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The Knight and the Seer
By Ruth Langan
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMystical Kingdom - 1552
"Now stand right here, Jeremy." Nine-year-old Gwenellen, of the clan Drummond, helped the little troll onto a flat rock before taking several steps backward. She had the look of a pixie, with fine golden curls spilling down her back in tangles, and laughing eyes the color of warm honey. "You have to hold out your hands like this ..." she lifted her hands, palms up and waited for him to do the same, "... so you don't miss any of the flowers I'm going to send you."
Catching the look of disbelief that passed between her older sisters, Kylia and Allegra, who were standing to one side, the little girl huffed out a breath. "I know what you're thinking. Just because I've made a few ... missteps before, you think I can't ever get these spells to work. But this time I'll prove you wrong."
"And if you don't?" Allegra, the oldest of the sisters at ten and three, had hair the color of fire and green eyes that danced with amusement as she studied the troll dressed in his top hat and frock coat, who looked like he'd rather be anywhere than here, as the object of her little sister's experiment. "Poor Jeremy is the one who'll find himself flying backward, or tumbling down a well."
"Aye." Kylia, a year younger than Allegra, with raven-black tresses and eyes the color of heather, nodded. "Or hanging from the very top of a tree, or sailing across the sky. And all because of your missteps."
Gwenellen's face grew redder with each mention of her many accidents. She was their despair and their delight. Despite her many failures, she never doubted that she would one day master the skills necessary to be a witch like her mother, grandmother and sisters.
The troll, Jeremy, was no bigger than a wee lad, his head barely reaching their shoulders. He claimed to have lived in the real world for more than a hundred years before making his home in the Mystical Kingdom with these lasses and their family. From the beginning he'd been especially fond of Gwenellen, whose sweet nature made it impossible not to love her, despite her imperfections. Though he wasn't known for his patience, he'd shown a great deal of restraint while the little girl practiced her spells and talents, usually with disastrous results.
"He was never hurt." Gwenellen shot a pleading look at the troll. "Tell them, Jeremy. None of my missteps ever caused you harm."
"So far." His voice resembled the croaking of a frog. "But be careful, my little friend. This time I'd prefer the petals to the thorns."
"Aye. I'll keep that in mind." She turned to her two sisters with a haughty look. "We'll just see who can conjure the prettiest roses in all the land."
Tossing her hair back from her face she lifted her arms heavenward and assumed an air of great concentration before beginning to chant the ancient words. Though she paused a number of times as her tongue twisted over an unfamiliar word or phrase, she doggedly continued to the end before calling out triumphantly, "I bid thee now, from thy sweet bower, send me down the loveliest flower."
A single angry dark cloud gathered overhead, followed by a rumble of thunder that brought Gwenellen's mother, Nola, and her grandmother, Wilona, racing across the meadow, with Bessie, the hunched old crone who was also part of their family, trailing behind. Everyone looked up at the sky expectantly just as the cloud opened up and spilled its contents over Jeremy.
Instead of flowers, they watched as he was covered with a white, powdery substance that mounded around his feet, spilled over his top hat, coated his clothes, and sent him into a fit of sneezing.
Gwenellen stood perfectly still as the others raced to Jeremy's side and began to dust him off. As they did, Allegra and Kylia started giggling.
"You think this is amusing?" The little troll's ruddy face grew as dark as the storm cloud that had now blown away.
"It isn't you, Jeremy." Allegra dipped a finger into the powder and tasted it before falling into the grass, convulsed with laughter. "It's just that Gwenellen came so close, this time."
"Close?" The little girl was fighting tears. "How can you say such a thing? What I wanted was rose petals."
"Not roses. Flowers," Kylia said, between snorts of laughter. "You asked for the loveliest flower. And what you got was ..." She could barely speak over the laughter. "What you got was flour. Fine, milled flour."
The two girls continued giggling while Jeremy stared in disgust at his top hat and frock coat, covered with white dust.
As for Gwenellen, she plunked herself down in the grass and rested her chin on her clenched fists, blinking back tears.
When the others had scattered, Wilona sat down beside her granddaughter, while Nola stood with her hands on her hips, regarding the two of them. "Another misstep, my darling?"
The little girl nodded. "These spells are so easy for the rest of you, Gram. Why are they so hard for me?"
The old woman drew her granddaughter close and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "You just need time to uncover your gifts, Gwenellen."
"Aye. That's what Father said."
"Your father?" Wilona drew back and shot a glance at Nola. "When did he talk to you?"
"Last night. I was having trouble sleeping, because of that little ... misstep I had yesterday." She steadfastly refused to call them mistakes, insisting that they were mere miscalculations.
Excerpted from The Knight and the Seer by Ruth Langan Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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