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Four Corners (Rothhaven Rulers #1)
Author:Cassie Alexandra

Four Corners (Rothhaven Rulers #1)

Cassie Alexandra



1


Castle Rothhaven

Central, Syracuse



Ten Years Earlier




“You have to make a choice, Mariselle,” twelve-year-old Prince Zackary demanded, looking frustrated. “Tell us, who do you believe to be the best swordsman?”

“I think you’re all really good,” Mariselle Langer replied, trying to be patient but getting more frustrated by the minute. Her father, the sheriff of Berkshire County, in West Syracuse, had allowed her to accompany him to the castle and all she really wanted to see were Princess Eva’s kittens. Since it was her ninth birthday she’d been invited to select one as a gift, and had yet to see them. Upon arrival at the castle, her father had immediately dropped her off in the courtyard, where the four princes, Zackary, Aiden, Griffin, and Mathias, had been practicing with their swords. The brothers were almost exactly two years apart, with ten-year-old Mathias being the youngest and seventeen-year-old Griffin being the eldest. “Where is Princess Eva?”

Their sister, Eva, was on the edge of eighteen and Mariselle adored her. Eva treated her special, more like a younger sister than someone beneath the royal family.

“We’ll tell you when you give us an answer,” Mathias said, swinging his sword around as if he were dueling a ghost. “Which one of us would you want to protect you in battle?”

“Can’t I have all of you?” she replied, the answer being simple. She’d known all four of them for as long as she could remember and didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. Although they were boys, they’d allowed her to tag along whenever she was invited to the castle. They’d climbed trees together, skipped rocks across the pond behind the castle, and even hunted for rabbits. Mariselle adored them as much as Eva, if not more.


“No. It doesn’t work that way. You can only have one,” Zackary said stubbornly, blowing a blonde curl away from his eyes.

Prince Griffin, who was sitting on a bench and eating an apple, looked over. “Let her be. She’s too young to appreciate a true swordsman.”

“No, I’m not. Fine.... I choose…” She looked at each of them as they stared back. All four wore such serious expressions that Mariselle giggled.

“What’s so funny?” Prince Aiden asked, his red eyebrows knitting together.

“Nothing.” She sighed. “I don’t want to choose. I won’t choose,” Mariselle huffed. She had a feeling that if she did, Zackary would get his feelings hurt, because in truth, Mariselle would pick Griffin, since he was the oldest. “You are all my heroes. Why can’t I have four champions?”

“She’s right, why can’t she?” Prince Mathias replied, getting up from the rock he was sitting on. He deepened his voice and raised his sword into the air. “I will protect you with my life, Maiden Mariselle. Forever and always. You have my word.”

The others made the same vows, even Griffin, and it made Mariselle’s heart swell. The four Princes of Syracuse were offering to be her champions and she couldn’t have loved them more.

“Mariselle!” hollered Eva, walking toward her with a straw basket. “I have a special delivery for you!”

Squealing, Mariselle ran raced toward the princess. Normally, she would have gushed about her beautiful gown - today’s was made of layers of green and gold satin - but she only had eyes for the kittens. “Oh my word!” Mariselle gushed, opening up the lid. “They’re adorable!”

Eva set the basket down and Mariselle kneeled next to it. Inside were four kittens, each of them had different markings and were so cute she knew it would be a hard decision.

“Which one do you want?” Eva asked, smiling down at her. “Your choice.”

“I don’t know. I love them all. Can I play with each of them for a little while before I make my decision?” she asked, grabbing the closest one, a gray kitten with white paws.

“Of course,” she replied. “You can decide, before you leave, which one you’d like to take home with you.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Mariselle replied, taking the kittens out of the basket.

Princess Eva smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Mariselle, Zackary, and Mathias spent the next couple hour playing with all of the precarious kittens, while the elder princes practiced sparring. When her father’s meeting with the king was finally finished, he came to fetch her, but Mariselle still couldn’t decide on the kitten.

“Well, which one is it going to be?” he asked, blotting the sweat from his forehead with a rag. “We’ve got to get going.”

An idea came to Mariselle and she looked at Eva, “Are you going to give the others away, too?”

She sighed. “Yes, Mother is making me. We already have too many cats roaming the castle.”

Mariselle looked at her father. “Then… can I have all four of them? They play so well together. It wouldn’t be right to separate them.”

“Your mother wouldn’t approve,” he replied, petting the black one. He smiled as another kitten began playing with the laces on his boot.

“Please,” she begged. “They shouldn’t be torn apart. They’re brothers and it wouldn’t be right.”

He frowned.

“What if someone tried separating the princes?” Mariselle said, trying anything that might sway her father, who she knew had a difficult time denying her anyway. “They wouldn’t know what to do without each other.”

“That’s not the same thing,” he said firmly, knowing what she was trying to do.

“You don’t think the kittens would miss each other? I bet they would cry all night, looking for their missing brother. And if I am only able to choose one, he will surely be lonely. They need each other, Papa.”

Marcus didn’t reply.

Mariselle could tell from his lack of response that he was starting to soften. She begged and pleaded until he finally gave in.

“You are responsible for taking care of them,” he said sternly.

She squealed with joy and ran to give him a hug. “Can’t they stay in the house?”

He hugged her back. “No. You’ll need to find a safe spot for them in the barn,” he told her.

Mariselle stared up at him, her eyes wide. “What? Winter’s coming. They’ll be cold.”

“They’ll have the straw to keep them warm,” he replied.

She started to protest.

“Marcella,” he said firmly. “You got your way once. Don’t push it or the kittens will stay with Princess Eva. I mean it.”

From the look in his eyes, Mariselle knew when enough was enough. “Fine,” she mumbled.

Marcus looked up at the sky. It was getting cloudy and he feared a storm would be coming soon. “Gather them up and we’ll go. Your mother will have our heads if we don’t make it home before supper.”

“Okay, Papa.”

As they were preparing to leave, King Edward made an appearance and Eva told him that Mariselle was taking all four kittens.

“She talked you into it, huh?” he said to Marcus, amused.

He gave a sheepish grin. “Yes.”

The king looked at Mariselle. “You’re going to have your hands full with them. Are you sure you can handle it?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I’m going to be take very good care of them,” Mariselle said, staring wide-eyed at the imposing king. As usual he was dressed in an elaborately embroidered surcoat, this one made of rich blue silk and fur. Her mother, Karina, claimed that next to her father, he was the most handsome in the land. With his striking blue eyes and wavy black hair, Mariselle agreed.

“I believe it.” King Edward looked back at Mariselle’s father, smiling. “Your daughter has spirit, Marcus, and from what the boys tell me, she’s quite the Tom-boy. A chip off the old block, I’d say.”

Marcus chuckled and scratched the back of his neck. “Yes, although I’d say she gets it more from Karina. Somehow, I think she’ll be the death of me one day.”