THE PRINCE'S PROTEGE

 

#3 THE FIVE KINGDOMS

Following on from The Prince’s Son, continue reading the gripping Five Kingdoms fantasy adventure…

In the aftermath of the devastating coup, King Marten strives to rebuild his subjects’ confidence in the throne, but not all his councillors believe the young monarch is ready to rule alone. An assassin’s stalking him, his closest advisor has been murdered, and rumours have surfaced that the malicious god’s cult is reborn.

As Marten grapples with a dark, personal secret, who can he trust?

Meanwhile, fledgling spy, Lady Betha, successfully infiltrates a conspiracy. However, getting back out alive with information vital to the king’s survival may prove beyond her capabilities.

And as Rustam and Risada search for Risada’s kidnapped son, they find the dual-natured deity meddling with their lives again. If only they could tell which aspect: god or goddess, evil or good?

The fate of the land—and possibly mankind—depends on each of them completing their tasks. Problem is, with both sides of the deity now openly interfering in human affairs, will they all survive?

Publication date, 29th March 2019

Available from AMAZON and a variety of OTHER RETAILERS

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Excerpt #1 - THE PRINCE'S PROTEGE

With a twist, the two halves of the box separated. He placed them both on the table and stared at the thing inside. It lay coiled like a snake about to strike. Metallic reds and greens shimmered in waves along its ridged surface, making it hard to discern if it moved, or not. A faint smell, like burning incense, slithered down Marten’s throat.

Beads of sweat oozed onto his forehead. Sucking in a quick breath for courage, he reached into the casket and curled his fingers around the talisman. He lifted it out of the box. It felt heavy in his hand—far heavier than it should, for its size. And unexpectedly warm.

Raising it to eye level, he turned it over, studying the patterns that rippled across the strange substance. A tiny pinprick of ruby snared his attention, and his breath stopped as he met the glaring eye.

With a curse, Marten tried to drop the thing back into the box, but it was stuck to his hand.

No, it was clinging there, tiny claws piercing his skin as he sought with rising panic to shake it loose. He grabbed a knife from his belt and attempted to pry it away, but it clutched even tighter, little droplets of blood forming around each needle-sharp talon.

“Help me!” Marten hollered. His cry shrilled through the empty chamber, yet bounced back as though it hit an invisible wall. No help came.

A miniature tongue darted out of the lizard-thing’s mouth, lapping at his blood. A tail unfurled from where it had lain hidden, coiled around the creature, to arch above its head like a scorpion. And like a scorpion, it struck, the barbed point slashing through Marten’s sleeve, half way between wrist and elbow.

He screamed as the white-hot tip lanced his skin and burrowed into his forearm. The creature’s metallic body pulsed in time with the blood pumping through his arteries, and lethargy spread outward from the invading spike.

Marten’s mind filled with images of bloody war; of helpless victims crushed beneath an onslaught of obscene, twisted creatures, straight from Charin’s hell. Victims fell in charred and gory heaps, limbs torn off, eyes gouged out, entrails scattered like tangled ropes on an abandoned ship. The air shimmered with their mortal screams, and yet to Marten’s horror, he felt only exultation, wallowing in the pain and trauma that flooded through him, thirsty for more.

Heat caressed his back, soft as a lover, terrifying as an assassin. He could not, would not, look round to see what he could sense easing into being behind him with a whisper of scales and the stench of molten metal. Unseen wings fanned scorching air around him, searing his lungs.

Summoning what strength remained to him, Marten raised his knife and stabbed at the thing cleaving to his hand, but the blade bounced off the articulated carapace. There was only one thing left he could think of to try.

Marten drove his knife into his own arm, slicing after the metallic lance worming its way into his body. The sharp pain cleared his head, forcing the terrible images to recede. Moaning in anguish, he screwed up his face and jabbed hard. The knife point slid beneath the awful appendage, and he levered it back up and out of the gory hole in his flesh.

He dropped the knife and grabbed the lashing tail behind its spiked tip before it could strike again. He smashed the thing against the table, but its body was so hard he only jarred his shoulder and the agonising mess of his injured arm. He clung on to the menacing tail, but fear leached his remaining strength, and he knew his grip would fail soon.

Excerpt #2 - THE PRINCE'S PROTEGE

Dappled light filtered through the branches overhead, providing a respite from the bright afternoon sun. Rustam swayed from side to side in his saddle, absorbing the exaggerated swing of Fleetfoot’s movement as his horse negotiated the steep downward incline. Thick pine needles crushed beneath the animal’s hooves muffled the sound of their passage and gifted the air with a clean aromatic scent.

A facetious notion occurred to Rustam. If there’s anyone out here, they likely won't hear us coming, but they may well smell us before they see us.

Alongside him, one of Greylegs’ hind feet slipped. The horse executed an abrupt halt, jolting Risada forward onto his neck. She righted herself with a wince, followed by a quick scowl.

Rustam smothered his sigh before it escaped his lips.

“You do understand caris dew isn’t a cure?” he said. “It provides an energy boost to speed the healing process; it’s not an instant remedy.”

The affronted glare his companion turned on him was almost worthy of the old Risada. “You think I wasn’t listening?”

“I think you were hoping for a miracle. Was I wrong?”

“Hmph!” She patted Greylegs on the neck and urged him back into motion, sticking to the middle of the trail and forcing Rustam to follow in single file. “You have no idea how much you sound like your father,” she shot over her shoulder.

“I do?” a sad, half smile tugged at the corners of Rustam’s mouth as Fleetfoot ambled along behind the grey gelding. “I suppose I do. I’d all but forgotten how infuriatingly correct he always was.”

“Oh, and don’t forget modest. You share that trait too.”

Excerpt #3 - THE PRINCE'S PROTEGE

(Warning, spoilers ahead...)

 

“My lord, I bring news from the south.”

Urien’s impatient glare hastened him on.

“The Lady Risada has been spotted, riding towards Darshan. She has the baby with her.”

Urien’s face broke into a huge grin. “Perfect!” He swung around to face Betha. “We no longer need wait for Marten’s get to grow; Halnashead’s will do just as well. Perhaps Risada will turn out to be more pliable than you, and she has no husband to interfere.”

Good luck with that, Betha thought, even as the potential implications struck her. Edlund caught on almost as quickly.

“Then we don’t need her after all?”

Urien tilted his head, considering. “We should keep her as a backup. Infants are so fragile; if something happens to Halnashead’s child, we will still have the bloodlines we require.

Edlund visibly deflated. Urien walked over and patted him on the shoulder.

“Patience, Ed. Keep her body healthy and unsullied; you can have it later. The anticipation will only make the end sweeter.”

“And her mind?”

Betha shuddered at Urien’s smile.

“Break it. She made a fool out of me, and I need real obedience this time. Go, do what you do best.”