Valladora Tales is a series of stand-alone stories set in Valladora. My latest tale, Owen and the Beast, is now available.
As the title suggests, this story is a retelling of the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, but it has a few twists in it.
Seeking to ease his loneliness, Owen sets out to meet his last remaining relative, someone he never knew because of an old family scandal. He’s trying to find his way in life, his path uncertain and his heart having been broken more than once.
Suffering under a demonic curse that can never be lifted, Edmund hides away in Erimooor Lodge so he doesn’t have to deal with the pity and fear his appearance inspires. Though many in the nearby village accept him as he is, he knows not everyone will have that ability to tolerate his animal-like appearance.
Owen makes his living as a storyteller, enthralling others with fantastical tales. Little does he know that the gods have something amazing planned for him when he meets the real “Beast of Erimoor Lodge” and finds out how wrong all the old legends are.
Owen hoisted himself up onto the boulder and pulled his boot off, crying out at the unexpectedly sharp pain. He stared down at his rapidly swelling ankle. Cursing, he fumbled for his bag, which had gone flying when he’d caught his foot in a rut in the road and been thrown forward. He’d actually done more damage pulling his foot out of the rut, and that pissed him off. He looked down the road and tried to guess how far away he was from his aunt’s village. He thought it had to be at least five or six more miles, but he didn’t really know. There was supposed to be an inn coming up soon, but he didn’t know its exact location either. What he did know, however, was that he didn’t see anyone coming from either direction on the road.
He barely managed to drag his bag over without falling off the boulder. He dug around in the deep, overstuffed bag, hoping to find something to wrap his ankle with, perhaps even brace it. Even though he’d known he didn’t have anything, he still felt dejected when he cinched up the drawstring and dropped his bag back to the ground. Dirt flew up, making him cough, and he looked up to the sky. It had been so dry lately he’d been praying for rain, but now he hoped it held off since he might get stuck in it. Fluffy clouds floated to his left, but the clouds to his right were darker. He looked around to find some shelter, but he couldn’t see any. Only open fields lined this part of the highway.
Owen sighed and wiggled his ankle, cringing at the pain. He could always rip the hem off one of his shirts to bind it, but walking any distance would only make things worse. His aunt would know just what to do, but she was miles away. Should he keep it still or move it? Should he elevate it? Questions raced through his mind as he heard hooves beating in the distance. He jerked his head up and began waving frantically as soon as the horse became visible over the ridge.
A man about his age rode up on an enormous black stallion. He made the horse stop and jumped down right away. The enormous animal seemed formidable, but it stood calmly and looked on as its master rushed over to Owen. The man actually appeared much younger up close, a huge grin on his face as he pushed his messy brown hair out of his eyes.
“Hi! You look like you need some help!” the man said, still grinning.
Owen had never seen anyone express concern so happily. He shifted on the boulder and said, “Yeah. I sprained my ankle, and I’m still miles from my destination.”
“Where are you heading?” he asked.
“The next village. The small one by the mountains in Lady Christobel’s dominion. My aunt lives there.”
“Oh. That’s many miles away still. You’d never have made it by dark even if you hadn’t hurt yourself. There is a little inn about four miles up, but my home is much closer. I live in the lodge just over this next hill, off in the woods.”
“I’d appreciate it, but I don’t want to impose.” He straightened. “I’m Owen.”
The man laughed. “Sorry. My master would roll his eyes at me and my thoughtlessness. I’m Lane. Nice to meet you, despite the circumstances.”
“Your master? You’re a servant?”
“Yes, sort of.”
“You mentioned a lodge. A hunting lodge?”
“Well, it used to be.” Lane bent down and looked at Owen’s ankle. “Hmmm. I need to see to this, but I don’t have anything for a splint. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know on the way.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate it. I was worried about getting stuck out here in the rain,” Owen said as Lane picked up Owen’s bag and hefted it over this shoulder. Glancing to the stallion, Owen sighed. “I know I can’t walk, but I’m not sure I can get up on him. He’s enormous.” Lane was also half Owen’s size, so he wasn’t sure how much help the man would be in getting him up onto the horse. “Maybe if I can stand on one foot and put all my weight on you, I can make it.”
“Oh, don’t worry. We can get you up there.” Lane made a clicking sound with his tongue, and the stallion came right over to them. Speaking to the horse as if it understood every word, Lane said, “This is Owen. We’re going to take him home with us. He needs our help.” Then he pointed at the ground.
To Owen’s shock, the horse actually lay down and then turned to look at the two men. Lane held his hand out.
“Here. Just swing your injured leg over. I’ll steady you.” He frowned. “No, wait, I’ll move to the other side.”
Lane moved to the other side of the stallion and reached his hand over. Owen grasped his hand and threw his injured leg over, pulling himself into position to sit properly in the saddle. Once Owen was situated, Lane smiled at him and clicked at the horse again. Lane held to the horse’s reins and urged him up slowly. The powerful animal got to its feet easily, and Lane walked around to fetch Owen’s other boot.
As they began their journey, Owen asked, “Your master won’t mind an unexpected visitor? I can pay, of course.”
“Nonsense. You’ll be our guest. It’s just me and Lord Edmund day in and day out.” Lane grinned once more. “I’m so excited! I already know exactly what to make for dinner. And I just aired some of the ground floor rooms, so we can move you right in to one of those.”
The title gave Owen pause, as did Lane’s excitement. “Your master’s a vampire?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t like to be addressed by his title. I slip up now and then, and he forgives me. He’s very gracious. Kind and gentle. Would not harm a fly. The best of masters. Good and generous and understanding.” Lane smiled as he kicked at a few pebbles on the road. “I’ve never been happier in my life.”
Owen wondered why Lane was trying so hard to convince him this Edmund was a good man. “You think a lot of your master.”
“Yes, I do.” Lane beamed up at Owen. “I think you’ll like him. I’m sure he’ll like you.”
“Well, once my ankle is bound, I won’t trouble you too much. If I can just rest and then maybe borrow a horse. I promise to bring it back as soon as I can. Or you can accompany me if you like.”
Lane waved his hand. “Nonsense. You should stay until you’re healed. We’d love to have you.”
“I couldn’t impose like that. It will take days. And even if your master is gracious, you haven’t exactly asked his permission.” Worried he might sound condescending, Owen quickly said, “I mean, you know him best, of course, but I hate to put him out in his own home.”
“It’s nothing! Please, I insist. It’s time we had a bit of life and activity about the place.”
Owen watched Lane for a long time, wondering how things could be lacking in life and activity with Lane and his enthusiasm to contend with.