Kendren’s Prize by Ashlynn Monroe

Kendren's Prize by Ashlynn Monroe

Kendren’s Prize
by Ashlynn Monroe

Changeling Press

eBook BIN: 06015-01930

Kendren has the one thing that can end the moaning, writhing minx’s torment — a cock. Will he give into temptation and put his very soul at risk by making love to a Faery, or will he sell the beauty to the highest bidder? As he gazes down at the lovely naked girl tied to his bed his renowned iron will is tested more fiercely than he’s ever experienced before. Will her large, pleading lavender eyes prove more tempting than enormous profit?

Note: Prologue omitted.

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Chapter One

A gentle touch interrupted the quiet breakfast conversation. Calisa turned and paused mid-sentence. She glanced back at her sisters for a moment again after looking up into their beloved nurse’s worried face. The seventeen-year-old twins, Jocelyn and Melantha, both rose slender brows in unison. Their strange connection often caused them to move and speak as one.
“Lady Calisa, your father wishes to see you in the library,” Hilda whispered. She looked back at her again to see the elderly nursemaid giving the twins an apologetic look. “I know how limited your time together will be after today. You’re all very good girls. Please don’t forget you’re my good girls,” Hilda choked out.
Calisa put her hand on the old woman’s arm. “Sweet Mother Hilda, I love you. Just because I am a woman to be betrothed tomorrow doesn’t mean I will forget the lessons I learned at your knee, or my love for my sisters. When I marry, you will all come visit me at my new home. You are beloved to me and will always have a place in my home. I hope you will come and stay with me when I have my first babe to teach its nurse-mother how to be just like you.”
Tears ran unchecked down the woman’s face as she gazed at Calisa. A loud sob broke from her, causing all three princesses to jump with a start. The distraught elderly woman ran from the room.
“Dear goddess, what on Terra has gotten into her?” Melantha muttered.
“It’s sweet. Don’t tease her. She loves us,” reprimanded Jocelyn.
“Well, as nurse-mother for the noble House of Orik, she needs to have more dignity. She’s raised us. Her actions reflect on us. Everyone knows she’s closer to us than any other person on Terra,” Melantha whined.
“Girls, don’t bicker. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be named wife to one of the noblemen who’ve petitioned father for my hand. I want to enjoy our last day together. I’m so excited for tomorrow, but I just want to hold onto our family as long as I can. Don’t leave me with bitter memories,” Calisa pleaded.
Melantha blushed and looked at her plate. Jocelyn pretended to gaze out the window, but she couldn’t hide the moisture in her eyes. “It’ll be wonderful. I can’t wait to see you in your lovely bonding-day gowns. I’m sure father will choose a wise match for me. I long to make him proud, and this match will surely strengthen his position. Too many would take his crown if given the chance.”
“Your optimism is a bit outrageous,” Melantha said. She stopped looking embarrassedly at the plate and made eye contact with her older sisters. “What if father gives you to some old frog with clammy hands?”
Calisa flinched. “Father loves me. He’d never do such a thing! Speaking of father — I’ve been summoned.” A servant hurried to pull her chair back. She stood elegantly. Her quick, well-practiced curtsy was flawless. She did her best to ignore Melantha’s stricken look as she straightened her elaborate skirts.
The long, lavish hallway walls stood filled with countless portraits of her ancestors. Strangely, only one family member’s image didn’t hang in any of the wide, ornate corridors. Her mother’s portrait was nowhere in the palace. Beautiful golden molding and bejeweled door knobs made the very structure she’d grown up in worth more than all the banks on her home world — Terra. Her father’s great-great grandfather had single handedly lead the revolution to make Terra a free world.
The Orik clan were strong leaders; however, her father had no male heir. She needed to marry and have a son. Whichever sister bore a son first would be the queen mother. As much as she loved her sisters, Calisa coveted the title. Her marriage meant the opportunity for immortality. No one remembered a princess, but everyone remembered the queen mothers throughout history. Calisa wanted to live on as wise and loving in the annals of history. Her husband would give her a son. Her heart was set on it.
She knocked lightly on the closed library door.
“Enter,” called her father.
“Good morn, father,” she said cheerfully. When he turned from the window, she gasped. Her normally well dressed and poised father looked ill, haggard. “Dear goddess! Father, what is the matter?” She took a step forward, her hand pressed daintily over her mouth.
“Sit,” he ordered.
She let her body collapse into a large chair, causing the heavy layers of fabric to flutter.
He ran his hand through his hair. “I love you, my girl. You are my eldest and held my heart first. I’m so sorry daughter.”
“What are you sorry for? Everyone is acting so strangely today.”
Her father moved quickly, grasping her shoulders and shook her. Calisa’s mouth fell open. Her father had never been heavy handed with her. “Forgive me,” he said as his hands dropped. “What do you mean, everyone?”
“Mother Hilda wept when she called me to you. It’s only my birthday. I’m looking forward to marriage, Father. I know I will come to love my groom, and you will choose wisely. I’ve been preparing for tomorrow all of my life. How can I not feel joy? I wish you would all share in my excitement.”
He grasped her hands and fell to his knees in front of her. His behavior was so outrageously uncharacteristic, shock rippled to her core. “Tell me what the matter is, father,” she pleaded.
Tears filled his eyes. She’d never seen him cry, not even when they’d laid her mother to rest in the cold ground. Even at five years old she’d found it strange that he hadn’t shed a tear for her. She couldn’t remember much about her mother, but she remembered how beautiful her soft golden hair looked in the sun and how radiantly the woman smiled. Jocelyn looked much like her when the sunlight hit her in just the right way. “You’re scaring me, Father.”
He kissed her hands as he clutched them tightly. “I love you, child. There are things about your mother — things you need to know. I…”
A knock at the door interrupted him. He stood and cleared his throat while he wiped his face with the sleeve of his skewed robe. “Enter,” he yelled harshly.
His steward, Lord Albo, came rushing in and stopped short when he saw the king’s state. “I’m sorry for the interruption, your majesty. It’s the southern lords; they are demanding satisfaction for the offenses of General Darbie’s men. The garrison became intoxicated, and there’s talk of Lord Machil’s youngest daughter being abused. She may even be ruined. I… Are you all right Highness?”
“I’m fine, Albo. Send two of my best diplomats to the southern holdings. Start with Machil. Find out what happened and what will appease them. Have the men involved detained until this can be resolved. I’ll not have my own soldiers going about like lawless ruffians.”
“Right away.” Albo rushed out the door, but he glanced back with concern before shutting the door.
“Noisy fool,” the king muttered. Calisa knew Albo was her father’s oldest friend and was only concerned, but she didn’t argue.
“What ails you, Father. How can I help you?”
He laughed bitterly, manically, at her question. “I have feared this day for nineteen long years. I’ve denied it, ignored it, and invested resources in resolving it, but here we are.”
“You’re not making any sense. What is it?”
He fell back to his knees. His hand tenderly cradled her cheek. “My kingdom hangs by a thread. Those who would take my throne nip at my heels daily. It would take very little to tip the balance of power. You were to be my salvation, a wondrous delightful gift that I could give and secure my allies’ allegiance, as were your sisters. Now that dream is gone. You cannot marry, my dear. It would be the end of both of us.”
Her eyes widened. She’d been raised for marriage her whole life. The unity of kingdoms and the child it would bring were the destiny she craved. To be the queen mother was her one and only dream, her singular chance for a place in history. Her father’s ramblings were disturbing and confusing.
“Explain your concerns, please. I will be married tomorrow. You’ve promised me,” she pleaded with desperation heavy in her voice. Her small hands clutched her father’s soiled sleeve.
He gazed into her face with the saddest eyes she’d ever seen. “I do love you, Calisa. You’re the eldest and held my heart first. I was so happy when your mother bore you that I made her my queen even though she came from nowhere and had no family name to claim. This is what has landed us in our current situation. If I’d married a lady, with a strong clan claim her relatives would be there to reinforce my army. Her family would be my champions in these dark times, but I made no marriage covenant with any of the lords in the kingdom and so I am weak. My army is becoming more unruly as it grows and the need for expansion makes my commanders less choosy when they send out the call to enlist. These are dark days, my darling, very dark.”
He looked down but not before she noticed a single tear racing down his cheek. Her heart seized. “I didn’t want to believe the truth or see what my eyes beheld. I felt a deep love for your mother, but now I fear it may have been false, brought on by what she was. She was not human, child. You are not fully human.”
Calisa pushed her father away and stood up as quickly as the heavy bejeweled fabric around her waist would allow. She wrapped her arms around her middle and began to pace. The fine silk of the tight bodice under her fingers felt real. The chilly air in the room felt real. Yet, this conversation was coming to her as if from one of her nightmares.
She’d heard the wild whisperings since her childhood. People claimed her mother was of the Fae — or a witch. They claimed the ethereal beauty was really an old hag who’d seduced the foolish young king with spells and caused the world to see what was not there. She’d heard her mother died because the Fae consumed sexual energy and monogamy with the king starved her of sustenance. She’d heard Fae who tried to live in the human realm died, and their progeny wouldn’t live to see adulthood.
These whispers were silly superstition by backward country folk. She’d survived to adulthood and soon her sisters would be adults, as well. Her mother had been beautiful but sad. She’d suffered from heart-sickness, due to losing her family and clan to raiders and then traveling many miles alone to a new kingdom. She was foreign, not Fae. Her oddities and accent were products of her upbringing on a distant shore, not magic.
Hearing her father speak as if the country people’s silly stories were true made her angry. Dizzy and ill, she sucked in a deep breath and whirled to face her beloved parent. “Do not disparage my mother! She is long dead and cannot defend herself. What has caused you to accept the old tales told by the uneducated in the fields? Mother was foreign, nothing more. Her people were not magic. Doesn’t their dying prove that? You told me you went with her once and saw the ruins yourself.”
“What I did not tell you is the ruins were ancient, the oldest stones I’d ever seen. There were carvings in the stone, letters unlike anything I’ve ever known, and when she read the words there her voice became inhumanly perfect and so sweet it drove me to my knees. She put her hand on my head and made me forget the stones and the words, but her death broke her spell on me. I remembered the many things she made me forget. I stood at her grave, suffering the betrayal. I looked at my three wee girls and knew I had to keep her secrets. You looked so… normal. I’d hoped this day would never come.”
“Father, I am normal. How can you accuse me of being anything else? What have I done to cause you to become so… ill?”
“I’m not ill child. You’ve done nothing, but the twins have magic. I’ve seen it. When you turn nineteen you’ll die. I’ll not have you remembered as anything but a sweet, obedient girl. We’ll not be having the party tomorrow. The word that you are ill is already spreading. You’ll be taken to your rooms where you’ll be made as comfortable as possible.”
“But I’m well. I feel wonderful. Please don’t have me locked in my room! I’m sorry, Father. I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done. Please don’t have me punished,” she cried out with terror. “I’ll do nothing to disgrace you or our family line. I swear it. Please don’t punish me for a silly superstition. I am human. I feel human. I know I have no magic inside of me. I am with my sisters every single day, and I’ve never seen them do anything magical. Please be rational father.”
“I am finally being rational. I’d hoped you wouldn’t have any Fae inside of you, but I saw your sisters making flowers bloom in the garden. For the last two days, I’ve been in this room praying and fasting. I need you to marry, but if you are like your mother, the people will rise up and support my usurpers. I’m sorry, Calisa. This is for the best, child.”
She’d been told her father was away. The idea that he’d been obsessing over some false truth made her shiver. A king’s power was ultimate, making a mad king a very dangerous thing.
“Guards!” The king bellowed.
Two men rushed into the room. “My daughter is ill. Take her to her room and shut her in to prevent the sickness from spreading. She’s delirious.”
They rushed at the princess. “No, Father! No!” she screamed as the guardsmen grabbed hold of her.
“See that her sisters are also shut in their own rooms as well. I fear the pestilence may have effected them as well.” He turned toward the windows.
“No, Father! Don’t hurt the twins! They are innocent. I am innocent!” The guards dragged her from the room. Her father never looked back at her.
“Jocelyn! Melantha! Run! Father has lost his mind!” she screamed as the men dragged her through the hallway, hoping her sisters or Hilda would hear. If the twins could escape the palace, they’d be safe.
She worried that in his state of mind her father might harm her sisters. His outrageous blame made her shiver. Magic. A brilliant tutor had educated her. Magic was the name superstitious people gave to their fears. It didn’t exist.
“Please let me go,” she pleaded to the men, but they continued down the hall without pause. No one had handled her like this before. Struggling against their hold, she realized her pitiful strength was no match for men who’d honed their bodies into weapons as career soldiers.
She struggled all the way to her room. Her heavy clothing hindered her from being truly effective against her captors. Tears ran unchecked down her cheeks as they pushed her inside and slammed the door. The lock clicked into place loudly. For a long moment, she stared at the heavy wooden door. Silent sobs shook her. Losing her freedom felt indescribably bad. When no one returned, Calisa forced herself to accept the fact that she wasn’t going anywhere.
She began pulling the pins from her hair. She wanted to be free of all the restrictions her elaborate style placed on her body. Without her maid undressing was nearly impossible, but anger fueled her determination and after a few moments of cursing, she managed to remove her fine gown. She kicked off her heeled shoes and rolled the stockings down her legs. She stood alone in the bedroom, naked and panting with exhaustion.
With a few purposeful strides, she went to her closet and walked inside. Rows of grand clothing hung, surrounding her. She’d worn many of these dresses only once, but with all the hundreds of choices, there was nothing designed for comfort. Finally, toward the back, she found the plain gauzy gown the miller’s wife had given her for her last birthday as a symbol of their love and loyalty.
The material was a sheer purple with extra fabric for modesty at the bodice. Tiny darker purple beadwork sewn into the hem and sleeves made it special. The dress was beautiful in its simplicity. It was also easy to put on. She took it from its place and looked at it for a long, quiet moment. A claustrophobic feeling of being weighed down with layers of fabric and jewels wouldn’t do. If she had the chance to run, she would. Fear for her sisters’ safety left her feeling like a caged animal. All she wanted to do was go to them, but she couldn’t.
She pulled on the dress. It closed with ties on the bodice, so she had no problem dressing herself. The single layer of soft fabric covering her legs was a nice change from her normal elaborate choices. She knew she might have to run, but hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. She was always cautious so she prepared for the worst, all the while hoping her father would come to his senses. She’d never seen the strong king looking so unstable before.
She gazed at herself in the mirror. Her long blond hair curled over her shoulders before ending at her lower back. The dress was much finer than a peasant could typically afford and would not be a choice for traveling, but it was the least extravagant thing she owned.
Sighing, she hoped that if she was forced to flee her long, plain brown shawl would hide the richness of her dress. She took the shawl from the trunk it rested on and wrapped it around her body. The chill had nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with the fear cutting into her very soul. She’d never seen her father look at her so coldly before.
Day became night and no one came. Hungry and nervous she paced the room. She’d tried reading a book of love poems, but the nibbling feeling that something was terribly wrong kept distracting her. The fact that Hilda had not to come to check on her told her that the woman didn’t know about her plight, or her father had turned his insanity on the elderly servant.
She hoped it was just a case of loyal guards refusing to gossip. Hilda was as innocent as she and her sisters were, but if her father truly believed they were evil, he might interrogate the poor nurse for answers. She’d seen the questioning of treasonous prisoners during an uprising a few years earlier, and the idea that poor Hilda could be enduring anything remotely similar made Calisa’s rage boil up. She loved the woman like a mother, and all she wanted to do was find her sisters and nurse to assure herself they were safe.
She hoped her father would come to his senses soon. She wanted to marry and bear a son; there was nothing else for her. She lacked choice, but being the queen mother was an obtainable privilege. She hoped when she was still herself in the morning her father would see that he’d overreacted to whatever he’d imagined he’d seen.
Her mother was dead. Didn’t that prove she was just as mortal as any other woman was? If Faeries existed, she imagined they’d have a much longer life span.
Her stomach growled. She went to the door and touched the smooth surface. Calisa bit her lip while debating if she should call out. She didn’t want to make her situation worse, but she was starving. She normally didn’t eat much, but she’d only taken a few bites at breakfast and it was long past lunch. The evening meal would have just finished. She felt dizzy and slightly feverish. Her stomach cramped, and she doubled over. Thirst was becoming an issue too. She’d finished off the small carafe of water by her bed hours ago.
She straightened and slammed her palm against the door. “Is anyone out there? Please open the door. I’m hungry. Anyone? Please, just bring me a little supper. Please?”
No response. She couldn’t tell if anyone had heard her or not. “Please!” she cried out again, even more loudly.
Still no response. Frustrated, she returned to her pacing. Her chamber pot was foul from being unattended all day. She knew her personal servants must have wondered why. Even ill, they’d care for her. Going to the window, she looked out. The courtyard below was uncommonly quiet. She noticed the only movement came from the palace guards. At this time of day, there were still chores to attend to, and yet no one seemed to be bothering with them. The day was becoming even more mysterious.
More pain shot through her. This time it was so intense it drove her to her knees. She knelt on the cold stone, panting and feeling faint. Spots sparkled before her eyes and she took several deep breaths, forcing herself to remain calm and focused as she struggled to her feet. Calisa stumbled through the room, grabbing items of value and mementos she’d miss if she had to leave the palace, never to return.
Will it come to that? The idea that her father might exile her would’ve been laughable twelve hours ago, but now she wasn’t so sure. Something was going on, but she was helpless to discover the truth locked in her room at the highest point in the castle. Her sisters shared the room in the tower on the other side of the palace. She could just make out the shape and see the window.
Grabbing the white doily from her vanity table, she managed to hang it at the top of her window with a little ingenuity. If they were in their room this signal would let them know she was all right, and she hoped they’d get the idea to do the same thing.
She watched for a long time as dusk slowly gave way to darkness. Realizing they’d never see the cloth now, she took it down and replaced it with a candle on the sill. She watched for a similar signal, but only darkness came from their direction. Her actions made her feel inferior, childish. She wasn’t equipped for strife. Her life hadn’t prepared her for this strange captivity. Sighing she turned away, unable to look at the hopeless blackness a moment longer.
What she saw when she turned made the beginning of a scream rise up out of her throat, but a bag thrown over her head muffled her alarm quickly. She struggled against the two large men who’d been standing in her room and now accosted her. She was glad for the lighter dress because she could fight far more easily than in the formal gown she’d worn to breakfast.
She lashed out, kicking and slapping. Her small foot stomped on one of the men’s arch, and the howl he loosed gave her momentary satisfaction until a very hard thump on the back of the head made her see spots of light. Against her will, her body went limp in the men’s hands. Her eyes fluttered and she felt them lifting her. Unconsciousness dragged her into its dark abyss and claimed the last of her struggles.

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