by Danae Cash
Disclaimer: All characters within Valleon’s Beast belong to Danae Cash. Do not use this story or her characters without her expressive, written consent.
The conflict with Kayv stretched on for four more years after the strange baby appeared on the doorstep of the castle, ending with an unconditional surrender on the part of Kayv. The rumor persisted that King Daegan had never signed the peace accord with his own hand and was forged by his advisers, terrified that the war would not end until each Kayvrian that had betrayed King Lachlan’s father had repaid their debt with blood. For the most part, the nations enjoyed a tenuous peace for fourteen years, and through Lachlan’s leadership, his cousin’s attempt to spark an all-out war never amounted more than a day or two of skirmishes.
Eighteen years was a long time to boast of in any King’s service, considering that the average reign in this tumultuous time was barely half that. In spite of the odds, at forty-two Lachlan still sat on the throne, and Eden, the child he had been admonished to execute, still lived. Things didn’t always look bright, as Eden wasn’t able to walk until she was four and her first word came when she was seven. After that she’d progressed normally and with the exception of her fangs and tail was by all perception a regular eighteen-year-old.
Only the two of them knew what the benefits of her curse were being used for. This kingdom was rumored to have at its disposal a beast that devoured human flesh and she often accompanied the soldiers into battle, wearing a blood-red cloak that covered her from head to toe. Because of her in the last five years Lachlan’s territory had been extended three-fold and the rebels who bore the hawk mark of Kayv had all but vanished from their kingdom, returning them to a state of peace that they had only enjoyed before he became king, over thirty years ago.
However, this meant that Kayv’s unpredictable government attacked the surrounding realms all the more strongly as they did not possess a beast that could put up such a resistance.
Lachlan sat in his office, hunched over at his desk, reading through letters sent from the autonomous regions on the outer borders of his kingdom. He folded the third letter he had received in as many weeks and tossed it onto the heap of answered requests for help. Just because they were no longer at war didn’t mean he had soldiers to spare. “Martiel,” he beckoned to his longest serving advisor. “Has our brother sent a response to our last missive?”
Martiel stiffened. “He has.”
“Let us have it.”
“It was not written, sir.”
“Do not keep us in suspense Martiel, let us know how Kennard has defied us this time.”
The older man lowered his voice in an effort to keep any wandering ears from overhearing the Prince’s disrespect for his brother. “He expressed his wish that he not return to the castle until both you and your Queen were at the Underworld’s gates.”
The King’s brow furrowed into thick, well-worn lined. He suddenly much older than his forty-two years and more like a man who’d lived thirty-two years in the shadow of death itself, the patches of white among his blonde strands suddenly more visible. He sighed, pressing down the anger that threatened to overwhelm him. “I see the Prince has not changed.”
“Would you have me pen him a response?”
He shook his head. “He and our mother have already made their position abundantly clear. I had thought that it might weaken once he became a father himself, but he trusts in my ability to forgive his impudence as sibling honesty, and this time I will not begrudge him that.”
“There’s one more thing,” Martiel withdrew a sealed envelope from his vest. “This came for you from Paraan.”
Lachlan’s fingers trembled slightly as he tore through the envelope and unfolded it. He and Rourke had known each other since they were children and his son was even betrothed to Rourke’s only daughter. Unfortunately, Rourke’s Kingdom had suffered an intrusion from a force that had claimed a portion of his lands as their base and refused to be persuaded to leave. In fact, he’d heard that they’d managed to kill off or convert several of the strongest men and women Paraan had to offer. Despite his dangerous position, his letter did not beg for military assistance, but instead wished that Caemus come and retrieve his wife-to-be before her life was put in danger.
There was no way he as a man and as Rourke’s friend could deny him such a request. Formulating an action plan, he made arrangements for his son and his retainer to be summoned without alerting the Queen. Explaining to her why her only son had to embark on a crusade into a war-torn country even for a cause as noble as this was not high on his list of priorities. He would have one of his advisors bring her up to speed after he made sure he was out of the castle on a hunting expedition.
He wasn’t a coward, it was just that dealing with his wife took a certain amount of intestinal fortitude, tact, and diplomacy he just didn’t possess. Thankfully, he had hired an arsenal of men who possessed those very same talents who were capable of explaining to you that your entire family had been brutally murdered just as easily as they would comment that the sun was shining.
The door to his chambers opened and in stormed Caemus, his deep tanned form covered in sweat from head to toe, his short dark brown curls matted down with sweat and large brown eyes squinting in anger. “Why did you disturb me father?”
Needless to say, the two men did not have a history of getting along well. Caemus was in fact, a mama’s boy and had spent most of his life clinging to his mother’s skirt, something his father did not approve of. While he was well-versed in swordplay and archery, he was also skilled at some womanly duties, like sewing and gardening. His mother had even taught him the magic she had learned from her years serving as a priestess at a shrine in her home country.
Just before the door swung shut another figure slunk in, this one tall, thin and distinctly female. It was clear that she knew nothing of decency or modesty, and was dressed in a tight fitting black top and a skimpy matching bottom that could only be identified as a skirt because it didn’t have individual legs. She favored this outfit because unlike the others it didn’t restrict the movement of her tail, which could be seen twitching freely behind her legs. Eden wore her scarlet hair in a thick braid down the center of her head that just barely brushed her shoulders. Both teenagers bore a natural tan lighter than his wife’s, but much darker than the average citizen of Valleon and made them look like real siblings.
“Ahh, it is good to see that you two responded to my summons so quickly,” even if he had not known the two of them their entire lives, it was easy to deduce that they had been fighting, again. The buildup of sweat on his body and the redness of his palms combined with the easy-going, know-it-all smirk on Eden’s face that showed just the right amount of fang attested to that. He sighed to himself, sending them off together would definitely not work if all they were going to do was fight, especially if Caemus was going to consistently lose. Of course, that could not be helped, not only was his son offended by having a retainer only a year older than he was, but on top of that, everything that she was completely flew in the face of the view he and his mother shared of what entailed a proper lady.
Caemus rolled his eyes. “It was not as if we had a choice. After all, the Great King Lachlan the Peace-Bringer summoned.”
Lachlan settled himself properly on the throne, towering over the boy. “Indeed we have. I called for you two in order to give you a mission of the utmost secrecy and most dire importance. My good friend Rourke has written of me that his kingdom is under much duress lately,”
Caemus interrupted his father. “You know we can’t afford to send troops to aid them.”
“Speak out of turn again and I won’t mind having a mute for a son,” Lachlan replied, the whimsical smile on his face doing little to ease the malice of his remark.
The boy nodded in subservience, even though he was angered.
“Rourke does not want for troops. Instead, he desires that you come and claim that which is yours. His son must remain in his land as he is the heir to the throne, but Princess Solaris is to become your bride in two month’s time and he does not wish for any harm to befall her as she waits. He has made patient request that you come and retrieve her.”
Caemus bowed before his father, pleased with this assignment. “I shall return without fail,” he turned towards the exit.
“Not so fast,” Lachlan had his soldiers block his son’s passage. “I’d never send you out alone, what would your mother think?” he motioned to Eden. “He is your charge, accompany him and make sure he returns alive.”
“By your command your Majesty.”
Caemus scowled, but brushed past the soldiers without making a remark. Once the two of them were outside however, he felt free to voice his opinion. “As soon as I become King, I will make sure you never show your face again in this Kingdom.”
“What’s the matter Prince? Do you hate it so much that a woman is stronger than you are?”
The young man narrowed his eyes at her, hatred dripping from his voice. “I cannot explain what you are, but you are no woman.”
“It’s a shame you see me that way Prince, because I could show you a thing or two that none of your so called women ever could, including your Princess.”
The boy reddened again, but this time it wasn’t out of anger. Embarrassed, he hid his face from her, staring intently at a portrait of his grandfather.
Eden sighed, knowing that the responsibility was going to fall on her to end this fight of theirs. She extended a hand to the young prince. “Truce?”
He turned and saw her hand, confusion stretching over his features.
“Just until we retrieve the Princess, then we can go back to whatever it is that we have.”
“Fine,” he shook her hand and then just as quickly freed himself of the offending limb. “Until Solaris is safe.”
“Now then, how exactly do you propose we get out of the kingdom without your mother’s knowledge? Not to mention how do we do it and keep my existence a secret?”
Queen Misha’s influence was far reaching, and neither of the teens would be surprised if she had spies shadowing them inside their own home. And as part of the arrangement that allowed Eden to live with them in the castle, no one outside of a few of the chief advisors was permitted to lay eyes on her. That meant that from a young age the girl learned how to manipulate the shadows to her advantage. It also meant that she didn’t leave the palace other than in a covered caravan and that was only when she went to war.
“How else?” the prince replied. “We disguise ourselves.”
“Ah,” his retainer nodded as if his reply made all the sense in the world. Thinking, she stretched, her tail continuing to sway behind her. “And what do you propose we disguise ourselves as?”
“Servants?” she echoed. “And that will get us out of here unnoticed how?”
“They come and go as they please, and hardly anyone here truly knows their faces, let alone their names.”
She laughed. “Is that what you think Prince? Surely we are not all so shallow.”
He sighed. “Just shut up and go along with the plan, will you?” With that he stalked off towards his own chambers, his retainer hot on his heels.
“Of course, because it is the most brilliant plan ever concocted.”
“You know Eden, once we leave this castle I’ll become the one in charge because my father’s power doesn’t stretch to Rourke’s realm.”
“I fail to see your point.”
“There will be no one to stop you from becoming a casualty of the mission.”
The girl seemed to ponder his statement. “I see,” she would’ve said something more, but a gray woman’s frock hit her in the face. Red eyebrows furrowing in anger, she jerked the garment off of her head and stared at it distastefully. “I told you before, I don’t wear dresses, they’re uncomfortable.”
The prince ran his hands through his hair, messing it up further. “Well I’m sorry that they don’t make clothes for people like you, but this is all I have.”
“Why do you have a woman’s dress anyway?” She pulled the clothes on over her head.
“Because I wanted to have this conversation more than anything else in the world,” he groaned. “Does it matter?”
“In the long run, probably not, right now it does though.”
“Fine,” he sighed. “I made it when I was ten, and it just happens to look like it might fit you, now are you happy?”
“No,” she tugged at the collar of the thing. “I’m in a dress.”
“And you’re going to have to live with that,” he removed the brightly colored tunic he was wearing and slipped into the servant’s garb he had conveniently stolen from the maid’s basket. “How do I look?”
“Positively common,” she remarked. “Me?”
“Like you’ll still stick out,” he approached her with a piece of cloth, his intended target her mess of bright red hair.
“No.” she backed away from him. “You’re not putting that on me.”
“C’mon Eden, you’re the only person in the whole kingdom with hair that color. Anyone who knows what you look like could easily find you,” now standing a mere foot away from her, he extended the bonnet towards her. “Put this on.”
She took three more steps backward. “No.”
He shrugged, throwing the cloth onto the bed. “I’ll leave you here then,” he made his way over to the window, climbing up to the sill.
Resigning herself to wearing the bonnet she walked over and picked it up, quickly tying it to her head. “There. I’m going to wear it. Now get down you idiot, we’re on the third level. Even with your magic there’s no way you don’t break both your legs.”
He got down, smirking at her in triumph. “I wasn’t going to jump.”
“Sure you weren’t Prince,” she returned the smirk.
“Whatever,” he opened the door and shut it back when he saw two advisors headed towards them.
“Yeah, like that’s not suspicious in any way.”
“Do you have any idea how to explain what two servants are doing in the Prince’s chambers?”
“Serving?” she suggested helpfully.
“With the prince absent?”
“They don’t exactly have to know that. The servants usually do their work in the absence of their masters anyway.”
He eased the door open again and this time the hallway was empty. He reached back and grasped the older girl’s hand, dragging her behind him. The two of them made their way downstairs to the stable. The Prince finally let go of Eden’s hand when they were standing in front of his horse, a white stallion with a black star-shaped mark over his right eye. He reached up to unlock the gate when she stopped him.
“Let’s think this through first Prince,” even without looking at her he could tell she was smirking at him. “Even if you’re disguised you defeat the purpose if you take a horse as recognizable as this one,” she grabbed hold of the extra material on his tunic and dragged him down towards the end of the stable. She stopped them in front of a midnight black horse that was cautiously nudging at its feedbag. “This one,”
“And this is less attention-grabbing how?”
She opened the gate and led the horse out, grabbing a saddle and fitting it onto the horse. “Get up and I’ll show you.”
Against his better judgment he obeyed the girl, fully expecting her to seek out her own mount now. Imagine his surprise when he felt the pressure of her foot on the stirrup next to his and then felt her hands encircle his waist.
“This better not be your plan,” he urged the horse to walk.
“Why not? You don’t think we fit the part of star-crossed lovers?” she felt his body stiffen under her hands. “Oh come on Prince, loosen up. It is a jest you know?”
Caemus grumbled softly to himself under his breath. He just knew he was going to hate this trip.