In this retelling of "The Tale as Old as Time", Beauty IS the beast.
When vain Princess Glory discovers she is to be wed to a cursed, recluse prince on the night she plans to elope with the royal falconer, her world comes crashing down. In an attempt to escape a loveless marriage, she tries to run away, only to find herself in the castle of the recluse prince. A snarky, gaelic-speaking gryphon, a ghost, and a plot to usurp her father's throne keep her on her toes. Can Glory overcome her vanity and save the cursed prince?
This is the story of a man and a monster, but really it is the tale of a blade…
In a black castle on the cliff tops by the sea, near the high moors of Sigil’s Gate, the Celtic Princess, Aowyn, snuggled close to her dark-haired husband. He slung his arm over her wide belly. She smiled as he bowed his head and buried his face in her copper hair, breathing deeply. The child in her womb squirmed. Aowyn grasped her husband’s hand and placed it over the baby’s kicking.
“Do you feel that?”
“Mmm.” He freckled her neck with kisses.
Aowyn giggled as the baby became more active. “He likes you.”
“How do you know it is a he?”
Aowyn chewed her lower lip. She didn’t know. What if she let her royal family across the sea down by failing to produce a male? Worse, what if she let her husband down? “The baby is so strong, like you, Xander. I always assumed it was a boy.”
“Let us hope.”
Aowyn stared into the darkness for a long time. Tables and chairs were rough shadows, save for where moonlight bounced off the edges. The peace in the room lulled her. Her vision blurred in a sleepy half-consciousness, until a voice, none which she had heard before, took her attention.
“Aowyn, daughter of Aodhagáin, hear me.”
Aowyn’s eyes widened, and she propped herself up on one elbow. “Did you hear that, Xander? Someone is in the room...” she looked over her shoulder, but Xander was frozen in time. Aowyn began to tremble. “Who’s there?”
“Be not afraid, young one, for we bear glad tidings.”
Aowyn slowly pushed back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “Who are you?”
“Step into the light and know us better.”
Aowyn was filled with doubt. Slowly she moved to the stretch of moonlight that reached through the room.
“Aowyn…” as her name was spoken, the pale light became blinding. She had never seen such glory, for it was brighter than the noon-day sun. Gradually her vision returned, and the warmth of spring grass, dotted with little yellow flowers, tickled her senses. The light remained around her, as pure as an artist’s canvas, save for this little haven of green and yellow.
The voice became many now, in a rush of hushed murmurs, like the caress of a soft breeze. “The child you bear will one day be great. See him now.”
The canvas of light swirled in to many colors, taking on depth and definition. Aowyn’s heart swelled as a broad-shouldered man, clad in royal purple, descended a gilded staircase toward her. His amber eyes were startling and held a knowing twinkle. His hair was like the setting autumn sun.
“Behold Eoghan, prince of the future Crown Realm.”
Aowyn reached out to the image, wanting so desperately to touch this young man with Xander’s stature and her nature. He smiled at her boyishly, then vanished.
The light faded. Aowyn’s heart raced, her breathing increased. “Wait.”
The grass and the flowers shriveled into empty space. She shook her head. “No. Wait. I want to see him again. Gods, why taunt me so?”
But the voices were gone, and Aowyn was in her bed.
Xander’s hand rested over her belly. The baby squirmed.
“Do you feel that?” she asked.
“Mmm.” He freckled her nape with kisses. The baby became more active. Aowyn giggled. “He likes you.”
“He.” Xander breathed in his wife’s lovely scent. “How do you know?”
Aowyn was startled when the words flowed from her without her consent. “The gods have made it known to me.” She chewed her lower lip. Was it true?
Xander propped himself up on an elbow. “The gods.” He sounded incredulous.
Aowyn’s shoulders rose to her ears. It was a wild statement, to be sure. Her voice was timid. “I have seen him.” She rolled on to her back, glowing with excitement. “Oh, Xander, he is beautiful!”
Xander flopped over and rubbed his face. Aowyn slipped her arm over his brawny chest. “He has your brow and shoulders. He was so big and strong. You will be proud, my love.” She snuggled into his shoulder with a dreamy sigh.
Xander stared at the ceiling. A son. He wanted nothing more. But his wife was a princess, bearing a prince. A prince needed provinces to govern and kingdoms to rule. All Xander had was Blackthorn Keep. He clenched his jaw. One decrepit fortress was not enough. He had fought all of his life to retain his birthright over what very little land his family had left, but he would have to fight harder with a son on the way.
Xander’s breath came in a shudder. He glanced down at Aowyn, who had nodded off. It was going to be a long, sleepless night.