Chapter 1

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CHAPTER 1

Fifteen Years Later

Princess Maelyn frowned at the royal messenger. "Rowan, you look terrible.  Your face is red as fire."

“I feel terrible.” Rowan grimaced and rubbed his forehead. “But no matter, my lady, it will pass. I’ve come with a message from your uncle, the High King of Grunwold.”

Maelyn stiffened in her throne. She liked her uncle as much as she liked bandits in her bedchamber. Less. At least bandits could be hanged.

“He wants to know if the rumors are true,” said Rowan.

Maelyn lifted her chin. “What rumors?” Though she already knew.

Rowan cast down his eyes, flawlessly respectful. “The rumors that you have dismissed every servant in the castle.”

Maelyn did not even blink. “I have.”

“The footmen?”

“Yes.”

“The counselors?”

“Yes.”

“Even your ladies-in-waiting?”

All of the servants,” said Maelyn, impatience crawling through her tone. “I expelled every one of them, from the sentries to the scullery maids. No one dwells in this castle but my sisters and myself.”

Rowan nodded. “Very good, my lady. I will tell the king.” Droplets gathered on his forehead and he yanked the cap off his gray hair to dab his face. “Beg your pardon, my lady…. May I ask why?”

“Did the king ask why?” Maelyn raised a single eyebrow.

“No,” said Rowan.

“Then you may go.” Maelyn unhooked her ivory cape and draped it on the arm of her throne. She felt anxious to reach her chamber and extract the combs bearing up her heavy brown hair. “Rest well before your journey, Rowan. Have you eaten?”

Rowan nodded, dabbing his face again. Maelyn noticed a trembling at his knees and sensed he struggled to stand erect. She hurried down the four steps that lifted her throne above her visitors.

"Come. I’ll help you to your horse.” She tucked herself under Rowan’s arm, alarmed at the fierce heat coming from his body. “Lean on me.”

She felt him settle against her shoulder. She intended to give him light support, but suddenly the full weight of his six-foot stature crushed down on her. Maelyn gasped as she crumpled to the marble floor with Rowan on top of her.

“Rowan!” Maelyn cried, uncertain whether to be outraged or terrified. He felt like a boulder on her ribs. His hot face pressed against her neck.  She squirmed until she’d freed her hands and pushed back his head. His eyes….

Maelyn’s shriek reached every corner of the castle.

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