Queen of Thorns
Meanwhile, Gerda and Kai’s wedding plans are about to be shattered by some heartbreaking news. The suspected return of the Snow Queen also puts their future in jeopardy.
Eleanor decides to move forward her political and personal alliance with King Wilbur. A decision she may yet regret.
Queen of Thorns, book 2 of A Dark Faerie Tale, is a blended retelling of Snow White, the Snow Queen and other fairy tales, with action/adventure and a magical touch of romance.
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When the sun rose to greet the sky, a small party of wood elves and humans, assembled outside the elves’ dwelling in the Forsaken Forest of Turia. The dwelling where Princess Khione had taken shelter after fleeing from the murderous Griff, her mother’s huntsman. Khione took a final glance at the little wooden house between two enormous oak trees, and the wooden bridge spanning the length of the roof and onward to the tree houses in opposing directions. She had no recollection of the happy six months she had spent in the home of the elves. Those memories were blank for Khione, as the incident with Griff was the last memory she could recall.
Aya and Gifford, Khione’s faithful bird friends paid a visit and promised they would fly over to see her as soon as they could. Khione had the gift of understanding the languages of all animals and birds, and they, in turn, possessed the ability to understand her. Her feathered friends were a particular source of comfort as a child, for when her mother banished Gerda and her mother Agnes from Turia; she had not a friend in the world.
All those close to her had risen early to bid farewell to Khione and her recently betrothed friends, Gerda and Kai. Soon they were to embark upon their journey to Bracan in Agraunia, the hometown of her friends. After resting for while in Bracan, Khione would continue to Tormain Palace, in Faremoor, the home of her mother’s cousin Queen Katrina.
Garion volunteered to accompany the travellers as far as the Turia border with Agraunia. He saddled Arien and Ahern and brought the horses to the waiting party. As the travellers said their goodbyes, he filled the saddlebags. One by one, Khione bid the elves goodbye. She could not recollect any affection she had once felt for them. She thanked them for their extreme kindness, in sheltering her from her evil mother Queen Eleanor and shook them each by the hand.
“There will always be a welcome for you here,” said Alwin— the eldest of the elf brothers— to Gerda and Kai. Addressing Khione, he said, “This is still your home if at any time you wish to return.”
She nodded her head. “Thank you, Alwin.”
Avira, the wood elf physician, who before Khione’s memory loss had become her close friend, embraced her and wished her well. “Cameron and I, feel it is a pity that you will not be here to see our wedding. I truly hope all will go well for you from now on.”
Cameron shook Kai’s hand and slapped him on the back. “Good luck, I wish you both happiness and peace. Khione I will miss your presence here, but do whatever you feel is best for you.” She had made the decision to leave the forest and seek shelter at Tormain Palace, even though the elves had assured her of her safety. However, she wished to protect them from Queen Eleanor and her guards. Griff, the Queen’s Guard and the Queen herself had all tried to kill Khione.
Erlan was next to speak. “I too will be leaving here at the week’s end. I am returning to the wood elf village. You are welcome to visit Lenna and me anytime you wish. Farewell, I wish you all happiness and contentment.” Erlan was the second eldest brother. He reconciled with his wife Lenna, after separating from her for a number of years.
Virion, the youngest of the elf brothers and the most distraught at Khione’s departure, attempted to smile. He presented her with a new recurve bow he made as an especial gift. “I kept it to give you as a birthday gift, but you may as well have it now.” She could not recall how to use it but accepted it graciously. After giving a small wave to the farewell party, she turned to speak to Garion. “I am ready to leave now.”
Garion mounted Ahern and assisted Khione. He held out his hands. “Stand on my foot in the stirrups and hold on to my hands,” he instructed. She grasped his hands and did as she was asked, and once seated she hooked her leg around the saddle pommel. Placing herself in a side-saddle position, she then rearranged her gown. Garion placed his arms around her and took hold of the reins.
“Is this safe?” she asked.
“You are quite safe,” said Garion.
Ahern nodded his head. She patted his head, “Thank you, Ahern.”
“Lean against me if you wish,” suggested Garion.
As she leaned against him, the aroma of sandalwood on his clothing brought about feelings of fondness and familiarity. For a short time, she allowed herself to indulge in those feelings, but when they had passed her thoughts frustrated her: Why do I feel so drawn to him and his touch feel so pleasurable. She gave out a long sigh.
“Is there something wrong?” He asked. Unaware of the turmoil in her mind. “No I feel well, but tell me are we akin to one another or close friends?”
He hesitated before answering, “Yes— you could say that we are close friends.” Khione sighed again. “I see. It is so vexing not knowing.”
“Perhaps it is for the best. When you return to your world, consorting with elves will be frowned on.”
“I wish to consort with whom I please, besides your father was human, was he not. Surely there would be no objection?”
“This is different. He was not of royal birth, and although I may appear to be more human than elf, Virion and I are a half-breed, neither elf nor human.”
“That should not account for anything,” she said, with an indignant tone in her voice. “I do not care where my friends come from. Gerda and I are like sisters and it shall always remain so.”
“Khione, all do not think as you do. One day the fate of Turia will rest on your shoulders and things will be much different than they are now.”
She racked her brain for something poignant to say and drew a blank. “I have much to think of,” she whispered, more to herself than anyone in particular. She then turned her attention to Gerda. Her friend wore trousers, a shirt and a broadcloth coat, given to her by her benevolent faerie friend Lucy. Gerda concluded that male clothing would be far comfortable for riding. She watched as Kai helped her onto Arien. Khione remembered Gerda’s dislike of horses after one threw her as a child. So it was no surprise, once seated behind Kai, she gripped onto him out of fear. Kai waved goodbye to the farewell party, and then they departed.
Khione remained in silent contemplation for much of the day’s journey. Garion occasionally drew her into a light conversation. They travelled through the forest and along long, dusty roads unquenched with rain that autumn. Russet leaves fell from the trees and littered the ground. As dusk approached, the weary travellers made their camp for the night, in a small, secluded wood. They sat and talked around the campfire.
Pulling her coat further around her, Khione warmed her hands by the fire. “I think I would like to visit Agnes before I go to Tormain Palace. Will I be welcome Gerda? I would like to see your mother.”
“I am sure she would love to see you again. Goodness knows what she will do when she sees Kai,” replied Gerda.
“Not to mention my mother and father,” interjected Kai. “I am certain Mother will forbid me from leaving the garret for a month.” Kai had not seen his parents since he left with the Snow Queen a few years earlier.
Khione sighed. “I wish I had a mother who loved me as much as yours do.”
Garion joined the conversation. “You are loved by many Khione, never forget that.”
“I agree,” added Gerda, as she gave a big yawn. She rubbed her back. “Oh dear, I do not know where I ache more.”
“Time for sleep I think,” said Kai. He left the campfire, approached the tethered horses, and removed the bedrolls and blankets tied to the saddles.
“I am not tired yet. I will stay awake and keep the first watch,” announced Garion. He sat leaning against a tree a short distance from the campfire. Kai slept beside Gerda and placed a protective arm around her. Garion watched Khione as she slept. She looked just as she did when she had been in the death-like sleep induced by the poisoned apple, given to her by the evil Queen Eleanor in disguise. The memory of this disturbed him. He thought he would never see those soulful grey eyes look at him again, her infectious smile, or his name on her lips. Leaving his guard post by the tree, he knelt down beside her. He brushed back her wavy, raven black hair with his fingertips and then kissed her forehead. She shifted and muttered some incoherent words. At first, he thought, she had woken, but no, she still slept peacefully. He smiled then chastised himself for giving in to temptation and tried to direct his thoughts elsewhere. He found it hard to resist looking at her angelic face. After tomorrow, he would see her no more, the thought of this weighed heavily on his mind.
When the time came for Kai to keep watch, Garion was grateful to sleep and rest his tortured mind from thinking about Khione. He unsheathed his longsword from its scabbard and gave it to Kai. “Do you know how to use this?”
Kai shook his head. He had handled swords during his time as a blacksmith’s apprentice but never used one in combat. “I am sorry I have not a clue how to use a sword.” On the ground lay Garion’s bow and a quiver of arrows. “Nor how to use a bow and arrow.”
“I doubt you will have to use the sword. But it is always better to be prepared, in case of bandits or robbers, and if all else fails hit them over the head with it.”
Kai chuckled. “I can do that.”
Garion lay down on his bedroll. “If anything happens I am sure the noise will wake me, my elf hearing is more sensitive than that of humans.” He then closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
As the light cast from the dying embers of the campfire faded, Kai looked out into the darkness of the woods. Silence surrounded them. All of a sudden, Garion lifted his head, sat upright, and retrieved his bow and arrows from the ground. He motioned for Kai to be silent by placing a finger on his lips. Kai could hear nothing, and he gave Garion a puzzled look. He sat down beside Kai and withdrew an arrow from the quiver. He then whispered, “I can hear something approaching. It is not an animal, I can tell the difference. Stay alert.”
Kai gripped the sword in both hands and swallowed a lump in his throat. Soon enough a dark figure could be seen making its way through the trees towards the remaining light of the fire. Kai could not see very well, but this was not the case for Garion with his keen night vision. “A goblin,” he said.
A goblin emerged from behind a tree and could be heard muttering, “Gold, gold, there is gold here somewhere. I can smell it.”
Garion stood up, and shouted, “I can smell you too, goblin. We have no gold here, begone.”
The startled goblin swung around in Garion and Kai’s direction. A grin appeared on his grotesque and weathered face. He pointed a gnarled finger in the direction of the still sleeping party. “You lie elf. There is gold here. My nose does not deceive me.”
“What about it?” asked Kai. “Why is it any of your concern?”
The goblin smiled showing his crooked yellowed teeth. “It is my concern. Give me your gold and I shall not harm you.” He then spied the horses tied to a tree. “Horses, nice, they will fetch a good price.”
Garion shot an arrow at his feet. The goblin stepped back and cursed. “Damn you.”
“They are not your horses, and they are certainly not for sale,” hissed Garion.
The noise woke the girls. “Not trolls again,” muttered Gerda. Khione sat upright and rubbed her eyes.
The goblin fixed his gaze on Gerda. “You carry gold, give it to me.”
“I shall not give you anything,” retorted Gerda. She scrambled to her feet, grabbed Khione by the arm and moved behind Garion and Kai.
“Do not move,” shouted Garion, “I will not be hitting the ground with my next arrow.” He nocked another arrow and aimed his bow at the goblin.
Kai clutched Garion’s sword and waved it about. “I will use this sword.”
Gerda whispered to Khione, “I have gold coins in my purse, inside my boot. I used some of them to distract trolls when we went to find Kai at the palace of the Snow Queen.”
“You are suggesting we do the same with him?” whispered Khione. Gerda nodded her head and slid her hand inside her boot.
The goblin’s hand twitched towards the dagger hanging from his belt. “You do not scare me, come on then,” he teased. His head turned as an object flew into the air. “Gold!” he yelled, turning his back on everyone.
As he bent down to pick up the coin, Kai rushed towards him and swung the flat of the sword down onto the goblin’s head. The stunned goblin staggered backwards. He reached for his dagger and threw it. Garion ducked as it whistled past his head and embedded itself into a nearby tree. Khione screamed in horror, she ran towards the goblin. He sneered and raised his hand. An invisible force of energy hit her and pushed her backwards. She fell prostrate onto the ground. Pushing herself up, she groaned with pain.
The goblin charged forwards, then stopped in his tracks and yowled as an arrow struck him in the chest. Blood poured from the wound; he wobbled and dropped down dead. Garion wore a grim look on his face; he hated conflict, particularly if it ended in someone’s death.
“He deserved that,” said Kai as he retrieved Gerda’s gold coin from a small pile of leaves.
Khione rubbed her bruised arm and leg. “I am sorry, I thought I could help.”
“Me too,” said Gerda. She swayed a little and said, “I feel dizzy from waking so abruptly.”
Garion stepped over to where the goblin lay, to ascertain if he was indeed dead. “We all did what we thought was best. Gerda, your distraction tactic did not work so well this time, but, well done for trying. Come, we must leave here and find another spot to rest.” He covered the goblin’s fallen body with leaves.
“I thought all the Fae of Turia lived in the Forsaken Forest?” asked Khione
“Most do,” replied Garion. “Although there are some that have broken the terms of the agreement, and choose to live outside the forest. Goblins are greedy creatures, obsessed with possession of gold. He could perhaps have followed us here, but I doubt it.” He looked at Khione who was still rubbing her arm. “Are you alright?”
“I have felt better, but there is no real harm done,” she replied. Kai returned the sword to Garion; he placed it once more into its scabbard. After finding another place to set up camp and rest, Kai continued to keep watch. Gerda accompanied him. As Khione and Garion lay down to sleep, Khione whispered to Garion, “Thank you for keeping us safe.”
He winked at her. “That is why I am here.” He then closed his eyes for some well-earned rest.