A Fairy Tale

Prologue

[I]Once upon a time there were two kingdoms. One shone with light and joy. Its lands were fertile and green and its people were honest, peaceful and hard-working. Under the gaze of their just and pious king they built a mighty palace called Belle, city of light. The other kingdom was beset by cold and darkness. Few people lived there and they called themselves the Lunari, people of the moon. The Lunari were fierce and tough, they built a mighty fortress which they named Nightspark and constantly raided the Bellandari to steal whatever they could until it escalated into all-out war as the knights of Bellandar rode out and destroyed Lunari villages. The Lunari had access to dark magic and their king enslaved a dragon to serve him. Slowly but surely the Lunari overcame the knights of Bellandar. But when Bellandar's time was darkest a mighty hero stepped forth. He led a small group by secret paths into the impregnable fortress of Nightspark. He slew the dragon and Lunari power was shattered, although their king escaped. Peace and harmony was returned to the land. The young hero was rewarded with the crown and the hand of the princess and they all lived happily ever after. Or so they thought…[/I]


Chapter 1

Eighteen Years Later

The ancient wooden doors opened with a grinding squeal as I strode into the so called great hall. There wasn't much great about it. It was dingy, dirty and stank of sweat and urine. Wisps of smoke from the meagre fires lingered in the air and snarling dogs fought over bones on the straw covered floor. Ice walked by my side glowering at the dogs and making them whimper and cower in fear, occasionally she would spread her feathery wings out to their full extent and bare her glass teeth until the mongrels scampered off. Ice is a Lupine, a magical creature vaguely similar to a dog, they are only found high in the mountains where their cerulean blue fur gives them perfect camouflage. At the end of the hall a man sat cloaked in shadows on a throne of bones. All that could be seen of him were the reds of his eyes which glowed like the embers of a dying fire. The theatrics didn't impress me. His disapproval no longer instilled in me the fear it once had. He had grown soft in his old age and I guess the land was better for it. It turned out that killing people left right and centre was not a great way to instil loyalty or create joy. He could never be capable of love either though and so Lunar stood upon the brink. We could not go forward and no one really wanted to go back. Even though they whispered in the darkness of a return to the old days of savagery and murder I doubted they would ever go through with it. We had lost our courage and our honour.

My gaze drifted to my left. A girl stood there, her violet eyes full of mischief and her lips holding the trace of a smile. I smiled back. Amethyst was the closest thing to a friend I had in this dreary place. Well maybe more than a friend considering what we were doing in the haystacks the other night. I could not afford to let thoughts of her distract me at the present though.

Reaching the head of the hall and the shadow man, I dropped to one knee and bowed my head trying not to consider the substances that coated the floor. I knelt for some time in silence. I knew better then to speak or make any noise or movement. I would wait until he had the pleasure to acknowledge me. He loved controlling people in this way so I didn't let myself become frustrated. I thought merely of other things. I thought of the hunt I had just completed, the dark woods, the cold wind, the deafening roar of the troll and the exhilarating feel of shoving two feet of cold steel through its stone heart. I wish I was back there in the snowy wild or in the haystacks with Amethyst. Anywhere would be better than this place.

"Son," my father speaks at last. His voice is dry and raspy, like nails drawn across stone. "I have received word from the South."

From the south? This is startling. The people of Bellandar who live in the soft southern lands are our sworn enemies, a rivalry that has surely existed since the dawn of civilization itself. What could they possibly wish to speak to us about? Unless they are declaring war. Whilst the idea of fighting them is entertaining I am not sure if it is a fight we could win. Our warriors are scattered and tired, the battle of Nightspark broke us and it will take a greater ruler than my father to reunite us.

My father steps forward from his throne and into the faint light. He doesn't look great. His hair has faded to grey. His eyes are watery and bloodshot. His skin is stretched and mottled. To think this man still calls himself the king of shadows is a mockery of the words. It would have been better if that Bellandari hero had merely chopped off his head and been done with it. Then a new shadow king could have possibly stepped forward and reunited us and we could have been something. Now we were old and broken, a shadow of our former selves.

"The King of Bellandar has asked if you would marry his daughter, some wench named Emily. He seeks to strengthen the current peace between our people. He wants to unite our kingdoms together through marriage," he pauses and I wait for the laughter, derision and mockery of Bellandar but it doesn't come. "I have decided to accept his proposal. You shall marry this princess and through her you shall become king and rule the whole land."

I feel like a bucket of cold water has been dumped on top of me. Is this a dream? Surely it cannot be real. Surely it cannot be happening. This must be some new game of my fathers. As the seconds tick by I realise this is no trick. He actually intends for me to marry this girl. I open my mouth but I don't know what to say.

"Sire, surely you cannot mean for me to do this. The Bellendari are soft and weak."

My father sneers. "Yes and as such she will be easy for you to control. You will set our own people as lords and designate her people to be servants to follow our every whim and desire. This victory shall be far sweeter than any conquest and destruction. They have invited their own end the fools." My father smiled, showing his rotten teeth. I am shocked and that is something that doesn't happen often. I have always dreamed of defeating the hated Bellandari but always on the field of battle with honour and glory not through falsehood and deception. It might seem silly but I feel there is sacredness to marriage and to break its holy vows would be fundamentally wrong.

"No, I won't do it," my words are but a whisper but all other noise in the hall fades away. The dogs drop their bones to stare. The men and women pause in their drinking and feasting. Even the wind quietens down as if it too wants to watch the scene unfolding. My father's eyes bulge from their sockets and his hands clench until the knuckles are as white as snow.

"You will do as I command," he roars.

I meet his mad, furious gaze calmly. I get to my feet. I am taller than he is and yet he still appears intimidating in his dragon skin cloak.

"Or what? You do not scare me anymore, father." I cannot believe my own courage. I feel like someone else has taken control of my body and this is not really me speaking. My father raises a bony hand. I snort derisively.

"Killing me will not gain you anything."

"It is not you whom I will kill," he cackles.

He clenches his twisted fingers together and I turn to see Amethyst clutch her hands to her throat. Her eyes going wide as invisible hands strangle her. I launch myself at my father but he merely raises his other hand and I am thrown back by an invisible force. I hit the ground hard and everything spins. I get onto my knees and try to stand. I can see Amethyst, desperately reaching towards me as her face blue.

"Stop it, stop it. I'll do what you ask," I speak resigned.

Emily

My name is Emily Dawn Melody Skye Lightbringer. I assume you have heard of me. What's that? You haven't? Well you must have spent your entire life hiding under a rock then. I am a princess of Bellandar. I expect you to address me as your highness, to never speak in my presence unless I have granted you permission and to always rise whenever I enter the room. I was born just after the fall of Nightspark, eighteen years ago and am the only heir of his majesty, Adalwulf the brave. I have spent my entire life within the palace of light in the shining city of Belle. I have been taught all there is to know about mathematics, science, history and magic. It suffices to say that I have forgotten more about the world than most people will likely ever know and this is why I shall become queen and you shall remain nobody. Of course part of the duty of being a princess of the realm is that I have no friends. For who could be important enough for me to deign to spend time with them? As such I guess you could say my life has been lonely, but I am willing to bare this cost for the sake of the kingdom. There are thousands of people in my kingdom who rely upon me. Every day I struggle for them and I hope they appreciate it.

Do you like my dress? The dressmakers have been working on it for months in time for my eighteenth birthday celebration. The dye had to be shipped in from over the sea. No one else in Ballandar has a dress this shade of rose pink. The hairdressers spent hours braiding and plaiting my chocolate brown hair and threading it with roses which surround my tiara. I am the definition of the word beauty. I am the envy of every girl in the kingdom. In some ways it is almost a shame I cannot wear it again. I have entire wardrobes dedicated to dresses, you know, one for every day since I turned fifteen. If it wasn't for me there probably wouldn't even be a dressmakers guild. But enough about me, my father is almost here and I want to get my birthday present.

There is a fanfare of trumpets from the doors of the ballroom.

"His royal majesty, the King of Bellandar," the herald announces. Although of course everyone knows who he is. His face is minted on every coin in the kingdom. He has the same strong jawline and small nose as I do but his eyes are a dull olive where mine are a striking violet. He is wearing his golden robes of state, trimmed with the light blue fur of a lupine from the North. He still looks regal but his youth has truly faded. His hair is beginning to turn grey and his skin is beginning to wrinkle. Perhaps it will not be that long before I might don his golden crown. For as much as I love my father I would love to be queen more.

My father comes to stand before me and I curtsy respectfully. "My gracious daughter, you look beautiful as always."

"Thank you, father," I reply with a gracious smile.

My father turns to the assembled bunch of nobles and courtiers.

"I have most excellent news, my friends, which I am sure you will welcome after so many months of bad news with the war with the fairies. After much discussion and negotiating I can announce that my daughter, the princess Emily, is to marry the son of the Lunari king, a young man named Wolf."

I am confused. What is he saying? Marry a Lunari? He cannot be serious. This must be a joke and an exceptionally poor one at that. The Lunari are nothing but primitive barbarians who have threatened civilised people since the founding of Belle. The idea of me even speaking to a Lunari is ludicrous. I am not the only one to feel this way. There are shocked murmurings throughout the hall.

"I know this may seem a bit out of the ordinary after the Lunari have been our enemies for so many years but my one goal as king is to see peace in this land which I love so much. As much as you may wish otherwise this land is the home of the Lunari too and thus if there is any way we can reconcile the differences between our people then we must take it. Not only that the Lunari could potentially be our best allies against the elven invasion. Their knowledge of magic and magical creatures far surpasses our own. This union shall unite our peoples in love and war and Bellandar shall become stronger than she has ever been."

I am not mistaken. My father is seriously considering marrying me off to this unwashed savage. I feel nauseous at the idea of it. How could he do this to me? Didn't he love me? Didn't he care about me? I have always known that I might not be able to marry for love but this is ridiculous. This Lunari has no standing, no station. I may as well marry a peasant. I will be the laughing stock of the kingdom. I can already see the laughter in the noble's eyes as they look at me. I feel humiliated. I burst into wails and tears. This has always been successful before. Today my father merely looks annoyed and irritated.

"Stop this nonsense," he demands sharply, "you are a princess and I expect you to act like one. It is time that you finally took some responsibility for this kingdom and stopped expecting to be treated like a little girl."

I am speechless. My father never talks to me like this. No one does. I am the princess, nobody tells me what to do. I turn and run from the room. I run down the corridors. I run up the stairs. I run into my room and collapse on my bed sobbing softly. This must be a nightmare I tell myself but no matter how many times I pinch myself I don't wake up. This is surely the worst birthday ever.