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Princess of Thorns Short Story
 

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Princess of Thorns Short Story


  Tessonja Odette

  Princess of Thorns

  First published by Crystal Moon Press in 2018

  Copyright © Tessonja Odette, 2018

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  First edition

  This book was professionally typeset on Reedsy

  Find out more at reedsy.com

  Contents

  The story begins...

  PRINCESS OF THORNS

  SHADOWS OF LELA

  About Tessonja Odette

  The story begins...

  Thank you so much for reading Princess of Thorns, a Lela Short Story! It is a short story prequel about Mareleau, one of the four main characters from Shadows of Lela, Book One of the Lela Trilogy, and takes place immediately before the events in that book. Princess of Thorns can be read before or after reading any of the Lela novels.

  Mareleau is one of my favorite characters from Shadows of Lela, and one of the most enjoyable to write about. I’ve always had a soft spot for flawed, gray-area characters and love knowing the story behind their often wicked ways.

  This short story is meant to illuminate the events that led Mareleau to creating the Quest that brought the four main characters together, and ultimately helped shape the future of the land of Lela. It also sheds light on her icy demeanor, and why she keeps both men and women at arms length.

  I hope you enjoy it!

  Happy reading!

  Tessonja Odette

  P.S. Want another Mareleau story? Be sure to download The Secret Wedding, A Lela Bonus Chapter. WARNING: The Secret Wedding is meant to be read AFTER Shadows of Lela, as it takes place during the final chapters and contains spoilers. Click here for your FREE copy: http://tessonjaodette.com/book/thesecretwedding/

  PRINCESS OF THORNS

  Mareleau

  “Prince Augustine has revoked his proposal.” Mother stormed into my room and tossed a crumpled piece of parchment in my lap, eyes bulging with fury.

  I met her gaze with a mask of innocence. “I can’t imagine why. We were getting on so well, weren’t we?”

  “He was a perfect match!”

  “He was twice my age,” I said through clenched teeth, “and didn’t understand the word no.”

  Mother’s cheeks burned. “You are a princess, Mareleau. You don’t say no to a prince.”

  “I do if his breath reeks of wine and his sweaty palms find their way beneath my gown.”

  Her anger faltered for a moment before she began to pace in front of me. “That was your fifth engagement ended this year. Fifth!”

  “What a tragedy,” I said under my breath.

  Mother rounded on me. “If you don’t find a husband, it will be a tragedy for all of us. Sele needs an heir.”

  I mouthed the last sentence with her. “It’s not like I ever run out of prospects. Let me guess, you already have another man in mind for me?”

  “You won’t be beautiful and sixteen forever, and if you keep acting like this, you will run out of prospects.”

  My plan exactly, I thought to myself.

  Mother pursed her lips and turned away from me. “And, yes, I do have another in mind.”

  I let out a grumble. “Which old geezer do I have the honor of entertaining this time?”

  “This prospect is only four years your senior.” The rigidity of her posture betrayed her carefully curated air of indifference. “The Crown Prince of Edan.”

  Whatever his age, it made no difference to me. I’d only ever cared for one man, and I knew we’d never be together again. Therefore, I was determined to marry no one, no matter how much my mother schemed and prodded.

  “He will arrive next week with his mother and father, and you will be good to him.”

  “Aren’t I always?” I said sweetly.

  Mother scowled and brought her face close to mine. “This one is important. Don’t ruin this.”

  I refused to crumble beneath her glare. “Whatever you say, Mother.”

  She turned on her heel and left my room, while I fell into a fit of laughter. I heard an echo of giggling coming from the other side of the room and turned toward the sound. There stood Catra, my chambermaid, in front of the hidden door that led to the servants’ hall. Of all my chambermaids, Catra was the only one I considered a friend, and the only one allowed to come and go as she pleased. Our friendship had come as a surprise, but being the least annoying of my ladies, she’d been allowed to remain closest to me. Over the years, that closeness had evolved into camaraderie and friendship, something I hadn’t had since I’d lost contact with my first friend—a young prince from a neighboring kingdom.

  “Did you hear all that?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

  “Your mother could be heard halfway down the servants’ hall.” She walked across the room and planted herself on the lounge next to me. “She just won’t give up, will she?”

  I sighed. “My mother will never understand me.”

  “I can’t believe she hasn’t lost her hair because of you,” she teased. “My mother’s hair would be gray by now if I sassed her so much.”

  “Your mother is kind and sweet and isn’t forcing you into the lap of every single man with a crown upon his head.”

  “I’m happy to find myself in the lap of any man. At least you get to dance with princes.”

  I grimaced. “Dance. Talk. Be bored to tears by their irritating chatter.”

  She tilted her head to the side. “Do you really think you’ll never find someone you’ll want to marry?”

  “Never.”

  “Won’t your parents eventually force you into marriage?”

  My stomach churned at the thought. “I have no doubt they will. Until then, I will do all I can to avoid that day at all costs.”

  She put her auburn head on my shoulder and let out a dreamy sigh. “If I ever get the chance to make an admirable match, I will do whatever I can to make it happen.”

  “How are we even friends?”

  She frowned. “Hey, not all of us scorn love like you do.”

  “I don’t scorn love. I just already know my chance at love has passed. Anything else would only be a mockery of the true meaning.”

  “You could at least find happiness.”

  I considered her words. “I’m already happy.”

  “Are you, though?”

  “As happy as I can be. I’m Princess of Sele—the wealthiest kingdom in Lela, I want for nothing, I get to watch men crumble at my feet, and I have a best friend. What more could I want?”

  Catra shrugged. “You might want a family someday.”

  “Why? So I can treat my children the way my parents treat me? So I can scorn my daughters for being female, and watch my sons become arrogant princes who treat women like prizes?”

  She wrinkled her brow as she studied my face. “Family doesn’t have to be like that.”

  “We come from different worlds. Your family isn’t royal.”

  “I know.”

  The hurt in her face made my heart sink. “That’s not a bad thing. Being royal isn’t all you dream it to be. You shouldn’t envy me. You have a chance at a happy family, at love. I don’t.”

  Catra pressed her lips together as if sh
e wanted to say more.

  I shouldered her and stood from the lounge, extending a hand. “Come on, Cat, enough of this silly talk. Let’s see what kind of dirt we can find on this Crown Prince of Edan.”

  She hesitated before her lips pulled into a mischievous smirk to match my own. “Let’s go.” She clasped her hand in mine, and we giggled as we scurried from my room.

  * * *

  The following week, I was pruned and painted until I resembled a peacock more than a princess. I wore a blue gown that displayed every curve of my hips and chest, while my golden hair was piled atop my head and pinned with pearls to accentuate my long neck.

  My chambermaids whispered their excitement as they escorted me through the palace halls, while Catra and I exchanged knowing smiles. I held my head high as we entered the throne room and found my parents at their thrones. I took my place at my mother’s side, and my ladies moved to stand by the wall.

  “I need you on your best behavior,” Mother whispered.

  “Of course, I always am.” I smiled, not meeting her glare.

  Horns sounded, announcing our royal guests. Three figures entered the throne room: a middle-aged man and woman, both regal with stern posture and pompous expressions, followed by a young man a few years older than I. I stiffened as his eyes locked on mine, and he winked. Heat flooded my cheeks at his boldness, and I quickly turned my head.

  My eyes were glued to the King and Queen of Edan as they exchanged formal greetings with my parents, but I could still feel the prince’s gaze burning into me. My shoulders tensed with the effort it took not to look back at him.

  “Let us introduce our children, shall we?” Mother cooed.

  The prince stepped forward, not waiting to be acknowledged. “I am Prince Frederick, Crown Prince of Edan, son of King Henry and Queen Mary of Edan.” He turned to me and bowed, but his eyes never left my face.

  I kept my expression neutral as I replied, “I am Princess Mareleau of Sele, Daughter of King Verdian and Queen Helena of Sele.” As soon as I finished, I turned my head away from him. Why does his gaze make me both furious and anxious?

  “Mareleau, show Prince Frederick the gardens so we may speak with the King and Queen of Edan in private,” Father said.

  I ground my teeth. It was always the same—welcome our royal guests, send me out to the garden with the prince, wait for his declaration of love and unwanted advances. It was always so contrived. What was wrong with these people? How could they think I’d fall for such a scheme again and again?

  “Mareleau,” Mother said in a sing-song voice when I still hadn’t moved. “The gardens?”

  I looked from her to the bold, young prince and forced a smile. “Of course.” Prince Frederick offered me his arm, and I accepted without blushing despite his lingering gaze. Once we were in the hall, my eyes shot to his. “You can stop staring at me, you know. I’m not a fool. I know what this is.”

  He laughed. “I was wondering when I’d feel those thorns.”

  “Thorns?”

  “You have quite the reputation. Five broken engagements, is it?”

  I gaped at him. “How dare you!”

  He seemed unaffected by my anger. “It’s not like I care. I’ve been through this process a few times myself.”

  His words surprised me, but I kept my voice level. “Oh, really?”

  “Yes, and I’m ready to cut the niceties. It’s boring me to tears.”

  “I know what you mean.” I felt the tension melt from my body as we continued down the hall. “Why aren’t you married, then?”

  He raised a brow but gave no answer.

  “You said you’ve been through this process before. Why hasn’t it worked out yet?”

  Frederick let out a bitter laugh. “If the princesses I’d met with had their way, it would have worked out a hundred times over.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Let’s just say I’ve yet to find anyone worthy of sharing my life and fortune with, and it’s left quite a few broken hearts behind.”

  We had now reached the doors to the palace gardens. As we stepped through them, we were met with morning sun and floral aromas. We walked along the garden path past shrubs and statues until we came to a small courtyard.

  Frederick lazily strolled the perimeter of the courtyard, eying the white roses. “This is where I’m supposed to compare your beauty to a rose, is it not?”

  I suppressed a grin. “That’s usually what happens.”

  “But you’re too smart for that, aren’t you?” He eyed me with a glowing smile.

  I allowed myself to take in his appearance for the first time and realized he was incredibly handsome; his hair was dark-brown and reached his shoulders, his eyes were almost as blue as mine, and his cheekbones were strong. Guilt seized my heart, and I looked away from his smile. “Flattery doesn’t work on me. Not even the clever kind.”

  He took a step forward. “Then what does work on you?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Nothing? You can’t mean that.”

  “I do,” I said with a glare. “I don’t plan on marrying.”

  “Aren’t you your parents’ only child? Aren’t they depending on you for an heir?” I grumbled and turned my back on him, returning to the garden path. Frederick caught up to me. “Have I offended you? I’m only curious.”

  I rounded on him. “Why do you care? You said so yourself—you’re tired of niceties. Can we just get this over with?”

  He studied my face, creases forming between his brow. “I care because of all the princesses I’ve met with, you are the only one not falling all over me. You’re the only one I’m not in a hurry to get things over with.”

  I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure you say that to all the girls.”

  “I mean it, I’m actually enjoying myself. I like talking to you. You’re more real than anyone I’ve met in a long time.” My face softened, yet I gave no reply. He offered me his arm. “Forget talking about marriage and our duties. Forget our parents and what they expect us to do. Let’s talk about other things, fun things. Real things.”

  I placed my hand in the crook of his elbow and felt a smile tug at the corner of my mouth. “I suppose I can do that.”

  * * *

  Time passed easily as we continued our stroll through the garden, exchanging stories and gossip. I told him about my awful experiences with my former engagements, and he told me about his. His shameless laughter prompted my own, and by the time we reached the entrance to the palace, my face was sore from smiling so much.

  We paused outside the door and turned to face each other. “See, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Frederick asked.

  I shook my head. “It was fun, thank you.”

  “What do we do now? You know our parents are drafting a marriage contract as we speak. They expect our engagement to be final by the end of the week, and at this point I’m sure they expect me to have promised my undying affection for you.”

  I wrinkled my nose. “Please tell me you aren’t going to do that.”

  He laughed. “No. Instead, how about we do what we want? What is it you desire?”

  It had been a long time since anyone had asked me what I wanted. But the one thing I wanted was never to be mine. “I don’t even know what I desire anymore.”

  “Start small. What do you want tomorrow? Do you want to see me again? If you don’t, I will leave you alone.”

  I cocked my head and smirked. “Wait, are you saying you actually want to see me again? You, the man who’s never found a woman worthy enough to share his life with?”

  He took a step closer. “Yes, I want to see you again. I want to get to know you, to enjoy more lighthearted conversation with someone who isn’t boring like all the rest. And maybe—just maybe—see if there might be something more between us. Is that what you want too?”

  I was torn between a smile and a scowl. I’d never been given a choice whether to continue a courtship, and if I’d been asked the same question before we
d talked, I’d have said no in an instant. Yet, there was something different about Frederick. Something in the way our conversation flowed; he already felt like a friend. If I must marry, shouldn’t it at least be with someone I could be friends with?

  Before I could stop myself, my reply flew from my lips. “Yes, I’d like to see you again.”

  Frederick smiled and took my hand in his. “Tomorrow, then.” As he raised my hand to his lips, my heart flipped in my chest. We then parted ways, he to the throne room and I to my chambers.

  My ladies surrounded me as I entered my room. “What was the prince like?” asked Lurel, my youngest chambermaid.

  “Like any other prince,” I said, hiding the excitement in my voice.

  Catra caught my eye and gave me a tight-lipped smile. “He was very handsome though, was he not?”

  “I suppose. If you like those kinds of looks.”

  “Who doesn’t?” said another one of my ladies. We fell into a fit of laughter, making my heart feel lighter than it had in ages.

  * * *

  Frederick and I continued our visits together every day during his week-long stay at Verlot Palace, and I found myself looking forward to them more and more. The more we talked, the easier he was to be around. Our conversation was always full of laughter and gossip, rarely ever touching on serious matters.

  However, as the week came to its end, we both knew we’d have to broach the subject of our engagement. “I leave tomorrow,” Frederick said as we strolled through the palace gardens, our usual meeting place.

  My heart sank, and I began to slow my pace, knowing we were nearing the entrance to the palace. “I know.”

  He stopped and gently turned me to face him. “What happens now?”

  “I don’t know,” I said, unable to meet his eyes. “This is usually where I convince my betrothed to end our engagement.”

  “Is that what you want to do this time?” He brought his face so close to mine that I was forced to look at him. “You said you had no intention to marry. If you still feel the same after our week together, tell me.”

 
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