Unplanned Princess Book 1: Sword Diplomacy
If we were able to come to Earth for the first time, I wonder if we would be as excited about the little things as this young elf.
The death of a people can come quickly, or it can be slow.
The elves were dying slowly.
Most would say it was better not to know one’s time of death.
Elves had long lives but few children.
One child was a blessing, two a surprise, three an astonishingly rare event.
Well, no one planned for a fourth child. It had never happened.
Now, elves around the globe depended on the unplanned princess for their futures.
For some, it was a blessing not to know she was making an effort.
If she failed, there would be no disappointment.
Her parents and brothers watched her leave, not knowing if they would see her again.
Zaena skipped across the water, her spell bouncing the small magic-created raft on the ocean’s surface.
She would have loved to have run or flown across the ocean to her destiny, but even an elf with strong magical power had limits.
A beach lay in the distance, ready to receive her, she hoped.
“Almost there,” she whispered in Elvish, not sure if she meant the comment for the ocean or the fish dancing beneath her feet, silver flashing from their backs.
In the short time since leaving her kingdom, Zaena had learned to love much about the world outside the lands of her people, although she had spent most of that time on an enchanted boat.
Everything had been fresh, stimulating—the salty scent of the ocean, the joyful dolphins, the sonorous whales, the rich diversity of birds flying everywhere.
It was almost enough to make her wish she’d been born a Sea Elf.
Zaena yearned for a forest in her soul, even as she enjoyed everything the blue expanse revealed as it conveyed her to her destination.
Life. That’s what it was, pure life.
But those were only the best things on the surface. As she noted the lights on the horizon, her eyes wandered to the stars illuminating the path to forever.
When the artificial sun warming their underground enclave dimmed as part of its cycle, the resulting shallow darkness lacked stars. Going to the surface and looking at the twinkling glory of so many points of light in the sky was a powerful reminder of what her people had lost when they were forced to flee for their protection.
In short, the stars above awed her.
But duty called, and that meant she needed to get to her destination first, and she had.
Get there alive. For all of her abilities, the ocean feared no elf. She giggled. All of her abilities would be useless if a shark looked up and decided that elf was for dinner.
“Not a pleasant way to die,” she murmured as she took a step forward.
The tiny raft carrying her sizzled before fading into a thick white mist behind her as she stepped off.
The white cloud dissipated into the night air, looking like nothing more than a tiny patch of fog over the expanse of the ocean.
According to her limited experience, most elves disliked human technology, even when they had never dealt directly with either humans or their technology.
Zaena didn’t agree with that. Humans might not have magic, but their machines were wonders of a different sort. Any species with such grand vision could be convinced to work with the elves.
If not, my people will die. She shook her head. Now was not the time to become morose. She had decades in front of her to accomplish her goal before starting to grieve.
A glittering constellation of lights extended as far as she could see, marking a grand castle of human existence. It was as if a portion of the night sky had fallen to land and lay there, gleaming, ahead.
She unfolded a smile like the bud of a flower that opens majestically under the full moon.
Her first city.
The Golden Gate Bridge stretched out in the distance, lit up. Small lights flowed over it.
“Exactly like the pictures!” She clapped her hands. Everything was better when experienced in person.
Zaena inhaled, her chest expanding as she counted to eight.
A smile tickled the edge of her lips. All I need to do is go there acting like I’m a baby elf, only forty years old.
Humans would see through her disguise if she acted excited about every random awe-inspiring spectacle on her trip. She stopped for a second, standing atop the water as the waves broke around her, leaving her clothes dry.
She chewed the inside of her lip.
First, get ashore without being detected.
Technology was grand in its scope and potential, but she didn’t think humans carefully monitored every beach.
Her arms encircled her, easing over her skin. Moments later, a wave of light erased her physical form, leaving only a blurred, wavering outline difficult to see in daylight and nearly impossible to see at night on the ocean.
Zaena’s strides lengthened as she rose and fell with the crashing waves.
The shore was close, an expanse of sand and rock. Groups of humans stood here and there on the beach around small bonfires, chatting and laughing, bottles in hand.
She wanted to cry out in joy. Every elf deserved to be here.
Perhaps if she succeeded, they would come someday.
And that, in a nutshell, was now the purpose of her life.
Zaena released a small portion of the invisibility spell as she moved toward a rocky section of the beach with no humans.
She raised her hand to her face, turning it back and forth to inspect it for blue crystals. She didn’t find any, as she hadn’t her entire trip.
Her tutors had instructed her to check twice a day, though she thought it was pointless. If she were vulnerable to the Creeping Azure, they wouldn’t have dared send her out, and she would have died long since.
They hadn’t provided any real explanation about what she was supposed to do if she started showing symptoms. It would take too long for her to return home, and she’d been ordered to destroy her boat. It wasn’t like even an elf with her power and mastery of water and air magic could run or fly thousands of miles.
It’s as if a few acquire age and wisdom and others senility in thoughts and comments. It’s not like it takes much to think things through logically.
“They just open up their aging lips and expect the words passing over them to wrap up ignorant blather like gems coming from the deepness of space,” she whispered, the breaking of the waves drowning out her musings.
Over the last few weeks, talking to herself had become a way of arguing with the voices in her head. Call it arrogance, confidence, or wishful thinking, she was sure whatever might strike her down on the mission wouldn’t be the Creeping Azure. She pushed the magical disease out of her mind.
Her boots sank into the wet sand, leaving a trail for the water to lap away.
Zaena made her way to the deep shadows of a rock outcropping and dropped the rest of her invisibility spell. She cracked her neck, preparing herself. A little shrink of the ears and a change of her outfit, and she was nothing more than another tall, lithe human woman with long blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes.
There are millions of females like me on the surface, right?
She stepped out of the shadows in her human outfit, a soft pink circle dress with a poodle on the skirt. It fell to her ankles. A black belt cinched her waist. The ensemble was topped off with white and pink saddles shoes.
Just another human, no one to be suspicious of.
“I’m good at this already,” Zaena said in a hushed voice, eyeing her clothing. “An expert at infiltration.”
The only thing she couldn’t hide was the ruby necklace around her delicate throat. The strong magic flowing from the jewelry would disrupt any attempt at direct enchantment.
Zaena took in her outfit and pursed her lips for a moment, then nodded.
“Clothes, clothes.” She looked around the beach. “My kingdom for more clothes.” She put her hand over the gold jingling in the bag she had disguised as a white purse.
She needed money she could use in this country, a base of operations to live and work out of, and…
Judging by what the tutors had told her, simply strolling up to a human bank and attempting to make an exchange would raise many questions and lead to potential accusations that she was a criminal.
She wasn’t ready to deal with the human authorities.
Her shoes sank into the sand as she made her way away from the rock. She edged toward one of the bonfires.
“I’m here,” she whispered in Elven, “in San Francisco.”
Zaena paused and rolled her eyes before repeating the same thing in English. “Seriously, here two minutes, and you blow your cover.” Fluency wasn’t a problem, but the habitual use of her native language would be.
Infiltrate, identify, ingratiate.
The time for honesty and openness would come, but she needed to keep to her plan, and at least for her, time wasn’t important. What was one year or even five to her? She could take fifty years and look like she hadn’t aged a week.
Clutching the purse, Zaena strolled toward the bonfire and the six humans enjoying themselves.
Everyone was young by human standards, in their late teens to early twenties.
That worked. She looked around that age from their point of view. There were three young men and three young women, all sitting on logs around the fire.
Zaena slowed before entering the light.
One of the boys wrapped his arm around a redheaded female. “So I said, bro, if you can prove that, I’ll give you the whole thing.”’
Those gathered around the fire chuckled.
The boy glanced Zaena’s way as she entered the light, and his arm dropped slowly as his eyes widened. He licked his lips.
The other boys and a blonde girl reacted similarly. The redheaded girl glared at the joking boy, but the last girl was staring at Zaena with a quizzical look.
The staring girl was petite, with short black hair and glasses.
She wore honest-to-goodness American blue jeans and a t-shirt under a red jacket. Humans were odd and capricious about their categories, but from Zaena’s training as applied to the United States, she would have classified the girl as Asian.
That made sense. According to her tutors, Asian-Americans, particularly those of Chinese descent, represented a major chunk of the city’s population, which had strong immigrant communities.
That was one of the reasons she’d been pushed to learn both the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese in addition to English and Spanish.
A proper opening in a conversation was akin to the first move in a battle. It could determine everything that would come after. She’d practiced this many times in the kingdom, and now she was ready to use her English on actual human Americans.
Zaena waved and offered a bright smile. “A hearty good evening to you on this joyous night, friends.”
The redheaded girl looked at her. “You talk like that, and you’re dressed like that? Did you just fall out of a time machine from the 1950s? Or was it the 1850s?”
“I don’t believe so.” Zaena blinked, looking down at herself before gazing back at her. “Is that some sort of idiom?”
The joking boy grinned. “Cool accent. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Cool accent? She’d been told she had the best, most natural human accent by her tutors. But she’d been prepared for this possibility even if it hurt her pride.
“No,” Zaena replied. “I’m not from around San Francisco or the United Kin…United States. I am indeed not from around here.”
An excellent initial infiltration of human society.
There was nothing to see there but another standard and normal young human woman in a poodle skirt on the beach at night in San Francisco.
“She’s from Europe,” one of the other boys insisted. “A hot blonde chick with a European accent?” He scratched his chin. “I think it’s a European accent. She’s probably from Sweden.”
Zaena kept smiling. Seriously?
She’d studied many languages in preparation for her mission but not Swedish. Even with many years to prepare, she couldn’t learn everything. She had studied those deemed most likely to be critical to her mission.
“I’m not from Sweden,” she replied cautiously. “I’m sure it is a most lovely country, though.”
The joking boy rubbed his hands and stared at her, almost as if transfixed by her face. She didn’t feel anything wrong with the spell, so she didn’t know why he was doing that. He was smiling. That was a good sign. People didn’t tend to attack while smiling.
“Norway?” another boy guessed.
“It’s not like Scandinavia is the only place in the world with light-haired women,” the blonde girl interjected with a roll of her eyes.
“Finland,” another of the boys shouted excitedly.
Zaena shook her head. “I can’t say that’s true, either. Your friend is correct. I’m not from any country in the Scandinavian region.”
She wanted to shout in glee about how naturally the conversation was unfolding. She must have sounded like any other young human to these people, not like an elf pretending to be a human.
The Asian girl frowned slightly and folded her arms. Zaena hoped she wasn’t offending her but couldn’t see how she might have.
“Switzerland,” the third boy suggested.
“That’s not even in Northern Europe, idiot,” the joking boy retorted.
“But she just said…” He scoffed at his friend before turning and smiling at Zaena. “Are you Swiss?”
I suppose a tall blonde foreigner must be from Scandanavia. Zaena being so delighted by this simple conversation is making it easy to like her. Keep checking back for the next snippet of Unplanned Princess Book 1: Sword Diplomacy. Follow this princess’s adventure on February 26th, or go and pre-order it now.