Title: The Fairest Lady

Rating: T

Genre: Romance/Drama

Summary: Based on Snow White. Prince Derik is engaged to Princess Alina, but when his sister, a sorceress, Valora, chases her from the kingdom and what she considers her rightful thrown, Alina is forced to live in the forest where she meets the sorcerer, Senan. Only he can help her defeat Valora. In the end, however, she realizes she is faced with a hard decision: to return to her fiancé or remain with Senan, a man she has fallen in love with?

Notes/Warning: fantasy; mild mature content; based loosely on Snow White

X

The Fairest Lady

Prologue

The Prince Derik of Kraion glanced at his father, his brow furrowing the slightest bit. His sister was seated beside him, the most elegant and beautiful female boasted throughout their kingdom. The trial for the sorcerer seated in the middle of the room on a dais had gone on for hours. He had never questioned his father's reasoning, but he felt that this trial was being purposely drawn out to torture the man in question. However, the sorcerer hardly seemed agitated or bothered by his prolonged sentence.

The Judgment Hall was enforced with powerful, ancient magic of Derik's ancestors, none of which he or his father possessed. The magic had been passed through his mother's blood, so that Valora was the only living sorceress in their family. Valora had always been a bit of a tiring sister, as she was entirely vain and rather self-centered. He did feel some regret, as she was the eldest and since he had been born, his parents doted on him. She could barely get their father's attention any longer, and the same had been for their mother when she was alive. He suspected she hated him for that.

The prince had always disliked the sorcerer – it was why he had initially held no pity for the man – and one glance at his comfortable stance made his resent him so much more than before. Because of the magical barrier around the Hall, he was left without any bindings and was lounging in the hard-backed seat. Derik supposed some might consider the sorcerer handsome; he did not wear robes as most sorcerers did, preferring the casual silk trappings of a nobleman. His hair, cropped short so that it went only a bit past his chin, was dirty blonde, framing a face that was full of strength and arrogance. His eyes were what annoyed Derik the most. They were often amused and taunting, the gray-blue depths glittering from beneath his fringe. Almost always were they accompanied by a saucy smirk.

Derik was quite familiar with that look. It was generally directed towards him.

At the moment, however, the sorcerer was lazily smiling up at his father, seeming completely at ease. If one did not acknowledge where they were and ignore the irritated expression on the king's face, one might conclude they were having a rather interesting conversation.

"Sorcerer Senan," the king finally intoned, his voice hard. "You are aware of your offenses."

"Indeed," Senan drawled in reply, dismissing him with a look, raising a hand and inspecting his bejeweled fingers. "I believe you have continuously listed them. I am an honest man, so of course I would not lie about what I did." He glanced at him and then let out a brief laugh. "Well...Actually, yes, I would. So, I must be lying and did not do any of those things." He laughed again, sharing a private joke with himself. His eyes flickered to Derik, who met the gaze with ill-disguised hatred. Senan grinned up at him, tauntingly. He returned to look at the eldest in the royal family. "Come now," he soothed, "what have I done, really, that is so bad? I killed a few people, I stole some herbs, and cast dark magic. I'm sure you've done worse in your lifetime."

"Silence!" Senan obliged him, although it was clear that it was not because of his words. He smiled up at him, a falsely innocent expression on his face. "Dark magic alone sentences you to death." He paused for effect. There was no change in Senan's expression. "You are far too dangerous for my kingdom of Kraion – for any kingdom. You shall be executed."

"Is that your final judgment?" Senan asked him.

"Yes."

"How fascinating," he murmured. "And you actually think that I am simply going to allow you and your feeble sorcerers to eliminate me?" He raised a hand, waving a finger in reprimand. "Tsk, tsk, tsk...You should know better than that." He rose to his feet, his cloak, the only remotely sorcerer-like thing adorning him, fluttering behind him. Derik leaned forward anxiously, his eyes narrowing on Senan. "Your son even has the wits to be cautious. This barrier of yours is made of pure, innocent magic." A most maniacal leer slipped Senan's lips upward, causing a great deal of unease amongst those in the Hall and especially for the king. Derik instantly knew that Senan had descended so deep into the Dark Arts that the barrier surrounding the Hall could be easily broken by him.

None of them could do anything about it.

Desperately, he whipped around to look at Valora. She was sitting serenely beside him, appearing entertained by the happenings. "Valora – do something!" She glanced at him from beneath thick lashes.

"I prefer not to get involved when things become troublesome," she loftily replied. She smiled sweetly at him, turning back to gaze down at Senan. He stared at her, horrified, and more than a bit frustrated at his own lack of magical skills. When he returned his gaze to Senan, his cloak was fluttering by an unseen wind. Senan raised his hand, the fingers holding jewels of every colour, saluting them. The jewels twinkled and darkness flooded from his feet, surging to cover the walls and drown them. The last thing Derik saw before his sight failed was Senan sending him a familiar, triumphant smirk.

Once the darkness faded, letting in the afternoon light, everyone scrambled to attention, save for his sister. Valora merely tilted her head and looked to her family that was gawking at the empty chair on the dais.

"He's gone," she stated pleasantly.

Chapter One

Derik pushed back his coat, settling his hands on his narrow hips. Beside him was Jaiden, his childhood friend, and also a trusted soldier. The Forest of Dim had grown increasingly difficult to travel through in the past months. His fiancée had made it through with a few casualties, as the animals were growing violent and attacking humans ruthlessly. Even if things had not worked out, it would have been near impossible to get Alina back to Siruean, her home kingdom. Nonetheless, he knew she would eventually have to return for political reasons, not to mention how much she cherished her family. He had to deal with the forest and discover the core of the problem before too long.

"Not sure what could possibly be going wrong in there," Jaiden told him presently, scratching the back of his head. The two of them had met in the back of the royal gardens, where the lavender grew most abundantly, and where it was generally empty of any other people. Derik did not have the patience to be interrupted by other people during this meeting with his friend. "I mean, you've got to consider some kind of outside source, I guess. Maybe we're doing something wrong? What do you think, Derik?"

"I'm not sure..." He slowly admitted, staring across him at the ponds. Moss was grown at the edges to make it seem more natural, yet not imposing. "Animals have always lived with us harmoniously, most especially when the sorcerers and sorceresses were in large numbers. They helped nurture the Forest of Dim. Even though they became scarce, the animals never turned on us. We took what we needed for food, giving them peace beyond that in return." He sighed, rubbing his neck. An unpleasant thought had been nettling him ever since this issue had come to his attention. He dealt with most of the problems that concerned the kingdom's borders, while his father dealt with those inside the kingdom. He had to consider all possibilities, though...

"Hey, hey," Jaiden said in an accusatory tone, thrusting himself into Derik's few and pointing a finger at him, glowering. "I can tell that you're not telling me everything, pal. You better fess up." He withdrew, folding his arms over his chest and grinning. "Besides, you always have at least one idea. You never not know things. So? Come on and tell me."

"It's ridiculous, Jaiden," he muttered. When the blonde simply stared at him, demanding an offering of some kind, he sighed and looked away, pressing the palm of his hand against the back of his neck. Jaiden, like all men, was in love with his sister, but hated any mentioning of magic. It made him nervous, for reasons that Derik was certain had to deal with his parents being attacked by a sorcerer and killed. He doubted that bringing up that certain sorcerer would make Jaiden feel at ease. "He disappeared at the end of his trial when he was given his sentence," Derik said, wording it carefully and not saying Senan's name. "Nobody knows what happened to him."

Jaiden's skin went a bit pale, but he drove on determinedly, "It does reek of his works." Derik let his hands slip from his hips and moved to the pond, staring down at it thoughtfully. As a full-blooded sorcerer, Senan could live for an infinitely longer time than a normal human. He had never been quite as malicious as he had become when Derik became older. He had been the court sorcerer, often working on spells with Valora for the king. Derik had never known him to age, even as a small boy. The face he last saw Senan wearing was the one he was first faced with. It was strange, knowing that he once admired him for his skills.

He was never good, though, Derik conceded. He had always had a dark heart, darker than any that I could have imagined. Valora knew what he was up to – I have a feeling he even introduced the Dark Arts to her. Whether she picked it up or not is debatable. I should have known he would do that, too. Instead, the child of me took hold and blinded me. I never understood until the last minute. His mouth twisted. How I hate that man. Constantly sneering at me, playing jokes on me with his magic, killing my pets, killing my friends' parents, killing my friends... He shuddered. Senan had purposely been trying to weaken him so that no one surrounded him, to encourage him. He almost succeeded in draining any hope of life from me. Thank goodness father brought him to trial when he did or Jaiden and Sabia would be dead.

"You alright, Derik?" He snapped out his thoughts and glanced at Jaiden's earnest, concerned face. "You look kind of...angry. Maybe you ought to see Alina." A corner of his mouth lifted in an attempted smile. Derik felt ashamed, realizing his friend was fearful of him.

"No, I unburden myself far too much to Alina lately," he said, smiling reassuringly. From as long as he could remember, Derik had been betrothed to Alina. They had visited each other quite a bit while children, though not so much when they became older. He had been quite surprised when he saw her at his birthday gala when he turned seventeen. She had a soothing presence that calmed him, that boosted his confidence whenever he needed it. Jaiden and Sabia got along quite well with her. His sister, naturally, wanted nothing to do with her, a feeling she possessed often enough when it came to other women.

"The wedding's coming up," Jaiden cheerfully said, his earlier mood fading. "Bet that's a relief, eh?"

"...I do adore her," Derik thoughtfully told him. Guiltily, he added, "But I'm nervous about getting married. I want to make her a happy wife." Jaiden laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

"Derik, you two already act like you're married! Things can't get much more difficult than this."

X

Sabia could tell her friend was distressed. Even though she happily allowed the modiste to fit the fabric around her slender frame for her wedding dress and chattered to cooks and servants about the preparations for the wedding, there was a lurking worry behind Alina's eyes that could not be ignored. In the past, Sabia would have had no idea what to say to a princess when she was upset.

Alina, she found, was not princess material. She had been brought up by her father, a boisterous man that enjoyed spending as much time with his daughter as possible in rather unconventional ways. Alina knew more about card playing, hawks, horses, hunting, fencing, and any other masculine event than proper female etiquette. She was not delicate, nor was she to be treated as such. She did not act like a male, though, either. It was hard to understand Alina's personality when it was so broad and expansive.

"What is it?" Sabia questioned her friend once they were alone in her bedchambers. Alina sighed and settled on her bed, looking dismal and stressed. Before she could speak, Sabia hurried away to get a cool wash rag and ushered for Alina to sit back. The princess did as she bade, closing her eyes when she placed the rag over her forehead. "There...You will relax while you tell me your woes." She smiled, even though Alina could not see it.

"I don't...I don't feel ready to get married, Sabia," she confessed. "I'm worry I will mess up or do something wrong. What if Derik finds out he hates me as his wife? Then we'll have to get an annulment! I couldn't handle the rejection. His father barely acknowledges me and Valora hates me – "

"Valora doesn't like many people," she put in helpfully. Alina merely groaned. "Oh, Alina, do stop worrying. What does it matter if you're in love?" There was such a long silence that Sabia feared she had said the wrong thing. She leaned over the bed, removing the rag and gazing down at the cerulean eyes that opened to peer up at her uncertainly. "You...do love him, don't you? Jaiden tells me that Derik is head over heels in love with you."

Alina sat up and looked away, her shoulders slumped. That was exactly what had been worrying her lately. She did like Derik very much, but applying the word 'love' seemed strange and incredibly uncomfortable. While Derik had never said, 'I love you,' to her, she knew that he did by his mannerism and the expression on his face whenever he looked at her. She felt ashamed that she was unsure of whether her feelings went that far. It was beginning to worry her, make her wonder if she should tell him that her feelings were such. She could not tell Sabia these things, as she was younger and had irrational ideas of true love and relationships. The girl had never been with a guy, thanks to her brother and her own sheltered life in the castle.

I like him, she mused, but is that enough for him? I'm not even sure if it's enough for me. Father told me he had been against the betrothal mother set up for me because I was so young. He wanted me to choose my husband after several suitors. Mother refused to allow that. But I agree with father...

"It's complicated, Sabia," she told her companion at last, glancing cautiously at her over her shoulder. "I cannot even put to words what I feel." She sighed and lay back down on the bed, taking the cool rag from Sabia's hands. "I need to rest...Today has been so eventful. I shall faint if I don't slow down for a few moments. Either that, or I will have a heart attack."

"...How frightful. A heart attack before your wedding, preparing for your wedding? It is rather unromantic. You should at least die dramatically."

Alina chuckled, as she knew Sabia expected. The air had gone thick before she had made her joke. It was friendly and light again, just as she preferred. Alina listened to the soft swish of skirts and padding of slippers on carpet as Sabia moved towards the door. Once the door opened and closed, she allowed herself to truly relax, giving a lengthy exhale. She did not expect any other servants to come, as Sabia was employed as her personal Valorad. If she needed something, she would call for her.

I wish this wedding would be done and over with, she thought faintly as she drifted into a light sleep. I would be so relieved.