Man Who Should be King, p.1
Man Who Should Be King
Syranna is a princess without a country of loyal followers. When she was a child, her father sent her away to live with her maternal grandfather for protection while he waged a war. Now the war is over, and one of the king’s former knights tricks her into returning to the realm with a message for the new ruler. Once there, she discovers the new ruler doesn’t want to let her go.
She’s not a woman to be dictated to and escapes to the moon-world that had been her mother’s home. Here she lives in the mist-laden, myth-shrouded land known as Mystonia. When Lord Marcus comes in search of his queen, he soon discovers that two of the most common myths just might be true. The little gray-haired man with the knee-length beard really is a wizard. And Syranna’s pets blow flame if you don’t handle them carefully.
Publishe’s Note: Originally appeared in the Crown Jewels anthology.
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
Man Who Should be King
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Man Who Should be King Copyright 2004 Mlyn Hurn
Cover art by Syneca
Electronic book publication 2004
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Man Who Should be King
The world was so different since Syranna had last been home. It looked the same, basically, on the surface. The distant mountain range was rocky, steep and treacherous to climbers who refused to listen to the warnings issued yearly. In the far distance, high in the sky, the two companion planets, which had often been known as moons in ancient recorded histories, circled the planet, signaling day and night every day as they always had the last ten millennia of recorded history. Across the lush, flat farmlands that composed much of this world, life was good and rich, and provided abundantly for those who lived there. For the mountain people, life was much harder, harsher and more deadly to just survive another day.
The wars had ended over a year ago, and many people were finally moving on with their lives, repairing their homes, their bodies, and what remained of their former livelihood. All of that took time and money. Money was a commodity the new leader had in abundance, or so she’d heard. He was also a fair ruler, as the majority of inhabitants would agree. Some would not, but they were a very small, basically quiet minority.
Sir Marcus, the new liege lord, was busy instituting many changes on all three worlds that were making life better for nearly everyone. Why, even the mountain people were benefiting, which truly was a first. Sir Marcus the Bold was by far the most popular liege lord ever. He had come up from the ranks, and when the uprising had been defeated and the old liege lord had been killed in the final battle, it had seemed the most natural thing for Sir Marcus to ascend to his throne, and to now be known as Lord Marcus of Vikalla. There were murmurings about having the official coronation, so he could be crowned king.
Following the war, his entire legion of captains and lieutenants, all of whom had supported him wholeheartedly, had been rewarded with land entitlements. Some received royal titles or were offered opportunities to continue with the newly formed peace-keeping forces.
Syranna turned away from the castle in the distance. It had been a long, long time since she had last seen the mottled, golden-colored stone edifice where she’d spent her earliest years. It didn’t help that she was here against her will. She had not wanted to return to her home world even now that peace had returned. It was her father, the former king, who had sent her away when the first uprisings had begun over ten years ago. She had gone with a small entourage of loyal servants and a few older soldiers to guard her.
Her life had been very quiet on the planet that circled her home world. Her father had known that none of his enemies would ever think to look for his only heir, Princess Syranna, on the moon-world of Kalledane. The planet of Kalledane was a world covered mostly in lush green forests, rivers and springs. It was a world of beauty, near-perfect climate, and for the most part people on the sparsely populated planet were very happy.
It was common knowledge that people on the world of Vikalla wondered and talked about the mysterious moon called Kalledane. With the war going for so many years, travel had decreased and this had naturally increased the mystique of Kalledane. Of course, the other moon planet, which circled Vikalla the same as Kalledane, was a different story entirely. Kallas strongly resembled Vikalla in appearance topographically, was larger than its sister moon, and people traveled quite freely between those two planets. Still, since the war’s end, vacation travel was slowly reestablishing itself between Vikalla and Kalledane.
So, as far as King Thomas had been concerned, Kalledane would be the perfect place to hide his daughter and only true heir to his throne. He had told no one, not even his most trusted officers, where his daughter had gone. Many assumed she had possibly died during one of the many onslaughts on the castle, and the news had been hidden to protect the aging king’s power. Of course, with his death, the questions had stopped and Sir Marcus had easily ascended to the position of power and affluence, which among the League of Planets was truly an enviable one.
Syranna knew that she could delay no longer. She spurred her magnificent black stallion, and it reared back and began racing toward the castle before she could change her mind. She was alone now. Her last companion from her father’s entourage had passed away a little less than a month ago on Kalledane. He had been a lifelong friend of her father’s. He was a good soldier and eventually became a friend, not just a loyal subject, to her as well. He had been a noble man indeed.
Sir Ralus, while he lay on his deathbed, had extracted one final toll. “You must promise me, milady, that you will return home.”
Syranna recalled how she had barely begun to shake her head negatively when the old man began speaking once more.
“You cannot deny a dying man his last wish, Princess. I have dedicated my life to serving your father and keeping you safe.”
Syranna had squinted her eyes at his remark. She had spent the majority of her life living with people forty to fifty years older than she and she was no stranger to manipulation through guilt. “My life is here, Ralus. That old way is no longer mine to claim. I didn’t struggle to make life better. Instead, I’ve spent my life here, in near solitude, pretty much doing what I want.”
“You must return to the castle, Princess Syranna. It is your birthright, your destiny. You deserve to be the rightful ruler.”
“I have no desire for such things, Ralus. That was my father’s family, and
Ralus had choked at her comment, which turned into a body-racking cough. Quickly Syranna held a glass of water to his lips.
She did not want to go back. But rather than have Ralus waste his last breaths arguing with her, Syranna reluctantly agreed to return to the castle. Mentally she soothed her ruffled emotions by reminding herself that the promise was to return, which didn’t mean she had to stay.
Returning to the present and stuffing her grief away for later, Syranna concentrated on the final stretch of her journey. Not much longer now…
People ran out of her way as she raced madly across the open field that faced the castle. She was aware that many stared at the woman riding the huge black horse, her blue-black hair trailing behind her in the wind. Syranna knew that they wondered who would race so madly, when everyone traveled slowly, unhurriedly, in these days of peace and harmony.
As she neared the lowered bridge that provided entrance to the castle, her path was suddenly blocked by a row of very imposing soldiers. Obviously her wild ride had not gone unnoticed from the castle walls. She pulled her horse up a few feet from the soldiers.
A junior officer stepped forward, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, and demanded quite loudly, “Halt and state what business you have within these castle walls.”
Syranna stared at the young soldier, her deep blue eyes boring into him. Her voice was sure and strong when she spoke. “I am here with a message for Sir Marcus.” She paused as the soldiers bristled because she had not referred to Sir Marcus as her liege lord.
Another officer moved forward. This man was somewhat older and more assured of his rank and stature. His hair was graying a bit at the sides but he still possessed a strong, broad chest and appeared quite fit and stalwart.
“And what kind of message could a slip of a girl such as you have for our liege lord?” Sir William placed his hands aggressively on his hips, his legs widespread.
He noted the young woman’s beauty and her voluptuous form as she sat proudly atop the huge stallion. He didn’t fail to notice her full, firm breasts, which thrust out proudly against the soft cloth of her dress. Her long blue-black hair looked like ink-dyed silk. Her skin resembled the purest of cream. Eyes that mirrored the bluest of skies stared back at him without flinching. A man could very easily covet such a woman, if he were not already deeply in love with a distant cousin of the former king. He had fallen in love with the Lady Stancia from the first time he had met her, at the deathbed of King Thomas.
He knew that Marcus would have difficulty keeping his hands off this woman’s horse. Sir Marcus could easily claim the horse as his by liege right, and it was well known that he was a great admirer of fine horseflesh. As far as his liege lord keeping his hands off the woman, well, that was even less likely.
He noted with interest that the young woman did not flinch under his bold stare. She stiffened her spine, set her jaw and then slowly withdrew a rolled slip of paper from a leather bag strapped across her chest. As she passed it to him, he saw something that had not been seen for over a year. It was the signet of Sir Thomas, the former liege lord and ruler of the lands, that sealed the missive. How could this girl-child have a message sealed by the last monarch?
William took the paper from her, studying the wax seal. It most surely was genuine and did not appear to have been tampered with. He looked up at the young woman. “Dismount, girl! I will escort you to the main hall and then arrange a meeting with Lord Marcus.”
Syranna hesitated. Sir William could see the doubt and distrust in her eyes. “Come along now, girl! We don’t have all day! I’ll make sure your mount is well-tended while you meet with your liege lord.”
William turned away to speak to one of the soldiers. He couldn’t swear to it, but it sounded as if the pert young woman muttered under her breath as she dismounted, “He’s not my liege lord!”
As she neared him, William noted that she wasn’t as tall as he’d thought when she’d been mounted on that big black stallion. As he gestured for her to follow, she nodded her head, shifted her shoulders and her long black hair fell to her waist, silken and lush. Turning, he led the way into the castle grounds. He also noted that she kept up with him easily, in spite of his being over a foot taller than she.
* * * * *
As Sir William entered the main hall, Lady Stancia saw him and came racing, quite unladylike, over to him. She stopped abruptly a few feet away when she noted the somber look on his face and the incredibly beautiful woman at his side. For a moment, she knew that her jealousy must be quite apparent on her face. Then she turned and really looked at the younger woman.
Lady Stancia took in the nearly perfect face and her deep, dark blue eyes. For a moment, she frowned, trying to remember. There was something about this woman that seemed familiar. Jealousy wasn’t an emotion Stancia had often felt before. Yet the woman with William was beautiful enough to make even the most confident of women a little uneasy. Then the younger woman turned and their eyes met. Stancia couldn’t explain it, but suddenly she knew there was no reason to be even the least bit jealous. Turning her gaze to William, she welcomed him.
“Greetings to you, Sir William!” Stancia spoke warmly to her betrothed.
William nodded, a smile curving his lips. Before he could return her greeting, though, their presence had been noticed by the men seated at the long wood table near the fireplace at the far end of the hall.
Lord Marcus was seated at the center of the long, heavy wooden table, listening to the reports his officers were making of outlying properties. Marcus stood, and all conversation stopped. Sir William motioned for Syranna to wait, and he moved over to his friend. He handed the paper to the other man, who was even taller and broader of chest and shoulder than he.
Marcus froze as he saw the signet seal of the former liege, King Thomas. The signet ring had been buried with the old man. The paper, though, looked rather old, and was torn at the edges, faded and worn. Instead of opening the message, he walked past William and strode over to Syranna. His voice was loud and demanding as he loomed over her small frame.
“What is the meaning of this? Is this some kind of joke?”
Marcus watched as the beautiful woman glared back, tilting her chin defiantly. As if she were choosing between two options, she slowly nodded her head. Marcus frowned, assuming she meant this was a joke. Before he could speak, the woman answered him.
“No, Sir Marcus, I deliver this message to you at the bequest of an old friend, Sir Ralus.”
Marcus paled. That was a name he had not heard in over ten years. He and many others had known that Sir Ralus had been the king’s closest friend, and yet suddenly, one day, he was gone. King Thomas had refused to answer any questions about the old soldier’s disappearance. Marcus had admired Sir Ralus, having learned much from that crusty old soldier as a young man. He had missed the captain sorely himself, when he had suddenly disappeared, and he could find no answers as to where he had gone.
“Who are you, woman? How do you know of Sir Ralus?”
Many people in the hall quaked at his angry tones, but the woman in front of the blond-haired, blue-eyed man held firm. Her voice was soft, still and calm as she answered. “If you will only read the note, all will be answered.”
Marcus glared into the deep blue eyes of the young woman. Something about her was so familiar to him, but he couldn’t place what it was. He knew he had never met her. He would never have forgotten such a beautiful woman. He started to spin away from her when his gaze was caught by the distant stained glass that had been made in tribute to King Thomas and the former liege lord’s wife, Queen Sylvia. He saw the resemblance instantly. Lady Sylvia stood in his main hall, alive and breathing, except that she had Thomas’ blue eyes.
Good God! Marcus turned back and stared at Syranna. Immediately Marcus grabbed her slender forearm in his strong, large hand. “Come wi
As soon as they were all in his private quarters he slammed the door shut. “Where the hell have you been all these years?” He held her arms and shook her slightly. Why, now, had she returned? He wondered silently, trying to read what was going on behind her cool gaze. Why not when her father had died and claimed the throne then, as had been her right? Why did she appear now, just when things were settling down peacefully and people were getting on with their lives once more? What did she want? Money?
William stepped forward, but Marcus’ glare stopped him. Syranna stood quietly and Marcus finally released her with a slight shove. The loss of the throne meant but one thing to him; the possible end to peace that he and so many others had fought for. He doubted this slender woman could hold other worlds at bay, if necessary. Even if he stepped down and she was crowned queen, many would see their world weak because a woman ruled them.
Syranna took several steps back, away from both men. She straightened her back. “My father sent me to Kalledane. Sir Ralus, a few soldiers and a couple of servants accompanied us there. I would not be here now, except that Sir Ralus wrought a deathbed promise from me that I would return and give you that paper. He was a crafty old devil!” The last she half said to herself. “Now that I have done so, I intend to leave as quickly as I possibly can!”
“You can’t just leave, woman!” Marcus shouted at her. “Not now that you have returned.”
“Ha!” Syranna laughed, turning on her heel. “Just watch me. You can keep the throne. I don’t want it. I have fulfilled my promise and I am leaving as soon as I can catch a transport ship back to Kalledane.”
“It isn’t that simple. People have seen you…”