About your Book:
Dr. James Khoo struggles with what he thinks is a series of severe migraines faints and wakes to a world so different from the one he knew as his own. Now a medieval princess in the Kingdom of Edonia, Sarabeth must ward off an army of assassins that will not give up until they see her dead. Traveling between both worlds, he must fight to keep both alive until he is faced with the biggest headache.
Targeted Age Group: 16 onwards
Genre: fantasy, action adventure
The Book Excerpt:
My head throbbed hard on the right side. To say my head hurt would be a severe understatement. It didn’t just hurt, it was in undiluted agony. My precious periods of relief seemed to be waning, and the intensity of the pain increased exponentially with each passing day. Today, the pain gripped me relentlessly for the third time. Groan.
My hand reached towards the packets of painkillers at the left corner of the table, trembling as it travelled the distance. I wondered how many hours the pills would last this time round. Taking a deep breath, I popped a cocktail of paracetamol and naproxen tablets into my mouth. The bitterness spread quickly across the tongue’s surface, causing me to gag. My other hand flashed towards the glass of chilled water and flushed the culprits down my oesophagus. The bitterness lingered on.
As I lay back heavily on the executive seat, my headache continued its merciless assault on my brain. My fingers went for my temple and rubbed hard. That failed to alleviate the pain but was definitely better than doing nothing. It was going to take a while for the medications to take effect. Someone needed to invent something that could kill pain instantaneously.
I opened my eyes and stared blankly at the ceiling. The fan whirred above me. I tried to track the movements of its blades with my eyes. All that did was made me feel sick again. An appointment with Seetho was necessary, I thought; hopefully, he could do something about my torturous condition. I was just about to call him when I stopped short. He was at a Neuroscience conference in Manhattan. Damn. Did he get back today? Or was he scheduled for tomorrow?
Forcing my unwilling body to sit up, I leaned towards the table for my iPhone, but everything turned into a nauseating swirl around me. I felt the bitter bile of vomit rise in my throat, and the urge to throw up overwhelmed me. I reached out, grabbing feebly for the glass of water on my table. A musical shatter of glass hitting the floor filled my ears before silence and darkness engulfed me.
My eyes reopened after much struggle and stared straight up. There was no ceiling; in its place was a wooden frame. My vision had not cleared; everything was dark and dim. My eyesight must be declining if my vision was not returning.
My head still hurt; in fact, it had worsened. Now it was a general heaviness that filled my entire head. As I sat up, blankets cascaded down my trunk. A chilly gust caressed my exposed body. Wow; the air-conditioning must be set at sixteen degrees. I quickly pulled up the blanket, letting the warmth radiate across my body.
Someone must have brought me to a hospital, as this bed was definitely not mine; this was much cosier and softer than my orthopaedic bed. My headache coupled with the nice bed urged me back to slumber; anything else could wait.
However, the same dreaded headache prevented me from falling asleep. My mind continued its assessment and suddenly something struck. The room had a sweet smell, definitely not the antiseptic atmosphere of a hospital. Sitting up with a start, eyes darting around the room, I concluded that either my eyes were playing tricks on me or I was still dreaming.
The bed was surrounded by a translucent drape. On the other side was a spacious room delightfully furnished with wooden furniture which had a hint of medieval influence. There were even candles attempting to provide lighting for the room. I am a big fan of fantasy; The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourites, but it was surely a bad joke with bad timing to dump me here. One name came into my mind as the most probable culprit. Marcus, a producer in a media company, was a guy who enjoyed pulling outlandish pranks like this. Anger began to consume me as thoughts of him preying on me in this time of dire pain overwhelmed me.
I quickly got out of the bed. Immediately, the chill from the stone floor sent pain shooting up my spine. Soon my legs were off the floor and onto the bed again. Looking down, I spied a pair of fluffy slippers and slipped my feet into them. My feet appreciated the comfort and instant warmth they brought. The temperature outside the drape was colder than I had expected. Someone must have set the thermostat really low.
Picking up a heavy blanket, I draped it across my shoulders, letting it swathe my whole body. The warmth it provided was glorious.
Looking around to allow more details to be captured and processed, I concluded that it was morning, and the light in the room was from a new dawn. The wooden windows were thrown open, letting in more cold air. The stone walls gave the room a feel of an ancient castle or monastery – just like the ones in fairy tales.
Walking towards the window, I scanned the room. Beautiful paintings and decorations decorated the walls. The only thing that did not sit well with me was the feminine touch it had. Certainly unsuitable to my liking.
Chilly winds howled past the window as I poked my head out. I squeezed my eyes shut in defence. When I managed to open them again, an amazing landscape materialized, filling me with awe. The landscape stretched all the way to the seaport, ships dotting the horizon. The golden sun was climbing out of its slumber. This could not be reality; I had to be dreaming.
Clank! A loud sound shattered the silence of my dream. My head automatically turned towards the source and saw two girls dressed in maid uniforms, bowing low. They appeared to be shivering, but it might have been the dim, flickering lights playing tricks on my eyes. A metal basin was still rolling on the floor. This was a good opportunity to find out exactly where I was.
I opened my mouth to speak, but before any words could leave my tongue, a group of men in armour appeared from all sides. It seemed there was more than one door to this room. Swords that certainly looked like the real McCoy were drawn with the sharpest quivering in the chilly air.
“Is Your Royal Highness well?” a loud voice thundered from behind me. My body swung instinctively to the voice and took a miscalculated step, catching the edge of the blanket, throwing my body into imbalance. Fear gripped me as my body fell backwards.
Surprisingly, the falling ceased and there was no pain. I had fallen into the arms of the one who had spoken. He picked me up with ease and walked towards the bed. My face flushed bright red; it was so embarrassing to be carried by another man. Soon I was back in the comforts of the warm, soft bed.
The guard stepped back and bowed. “Rest well, Your Royal Highness. Your body is still weak from its injuries.”
“What injuries?” The words just blurted out and the sudden, immense pain in my head seemed to answer my question.
“There was an ambush. You were thrown off the carriage. That was almost a week back.”
“Huh?” This dream had already been weird, but now nothing was making any sense.
“Call for the Royal Physician,” the guard ordered the maids. One of them rushed out. The guard stood up and waved to the other soldiers. “Stand down.” He bowed and walked out behind his men.
I was left alone with the maid, who remained on her knees still down, bowing low.
“Miss, please get up. You are making me feel bad.” Sitting up on the bed, I decided not to get out, lest I embarrass myself further.
“Ye—Yes, Your Royal Highness.” She got up, swiftly cleaned up the mess on the floor, and disappeared out through the main door.
I let out a long sigh. Everything felt so real that fear began to grow in the heart. I must be dreaming – definitely dreaming. Placing a pillow over my head, I kept repeating the sentence until darkness took over.
A strong hug woke me up, squeezing hard onto my chest, causing a slight asphyxia. It was from a regally-dressed girl in her early twenties. She was a quite a beauty to behold. It was definitely a nice change of pace, having a hug from such a babe. Was she my wife in this dream? That would be really nice, to say goodbye to my bachelorhood. A smile spread across the face.
“I am so worried about you, Sarabeth,” she said.
Pushing her aside, I said, “Wha . . . what did you just call me? Who is Sarabeth?”
“Her Royal Highness is suffering from confusion,” a silver-haired man in a blue robe commented, “a likely residual from the head injury. Your Majesty.”
“Wait, wait, time out. What are you guys talking about? I am not suffering from confusion. My name is James, James Khoo. I am a doctor and I work in the Singapore General Hospital.”
A finger touched my lips. “Shh.” The lady smiled. “You are home. Take your time and recover.” She gave another strong hug, leaving me utterly speechless.
When the entourage left, words were still not able to form. Shock had overwhelmed my neurons. Who am I, really? Is this a dream or is all that I remember a dream?
Moments passed while I sat on the bed, staring into the emptiness. Two maids remained in the room. They stood at the corner, motionlessly. “May I have a mirror, please?” The words croaked out from my quivering mouth. I just realized that they were in a voice I did not recognize. One of the maids walked to the dressing table and brought back a mirror.
It was a terrible mistake. The reflection was not the one that I had expected. It was a face that I failed to recognise. The image of a blond teenager with straight, long hair like corn silk would have been a pleasing sight before, but not right now. Not when it was my reflection. I threw the mirror to the end of the bed and buried my face in the pillow. Tears of confusion and fear flowed uncontrollably, emotions just overwhelmed me.
I stayed like that, sobbing in bed, for what seemed like ages, until the pressure in my bladder grew too great to be ignored. Then, at last, I ventured to look up where the maids had stood. Only one of them was still there – a mousy girl of about twenty. “Um, hi,” I said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Cateline, Your Highness.”
“Did I know you before, Cateline?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“I’m afraid I really don’t remember anything,” I said. “Not even – look, where’s the bathroom?”
“I can run a bath for you, Your Highness,” Cateline said shyly. “Only, I’m not sure the Royal Physician would like it. He said you should stay in bed.”
“I mean a toilet,” I clarified. “A loo. A men’s – I mean, a ladies’ room.”
Cateline only looked at me blankly.
“I have to pee,” I said bluntly. “No? Urinate? Piss? Look, you know what happens when you drink a lot of liquid and have to expel it?”
I could see the light dawning on Cateline’s face. “The chamber pot is under your bed, Your Highness. Let me assist you –”
“No,” I said quickly. “No, that’s all right. I’d like some privacy, actually.”
“I don’t wish you to be injured –”
“Out,” I ordered firmly. “And close the door. Don’t let anyone in until I call you back.
Chamber pot. I could see I was going to love this place.
I slid out of bed and carefully to the floor, unable to trust my legs. All I was wearing was a long shirt or short nightgown, white and embroidered with tiny flowers. A shift, some corner of my mind supplied. I vaguely remembered reading in a novel somewhere about old-fashioned women wearing shifts under their clothes, but had never expected to need the word.
The chamber pot was where Cateline, the maid, had said. I pulled it out with some difficulty. I was weak from my illness, and Princess Sarabeth’s arms hadn’t been particularly buff to begin with, although there was some definite hint of muscle beneath the soft flesh.
The chamber pot was heavy and for some reason also decorated in flowers. Some sort of potpourri sat at the bottom, but neither design nor perfume was going to make this thing smell like roses when I was done with it.
Struck with sudden, horrific embarrassment, I positioned myself over the chamber pot and did what I needed to without looking.
I shoved the chamber pot back under the bed when I was done and hauled myself back into bed, wishing that if these people didn’t believe in underwear, they’d at least believe in toilet paper.
Once back in bed, I opened my mouth and called Cateline back. I didn’t envy her the job of emptying the chamber pot – but frankly, it was better than doing it myself.
Cateline came in, curtsied, and immediately retrieved the chamber pot from under the bed. I had to resist the urge to apologize.
Once she was out of the room again, another thought occurred to me. You see . . . all right, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed to be in this body, I was embarrassed to look . . . but I was also curious.
I had breasts.
The moment I thought it, I bent over in bed, overcome with sudden giggles.
I also giggled. That was . . . new.
I was still sort of giggly and punch drunk when someone knocked on the door. I quickly arranged myself in bed and called, “Come in!” expecting it to be Cateline.
It wasn’t Cateline. It was a man about my own age – or the age I was in my real body; Princess Sarabeth was probably only sixteen or seventeen.
The man’s hair was silvery despite his youth and he wore a long blue robe. I vaguely recognized him from before. Like then, this time he carried a bag at his side. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Ah,” I said, “you’re the Royal Physician, right? It’s always nice to meet a fellow doctor.”
The Royal Physician blinked at me. “You remember me?”
“No,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Hamon,” he said. “Now, why don’t you tell me your symptoms?”
“Gladly,” I said, and grinned brightly at him. To my astonishment, he blushed red and grinned back. It was the way I’d responded more than once when a pretty girl had smiled at me. I had to resist the urge to burst into giggles again.
This dream might be more fun than I’d expected.
As time passed and the dream failed to fade, I became considerably less amused. In the days that followed that fateful day of awakening, my hope of returning to my old life diminished rapidly. Most of my time was spent wallowing in self-pity with occasional visits from Queen Annabeth and the Royal Physician, who prescribed extra-bitter medicine with weird names. I began to appreciate the bitter tinge of paracetamol. Making a conscious effort to shed the self-pity, I embarked on a journey to discover more about my new body and the background of the person in whom my mind had taken up residence. After all, there seemed no way home from here.
Food in this place was good; I had nothing to complain about. It tasted like decadent French food, but this country was no France. It was known as the Farnorian Kingdom in the world they called Edonia. Information I collated from speaking with Cateline and the other maids revealed that Queen Annabeth, my elder sister, had recently ascended into the throne after King Alfrendo’s assassination. The politics of this foreign place were definitely not worth messing with.
After breakfast, it was decided that I should take a breather in the garden. The maids prepared a set of dress and accessories to be worn. Wow, I could now fully understand why women needed so long to prepare. A mere walk in the park required such detailed preparation, from putting on the dress to combing the hair. It was so uncomfortable to be dressed by others. Having them stare at my naked body, even though it wasn’t technically mine, was embarrassing at first.
Now, it meant nothing; I had grown accustomed to the body I had inherited. Rather, it was the elaborate dressing sessions that were an issue to me, however it dawned upon me that there was no point in arguing with the maids about dressing up. I simply stood there like a doll while they fussed with my hair and gown. Gone were the days where I could be out and presentable in five minutes. I had to be dolled up for at least an hour before the first step out of the room was taken.
One of the best parts of those first few days of adjusting were my frequent conversations with my new sister, Queen Annabeth. Annabeth refused to tell me much about myself (Hamon, the Royal Physician, had apparently warned her that my memories would be more likely to come back on their own. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that my memories were fine – they were just the memories of Dr James, not Princess Sarabeth), but we spoke of everything else under the sun. Mainly, though, she told me about the kingdom, until I loved it almost as much as she did.
Part of me half-wished this weren’t only a dream. Queen Annabeth was exactly the kind of woman I would have liked to have known in real life.
“Do you see this broach?” she asked me, after I had been there for four days.
“What about it?” I asked. It was about the length of her little finger, an emerald in the centre of intricate gold filigree. It was nice enough, I supposed – but no prettier than half the jewels Cateline insisted on draping over me each morning.
“It belonged to our mother,” Annabeth told me. “Our father gave it to her the first time they met. Listen.” Then she told me a story of three tasks which could have come directly out of a fairy tale.
On the sixth day, I asked Cateline to take me on a tour of the palace. I was feeling much stronger by then, and admired the armoury, library, study rooms, and the main court room as thoroughly as could be wished.
We went through a passageway leading to the training square, where men in leather armour were undergoing training with wooden weapons. Nostalgia washed through my being as I stood there watching, reminiscing about my childhood sparring with plastic toy swords with my brother.
Lost in my reverie, I exited the passageway and walked towards the group.
“Attention!” A sudden loud bellow pulled me out of my abstraction. The whole contingent of guards stood at attention immediately in perfect sync. A burly man, who appeared to be the instructor, marched towards us and bowed deeply. “Good morning, Princess Sarabeth.”
“Good morning.” Hearing the honorific took some getting used to, including my new name. “May I join in?” Although they tried to keep it discreet, Cateline and the other maid, Millicent, appeared to be distressed by the request.
My request seemed to stun the otherwise stoic instructor, who struggled to rearrange his uncertain expression into his composed mask. “You are welcome to join us.”
I broke into a triumphant and exuberant smile. Finally, a chance to play with swords again. The exhilaration that came with the thought of having some sort of fun again in this strange place coursed through my veins.
“Aron, you are paired with the princess.”
“Yes, Sir,” came the reply. A short guy broke rank to stand beside me. A wave of displeasure washed over at the thought of the instructor belittling me. Never mind, I will prove him wrong with the skills I picked up from attending fencing classes. I seethed as dogged determination replaced my initial excitement.
Removing the cloak with exaggerated force, I walked towards the weapon stand. After scanning the available choices, I picked up a wooden sword. Wow, it was heavier than I expected. It was nearly impossible to raise it with just one hand; the slender arm of this body was just not strong enough. Suppressed laughs were heard but cut short when the instructor coughed. Deciding not to embarrass myself, I picked up the thinnest weapon available, a wooden rapier. It had a nice balance.
After some demonstration by the instructor, each pair was split up for sparing practice. Aron bowed and I returned a curtsy. We moved into our sparing stances and stared into each other’s eyes anticipating the eminent clash of swords. Hmmm, he must be giving in to me, I thought, as I saw no attempt on his part to enter the deadly dance.
The rapier moved smoothly through the air, making a feint. He tried to parry it, falling for my trap. The rapier was swiftly turned towards the exposed neck. But he was quick; side-stepping from the attempted kill, he brought up his weapon in defence. I tripped on my skirt and stumbled. Aron watched me, amused.
“You try to fight in a skirt,” I told him, and he looked thoroughly taken aback.
I soon found that, despite the disadvantages of wearing a skirt while fighting, there was one major advantage: the skirt hid my footwork. After a few rounds of attacking, the feel of the rapier was becoming familiar and it seemed to become an extension of me. My body moved as if it had a mind of its own and attacked several times in quick succession. My legs automatically circumvented the skirt problem, as if used to it.
Aron was forced backward and finally began to take his opponent more seriously, but it was too late. A swift parry unbalanced him and the next moment the point of the rapier was grazing the skin of his neck. I withdrew from my offensive stance with an undisguised smirk written all over my face. “Thank you,” I said, as I bowed to my defeated opponent. The two maids by the side lines rushed forward to take the rapier and replace the cloak. The look of pure admiration on the guard’s face was definitely worth the strenuous workout.
I stared at the aching hand; this body must have known sword fighting. It was the muscle memory which returned at the nick of time, earning me a well-deserved victory.
If the instructor hadn’t known I could fight, that begged the question – who had taught me?
If he had been the one to teach me, why had he been so displeased that I wanted to fight?
I shook my head and put the questions out of my mind. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to stop training because of some old grouch.
I went back every day to train with them in an attempt to distract myself, hoping that my old life as James would be buried with each passing day.
One day, after the usual practice, I was about to return to my quarters.
“Princess Sarabeth! The Queen has summoned for your audience,” a maid shouted urgently from across the courtyard. I immediately picked up my skirts and headed her way.
“I bring bad news, Sarabeth.” Queen Annabeth spoke in a grave voice. “I need you to move to the Norhedin Fort.”
“May I know the reason, Your Majesty?”
Annabeth leaned forward, placing her elbows onto the table, hands clasped. There was no one around, but Queen Annabeth still hesitated. “It is hard for you to understand, as you have not recovered your memories. All I can say is that there is danger lurking around. It may be safer for you to be in the stronghold with our loyal retainers.”
Indeed, I could not understand, but if there was going to be another murder; I didn’t want to stick around. “Will you be coming along?”
“No, I can’t,” Queen Annabeth replied, with a tinge of bitterness in her tone. “I am the Queen.”
“When do I leave?”
“Tonight.” She paused before standing up and giving me a hug. “You must remember your past soon. I may not be able to protect you much longer.” A wetness glinted at the corner of her eyes. “Go now.”
The carriage was waiting in the courtyard. Around twenty armed guards on horses lined both sides of the carriage. The Queen was in a simple white gown, yet she stood out from the crowd. She was beautiful beyond words. Too bad I was not still a man, or I would have certainly been the first to court her.
The Queen stepped forward and gave me a reassuring hug. It had a warm, homely feeling which made me miss her. Letting go, she turned towards her entourage and gave a hand signal. A girl in leather armour stepped forward, holding a real rapier. It was an elegant weapon, with a black hilt ending with a big orange gem.
Queen Annabeth took the sword and placed it into my hands. “This is yours. I don’t think you can remember it, but keep it safe. One day you will remember and it will help you. Lady Gwenilin will be accompanying you. She will be your guardian; listen to her for advice. She will be an invaluable asset on your way to Norhedin Fort.”
The Queen hugged me tightly as my tears flowed uncontrollably. I never knew that leaving a stranger could be so heart wrenching.
“Time to go,” Lady Gwenilin reminded me softly.
I stepped into the carriage with a heavy heart. The door closed behind me. As I stuck my head out of the window, a sudden wave of emotion overwhelmed me. I shouted, “I will be back to see you soon!” I waved until the palace was out of sight.
The carriage passed through the north gate and continued to rattle forward. The rocking carriage made a good lullaby and soon dreams ensued.
I knew that the Queen and her world had to be a dream. My innate tendency to let my imagination escape from its confines and conjure up ridiculous fantasies got the better of me.
Interestingly, the menacing headache was gone. As I sat in front of my desk, the computer screen flickered. My fingers danced across the keyboard as I frantically documented the memory of this dream into my online diary, afraid to leave any part out.
“I might be able to script an award-winning movie based on these imaginative dreams,” I chuckled.
As I stretched my hands, my aching muscles sighed with relief. Glancing down at the watch, I saw it was eleven past midnight. Time to sleep; it would certainly be a long day tomorrow.
As I stood up, the ground began to shake. Earthquake? My hand stretched out to the chair for support, but it was too late. I felt the floor move towards me.
My body landed hard on the floor. My eyes flew open with a start as I adjusted back to the vision of the moving carriage. It was rocking violently. Lady Gwenilin was on high alert with her sword drawn.
“What’s wrong?” I tried to get back up into the chair.
“Huh? Why are they after me?” Fear saturated my voice.
“You are the next in line to the throne.” Gwenilin eyes darted around. “Duck!”
I felt my head being shoved forward. An arrow whizzed past my ear, impaling the cushion where my head had been resting.
I began to tremble as adrenaline pumped through my blood. I was scared stiff and my mind drew a blank. Gwenilin shouted orders over the chaos and some riders broke off to engage the enemy head on.
Crong! The carriage lifted off the ground as it struck something and landed hard with a loud crack. It began to veer uncontrollably to the right.
“The wheel must have broken. We need to get off! Now!” Gwenilin stood up and gave orders to the driver. The carriage came to an abrupt stop, causing my head to bash against the carriage door. Blood streaked down my face and the thought of death crept into my mind.
Gwenilin grabbed and dragged my shaken and stiff body out of the carriage and pushed me up onto one of the carriage horses. “Ride and ride hard. Follow the road and when you reach the town. Find help from Count Jarhima.” She secured the rapier to the harness and gave the horse’s rear a resounding slap.
“Who again! What?” I had question marks floating around my head but no answers came. My mind returned to fact that I was on a horse. “I have never ridden a horse before!” My feeble shout was drowned out by the fierce fighting behind.
My last farewell glance saw Lady Gwenilin standing in the middle of the road, killing any enemies who tried to break through. The galloping horse caused severe motion sickness that made me retch. I closed my eyes, wrapped my weakened hands around the beast’s neck, and trusted it with my destiny as it raced forward.
The trusted horse finally came to a halt. I was greeted with a deafening silence. I could only hear the massive panting of the exhausted horse along with its pounding heart. Summoning all my courage, I opened my eyes – although my hands remained doggedly around its neck. We were by the bank of a shallow, glittering stream. I didn’t see the main road nor anywhere that was familiar to me. Cursing silently, I gingerly dismounted the beast. I landed heavily on my behind as I lost my balance.
After making simple prayers for Lady Gwenilin and the rest of the guards, it was time to move on. I left the horse behind as I wasn’t sure I could get back on without help, and walked, armed with just the rapier and some dry ration found in the luggage on the back of the horse. The second leg of my journey into the unknown began.
After hours of trudging down the path, the muscles of my lower limbs began to scream in defiance. My breathing was also getting heavier. In the distance, a faint glow marked the coming of dawn. The faint light that the new dawn brought revealed a town at the foot of the hill. Unwilling to delay my arrival even by a few heartbeats, I embarked on a shortcut instead of taking the conventional dirt route.
The dew of morning caused the slopes of the hill to be extremely slippery. With the much-needed support of the trees that dotted the trail, I descended. Taking this shortcut was certainly a big mistake. Before I knew it, I had lost my footing and went rolling down the slope, giving myself another bump on the head. Fresh blood streaked down over the dried blood on my face. My vision blurred and darkness took over the gleam of the rising dawn.