Fire Bride (Drakoryan Brides Book 2)By: Ava Sinclair
Once upon a time there was a king who had everything a king could ever want.
He had riches, a powerful army, and a fine castle with a high parapet overlooking all the lands he ruled.
He was King Eknor, and after years of making war, he was finally able to bask in his victories. He had defeated the kings of the valley. He had defeated the kings of the highlands. He had defeated all the kings in between. He had stormed their castles, overpowering them with such force that most surrendered right away. Of those who had not surrendered, all that remained were their severed heads, rotting on pikes.
Each morning the king would walk to the parapet and watch the sun rise and spread its golden glow over the lands he’d conquered. Day after day he did this, but one morning he realized his pride was beginning to ebb, like the slow leak of air from a punctured lung.
For despite his holdings, he knew there was more land for the taking, land he could not see even from the tallest room of his castle.
King Eknor wondered what lay beyond the horizon, over the curve of the world. He imagined greater riches than he had in his storehouse, finer and bigger stags than those in his forest, mines filled with jewels and precious metals yet to be discovered.
Day after day he stared at the horizon. Day after day he became more restless, less content. The king knew he could not be satisfied until he had more. He knew he would not be satisfied until he traveled beyond the curve of the world, to conquer what was yet unseen.
The queen urged caution. She urged contentment. Had he not conquered the other kings? Wasn’t it enough? What lay beyond the curve of the world was not for him, she reasoned. She begged her husband to heed his Oracle, who’d warned that beyond the curve of the world lay the Wyld, its thick forests inhabited by beasts and fairie folk. The Wyld was full of magic, deep and old and unsullied by Man.
“Stay,” the queen begged. “Rule your kingdom. Keep the peace.”
But King Eknor would not be influenced by a mere woman, for what did women know of ambition? He ignored the queen’s pleas. He told her would take their three sons— Arok, Dax, and Yrn. He would take half the army. The other half would stay behind to keep the peace. He would journey over the curve of the world, and conquer lands he could not see.
The queen wept, falling to her knees. She pressed her face into the king’s gauntlet, pleading, but he pushed her to the throne room floor. As she lay there, sobbing her grief, the king walked away, followed by sons who had become as cold and ambitious as their father.
And they left. They traveled through the conquered lands, and over the curve of the world until they came to the edge of a wild, wild forest. At its entrance stood a mighty stag, blocking the only way in, his antlers as broad as a spreading tree, his eyes fierce and protective.
“I am the guardian of this place,” the stag said. “This is a land of magic. You are not welcome here.” Some of the soldiers were afraid to hear a talking beast. They wanted to flee. But the king forbid it.
“I am King of Men,” he snarled, “and your magic is no match for me.”
King Eknor ordered his soldiers to kill the stag. They surrounded the creature, hemming him in. The stag tried to rush through the ring of horsemen, but could not. On the king’s command, the soldiers fired upon the noble creature. It took many arrows, and when the creature finally fell, the king dismounted, drew his sword and approached the bloodied beast. The stag looked up through weary eyes and begged for his life. But the king refused, cutting the animal’s throat.
“Should we butcher it for meat, sire?” a soldier asked.
The king regarded the dead stag. “No need. The wood is full of beasts. Why haul our meat when we can kill another deer closer to where we break camp? Leave it to rot. We’ll take the head for a trophy on the way back.”
They continued through the wood.
At dusk, they made camp in a glen. The soldiers chopped down a gnarled yew, which groaned with each blow of the axe. They burned it for fire. The eldest prince shot a doe that came to the stream to drink, sending her orphaned fawn bleating into a thicket. He and his brothers set snares in the night, and in the morning found a russet fox, its paw caught in the loop. When it looked at the middle prince with hopeful eyes, he and his younger brother clubbed it to death and cast lots for its skin.