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Chapter One


I
King Elgar sat slumped on his throne, his once sturdy frame slumped now under the fur-lined purple cloak he wore. The skin of his face was parchment thin, showing the network of spider veins that ran down his cheek before being obscured by his snow-white beard. His eyes, however - watery and red rimmed as they were – still held an air of authority. And when he spoke to the five men standing before him his voice was shaky but still strong.

“The five sons of Randor,” he said, his eyes traveling from one young man to another. “Five strong, vital young men.” He paused. “Your father was a lucky man, even though the loss of his kingdom to rivals may have you believing otherwise. I’ve often thought it ironic that King Salazar lost his kingdom in he wars when he had sons to pass the to, when I held mine despite having no male heir to pass it to.”

He sighed heavily. “Daughters. Despite having two beautiful queens, riches and land the one thing I desired above everything else – a son – was the one thing that I never got. Forty-five moons I waited, nine times five, only at the end to have the royal midwife come out with news she never wanted to give.  A daughter. Then another and another and another and another. Five daughters who grew up so spoiled and coddled that now I’d be afraid of passing the kingdom to them even if I were to break with tradition and consider it.”

His eyes moved down the line of men again. “That is why you are here. With no male heir, and no daughter disciplined enough to take over as head of Ardonia, I have come to a decision to assure that my kingdom and daughters will endure upon my death, and produce sons to succeed them, sons that will carry my blood if not my name.”

“The five exiled princes of Randor – Kier, Justin, Quentin, Ivan and Leo – to each of you I offer the chance to inherit what your father lost. Lands. Titles. Wealth. And marriage to a beautiful princess.”

He smiled then. “I’m speaking of my daughter, of course, and since nothing comes without being earned I will now reveal my terms.”

The five princes looked at each other and then at the old king, their faces expectant.

“Before you win my daughters, you must first tame them.”

The princes’ collective sigh of relief was audible and they smiled, but their smiles faded as the old king began to laugh.

“Don’t be so confident,” he said. “My daughters are as headstrong as the wildest of wild horses that roam the hills above my forest. They are cunning as the foxes that raid the royal henhouses. They are as treacherous as the seas that batter the white cliffs atop which my castle sits. They need husbands who are strong and smart, husbands who can break them without breaking their spirits. My daughters cry out for good masters. Are you those men? If you are, then you will become the new rulers of Ardonia.”

“We’ll all be kings then?” asked the Leo the youngest.

“No. Not all,” King Elgar said with a shake of his head. “The eldest of you, Keir, will be paired with Lenora, my eldest daughter. Of all my daughters, Lenora is the the fairest and the fieriest. She has a raging temper and a warrior’s heart. Had she been born a man she would be a great fighter. Among you, Kier is the strongest, and most suited to the challenge of taming her. It is only fair, since had your father lived he would have inherited Randor.”

Kier nodded, indicating that he was willing to accept the challenge. His brothers looked at him with a bit of envy, but said nothing, for they all loved one another and had promised not to ever become divided and conquered as their former kingdom had been.

“My remaining daughters will be paired by age from the second oldest to the youngest. Justin will be paired with Fiona, who finds sport in sewing discord among others for her own amusement. Quentin, you will be paired with Angelica, whose innocent face often makes others forget that she is a consummate liar. Ivan, you will be paired with Luna whose mischievous streak knows no bounds. She’s a smart girl, but does not know when to be serious.”

Finally, he turned to Leo. “As for you, Prince Leo, the youngest of the princes of Randor, it is with a mixture of sadness and pity that I pair you with my youngest daughter. For the Princess Lark was not only indulged by her mother, but by her sisters. She has for her whole life gotten everything she wanted and will not accept being denied. She wants her way in everything and her tantrums have been known to put servants in tears and scatter birds from the rafters. She desperately needs to grow up, but does not know how. You are young, but I trust that you are nonetheless strong and wise enough to guide her along the path to adulthood, although she will no doubt kick and scream the whole way.”

“Now,” he said with a sigh. “Are you willing to accept this task? I do hope so, for I am old and eager to die in peace. And I cannot until I know my daughters are safe.”

The princes nodded.

“Very well,” the king said with a smile. “The girls will be informed of their betrothal by nightfall. You will all be required to succeed in your task before the eldest of you – Kier- will be seated as king and the younger brothers appointed his lords, and decreed to succeed him in the event of his death provided he has no sons. Understood?”

Again the young men nodded.

“Very well,” King Elgar said. “And now you will each be given a good meal and a fine room in which to sleep. I suggest you have a good rest, for no dragon could ever tax a man the way my daughters will tax each of you.”

The five exiled princes bowed and moved from the room, leaving the old king smiling on his throne. For he knew they did not take his words seriously and would soon live to realize what a mistake they had made.

II
Princess Lark stared through the casement and down into the courtyard, a pout almost but not quietly spoiling her pretty looks.

“This is silly nonsense, trapping us up here like prisoners when he’s down there with visitors. Why can’t we go down to the hall?”

She walked over to a chair and flopped down, crossing her arms petulantly across her chest. “It’s probably traveling merchants with pretty dresses and ribbons and mean old father won’t let us see them.”

“Oh shut up, Lark!” Lenora glared as she passed her youngest sister to occupy her place by the window. “Father never denies you anything. Besides, you have more dresses than you can wear. And they weren’t merchants. They were men. Five of them.”

Fiona walked over to join her, twirling a lock of red hair around her finger and stared down at the courtyard, where a black coach stood.

“Who do you think they are?” she asked Lenora. “The carriage looks as if it were once fine.”

“It’s not fine any longer,” remarked Fiona. “I could get the upstairs maid to go down there on pretense of cleaning and see who they are.”

“Father would see through that right away,” Lenora said. “He knows your trickery.”

“I could go down,” Angelica offered. “I could burst into the hall and tell Father I’ve a grave pain and need the physician.”

“Like he’d believe you,” the two sisters said together. Angelica just rolled her eyes.

Finally Luna joined them. “The carriage is under the window. I could throw the cat on the back of the horses pulling it. The horses would go berserk from fear and the uproar would cause them to all run out.”

The others looked at her, incredulous.

“Are you seriously suggesting we throw a cat from the castle window?” Lenora’s face grew angry and Luna took a step backward, not wanting to incur her eldest sister’s wrath.

“It was just a suggestion,” she sulked.

They watched as a servant walked from the house and said something to the coach driver who then took the horses and led them towards the stable.

“What’s this? They’re taking the carriage and horses in?” Lenora asked, raising an elegant eyebrow. She turned to her sisters. “Our guests appear to be staying.”

A knock sounded on the door and the youngest rose to answer. It was a maid, come to tell them their father wanted to see them.

“Finally,” said Fiona. “I’m quite eager to see who these important mystery guests are.”

But when the princesses got to the hall, they found only their father still slumped on his throne and looking weary as ever. The girls looked around as they entered, their eyes questioning as they glanced at one another.

“Father,” said Lenora, for being the eldest she was always the one to address him first. “I was under the impression we have guests. Where are they?”

“Retired for the evening,” he said.

“Before meeting your daughters?” she asked peevishly. “Have you grown so ashamed of the gender of your children that you hide them away now?”

The old king sighed. “You know better than that, Lenora,” he replied. “In fact, your suspicions are completely wrong. Our guests were invited here for the express purpose of meeting you.”

“Really?” Angelic stepped forward, her sapphire eyes narrowed in suspicion. As a consummate liar, she always assumed others were lying as well. “Then if that’s so, father, why aren’t they here?”

“Because they were tired from their journey and have retired for the evening. And given the hour I would recommend that you do the same.”

The sisters looked at one another.

“And who are these guests that we should even want to meet them,” pressed Fiona.

“You will find out tomorrow,” King Elgar said. “Consider it a surprise.”
Lark clapped her hands together. “I love surprises,” she said. “Are they artists, perchance, come to paint our portraits, for I would love a new one to hang above my mantle.”

The other sisters turned to glare at her.

“Lark speaks only for herself,” Luna said. “Not all of us like surprises.”

“You do, but only if you’re behind them,” the king reminded his fourth-born child. “Remember the surprise snake you put in your last governess’ sewing basket?”

Lark grinned. “That surprise was justified,” she said. “We have done nothing to warrant your hiding the truth from us.”

“And I am not.” The old king rose to his feet, his knees creaking as he stood. “And as I said, you will find out on the morrow who our guests are and you will be given ample time to acquaint yourselves.”

He walked to stand between Lenora and Fiona and put an arm through each of theirs. “Be a good group of daughters and walk an old man to his chambers, will you? It is always best to end one’s day surrounded by beauty.”

The girls looked at one another and smiled. Their father may have his ways, but he almost always knew what to say to make them feel loved and cherished. So flanked by his two eldest daughters and trailed by his three youngest, he made his way through the castle and to his chambers, where his girls bid him goodnight before retiring as well.

III
Getting to sleep wasn’t quite so easy for the five princes. Each had been shown to a separate, comfortable room supplied with every comfort they could imagine - heavy oak beds hung with drapes to keep out the cold, wolfskin rugs to warm the stone floor, a crackling fire and a table laden with food and drink in silver plates and goblets.

But despite having individual quarters all five ended up meeting together in Kier’s room, where they sat watching the eldest pacing back and forth as the moon rose outside the window behind him.

“There has to be a catch,” Kier said. “There’s always a catch. A kingship, lands, wealth, all for taming women? It’s too easy.”

“Perhaps the are ugly women,” Leo said.

Justin shook his head. “No,” he said. “The daughters of King Elgar are said to be the most beautiful in the land.”

“By whom?” Quentin asked.

“By everyone,” Ivan replied. “Besides, King Elgar wouldn’t lie.”

The princes grew silent.

“Perhaps they can’t be tamed,” offered Quentin.

At this the other princes laughed heartily.

“Can’t be tamed?” said Kier. “Are you daft, brother? Their own father said they are simply overindulged. I’d wager neither of them has ever tasted the strap. Once they do, they’ll settle well enough. One or two trips over my knee and the eldest will be so well-behaved that her own papa won’t recognize her.”

“You’re awfully sure of yourself,” Justin said with a laugh.

“And why shouldn’t I be?” Kier asked. “I succeed in all my tasks.”

“Like breaking that filly last summer?” Justin reminded him. “As I recall you were the one who ended up with a sore bum after being dumped on the ground.”

Kier frowned. “Perhaps she got the best of me once or twice,” he said defensively, “but in the end I prevailed, did I not. She is now the most obedient broodmare in the stable.”

He smiled confidently. “Princess Lenora will soon be the same.”

“Women aren’t horses, brother,” Ivan reminded him.

“No, they’re not, but the principles for training them are the same,” Kier said. “Think about it – a strong hand, tight rein, judicious use of the crop – are these not all things that yield good results?”

“They can be,” Justin said, “but some fillies are just too spirited to ever trust. Just when you think you’ve broken them in they go and throw you.”

Kier gave his brother a dark look. “And I suppose you glean this insight from your vast experience with women?”

“Mine is as vast as yours, brother,” Justin shot back. “Only a year separates us and the village wenches are plenty.”

“Village wenches aren’t highborn princesses,” Kier said. “Princesses are like thoroughbreds. They need to be reminded why they are here. They are here to be beautiful and to make their masters’ proud.”

Justin shook his head. “Bloodlines don’t matter,” he said. “Horses are horses and women are women. You can’t ever really predict what they are going to do.”
“True,” Kier conceded, “which is why we must start off with the firmest of hands where these spoiled little royals are concerned.”

He turned to his siblings, his expression earnest. “When it comes to women it is far easier to start off stern and relax after you’ve achieved your goal than it is to be indulgent and then try to reverse the effects. If these princesses are as spoiled and ill-mannered as their father says – and even half as beautiful – then they may indeed be a challenge. That is why we must take them in hand immediately.”

“How?” asked Leo, who as the youngest lacked the experience of his elder brothers.

“Lay out the rules,” Justin said. “Enforce them with the sternest of punishments. Don’t back down, not for reasoning, tears or pretty pouts. Spank them until their bottoms are red as the sunset and drive any grain of pity from your hearts. Reward only sincere obedience.”

“They will hate us,” Ivan said.

“Initially, perhaps,” Justin said thoughtfully. “But drawing on our eldest broher’s analogy, does not the spirited filly show the strongest loyalty to the one she recognizes as master? Does she not respect he who dominates her completely?”

The brothers nodded. Even the youngest knew horses.

“Then that will be our strategy,” Kier announced. “Strict but firm rule from the start.”

“And we stick together,” Justin said. “Women are tricky. I wouldn’t put it above them to try and get us fighting amongst one another.”

“Just let the try,” said Ivan hotly. “They’ll get spanked together if they do. We’ve been through far too much to let some women come between this, even beautiful ones.”

“Here, here,” said Leo, standing and raising his cup in a toast.

“To unity,” he said.

“To unity,” said his brothers and raised their glasses as well.

IV
The five daughters of King Elgar took breakfast in their room the following morning and then received word from their father to don their very best dresses, as they would soon be summoned to meet their guests.

As Lark lamented that she had nothing suitable to wear, her sisters stood while maids drew the stays on their gowns. Eventually, after some prodding from the others Lark selected a violet gown that matched her eyes and the princesses filed from their suite of rooms looking descended the stair like a living rainbow.

The five sons of Salazar rose from their chairs when the princesses entered the hall and quickly exchanged relieved, appreciative glances. The old king was true to his word; never had the princes of Randor seen such beautiful women.

“May I present my daughters,” King Elgar said as the princesses filed past to stand before their guests. Lenora, Fiona, Angelica, Luna and Lark.”

He then turned to his daughters.

“And to you, my daughters, I now introduce the five princes of Randor. Kier, Justin, Quentin, Ivan and Leo.”

The girls looked at each other and then at their father.

“Randor?” asked Lenora. “Father, do you speak of the late Salazar’s conquered kingdom?”

“Yes,” her father said.

“Then they aren’t really princes, father, for Randor is no more.”

“It was defeated, yes” Kier said, his eyes burning with anger at her words. “But one day it will be reclaimed.”

“By an army of five exiled princes?” Lenora asked, and there was mirth in her voice that angered Kier even more.

He started to speak up, but before he could, the eldest of King Randor’s daughters again addressed her father.

“So why are these sons of Salazar here?” she asked. “Do you offer them sanctuary now?”

Her father smiled patiently and nodded. “Yes, my daughter. I offer them sanctuary. And more. I offer them marriage to my daughters.”

“WHAT?” The girls erupted as one. “Marriage? To us? Are you mad, father?”

King Randor put his hands up in an appeal for calm but the girls were in an uproar now, their voices raised and their color high as they looked from one to another, their eyes flashing with fury and indignation.

“This is about male heirs, isn’t it, father?” Fiona spat, her green eyes narrowed. “You’d give us and your kingdom to the sons of a failed king who couldn’t hold his own lands or life before you’d trust you own blood with it!”

“Daughters…” King Randor began, but he was drowned out again by Angelica.

“You never loved us, did you? Poor mother. At least she died before she could see us so betrayed.”

“Please, girls…” King Randor tried again.

“You’re mad, father! These men have nothing to offer us. And yet you hand us over as chattel!”

Meanwhile, Lark had burst into tears. “I can’t marry a poor man, father. I simply cannot!”

But it was Lenora who continued to speak the loudest.

“This is an outrage father, and it will not be borne. Do you understand? We will not marry these five unworthy princes who have nothing more to offer us than their fine looks.”

“Daughter….”

“No,” she said, raising her voice now. “The five sons of Salazar are nothing more than fortune hunters who have obviously done a good job convincing an addled old man to hand over all that he has…”

“Lenora, be silent,” the king bellowed. “That is not true. I summoned them!”

“If you did then you are truly daft!” Lenora shot back.

And now Kier was on his feet and striding towards her. When he was inches away from Lenora he stopped and stared down at her. He was a handsome man, with shoulder length black hair and a strong, square jaw set in anger.

“Your father did invite us, Princess Lenora,” he said. “And now you will apologize not just to your king for embarrassing him in front of guests, but also to me and my brothers for calling us fortune hunters.”

Lenora looked at him with a mixture of disgust and disdain. “Me, a daughter of Randor, apologize to you? I shall not. And you, sir, may go to hell.”

“Is that your response then?” Prince Kier asked.

“Yes,” Lenora seethed. “It most certainly is.”

“Very well,” he replied and took her by the arm and began dragging her across the room to where a chair sat. When her other sisters made as to rush to her aid they found themselves similarly restrained, each by the man to which she was being betrothed. And thus held fast they could only watch in horror at what happened next.

Prince Kier sat down and threw Princess Lenora across his lap. She fought him vigorously, her blonde hair tumbling from its pins to spill across the floor like a shining golden cover.

Kier adjusted his grip and made sure it was fast before lifting her skirts to reveal her thin, delicate pantalets. He considered removing them, but then decided against it. This was to be his future wife, after all, and some things are only for the eyes of a husband. Besides, the fabric of the undergarment was so thin he was confident that it would afford not protection against what he was about to do.

Kier raised his hand and began to spank Lenora. Hard. She screamed in pain as he did so, for she had never been struck in her life. Within moments her bottom was burning with pain and the ears of everyone in the room were being assailed with the sounds of her curses.

“Son of a whore!” she cried. “Son of a failed dead king!” “Son of a donkey and a goat!”

But Kier ignored her insults, his only response being to strike her even harder until her taunts turned to tears.

Her sisters cried out at the sound of their eldest sobbing.

“Brutish bastard!” Fiona screamed, and Justin pulled her close to him, his mouth just inches from her ear.

“Curse my brother again and you’ll find yourself similarly thrashed,” he said.

His brothers had delivered similar warnings, and now all the girls were crying, though none louder than Lenora, whose bottom now glowed a deep dusky pink through the thin fabric of her pantalets.

“Help me, father!” she cried through her tears. “Please! Please! Please!”

But when her father only stood watching approvingly from the side without responding, Lenora finally broke down and began to beg mercy of her captor.

“Please stop!” she cried. “It hurts so! Please!”

“Are you ready to apologize?” he asked.
She cried for a moment more, trying to muster enough strength to endure, but she could not as his hand continued to rain punishment down on her helpless bottom.

“Yes!” Princess Lenora finally cried. “Yes! I will!”

Kier stopped. “Very well, but let me warn you, Princess. If you do not stand and apologize to first your father and then me and my brothers I shall return you to this spot and thrash you another fifty times.”

He stood her then and she swayed, but held herself upright from force of will.

Lenora was a mess, but even so she was beautiful, even with her blonde hair tear-plastered to her reddened face.

“I-I-I-I’m sorry!” she said between catches of breath. “I’m sorry father.”

“And?” Kier boomed.

“I’m sorry, sons of Salazar.”

Her sisters gasped. None of them had ever apologized for anything.

From the side their father nodded.

“A good start,” he said.

He moved over to where they stood and looked at them, his face suddenly sad.

“It is my failure as a father that has brought me to this decision,” he said. “And you are free to hate me. But one day you will thank me for choosing for you just the kind of husbands you need.”

When the girls refused to answer, he sighed.

“Very well. Back to your chambers then. There are things I would discussed with your future husbands, and I am sure you would all prefer now to go and comfort your eldest sister.”

The girls said nothing, but only shot their father hurt, furious looks as they filed from the haul, their eldest sister in the middle of the flock.

“Will they be all right?” asked Leo.

“That’s none of our concern,” said Kier. “They need to realize the only peace for them now will come through obedience.”

And the old king laughed. “Exactly,” he said. “As I said, I have chosen for them well.”

 

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