt the climb down in the dark. Xavier saw an outcropping of rock that would provide some small measure of shelter from the wind which was starting to pick up.

“This way,” he called out, leading the others towards it.

Cardelia ignored Xavier, frantically scooping snow and the dirt off the ground, looking for the flower of death. She was certain that she had interpreted the poem correctly and refused to give up.

“Come,” Valerius said, holding out his hand to her. “The wind is kicking up.”

“I can’t be wrong,” Cardelia muttered, still digging. Her hands were frozen and bleeding and her tears turned cold before they were even halfway down her cheeks.

“Cardelia, stop,” Valerius laid his warm, larger hands over hers.

“I can’t be wrong!” Cardelia half sobbed, half shouted.

“It’ll be okay,” Valerius said, pulling her up and into a rough embrace. “We’ll figure something out.”

The rock outcropping that Xavier spotted turned out to be the mouth of a cave. Xavier and Valerius went inside to make sure no bears or snakes had laid claim to it.

Once they were satisfied, they led the ladies inside and busied themselves with building a fire. The cave had been used by others; there was kindling and wood stacked against the cavern walls. Valerius noted where the traces of ashes were and stacked the logs in the same place.

When they were done, the woman huddled as close to the fire as they could without burning themselves. Valerius went outside and collected a handful of snow. He went to Cardelia’s side and took one of her small hands into his, rubbing it gently with the snow, cleaning away the dirt. He repeated the process with her other hand. Then he examined her cuts, tore clean strips off his cloak and used them to bandage her hands.

Cardelia was more than a little surprised at Valerius’ gentle treatment of her. Ever since the kiss in the stables, she was seeing a whole new side of him; a side that she grudgingly admitted to herself that she liked. He made her feel valued, and appreciated, and not because of her title. When he was done binding her hands, she lay her head on his chest. He made no move to dislodge her.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Valerius' Tale

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts.

Cardelia didn’t want to think too deeply about it, but she’d shamefully enjoyed kissing Valerius. In fact Valerius had been the one to break it off, pushing away from her when they heard footsteps outside.

Cardelia sat up and they stared at each other, both gasping for air. He looked as stunned as she felt. He dusted the straw off his clothing and stood up. Then miraculously, he held a hand out to help her up. Reason returning, she slapped his hand away and got up on her own.

Valerius straightened the saddle on Cardelia’s horse and tightened the straps. His eyes were bleak when he said “Go then,” holding the reins steady so she could mount up.

She grasped the pommel but then released it, turning to Valerius. “What was it you wanted me to hear?”

“I wanted to tell you how Xavier got his scar.”

“I assumed it was it battle.”

Valerius released the horse and sat back down in the straw, his back against the a wall. “It was the fifth day of fighting. Every part of me ached so badly that I could not sleep for the pain. I could barely lift my sword arm anymore. The pain bothered me so much I got careless. I slipped in the mud and the enemy raised his sword. I knew I was bound for Avernus, and the River Styx.

“But Xavier, he threw himself between the enemy and me.” Valerius dragged a hand over his face. “Took the blow that was meant for me. It would have killed most men.”

Cardelia noticed the slight tremor in his voice.

“He…he told me later, he did it because he wouldn’t be able to tolerate my whining over the loss of my pretty boy looks.”

Cardelia sat down in the straw next to him and took his hand. “I’m glad you told me,” she said.

“I wanted you to know the kind of man my brother is. He’s a little rough to look at, but he’s loyal, trustworthy, brave…valiant. You will not find a better man in all the empire for a husband.”

Cardelia nodded, stood up, and unsaddled her horse.


Dianthe’s heart sang as Xavier’s arms tightened around her, and his lips came to join with hers. She tried to memorize the feel and taste of him as she knew the sensations would have to last a lifetime.

It was she who broke the kiss. When her breathing calmed, she said “Come, we need to prepare for the journey ahead,” and walked back towards the inn.

The next morning, Xavier and Cardelia rode out in front, hiding their anguish behind their regal bearing. Valerius and Dianthe followed behind, less adept at masking their emotions, their unhappiness apparent for all to see.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Unfair Unhappiness

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. It’s a long one…

Dianthe could not fathom what Valerius—no Xavier now—Dianthe could not believe Xavier was announcing his intent to wed Cardelia. Dianthe thought that Xavier felt something for her. The sharp stab of jealousy confirmed that she was in love with Xavier. Why were the gods so unfair? They’d gifted Cardelia with beauty, wealth, and royal status. And now, just as Dianthe realized she was in love, the gods gifted him to Cardelia too. Salty tears stung Dianthe’s eyes and she leapt up and ran out of the room before she embarrassed herself further.

“Lady Dianthe!” Xavier called out after her but she took no heed. Xavier rose from his chair and went after her. He doubted her unhappiness could match his own but he owed her an explanation.

He found her outside in a dark corner behind the inn. “Would that I were an ordinary man.”

Dianthe sniffed but gave no other response.

“If I were, I’d have asked for your hand, wedded and shared your bed by now.”

Dianthe looked up at him through tear-stained eyes and Xavier closed his, the thoughts of a life together with Dianthe made him waiver in his resolve. “But I rule a small kingdom; more of a village in truth. They are good, hardworking, loyal people who happen to live on a piece of land that is constantly under attack. It’s my duty to protect them, and the only way left is to join my kingdom with Cardelia’s.

“It’s my duty,” Xavier repeated. “But not my desire.”

He gazed down at Dianthe, who was crying openly now. He drank in her lovely features, and without a conscious thought, stroked her hair, then her cheek. She stepped closer, wrapped her arms around him and sobbed into his chest.

Just once. Just this once, he would allow himself, he thought as he lifted her chin and kissed her lusciously sweet lips.


As Xavier ran off to find Dianthe, Cardelia jumped up and headed towards the stable. She regretted that she’d have to forego a night in an actual bed instead of a rug outside on the dirt, but that was better than keeping company with the lying, conniving, brothers who would steal her kingdom and her freedom.

“Princess,” Valerius called after her. She didn’t stop but he had a longer gait and soon caught up with her. “Princess. Stop.”

“Why? So you can feed me more lies? So you can bully and manhandle me?”

Valerius wanted to strangle her but then he’d be guilty of her accusations. “By the teeth of the gods! You lied to us first! And I thought you were a boy!”

Cardelia found her horse and lifted the saddle onto it. Valerius took hold of her saddle and lifted it back off.

“What are you doing?” Cardelia cried, trying to grab the saddle from Valerius. He held it above his head, out of Cardelia’s reach.

“Listen. I just want you to listen to me for a minute,” he said.

“Fine,” Cardelia grumbled.

Valerius lowered the saddle and placed it on the ground.

Cardelia grabbed it and began to strap it onto the horse as quickly as possible.

“You said you’d listen!” Valerius shouted. Even though she was a princess, she was still irksome.

“I lied, what a surprise,” Cardelia said as she attempted to mount the horse.

“Oh no you don’t!” Valerius grabbed her by the waist, trying to pull her down. Cardelia wriggled, trying to squirm out of his grasp. Valerius lost his footing and the two of them tumbled to the ground.

The horse whinnied, nervously and Valerius rolled over onto Cardelia, intent on protecting her from the horse’s hooves. The horse moved harmlessly away from them.

“Get off of me you beast. I can’t breathe!” Cardelia pummeled his chest.

Valerius looked down at Cardelia, her beautiful face flushed with anger, breathing heavily. He couldn’t help himself, he kissed her.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Time for Truths

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

Xavier groaned as he sank into the heated bath water. Although Dianthe and the girl denied their weariness, they could not hide their delight when Xavier suggested a night at an inn instead of camping under the stars as they had up to this point.

The boy who he knew as Icarus was actually a woman, and not only that, she was princess Cardelia. This was what had been bothering Xavier the about the “boy”. If he had his wits about him, he would have noticed that Icarus had no adam’s apple and no growth of beard. He would have noticed the instances when Dianthe had almost slipped up and called her Cardelia.

But, he’d been too caught up in Dianthe, her proximity, and his guilt at lying to her to pay attention to the details. He relished his time with Dianthe but it was now done. It was time to set things straight.
Valerius had no idea how to deal with the creature who sat opposite him. Her hair was combed and styled, the unruly locks now smoothed and framed her face. How could he have ever mistaken her for a boy? Her green eyes sparkled like emeralds even as they flashed bolts of anger his way. Her lips were full and lush, and a light dusting of freckles accentuated her otherwise flawless skin.

Xavier entered the dining hall and Valerius made some room so he could sit.

“Princess, Lady Dianthe,” Xavier bowed low before sitting down next to Valerius. Cardelia acknowledged Xavier with a nod.

“Have you any idea how much danger you are in? Riding out alone with only us for protection?” Xavier’s tone was scolding.

“I don’t care,” Cardelia said, crossing her arms across her chest. “I don’t want to marry a man who I had no hand in selecting.”

“If you don’t have a care for yourself, think about the rest of us. Your father would have our heads on pikes decorating the city gates. He would use our skin to cover the chairs in your great hall.”

“I…I didn’t think about that.” Cardelia lowered her eyes, realizing Xavier spoke the truth.

“Don’t forget you almost drowned today,” Valerius added.

“No thanks to you!” Cardelia shot back.

“This is the thanks I get for fishing you out? Next time I won’t bother,” Valerius grumbled.

“Enough!” Xavier silenced the two of them. “We are not without fault in this matter. We have been lying to you ladies as well,” Xavier took a deep breathe, looking straight at Dianthe as he spoke.

“I am not Valerius, I’m Xavier. I switched identities with my younger brother, here, because I am not as fair to look upon as he, and I did not wish to frighten you. But the time for lies is past. Should we find the flower, princess, it will be me, not my brother to whom you will be wed.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Ships, Sea, and Sickness

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

Valerius brokered his, Icarus, and Xavier’s labor in exchange for passage across the water. It felt good to be on the water again. It had been too long, the constant defense and skirmishes on the border taking up most of his time. He’d be glad when he could finally turn his attention solely to his boat and fishing. Valerius had finished a shift at the oars and Xavier took his place.

The sea was choppy and Icarus looked grey, like he was about to retch at any second. He sat next to Dianthe who was stroking his back, trying to ease his discomfort. The boy was a constant source of amusement; Valerius delighted in teasing and tormenting him in the manner he himself had been tormented growing up with three older brothers.

“I’m in no mood for you today,” Icarus squawked as he approached.

“You look a little green my friend. Are you hungry?” Valerius pulled out the remains of one of the rabbits from the night before, began gnawing on a leg bone. It had the desired effect on the lad. Icarus ran to the side of the boat and began heaving.

“That was cruel,” Dianthe said.

“I know,” Valerius smiled. “But he’ll feel bet—”

“Hel—Help!” A splash commanded everyone’s attention.

“The boy went over the side!” someone shouted.

“She can’t swim!” Dianthe shouted, running to where Icarus was standing seconds ago.

“She? Who’s she?”

“Icarus! Cardelia! She can’t swim!” Dianthe shouted. “Do something!”

Valerius could make out the bobbing orange top of a head. He did the only thing he could think of, he dove in after him—her—whatever.

Valerius was a strong swimmer but the rough water made it difficult to reach her. He grabbed around her waist just as she’d stopped struggling for air. He tugged her upward, and pushed her face above the waves, willing her to breathe.

Xavier threw him a rope and Valerius tied it around the both of them and let the crew onboard drag them in. He handed the girl up to Xavier then scrambled up the side of the boat. The girl lay face down on the deck, unconscious. Dianthe was crying and a circle of onlookers gathered around the body.

Valerius was consumed with guilt, knowing his teasing had brought this about. He pushed his way through the crowd to the girl’s side. Girl or not, he whacked her back as hard as he could.

“Xavier!” Dianthe cried as he did it again.

The gods must have heard his plea because the girl coughed and then gagged the seawater that had clogged her throat and lungs.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Revelation

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

“Come,” Dianthe said to the man she thought was Valerius. “Let me take a look at your face and apply fresh bandages.”

“No need to trouble yourself, Prin— Lady Dianthe.”

“It’s no trouble, and I want to see if the salve is doing any good.”

“It is fine,” Xavier said and turned back towards the fire. He felt overwhelmed by guilt; still lying to her about who he was when she’d confessed everything to him.

Dianthe felt his withdrawal. Perhaps he no longer cared since she wasn’t the princess. She left the clean bandages and jug of ointment quietly by his side and laid down next to Cardelia.

Xavier knew he would not sleep and settled in to keep watch instead. Valerius lay on his side, his arm his pillow as he snored. The young lad, Icarus lay on the opposite side of the fire, he fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down.

There was something about the lad that bothered him, he hadn’t figured it out yet, but it was there, constantly in the back of his mind, like a buzzing fly that would not be swatted away. There was one fact that was clear, the boy was a scholar.

Earlier, as they ate the rabbits Valerius had snared and Dianthe had skillfully roasted, Icarus revealed his interpretation of the quest.

“The first line: Ye seek the nose of fifty two. It refers to the fifty two peaks of Mount Olympus. The highest of the peaks is named Mytika which translates to ‘nose’,” he said. “So you’re going the wrong way. We need to go south and east.”

Valerius groaned.

“The next line confirms it. The twelve of round are paired and true, refers to the Dii Consentes, the twelve true gods who reside on Mt. Olympus. The six gods and goddesses are often paired in male/female couples.”

“What do you think?” Valerius asked his brother.

Xavier stroked his chin, a habit when he was concentrating. “What the lad says makes sense. And since we’ve started a full moon’s cycle behind everyone else, we’ll have no chance at anything located in the north. It is best to head in a direction no one else has gone.

“We’ll have an avantage when we cross the water,” Valerius nodded. Their village abutted the ocean and they were first and foremost fishermen, not warriors.

“C-cross the water?” Cardelia stuttered. If there was one thing she hated, it was boats. They made her queasy.

“It’s the quickest way.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quandary

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

“Here, boy, make yourself useful,” Valerius said as he tossed Cardelia some rugs for the ground.

Cardelia caught them but stumbled backwards from the impact, landing on her backside.

Valerius laughed. “The boy who would be king. Your majesty.” He executed a proper bow with flourish.

Cardelia muttered under her breath. She would never marry him for all the gold in the kingdom. Pompous jackass!

“What was that?” Valerius asked, leaning close to hear her mutterings. Cardelia was of half a mind to tell him.

It was too dark to head back or move forward so they were setting up camp for the night.

“So, where is this flower of death?” Xavier asked Icarus/Cardelia as he helped Dianthe sit on a mat he’d set up for her near the fire.

“Why in the world would I tell you?” Cardelia retorted. “So you can steal the flower from me?”

“You can’t mean to set out on your own. You’re barely out of your swaddling clothes,” Valerius said.

“I can and I will,” Cardelia crossed her arms over her chest.

“Oh, but Car-icarus,” Dianthe interjected. “It’s dangerous out there. Think what would have happened if Xavier and Valerius hadn’t been nearby.” She shuddered.

“I’ve got a knife.” Cardelia pulled out a dangerous looking knife from a scabbard at her hip.

All of a sudden Xavier charged her, flipping her over. She landed with an ‘oof!’ on the hard ground with Xavier on top of her.

“Your knife does you no good,” Xavier mocked as she followed his eyes to where her knife lay, just out of reach.

Maybe it was because she had the wind knocked out of her, or maybe it was his close proximity, or maybe it was the combination, but she became aware of the deep blue of his eyes, the long lashes, the strong jawline, the fullness of his lips. By the Gods he was handsome!

What was she thinking! “Get off me, you, you mule!” she pushed at his chest.

He roared with laughter. “You can’t even curse like a man yet,” he said as he rolled off her and sat up. “Mark my words, you won’t last a day out here alone.”

“He has a point, Icarus,” Dianthe said.

The man with the bandaged face called Valerius spoke up. “Young Icarus. I can understand you don’t want to share your knowledge with us. If this Cardelia is even a tenth as beautiful as Dianthe, she would be a prize for any man, even without the kingdom.

“But Dianthe and Xavier have your best interests at heart when they advise you not to travel alone. A quandary, that is certain. But if I may propose a solution?”

Cardelia nodded.

“What if we travel together and if we find the flower, Xavier and you will each return with the flower and it will be up to the princess to choose between the two of you.”

It wasn’t much of a contest Valerius thought to himself, comparing the skinny lad with the crazy carrot hair to himself. But then he remembered it wouldn’t be him, but his scarred brother going before the princess.

Cardelia laughed. It would be no contest to choose herself over the pompous blue-eyed ass. “We have a deal.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for a Pair of Princesses

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

“My name is Dianthe. I’m a healer, mostly,” Dianthe told the two men who still stood, mouths agape. “I’m told I look very much like the princess.” She stared hard at Cardelia as she spoke. Cardelia had the decency to look embarrassed.

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” she was speaking to Xavier now. “Thank you for rescuing me. I see the old king couldn’t spare anyone to come after me except young Car—Icarus here.”

“Icarus? That your name boy?” Valerius slapped Cardelia’s back and she stumbled forward. Valerius laughed. “This is the fierce warrior the king sent after you?”

“He didn’t send me. He doesn’t know. I saw the girl being taken and I followed,” Cardelia said, indignant. She hated the name Icarus but that was the least of her concerns.

“If you feel up to it, we shall escort you back to the palace,” Xavier said finally.

“No!” Both Dianthe and Cardelia shouted.

Dianthe recovered first. “I don’t want to go back. The king cares little about me except as a play actor for Cardelia. I don’t want to do it anymore. Besides, going back will delay your quest.”

“What about you, Icarus?” Valerius asked. “Why do you not want to return?”

“I, uh, I want to go on the quest.” Cardelia answered in as deep a voice as she could.

Valerius chuckled. “You seek to rule the kingdom, boy?”

Cardelia shrugged. “It doesn’t matter what I seek. I know where to find the flower of death.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Odious and Oblivion

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

Dianthe was frightened like she had never been frightened in her entire life. Tied up like a lamb or goat on the way to slaughter with a rug of some kind thrown over her head, bouncing up and down on the back of the odious nobleman’s horse. She’d tried to wriggle herself off the moving horse, thinking injury or death was better than whatever the men had planned for her but she was too securely bound.

She tried to count the horse’s steps and wondered how far they had traveled. She wondered if King Quirinus would notice her absence and whether or not he’d send his soldiers after her like he had for the real Cardelia.

It was hot and she was having trouble breathing with the rough material covering her face. She wondered if Valerius would come back and if he would miss her if she wasn’t there on his return.

Dianthe was halfway to oblivion when she heard more horses behind them, then shouts and the clang of swords. The horse she was on stopped abruptly and felt the odious one pulled off. She was, at that moment, glad she was so securely fastened to the horse.

Then, gentle hands were cutting through the ropes that bound her, lifting her off the horse, and her feet touched the ground. The material was cut away and lifted from her face. She stared into the handsome face of Xavier. To his right stood Cardelia, her hair all chopped off and dressed like a boy. A rustle of leaves made her glance towards the side of the road where Valerius, her Valerius, emerged from the trees, his hands and clothing bloodied.

“He will not be bothering you again, princess,” Valerius said.

Dianthe promptly fainted.

When she came too, she was in Valerius’ arms.

“You’re awake, princess.” Valerius smiled and Dianthe had to catch her breathe. He must have been devastatingly handsome before the accident because even with the scars, he made her heart do sommersaults.

“She’s awake?” Cardelia asked, rushing over to her side.

“Carde--?” Dianthe wondered why she was dressed like a boy

“Princess!” Cardelia cut her off, giving her a hard stare.

Dianthe couldn’t do it. She’d had enough, and didn’t want to lie to Valerius anymore. “I’m not the princess!” She shouted as she struggled out of Valerius’ arms and stood up. She’d shouted loud enough that she thought she heard an echo in the woods.

Xavier, and Valerius looked dumbfounded. “I’m not the princess,” she repeated a little more calmly as she glared at Cardelia. “The real Cardelia ran away and the old king made me pose as her until she could be found.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Never Mind That!

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

Valerius and Xavier traveled by horseback at a moderate pace. Their goal was to get to the border of King Quirinus’ land by nightfall.

Valerius deliberately held back so that Xavier would not over-exert himself. Xavier looked clownish with his face swathed in bandages. Apparently Cardelia had told him to do it. The man was a fool for love. Valerius enjoyed the serenity of the woods, the only sounds the clip clop of hooves and the water of the river whose path they followed.

“Horses!” Xavier cried, slapping Valerius’ horse’s flank and pulling hard on his own horses rein. They were both were barely off the road when three men on horseback thundered by.

Valerius inhaled the dirt the other riders kicked up and coughed as he directed his mount back on the road. “Wasn’t that the nobleman from last night?”

“Get off the road!” Xavier yelled at him. “There’s another horse coming!”

Valerius did as he was told, just as a young lad with carrot orange hair whipped by on a magnificent white horse.

“Are there any more coming?” Valerius asked.

“No, all clear.” Xavier led his horse back onto the road and Valerius followed. Their horses had barely taken a few steps when Xavier said. “The last rider is coming back.”

“By the Gods!” Valerius was irritated now, having inhaled several lungfuls of dirt. He drew his sword and stood his ground. Xavier laughed. “You’re a brave one, ready to run through a young lad half your size.”

The young lad appeared, galloping back towards them. “Come! Come quickly Xavier!”

“How do you know his, er, my name?” Valerius growled.

“Never mind that! They’ve got Di—Cardelia!” Cardelia shouted in as masculine a voice as she could.

“Wha? What?” Valerius sputtered as Xavier took off at breakneck speed down the road and the lad with the high-pitched squeak followed.

He urged his horse forward and hurried after them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Malicious Maggot

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/14) for a recap of parts A-L.

Dianthe was deep in thought as she made her way back from the stables, her mind filled with Valerius. Was she really the only one who could see beyond the scars? She could tell he was strong and proud, and honorable. At the same time he looked lost, still trying to find his way after what looked to be very recent injuries. But he hadn’t objected to her bold advances and had nodded when she told him she wanted him back.

Hopefully, he would forgive her for having to lie to him about being Cardelia. She remembered the few words they’d spoken to each other and repeated them over and over again in her head. They made her feel warm, and tingly, and she twirled around like a lunatic in happiness.

What in the world was Dianthe doing? Cardelia wondered as she spied on her from her hiding place in the stable. Once Dianthe went inside she’d be clear to ride out. But the idiot was doing some kind of strange dance and humming to herself. Cardelia wondered if Dianthe fancied herself in love with Xavier as well. She’d endured listening to two washer woman extol the virtues (ha!) of Xavier all morning through the thin walls of her hiding spot. There was no denying his looks, but the rest? All lies.

A sudden movement caught her attention. Two men threw a large piece of cloth over Dianthe, then tied material around her as she struggled. The cloth muffled her screams. She wriggled and twisted to no avail. The larger man hefted her over his shoulder like a bag of grain and ran towards her hiding place. A third man, this one a nobleman, joined them as they unhitched three horses. The nobleman was thin with a beak-like nose. Cardelia barely remembered him as one of the early visitors.

“I will not be so easily deflected, my princess,” the nobleman said to Dianthe. He threw her body over the back of his horse, mounted, and took off in a gallop. The other two men followed suit.

The malicious maggot! Cardelia couldn’t very well scream without giving herself away. She did the only thing she could think of. She climbed onto her own horse and gave chase.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Recap: The A to Z story to date (letters A-L):

The following is a recap of  the story to date for those of you who don't want to read through 12 installments of the story but want a recap before reading the entry for the letter M.

King Quirinus is dying and wants to make sure his kingdom and daughter, Cardelia are taken care of when he dies. He invites the noblemen of the surrounding kingdoms to come and compete in a quest. The first man who returns with the correct item will win Cardelia’s hand in marriage as well as the kingdom.

Cardelia hates being the “prize” in her father’s game and runs away.

Xavier rules a small but important piece of land. He’s been injured in a battle defending his land and his face is horribly scarred. He receives and invitation from Quirinus and decides to compete. His younger brother Valerius joins up with him midway through his journey to Quirinus.

Dianthe, rumored illegitimate daughter of the king, and Cardelia lookalike, is ordered to pretend to be Cardelia until she can be located.

Xavier, knowing he’s monstrous to look at, asks Valerius to pose as him.

Xavier and Valerius arrive at King Quirinus’ castle. Xavier is smitten by Dianthe who is posing as Cardelia. In turn, Dianthe is also drawn to Xavier who she assumes is a servant of the man sitting next to her.

An odious nobleman interrupts the meal, claiming to have completed the quest which is a poem as follows:

Ye seek the nose of fifty two
The twelve of round are paired and true
The bloom you’ll find is quite contrary
The flower of death to those unwary

The nobleman produces a bouquet of deadly flowers. The king tells the nobleman that his flowers are not the right answer. The angry nobleman shouts curses at the king, but when he starts in on Cardelia, Xavier uses force to make him stop

Later, Valerius returns to his room where Xavier is already abed. Xavier mistakenly thinks Valerius has been with Cardelia and tackles him. Valerius makes it clear he was not with Cardelia and at the same time, comes to understand that Xavier has feeling for her.

The next morning, Dianthe (posing as Cardelia) gives Xavier (posing as Valerius) an ointment to help heal his face. She lets Xavier know she wants him to return to her.

Meanwhile, Cardelia has been hiding under her bed in her room the whole time. Her maid servant uses the bedroom for amorous relations with Valerius (posing as Xavier) while Cardelia lies trapped under the bed. Cardelia decides Valerius is a licentious lout but is still floored when she sees how handsome he is.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Licentious Lout

This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. Check Sunday’s post (4/7) for a recap of parts A-F.

WARNING: Some might consider the following risqué.

Cardelia should have known that her maid servant, Helena had ulterior motives when she agreed to help her escape. She hid under her own bed, in her own room, thinking that they would do only a cursory search of her quarters. She was right. Cardelia stifled a laugh when Helena was the one ordered to search her room.

Later, when Helena brought her food, she told her how Dianthe had been ordered to play-act as Cardelia for the nobleman, Xavier, who had just arrived. Cardelia knew of Dianthe, the healer, who rumored to have magical gifts, just like her mother before her. They were close in age and similar in colouring. She’d heard the whispered rumors, just like everyone else. No wonder they’d immediately thought of Dianthe as a substitute. Nevertheless, she felt bad that Dianthe was forced into a deception and vowed to make it up to her once she returned

Cardelia was surprised a nobleman had arrived a complete moon’s cycle after the invitations had been issued, but the visitors had unknowingly provided the perfect means for Cardelia’s escape. She’d slip away when everyone’s attention would be focused on the departing visitors.

Helena had arranged a horse for her and helped her cut off her hair and bind her breasts. It was dangerous to be a women traveling alone. All she had left to do was wait out the night.

Helena’s boisterous laughter outside the room roused her from her fitful slumber and she knocked her head on the underside of the bed. She gathered her wits and curled into herself as she made out the legs of Helena and a man and then heard them crash down together on the pallet above her.

Cardelia tried desperately not to hear or to imagine (although it didn’t take much) what was going on above her. It was obvious that they both found pleasure in their…exertions.

She was going to rip into Helena once she got back. She wondered if Helena had used her bedroom for her ‘activities’ in the past. The thought made her nauseous.

There was a brief time of quiet overhead and then someone lit a candle. It was only as the man, Xavier (Helena had shouted it aloud several times) walked towards the door that she risked a look. The licentious lout was gorgeous.