Princess Rachel Goes to Summer Camp (Chapter 2 — Morning of Doom)

Dawn arrived, much to everyone’s chagrin, except, of course, Mom and Dad.

The door to Rachel’s room drifted open. “Oh, honey.”

A muffled groan drifted out of the bed. “Huh?”

Rachel popped an eye open. Wearing Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts, Dad looked down at her. Next to him stood Mom in a sundress and wide-brim hat.

Rachel groaned. “I take it you’re leaving.”

Mom answered, “That’s right, dear, but we wanted to say goodbye.”

Rachel burrowed under the pillow. “Ugh, I can’t believe this.”

Dad pulled the pillow back. “If you need to reach us, just let Tim know. He set up a way for you to talk to us.”

Rachel peeked from just above her blankets. “You expect me to rely on Tim’s magic?”

Mom frowned. “I understand he doesn’t have the best reputation wielding magic, but I’ve seen him do it successfully. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have you rely on it.”

“Oh, alright.”

“Have fun at camp, and remember we love you,” Dad said.

“You’d love me more if you took me with you.”

“Sorry, but that ship has sailed,” Mom said, then flashed an amused look at Dad, and they both laughed. “Or should I say that ship will sail to Coconut Island at noon?”

“Oh, good God,” Rachel groaned into her pillow. Her parents patted her blanketed form and then left.

Rachel rolled over and pulled the sheets over her head. Perhaps she’d wake up and find it all a dream.

Three hours later, someone kept poking her in the back. What now? Something round and wet licked her neck. “Ewwww!” She rolled over. Oscar, her pet pig, squealed at her. “Oh, what do you want?”

His pink-skinned form jumped down and scrambled toward the door.

“I get it; you want to eat.”

Oscar threw his head up and down.

“If you think I’m making waffles, forget it.”

Snuffling carried on into the hallway. Rachel stumbled out of bed, grabbed a robe, and headed toward the door. As she approached the top of the stairs, though, Oscar glared at her with narrowed eyes.

“Don’t worry, I won’t eat any bacon.”

He squealed and skittered down the stairs.

In the kitchen, she found Tim sitting slumped over on a stool in front of the stove. He perked up. “Good morning, Princess. Did you see your parents before they left?”

She nodded, then drifted over to find some instant gruel. Oscar raced into the kitchen, slammed into a stool, and knocked it over. Rachel barked at him, “Oscar, settle down. I’ll get you something.” She reached up, grabbed a large bowl, and set it on the floor.

Tim frowned. “Is he always like this?”

“Only when he is hungry.”

“How often do you have to feed him?”

“Pretty much all day.”

“Oh, joy.”

She poured the instant gruel into a bowl, but Oscar, being Oscar, couldn’t wait and dove in. He snuffled, bit, and chewed the boxed manna with wild abandon.

Tim watched Oscar eat, then scratched at his beard. “That reminds me, I must send my ex-wife an alimony check.”

Rachel looked up. “Say, you’ve never told me about your marriage to . . . What was her name?”

“Lilith,” he said with an involuntary shiver. An awkward silence grew between them as Rachel poured a bowl of instant gruel for herself.

“Well? Tell me about her. How did you meet?”

Tim sat silently, then frowned and shrugged. “I was summoning demons.”

“Good lord, why were you doing that?”

“I needed someone to fill out my taxes.”

“But you don’t earn anything.”

“What difference does that make? Anyway, I summoned a demon, and this beautiful woman showed up instead.”

“Ah, so that was Lilith.”

Tim shot an annoyed look at her. “Uh, no. Anyway, this woman was incredibly horny.”

Rachel nearly spit out her gruel. “Oh my gosh. You did not just say that!”

“Yup, she had horns all over her head and was pissed about being summoned. That’s when she tried to eat me.”

Rachel stared at him. “What did you do? Zap her with your wand?”

“I wish. Instead, I screamed like an elementary schoolgirl and ran for the door. But when I threw it open, there stood a pale-faced, raven-haired woman with looks that could kill.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“No, the demon took one look at her, opened a portal back to Hell, and disappeared.”


“I thought as much, so I invited her in.”

“So, was it love at first sight?”

Tim looked at the ceiling. “Love is such a multi-faceted word; I’m not sure it is the best one to describe that situation.”

“I guess this part is PG?”

Tim nodded.

“So, what made you want to marry her?”

“Since she was already living with me, I figured, why not?”

“Wait, back up a bit. How did you end up living together?”

“Pretty simple. She wouldn’t leave.”

Rachel chuckled. “So, how was the marriage?”

“At first, it was okay, but then she started nagging me, criticizing everything I did, like she was trying to change me. Then she crossed the line, so I got rid of her.”

“What line was that?”

“The one I drew on the floor to protect myself from demons. Lilith crossed it, and she disappeared. Turns out she was a demon, after all.”

Rachel looked askance at him. “Really? You didn’t notice she was a demon?”

“I should have been suspicious given all the demon-like behavior, shoe shopping, obsession with Yankee candles, romantic comedies, and a dog-eared copy of 50 Shades of Offwhite.”

“I’m not sure that qualifies as ‘demon-like’ behavior.”

“It does in my book, so there.” He blew a raspberry.

She shook her head and sat, picking at the gruel before her.

“What’s bothering you? Is it because you must go to summer camp?”


“What exactly is the problem?”

“What if I don’t fit in, and none of the other girls like me?”

Tim chuckled.

Rachel glared. “What’s so funny about that?”

“Okay, fitting in is just another way of being compliant. Or, in other words, being fake just to satisfy others. As opposed to being liked, which means having people enjoy your uniqueness. You can’t have both.”

“I can fit in or have friends, but not both?”

He shook his head, “No, you misunderstand me. Someone will like you if you are genuine, kind, and polite. Those who lift you up and are honest without being mean are real friends. Those who want everyone to act as they do, say what they want to hear, and participate in reprehensible or cruel behavior are not people you want to ‘fit in’ with anyway. Chances are, you’ll find someone you can get along with.”

“I suppose you are right,” Rachel replied. “I just don’t want to spend all my time figuring out who is honest and who is fake.”

“The process goes a lot quicker if you stay true to yourself. The longer you put on airs, the longer it takes to find someone who can be a friend.”

Rachel finished her gruel. “Do you have a lot of friends?”

“I have a few,” Tim replied. “Probably no more than a handful, but I trust them. That is the one thing I require above all else. I can handle someone being critical if they are honest. But if they can’t be honest, I don’t have time for them.”

A resounding series of thumps came from the front door. “Were you expecting someone?” Rachel asked.

Tim shook his head. “Not until tomorrow. That’s when Mustypants is supposed to come over and escort you to Princess Summer Camp.” More thumps came from the front door.

“Are you going to get that?”

“Why not you?”

“Because I’m twelve, and you’re the adult.” She tried not to add “sort of.”

Tim shrugged. “Ah, well, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I tried to use magic to get rid of my bed head but sneezed as I finished ‘on my body set my hair,’ and now I’m stuck to my chair. It should wear off in another few minutes. Can you get the door?”

Rachel rubbed her eyes. “Honestly, how do you take care of yourself?”

“It ain’t easy.”

Vengeance Deferred

[ An excerpt from “The Dragon Heartstone,” book 2 of my Westfal series. ]

The road along the Silver River snaked with it, undulating over many ridgelines that radiated from the northern end of the Krador Mountains. Small, scattered patches of woodland lined the turns and twists, filling valleys and spilling along the shorelines.

Hiding in the dark underbrush, Riasean rubbed his arms, struggling to keep warm. Even as he ate berries and roots scavenged from nearby plants, his stomach complained. Throbbing in his legs remained constant from his unyielding pace. But he dare not slow, not even for a moment. Otherwise, he might lose sight of Faline. The tempo she kept amazed him as she moved east along the road toward some unknown destination. He had hoped she might slow or even stop to rest, but he had not been so lucky.

He licked his lips to keep them moist, staving off thirst until he could dart to the river and drink his fill. While his body cried out, he focused on his goal–to bury a knife into Faline in the same savage way she had done to Larah.

Yet, when Faline did stop at noon, he enjoyed the respite, fighting off the desire to race forward to finish the job. As he caught his breath, his attention stayed on his blonde-haired, black-robed quarry.

* * *

Faline stood, eyes closed, focusing her mind eastward. Her body screamed in pain, despite the simple Druidic charms and spells she had used to mask the effort. Despite the discomfort, there remained the need to locate the Shatain, the shadow warriors bound to her. Using black magic, this task would have been simple. But that was no longer an option. She tried to compensate, using skills not tapped in centuries. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her consciousness beyond the limitations of her ancient Druidic training. Yet, once again, the effort came up empty. A sigh escaped as exhaustion and despair poured in. Maybe tomorrow. For now, she must continue moving along this path, marshal the patience required to cross northern Bretagne, and close the distance with the Shatain.

Opening her eyes, she took in her surroundings and let the aesthetics wash over her. Autumn colors graced the trees, and brilliant sunlight streamed through the branches as they drifted in the still-warm afternoon breezes. A faint memory of a similar sojourn floated by in another time and place. What had it been called? Her mind sifted through almost a millennium of memories before returning to the correct phrase: destiny quest. This journey was much like that one, where she had to leave the sanctuary of Avalir for a year. Like then, she traveled alone, with only her Druidic training to sustain her.

She had gained—and lost—much since then. Most notably, her dark arts ability had been eliminated by the healing received from the Grail of Culloden. Still, she had survived. With a final glance at the beauty surrounding her, she dismissed it. Such things served no purpose, least of all hers. Once more, she stepped upon the path.

She kept trying to reach the Shatain during brief pauses until the sun sank beneath the far distant Black Shadow Mountains and plunged the area into darkness. To continue risked losing the trail. Likewise, she could no longer ignore her physical need for rest. To her left, a ridge jutted out into the river. Near the top, a clearly defined outcrop revealed a cave opening that might provide shelter.

She slipped off the road and picked her way up the stony slope of the ridge. As the darkness deepened, she grasped at hand holds in the grayish moss-covered rocks and slipped a few times as she sought to gain a foothold. With sweat slipping off her forehead and her breath rising in clouds in the cooling night air, she finally arrived at the cave opening. By now, the surrounding darkness was so thick she could not see into the cave. She grabbed a stray rock and muttered, “illustras [Light].”

The rock’s surface erupted in light, and holding it aloft, she probed the entrance. With a sigh of relief, it proved to be empty and full of smooth rock crevasses, any of which she could comfortably settle into. Satisfied, she turned to the cave mouth and, with a sweep of her arm, charmed it with a simple warning spell. Finding a secluded spot in the wall, she tucked herself into it and pulled her cloak around her. With a final gesture, she raised the rock and whispered, “extinguere [Extinguish].”

The light flared out, and the cave fell into darkness. The cave walls dully reflected the moonlight, which also lingered on the tendrils of fog rising from the river waters below. The sound of rushing water beat incessantly against her ears, drowning the doubts and concerns in her mind. Sleep soon followed.

* * *

As Riasean slipped up the slope toward the cave opening, his eyes stayed focused on the crest. His experience and training allowed his hands and feet to easily find their way into gaps in the surrounding surfaces. The nearly cloudless night, with some ambient moonlight, was a perfect killing moon. These ideal circumstances allowed him to ignore the nagging voice of reason, cautioning against pursuing personal vendettas. Killing was simply a means to an end, a bag of gold to support a precarious existence. There is no gold this time, but finishing this viper would be satisfying. But then what?

While he could ignore his doubts, such was not the case for the rising fog. The streamers of mist floated past his eyes, obscuring the crest until his line of sight extended only a few feet. Clambering over the last moss-covered rocks, he emerged outside the cave. Pulling his obsidian knife, he peered inside. His half-Elvish eyes swept the surroundings and quickly revealed the coiled-up form of the she-witch. Gripping the hilt tighter, he stepped into the cave entrance. In an instant, the world disappeared into a grayish haze of impenetrable mist.

His sense of awareness tingled; everything had changed drastically. He stood perfectly still, knife in his cocked arm, scanning the mist. The rushing water sound had disappeared, as had nearly every physical feature he had to orient himself. What was going on?

“Riasean,” a voice echoed out of the darkness. “I mean you no harm.”

He swiveled toward the sound, knife at the ready. “Who is this?” he hissed.

A form seemingly coalesced out of the fog, “I am Lenor.” The figure approached him, appearing as a woman in dark blue clothing, her long brown hair pulled back into a braid that ran down to her hips. Piercing silver, cat-like eyes studied him, even as he backed into a protective crouch.

His mind churned. This must be a Caretaker, one of those powerful but unpredictable immortal spirits. He’d encountered one before–and it had saved his life–but only after binding his life thread to Larah’s.

“What do you want from me? Why do you stand between me and my prey?”

Lenor’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight. “You will not harm her, for that is not your destiny. I am giving you a new task.”

Riasean tensed. “I do not care what you intend; you will not stop me from ending the life of the she-witch.” He tightened the grip on the knife and stepped toward the Caretaker.

She laughed in a high, cold, piercing tone that set his nerves tingling. “Do you really think you have a choice in this matter,” she said, then snapped her fingers. The fog disappeared, and the curled-up form of Faline lay at his feet. “Do what you want, and see what happens. But be forewarned. It will not be what you expect.”

He looked down at the woman, her youthful face framed by stray curls of blond hair. Her chest rose and fell, even as he stood over her with a blade. It would be easy to clamp a hand over Faline’s mouth and slash her unprotected throat.

But his instincts knew better. Nothing was easy, even if it looked that way. Lenor continued to study him like a cat watching its prey. She was playing with him. “Why do you protect this viper? She deserves no pity, least of all from the likes of you.”

“Who are you to make such a judgment? How many life threads have you snipped before their time? Did none of them deserve compassion or pity?” The Caretaker flashed a close-lipped smile. “Our ways are simply beyond your understanding. Everyone has a purpose and a plan for their life, and whether that aligns with what mortals want, it matters not.”

Lenor’s words stung, even as he acknowledged their truth. He dropped his knife arm to his side. “What do you want me to do, and why should I?”

“You are to retrieve the Dragon Heartstone and give it to The Watcher–the Brin Shar, and if you do this, then what was lost will be returned to you.”

Lost? What was this fiend talking about? Riasean’s chest tightened. Like a bolt of lightning, the context of what she referred to raced to the front of his mind. But he immediately rejected it. “Larah? She is better off without me and has others to look out for her. Besides, why should I want to retrieve this artifact for you?”

“You must find the Dragon Heartstone, or Larah will die,” Lenor stated without amplification.

Riasean gritted his teeth. “Is this another of your entrapments? Like when you bound my life to Larah’s to help her retrieve the Grail?”

“No. What I said is merely a statement of fact. If you wish to ignore this, then you know the consequences.”

Riasean let the warning wash over him before looking again at Faline’s sleeping form. “When I do this, will I be able to kill this wretch?”

Lenor smiled in reply.

He sighed and sheathed his knife. “Very well then, what must I do?”

* * *

An hour later, guided by dim moonlight, Riasean rode a horse along the road, hastening to where it forked. The east road continued across the northern extremes of Bretagne, and the south road meandered through the Shadowlands, a high plateau of striated rock outcroppings, before emptying out onto the broad flatlands leading into the heart of Bretagne. So once again, a Caretaker had pulled strings, forcing him to perform like a marionette. Still, she did provide him with everything he asked for. His fingers ran through the horse’s mane as he peered ahead. No longer focused on pursuing Faline, his mind touched on his memories of Larah, and a dull pain throbbed in his chest. Struggling to not linger on what could have been, he focused on the darkened trail. He hoped the task before him would fill the emptiness inside.

* * *

Princess Rachel Goes to Summer Camp (Chapter 1 — Bad News)

“You’re going to summer camp,” the King announced, then promptly cringed.

A shriek carried through the air like a banshee finding gum in her hair.

As he covered his ears, the King continued, “Really, you should try out for drama club or at least opera.”

“But I don’t want to,” Princess Rachel cried. “I want to stay at the castle this summer.”

“No dice, honey,” the King retorted. “Your mother and I have decided to vacation on Coconut Island.”

“An island? I’d love to go.”

“I’m sure you would, but this is a wedding anniversary gift for your mother, and I want it to be just the two of us.”

Rachel stuck out her lower lip. “You don’t love me.”

“We both love you, but we need to spend some time together – alone.”

“You’re together all the time at home anyway.”

Not in the way I want to be. “Waiting on you mostly. We’ve discussed this, and that is what we are doing.”

“What if I refuse to go?”

“Then you are going to stay with that fairy, Ferrella. She needs a live-in babysitter.”

Rachel’s eyes widened. “Good God, no! Those leg-munching fairy children will kill me!”

“Let’s be clear. Maiming is not the same as killing. Regardless, that is your alternative.”

She frowned. “Okay, fine, I’ll go. I won’t know anyone there.”

“All the neighboring kingdoms are sending their daughters; you’ll be making new friends.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Rosie isn’t going to be there, is she?”

The King pursed his lips. Good God, I think I’ll jump from the nearest tower if I have to hear about that girl again. “No honey, she has moved to Tocanus and is gleefully pulling off scorpion stingers.”

“Good, because I can’t stand her. In first grade, she – “

The King looked at his watch. “Gee, I’ve got to get your mother. It has been six hours; she should be done shopping now.” He started to leave, “By the way, we are leaving for the island tomorrow.”

“Wait! When does summer camp start?”

“In two days. Tim is going to look after you.”

“Tim? I thought he wasn’t allowed in the castle.”

“He is now. I changed all the locks on my liquor cabinet and have hidden all the snack foods.”

“But daddy . . .”

“Sorry honey, I told you we were planning this months ago. That should not be a surprise.”

Rachel’s head drooped.

King leaned down and kissed her on the head. “I know you don’t like change or doing anything new, but you can’t avoid it whether you want to or not. Learning how to deal with change is part of growing up.”

She stayed silent and stared at the floor.

“We’ll be by in the morning to say goodbye.” He glanced out the window at the rising sun. “Speaking of deadlines, that rotten wizard ought to be here by now.” The dull thud of a door knocker echoed throughout the castle. “Ah, that must be him.” He left to go to the door.

The door swung open, and there stood a stoop-shouldered gray-haired man wearing what looked like a tattered blue bathrobe covered with crescent moons and a soup pan on his head. The handle swung slowly from side to side as the man tried to make eye contact with the King.

 “Uh, hello, Tim. What gives with the soup pan?” the King asked.

“I forgot my tin-foil hat.”

Well, that was as clear as mud. “Okay, come on in.”

Tim slipped inside and took off his ‘hat.’ “Hey, I love what you did with the place.”

“It’s no different than the last time you were here.”

“Really?” Tim paused and placed a finger on his chin as he thought. “Perhaps. If I remember correctly, I was running for my life, which may have had something to do with it.”

The King suddenly remembered the incident involving a mop and an ambulation spell. The crazy wizard might have done less damage with an axe. “Are you sure you can do this?” the King said.

“Do what?” Tim asked.

The King quickly suppressed the urge to choke the clueless magician. “Remember what we discussed—the need for you to babysit Rachel until it is time for her to go to summer camp.”

“Oh, that. Yes, I’m ready.” He reached into his robes and pulled out a bag of cheese curls. “See, I’m prepared.”

“Um, okay. Have a seat but be careful. The last time you left orange fingerprints on all the furniture.”

“Sorry about that. I understand that Rachel is going to summer camp in two days?”

“That’s correct.”

“Do you want me to escort her to camp?”

“No, that is all right. I have someone else in mind for that.”

“And whom might that be?”

“Drek Mustypants.”

Tim recoiled. “Seriously, I don’t know why you’re letting a witch escort her to summer camp when I could easily do it myself.”

“Need I remind you what happened the last time you accompanied Rachel out of the castle? I spent three days being chased by angry monkeys.”

“Well, who knew that monkeys worshiped that golden coconut I stole – err – found?”

“Someone should have, and I expected it would have been you.”

Tim shrugged. “My monkey lore isn’t what it used to be.”

“Enough already. Drek will be here in two days. Have Rachel ready.”

Tim frowned. “As you wish, your majesty.” The King turned to go, but Tim added, “Say one other thing. What about Oscar?”

The King flinched. “Her pet pig? Oh no, I forgot about him. It’s too late to put him in a kennel. Could you look after him?”

“You want me to take care of a pig. Where is he going to stay?”

“How about your treehouse? No one will notice with the way you keep that place.”

“Hey, that is kind of insulting.”


 “Of course, it is also true.” Tim sighed. “Okay, I will, but under one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“I get to use your swimming pool.”

The King looked at the ceiling for a moment. “The last time I let you do that, the pool drain was clogged with scales and hair.”

“How was I supposed to know that mermaids are slobs?”

“Don’t let it happen again.”

“Yes, sir.”

* * *

The King walked back upstairs and found the Queen in Rachel’s room.

“It will be okay, my dear. Mykla will be at Summer Camp too.”

Rachel frowned. “I don’t really like her. She’s a bit too aggressive.”

“I’m sure that hitting you in the head with a crochet mallet was just a mistake.”

“I’m not sure. She also tried to trim my hair with a machete.”

“You won’t be there with just Mykla. There will be lots of other girls there too.”

“Yes, and I will know none of them.”

The Queen patted her on the arm. “You won’t know any of them unless you meet them, and summer camp is a great way to do that.”

“Did you do summer camp when you were a kid?”

The Queen backed away a bit. “Uh, yes, I did.”

The King stifled a snicker, but the Queen shot him a dirty look.

Rachel looked between them. “Okay, obviously, that is not the whole story. Tell me the truth. What happened?”

The Queen’s cheeks reddened. “I had a bit of an accident.”

“Accident? happened? Did you fall off a horse?”

“No, not exactly.” The King guffawed a few times, and the Queen shot him a few more nasty looks.

Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “What sort of accident was it?”

The Queen bit her lower lip, her cheeks turning very red. “I … ah …”

“She wet her pants,” the King interjected, then laughed.

Rachel’s mouth dropped open. “MOM!”

The Queen fired a few eye daggers at the King. “Thanks for nothing, Charles.” Her face almost scarlet, the Queen looked at Rachel. “It was during the bonfire; everyone was telling ghost stories. I got scared.”

“Really? How old were you?”


“That’s kind of old to be peeing on yourself.”

“I had a very active imagination.”

“I’ll say,” the King shot in. “Once she dreamt she was –”

The Queen turned on her heel. “Guess what else you’ll be imagining on our vacation?” She stormed out of the room.

The King grimaced. “Uh oh.”

Rachel rubbed her eyes. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“That is a good thing. See you tomorrow morning,” the King turned and chased after the Queen.

* * *

Rachel sat on her bed, then flopped back onto it. She didn’t want to go camping and had no real alternatives to avoid going. One thing was sure. No way she was going to deal with fairy babies. It had taken weeks to get the nightmares of those little beasts out of her head. So, she had to go and be away from the castle for at least six weeks.

What was the name of that place? Oh yeah, Princess Academy Instruction and Networking Information Center. She had heard awful stories, how incredibly mean some other princesses were, and how they often made outsiders feel unwelcome. What made my parents want to send me there?

She rolled over and stared at a poster of pop music’s latest sensation, Justin Keebler. “So, what do you think, Justin? Should I run away?”

Surprisingly or not, the poster continued to smirk at her. What did I expect? You’ve got tattoos and look like something I’d need shots for after kissing!