Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scaring Artemis by Courtney Bee

Koneko Hollander wasn't a typical princess--and not just because of the flesh-piercing sword she kept strapped to her back. Koneko was a young woman graced with milky skin that made her soft limbs glisten like a unicorn's coat. Her emerald eyes had an electric charge that made the soft flush of her lips and cheeks all the more striking. A wild mass of raven waves cascaded past her shoulders, grazing the bold curve of her back. Though she possessed a beauty surpassing the typical wood sprite, her eyes flickered with a predatory fierceness that her father declared downright unbecoming.

"Koneko," he often sighed. "As the only heir to our lineage, it wouldn't kill you to flash a cordial smile to the opposite sex. I'm not getting any younger, and the sooner you marry--"

"The sooner I can pump out a batch of squealing male ingrates to rule the kingdom."

"Yes. Exactly." He paused. "I mean, no! Confound it, girl! It was fine and good for you to go hunting with your cousins and dabble in swordplay when you were a young girl, but you're a woman now--and a comely one. Don't you understand, Neko? Do you realize how many suitors have come pleading at my door, asking for your hand in marriage? Elves, fairies, sprites--princes from tribes as far away as the West Forest have sought you out based on tales of your beauty." The King's eyes narrowed and he added, "We know it certainly isn't your disposition that's been garnering you such attention."

"If you recall, Father, I gave the last one an adequate chance to make his case."

"Adequate chance?" he roared. "That nice young Prince from Ascabon? You nearly slashed his throat with your sword!"

"True, but it was merely a test. I could not marry a man who hasn't the agility to dodge a simple forward thrust. Now really, Father, would you honestly have me betrothed to a man who can't defend himself from the simple swipe of a sword by a mere woman?" She batted her eyelashes playfully.

"Girl, you have begun to try my patience," he grumbled. "Know this--if you do not choose a mate by your twenty-fifth birthday, I shall do it for you."

Flabbergasted, Koneko could only stutter in protest as her father left her in the palace courtyard. She heard a rustle behind her and turned to see a black butterfly bounding toward her.

"Artemis," she said, smiling.