Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Snippets - CHATELAINE OF FOREZ by Vijaya Schartz

Curse of the Lost Isle Book 5
by Vijaya Schartz

Afflicted by the ondine curse, Melusine seeks the soul of her lost beloved in the young Artaud of Forez, who reigns over the verdant hills south of Burgundy, on the road of pilgrims, troubadours and merchants. But this dark and brooding Pagan lord is not at all what she expected or even hoped. He knows nothing of their past love, her Fae nature, or her secret curse. Must Melusine seduce and betroth this cold stranger to satisfy the Goddess and redeem her curse?
The gold in the rivers instills greed in the powerful, and many envy the rich Lord of Forez, including his most trusted vassals... even the Bishop of Lyon. When Artaud’s attraction to Melusine makes them the target of a holy hunt, will she find redemption from the curse, or will they burn at the stake?

"magic religious battles and epic love... fast paced, with many scenic changes and villains to despise. The battle between good and evil is front and center in this pit stop on a fantastic journey that spans centuries!" - InD'Tale Magazine


March 1028 AD - Forez (now in central France)
 Melusine stopped singing and shuddered in the cool water. Someone was coming. Fast approaching hooves trampled the underbrush. She straightened and gripped the well worn sides of the rectangular stone basin. Birds and insects had ceased their chirping. Through the trees, a single horseman on a black stallion galloped up the forested path to the sacred spring where she bathed.
 How had he crossed the magic barrier she'd erected down the hill? Could he be an immortal like her?
 She glanced at her blue robes, left in the middle of the clearing, at the foot of the tall, standing stone hugging the statue of the Great Goddess. Too far away. No time to step out of the catch basin and retrieve them. With a flurry of the hand, she wove a quick invisibility spell and willed the water around her to still.
 Her heart stumbled for a beat or two. This could be the blessed day the Great Goddess had promised her. The day she finally met her former beloved... Sigefroi. Although, in his new incarnation, he wore another name.
 The horseman emerged from the curtain of trees, impossibly tall, dark, muscular, in black leather gear, a crossbow across his back. A sword slapped his thigh, and a hunting knife adorned his belt. Half a dozen bloody hares hung from the back of his saddle. Definitely not her beloved Sigefroi. What now?
 The stranger glanced at her, raised a dark brow and nodded a salute from the saddle. A restrained smile touched his lips. How could he possibly see her through the invisibility spell? But he'd already crossed her privacy barrier. Fae blood definitely coursed through his veins.
 Melusine shrank into her chilly bath, dreading to face him naked.
 It could be worse. It could be the first Wednesday of the month, when the curse made her a serpent from the waist down. In this increasingly Christian land, discovery in ondine form could cost her to burn at the stake.
 Since the local Christians avoided Pagan shrines, however, the stranger must be of the old faith.
 She took a deep breath and made her voice as formidable and intimidating as she could. "Who dares violate the sacred spring of the Great One?"
 "Count Artaud of Forez." The deep baritone rang loud and clear.
 Melusine's heartbeat faltered. Not an immortal, but worse. "Artaud of Forez?"
 "I own this land, and methinks you are the one trespassing." He dismounted with surprising agility for his size, sliding off the saddle like an acrobat.
 Melusine scrutinized the young man. According to the Goddess, Artaud had inherited the soul of her late Sigefroi, but how could it be, when they looked like opposites. Where Sigefroi had been wiry and fair, with gold reddish hair and a clear gaze, Artaud had broad shoulders, straight black hair, a hale face, and a dark, brooding gaze, as deep as a lake on a moonless night. Both looked fearsome, but in different ways.
 Count Artaud led his prancing stallion closer to the large rectangular basin where she bathed.
 Dear Goddess! Heat crept up Melusine's cheeks. She gathered her legs and encircled her knees with her arms for modesty. "How dare you!"
 "My horse is thirsty." His voice held a subtle challenge.
 The black stallion snorted as its master freed him. The beast drank noisily from the far end of the long basin.
 Count Artaud cast her a sidelong glance, his swarthy, square face unreadable. "The Great One would want to quench an animal's thirst."
 "Only a Pagan would know the Great One respects all creatures as equal." Melusine kept her voice even, but anger gripped her insides. How could this Artaud hold the soul of her beloved? He was a cold, dark stranger, not her fiery knight of old.
 His brow shot up. "I fear you have me at a disadvantage, my lady. I have never seen you at court or on my estates. Who might you be?"
 Although she'd known they would soon meet, Melusine had no ready answer. An ondine? A cursed immortal? The woman you are destined to marry? The love of your past life? The enchantress who might bring your doom? She couldn't find words he might accept, even less understand. While she remembered their lifetime together, he did not.
 No sympathy softened the neutral face as his dark stare pierced her. He removed his black leather gloves and sat on a jutting stone next to the well worn edge of the old basin. "Devil got your tongue?"
 Visions of hellish creatures flashed upon Melusine's mind at his mention of the devil. Christians believed in the devil... and Christians wanted her dead.
 "Melusine..." She cleared her choking voice. "My name is Melusine."
 She fancied her first name innocuous enough. Better than Melusine the Fae, immortal, cursed by the Great One, excommunicated First Lady of Luxembourg, the love and the bane of your past existence.
 "Lady Melusine..." He rolled the words on his tongue. His dark, liquid eyes softened and unfocused slightly. "An unusual name for an unusual woman."
 "‘Tis an ancient name, my lord." Tempted to prod his mind and find out what he thought of her, she stopped herself. If he could see through her spells, and Fae blood coursed through his veins, like Sigefroi, he would be impervious to her magic... but not to her charms.
 Changing tactic, she smiled and relaxed against the hollowed stone basin, exposing her submersed nudity through the clear water. "I hear you have done well, Lord Artaud. Your lands of Lyon and Forez thrive, and your people consider you a fair and wise ruler."
 He cast her a sidelong glance, then shifted his gaze to the statue of the Great One dominating the clearing. The quenched black stallion walked away a few paces and grazed the luscious grass of the hillock.
 Awe widened his eyes as he faced her again. "What else have you heard about me?"
 Although Melusine had kept her promise not to spy on Artaud, she knew a few things about him. "The river gold makes you richer than any king. So does the trade on the pilgrimage road to St Jacques of Compostella. Travelers speak highly of your hospitality."
 Bird trills and the chirping of insects had resumed, and the sweet scent of wild flowers filled the air with vibrant life.
 "What you hear is true." He faced her but kept his gaze at eye level. "I'm also a Pagan count ruling over Christian barons. That alone can get you killed these days."
 "Then we have much in common, my lord." Melusine smiled seductively. "Only a devout Pagan would visit the sacred spring and the shrine of the Great One. Why else would you come here?"
 He barely cracked a thin smile. "To water my horse."
 His jest bothered her. So did his cool response to her charms. Hard as she tried, Melusine could not see in this man any remnant of her past love.
 Had she waited these few decades for naught? Had the Great One tricked her? No. The Great One never lied. Still, even though Melusine did not intend to share this stranger's fate, she should warn him of the dangers threatening his rule.
 She trailed her fingers on the water surface, blurring it. "This hill is not just a sacred shrine from time immemorial, Lord Artaud."
 His dark gaze alighted upon her with a new spark of interest. "State your meaning."
 "‘Tis the site of your future castle of Montarcher."
 Suspicion narrowed his eyes. "How do you know of my future designs?"
 Melusine's heart skipped a beat. "The Great One sees and knows all, my lord. You must build your castle in haste to face the coming dangers."
 A muscle in his square jaw jumped. "What dangers?"
 "Your enemies are gathering." Melusine didn't know the future, only that Artaud would need help. "Many envy your riches, my lord. Others resent your faith. But from here, you can fend them off."
 "Why here?" His tone held curiosity.
 Melusine straightened and gazed in the distance. She was destined to protect him, but she felt naught for this stranger. "This is a sacred site, my lord. From here, the statue of the Great One will bless and protect all your lands."
 His brow rose and his eyes softened but still stared at her. "Truly?"
 Melusine shrank under his scrutiny, wishing she wore clothes. "Truly, my lord."
 "Thank you for the warning, my lady." He rose and whistled. His stallion trotted up to him. In one light vault, Artaud landed in the saddle.
 Melusine's heart jumped. Had she done right, or had she spoiled everything? In any case, she must speak with the Great One. There must be a mistake. She could never love this dark, brooding man. He was not her long lost love.

Find more of Vijaya's books on her website at:
Her books are available at various online retailers.
Find them all on Amazon HERE

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Snippets - LADY OF LUXEMBOURG by Vijaya Schartz

Curse of the Lost Isle Book 4
by Vijaya Schartz

978 AD - Melusine the Fae, immortal and cursed Lady of Luxembourg, managed to hide her Pagan nature from mortals for many years. She fiercely protects her handsome Count, Sigefroi, but in their princely bliss, neither of them seems to age, and a few suspicious bishops take notice. Then an ondine wreaks havoc during a battle, luring enemy soldiers into the river.

Betrayed, Sigefroi reflects on his many sins from the depths of a rat infested dungeon. Under torture, will he reveal her deadly secret? And when her beloved turns into a devout Christian, can Melusine salvage her happiness? Can love truly redeem her curse, or will she burn at the stake?

"Schartz is a gifted writer in many genres, and the research she does for every book is phenomenal. Every detail is woven into the story seamlessly, so you feel as if you are really there, watching the horses, the fighting, the clothing, the lovemaking. Looking forward to the next volume." Manic Readers 5 stars


Sigefroi walked resolutely toward Melusine, his forehead shiny from the fencing yard. The morning sun set aflame his reddish gold hair. He tossed his practice sword to a squire and wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his white tunic. A triangle of moisture stained the red prancing lion embroidered on his chest.
Melusine took hold of his muscled arm and leaned against his tall frame as they wove through the parting crowd. How she relished his scent of clean soap and male. “Who is coming?”
“One of our secret observers at the French court.” Sigefroi grinned and patted her hand on his arm. “Good news I hope.”
Melusine’s insides warmed at his familiar touch. She glanced up at her husband’s smooth, cheerful face. Sigefroi had grown younger and handsomer since taking her elixir. Although well past fifty, he looked like a young knight. He might not be immortal like her, but she would keep him vigorous and healthy for many decades to come. In truth, she couldn’t imagine life without him.
Hooves clattered on the drawbridge across the narrow gorge separating the main plateau from the Bock, the rocky needle on which Sigefroi had erected his fortress. The destrier galloped through the open gate then reared at the sight of the small gathering, nearly unhorsing the rider.
The knight spotted Sigefroi and Melusine, then directed his mount toward them. He dismounted in a jingle of mail, lifted his helmet, set it under his arm and bowed deeply.
“My lord,” he sputtered between broken breaths, then raised his weathered face. Gray hair escaped from his mail hauberk. “The Archbishop of Verdun is marching upon Luxembourg with his army.”
“By Saint Peter’s balls!” Sigefroi uttered under his breath, slamming a fist into his hand.
Melusine swallowed a lump in her throat. “What?”
“That blasted archbishop be damned to hell!” Sigefroi’s brow knit and his jaw clenched. “I hoped it would not come to this.”
Despite the archbishop’s implacable hatred for Sigefroi’s family, Melusine never believed he would dare attack the stronghold of Luxembourg.
The old knight caught his breath and color filled his face as he explained. “The archbishop has over two thousand riders, my lord,” he went on in an eager voice. “And a great army of foot soldiers. They should be less than three days behind me.”
“Three days?” Melusine shuddered as she counted the days in her mind. The timing couldn’t possibly be worse.
“Not much time, but enough.” Sigefroi flashed the old spy a quick smile and patted his armored shoulder. “You did good work and will be rewarded. Now, get some food and rest.”
The knight acquiesced, turned around and walked away, a proud spring in his jingling step.
Sigefroi signaled his captain of the guard, who was exchanging worried glances with Alyx. “Send a messenger to Gunter in Saarburg, and one to my brother, the Duke of High Lorraine, before the pig of Verdun controls the roads. Ask them to send their armies at once. We need to teach that pesky archbishop a lesson.”
“Aye, my lord.” The captain bowed and hurried away.
Melusine stood there, in utter shock. Why hadn’t she foreseen the danger? Wrapped up in her princely bliss, she had relaxed her vigilance and failed to warn those she loved.
Sigefroi faced her and met her gaze. “Can you prepare the castle and make sure all our people are safe inside the walls?”
Aware of Alyx moving closer to her, Melusine nodded. “Are we preparing for a long siege?”
“If our messengers get through, no more than a week.” Sigefroi’s hazel eyes darkened despite the morning light. “But if they are delayed, it could be a month or more. We only have a few hundred soldiers here.”
Alyx stepped forward, eyes wide and round. “But the walls will keep us safe, right my lord?”
Sigefroi pressed his lips and nodded. “These walls have never been breached. And as soon as our armies arrive, it will be all over for the archbishop.”
A strange sensation wrenched Melusine’s gut. How could she have missed the portents of war? She had let danger creep up on her home. May the Great Goddess protect Luxembourg.

LADY OF LUXEMBOURG is included in the boxed set CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE Books 1 through 4, for a very friendly price everywhere in ebook.

Find more of Vijaya's books on her website at:
Her books are available at various online retailers.
Find them all on Amazon HERE

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Snippets - SEDUCING SIGEFROI by Vijaya Schartz

find it in kindle here
Curse of the Lost Isle Book 3
by Vijaya Schartz

Luxembourg - 963 AD - To offset the curse that makes her a serpent from the waist down one day each month, Melusine, exiled Princess of Strathclyde, must seduce and wed a mortal knight, the shrewd and ambitious Sigefroi of Ardennes.

Sigefroi, son of the Duke of Lorraine, suspects Melusine is not what she appears, but her beauty, her rich dowry, and her sharp political skills serve his ambitions. He never expected her to soften his stone-cold warrior heart.

So close to the Imperial court, dangers and intrigue threaten Melusine. War looms on the horizon, a Mermaid was sighted around Luxembourg, and Sigefroi’s bishop brother questions her ancestry. If anyone ever suspects Melusine’s true nature, she will burn at the stake...


"Is everything to your liking so far?"
 Jarred by the deep male voice, Melusine snapped awake. Sigefroi stood in front of her, one soft boot nonchalantly propped on the edge of the wooden tub. The white of his tunic matched his teeth as he stared at her with a wolfish grin.
 Melusine glanced around in panic for something to cover her nudity but her clothes lay too far away. She pulled up her legs in the bath water and laced her arms around her knees. "How dare you intrude? Can't you see I'm taking a bath?"
 Sigefroi's bold gaze swept over her exposed body. "It's not as if it were the first time. You seem to like bathing in hot tubs as well as in cold rivers."
 Shocked at his effrontery, Melusine released one arm to point toward the door. "Get out of my chamber immediately!"
 "Your chamber?" His grin widened. "This is the only private chamber in the villa, and it happens to be mine."
 "Yours?" Melusine flushed in confusion. She knew the villa was small but hadn't really thought about all the details.
 "I'll share it with you, unless you want to sleep on the hall floor with the servants." The scowl on his brow returned. "And as the lord of this place, I don't take orders from my guests... or my wenches."
 Wench? Her solitary life hadn't prepared Melusine for such vulgarity. According to what she understood of men, however, she must not give herself too fast but rather let Sigefroi grow hungry for her body as long as possible. "I am no wench and demand to be treated with respect!"
 He chuckled and effected a mock bow. "You certainly have mine, my lady."
 Melusine managed a forced smile. "If you give me your word to behave honorably, I could sleep on a pallet behind a screen at the far side of your bedchamber."
 He rolled his eyes. "Truly?"
 Melusine hoped her inaccessible proximity would work in her favor. "There is enough space for the two of us."
 "Nay." The candles flickered in his amber eyes. "You don't understand, my lady." A slow smile spread on his sensual lips. "I intend to take you to my bed tonight. After all, we are to be wed."
 "So soon?" Panic choked her voice. Impaired by Sigefroi's close proximity, Melusine couldn't think. He wanted to consummate their union tonight? She quickly regained her composure. "My lord, it's not proper. We hardly know each other and are not yet betrothed."
 He pulled up the sleeves of his tunic. "A detail easily remedied, my lady. Do you mind if I wash my hands before dinner?"
 Before she could react, he dipped his hands in her bath, caressed her knee, brushed the skin of her thigh. Delicious heat coursed through her entire body. He seemed to enjoy her confusion as he swept the length of her folded arms with the back of one finger.
 Lifting her chin with the crook of one finger, he bent and softly kissed her lips.
 Melusine melted into the bath water, waves of heat swelled and washed over her. His smooth, soft lips teased hers. Her mouth relaxed and opened under his. She let him gently probe her mouth then claim it as his own. Dear Goddess, she was lost.
 How could she manipulate this man when she yielded under his touch? She had seen shameless wenches offer themselves to strangers when it served their purpose, or even withhold their favors at will, but Melusine could never do that. She could not refuse this man. She was exposed, vulnerable, and in great danger.

This book is also part of the boxed set Curse of the Lost Isle, books 1 through 4 for a bargain price. Available in eBooks everywhere:

Also, 99cts today in kindle countdown only:

Book 5 Chatelaine of Forez
 and Book 6 Beloved Crusader

Find more of Vijaya's books on her website at:
Her books are available at various online retailers.
Find them all on Amazon HERE

Here is another Sunday Snippet. Visit the blogs of the other authors involved in this tour.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Hurry, the Amazon countdown discount for BELOVED CRUSADER, Book 6 in the Curse of the Lost Isle medieval fantasy series, is starting today. The kindle version goes for 99cts for a few days, then the price goes up over the next week, back to the regular price.

This book stands alone in the series, so you do not need to have read the other books to appreciate it.

Find it HERE:

Also 99cts for a few days, CHATELAINE OF FOREZ, Book 5 in the Curse of the Lost Isle #medieval #historical #fantasy #romance #5star #series 
 "magic religious battles and epic love... fast paced, with many scenic changes and villains to despise. The battle between good and evil is front and center in this pit stop on a fantastic journey that spans centuries!" - InD'Tale Magazine - "I have enjoyed reading all the books in this Curse of the Lost Isle series... I would rather have all the books in a boxed set... That doesn't take away from the excellent writing and plot..." Manic Readers

Don't miss this bargain. The publisher tells me this title will not likely be discounted again.

If you want to catch up with the series, the best deal is the boxed set of Novels 1-2-3-4, four novels in one download for $5.00. (available everywhere)

Vijaya Schartz

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Snippets PAGAN QUEEN by Vijaya Schartz

Curse of the Lost Isle Book 2
by Vijaya Schartz
806 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland) - As the Vikings raid the coast of Alba, Pressine of Bretagne sets out to seduce King Elinas of Dumfries, chosen by the Goddess to unite the tribes against the foreign invader. Elinas, still mourning his departed queen, has no intention to remarry. Head-strong and independent, Pressine does not expect to fall for the very attractive, wise and noble ruler... Furthermore, her Pagan nature clashes with the religious fanaticism of the king’s Christian heir, who suspects her unholy ancestry and will stop at nothing to get rid of her.

"Schartz paints a realistic picture of life in a medieval castle, with all its smells, tastes, visuals, and feelings, and as always, all the primary, as well as the secondary characters are well-developed and interesting. I’m looking forward to the others in this series." - Manic Readers 4.5 stars

He shrugged. "Daughters cannot rule the land. They are only good to marry off to seal alliances."

Insulted by the remark, Pressine decided to fight back. Leaning for support against a heavy oak chest, she molded her palms around the smooth carvings of the lid. "Women could rule in the old days. Women went to battle. When did we become weak and unable to decide for ourselves? I was not raised to do the bidding of a man. I serve the Goddess and obey the laws that govern the Otherworld."

 "What a perfect excuse!" The sarcastic tone cut into the stifling air like a sharp dagger. "What else?"

 Wondering how Elinas would react to more forbidden knowledge in his present state, Pressine hesitated.

 He lifted a heavy chair and slammed it down on the flagstone in his rage. "Speak now, woman! Afore I run out of patience and banish you from my sight."

 Taking a deep breath, Pressine let out a reluctant whisper. "Longevity."

 Elinas' eyebrows shot up questioningly. "What about it? Pray tell."

 "When Aunt Morgane came to our wedding, you thought you recognized her." Ignoring the lump in her throat, Pressine paused to watch understanding dawn on her king's face. "You were right. It was her you met as a lad. She has not aged a day since."

 "Morgane?" Doubt crept into the angry voice. "That was thirty years ago and she barely looks thirty now. How old can she be?"

 Elinas no longer seemed angry, but Pressine refrained from smiling at her small victory. "I do not know exactly, but she knew King Arthur, the bear of Britannia. She remembers former lives as well. She claims to have witnessed the Trojan Wars, and she speaks about Hercules and Achilles as if she knew them well."

 "Ridiculous!" Elinas turned away as if to dismiss the idea, then looked out the window. "These are only legends."

 Pressine swallowed hard. "All legends are rooted in reality."

 "Do not mock me, woman." A calm, threatening tone returned to the king's voice as he faced her again.

 It crossed Pressine's mind to use her powers of persuasion to influence him, but such coercion would not be fair to the man she loved, or even to herself. She needed to be understood and accepted for what she really was. Harnessing her courage, she pushed herself away from the oak chest and walked toward the table that separated them, keeping her chin up.

 "This may sound unbelievable to you now," she explained softly, "but in the ancient world, immortality was not unheard of."

 "Oh? Go on." Dangerous challenge filled his voice.

 "My mother grew up on ambrosia, the food of the gods. It is an extraordinary bread made with a white powder of elemental gold. This special nourishment, combined with my mother's heritage, makes her immortal."

 "Really?" A glint of interest lit the king's eyes despite a few traces of impatience. "What heritage?"
 Encouraged by the positive change in the king's attitude, Pressine relaxed a little. "Long before the time of antiquity, the ruler of the heavens came with a great army of angels." She took care to speak slowly, soothingly, so as not to provoke his anger. "At some point, a mutiny broke out among the celestial beings. The revolt failed, and to punish the rebels the ruler of the heavens decided to abandon them on Earth."

 Elinas emitted a sarcastic snort.

 "Let me finish," Pressine commanded, delighted to see Elinas somewhat mollified. "When the master of the heavens ordered to close the gates of his palace in the sky, other heavenly beings remained trapped on Earth as well."

 Still as a statue, holding the back of a chair with a white knuckle grip, Elinas stared at Pressine, his expression unreadable.

 "Over time, the heavenly beings had children with Earthlings." Pressine kept her voice even. "The dissident angels and their progeny rallied under their leader and have been doing mischief ever since. The good angels and their children gathered around the Great Goddess. Ever since, they have helped simple humans in their fight against the dark angels."

 Elinas's brow shot up. "You are descended from angels?"

Best deal:
Get the 4-book boxed set of the Curse of the Lost Isle series for $5.00 in eBook everywhere.

Find more of Vijaya's books on her website at:
Her books are available at various online retailers.
Find them all on Amazon HERE

Here is another Sunday Snippet. Visit the blogs of the other authors involved in this tour.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Snippets - PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE by Vijaya Schartz

Curse of the Lost Isle Book 1
by Vijaya Schartz

806 AD - Alba (Ancient Scotland)
As the Vikings raid the coast of Alba, Pressine of Bretagne sets out to seduce King Elinas of Dumfries, chosen by the Goddess to unite the tribes against the foreign invader. Elinas, still mourning his departed queen, has no intention to remarry. Head strong and independent, Pressine does not expect to fall for the very attractive, wise and noble ruler... Furthermore, her Pagan nature clashes with the religious fanaticism of the king’s Christian heir, who suspects her unholy ancestry and will stop at nothing to get rid of her. 

"An excellent story with clear descriptions of the manners, dress, customs and everything else that existed in the time of Viking Raids in Europe. There is plenty of action, romance, magic, and a wonderfully kind Princess sent by the leader of her religion to find and wed an honorable king..." 5 stars on Amazon


Without waiting for an invitation, Elinas stormed into the bedchamber.

 Pressine shuddered at the loathing in his dark brown eyes.

 "Whatever made you think you could violate the apartments of my beloved queen?" Stopping short in the middle of the room, Elinas glanced around, eyes wide with disbelief.

 Pressine struggled to sound casual. "Surely your gracious queen would have wanted these rooms light, warm and clean, even alive with laughter, rather than dark, sealed, and stinking of decay."

 The king's jaw tightened under the short black beard as he towered over her. His hands balled into fists at his sides. "I alone decide in my castle." The low voice turned to a raucous whisper, more threatening than the shouts of any battlefield. "I shall not tolerate defiance of any kind under my roof. Restore these rooms to their previous state and leave."

 Barely able to slow her heartbeat, Pressine feigned distraction, dusting her blue riding dress. "It simply cannot be done."

 "You dare challenge me?" His surprise would have been comical, if not for the menacing tone.

 "The old linens were burned," Pressine said with a calm she did not feel, as if lecturing a child. She rose to fetch the bundle wrapped in blue silk and handed it to him.

 Elinas looked at it suspiciously. "What is it?"

 "Her comb, mirror, distaff, spindle, and other keepsakes." Pressine waved her hand, encompassing the room. "The apartments themselves will never look the way they did before." She had made certain of that.

 The king's eyes, velvety brown and soft this morning at the spring, now burned with the fiery amber of a wild cat's glare. Elinas looked ready to pounce. He snatched the bundle from her arm. "Out!"

 Pressine showed none of the apprehension gripping her. The king's heart, beneath the leather gear, had more mettle than she anticipated.

 "Remember that I have your sword." She paused, observing the sobering effect of her words. "Only this morning, you gave it to me, swearing you would honor your oath of keeping me safe in your halls. Does a king's word count for so little in Strathclyde?"

 "I curse the ill fortune that made me hear you sing, lady." Eyes tightly shut, Elinas tensed, fists at his side, obviously struggling for emotional control. "I should have known that a princess who refuses to bow to the will of men can only bring strife."

 Encouraged by the spark of reason returning to the distraught Elinas, Pressine hoped he could now face his grief. "I am sorry if I offended you. I meant no disrespect."

 "I have enough Vikings, Angles, Picts and Scots to give me trouble. The gods know I do not want feuds in my home." Stillness made his stare frightening.

 Pressine refused to be intimidated. "Will you honor your word and protect me, then?"

 "I should throw you to the wolves!" His voice boomed.

 "Wolves?" Pressine repressed a chuckle. She loved wolves. "What would your people think of a king who throws a defenseless princess to the wolves?"

 "Defenseless?" The king's face reddened.

 "Everyone in the castle expects to see me at your side at the Beltane feast. If I do not attend, there will be questions. The rules of hospitality state that..."

 "Let them ask," Elinas snapped. "The rules of hospitality do not apply to princesses who misbehave!"

 "Please, my lord, do not throw me to the wolves!" Pressine dropped to her knees and grabbed his strong legs, gazing up at him. "I promise to behave like a proper lady and heed all your wishes from now on."

 Elinas glanced into her eyes then averted his gaze. "Get up!" he said gruffly. "I spoke in anger. But you better behave as promised."  

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