Fiona O'Sithein - Cover

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Fiona O'Sithein
by Lesley Speller

Chapter 1

The Princess of Sithein's blond curls fell in her eyes as she sat spinning the jeweled dagger on the table.  It was carving a tiny perfectly round indention in the wood.  Not that anyone would ever have noticed.  The table had been so abused over the years, that there wasn't an inch of it without a scar.  It sat before an enormous fireplace in the great hall of Sithein castle.  The ceiling here was high with arrow slits that could be reached by scaffolding, but they hadn't seen an arrow in her lifetime.  A soft scent of herbs rose up from the fresh rushes on the floor and mingled with the comforting smell of the burning wood in the hearth.

A hand came down and grabbed the top of the dagger pulling it from her hand.  "Fiona, why must you play with this thing?  It's just about the least ladylike toy I've ever seen!"

Fiona looked up at her mother now.  She and the Queen looked a lot alike.  Those who didn't know them mistook them at first for sisters rather than mother and daughter.  Fiona actually even looked a little bit older than her mother.  Queen Dana was a dragon, and dragons don't age like normal humans.

Fiona held out her hand for the dagger.  "I'll put it away."

Dana handed it to her with an unhappy sigh as she watched her daughter turn so that her legs were unseen under the table and pull up her skirt to slide it back into the sheath strapped to her ankle.  "What am I going to do with you, child?" 

King Patrick walked out of the meeting room with the guests.  Dana watched as her daughter turned her eyes on the company and flashed a dazzling smile that would have convinced anyone she was interested.  Fiona played the game well, but everyone they introduced to her as a marriage prospect bored her to death.  Dana would never allow an arranged marriage.  If Fiona didn't absolutely love them, then it wasn't going to happen.

"Fiona, why don't you take Prince Liam on a tour of the city?" her father said.  He was waiting for a smart remark.  Fiona could see it in his eyes, but she just smiled happily at him and offered the skinny, little prince her arm.

"Why, of course, Father, it would be a pleasure."

Prince Liam looked more than a little pleased with himself and held her arm firmly.  The moment he turned his head, she rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at her parents.  Her mother bit back a laugh, but she could almost see the steam rising off of Patrick.

* * *

"I don't see why I didn't get to go with Arlan to see Grandmother and Aunt Dagmar!"  Her aunt was the Queen of the dragons.  One day her big brother Arlan would become King.   Dagmar was tired of ruling and had no children of her own.  The next in line for the throne would be her sister Annika, Fiona's grandmother, and then Fiona's mother, but neither of them had expressed any interest in being the next dragon queen. 

"You know your father wanted you to meet the prince.  He's the last man in any of the nearby kingdoms that you haven't turned up your nose at."

"Well, they're all just pompous, little boys!  That's not the kind of man I'm going to marry!"

"Well then for the love of all the gods tell me what kind of a man it is that you'd be even the slightest bit interested in."   Her mother sat on the bed next to her, looking into her eyes.

Fiona thought about that for a long time.  "I'm not sure."

Dana gave an exasperated sigh.  "That isn't helpful."

Fiona just sighed.  "He'd have to be brave and strong.  I'm not going to marry one of those fluffy diplomat boys.  I want a warrior and handsome, of course."  She winked at her mother with a little smirk.

Dana sighed and took her daughter's hands.  "Darling, sometimes what we think we want isn't what falls into our laps.  You have to be open enough to see that what's in front of you might not be all that bad." 

Dana knew exactly why Fiona had been turning down every single suitor that had ever made his affections for her known.  She'd had a crush on a man since she was a little girl, who in all likelihood she would never lay eyes on again.  Of course, who knew what fate had in store?

Dana looked across the room at her husband, Patrick, who seeming to sense her eyes on him looked up and smiled.  Fate certainly had dealt her an unexpected hand.  She was raised by a wonderful old healer woman with no knowledge of her true family, and somehow she'd managed to fall in love and marry the King of Sithein.  Yes, fate could definitely be tricky at times.

* * *

"Daddy, I don't like him, much less love him."

King Patrick put both hands on the table in front of him and leaned forward looking into his daughter's eyes.  He had that stubborn look that told her this fight was going to go on for hours. "You didn't even give the boy a chance.  You'll never fall in love with anyone if you think everyone you meet is completely uninteresting and never give them the opportunity to prove otherwise."

Fiona turned to her mother who was sitting by the fire embroidering a purple dragon on a piece of white linen.  Queen Dana quickly looked away from them and back to the work she was doing, obviously not wanting to take part in the argument.  "Mama, tell him he's wrong."  She saw emerald green eyes peek out from behind her mother's snow white hair, and she knew without a doubt that she'd get no help.

"Darling, I'm not saying to marry the first boy who walks in off the street, but you really should give some of them the benefit of the doubt."

Fiona loosed a sound of frustration.  They'd been trying to marry her off since the moment they realized she'd taken after her father and wasn't going to get dragon powers.  When one parent was human and one dragon, there was always the chance that the child would be completely without powers or the dragons' long life.  She wasn't her brother.  She never would be.  He was set to be King of Sithein and King of all the dragons in northern Europe, and she was nothing but a princess they had to worry about putting together a dowry and finding a husband for.  She'd never get magical powers, and she would grow old and die like any other human.  Was that a reason to throw her out?  To marry her off to anyone that would have her?

"I don't want to get married at all, and you can't make me!  I refuse to be sent off to marry some spoiled, little rich boy so that you can strengthen your alliances."

She knew it was a mistake when she said it.  Her father's eyes turned dark, and he slammed his fist down on the table.  "You will marry whoever I say you're going to marry and for whatever reason I see fit."

Her mother stood up now and laid a hand on his arm. "Patrick…"

"Not a word, Dana.  I'm sick and tired of her attitude.  By the end of this year, she is getting married whether she likes it or not.  I'll make all the arrangements."

Fiona's heart was in her throat.  She wanted to scream, to rage, to tell him exactly what she thought of him, but no words would come and that made her all the angrier.  So instead of giving him the satisfaction of believing that the tears she felt welling up in her eyes were because he'd hurt her and not because she was so angry she wanted to beat him senseless, she turned and walked out of the room slamming the door behind her.

As she walked down the hallway toward her room, she saw the flames jump in the torches along the walls and heard her mother's angry voice arguing with her father.  When she was back in her room, she immediately went to her trunk, pulled out her travel packs, and laid them on the bed.  If he was going to try to make her get married then she was just going to have to leave so that he didn't get the satisfaction.  She shoved her favorite dress, a couple of pairs of britches, and a tunic into the bag. She'd probably have to travel as a boy.  Women traveling alone in these parts were rare.

When she was done she looked at herself in the mirror.  The tunic clung to her all too buxom chest, but there was little to be done about that.  Surely she could pass for a boy with her cloak on.  She pulled it around her shoulders and tugged up the hood.  It covered all but a few escaping tendrils of her long, blond hair. 

Fiona looked at her hair in the mirror for a long time.  She should cut it.  She knew she should.  It would be almost impossible to keep it hidden.  Her curls had a way of escaping any time she tried to bind them, but she just couldn't bring herself to do it.  It was her favorite feature.   She knew she had pretty eyes too.  People always complimented her on them, but you couldn't hide behind your eyes like you could a curtain of thick curls.  No, she wouldn't cut it.  She'd have to find some other way.

She slipped her dagger in the sheath at her waist and pulled her tunic down over it.  A man named Beltran had given it to her a very long time ago, and it was her most beloved possession.  When she was only five years old, she'd been captured by the Devantes.  They were a family of vampires who wanted to use her as a pawn to bring down the Pendragons, another family who had been trying to ally themselves with the dragons.  She'd been taken to a fortress near Toledo.  Most of them had been very nice to her.  At least they'd given her everything she asked for, despite her kicking several of them in the shins, but Beltran had been different. 

After some time they'd become friends.   When the Devantes along with two other families they were allied with decided to turn her into a vampire, Beltran had refused to have any part of it.  She was only five years old, and she'd heard the argument they'd had about it.  Her Spanish had been somewhat limited; having only learned it in the time she'd been with them, but she clearly understood that he would have no part in the changing of such a little girl.  His family had cast him out, and he'd turned against them.  Eventually he'd come to Sithein and aided her parents in her rescue.  Before he left, he'd given her the beautiful dagger and the black mare that she still rode to this day.

She left a note for her mother on her trunk.  She'd see it when she came looking for her for supper.  She hated to worry her, but the thought of having a husband chosen for her gave Fiona a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.  With one final look around the room she'd lived in since she was a little girl, she slipped out and down one of the corridors to her parent's bedroom.  There she followed the secret passageway leading from behind one of their tapestries to the stables.  Fiona silently saddled her mare.  "Mirabel, we have a long way to go.  Are you up for it?"  The horse nuzzled her looking for oats.

They made their way to the gates of the city.  The guards were standing at their posts, and she took a deep breath, pulling the hood securely over her head so that a stray wind wouldn't blow it away from her face.  As long as they didn't recognize Mirabel, she'd be fine.  It was just now dusk.  Many people were leaving the city.  She just had to make it far enough away that they couldn't find her when they realized she'd gone missing.

* * *

Dana found the note on Fiona's trunk and held it in trembling fingers.  So she'd run away.  How could Patrick have been so stupid as to threaten her like that?  With the temper Fiona had, of course she'd run off to avoid being sold off in marriage to the highest bidder.

She took the note and slammed it on the table in front of him.  He looked up at her, and his eyes filled with horror.  "What have I done?  Where would she go?"  He lowered his head to his hands and rubbed his eyes.  Suddenly he looked his age, and it sent a tremor of fear through her.  Patrick was sixty-two years old.  He usually didn't look a day over forty, but the fear seemed to amplify the lines of his face, and his age showed through.  His hair was dark grey with one streak of white that spread out from his forehead.  "Dana, I just want to see her taken care of when I'm gone.  I'm not a young man anymore."

Tears stung her eyes as she laid a hand that was as smooth and young as it had been on the day they were wed on his cheek.  She aged so slowly, and he aged like a normal human despite the fairy blood he'd gotten from his mother. 

The years they'd spent together had been so wonderful and the thought of him ever leaving her left a hollow feeling that she didn't know how she could ever fill.  "Patrick, don't talk like that.  Please?"  She kissed him and knelt down, burying herself in his arms.  "I think I know where she's gone.  As soon as it's full dark, I'll go and warn them she's coming.  We've got to let her get this out of her system.  I don't know how you could have said such a terrible thing to her.  You know you wouldn't really make her marry someone she didn't love."

He pushed the soft, white hair off her cheek, running his hand through it.  "Sometimes duty comes before love."

"If I thought you really believed that, darling, I'd never speak to you again."  She gave him another lingering kiss. "I'll go as soon as it's dark enough.  It's only a few hours flight."

* * *

Arianna was stretched out in the soft grass in the small garden behind their home.  She could hear the sounds of a bard playing next door in the tavern.  It was the reason she'd insisted they buy this particular house when they moved to London to search for the last remnants of the Pendragon family.  They'd almost been completely wiped out by the Southern Alliance, a group of three families from southern Europe, just twenty years before.

It had taken a little convincing to get her husband, Caedmon, to agree to the noisy house.  Having grown up in Sithein, he was used to a much quieter life than anything that could be found in London.  Of course, besides the entertainment of the music, the tavern made a wonderful place to hunt.  Caedmon and Arianna were vampires, and though they never killed their victims, they did need blood to survive, and it was easy to find among the drunken patrons of the tavern.

She saw a strange shape in the night sky overhead.  There was something white that appeared to be flying over the city hundreds of feet above the ground.  From this distance it looked like it might be a bird, but as it began a slow circling decent she knew exactly what it really was.  The snow white dragon made a graceful circle before completely disappearing, just as it would have been within view of human eyes.  She looked around the courtyard knowing that Queen Dana could make herself completely invisible if she wished to. 

Sure enough within moments the cloud of darkness seemed to unwrap itself from the body of the beautiful, white creature.  It had a long, graceful neck and iridescent skin almost like it was covered in a thin sheen of frost.  The body was no larger than that of a very large warhorse, but the tail that whipped around looked as if it could have taken out an entire army in one swipe.

Suddenly the dragon was shrinking back into the human shape of a beautiful young woman.  Arianna noted with envy the broad hips and full chest.  Her own body was more lean and muscular, and she'd often wished it looked something more like Queen Dana's despite the fact that Caedmon told her she was perfect just as she was.  Arianna offered her cloak to the Queen.   "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Dana?"

Dana smiled, but she looked clearly exhausted.  "I think that Fiona is on the way here.  She's run away."

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