Arriana’s Trial – A Novella
Princess Arriana believes in the power of love, but so far love has always let her down.
Unhappy and lonely, she seeks refuge in the forest close to her father’s castle, little knowing that behind her back, plans are being made to make her a pawn for peace between two warring kingdoms.
When she meets a magical being who offers her the chance to escape persecution, love once again decides her fate, and this time she must risk everything.
Read the first chapter
Arriana sat beside the small stream, paddling her feet in the cool, murmuring water. She lifted her face to the magical, golden light of early morning, enjoying her solitude and the feeling of enchantment that always hung in the air around dawn.
She knew the forest wasn’t really enchanted; that only existed in fairy tales, but she liked to imagine that somewhere, maybe, magic was real.
As she revelled in the sights, smells and sounds of early morning, the birds in the treetops suddenly hushed.
She froze when a twig snapped behind her and the air shivered with a presence felt rather than seen. She sat statue-still, her face tilted to the canopy above, ears straining for the slightest sound. When nothing happened and the birds resumed their song, she gradually relaxed and slowly looked over her shoulder. She leapt to her feet, staggering backwards into the stream and gathering up her long skirt ready for flight, when a gentle voice sounded in her mind and she paused.
“Don’t be afraid. My name is Serradane. You are Princess Arriana of Westerhove”
The reminder of who she was, a princess of this land and daughter of the king, bolstered her courage. She straightened her spine and lifted her chin as she looked head-on at the most impressive wild horse she’d ever seen.
“I am,” she said.
“I have watched over you for many years.”
“Are you some kind of demon?” She wished she felt as brave as she sounded.
“I am no demon, and I mean you no harm. There is no need to fear me.” The horse took a step towards her. She retreated, still holding her skirts above her knees, ready to run.
It certainly was a handsome beast, but its size and magical ability to speak scattered her senses and left her tingling with fright. She estimated that his back was taller than the top of her head, yet she could see over the backs of even the tallest of her father’s horses.
“Then what, if not a demon? My father tells me my wit is lacking, but even I recognise magic when I see and hear it.”
“And you have much experience with magic?”
She felt the horse’s projected amusement. But before she could take offence, it went on. “You are correct. I do not come from your world, so to you that would make me magic. But I visit often and have watched you since you were a small child. If I meant you harm, you would already be harmed.”
She considered the logic of this but still held ready to flee, even though she knew it would be pointless. If the horse gave chase, she would be caught within seconds.
“Yes, I could easily outrun you. But I will not. Flee if you cannot trust me. I will not prevent your leaving. I would only ask that you refrain from thinking of me as ‘it’. I am not a thing. My gender is male.”
“You are reading my mind? That is not honourable. I cannot read yours, so why would you put me at such a disadvantage if you truly mean no harm?”
The horse bowed his head. “I will retreat. Forgive me for intruding. I simply wanted to wish you happy birthday, dear Princess Arriana.”
He turned and pushed through the undergrowth, away from her.
Arriana held her breath. This was magic. Real magic. Here. Right now. In her presence. Would she stand still and let it vanish?
The horse stopped but did not turn.
Arriana climbed out of the stream and tiptoed towards him, clutching her skirts tightly. He nibbled a stalk of grass and calmly waited until she stood by his side. Then he turned his head towards her and looked into her eyes.
She gave a little gasp. “Your eyes are blue? How can that be?”
The horse’s chuckle rumbled in her mind. “Many of my people have blue eyes. It is not so strange.”
“Who are your people? How did you get here? Where is your world?”
“Shall we walk?”
Feeling a little braver, Arriana made up her mind. “Yes, why not? I think I trust that you don’t intend to eat me, even if I don’t quite trust that you’re real.”
She felt his smile and heard his thought, “You are precious beyond words and have much courage. I will see no harm comes to you.”
Arriana reached out to touch his mane as she would with an ordinary horse. Was he real? Touch would tell. But he pulled back and turned his head away. “I have not yet decided to allow your touch, just as you have not invited me to touch you. Would you be so familiar if I were a man?”
“Forgive me. I forgot myself.” She snatched her hand back and looked away lest he see her blush. If he were a man, attempting to stroke him would be outrageously forward behaviour.
“Come,” he said, “let us stroll to the meadow. It is a beautiful morning and we have much to discuss.”
He gave her a pointed look. “We do.”
She glanced towards the sun, which was steadily climbing the sky and twinkling through the leafy canopy. Her father had arranged the customary feast for her sixteenth birthday, and guests were expected within a matter of hours, so her time was short. Arriana had to be back at the castle to welcome them, but she dreaded the fuss and the formal gowns. If the whole truth be told, she also disliked the guests her father invited. They were all far too old and from the noble families whose lands bordered theirs, so they were also the enemy in her mind.
Arriana estimated how long she had before she’d be missed from the castle. Not long. There really wasn’t time to visit the meadow.
The horse walked calmly at her side. And he was the most beautiful, magnificent creature she’d ever seen. His snow white coat gleamed in the golden morning light, and his silken mane seemed to invite her touch. Her fingers almost tingled to bury themselves in it.
“Serradane? Is that your name?”
He turned his head. “It is.”
“Can we not talk as we walk? I fear I don’t have time to go all the way to the meadow. I am expected back at the castle to greet guests and be a good hostess for my birthday celebration.”
“Are you happy?” he asked.
“Happy? I don’t understand. I am a princess. I live in a castle with maids, surrounded by beautiful things. Why should I be unhappy?”
He stopped and faced her. “I asked if you were happy. Not if you had things that made your life comfortable.”
“Yes,” she said, “I am happy.” What else could she say without sounding ungrateful? She told herself every day that she ought to be happy. So often, in fact, that sometimes she almost believed it. Her maids loved her, even if her father did not. Her governess spent time with her, even if her father would not, and her ladies-in-waiting never scolded, even if her father did so constantly. She had companionship. She lacked for nothing. Of course she was happy.
“You have nothing to lose by being truthful with me, Arriana. I have no influence in your world, so you need have no fear of the truth. With me, you may speak freely.”
To her horror, she felt a sting of tears and turned away. Never before had someone cared enough to ask the question twice. “I would maybe change a thing or two, if it were possible,” she admitted.
Never far beneath the surface of her thoughts lurked the single, devastating event that defined and shaped her. If she could go back and change that, her entire life would be different. It waited, ready to rise up in any unguarded moment, darkening her thoughts as she relived it over and over again.
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