The Devil's Concubine [Shadowmere Prequel]
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by Jaide Fox
Category: Erotica/Paranormal Erotica/Dark Fantasy
Description: By the time Princess Aliya had reached marriageable age, she was renowned far and wide as the fairest in the land. For not only was she fair of face and figure, but she had a voice so sweet it could charm the birds from the trees and a heart that was warm, and sweet, and giving. And it came to pass that the heir to every kingdom vowed to have her for his own and it seemed war would erupt. Her beleaguered father was at a loss to decide where to bestow the hand of his cherished daughter, for in giving her to one he was certain to make many more enemies. At last, pushed to come to a decision, he decreed that only the strongest and bravest deserved her. A great contest was announced. The head of every kingdom was invited to send their champion to vie for her hand in marriage ... the head of every kingdom save those ruled by the unnaturals, for King Andor could not bear to bestow his beautiful daughter on any of the creatures from the shadowy world of the unnaturals. When the news of this slight traveled through the realms of the unnaturals, King Talin of the tribe of the Golden Falcons was infuriated. He had no desire to take a human as his bride, but he would not allow the insult to go unchallenged. Disguised and in human form, he joined those gathering for the contest and stole the fair princess away, carrying her to his own kingdom where he returned the insult to the unnaturals by taking her as his concubine, rather than his bride. Rating: Contains explicit sex, graphic language, and mild violence.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: April 2006
390 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [257 KB]
Reading time: 183-256 min.
Talin's keen gaze was captured by a flutter of movement on the roof of King Andor's palace as he guided his mount through the castle gates and into the inner courtyard. The brightly colored veil of a maiden flashed again as he looked up and he saw a cluster of young women along the waist high walls that topped one wing of the palace. They returned his perusal with unabashed interest and his lips curled faintly, for he knew, being mere man children, they could not see him nearly as well as he could see them and no doubt thought subtlety was unnecessary.
A nervous flutter of feminine giggles tickled at his ears as one turned to look at someone beyond his view. "Princess Aliya! You must come to see!"
His interest instantly sharpened. Tilting his head, he listened for a response, frowning when he heard nothing and wondering if she'd only spoken so softly he'd failed to hear, or not at all.
No matter. The maid had spoken to her, the one he'd come so far to see, the great beauty the man children were crowing about and gathering to squabble over. He knew exactly where she was and it would be no great feat to join her there.
He'd intended to confront King Andor about the insult to the people of Goldone head on, but upon consideration he decided he was more interested in assuaging his curiosity about the Princess Aliya.
After studying the façade of the palace for several moments, he handed off the reins of his mount absently to a stable hand and casually strolled away from the crowd that had bottle necked at the main entrance to the castle. The crowd thinned as he walked, peared to a handful and then only the occasional passerby. Moving to a small outbuilding, he leaned back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest and pretending no more than a mild interest in the wall before him as he assessed it. When no one passed after several moments, he discarded his boots and peeled his breeches off, tossing them aside.
He was on the point of shifting fully when it occurred to him that doing so might make climbing through the narrow window above him a little difficult. Shrugging, he merely focused on morphing wings and talons for gripping and launched himself skyward. The climb was harder than he'd expected, for he'd moved into a narrow cul-de-sac and there was little in the way of air currents to aid him.
He was only slightly winded when he grasped the window ledge with his sharp talons, however. Morphing from wings to arms once more, he grasped the edges of the window and leapt down onto the stone floor of a corridor.
There were two guards standing stiffly erect outside a set of doors some ten feet from where he'd landed. Either he'd made more noise that he'd thought, or the movement caught the eye of one of the guards, for he turned his head curiously. Unhooking the whip coiled at his waist, Talin flicked. The leather snaked out, the tip curling tightly around the man's throat. Gasping, his eyes widening, he caught at the leather around his throat instinctively even as Talin yanked on the whip, jerking the man face down on the tiles.
Leaping forward and upward at almost the same instant, he caught the second guard with his talons around the throat, choking off a half uttered cry of alarm. His momentum slammed the guard backward into the wall. Talin released the man as he began to slide to the floor.
After staring down at his prey for several moments, he grabbed the man's armor and slugged him in the face with his fist. The guard's eyes rolled back in his head and, satisfied, Talon turned to the first. That one, he saw, was already turning blue in the face. Shrugging, he balled up his fist and knocked that guard out, as well.
Retrieving his whip, he glanced up and down the corridor and finally opened the door and peered inside. Finding the room empty, he morphed into full man once more, grabbed a man in each hand and dragged them inside. One was already beginning to come around. A quick search of a chest nearby turned up a marvelous collection of scarves. Using those, he bound and gagged both men, then strode across the room, checking at each window for guards.
There were two more guards on the roofs overlooking what he now saw was a garden of some sort, for potted trees and flowers grew there in profusion. It took a little longer than he liked to dispatch the last two guards because he was forced to climb the walls to get to them. Finally, however, he had neatly disposed of the possibility of interruption and merely vaulted over the low wall of the last post, landing lightly on the garden tiles. * * * *
Emerging briefly from her own thoughts, Princess Aliya smiled absently at the maid who'd spoken to her. It seemed to be the response the maid had expected. She flitted away again, leaving Aliya to her thoughts once more.
The roof top garden was not a place for meditation at any time that her ladies were present. Today it was even less peaceful than usual. The maids flitted from one spot along the low wall that protected the outer edge of the garden to another, looking, and sounding, like a small flock of excited birds as they watched the activity below them, exchanging observations about the dignitaries arriving for the tournament.
Wryly, Princess Aliya thought that, from their behavior, one might almost believe one, or all, of them were watching the arrival of their own suitor.
She almost wished that were the case, but she wasn't entirely sure of why she wished it.
Almost two years to the day before, when preparations had been underway for her sixteenth birthday celebration, she had been as excited as any of her ladies were, certain that her father meant to settle her and that she would soon be overseeing her own household. She had been tremendously disappointed when that was not the case. She had reached marriageable age the year before and had not been settled, but she had been brought up to understand that her marriage would be of political significance. As disappointed and impatient for life as she was, she'd understood that her father needed time to weigh his decision carefully when there had been no less than three princes who had offered for her. She also understood that the decision was made even more difficult by the fact that others offered for her in the time that her father, King Andor, pondered his decision--powerful men that he had no wish to offend. She'd convinced herself that the celebration planned for her sixteenth birthday was also to be the occasion when she would at last be told who had been chosen for her. Again, she had been disappointed and so it had gone since. Each time her father had considered her suitors and concluded which would be best to choose to protect the interests of his kingdom and his daughter, a new suitor would appear upon their doorstep and he would go back to examining the situation.
She'd begun to think she would never be wed, or if she was that she would be long in the tooth and perhaps too old to bear children.
She had enjoyed the courtships. With each new suitor, she had found something to admire about him, something to appeal to the woman in herself, the mother, the princess and, occasionally, all three. It had not always been an easy task. Some had been young, barely old enough to be considered men at all, others more 'seasoned,' and still others quite old. Few of them were actually handsome, but they were quite presentable and only a couple had been completely unappealing physically.
Her opinion mattered to her father, but she was a woman full grown now, and she realized that her personal feelings could not be allowed to get in the way of a sound political decision so she preferred to keep those to herself.
In truth, she didn't feel more particularly drawn to one above another.
She supposed she wasn't as excited as her ladies because she had been disappointed so many times before and, although her father had announced that she would be bestowed upon the winner of the tournament, that he would allow 'right of might' to determine her fate, she didn't entirely believe that would settle the matter when she had girded herself so many times before and been disappointed.
After a time, she realized there was a niggling of disenchantment at the heart of her strange moodiness. As unnerving as it had been to imagine men fighting over the honor of her hand, it had also been exciting. There had been a sense that fate would choose the perfect man for her, that she could not make the wrong choice, or her father. She would be wed to the strongest and bravest warrior among them.
Politics had again intervened. The oldest and the youngest and least experienced of her suitors had complained that that was not a fair way to conclude the matter and they had been allowed to send their champions to fight in their place.
Now she might well end up with a man who was not strong and brave at all, but rather the man who'd paid the best warrior. And, regardless of her sensitivity to the issues at stake, she hardly felt that that was fair to her. She might end up with a grandfather ... or a boy!
That had always been a possibility, of course, because the young and virile did not always inherit a powerful kingdom, but it was very disappointing to be allowed to think she would have a skilled, fearless warrior as husband and then discover that might not be the case at all.
Sighing, she decided to try to put those anxieties from her mind. Now was not the time to be moping. There was to be feasting and entertainment of all sorts.
The tournament would be far more exciting than it had ever been before for the simple reason that she would wed whoever emerged as the best.
By her next birthday, she might well have a babe in her arms to cuddle!
That was almost as frightening a thought as it was thrilling, though, and she rose abruptly from the lounging couch where she'd been perched almost from the time she had come up to the gardens with her ladies.
Her beautiful gown, commissioned by her father especially for the occasion, was creased she saw in consternation when she looked down to smooth it. She was not generally prone to be so careless with her dress. Particularly not those things she owned that were as lovely as this gown, which had been fashioned of the finest silk and brocaded all over the bodice, the long, fitted sleeves, and the bell shaped skirt, and then sewn with seed pearls and tiny diamonds in a cunning floral design. From the moment she had had her first fitting, it had been her favorite, for the pale color seemed to her the perfect foil for her dark skin and the style was both fashionable and very flattering to her figure.
Sighing with irritation at herself for crimping it, she finally dismissed it and crossed the garden to join her ladies at the garden wall.
Leesa, the daughter of one of her father's highest advisors, turned at her approach. Her face crinkled with barely suppressed merriment. "I thought you would not be able to resist long!"
Aliya chuckled. "It is almost as frightening to watch as it is exciting," she confessed, keeping her voice low so that the others wouldn't hear her.
Several different emotions flickered across Leesa's face. "You are soon to be a bride. You should have no other thought in your head but the thrill of having so many magnificent warriors vying for your hand!"
Aliya smiled but shook her head. "It is here--I think," she said, kneading the coil of tension in her ribs. "But.... "She broke off, staring down at the mass of humanity and carts and animals below. "It is a little overwhelming, too, don't you think?"
"I would be absolutely petrified if all of this were on my account," Leesa responded with a chuckle. "But you are Princess Aliya! The most beautiful princess in all the known world. You should be accustomed to this sort of--adoration!"
Aliya's lips flattened. A faint frown drew her brows together. "That part is almost as scary as the rest, if you must know," she muttered. "It would almost be easier to think they had only come because they were so anxious to ally themselves to my father. It would not matter then if I was hump backed or lame--no one would be expecting perfection. What if ... what if the one chosen for me does not find me the least appealing as a woman? I had expected a wedding of political significance from the time I was a small child, but I am a woman now. I may have been born a princess, but I am still a woman and I want the same things that every woman wants; a husband whom I can love and respect that will care for me."
Leesa stared at her in genuine confusion. "But ... you are beautiful!"
Aliya rolled her eyes. "I am a princess! Do you think I do not know that that is why I am considered beautiful? My father loves me. That is why he thinks I am beautiful. And everyone else--well they would not like to displease him, I am sure."
"Your grace, please forgive me if I am too familiar, but--that is just plain silly! Have you not looked in your mirror?"
Aliya blushed but brushed aside Leesa's anxiety that she would offend her princess. "I am afraid if I look too hard I will see the imperfections I fear are there," she said wryly. "Anyway, I can not be an impartial judge and beyond that, beauty is what pleases the eye of those who look upon it. It can not be the same for everyone who looks. Even if I was enchanted with myself, it does not necessarily follow that anyone else would agree with me--if I was not a princess."
"But that is only a part of what disturbs you?" Leesa asked perceptively.
Aliya frowned. "I know what my duty is and I will not shirk my responsibilities."
Aliya shrugged and laughed, but wryly. "I do hope that I will not find myself wed to some grandfather."
In an unaccustomed display of affection, Leesa slipped an arm around Aliya's waist and gave her a consoling squeeze. "Then you are right. You are not so different from the rest of us. You must try not to worry too much about such things. If he is very old, he will be less likely to trouble you in the marital bed, more likely to cherish you for yourself, and be considerate enough to leave you a young widow."
Aliya bit her lip to contain a smile. "That is not a very charitable sentiment," she said primly.
"Perhaps not, but it is very true, nevertheless, and I see you are feeling much more yourself already. Now, stroll with me. I saw a particularly handsome young warrior arrive at the gate only a few moments ago and I am sure he must be in the bailey by now so that we can view him much better."
A chuckle escaped Aliya. "How do you know that he is handsome? You could not possibly have seen him well enough from here to tell if he was well favored or not!"
"Deduction, dear princess!" Leesa replied promptly. "I could see quite well enough to discern that his hair was a glorious shade of gold, and his figure a very fine one. For the rest, I am assured by the way all the ladies he passed who stopped to gape at him that he is extraordinarily well favored."
Aliya gurgled with laughter. "Perhaps they only stopped to gawk because he was quite hideous?"
Leesa grinned but shook her head. "If that were the case then they would have fled, not stopped to stare."
Intrigued, Aliya allowed Lady Leesa to lead her to the other end of the garden. To her disappointment, but without much surprise, she saw no one fitting the 'golden young god' Leesa had described. "You were only teasing me," she said accusingly as she turned from her perusal of the guests gathered below them.
Leesa was frowning. "Truly, I was not. Look there. He was mounted upon that great golden horse there with the trappings of red and black."
A thud not far behind them distracted them both. As Aliya turned, she was stunned to discover a strange man had just landed in the garden, having apparently leapt down from the roof just above it, or perhaps from the window of the room overlooking the rooftop garden, though how he could have accessed either with the palace guards everywhere was a mystery to her.
As he strode purposely toward her, she glanced around instinctively to look for the guards. A needle of alarm stabbed through her when she saw the two who'd been standing near the garden entrance were nowhere in sight. By the time she'd checked every post and found every man missing she was beginning to feel downright faint with fear. "The guards are gone," she whispered a little breathlessly, transferring her gaze to the man approaching them.
Striding purposefully, he had already covered more than half the distance that had separated them when she had first seen him and yet she sensed no urgency in his movements, and certainly there was no stealth in his approach.
A flicker of doubt went through her. Did he present a danger or not?
He was not armed.
He was scarcely even decently dressed for she saw that not only were his feet bare, but he wore nothing more than a scanty breechcloth below the waist, leaving the entirety of his golden brown flesh from hip to foot exposed. The vest that covered his chest was little more than woven strips of leather, open along the sides from shoulder to waist, save for the woven bits of leather that held it together.
A coiled whip was secured at his waist.
A horse master from some distant, primitive kingdom?
Aliya dragged her gaze from him as her other ladies, apparently becoming aware of the stranger and the absence of the guards, scurried to her side--whether to protect her or to draw courage from her presence, she wasn't certain which.
When she returned her attention to the stranger, she saw that he had halted little more than a yard away and was surveying her and her ladies with interest.
A sensation midway between fear and fascination went through her. His features were harshly angular, almost predatory. For all that, he was the most striking man she had ever seen and she felt a sensation wash through her that made her feel weak and faint and breathless with excitement all at the same time.
The glint of precious metal caught her gaze as he moved closer still and she glanced at the rows of buttons that adorned the front of the vest he wore. Each bore a royal crest of some house she was unfamiliar with.
Was he one of the royals who'd gathered for the tournament, she wondered, feeling her heart flutter anxiously at the thought?
Dragging her gaze from the crest, she met his sharp gaze. His eyes, almost the same golden brown shade as his hair, raked over her and her ladies boldly.
"I have come for the princess, Aliya," he said finally.
Blinking in surprise, Aliya and her ladies exchanged questioning glances.
"I am Princes Aliya," Leesa said, stepping forward, her voice quavering ever so slightly. "What is it you want of me?"
Stunned, Aliya could only gape at her maid.
The stranger looked Leesa over critically and dismissed her, returning his attention to Aliya and her other ladies. Even as his gaze lit upon Aliya, her lady, Beatrice, stepped in front of her. "It is alright, Lady Leesa. I am Princess Aliya."
The stranger strode toward her without a word, grasped her shoulders and set her aside. His piercing gaze swept over Aliya. "I have come a very long way to see the woman that so many men are willing to die for."
Aliya swallowed with an effort, still too stunned by the stranger's brash behavior to sort her chaotic thoughts. "Who are you?" she whispered.
His hard, sharply etched lips curled faintly in something approximating a smile, but the amusement did not reach his eyes. "I am King Talin, hereditary ruler of the tribe of the Golden Falcon."