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Do you love this art as much as I do? When I saw WillowRaven post “Return to Dune Towers” as a writing prompt challenge to authors, I gave a little squee.  Scroll down for my cross-posted story with WillowRaven’s Website.  To see more of her work visit http://willowraven.weebly.com/  or follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Return to Dune Towers artwork by Willow Raven
Return to Dune Towers artwork by Aidana WillowRaven

 Return to Dune Towers

Aletha disliked her role as a bargaining chip, but she hated the desert and every shifting grain of sand in it more. She skimmed back over the dry, cracked path to Dune Towers more frustrated than when she left. She had gone to the top of the sole rock formation in the sea of rolling sand dunes to escape confining walls and relax. Her posture, firm and tall, helped maintain her balance on the skimming disk.

She approached the desert gate, reluctant to return to her gilded cage, but she could see Prince Breen’s copter on approach to the city. Aletha knew the Prince would call upon her when he landed. She needed to move a bit faster, even though he was the last person she wanted to see, a reminder of the life lost to her. Aletha wanted to shake off all the sand before another one of their discussions. She belonged to Prince Breen, not precisely as a slave or a love interest, although he hinted at more intimacy.

Breen kept her comfortable per the terms of the agreement with her father. Aletha had all the finery she could desire— precious metals, gems, and fine silks. Her chambers were plush and comfortable, the largest quarters available. None of that mattered to her because she could not leave the godforsaken desert. She missed the grassy plains of her home, and if Aletha’s father were less a fool, gambling away the kingdom, she would be riding a horse through a meadow right now.

Cool air met naked arms as sand scrubbers blew sand off Aletha when she passed through the desert gate’s blowers. Sand was insidious stuff, even with the scrubbers it ended up everywhere. She found it in her hair, her shoes, and even her bed.

The guards at the inner door greeted her with stern faces.

“Princess Aletha,” the senior guard said. “Thomas, you may escort the princess to her quarters.”

“That isn’t necessary,” Aletha said

“It is required, Mistress. New orders.” The sentry stepped to her side.

Aletha rankled at new restrictions and tried to ignore the man following her. She wound her way through the central city markets where the air smelled of spiced meats and haggling voices filled her ears. She wished shopping held appeal, but she only needed to ask and the Dune Prince would give her anything.

He courted her and she hated him as much as the desert—possibly more. She bit back anger and proceeded to the base of her tower and up the lift to her quarters. Aletha had closed her door for a moment when she heard his precise knocks. He was patient, but she did not want to test him today. If his negotiations went poorly, his mood would be foul and only worsen with her slowness. She turned to open the door.

“Prince Breen.”

“Princess Aletha,” he said, mirroring her formality. His dark eyes searched her face for something, but she knew not what. “May I come in?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do, but, alas, it will likely be ignored.” He stepped in and his guard closed the door behind them. This was a familiar dance now.

Prince Breen was dressed in formal robes, unchanged from the negotiations with her father.

“Fine. Sit down. Tell me of my family.”

The prince seated himself on a plush red sofa and leaned back with one leg resting on the other knee. Aletha stared down at him, lips tight and thin. For a moment, her eyes lingered on his broad shoulders.

“They are well. Your father sends his regrets.”

“My father is a fool.”

“On this we agree. He still thinks he can pay back the money he owes me. It seems you will be my guest a little longer.”

“I am not collateral!”

“You were offered as an assurance the money would be repaid. Sounds like collateral to me.”

“Then kill me. Take my father’s kingdom. Release me from this bond.” Aletha pleaded, but Breen never listened.

He stood up and reached for her cheek.

“You have another option. All debt will be forgiven—your father’s kingdom restored.”

Aletha flinched from his touch, but the days of captivity made her less uncomfortable and she mostly did it for show now. “No.”

“You should figure out who deserves your ire more. Do you really want to go home to be gambled away again?”

“No,” she said, her voice quiet, resistance beginning to fade as she thought over his words. “Will you ever release me?”

“No. I’ve grown too fond of our conversations.”

Aletha laughed with all the mockery left in her arsenal.  Breen reached for her hand to kiss. “Think on it. Life here can be very pleasant.” He turned to leave. Aletha felt her last bit of resistance melt, but she let him go. She tired of being angry and bitter, but she was not ready to accept him. Yet.

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