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PROLOGUE 3rd PROLOGUE 1st CHAP 1 3rd CHAP 1 1st

Bookland Fantasy Fiction: Halden Chapter One 3rd Person

The hidden cave in Northern Sweden shouldn't have been surrounded by Attan warriors, especially amid a landscape of ice and snow. Neither had Poppy expected salvation to step out from the inside in the form of different soldiers who could only be on their side since they immediately started to attack the Attans rather than them.

"These guys must be on steroids or something," Poppy commented as she kicked away one of the bad guys, her own back pressed against Zim's.

He laughed ironically. "Zaaderian men, regardless of their race, are somewhat bulkier and often taller than human males," he explained even as he kicked away another enemy. "The Attan come from a nearby planet, but it is similarly blessed with men of larger size. But perhaps now is not the time for a lesson in biology?"

Poppy snorted derisively and clunked together two Attans' heads. "Yeah, man, you're right. This is totally not the time, but thanks for the intel. Who's the really big guy coming out of the cave right now? The one in the funky, glowing armor?"

Zim gaped. "I'm pretty sure that is King Ergon."

"As in, my father?" Poppy exclaimed. The bad guy she was kicking paused to look, and her fist slammed with a satisfying thud into his face, sending him flying. Rather than attacking her again the guy turned and ran. "What the hell?"

"Ergon's a total badass," Zim explained. "Might as well head for the cave now, he and his men will have these boys cleaned up in short order."

She thought the words were crazy, but she let him take her arm and drag her through all the fighting men and retreating Attans and right into the cave entrance within less than a minute, and by the time they'd stepped in the prediction had come true. All the Attans had either retreated or been killed, and there had been at least fifty of them. There weren't even twenty of the Zaadarian fighters to eliminate them.

Inside the cave, Poppy rounded a wall and stopped up short. A large, shimmering hole was apparently ripped into the fabric of space and time. It was a gorgeous swirling of greens and blues, mesmerizing and scary all at the same time.

"Is that what I think it is?" she asked unnecessarily.

"It's our way home," said Zim. "But we should await your father before we step through. He'll want to properly present you to King Hal and his court, and not have us take them by surprise. It's even likely that there are guards on the other side to make certain no Attan comes through. Zaadarians are very big on protocol in all their kingdoms, but the Kingdom of Halda is probably the biggest stickler of them all."

"How many kingdoms?" she wanted to know.

Another voice answered. "On Zaadar itself, there are but six. Though some of them contain sub-kingdoms, including the one you are bound for. But let's not waste time discussing all that here, my daughter. The Attan may have retreated, but that won't stop them from regrouping and showing up with greater numbers than before."

Poppy hesitated as she stared at the portal. "How does it work?"

"One minute you're here on Earth, the next you're on Zaadar," he said with a shrug. "I'm no scientist, I just use the thing upon occasion, that's all. But this thing doesn't open into my kingdom, it's locked to the center of Hal's castle. Come on, Princess, let's go while it's still possible."

He didn't wait for Poppy to answer, but simply grabbed her arm and brought her right into the blue and green swirl. Before she could even blink she was standing inside a castle that was absolutely huge. Outside of the circle of pillars that surrounded them, they found a huge room with a sleek, white-tiled floor that stretched further than a football field, stopping at the edge of a short railing that encased an even bigger area.

The railings were also surrounded by fields of energy, which seemed to be there mostly to prevent noise from entering. Inside that area innumerable ships that looked like space shuttles came and went, and even more of them were neatly parked in rows below the wide-open ceiling that seemed to also be shielded by the energy, but if the blue color was any indicator, which Poppy thought might be the case, then the energy there was reinforced with a lot more power.

"A space port?" she asked curiously, stepping over to have a look.

"It is but one of several we have on this world," said a kindly woman as she stepped over to her. "Princess Valima, welcome to your new home. I am Queen Velna, wife to King Hal. A feast has been prepared in your honor for this evening, but first we must get you changed into something more appropriate to greet the people here. Not everyone on Zaadar is aware of the portal between this planet and the one you grew up on, my dear. It is far better not to advertise. Zim? How good to see that you're home. Perhaps you should go and report to your lord."

"Yes, Your Majesty," he said, giving the woman a bow.

Poppy looked her over curiously. She was wearing a flowing white robe, but no crown, and nothing but a tastefully placed smallish amulet around her neck. Nothing that would particularly single her out as royalty – at least not by the standards of the human world.

The woman laughed. "Queens do not wear their crowns all the time, Valima," she chided. "And it would seem the first thing you must be taught is how to shield your thoughts properly. I had hoped that Zim might have somehow managed to slip that in, but the truth is that only the strongest mage can retain his or her power while on Earth. Zim is but a servant, not properly trained in such skills, so naturally your magical training had to be saved until your return."

"Magic?" Poppy repeated, looking from King Ergon to her and back again. "I have magic?"

"You are of royal blood, sweetheart," he told her. "I imagine you'll have quite a lot. Go with the queen for now. You and I can catch up on everything later. And Valima, choose your dress wisely. Tonight you'll be meeting your betrothed."

Poppy gave him a brief bow as she had seen Zim bow to Queen Velna before he'd turned to leave a moment ago, and then she too turned away. The queen kept up a cheerful explanation of everything around them as they walked, so that by the time they'd mounted some stairs and headed for the royal quarters Poppy had learned quite a lot. She was led into her own chambers with a good idea about the castle's history over the last hundred years, but still had no idea about the age or nature of her future husband.

"Will you not tell me about the Halden?" she asked hopefully. "Surely he must be the prince who will rule after King Hal, correct? My father did mention that one day I would be a queen."

"You shall meet the Halden at dinner," said Velna with a smile. "You shall be quite pleased once the initial shock wears off. My women will be here shortly to dress you for the night. We will, of course, allow you to select your own servants as soon as possible, but it could not be arranged before now. You understand."

"Shock?" repeated Poppy, but the queen had already turned and went out the door before she'd even properly gotten out the word. And Poppy was almost certain that she'd done so by design. What was it about this Halden character that nobody was telling her? Poppy sure hoped she hadn't just bitten off a bit more than she could chew.





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