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Authors: Abigail Barnette

Beast

BOOK: Beast
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Beast

A
Naughtily Ever After
Story

By Abigail Barnette

 

 

 

Resplendence Publishing, LLC

http://www.resplendencepublishing.com

Resplendence Publishing, LLC
2665 N Atlantic Avenue, #349
Daytona Beach, FL 32118

Beast
Copyright © 2012 Abigail Barnette
Edited by Christine Allen-Riley and Jason Huffman
Cover art by Les Byerley,
www.les3photo8.com

Electronic format ISBN: 978-1-60735-456-7

Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Electronic Release: January 2012

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or occurrences, is purely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

In lieu of a dedication, I urge my readers to consider making a donation to a burn charity that operates within their country of residence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

The summer sun had melted the snow from the peaks of the Gebruder mountains for the first time in a century. The valleys below had flooded, and where farm and field had once stood, shimmering lakes now glistened beneath the brother mountains.

“That one is Jacob, and that one is…Wilhelm.”

Philipe rolled to his side in the grass, taller and greener than he ever remembered it being this far north. It made a cushioned bed beneath him and the girl at his side, more woman now than the summer before. He leaned up on his elbows and studied her, her black hair glinting threads of blue and silver in the sun, her pale skin flushed with summer’s kiss, and the kisses he’d given her.

“Jacob? Wilhelm? Really, Johanna, you wouldn’t name them something more…regal?”

“After my brothers,” she said tossing a dandelion head at him. “They’re very regal.”

“Not as regal as I am.” He took the dandelion and plucked a few more from the grass. “I’m a prince.”

“So are my brothers,” she protested, pointing to a cloud so thick and heavy it could have been clotted cream hanging in the sky. “Oh look, a sailing ship!”

He deftly wove one dandelion stem with another. “Your brothers are only Northern princes. I am the crown prince of the entire kingdom.”

“If we stay a part of your father’s kingdom,” she chided softly. It was something they could joke about, as children of powerful men. If peasant had said the same, they would have been hanged, had been in the tumultuous months since the first talk of a Northern rebellion.

That was what had brought Philipe to the north, with his father, King Albart. Together with Johanna’s father, Lord Köneig, they would stop the rebellion, and the kingdom would return to peace once more.

Then, there would be time for their fathers to talk of other things. Philipe had decided two summers before, when he’d come to spend happier times with the Köneig brood, that Johanna would soon be his bride. He’d been too young then, at fifteen, to formally propose, but he was seventeen now, almost a man grown. He hoped to have Johanna at his side when he celebrated his eighteenth birthday in the fall, to announce a marriage that would unite the north to the south forever. The people in the north loved Johanna, the people in the south loved Philipe. It would be the perfect union.

Johanna sat up, brushing grass from her waist-length hair. “We should go back. Father worries now, if any of us are gone too long. He says it’s not as safe here anymore.”

“I would take you back to the palace, with me,” he said, reckless, impulsive. “To keep you safe in case there is a rebellion, after all.”

She smiled fondly and turned her face toward the sun “I doubt any rebellion would touch us. We’d be safe behind the walls of Hazelhurn.”

Across the valley, the pointed blue spires and gleaming white stone of the castle stood like a proud, watchful sentry. It was a true fortress, where the palace might as well have been a house with no doors, for all the people who roamed about freely inside. Even as he was convinced that taking her with them would protect her, he was also convinced that Hazelhurn was impregnable.

He set aside his dark thoughts of protection and rebellion and lifted the dandelion crown he’d fashioned for her. She giggled with delight when he set it upon her head, but her eyes became a violet storm of seriousness when he took her hands in his and kissed them.

“I would give a crown, in earnest,” he told her, his hands trembling as they held hers. “I would make you my queen.”

“Don’t say that, if it’s only play,” she warned him. Her eyes shone with hopeful tears. “You mustn’t treat my heart lightly.”

“Never,” he promised. “I mean it, Johanna. I want you for my wife. As soon as this rebellion nonsense is finished, and the kingdom is put to rights again, I will marry you.”

She threw her arms about his neck and hugged him, sobbing with happiness, then fell into the grass together, her long skirts tangling about their legs.

She leaned above him, her raven hair a shimmering curtain all around them. “I love you, Philipe.”

“And I you,” he promised. “Forever.”

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

A hot bath, a good meal, and a vigorous whore were all Philipe longed for, in that order, as his horse pounded down the frozen road. Knowing that such luxuries were unlikely didn’t stop him from wanting them. He’d been riding hard for three days, his father’s men at his heels like dogs on a fox.

“We’re but a mile from Clatterbuck,” Jessop, Philipe’s companion, once captain of his palace guard, called to him over the thunder of hooves. He was breathless from the ride, and red-faced, and Philipe knew that he might as well have been staring into a mirror. An exhausted, unshaven mirror.

“If Lord Fueil has not forsaken us, I may make it out of the kingdom alive.” He gripped the reins tighter in his swollen fingers, the cold leather of his gloves creaking.

It was a strange position he found himself in, that of the fugitive crown prince. His father, once Albart the Wise, King of Chevudon, had become Albart the suspicious, Albart the confused. Albart the paranoid and vindictive, who’d driven his own son from the palace with allegations of treason.

Philipe plotted the route in his mind. Shelter for the night behind the walls of Fueil’s fortress, then to the border and beyond, where his father’s men could not seek him. But as they rode on, his own suspicions deepened. The hovels on the outskirts of Fueil’s land showed no signs of life. Further into the village, not a chimney smoked nor a babe cried.

“It’s deserted,” Philipe said, scanning the low rooftops. His exhausted horse nickered and stepped restlessly.

“I don’t like this, Your Highness.” Jessop looked over his shoulder. “I think we may already be trapped.”

He’d barely finished his sentence before a thump widened his eyes and he fell from the saddle, an arrow protruding from his chest. Philipe ducked and tugged the reins, bringing his horse around to shield the fallen man. For but a moment, he considered trying to save Jessop. Another arrow sliced through the air, striking his horse in the neck. The animal reared back, spilling Philipe to the ground. He caught the reins of Jessop’s horse. The man lay on the ground, unmoving, as the hooves of Philipe’s wounded, maddened horse struck the mud around him. Jessop was dead, that much was clear, and Philipe did not intend to waste such a noble man’s death. He put his heels to Jessop’s horse, freeing the animal to carry him wherever it may, so long as it was out of this place.

Fueil, you bastard!
When this was finished, when Philipe returned to his kingdom to inherit his throne, he would have the traitorous lord’s head on a pike.

Something struck him in the shoulder. A stone? He was nearly unhorsed, but righted himself in the saddle, arm aching. Only when he tried to lift it did he feel the sharp, shattering pain of splintered muscle and bone. The shaft of an arrow protruded from his shoulder, and hot blood wet his arm inside his sleeve. He cursed and reached for his sword, but the pain of the motion made him scream as the world blackened, only for an instant. He fought to clear his head. If he were to fall now, it would be over. He would wake in father’s dungeons, awaiting execution, or perhaps he would not wake at all.

Snow drifted through the treetops as riders pursued him, back the way he’d come, farther from the border that would be his safety. In his mind, he conjured a map of his father’s kingdom. It was thirty leagues to the border, and his horse was good for a few miles, at most. If he could have burned Fueil’s lands with the fire of his rage, he would have.

Fire
. The word branded the map in his head with another, wholly unpleasant option. To the northeast lay Hazelhurn. The one place in the entire kingdom he might trade for the underworld. But it wasn’t death that frightened him so. He had to live, so that his father’s throne would be inherited by someone with reason and sanity, not some power-mad courtier who would be worse than the feeble-minded old man.

He would go to Hazelhurn, and the gods help him. But first, he had to lose the men following him. Plunging his horse headlong into the trees, he kept low and prayed that the lord of Hazelhurn would be far kinder to him than he deserved.

* * * *

 

It had been hours since the arrow had pierced his flesh. The pain had spread, like ripples in water disturbed by a stone, to the rest of his body, which cried out in anguish. The dark shapes of the mountains that had once seemed welcoming now stood before him like magistrates, weighing his actions of long ago against his desire for safety. They would, he feared, find him wanting, but he clung to the neck of his mount and prayed he would not freeze or fall dead from his saddle before he reached the castle gates.

The valley was not as welcoming as all those summer visits before. The snow was deep enough to give the horse trouble, and the wind that howled all around him seemed an angry spirit trapped by the mountains themselves. Through the flakes that stung his face, he spotted faint light from Hazelhurn. He wondered who burned the light, and feared he already knew the answer.

Once, the gates of Hazelhurn stood proud and gleaming white. Now, they were crumbling, gray, and covered in lichen gone brown for the winter. The gates of the fortress were thrown wide, no guards stood ready to defend. Cautiously, he urged his horse ahead, down the road that had once been lined with barracks for Köneig’s army, market stalls, homes of the northern lord’s subjects. If traces of those long ago structures remained, they were not visible beneath the snow.

He’d begun to fear that the light he’d spied was phantom light, that he would find nothing at Hazelhurn but ghosts and cold stone, when he heard a voice from the dark grove of trees just outside the inner bailey wall.

“Halt! Declare yourself!”

He lifted one hand slowly, but he wouldn’t give his name until he was certain of the situation. For all he knew, Hazelhurn had been deserted for years, and the only inhabitants were his father’s men, stopped at a convenient shelter for the night.

“I am but a weary traveler, injured, looking for rest and something to bind my wounds.”

“Get your other hand up, where I can see it,” the voice warned.

Torn between wishing for relief from his injury and the near certainty that death would be more pleasant, he spoke carefully, lest he tip the odds in favor either way. “As I said, I am wounded. I have a rather long arrow protruding from my arm, if you cannot see it.”

There was a scrape of stone and iron that set Philipe’s teeth, already chattering from the cold, clenching at the back of his mouth. He thought he might vomit or fall from his horse, might have simply given up fighting to let it happen, were he not worried of falling and driving the arrow in farther. Boots crunched on the snow and gravel, and a knight stood before him clad in the black armor of Hazelhurn. Once, the black knights were of such a number that King Albart had feared their power, and conscripted many of them for his own royal guard, just to lessen their number. Now, only one stood sentry at the main castle gate?

Something was terribly wrong here. The legendary fire that had crippled Hazelhurn was fifteen years past, but nothing had been rebuilt. The stone had not been scrubbed white again, and the soot stains gave the black knight far better cover than the gleaming stone would have. By the time Philipe was able to track the figure, he was upon him. The knight stepped close, lifted his visor, and leaned in close. His breath came out a whisper of steam in the cold night air. “My god. Philipe, is it you?”

BOOK: Beast
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