“You’ll serve me no matter what happens. If I come back defeated, and the witches sorcery has driven you mad, I’ll grab you by the hair and drag you into the north to rut still.”
A dark warlord. A middle aged handmaiden. A stubborn princess.
The warlord has plans for the dainty young future–queen. As an indentured servant to the princess for much of her life, Mirella sees the conquest of the land as an opportunity to elevate herself.
A life of callous disregard has made her hard, but as she battles the princess’ will for the first time and finds new allies and friends, does she have what it takes to win the love and favour of the brutal conqueror? Or will her station in life yet again be her undoing?
**A dark, paranormal romance with a HEA. Full novel length. Mature audiences only, 18+**
Never had the two women seen the city so lit up at night. Not even during the harvest festival when the alchemists set off their fireworks would the great spires and steeples of Ariste City be so illuminated in the pitch black of night.
The city of Ariste was like a semi-circle at the base of a mountain. The grace and majesty of the capital was unsurpassed, even in the southern empire that stretched so far and wide. The buildings were made from great white stones harvested from the northern desert, marble from the Quelan Empire and rich wood from the forests of the Ariste mountains southern slopes. Each tall spire was a stunning monument to decadence and ingenuity.
The natural topography made it a rich and moist land on the other side, but there in the city itself it tended to be dry and temperate. That fact, the princess feared, would mean the fires that consumed her glorious city-state below would not be quenched any time soon.
Worse still, the tall elegant princess Anabelle Flair thought as she clutched her handmaiden’s hands, were the sounds of destruction coming from her mighty palace below. When news of the city walls breach reached her, she was already at the height of the palace, which sat up the slope of Ariste Mountain, overlooking the city. It was so easy to ignore the rabble from the cold, northern steppes on her high perch, but now they were not only in her city, she could hear them in her home.
The crash of priceless pottery and the smashing of antique wood doors, carved from ancient timber continued, and it made the pale, slender Anabelle shake. “Mirella,” the gold-haired princess’ voice trembled, “where will we go?”
The answer was obvious. Nowhere. High atop that central tower of the palace, there were only two options. Surrender to the hairy savages of the northern steppes, whom the state of Ariste had kept at bay for millennium with its great walls and cunning.
Or she could throw herself from the great glass windows to crash lifelessly upon the burning city below.
How could the handmaiden get that through the mind of the pampered princess staring at her with wide, saucer-like blue eyes?
Mirella’s hands went to her princess’ jaw, holding her and staring at her with those intense, green eyes. The handmaiden’s skin was darker than most people of Ariste, an exotic olive tone. Her glossy, black hair was pinned back off of her face in a careful, almost regal manner, though her clothes easily classified her status within the walls.
Still, with that calm ease that had endeared her to the royal family, her voice was stern, “I will stay with you. We will speak with them—reason with them. They won’t hurt you, my loving princess, provided you obey. Do what they ask of you and you’ll live to fight again. Do not struggle or fuss, and I will stay at your side. I promise, I’ll find a way for you to get out of this.”
It was all so even handed, with not a lick of fear tingeing her voice. Even though Ariste was secluded, Mirella had dealt with many different people from many different walks of life in her youth. She knew that the best thing to do was to succumb, to get through the moment and plan for the next day’s success. She had seen over thirty five hard years, of toil and hard work, and though her flesh was still smooth, she was wiser than the young woman before her.
The frail little princess steadied her nerves at those reassuring words and nodded. Dressed in only her nightgown, it was still an extravagant garment, white and gossamer, studded with pearls as it clung to her slender waist before ballooning out in courtly fashion.
“We shall per—” The words couldn’t leave her delicate little peach lips fast enough before the door at the end of the hall burst open. The lock had been set by Mirella, but the wood was now splintered and destroyed. A chunk of the formerly elegant door knocked over a corner table and sent a priceless vase from the far south to shatter on the floor.
With a great shriek the princess once again pulled away, still holding Mirella’s hands and trying to put the handmaid between the barbarians and herself.
The barbarians of the northern steppes were never seen in the courts of Ariste. Though they had traded continually with the city state over the millennia, they were considered savages, and rarely allowed even within the city walls.
The two that pushed through were typical of their kind. Tall and broad, they were a mix of pale white and a wind-blasted ruddy hue. The steppes were cold and cloudy in the north, and they saw little sun despite their crude dress of furs and leather. They were renowned for their hairiness. Their barrel chests, arms, legs and faces were covered in it, and those two with their clubs were prime examples.
Mirella stood in front of the princess. At their entrance, she let go of the woman’s hand and dropped to her knees. Her face tilted down demurely, but her voice rang through loud and far prouder than a handmaiden’s voice should be. “Sirs, we request to see your leader. He will not wish for the princess to be harmed.”
Her voice managed to carry above the sounds of destruction from out of the now open door, but it didn’t quell the two savages as they advanced on the two women.
Anabelle shrieked again, curling up in the corner against the window and white stone wall and covered herself. They grabbed both women by their hair, and the stench of their sweaty musk was pungent as they were dragged across the marble flooring several feet.
“Quiet, Princess! Please!” Mirella begged the woman, even as her face contorted in pain as her feet scrambled to keep her aloft and relieve the tension on her scalp. “It will be all right!”
The only thing to bring the sight to a halt was the sound of a booming voice that seemed to emanate from beyond their world. “He does not wish it indeed,” came the commanding tone, and as quickly as the two brutes had resorted to savagery they released the women’s hair and collapsed to their knees in obeisance and fear.
Mirella grunted as she fell, but instantly she moved to her ward, her slender arm slipping around the Princess’ shoulders. Her dressing gown was far drabber and less elaborate, but it was still of fine quality and kept her wholly covered, for which she was at least modestly grateful for as she stared towards the strange voice. She kneeled, and guided the princess to do the same, following suite of their two, cruel captors.
The princess was stubborn however. A life of ruling made her resist bowing before anyone even then, and so she was sat up as the source of that husky voice came through the door.
As if from out of the shadow, the tall, dark figure strode silently down the marble lined hall. The light from the inflamed city below was the only thing giving sight to the man, for unlike the other savages, he was dark in every manner.
Easily bigger and taller than either of the two brutes that had busted down the door, the monumental charcoal-coloured man looked nothing like the other savages aside from his size.
Where they were pale, he was a pure and unearthly dark. Where they were hairy, he was smooth. Where they wore ragged armour, he wore little more than a fine uneven cloak that draped from one shoulder down across to another hip, leaving half of his torso exposed and nude. His garb, especially those high boots of his, were strange and exotic. They were not the crude assemblage of animal hide like the other savages, but they were neither of Ariste nor the southern Empire that Mirella could tell.
The two women could feel the odd man’s intense gaze upon them even as his eyes were hidden by the shadows. The brutes that were hauling them away but moments before dared not move or utter a thing. The brazen princess—too privileged to know when to shut her mouth—spoke up in a haughty, quavering voice, “I am the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Ariste, and you are tres—”
Reaching out in a flash of speed that belied his large size, he wrapped his black gloved fingers about the Princess’s slender stalk of a neck, choking all words and air from her. So close, the two women could see the smooth, outline of his muscular flesh, the bulge of pecs, abs and below that of his startlingly large groin beneath black leather.
Mirella gasped at the strange sight before her. Her hair was mussed up from her rough handling, but she didn’t care much at the sight of what was surely a god. Her lips dropped open and it quickly made sense to her why they would attack, and she couldn’t help that a gasp of awe and reverence passed her lips, or the fact that her eyes wouldn’t stop working over his body again and again.
The charcoal coloured giant had obsidian hair like the savages, but instead of being frazzled and wiry like theirs, it was sleek and glossy like Mirella’s. It flowed long down over his shoulders like a lion’s mane, framing his broad, ethereally handsome face, though some of it was put together in the back in a silver ring.
Releasing the Princess’s throat at last, leaving the reddened woman to cough and sputter for breath on her hands and knees, he methodically brought his gaze from the blonde royalty to the handmaiden. When he spoke once more it was with an eerily gravely tone, so full of masculinity and virility, but seeming totally inhuman. “The princess is to be my newest concubine,” he stated firmly, though his eyes were locked on Mirella’s, as if boring through her to her soul.
Her breathing caught, which was something quite unexpected for the in-control handmaiden. Her lips quirked just a tiny bit as her head bowed, but she couldn’t draw her eyes away from his, no matter how much she wanted to. “Your will is not to be debated,” she finally managed out, and the breathy manner that she said it was filled with awe.
Loose tendrils of hair lay against her face, the heavy strands returning to their normal position with a brief primping, and Mirella couldn’t help but do so. The last thing she wanted was this god to see her looking less than her best. “I am certain my envy knows no bounds.”
The savages beside her twitched, and the handmaiden got the impression that she had committed some taboo merely by speaking directly to the giant. Neither budged to reprimand her, as if held in place by something stronger still than reverence for their lord; fear.
It was hard for Mirella to tell in the dark, but she could swear she made out a half-smile in the shadows of his face. The princess coughed through her choking, and gasped in air, “Concubine?! I’ll never—” and she received a backhanding. Mirella knew it intimately. It wasn’t intended to hurt the princess, it was intended to humiliate and quiet her. It was the act of a master to his slave, and it did its job, for the princess—so unaccustomed to anything but absolute submission—squealed and toppled to the marble floor from the strike.
Without word the dark man turned, and the two savages scrambled away as if their lives depended on it—and perhaps did—leaving the chamber. The dark prince announced in his booming voice, “Hold the two of them for my concubines to claim.”
Her own lips curled but she wiped away the grin, instead tending to her Princess, though the motions had somehow shifted. She remained dutiful, but something lurked behind her eyes that the Princess would never know to suspect in her older handmaiden.