Sita Bethel has a new MM fantasy book out: “Deathless.” And there’s a giveaway!
Sreka’s younger brother, Dobrina, is in love. The only problem is that the law forbids him from courting until Sreka is married. Sreka hires the local adventurer, Košmar, to marry him so Dobrina can wed his love.
Even if he has to sleep on the couch, instead of with the crown prince on their farce wedding bed, Košmar will get to live like a king for a year. And once Dobrina is married, Sreka will quietly divorce him and send him on his way with gold for his services.
Nothing says destined romance like a battle with a dragon, so Sreka and Košmar stage their first public encounter to fool the royal court. However, as fate would have it, the dragon that was supposed to be as fake as their love is real.
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Košmar slammed the lager to the back of his throat and sighed. The pub was alive with Shrovetide festivities. Music and playful shrieks echoed from one end of the tavern to the other while mead and vodka flowed from bottles to cups to mouths faster than hands could pour it. He glanced at the dancers, thinking maybe he had drunk enough to give dancing a try. The music changed and a cheer rang from the crowds. Everyone clapped in unison as they formed a circle on the dance floor. They wore linen garments dyed green and purple. Crowns of corn poppies, baby’s breath, and sweet basil topped the heads of both the women and the men. Košmar himself wore faded riding leathers and a felted wool cloak which had once been deep sable but now was the gray of watered-down ink.
Before he could stand and sneak closer to the crowd, a lad in an ugly woolen slouch cap sat across from him. Košmar blinked, examining his cornflower-blue eyes. The lad set a key on the table between them, stood, and vanished into the crowd. Košmar picked up the key, noticing the flash of a gold coin below it. Košmar’s jaw dropped. A flaming falcon was stamped into the coin and on the other side a crown.
He slipped the gold into his vest pocket and rushed to the third room in the back. The man in the woolen cap sat cross-legged in a chair near the hearth of the room. His eyes flicked upward as he gazed at Košmar.
“Remove your cap.” Košmar dropped to the edge of the bed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The coin wasn’t enough?”
“Most nobles have gold coins.” Košmar shrugged.
“Very well.” The stranger stood.
He tugged the cap away from his scalp and shook his head. Long strands of pure citrine glittered as they fell to his waist. The princes of Zetva were rumored to have magical hair the color of citrines or yellow sapphires. The man in front of Košmar could only be one of those two princes.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, my liege?” Košmar bowed forward from his position on the bed.
The prince dropped into his chair. “They say you’ll do any task for the right price.”
“Most any.” Košmar chose his words. “I’m not an assassin. I’m more of an adventurer.”
“I do not need an assassin. I need a husband.”
“Don’t we all, but I’m sure your father, the king, would be more qualified at arranging a marriage than me.” Košmar laughed.
“Everyone in the royal court is a weasel, and the neighboring kingdoms are full of ambitious vipers looking to strengthen their own positions of power. No, Košmar Marelock, I do not want you to find a husband for me—I want you to wed me.”
Košmar laughed until he choked. He fell onto the mattress, coughing into his fist. The prince peered over him, long, jeweled hair hanging from his face and flashing in the hearthlight.
“Not forever. I need a farce wedding and a sham spouse, and after a year or so, we’ll divorce in private, I’ll pay you for your troubles, and you can run back to your adventures.”
“Farce wedding?” Košmar sucked in a breath, recovering from his outburst. “Gotta admit, I’m fascinated. Why would a prince need to fake his own wedding?”
“Will you take the job or not?”
“You haven’t given me enough information to decide.”
“I’m the oldest.” The prince shrugged.
“So you’re…” Košmar wracked his memory for what he’d heard of politics. “Prince…Dobrina?”
“My little brother is Dobrina. I’m Prince Sreka.”
“Pleasure to meet you.” Košmar held out his hand.
Sreka hesitated before extending his hand. Košmar took it and used Sreka’s grip to pull himself to his feet before shaking their clasped hands. After the friendly greeting, he brought Sreka’s hand to his lips and kissed the prince’s knuckles.
“My liege, my name is Košmar.”
“I know. I sought you out, remember?”
“Need to have a proper introduction if we’re going to be business partners. So you’re the oldest, but your father is in good health. Surely you have more time to find a spouse?”
“Dobrina is in love. The law demands I marry first, but I have no interest in the suitors who plague me night and day. So, to rid myself of their presence and give my brother the happiness he deserves, I need a surrogate to play the role of my affectionate husband.”
“Lemme get this straight. You bring me home to Dad; we hold hands and take lingering walks in the gardens at night to convince everyone we’re in love, and after we’re married, all I have to do is stick around stuffing my face and sleeping on top of a goose-down mattress? And after a year of this you’re going to pay me for the trouble?”
“You’ll be sleeping on the couch within my private chambers. I have no intention of sharing my bed with a man I do not love.”
“Here. Do you see this? Do you feel this?” Košmar pounded the old, sagging mattress beneath him with his closed fist. “And don’t even get close enough to smell it. I spend most my nights in a tent in the woods or on rented beds.”
“My…condolences.” Sreka wrinkled his face.
“Is your couch more comfortable than this?”
“By far. The fibers are woven from silk imported from—”
“Say no more. I’m your man.” Košmar jumped to his feet. “Let’s see, we’ll need a public introduction. How do we want to play this?”
“The simpler the better,” Sreka said.
“No, no. We need a story to tell. Something for the scullery maids to whisper about as they scrub pots. You should rescue me—from a dragon.”
“Why? It sounds like the plot to a romance novel.” Sreka rubbed the bridge of his nose. “And shouldn’t you save me from the dragon? I’m the one you should be wooing.”
“I rescue people from dragons all the time, but when do I ever get to sit back and swoon for a hero? Never. If we’re going to play the lovers, let’s have fun with it.”
“Or is palace life too exciting for you already?”
Sreka paused midcomplaint. He stared at Košmar for a long time. Košmar smirked.
“I’m right, aren’t I? You’re bored out of your skull in that castle. You’d love to play the hero for a day and scoop a handsome, swarthy stranger into your arms before carrying him off to your palace.”
“You shouldn’t assume I find you handsome.”
“Doesn’t matter, everyone else will. You can pretend if you don’t fancy my looks.” Košmar winked.
“There’s one problem with your plan. We don’t have a dragon who will play along with our scam.”
“Watch this.” Košmar walked to the fire, holding his hands to it.
He gestured with his fingers and pulled a section of the flames toward him. The fire resembled freshly pulled sugar in the candy-maker’s shop. It flowered and twirled with color, and Košmar molded it into the shape of a dragon the size of a hunting hound. The flames cooled, hardening to bright, poisonous green scales. The creature roared and lunged for Sreka’s shins. When Košmar snapped his fingers, the dragon dissolved into smoke that spread between them in a gray haze.
“Yes, an illusion. Are you familiar with the northern road leading through the Czerwony Woods and into the mountains?”
“No one goes there because of bandits.”
“But there is a royal hunting ground near there, yes?”
“There is.” Sreka nodded.
“Plan a hunting trip one week from today. Arrive at dawn, and make sure you’re near where the northern road enters the forest an hour into your hunt.”
“How will I find you?”
“The roars and screams should be a good indication.” Košmar grinned.
Sreka mirrored him. “I confess, I’m looking forward to our official meeting.”
“Until fate brings us together, my love.” Košmar dropped to one knee, kissing Sreka’s hand.
“No need for theatrics when we’re alone.” Sreka averted his eyes.
“Best to get into character now.” Košmar plopped onto the worn mattress beside him. “You already paid for the room?”
“Yes?” Sreka twisted his jeweled hair into a rope and tucked it back into his woolen cap.
“No use letting a bed go to waste. I’ll see you in a week.” Košmar rolled up in the threadbare woolen blanket and shut his eyes.
“Sweet dreams, Košmar.”
Košmar snorted after he heard the door shut.
“Pretty funny for a prince to tell a nightmare to have sweet dreams.” Košmar kept the fire burning in the hearth but blew out the lantern on each side of the bed. The darkness hugged him close as he slept.
Hey there, readers. It’s me, ya boi, Sita Bethel. And this is a biography where I tell you all the boring facts about my life- like how I have a degree in writing, and how my two cats, Odin and Anpu, will one day rule this land as your feline overlords. Enough of that same old, same old. Here’s the real dirt. Sita Bethel likes to wrap up like a burrito with a weighted blanket. They host coloring parties as a personal eff-you to anxiety, and read everything from trash British sensationalist novels like The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins to literary masterpieces like The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Had enough of Sita Bethel yet? If not, check out @sita_bethel on Twitter, or sitabethelfiction on Facebook, or even www.sitabethel.com.