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A princess who refuses to be a prize. A prince's promise. Perhaps dragons aren't so bad after all. Once upon a time... Promised as a prize to any hero who can slay the dragon, Princess Sativa flees the palace in search of the prince she was betrothed to as a child. But there are many miles between her and the boy who has become a king. Can a lone princess cross the sea and convince the king she's the princess of his dreams?
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About the Author
Princess and the Pea Retold
A tale in the Romance a Medieval Fairy Tale series
A princess who refuses to be a prize. A prince's promise. Perhaps dragons aren't so bad after all.
Once upon a time...
Promised as a prize to any hero who can slay the dragon, Princess Sativa flees the palace in search of the prince she was betrothed to as a child. But there are many miles between her and the boy who has become a king.
Can a lone princess cross the sea and convince the king she's the princess of his dreams?
This book is for the real Dorota, whose tales of crossing the Baltic Sea are worthy of their own book
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Demelza Carlton
Lost Plot Press
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To six-year-old Princess Sativa, betrothed seemed like such a strange word. Mother had told Sativa that it was a fancy word that meant promised. She was promised to the prince, and he was promised to her. When she'd asked what kind of promise, her mother had only smiled and said, "The unbreakable sort."
So now Sativa sat in the place of honour in her father's hall, beside her promised, Prince Reidar. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do with him. Big boys like him usually spent all their time in the practice yard, sparring with swords and shooting arrows into targets. He had a sword strapped to his side, too, like one of her father's knights. It was smaller than their swords, though, for he was only a boy.
It certainly bothered his mother, though. Queen Regina looked like she'd drunk vinegar instead of wine every time he bumped her with his sheathed sword. More than once, Sativa had been forced to smother her laughter, or risk a quelling glance from her own mother.
Sativa yawned, remembering to cover her mouth before her mother saw. She wouldn't have been so excited about attending this feast if she'd known it was so boring. She'd eaten her fill of the food, and she wasn't allowed any wine, so why did she have to keep sitting there? Normally when she'd finished her dinner, she could go play with her little sisters, or the castle kittens, but her mother insisted she must spend the whole dull day with the prince. Her betrothed.
He'd arrived here on his horse yesterday, and he'd scarcely said a word to her since.
She eyed him carefully as he ate another piece of meat. He had a tongue and teeth, same as her, so he should be able to talk. While she watched, she caught him smothering a yawn. He was as bored as she was!
"Do you want to see my horse?" Sativa asked Prince Reidar.
Reidar turned to Regina. "Mother, may I?"
"Kings do not ask permission, they command," came the reply through Regina's gritted teeth. She eyed Sativa with distaste.
Reidar drew himself up. "Mother, I am going with my betrothed to see the horses," he announced grandly.
Regina nodded once.
"Mother," Sativa began.
"You may go. A feasting hall is no place for children, and it grows late," Mother said. She peered fearfully at the hall's high windows, where the afternoon sun slanted in.
Sativa forced a smile. Her mother had been afraid of the dark for as long as she could remember. Not for herself, but for her children. Apparently Sativa's fairy godmother, Dalia, had told her that her daughters would be stolen from her by evil that swooped out of the darkness. Queen Dorota had lived in nightly dread ever since. "Yes, Mother," Sativa said.
Sativa led the way out of the hall, hearing Reidar's heavier footsteps behind her.
"His name is Philip, and he's really only a pony. Father says I may have a proper sized horse when I am bigger." Sativa glanced back over her shoulder. "As big as you, I think."
"When you are my queen, you will need a proper horse to ride. How else will you go hunting?" Reidar said.
"Queens don't hunt, Mother says. Killing is a job for men."
Reidar laughed. "My mother hunts as well as any man, or so my father says. So do many of the ladies at my father's court. They call it sport, pitting oneself against a noble beast, then bringing its carcass home for the victory feast. When you come to my castle, I will make sure you learn to hunt."
Forbidden pleasures and a new horse. Maybe her betrothal wasn't such a bad thing.
"What else do you have in your castle?" Sativa asked. "Will I get to wear beautiful gowns like my mother does?"
"Fit for a queen, I am sure. You shall choose them," Reidar said.
Betrothal sounded better and better.
Sativa led the way out to the fields beside the castle, but there wasn't a horse to be seen. "Where are they?" she asked in dismay. She found a guardsman at the castle gate. "Where are the horses?" she demanded.
"This time of day, the horses are all in their stable, having dinner, young mistress," the guardsman said.
Sativa wasn't supposed to enter the stables, but with her mother and everyone else at the feast, no one but she and Reidar would ever know. "We must speak of this to no one," she said imperiously as she led the way.
His mother was wrong, Reidar decided as he followed the little princess. Sativa would make quite a queen one day, if her six-year-old self was any indication. As long as no one did anything to dampen her fire between now and their wedding, which would be at least a decade away. She had her mother's fair colouring, so she'd probably grow up to look like her. Regal and feminine and fiery – everything his kingdom needed in a queen, for if the border wars continued, she would need to rule while he kept the neighbouring armies at bay like his father was doing right now.
She might not hunt yet, but she at least rode. That was good, and she knew her way to the stables well enough. His sisters would not be so sure, leading the way around his father's castle, but the princess of a bigger, more prosperous kingdom like this one, living in a castle surrounded by such a huge town, would need to be more assured than the girls at his father's seaside castle back home.
"This is Philip," Sativa announced, waving at a fat pony that looked very much like a hairy barrel with legs. A hairy barrel that snorted, blowing his mane up off one baleful eye that stared disdainfully at Reidar for a moment before it disappeared beneath the descending mane. "He likes apples." She fetched an armload of fruit from the apple barrel, her shoes scuffing through the straw.
Then her face screwed up, and she sneezed. And sneezed again. Reidar counted seven in all before he began to grow concerned for her health.
By the time the sneezing fit had subsided, her eyes and nose were running and Sativa needed to hold onto a post to stay on her feet.
Reidar's heart sank. Perhaps his mother was right, after all. He'd need a strong queen, not a weak one, and Sativa's health mattered. She wouldn't just have to rule the kingdom in his absence – she'd have to give him an heir or two to ensure the succession, too.
"Are you well?" he asked.
She sniffled loudly and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. Then she seemed to remember herself, and she pulled out a handkerchief to clean herself up in a more ladylike fashion.
"It's the straw," she said thickly. "It makes me sneeze something awful. My father found a physician who had seen something like this before, in a son of some sultan of a desert land far to the south. He called it rose fever, because the prince sneezes at flowers. Me, I sneeze at straw. Not all straw. Just the stuff we have here, which the farmers insist on growing as pasture because it makes our fields the most fertile in the region. Pea straw, they call it. He said I should go to the desert, where it is dry, or by the sea, where it is too salty for such straw to grow."
Reidar couldn't help it. He laughed. "No wonder your parents wanted us to be betrothed. My father's castle is on a cliff overlooking the sea. The salt breeze blows day and night, so that all you can smell is the sea. When you are my queen, I shall build you a tower, and the topmost room shall be your bower, so that you will never need to sneeze at straw again."
"It sounds like heaven," Sativa admitted. "A place with no straw, where I can breathe. Do you truly mean it?"
Reidar pulled a ring off his smallest finger and held it out to Sativa. "Take this as a symbol of my unbreakable promise. I swear that one day, when I am old enough, I will return to save you from this place, and carry you off to my castle to be my queen."
Sativa smiled. "Just like a hero in one of my nurse's fairytales." She slipped the ring onto her finger, and for a moment, the amber caught the sunset light, glinting gold as the silver setting glowed around it. "I will wait for you, my prince," she promised.
Regina found Reidar, as she always did. "So you already know, then," she greeted him.
Reidar traced his finger around the jewels on his father's crown. His crown now. "Yes, I know. Father is dead of his wounds from some skirmish in the border lands, and they are bringing his body home for a proper burial at sea, as befits the King of Viken."
"You will need to find a wife, and have heirs as soon as possible." Regina continued, as though he hadn't spoken.
Reidar rose. "I shall. Have someone summon Rudolf home. He shall be my heir until someone more suitable is born. And send an envoy to Kasmirus, to bring me my bride."
"Rudolf? The boy was sent south for good reason. His claim to the throne is second only to yours, my son. Some might say his claim is stronger, if only because his father was the eldest son. Best to keep him where he is, or he will steal your throne out from under you before your father's ashes are cold." Regina nodded in satisfaction.
But Reidar would not be dissuaded. "You see conspiracies where there are none, Mother. Rudolf will be sent for, because his father is dead, too, and he must swear fealty to me as his new king. If he refuses, then that is something I must deal with. All the more reason to marry."
Regina's eyes blazed. "There are fertile girls aplenty at court. I will see that they are dressed in their best tomorrow, so that you may make your selection."
Reidar shook his head. "A queen must do more than breed. She must rule, and bring alliances and armies when I need them most. You must go to Kasmirus, and bring back my bride."
Regina laughed. "I am too old to travel, my son. Better for me stay here. Besides, I had heard that King Boreslas lost his daughters to a dragon. Your bride is in the belly of the beast, if I am not mistaken."
"That's the tale they tell at the docks, now? Sailors selling stories of dragons eating maidens in foreign lands? Sounds like a fairytale to me, Mother. All the more reason to send an envoy to Boreslas. He owes me a bride, or an answer." He surveyed the sea from the tower windows. He could see to the horizon from up here, though not the land where Sativa lived. If she still lived. "I give you leave to prepare for my father's funeral, and for my coronation. When my bride arrives, you may also plan my wedding. My father trusted you to rule while he was at war, and it was fitting. But now I am king...and I shall do things my way."
All colour drained from Regina's face. Had she truly thought she could control Reidar as she had his father? More fool her.
Reidar ignored her, and summoned a servant. He gave orders for the court to assemble for sad news, for he knew they must be told of his father's death.
For the king was dead. Long live the king.
Princess Sativa played with her amber ring as she waited for her father to notice she'd arrived. For years now, it had been too small to fit on her fingers, so she wore it on a thong around her neck.
Her heart went out to her grey-haired father, for now he looked like an old man.
Her father had aged a lot since the dragon came. First the loss of her mother, then the dragon plaguing the city, and then the final blow of losing her sisters in one fell swoop, just as the seeress had predicted, though Queen Dorota had not lived to see the dragon devour her daughters.
Sativa's sneezing had kept her indoors, away from the parade where her sisters had died that day. It was bittersweet, to know her affliction had saved her from a fiery death. If the dragon had only torched the fields of straw instead, perhaps she would have seen some bright spot in the animal's advent, but no. It stole sheep and maidens, and only burned knights who tried to slay it.
Or it had until last night, when everyone within a hundred miles had learned of the dragon's death. How it had happened, no one knew – not even those watching from the city walls, for there'd been so much fire and smoke no one had been sure the dragon was dead until a man walked through the gates, carrying a maiden, and announced that he'd killed the beast.
And now her father wanted to hold a feast for the man? It was too much. They were still in mourning for her sisters. To host this sort of celebration when...
"Sativa, my dear! How go the preparations? Do you need a new gown to wear?" Her father was so cheerful it could only be a lie.
Yet she forced a smile that matched his. "The castle kitchens are cooking up the feast to end all feasts, they say, they are so happy the dragon is dead. But I thought, so soon after the loss of my sisters...something more sombre might suit..." She caught the look of horror on her father's face and lapsed into silence.
For a moment, she stared into eyes that mirrored hers. All the guilt and devastation at such a tragic loss, the wish that it had been her instead, and the complete and utter despair of having to live knowing the girls were gone, shone through his irises.
"Your sisters would have wanted a celebration. The biggest, grandest feast ever held in our halls to mark the death of that foul beast. They would want it to be remembered. It is the end of mourning, for today we celebrate a triumph over the devil himself!" Father said fiercely. "You and all the court will wear your brightest raiment. We will commemorate this day! A thousand years from now, they will still talk about how the dragon was slayed!"
Sativa hoped that sometime in the next thousand years, someone found out how the dragon had been slayed. So far, the only part of it they'd found was its head.
"Yes, Father," she said dully. She would do as he asked, because he was the king, and if he gave in to the despair she knew filled his heart, they would all be lost.
"I find that hard to believe, Sir George. You've slayed monsters that were more troublesome than a dragon?" Father asked.
The dragonslayer – a shoemaker, Sativa had been horrified to discover, who her father persisted in addressing as though he was a knight – looked down at his food, abashed. It took him a moment before he managed to say, "Your Majesty, every monster is troublesome. Your dragon is certainly the biggest beast that I've ever faced, but size is not all that matters. Some of them are so cunning, or there are so many of them, or they are so intent on killing you...why, it's a wonder I'm still alive. There was this pair of unicorns up near your western border..."
Sativa beckoned a server over to refill her cup. She half-listened to the shoemaker's story, which seemed to include pigs, giants and his paragon of a squire, who had saved his bacon more times than he could count. Every time he mentioned his squire, his gaze swept the hall, settling on a table at the back, where the squires sat. Most of them squabbled over the food, focussed only on stuffing their faces with more meat than most of them had seen in months, judging by their ravenous appetites, but there was one on the end, smaller than the rest, who sat aloof from the fighting.
The small squire turned to look at the dais where Sativa sat, and she found herself staring back in the most unladylike way. The squire was no squire at all, but a woman, wearing leather armour that had clearly been made to accommodate her breasts.
She had saved the shoemaker's life?
Surely not. Had she been the maiden the shoemaker carried off the field yesterday? She must have been hurt fighting the dragon, yet she showed no signs of any injury now.
Sativa shivered. Something about the girl's eyes, even across the hall, chilled her very soul.
She began to pay attention to the shoemaker's story in earnest now, eager for details on what this woman had done.
"Truly, I couldn't have killed the dragon without her," the shoemaker concluded.
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