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The Bronze Ring - A Fantasy Retelling

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When Rosealynn grows from beloved baby to beautiful princess she must navigate intrigue, forbidden love, and magical artifacts as she fights for her crown, for true love, and more. Wicked advisors, clueless kings, and the corruption of love by unlimited power, combine to try to overwhelm her. But she's smart, trains hard, and surrounds herself with people she can trust. Will it be enough? This fantasy retelling of an ancient Arabic fairytale, The Bronze Ring, is for adult audiences only.

Chapter 1 - Your Hands Are Too Smooth

“Your Majesty, I’m sorry. I see no signs of a child,” the midwife shook her head as she removed her hands from the queen’s stomach and the glow of her magic cut off.

Queen Flora sighed and smoothed her brown hair away from her face. “I was so certain this time.”

“Yes, my lady. There’s nothing wrong with you physically, but your magic isn’t strong here.” The midwife moved her hand to the queen’s head. “You need more plants.”

The Queen rose and walked to the window in the healing tower, looking out over the kingdom. “It is difficult here. Rocks and sand surround the entire kingdom of Riki which has to negatively impact my magic.”

“Yes, my lady. Perhaps you can talk the king into hiring a gardener. He should have thought of it, but-” The midwife snapped her mouth shut.

The queen laughed, “He is a strong and gallant man, as most rhino shifters are. But I admit, he doesn’t always think ahead about things. I will speak to him.”

“Is that why he has the gorilla as chief advisor?” the midwife asked, surprising the queen with the question some might consider impertinent.

“It’s a wise man who knows his areas of greatest need,” the queen replied with an enigmatic smile.

“That’s true, my lady.” Then the midwife cleared her throat and changed the subject. “Come back in a month for another check up or once you buy a plant, we can see if that helps boost your fertile period. I’ll do some research on herbs to help, too.”

“Thank you, Midwife Matilda. I’ll come back in a week to see you and try to find some plants in the meanwhile. I appreciate your care.” The queen left the room, ever graceful, carrying her grief tightly around her heart like a hard bud not yet ready to bloom.

When she stepped into the hallway, she found Phineas, her husband’s chief advisor. He smiled at Flora, a silky, broad smile that never quite reached his dark eyes. “How did your check up go, Your Majesty? Is there good news to tell the king?”

She kept herself from sighing and stood straighter. “If there is news, I’ll be informing my husband first, of course.”

“Of course,” he said. “We’re all just eager to have the throne’s succession secured. Anything we can do to speed things along, we will do.”

Flora eyed him, wondering if perhaps she had misjudged him. She’d give him a chance to help her with the midwife’s suggestion of adding plants to her surroundings. “There was one suggestion that was made. If you’d be willing to help, it would be very appreciated.”

“Anything I can do, Your Majesty, of course,” he said with a slight bow.

“She suggested I would benefit from having a tree. Flowers. Plants. To spark my inner nature more and strengthen my magic.” She bit her lip, waiting for his reply.

He tapped his chin. “I know someone who should be able to provide a tree. We’ll make a garden spot for you in the back and see if that improves things for you.”

She smiled at him. “I would be most appreciative, Phineas. Thank you.”

“How appreciative?” His suggestive tone made it clear he’d taken her words the wrong way.

She stifled her anger, knowing full well there were many women in the castle who threw themselves at him. But she definitely wasn’t one of them. Gripping the skirt of her dress, Flora kept her tone even as she replied, “I’m sure my husband would be happy to pay you for your time.” Hopefully, he would think her merely naïve and gloss over the moment. She’d have to be more careful with her words around him.

“Of course,” he said smoothly, pretending he hadn’t been insinuating anything untoward. “Come to the backyard after breakfast tomorrow and I’ll see what I can do about having a plant for you.”

Flora nodded respectfully to him and turned down a corridor towards her sitting room where men wouldn’t follow.

She didn’t feel his speculative gaze following her or see the way his eyes narrowed as they watched her leave. Nor was she aware when he returned to the healing room and seduced the midwife, turning his lunch hour playtime with her into a discussion about the patients she’d seen that morning.

That night, Queen Flora slept fitfully. King Beren had been kept up late looking over some diplomatic situations with Phineas and had come to bed exhausted. He’d been keeping long hours lately. She slipped out of the bed quietly to keep from waking him so he’d be able to get the rest he needed.

As she wrapped her robe around herself, Flora couldn’t help but smile at the way the light played over his golden skin. He really was a handsome man, her King Beren. Short-cropped red hair, bulky muscles, and a handsome, square jaw, he was huge. Strong. A warrior through and through.

She slipped into the shower and quickly washed before helping herself to a quiet breakfast. The servant came in to top off her tea cup for her. “Thank you, Clara.”

“You’re welcome, my lady. If you’d like to finish your tea outside, Master Nash sent word that he is outside in the back of the castle, waiting for you your convenience.”

“Oh thank you, Clara!” Flora jumped to her feet, excitement making her heart pound. It had been so long since she spent time with live plants under the sunshine in the open air. She drank her cup of tea quickly and walked as fast as a queen could possibly walk.

Stepping out of the back door of the castle, she paused when Phineas stepped away from the wall beside the door. “Allow me to escort you, Your Majesty.” She beamed, unable to hide her excitement, and put her hand loosely into the crook of her elbow.

They went around the large water feature and Phineas gestured excitedly to a small sapling tree and bench. He led Flora to the bench and helped her sit while she took in the sight of the scraggly tree. It looked like it was supposed to be an ornamental maple of some kind, the branches were nearly bare. She tried not to show disappointment, as Phineas seemed to think this was something truly special.

She reached out to touch one leaf gently and felt the tree’s deep thirst. “Phineas, please have someone water the tree.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he said, leaving her seated on the bench to enjoy the view.

What view? There weren’t enough leaves on the tree to cast much shade, so the stone bench was warm on her legs through her skirt. The land within the castle walls was entirely barren and sandy. She imagined the fully grown, and a grassy lawn surrounding the entire area with banks of wildflowers, lovely willow trees, and lush fruiting vines. The thought made her soul sing.

Suddenly, she felt a sharp sting on her leg. Flora yelped and lept from the bench, shaking out her skirts. A tarantula fell off her leg, scurried back under the stone bench, and disappeared from sight. She shrieked and started towards the castle.

Flora only made it as far as the water fountain before she started feeling feverish. She remembered hearing stories of those who’d been bitten by tarantulas dancing or engaging in other physical activity to burn the venom off faster. Keeping one hand on the stone ledge of the fountain for balance, she walked and walked and walked. Around and around and around.

Her mind felt fuzzy, and she thought she wasn’t moving enough to burn the venom away. So she started running and running and running. Around and around and around. Flora felt sweat beading on her face, trickling down her back, and staining her gown under the arms. Gross.

The burbling water of the fountain sounded like a good way to cool her burning face and burning leg. She splashed water over her head. Then sat on the stone ledge, kicking off her shoes, and plunged her feet into the water. So cool and refreshing!

Her legs felt wonderful. The rest of her felt strange, though. Tingly, hot, and itchy. She stepped into the fountain and the water soaked up to her thighs. Still not cool enough. The burning went all through her.

Flora dunked her whole body in the fountain and swam from one side to the other. The fever of her skin seemed to be driven deeper inside by the cold water. It didn’t abate, but pulsed within her.

“Your Majesty!” Phineas reached out to grasp her hand and yank her to the ledge. His hand seemed so soft. She wasn’t used to a man’s hand being so smooth. She held his hand in hers and stroked her finger across it, marveling that there was no callous. No sign of work at all.

“Come and sit on the ledge. What happened?” he asked her.

“Bite. Fever. Bit me,” she tried to explain, pulling up the skirt of her dress enough to show the bite mark just above her ankle.

Phineas smiled. “It looks serious, Your Majesty.”

“Yes. Healer?” she asked.

“No need for that, Your Majesty. Just sit here and rest and I’ll keep you company,” he assured her, taking her hand in his.

“Your hand is cool. Skin is so cool,” she murmured, cradling his hand against her cheek to soothe the burning in her head.

His eyes skimmed down the length of her body, stopping everywhere the wet fabric stuck to her curves.

“Maybe there are more benefits for me than I originally anticipated,” he murmured, running both hands down her neck and then shoulders. He leaned over and placed cool lips against the curve of her neck, and she whimpered at the sensation.

“Feels good. Too hot.”

“I can tell you’re too hot. Let me help you.” He kissed her neck and then her shoulder. His hands ran from her ankles, up her legs, pressing his palms flat against her fevered skin. Suddenly, she frowned at him and batted his arms away from her thighs.

“Too smooth!”

Her outburst took him by surprise, and he jerked his hands away from her. He took a step back. “What did your say, Your Majesty?”

“Too smooth. Your hands are too smooth! They don’t feel good.” At that declaration, she scooted off the ledge of the fountain, staggering with the effort of standing. Then she righted herself and murmured as though drunk, “Need better hands…” before she took off for the castle.

All Phineas could do was gape at her as she disappeared through the back door of the castle, dress soaking wet, bare feet leaving prints as she ran.

A man came out from behind an outbuilding, laughing as he approached. “That didn’t go as you expected,” the man scoffed, holding his hand out to Phineas.

“Well, she got bit, so that part went as you assured me it would. Well done,” Phineas replied, handing the man two gold coins. “You told me the venom would induce a heightened state of altered mindset before it maimed or killed her. You weren’t lying. It was as though she were in an opium dream.”

The man turned Phineas hand over and ran a thumb across the pads of his fingers. “She was right, though. Your hands are too smooth.”

He scowled and jerked his hand away. “Just do your job!”

The man shrugged, walked to the stone bench to retrieve his tarantula, and walked out of the castle grounds, whistling merrily as he went.

Phineas wondered where the queen had gone. Inside, he noted that her watery footprints led back towards her chambers. Well, that was good – perhaps she’d just curl up in bed and die.

He made a point of asking one of the servants to water the queen’s tree to give himself an alibi before going back to his study for the rest of the day. With any luck, everything would go according to plan and he could make sure someone from his own family ended up in power. After all, his family was ten times smarter than the king. It was his just due.

Chapter 2 - Very, Very Happy

Flora ran with wobbly steps back to her bedchamber, bare feet slapping against the stones of the castle floor. Her hair was stringy and plastered to the skin of her face and neck. She bounced against the doorframe when another dizzy spell hit and she fumbled with the doorknob. Why was it so hot in here?

She unbuttoned the front of her dress. “So hot,” she whined. She tried to close the door and fell against it with more of her weight than intended. The slam echoed through the room and she giggled. Peeling the outer layer off her drenched underslip, she left it in a sodden heap on the floor.

“Flora?” Beren’s rich, deep voice called out from the bed, still rough with sleep. “What’s wrong, darling?”

“Nothing. I’m hot,” she replied, staggering to the bed.

Beren’s eyes widened as he sat up and took in the sight of her nearly transparent white slip, wet and sticking to her body in all the right places. “And wet. And, and, and…” his voice trailed off. Flora took a s

Heroes

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