Princess Zara knows one of royal blood is sometimes forced into political alliances, but what’s wrong with wanting a real Prince Charming? Few princes would want a wife who could best them with any weapon, still, there are more rivals for her hand — and her father’s kingdom — than she expects, but only two catch her eye. Prince Bram seems perfect, but he’s more interested in Prince Kennit than Zara. And the nearsighted Kennit isn’t perfect enough — her father will never approve the marriage.
Prince Kennit knows there’s only one woman for him, but few princesses would find a shape shifting dragon to their liking. When Zara is poisoned, Kennit’s the first to volunteer for the expedition to save the princess, though the quest will lead them deep within the ninth circle of Hell. Zara refuses to be left behind, and Bram’s along for the ride.
Things have changed a little — okay, a lot — since the days of Dante’s Inferno. This time the tourists are Zara, the poisoned princess, and her two suitors. Together they must find a single blue rose in the deepest part of Hell before the next full moon, or Zara will run out of time — and choices.
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Copyright ©2022 Lena Austin
Zara shrieked in rage and aimed the next statue from the mantel at her father’s head. The heft of the clay dog might open up his thick skull. “I am not a fucking piece of merchandise!”
“Hang it all, Zara! I don’t like this any more than you do, but I would appreciate the courtesy of being treated like the king now and then!” King Ragnar dodged another object and winced as it shattered behind him. “Damn it! That was your mother’s favorite.”
“She’s been dead for twenty-five years. I don’t think she’ll miss it.” Zara cast about for something else to use as a weapon, but the more useful items were behind her father’s desk, putting her in reach of his burly arms. “Did you already send a herald to announce, ‘One kingdom for sale! Marry the princess and rule Powell Mountains’?”
Ragnar snorted, but kept a wary eye on her. “Thank goodness I had the sense to rule all persons must be disarmed in my presence, or you’d be hacking at me with your sword.” He drew himself up. “As a matter of fact, I did indeed issue invitations to the local princes. They should arrive in time for tonight’s feast.”
Zara swallowed another shriek and ground her teeth instead. “You mean to sell me and the kingdom into marriage quickly, don’t you?”
Ragnar’s fingers opened and closed convulsively, and Zara guessed he’d love to have them around her throat. “At least I’m giving you a choice of princes, you ungrateful wretch. I could have simply chosen one and delivered you to him trussed up like a goose.”
“I’d much rather you changed the law that demands this kingdom be ruled by a wedded pair. Just because you got lucky and found Mother while you were children doesn’t make the law right.” Zara tossed her thick black braid over her shoulder and slammed out of the door, not waiting for a dismissal. The cold fury on her face magically cleared a path through the corridors before her.
She’d known something was wrong when the guardsmen who usually gave her a sword workout were conspicuously absent from the fields. Not even the sergeant looked her in the eye when he informed her they were all out on field maneuvers for the week. She sailed through the doors leading to the back of the castle and noted the guardsmen had miraculously reappeared from their maneuvers.
Now she knew the why of the lie, and her anger soared even higher to realize her father had ordered all her “masculine” activities curtailed. Few princes would find a wife charming when she could best them with any weapon. Fewer still would find her preference for masculine clothes alluring.
Zara turned from the now forbidden joys of beer by the smith’s fire, a joint of beef in the barracks, and the clash of metals on the practice field. She knew better than to approach her old friends and cause them to lie to her further. Her eyes stung, not with pain, but more anger than she’d felt in many a year. Her shoulders slumped as she headed for the cliffs to walk as she often did when troubled. The men would read her posture and know that while she didn’t like it, she’d accepted it wasn’t their fault.
The wind and sky played a tempestuous love affair, whipping her comfortable, woven shirt until it plastered against her body, revealing too many feminine curves even in leather pants and vest. She hated her soft skin, though she’d honed fine muscles beneath the easily bruised flesh, of which there always seemed to be too much. “Can I help it if I’m as tall as a man, and nearly as broad? Certainly not. I refuse to be one of the court wenches who daintily picks at her food and then throws up what little she does eat for fear of not appearing feminine and delicate. Pahh!”
She stepped around a particularly large boulder and beheld a sight so strange it stopped her angry ruminations.
A lanky man stood at the very edge of the cliff, his black cloak seeming to hang in the air as if riding the winds, and his shoulder-length black hair escaped its silver thong to join the cloak in flight. Nothing could be seen of the man’s face, for his back was to Zara, but the whole figure was one of tranquility.
That peace alone intrigued her, for so few could bear the fearful heights, and fewer still dared walk the edge on a day when the winds could yank a full-grown man over the precipice. Either this one was very brave or very crazed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Someone cursed Lena Austin with “may you have a life so full you’ll have many tales to tell your grandchildren.” Lena’s a “fallen” society wench with a checkered past. She’s been a licensed minister, hairdresser, Realtor, radio DJ, exotic dancer, telephone service tech, live-steel medievalist swordswoman, BDSM Mistress, and investment property manager. Not necessarily in that order. She never finished that degree in marine archaeology, but did learn to scuba — she’s got a lifetime of “Research material!”
Hey, why waste these stories on kids who won’t listen anyway? Writing them down is a nice way to spend her retirement. What? You expected an ex-BDSM Mistress to take up crocheting or something?