Princess Sabine Katerina Annaatje of Dulce is on the run outside the castle walls from a vicious invader who has killed her entire family and usurped her father’s throne. With only one man at arms and a faithful handmaiden, she barely escapes the invader’s clutches as he has vowed to leave no blood heir alive.
Stumbling into a camp of itinerant performers, Sabine hides her identity, becoming Katerin of Aimsbury. She learns to trust the leader of the traveling circus, Ros Adamsson, a bawdy woman who is half-rogue and half-gentlewoman. Trust may eventually blossom into more if Katerin can overcome her fear and conservative upbringing.
Meanwhile, the invader is still searching for her. A rumored uprising in the Dulce Province, a royal summons for the Adamsson Circus, and a traitorous servant all collide to reveal a secret even deeper than Katerin’s identity.
Moist fog, muffled sound, a minstrel’s voice calling.
Blindly, she focused on the song and its sedate beat, moving with care over the uneven terrain. As she neared the music, she could discern other sounds: the tumbling of water and dove calls gentle in the slight breeze. Her slippered foot stumbled over a rock, and she could hear it clatter against others, splashing. The wind picked up, brushing a lock of hair across her forehead, dissipating the mist before her. Flickering light beckoned her closer as she picked her way across a stream.
Motion caught her eye, and she saw the minstrel for the first time. His voice soft, he chanted a tale of war and betrayal. A white dove in his hand contrasted with his bloody story, cooing in counterpoint to his words. She could barely see his musicians through the darkness behind him, the torchlight catching only their movements as they played the drum and lute. Walls rising steeply into the fog told her where she was, filling her heart with dread. She was outside the castle. Again. As if on cue, the minstrel sang what she knew would be the last of his song. When he finished, he dropped his head, and the musicians paused in their playing.
Sharp strains came from the lute, eerie in the dark mistiness. Unease filled her heart, for she knew what was coming. She wanted to turn and leave, but her feet wouldn’t move. The deep rolling of the drum caused her to flinch in apprehension.
Startled by a sudden, intense beat of the drum, the dove flew from the minstrel’s hand. Her fearful eyes could not look away as the dove’s path took it up into a clear blue sky. She heard the shrill cry of a hawk, felt the sickening impact and averted her eyes from the bloodied feathers floating through the air.
Another drumbeat. Another vision.
Panting, heart thumping, crashing through the wilderness. Noises everywhere, the call of wild animals urging her on.
She knew the Invader and his soldiers were chasing her, tracking her down to kill her. She was royalty, and her life was forfeit; she’d been instructed since she was a toddler that she lived for her people. Her people were gone.
Bursting from behind a bush, she screamed silently at the armored figure before her. Moonlight on blade flashed above her, and she cowered, afraid of the death blow that was coming. Cuddling her doll to her chest, she could hear only the scuffle, the jangle of armor, could feel the ground tremble as a heavy body hit.
Then a gentle touch fell on her shoulder, and she peered fearfully at her savior. The minstrel smiled, a bloody dove in his hands. “Hush, child. You’re safe now.”
As she struggled with the familiar nightmare, barely coming to consciousness, she felt fingers caress her forehead.
“Shhh. It’s just a bad dream,” a familiar voice murmured. “You’re safe now.”
Sighing, she relaxed back into sleep.
Shawn; Anaheim, California
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