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A beastly prince. An enchanting beauty. Only love can break the spell. Once upon a time... The wicked King Thorn forced the enchantress Zuleika to cast a terrible curse. She fled his court to travel the world, helping those who need her magic most. Until a search for her merchant father's lost ships leads her to an enchanted island, where Prince Vardan, the island's ruler, is afflicted by the most powerful curse Zuleika has ever encountered. She's not sure she can reverse the spell, but she's determined to try. After all, a prince who fights pirates can't be all bad...no matter how beastly his appearance. Together, can the enchanting beauty and the beastly prince break the spell?
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About the Author
Beauty and the Beast Retold
A tale from the Romance a Medieval Fairy Tale series
A beastly prince. An enchanting beauty. Only love can break the spell.
Once upon a time...
The wicked King Thorn forced the enchantress Zuleika to cast a terrible curse. She fled his court to travel the world, helping those who need her magic most. Until a search for her merchant father's lost ships leads her to an enchanted island, where Prince Vardan, the island's ruler, is afflicted by the most powerful curse Zuleika has ever encountered. She's not sure she can reverse the spell, but she's determined to try. After all, a prince who fights pirates can't be all bad...no matter how beastly his appearance.
Together, can the enchanting beauty and the beastly prince break the spell?
This one's for all the lovely ladies at the Women's Business School.
Sometimes those crazy ideas pay off, I promise.
It might just take a little magic...
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 © 2016 Demelza Carlton
Lost Plot Press
All rights reserved.
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Three girls perched on the battlements, breaking their fast in the watery spring sun as they discussed the lone rider they'd spotted from their tower room.
"I think he's a knight come to sue for my hand in marriage," declared Anita, the oldest.
Arya sniffed. "Your hand isn't the bit he's most interested in, I'm sure. Anyway, knights wear armour, and he has none. I think he's one of Father's sea-captains, come to tell good news about his voyage."
Anita nudged Zuleika, the youngest, with her slipper-clad foot. "What say you, baby sister? Is he a knight or a sailor?"
Zuleika closed her eyes and cast her mind toward the man. She alone of the three had inherited her mother's skill for magic, and she practiced whenever she was able. "He comes with grim purpose. A duty he fears but will perform. I can't help but feel he carries my fate."
"Father wouldn't promise you in marriage to anyone until he's found husbands for the two of us. You're safe," Arya said. "Anita had better take a closer look, to make sure he's handsome enough for her."
Anita hushed them both as the man reined in his horse before the closed gate.
"Open up in the name of the king!" the man in the king's colours demanded, rapping smartly on the gate with his gloved fist. "I ride at the king's command and woe betide those who stand in my way!"
Safe behind the crenellations, Zuleika called, "What is the king's command?" She stuck her head out so she could see the man's face, though her sisters tried to pull her back.
"I bring a summons for the Lady Zoraida. The king has need of her." The man brandished a scroll case.
Zuleika's heart sank. This was a matter of magic, she was certain of it. The king would not be happy when he found out her mother had died two winters past of an ailment that stole her breath until she breathed her last. Even her mother's healing powers had been no match for it. "Then you'd better come in. I'll order the guards to open the gates."
Her sisters hissed at her to stop, for Father had ordered the gates kept closed for their protection until his return.
"He's one man," Zuleika said. "But if we don't let him in, he will return with an army to bring down the walls. I will do as he asks, and send him on his way. Father need never know."
This last was a lie, she knew, but it worked to calm her sisters. Zuleika's heart pounded in her chest, for today she would step into her mother's shoes and become the enchantress.
Zuleika ordered the steward to serve the man refreshments in the dining hall while her maids dressed her hair. Like her sisters, she often wore hers uncovered, but if this strange messenger wanted to consult with the lady of the house, then she would dress like one.
She had learned at a young age how to step silently through the rushes that covered the stone floors. So when she appeared at the man's side, almost from nowhere, she had the satisfaction of seeing him start.
He recovered quickly, and bowed. "Lady Zoraida. I am Sir Ryder, a messenger sent from the king. I am to give you this and await your reply." He held out the scroll case gingerly, as though he thought it might bite him.
Zuleika resisted the urge to transform the case into something with teeth, and took it from him instead.
She unrolled the scroll, and read the message twice before she dropped it on the table next to Sir Ryder's empty ale cup.
"Do you know what this says?" she demanded.
He dropped his gaze to the rushes, crackling under his shuffling feet. "Mostly, my lady. If you don't accompany me back to the capital, I'm to take your children instead."
Only a coward threatened children. "Then King Thorn shall have his curse," Zuleika vowed. "But it comes at a price. He must leave my family alone."
"You have my word, Lady Zoraida."
Zuleika waved to summon a servant. "Prepare a room for Sir Ryder. I'm sure he wants rest after his long journey. I shall be in my bower." Her mother's bower, but the knight didn't need to know that.
"Yes, my lady." Mildred looked worried enough not to expose Zuleika's subterfuge. "If you will follow me, sir?"
Zuleika held her head high as she marched out of the hall and toward the stairs that led to the tower that had been her mother's. It was no different to the maidens' tower she shared with her sisters, and yet...it was a completely different world. Mother's bower held her books and scrolls; all her favourite curios from her travels all over the world, and seemed filled with the heady power of potential, of what might be.
When Zuleika crossed the threshold today, destiny wrapped around her. The room might be filled with her mother's things, but it was her domain now.
Zuleika rode alongside Sir Ryder, her head filled with as much doubt as her belly felt full of butterflies. Not about the curse she had created at the king's command. She knew her spell was perfect. Perhaps she had been a little heavy-handed on the curse aspect, but it was her first and she intended it to be a powerful one. No, her fears were far simpler. She had never travelled outside her father's lands before and to go to the capital for an audience with the king terrified her more than she was willing to admit. This was destiny at work, she knew, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
The journey seemed almost too short, for in no time at all she found herself riding through the gates at Sir Ryder's side. Their arrival at the palace provoked a flurry of activity. A small army of maids flanked her and hustled her into a sumptuous apartment, where they washed the dust from her skin, dressed her hair in a fashionable style, and laced her into a gown fit for court.
The lavender gown suited her, for it was only a shade lighter than her violet eyes. The maids had pinned her long hair to the back of her head and so weighty was it that she found it a challenge to bow her head even the slightest bit. Instead, she was forced to lift her nose into the air like the most prideful princess imaginable. How her sisters would laugh if they could see her now.
When Sir Ryder returned to escort her to the throne room, Zuleika expected to see the whole court present. However, she found the room empty except for herself, Sir Ryder and the stern-looking man seated on the throne – the king, she presumed. She dropped a brief curtsey, as her mother had taught her, before raising her gaze to meet the king's.
His eyes hardened. "You are not Lady Zoraida," the king said. He turned to Sir Ryder. "I ordered you to bring me a witch, not some little girl."
Sir Ryder started to stammer out an excuse, but Zuleika was having none of this.
"You sent a letter demanding a curse, or her children," Zuleika said. "So that my mother may lie peacefully in her grave, I came in her stead, carrying the curse you desire so ardently. And I am no child, but a woman grown." This last was stretching the truth a little, but Zuleika knew girls were often wed at younger than her sixteen years. Besides, she knew no child could create the powerful curse she carried for the king.
The king waved imperiously. "So, cast your curse then, girl, for your insolence tries my patience."
Zuleika's eyes flashed. "I already have."
"Your Majesty," Sir Ryder corrected. "His Majesty King Thorn prefers to be addressed as 'your Majesty'."
Zuleika saw more arrogance than majesty in King Thorn's demeanour, but she chose not to argue. "Your Majesty," she said. "I have created the curse you require, and cast it on this looking glass. It is no ordinary looking glass, but one which allows the beholder to see any person or place they desire, no matter how distant." She unwrapped the bundle in her hands and held up her mother's looking glass. "The moment your enemy looks into the mirror, he is cursed."
The King gestured for a servant to bring the mirror to him. His large hands dwarfed the delicate item. "Anyone who looks in this mirror is cursed or just my enemy?"
"The owner of the looking glass is cursed by gazing into it," Zuleika said. "Your Majesty," she added as an afterthought.
King Thorn's brow creased. "So if I send my enemy this farseeing mirror as a gift, the first time he uses it, he will be cursed, correct?"
"But if I were to look into it now," the king said, "will the curse harm me?"
Once again, Zuleika nodded.
King Thorn passed the mirror to a servant, who wrapped it carefully back in its cloth. "When my enemy gazes into his gift, what will happen?"
Zuleika swallowed. "His reflection will reveal the darkest, most beastly aspects of his nature, which will become visible to all those who look at him. His lands will no longer offer welcome; they will appear forbidding to anyone who approaches them. His castle walls will appear impossibly high. The entrance to his lands will disappear, along with all those who are loyal to him. He will be hideous, friendless and doomed to live in the dreariest place in the world, because he carries his curse with him wherever he goes." Zuleika couldn't help but express her pride in what she felt was a curse worse than death.
The king laughed. "So he will have no army, no supporters, and no woman would look at him for long enough to bear his sons." He clapped his hands. "You have done well, little witch. I think I shall keep you." He dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
"But my family, your Majesty," protested Zuleika. "Your letter said if I cast this curse, then my family would be safe."
King Thorn rose to his feet, no longer smiling. "You dare question the king's honour, girl? I gave my word that your family will be safe, and so they shall be. You, however, seem to lack the most basic womanly virtues of silence and obedience. In my service, you will learn both." He beckoned to Sir Ryder. "Take her to her room, and see that she stays there."
Zuleika ate little at dinner, retiring early. She worried what her father would think when he returned home to find her missing. Did the king intend to keep her prisoner forever? Not that her sumptuous chamber was anything like a prison cell. She knew there were dungeons beneath the palace where the king kept and tortured his prisoners. Enchantress or not, she was not powerful enough yet to avoid the cells if she displeased the king.
Despite the crackling fire, she shivered in her thin shift and crept into bed. Beneath the blankets, she could believe she was safe at home in the tower room she shared with her sisters.
At least, she could until the door creaked open and the king walked in. He wore none of the finery he'd sported in the throne room earlier that day. In fact, if it weren't for his short tunic, the man would be completely naked.
Zuleika sat bolt upright in bed, pulling the sheets up to her chin. "Your Majesty," she began uncertainly, "I believe you may have wandered into the wrong chamber." She swallowed. "You see, this one is mine."
"Everything in this kingdom is mine," the king said. "This palace. This chamber. Everyone and everything in it." He seized her blankets and ripped them from the bed. Cold seeped through the thin sheet that was now Zuleika's only covering, before he tore that away, too.
She scrambled out of bed. "Then I shall find somewhere else to sleep, sire," she said, trying to hide the tremor in her voice.
He strode forward so they stood face-to-face, though he towered over her. "Did you not hear me, girl?" He pointed at the bed. "Take off your shift, lie down and serve your king." As if to demonstrate, he pulled off his own tunic, so he stood in all his naked glory.
Zuleika did not find him glorious at all. Shaking with fury, she said, "You said my family would not be harmed. You lied. A king with no honour is no king at all."
King Thorn slapped her face so hard she landed on the bed, stunned. "Before you open your mouth again, you will remind yourself that silence and obedience are a woman's greatest virtues." With one mighty hand, he tore away her shift. "It is an honour to lie with the king and bear his children, even if they are bastards." He climbed onto the bed, pinning her beneath his weight.
Zuleika tasted blood from where she'd bitten the inside of her cheek at his slap. She summoned all the power within her as she said, "Shed a single drop of my blood, and you will never sire a living child."
The king seized her throat so tightly, she could scarcely breathe. "To curse the king's treason, girl. But you are no witch. You are powerless. And I shall prove it by putting a bastard in your belly tonight. You will practice silence and obedience or I shall choke the life from you." His grip tightened, cutting off her air. "Do you understand, girl?"
A moment later, when the king took her maidenhead, she was grateful for his chokehold, for she didn't have the breath to scream.
The king snored, yet another thing Zuleika did not like about the man. She dressed as silently as she could, determined to leave before he woke. She had little else but her lavender court dress to cover her blood-slicked thighs, but blood was power to an enchantress. She would wash when she was safe. She tiptoed to the courtyard. No one stirred as she dipped her fingertips in her own blood to cast her mother's best and least known spell: a portal to take her away from here.
She traced a doorway in the air. Now, instead of castle walls, she saw snowy peaks. The mountains near her home.
Zuleika glanced back, considering whether to claim her mother's mirror back, complete with the curse, but she did not. The mirror was tainted by the king's touch, much as she had been, and she had honour, even if he had none. He and his enemy could have their curse, in exchange for her family's safety. She would flee and never return.
She paused only to pack a few things from her mother's bower before Zuleika opened another portal, to a beach, this time. In the warm, salty water, she washed all traces of King Thorn from her body, before she healed her hurts. There would be no child. The king might not believe it yet, but he had activated the spell she cast on him when he shed her blood. His fate was sealed.
Zuleika pulled her enchantress' mantle closer about her. She accepted her fate, but hers would be far brighter. This she swore on her mother's grave before she left it behind, too.
"Master, Sir Ryder has arrived." Greta dropped a clumsy curtsey.
Prince Vardan looked up from his dinner. "Whatever is my brother's favourite lackey doing here?"
"Bringing you birthday gifts from the king," the knight replied, ambling into the great hall as though he and not Vardan owned it. He selected a saffron bun and bit into it. "He sends his best wishes upon your coming of age."
Vardan watched Sir Ryder devour the cake like he'd never eaten one before, choosing not to comment on the man's lack of manners in taking food before it was offered. That one pastry invoked the laws of hospitality, where neither would betray the other while they remained under the same roof. He didn't relax until the knight had washed it down with a mug of ale.
Then Vardan said, "But my birthday is still a fortnight away."
Sir Ryder shrugged. "His Majesty wanted to be certain his gifts arrived in time. Would you like to see them?"
Vardan's brother did nothing out of affection, he knew. There was no love lost between the brothers, especially not since Thorn had claimed the throne. Vardan had asked for, and been granted, what his brother had called the dubious honour of becoming the new Trade Master of Beacon Isle when he came of age. Vardan had thanked his brother and hightailed it out of the capital on the first available ship. If he hadn't, he was certain that he would either find poison in his food or be accused of some plot to assassinate the king. Besides, Vardan was not cut out for court life. The politics of the palace were too petty for him. He wanted to be doing things, and managing the country's largest and busiest harbour would be a welcome relief. He'd take a sea captain over a courtier any day.
"Did he send me a wife?" Vardan asked, only partly in jest. One of the other reasons he'd left court was because his brother had planned to marry him to some barren widow twice his age so that he could get his hands on the islands that were her dowry. When Vardan took a wife, he intended to marry for love, or at least for affection. He wanted a woman who enchanted him, not one who reminded him of his mother.
Sir Ryder laughed. "No. I think he's still looking for one of those himself. But if you fancy a ride..." He gestured toward the open doors.
Vardan gazed into the bailey, and was surprised to meet the eyes of a horse. Nothing like the sturdy ponies that roamed wild on Beacon Isle, this creature had all the hauteur of an emperor. Black as the ocean at night, he seemed to have the same seething turbulence, as if the moment a man had the temerity to mount him, the horse would show him no mere man could command the sea.
"He's magnificent. A mount suitable for a prince, or even a king. I'm surprised my brother was willing to part with him." Vardan approached the animal, whose bridle was held by Marshall, the head groom.
"Only the best for the prince, he said," Sir Ryder told him. "He wanted me to make certain the stallion is to your liking. I am not to leave until I have seen you ride him."
Vardan eyed the horse critically. "Tell me, has my brother employed a witch? One who has cursed the horse so that when I attempt to ride him, I shall be thrown off and killed?"
Sir Ryder's eyes grew wide with what Vardan thought was genuine astonishment. "Your Highness, no! The king would never wish to curse the horse ridden by his beloved brother."
Vardan believed the knight, but he still didn't trust his brother. "Very well. Saddle him, Marshall, and let Sir Ryder have the first ride."
Despite the knight's protestations, in the end, Sir Ryder mounted the horse and took a turn around the bailey. The stallion's steady gait was as smooth as the rolling waves. A thing of beauty.
Reassured, Vardan accepted the reins from Sir Ryder and sprang into the saddle. A short walk took them to the gate, where Vardan urged the horse into a gallop. The fields beside the road flew past as Vardan laughed for sheer joy. His brother had given him a magnificent birthday gift. Perhaps Thorn finally felt secure enough in his kingship that he no longer imagined his younger brother as a threat to the throne. Vardan hoped so, for he had no intention of usurping his brother's place. He intended to live out his life as the Trade Master of Beacon Isle, the place he loved most. Every time he walked into his grandmother's rose garden, it was as if the old queen were alive once more, and he was a boy filled with hope for a future that seemed so bright. And now when he rode out on his water horse, which he would call...Arion, he decided, he could almost fly to the harbour to greet the ships coming in to trade goods from all corners of the world.
When he returned to the bailey, breathless with laughter and the thrill of the ride, he thanked the knight profusely for bringing his brother's gift, and told him to convey his gratitude to the king.
"There is another gift, more valuable still," the knight replied. He held out a beribboned box, big enough to hold a book, maybe two.
Yet when Vardan took the box, it felt too light to be books of any kind. "What is it?" he asked, shaking it.
Sir Ryder seized the box, stopping him. "It is very fragile, Your Highness. You must be careful."
Feeling like a chastened child, Vardan opened the package with exaggerated caution. Inside the box was a cloth-wrapped bundle, and inside the cloth was..."A lady's looking glass?" Vardan exclaimed, lifting the offending item up to the light. Oh, it was pretty enough, with jewels cunningly set into the shape of a flower on the back, and a quick rub of the surface revealed his reflection, staring back at him, trying not to laugh at such a strange gift.
"An enchanted looking glass," Sir Ryder corrected. "Now you are so far from the capital, the king wished you to be able to still see the goings-on at court. You merely have to breathe on the mirror, speak the name of a person or place, and when the mist clears, you will see what you seek, as clearly as if you were there. You could see the king at court, or his bride on their wedding day, without ever leaving your island. You could even peek at the future queen when she's bathing, to see if she is comely enough for the king." He winked.
Vardan tried to hide his disgust as he wrapped the mirror and stowed it back in its box. As if he would use such a powerful object to peep at women to stimulate his own lustful desires. Perhaps chivalry really was dead in the rest of the country. Not here on Beacon Isle, though. "Perhaps later," Vardan said. "Please convey my thanks to the king for his gifts. How long will you be staying? I shall have the servants prepare a room for you."
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