Strategic Alliance

The Witchpyre Legacy, Book 1

Vanessa Liebe

 

Chapter 1

Five seconds ago she had been informed that she had to marry.

“You have to be kidding me!” Princess Isabelle couldn’t contain the shock at what her mother Queen Amber had just told her. Come and see her in her private stateroom, she had said, so Isabelle should have known something was up. But she sure as hell didn’t expect this bombshell. Perhaps it was all a bad dream. She hadn’t really been told she was marrying one of the undead and her day wasn’t starting like this. Yet, her mother’s next words put an end to any doubt she might have.

“I’m afraid not, my darling.”

Isabelle folded her arms stubbornly across her chest as her mother continued. “Witches and vampires have been enemies sporadically for centuries but now we need to unite against a common enemy, the fraklov demons. The vampire king is powerful and I need him as an ally if we are to survive as a race.”

Okay, the fraklov demons were a huge problem for them and the situation was becoming worse, but why this need to have an arranged marriage, for heaven’s sake? “I still fail to see why I need to be a sacrificial lamb. Why can’t we become cozy with the vampires without a marriage?”

Isabelle needed to nip this in the bud now.

“Marriage is often the best way to secure a strategic alliance and I have already discussed the matter with the vampire king.” Her mother gave her a placating smile. “You are to marry his only son, Prince Lucian. I know you are against getting married so young and certainly without choosing your husband, but it really is in the best interests of the covens, Isabelle. I don’t normally admit to a weakness, but I cannot fight the fraklovs on my own.”

Despite feeling full of rage and frustration, Isabelle paused in her actions. She would do anything for the witch covens and her mother had never admitted to a vulnerability before, which made her feel guilty. Unfortunately she was also right; the witches were not strong enough to battle the fraklov demons on their own. Outnumbering the witches by thirty to one, the demons were becoming more confident and increasingly ferocious in their attacks. Still, marriage! And to a vampire! Yeech. Isabelle tried to persuade her mother again. “I understand about the need for the alliance and that it should be secured in some manner, but there must be another way, Mother. Please?”

She would beg on her knees if she had to.

“Isabelle! There isn’t,” her mother told her kindly but firmly.

“Perhaps we can perform some sort of a blood bond?” Isabelle wasn’t going to give in easily. “You know, I cut my finger and the prince cuts his and we mix blood in a blood siblings scenario type thing? And the whole thing can be witnessed!”

Shaking her head at Isabelle, the queen relented slightly. “I have always valued your opinion, Isabelle, and your lack of enthusiasm about this marriage does make me doubt my decision somewhat. However, the fact remains: The only way that both races will see the alliance as a serious and binding one is by a marriage between our kinds.”

Desperate to let off some powerful spells before she exploded with sheer frustration, Isabelle managed to restrain her magic, yet couldn’t help glaring at her mother. She loved her dearly, but this really was asking too much of her. Tempted for one mad moment to decline anyway and disappear without trace for a while, Isabelle knew she couldn’t do it. “Very well then, Mother,” she said, voice wobbling slightly. “I will marry this undead prince, but I would like to know when this distasteful event is to take place, please?”

Basically, for how long did she have her freedom?

Her mother smiled softly at Isabelle, understanding in her eyes. “In a month’s time. King Daelan and Prince Lucian arrive tomorrow so that you can meet each other and spend some time together before the wedding.”

Only a month of freedom left! Isabelle felt the sudden urge to throw herself on the floor and scream like a child. “Still, there’s nothing in the agreement that states I have to like him, is there?” Isabelle couldn’t help muttering.

“No,” said her mother, hiding a smile, which only wound Isabelle up more. “Give him a chance though, Isabelle. He has no choice either.”

“I don’t care about that.” Isabelle was not feeling charitable. “Now, if we’re done, may I please go?”

Her mother nodded and Isabelle left.

Outside the stateroom, she clenched her fist. “Stupid vampire prince.” She didn’t want to marry some sharp-toothed, bleach-skinned bloodsucker, damn it! What was she going to do about this? She stalked off down the palace corridors to her room. Once there, she waved her hand to magically open the door and began pacing up and down by her bed.

She was seething and her magical energy was crackling away inside her. “God! I hate this feeling of being trapped.”

Mother has really done a number on me this time.

Sorely tempted to fly off somewhere and not return, for one fleeting moment, Isabelle knew she couldn’t let her mother or the witch covens down. It wasn’t in her and they did need help against the fraklovs. The only answer to making this situation vaguely acceptable was to make the prince submit to her will. After all, she sure as hell wasn’t going to submit to him, thank you very much. And once the wedding took place she’d ensure that the consummation didn’t happen. No vampire was getting near her body. The mere thought of cold, undead hands touching her made her feel sick. True, Isabelle hadn’t actually met a vampire to base her opinion on, but the fact the prince was “undead” kinda said it all. She simply couldn’t get the image of a bleach-skinned, cadaverous body, and pointed ears out of her head. That, combined with black soulless eyes, long talons for fingers, and, of course, the fangs. How could she forget the whole blood drinking thing? Eww.

Her thoughts were interrupted five minutes later by the arrival of her best friend, Giselle, who after a brief knock on the door strolled in. “Is it true, Belle?”

Isabelle turned from her pacing and looked glumly at the other witch. “I forgot how quickly news travels in this place. And if you refer to my arranged marriage, then yes, it’s true.”

Giselle grimaced. “I overheard the guards outside the queen’s rooms whispering and knew something was up.” She strode over to a chair and made herself comfy. “To be fair they kept it to themselves and wouldn’t have told me. I’m just bloody nosy and turned up my hearing. So, you’re to marry a vampire prince?”

“Yep. Say hello to little Miss Reluctant Bride here.”

At least Isabelle could be honest with Giselle. “Apparently we desperately need an alliance with the vampire covens if we’re to stand any chance against the fraklovs, and my marriage secures it.” She made air quotes as she said “marriage.” It would never be a real one to her. “I don’t know what to be more frustrated about, the fact that I have to marry someone, or the fact my groom is an undead creature.”

Isabelle frowned when Giselle laughed at her. “Oh, Belle. I don’t think vampires are quite the long-taloned, pointy-eared, translucent-skinned, cadaverous stereotype you’re thinking of.”

Pouting and crossing her arms over her chest, Isabelle was not amused. “I don’t care. I don’t want to marry it, but I have to for the sake of the covens.”

Then she saw the look on her best friend’s face and gave a self-deprecating smile. “Yes, I know I’m being melodramatic, but you’re not the one having to sacrifice your freedom here. I’ll go through with the damn ceremony but if he thinks he’s getting his undead body parts anywhere near me afterward, he can think again.”

“You might be in for a pleasant surprise, Belle. This Prince Lucian could be a hottie.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes. “I don’t care if he is. I still don’t want to sleep with him.”

“Vampires are supposed to be great in bed,” Giselle teased her some more, “I’m talking stamina.”

And she made thrusting motions with her hips.

“Not helping!” Isabelle managed to admonish on a giggle. “Too much information! And he can take his stamina elsewhere. I won’t be making use of it.”

She was determined to hate him and anything about him, because he was making her give up her freedom. Plus she always assumed she’d be able to choose her husband. Her mother had chosen her groom.

Giselle sobered up and looked at Isabelle. “What are you going to do? You may have to give proof of consummation as it’s a royal wedding.”

“Eww.” Isabelle hadn’t considered that disgusting and archaic thought. Then she shook her head. “I know that on royal wedding nights in the past they used to have an audience around the bed to ensure that the couple did consummate their vows, but we’re talking hundreds of years ago and my mother certainly didn’t have that. So, I’m sure she wouldn’t make me.”

Would she? Isabelle couldn’t be certain of anything at the moment. She hadn’t expected an arranged marriage and that was happening. Therefore, proof of consummation wasn’t out of the question.

“What about vampire lore? You might have to follow one of their traditions and provide proof?”

Isabelle frowned. Giselle had made a valid point. Then she shrugged nonchalantly. She wouldn’t let it bother her. “I’m hardly a virgin and need to prove my purity. I doubt they’d ask that of me and I have no problem telling the prince that. I’ve had a few lovers and I enjoy sex, but the mere thought of bedding an undead creature leaves me cold, Giselle.”

“But what if you…”

“No.” Isabelle held up a hand to stop her friend from saying any more. “I will think of something closer to the time if we have to consummate it.” Then she grinned. “I can use an illusion of us having sex.”

Giselle looked worried. “Won’t that jeopardize the alliance, Belle? They would be bound to find out you used magic.”

“No. I’ll have tamed this prince long before the wedding and the need for subterfuge.”

Giselle gave a half laugh. “You’re going to give him hell, aren’t you, Belle?”

“Absolutely. I can be a Grade-A bitch when I want to be.”

“Hmm.” Giselle didn’t look so sure. “I think you’re playing with fire.”

Isabelle shrugged the warning off. She was confident in her ability to be an alpha female when she chose, and the sooner the prince knew they would have a marriage in name only, the better. He would lose a limb or two if he tried bedding her. It was as simple as that.

* * * *

He had to marry a witch!

“What the hell do you mean I’m to marry some beak-nosed, green-skinned, wart-covered bitch on a broom?” thundered Prince Lucian at his father.

His father, King Daelan, stood up. “You forget your place, son.”

Lucian immediately apologized. “Sorry, Father. It’s the shock, that’s all. I know the reason behind it and I accept the strategic importance. It’s just the thought of marrying a witch—of all the races out there.”

King Daelan smiled at Lucian. “She’s actually a beauty. Your stereotype of a witch does her a grave injustice. And I believe she’s very powerful, so she should be quite a match for you.”

“Hmm.” Lucian folded his arms in a stubborn stance.

“You don’t want a meek and mild wife, Lucian,” his father added. “You need a warrior to stand beside you and Princess Isabelle is that.”

Now she was a warrior? It got worse, thought Lucian, as images of some great hulking, overly muscular woman flooded his mind. He gulped. “And…erm…when am I to meet my lovely wife-to-be?”

Did he really have to do this?

“Tomorrow.” His father’s response sent shock waves through Lucian. Christ!

“We’re staying at the queen’s palace for a month so that you get to know each other and then the wedding will happen.”

Lucian shook his head. “You don’t waste any time, do you, Father?”

“I can’t afford to,” said the king. “We can’t afford to—vampires and witches. The fraklovs are greater in number and increasing their attacks. We need this alliance.”

“Yes, I know.” Lucian clenched his jaw. “We lost a lot of good vampires recently.”

“We certainly did. The fraklovs came out of nowhere and decimated a city. I’ve never seen the like, Lucian.” His father’s voice was strained with emotion. “They tortured men, women, and children before staking them all. There was nothing left but a city full of dust.”

Lucian mourned the loss of those vampires, but damn it—marriage?

“While we’re at the palace, we will also determine the best cause of action to be taken against the fraklovs,” his father added and Lucian looked at him.

“I hope this goes according to your plan then, because it’s a hell of a sacrifice for me.”

“As it is for the princess,” King Daelan pointed out to him. “I know how you feel about it, but you should probably appreciate the fact that the princess feels the same.”

“You mean she was simply told she was to marry me and given no choice either?” That kind of changed Lucian’s opinion of her. He’d assumed she was some ugly crone who had jumped at the chance of marrying a prince, when she hadn’t.

“She will be as reluctant as you.” His father chuckled, clearly enjoying his son’s discomfort, which annoyed Lucian intensely.

“Now, I’m afraid you will have to end the relationship with your current lover. Serena, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” confirmed Lucian, clenching his jaw, hating being told what to do, even if he had been about to finish with the vampiress anyway.

“It won’t do to be in a relationship while courting the princess.” His father raised a hand to stall any objection Lucian was about to raise. “But rest assured your fate is not as distasteful as you imagine. I would never have suggested this marriage otherwise.”

Lucian hmphed. “I’ll be the judge of that when I have to bed the witch.”

God, he couldn’t think of anything more distasteful than bedding some crone. His father had said she was a beauty. But what if that was just a mirage? She could use magic to hide her true form. When he thought of a witch, it was not someone young and pretty. No, it was better to expect and prepare for the worst. Maybe he could just go through the ceremony and avoid the bedding part. Then he had a horrible thought. “Will there be a mating ceremony first?” He dreaded the answer but needed to know.

The king nodded. “Of course. It’s vampire tradition to have one first. You know that, Lucian. It also proves to your vampire brethren that your relationship is binding and therefore, so is the alliance.”

Glaring at his father, Lucian was seriously annoyed. This got worse and worse. Now he was going to have to sink his fangs into the hag and make her his mate. He grimaced at the thought and hoped he could manage to perform the act without puking. Still, the one good thing to come out of this was ending his relationship with Serena. It was long overdue and the vampiress had begun to bore him with her hints at marriage. Ironic, when he was going to have to marry now.

Lucian forced himself to calm down and looked at his father. “I will do as you ask, but I don’t have to like it.”

The king nodded in approval and after bowing Lucian left his father to go and talk to his friend, Marcus. He needed to talk to someone about this damn travesty.