The Isle of Apples
Young Adult Fantasy
Rhiannon Vittoria’s enchanting beauty has always cost terrible price - her freedom. Trapped by her mother’s magic, she is forced into accepting a marriage proposal from a king more than twice her age. Only through the Goddess Rhiannon escapes and stumbles into the notorious Robin Hood, who vows to keep her safe. Soon she is falling in love with not only forest life, but the outlaw sworn to protect her.
A quest for a sacred relic cost Robin Hood his father, his wife, his home, and his faith. Now a single father and outlaw, he struggles to move on in life until a surprising love comes to him in the form of a princess fleeing the very crown he steals from.
Their budding romance quickly dissolves into a race for survival - unexpectedly landing them in a place believed to have disappeared forever - Avalon. It is here that Rhiannon and Robin discover Morgan le Fay has a plan to use Robin to get what she believes will restore magic to her. In the end Robin is left with a choice: a life in Avalon in exchange for Rhiannon’s freedom, but either choice will tear Rhiannon away from him forever.
A bitter chill clung in the air as winter began shifting into spring. Dark, heavy clouds continued their descent down from the high snow-capped mountains with no sign of relenting. The frost clung heavily to the late blossoming trees - refusing to melt - even as the sun rose overhead.
In this place, a castle sat high up on a hilltop, surrounded by a vast forest.
Looking out the large open balcony, Princess Rhiannon Vittoria attempted to commit as much of her land to memory she could as she would soon prepare to leave it all behind. After years of being paraded in front of suitor after suitor, she was now betrothed. Though she was a woman by the Goddess, just now seventeen, her soon-to-be husband was more than twice her age. Hopelessness and dread filled her with such fierceness, Rhiannon could scarcely breathe.
Admittedly, a small part of that could also be the corset the dressmaker forced her into.
“You’re pinning it too high,” Lady Caroline said, sweeping across the room to where the circle of seamstresses and King Hector’s personal couturier were fitting a dress to Rhiannon. Her mother was a petite woman with dark hair and eyes, features of her northern Scottish heritage. She shook her head and pointed at the bodice of Rhiannon’s pearl white gown. “No, that won’t do. Lower still.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the obedient reply from the maids before bowing in expediency.
Rhiannon caught the eyes of one of the young seamstresses, and while her mother may not have seen it, the fear in them was poorly hidden. It seemed the rumors of her mother made it beyond the borders of their realm. In addition to Lady Caroline’s reputation for her cruelty, her mother was one of the few left in the land gifted with magic.
A land in which practicing such magic was now punishable by death.
“And her hair,” Caroline began, thinking out loud. Clicking her tongue, her eyes narrowed, and she hummed. Rhiannon could only imagine what her mother would suggest. “I think we should pin it back. Leaving it down over her shoulders covers her too much and gives her far too innocent a look.”
Barden, the dressmaker, stepped up to Rhiannon. Taking her long, dark hair in his hands, he pulled it away from her shoulders into a knot at the base of her neck. His small, round eyes took her in, slipping from her hair further down making Rhiannon’s jaw clench. “Mm, yes, I do see what you mean. Pin it up and away. It will bring out those high cheek bones, olive skin, and her other remarkable assets…”
Rhiannon’s eyes locked onto Barden’s and for a moment, she was tempted… While she did not possess her mother’s talents for conjuring and casting, she did have what her nursemaid called her enchanting beauty. Her power gave her the ability to mesmerize not only the eyes, but the minds of men as well. She was able to use the features to draw them in and make their desires her own. Her parents used Rhiannon’s gift to persuade many lords and dukes alike to donate generously to her father’s kingdom. If only her magic could undo the protection spells her mother placed on her father, the king, and other imbeciles...
“Rhiannon,” her mother’s voice cut through her thoughts and Rhiannon pulled her gaze from the insipid man, raising her chin. Her mother’s eyes held warning and reproach, and remained locked on her while Barden shook his head as if coming out of a daze.
Barden snapped his fingers, startling Rhiannon. Without delay the seamstresses stepped forward, one continuing her adjustments while another began placing rings, bracelets, and a heavy jeweled necklace which at once felt heavy with burden and injustice.
“Must I wear so much?” Rhiannon asked, eyeing the adornments she never cared for.
She inhaled sharply as the strings of her corset tightened around her once again, yet there was no one behind her making such adjustments. Her eyes flew to her mother who gazed back at her with straight-faced satisfaction.
Be still and breathe, Rhiannon told her herself while letting out a steady breath between her lips.
Rhiannon shifted her focus back to the forest. Oh, how she wished she could leave this place. The crown, the title, the riches, all of it meant nothing to her. Not for the first time did she look out the window and wonder how different her life would be if she were born a commoner. Would her life be so different? How did they marry if not for love?
Not for riches or thrones, or in Rhiannon's case, a preservation offering. A bargain made in the dead of night between kings, one king on the verge of losing his country and the other wrought with grief and anger over losing his most beloved queen.
“No, no. Stop. You’re doing it wrong,” Lady Caroline scolded, gesturing with a wave of her hand for the seamstress to step aside. Walking up to Rhiannon, Caroline took her dress and pushed the bodice down and back, making her bust ever more prominent.
Rhiannon’s cheeks flooded with heat. “Mother!”
“Quiet, Rhiannon.” Her mother continued adjusting this way and that until finally satisfied. “There, you ignorant girl,” Caroline chastised the young seamstress. “The way you were covering her up made her look like a child. And she’s not. She’s a woman about to be married.”
Caroline’s dark painted red lips smiled widely around at everyone. Rhiannon could feel the looks of pity and sympathy from the ladies gathered around her, all no doubt thinking the same as she. Rhiannon was far too young to be marrying their king.
“Oh for the-” her mother’s voice snapped Rhiannon’s attention back to the here and now, and Rhiannon watched as Caroline paused, catching herself from uttering the name of the Goddess. “Rhiannon, hold up your chin and stop looking so sullen,” Caroline chided while taking Rhiannon by the shoulders and gripping her tightly. “Have you forgotten you’re going to be a mother soon? Will you teach the princess these behaviors?”
Rhiannon held her mother’s eyes for the briefest of moments before settling back on the view of her kingdom. Had she forgotten? If only she could forget. Raising her chin, Rhiannon’s hollow voice answered, “Of course not, Mother.”
Her stomach twisted violently just thinking about her coming union. What more could she say? She already begged, pleaded with her father until she could no longer speak. Her entreat only gained a bruise across her cheek from her mother. One she wore for days on end until this very morning with King Hector’s arrival, and only then did her mother cover the dark mark with a glamour spell.
“That’s my girl.” Caroline smiled at her and raised her hand to rub her thumb across Rhiannon’s still tender cheek, making Rhiannon’s eyes close. Her eyes watered and she held back a hiss of pain. To an outsider, one might believe this to be a gentle moment between mother and daughter, but for Rhiannon, it was a reminder. “Soon, my dear you will be queen, and we will never have to worry again.”
You will not cry, Rhiannon commanded herself silently.
For that, she would wait until later that night when she was alone. On the night before they left her home to journey to another. Only then would she let the tears she’d been holding back fall.