Queen of Curses - Sample Chapter


WARNING – Spoiler Alert

If you haven’t ready the first novel, Thief of Curses, you may want to check that out first. Queen of Curses is a direct sequel to the first, so reading them out of sequence may impact your enjoyment.  

QUEEN OF CURSES


by Jessie D. Eaker

 

CHAPTER ONE

The Assassin

 

I brushed the soft end of the quill against my lips while I contemplated my journal. I had spent the better part of the morning gazing up at the rafters of the loft just over my head. I was trying to come up with a plan. Not just a sweep the floor and empty the chamber pot type list, but a real plan. I was a knight now. And knights… well, they always had a plan.

Breathing in the accustomed scents of old paper and ink inside an even older and musty keep, I sighed. This was serious business. A world-famous knight should be able to quickly develop a plan. If you listened to the minstrels, the ancient heroes had one ready on a moment’s notice. I didn’t believe that for a moment; the minstrels embellished everything! I, on the other hand, tended to side with the historians who seemed to agree it took at least one sleepless night.

So I had a little bit of a deadline here. It was already mid-morning and the parchment in front of me was still blank. I would eventually copy my wonderful plan into my scroll journal. I wanted to be sure future generations could gaze upon my plan with suitable awe and wonder.

But where to start? The blank parchment stared up at me. There were so many things that went into a plan. You had to have men. You needed horses. And of course plenty of food. Those nights camping out as we raced Wort, a generally disagreeable man with an equally disagreeable magic weapon called Havoc’s Sword, definitely taught me a good meal is hard to find on the road. We had eventually managed to prevent Wort from stealing the equally powerful Ruin’s Shield. I sighed. Prevention might be too strong a word since I sort of broke both of them. But I didn’t like to dwell on that. By my reckoning, any adventure you could walk, crawl, or even be carried away from, was definitely a good one.

I glanced to the left of my blank page and saw my likeness looking back at me. Zofie, actually Princess Zophia Olwenna Xernow of Bethnach, had taken pity on me when she saw my attempt at self-portrait and drew a better one for me. I had to say she did a good job of capturing—in ink, no less—my masculine chin and rather square, not quite twenty-year-old face. She had even shaded it to give the impression of my brown eyes and chestnut brown hair (for which my master threatened to kick me out if I didn’t keep cut short). I was quite the solid representation of maleness. I sighed. She had tried to improve on the original slightly, but it didn’t quite work: the likeness still looked pleasantly plain (my mother’s words, not mine).

From outside the nearby open window, I could hear the rhythmic rap of wood against wood in the courtyard. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to look. I had my own things to do. Zofie and Risten were sparring in the courtyard. After our last battle with Wort, Risten was determined to pound everything she knew into our heads in as short a time as possible—and Zofie and I had the bruises to prove it.

Risten Brightmare was an attractive young woman, a half dozen years older than Zofie and also a master-sword. Her blond hair had been pulled back in a long braid, and she was dressed in leather pants, white shirt, and red leather vest. When I first met her, I had thought of her as having the deadly beauty of a she-wolf. Now, having known her for a while, it only reinforced that opinion.

But Zofie was the one that drew my eye. She was quite the beauty with long, dark red hair, blue eyes, pale skin, and a smattering of freckles across her nose. Today, she was wearing a loose white shirt, vest, and trousers to move easily while sparring with Risten. While a little winded from her exertion, she looked in excellent health for someone supposed to be cursed to death by her brother.

I propped my chin on my hand as I watched her and Risten trade blows back and forth. Dammit! I’m not supposed to be gazing at her! I quickly looked back down at my paper, realizing I had once again become distracted.

I heard a particularly meaty whack and a howl of pain from Zofie.

“Focus!” yelled Risten. “Your mind is elsewhere today. That could have easily taken off your leg. Now start again.” And the rhythmic rap of wood restarted.

I knew why Zofie was having trouble focusing. Spraggel was overdue. In fact, we all were a little on edge because of it. She had penned a letter to Lord Merrick giving proof she had survived the attempt on her life, while also asking if he would support her against her brother. Merrick and Zofie’s deceased father had been good allies, making him Zofie’s best hope for assistance.

Spraggel was carrying the message since he was the only one known to the lord who wasn’t either supposed to be dead or wanted for royal thievery. They all voted against me carrying it because of my curse: it tended to give me bad luck, and at the worst of times. Being this Thief of Curses was not all it was cracked up to be.

I looked down at the curse anchor on the inside of my left wrist. To the untrained eye, it resembled a darkly inked tattoo, but it was far from that. It was an oddly curved, almost flowing, triangle sitting angled on my wrist. Around the perimeter was what looked like tiny writing that could be runes, but were too tiny to make out. Inside the triangle was a single stylized eye, but with the lid now closed. I had been told that it was an oddly shaped curse anchor. Even now, I got a chill looking at it.

Abhulengulus was the name of the curse in the old language—and he was a curse like none other, having his own intelligence. A quite disagreeable one, I might add. I generally called him Abe for short. When the eye on my wrist opened, he would talk to me—in my head, of course—and only I could hear him. He would even answer my questions if he felt like it. And lately, he hadn’t been feeling so generous. Ever since we stole the curses of Havoc’s Sword and Ruin’s Shield, and not to mention arranged it so that Zofie’s curse wasn’t going to kill her, Abe had been strangely quiet. He had answered a few of my questions, but when I got to the more advanced ones, he would say I had to give the secret word before he could tell me more. I had gotten tired of having my questions rebuffed and stopped asking. Another strange thing since Abe had started speaking to me: my luck had stopped turning out bad… mostly.

Previously, everything around me went wrong: from soured milk to causing minor accidents as I walked down the road. But now, like Abe himself, it had been strangely quiet. I couldn’t help but think something was up. And at any time, a really horrific event would happen. I shivered.

I pursed my lips as I considered Abe’s curse anchor. While I had used Abe to save Zofie’s life by modifying her curse, she was still cursed. Originally it was a transformation curse and every full moon, she would transform into a different animal. However, her curse also made her lose her original human form, and as each transformation occurred, it had been gradually killing her. But with the change she was bit by bit returning to her true form. In only a few more months, she should be completely back to herself, and then I could remove the curse. But until then, she was unable to use her myst—a side effect of the original curse.

Ah, yes. Myst. The ethereal substance behind what some would call magic or sorcery. Myst could provide light in the deep of night or let people travel great distances in the blink of an eye. It could even be used to arm a weapon. While most people in the world (yours truly excepted) could use myst to great effect, a select few known as myst seers could not only use myst but see and understand its inner workings. Zofie was among that number.

So for her, the lack of her myst skills was especially troublesome. In a sense, it was almost as if her left arm had been cut off.

Which is why the sword drills.

Outside the window, there was a particularly loud whack of wood against wood, and then Risten launched into a tirade about proper footwork. I guiltily looked down at my paper. I didn’t have much time. She would be coming for me next.

Taking a deep sigh, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer—it was time to write my plan. Now or never, as they say.

I dipped my quill into the ink bottle and boldly wrote the first two lines of my plan.

  1. Prove Zofie’s innocence.
  2. Restore Zofie to the throne.

I stroked my lips with the quill again. There had to be a third step. There was always three steps. But what could it be? And then it hit me. I dipped my pen and wrote the final line.

  1. Protect Zofie.

Which was likely going to be the hardest of the three.

I sat back congratulating myself. So there it was in three easy steps—a very simple plan. What more could one ask for?

I looked out the window at Zofie, her face a mask of concentration as she pressed an attack. And I grew suddenly sad. There was actually a fourth step, but I could never write it down. I guess because it wasn’t so much a plan, as a wish from the heart. And one that could never happen. Zofie was a princess, and if I had my way (see step number 2), she would be queen. But me? I was really nothing more than an apprentice scribe. Zofie had knighted me and even designated me as one of her suitors. But even with that, I was far below her station. Definitely not someone Zofie should seriously consider. A foolish wish from the heart had no place in such a plan.

“Hold.” I heard Risten say.

I glanced out the window. The sword-master stepped back, disengaging from their match. She didn’t even look winded. Zofie, on the other hand, was breathing hard and seemed a little irritated. “Why did you stop? You keep stopping when things are just getting good.”

Risten grinned. “Maybe so, but I’ve pushed you hard enough for today.” She patted Zofie on the shoulder. “You’re getting better. Your footwork has much improved. You might even stand a chance now.” She looked thoughtful. “That’s assuming your opponent is a greenhorn novice having an extremely bad day.”

Zofie shook her head. “I think I’m just a trifle better than that. You just can’t judge because you’re so damned good.”

Risten rubbed her chin and considered her cousin. “I think you have a point. You really should spar with someone other than me.” She turned toward my window and grinned evilly. “Coren! Get your ass out here! It’s time for your beating… I mean practice.”

I grimaced. I initially had been thrilled to receive instruction from one of the best sword-masters living today. But lately, it had become a little—painful. I sighed. There was no way out of this one. So I secured my papers from any wayward breezes and went outside to join them.

Risten held out her stick towards me as I approached, while I unbuckled my sword and gave it to her in exchange. She insisted I carry the weapon wherever I went.

Zofie had gifted it to me before I knew what it was: Majestic, the King’s Sword. The blade had a rich history, and legend said it would pick the person qualified to carry it. I think Risten was a little miffed that it had chosen someone with little sword experience. Something she was determined to fix as quickly as she could.

I moved to take my position, but Risten stepped close and whispered in my ear. “If you so much as raise a bruise on her, I will cut your privates off.”

“Don’t listen to her, Coren.” Zofie frowned and moved into her first stance, grinding the ball of her foot into the ground. “I can’t hear her, but I know she’s warned you not to hurt me. I have to master this. As your future queen, I order you to come at me with all you’ve got. Don’t you dare hold back.”

I looked from one to the other and couldn’t help but think I was doomed. Oh Creator, I silently prayed. Please save me.

To my utter shock, the Creator did.

Suddenly Risten straightened and turned toward the courtyard gate. She held up a silencing hand and we all strained to listen.

“Someone’s approaching,” announced Risten. She immediately took off at a dead run towards the keep. Zofie and I exchanged a glance and then took off after her.

The heavy oak door banged open as Risten led the way inside. My carefully stacked papers went flying at the sudden breeze. The two women rushed to the far window, which offered the best view of the road below us. I, on the other hand, went to collect my scattered papers.

Risten leaned dangerously far out the window. Zofie squeezed in beside her.

“He’s back!” Risten announced. “Spraggel’s coming up the road… but who’s that with him?”

Zofie leaned out the window trying to get a better view. “Are you sure it’s him?” she asked.

Risten nodded emphatically. “It’s Spraggel, alright. He’s easy to pick out. But I’m not sure about the other. A man for sure, wearing a large hat and in Lord Merrick’s livery.”

Zofie slowly pulled back from the window and sighed sadly. “Only one man. That doesn’t speak well for my request. It can’t be anyone of importance—they would have an escort.” She looked down. “That likely means that Merrick said no.”

Risten put an arm around her cousin’s shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “Ah, but think about it. Why send even one person if he was totally dismissing you?”

Zofie nodded. “You’re right. It could be a messenger. Perhaps he wants to independently verify that I’m still alive.” Zofie paused and glanced back toward the window. “But that doesn’t sound right either.” Zofie slowly drifted away from the window in thought.

Risten casually strolled over to where I was sorting my papers and handed me back my sword. She gave me a knowing smile and winked. I gaped at her. What was Risten up to?

She looked over her shoulder in Zofie’s direction, grinning mischievously. “Do you think you should run out to meet him? Like you did when you were eight.”

Zofie gave Risten a puzzled look. “I’m not sure it would be proper. And the only time I did that was when…” She paused, her eyes flicking from me to Risten. Zofie looked horrified.

“What?” I asked.

Zofie shook her head in denial. “It couldn’t be him.”

Risten raised an eyebrow. “You could be right, but I’d bet my last coin it is.” She patted me on the shoulder and leaned close. She whispered, “I’m looking forward to some fireworks.”

Risten then strolled over to toward the door. Zofie shot me a worried look. But just then, I heard the soft clomp of horses arriving in the courtyard. I stood and looked to Zofie for some clue, but she avoided my gaze.

What is going on? I sighed. I don’t think I will ever understand her. I followed Risten out the door and stepped out into the morning sunlight, where two riders approached us across the open courtyard. One I could easily make out as Spraggel.

The other man was indeed dressed in the livery of Lord Merrick, with a coat of gold and a bold shade of green, plus a pair of dark trousers. Perched on top of his head was a broad hat that shaded his features. I could tell he was clean-shaven and broad of shoulder, but that was all. He was also lagging behind Spraggel and chose to stop a short distance away.

Spraggel pulled up in front of us. He carefully dismounted as expected for one of his advanced years and then stretched his back. “I’m not used to these long trips.”

My master gave me a smile and a pat on the back but immediately turned his attention to Zofie. He gave her a slight bow, but then stepped closer and took her hands—his expression solemn. “I’m sorry Princess, but my trip was not successful. While the letter and the information I presented convinced him you were still alive, he refused to back you at this time. He said to tell you that in his view of the current situation, going against the new king now would prove too risky.”

Zofie’s shoulder’s sagged. “So it was all for naught.”

Spraggel brightened. “Not completely. Lord Merrick did say he would back you, provided you can provide undeniable proof of your innocence. While there is no love for the new king, he is afraid that without some kind of proof, the other lords won’t side with him.”

Zofie shook her head sadly “It’s as I feared. None of the nobles will help.”

Spraggel brightened. “Well, there is one.” He rolled his eyes toward the rider behind him.

Taking his cue, the man nudged his horse forward. While still seated, he whipped off his hat in a sweeping gesture and bowed deeply from the waist. “Which is why I came,” he said. “To help prove your innocence.”

Zofie gasped. “Galvyn? Is that you?”

The man smiled. “Indeed, my princess. It is I, Galvyn Llewelyn Merrick of Westward Castle. It has been a while, has it not?”

“I haven’t seen you in five or six years.”

He sat back up, threw a leg over his horse, and dismounted in a single smooth movement. “It’s been five years, four months, and two days.” He strode forward and took her hand, then brought it gently to his lips. “And every second has been torture.”

He quickly turned to Risten and bowed to her, but not as deeply as he had to Zofie. “And my beloved Risten. You are as radiant as I remember. No doubt twice as deadly now, too.”

He went to take her hand, but Risten pulled it back. “And you’re still the sleaze I remember.”

Galvyn was unfazed. He smiled and gave a slight nod. “As charming as always, my lady.”

He then turned his smile on me. “And you must be Coren, the Thief of Curses.” He extended his hand and we shook. I tried not to wince—his grip was so strong I could feel my bones cracking.

“I so want to thank you,” he said. “You have done a great service in rescuing her majesty. I am so glad you have brought my fiancée back to me.”

My eyebrows went up in surprise. “Fiancée?”

But he didn’t answer. Instead, he handed me the reins of his horse and leaned in closer. “Be sure she gets an extra handful of grain. I promised her if we made it today, I would treat her.”

I looked at him in shock. “I’m not…” But stopped when I realized he had refocused on Zofie and had completely dismissed me.

Zofie frowned. “Galvyn, while I admit, father did declare you one of my suitors, it had not been considered an engagement.”

Galvyn took Zofie’s hand again before she had a chance to think about it. “It’s true, your father never made it official, but as you can see, it’s best to quickly bind your allies. And what better way than by marriage? After we prove your innocence, we can wed in grand style. And with my father’s backing, I can easily bring the other lords around.” He tenderly brought her hand to his lips. “Besides, what other choice do you have?”

Zofie’s expression grew dark, and her face began to turn red.

Risten leaned toward me and whispered, “I told you there were going to be fireworks.” She straightened and grinned evilly. “Ah, Galvyn. She already has another suitor. Someone who is just slightly better than worthless, which puts him above you.”

Galvyn eyes went wide in shock. “Who is this cad? I will challenge him to a dual this instant. No one but I will have the hand of the princess.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but then I thought otherwise. Maybe it was best if she didn’t really consider me. After all, what army could I command? And if what we saw back on Mount Eternal was actually one of the Dark Avenyts, then we were going to need a big army.

Zofie, her face quite red, jerked her hand from Galvyn. She stepped forward and began to poke him in the chest. “I am not some prize goat that can be haggled over. I will make my own decisions about who I marry—if I ever do!”

Galvyn stood firm and grinned down at her. “Of course, my dear,” he said in a patronizing voice. “You are the princess, and I am at your command.”

Zofie trembled in fury and turned, taking two steps away before turning back.

Suddenly, the horse’s reins jerked out of my fingers, and the steed trotted over to Zofie. She turned just as the horse nudged her. She pushed its head away. “Galvyn, I…” The horse took another step toward Zofie and nudged her so hard she staggered backward, landing awkwardly on her butt.

Galvyn reached for the horse’s reins, “Now, now, Morning Glory. Don’t be rude to my future bride.”

Risten also reacted, putting a hand on her sword hilt and moving to put herself between it and Zofie.

Suddenly, the horse spun and gave a powerful kick toward Risten, which unfortunately caught her by surprise. It connected in her chest and sent her flying. She landed hard on her back and lay unmoving.

“Risten!” yelled Zofie and scrambled to her cousin’s side.

Galvyn stood in shock as the horse wheeled and bucked again aimed right for him. Galvyn snapped out of it at the last moment and dodged with the horse’s hooves barely missing him. Then the animal turned toward where Zofie knelt beside Risten and reared… aiming to come down right on her. I did the only thing I could think of: I tucked my shoulder and body-slammed the horse, bouncing off so hard I fell backward.

The horse staggered, catching itself mid-strike and barely missing the two women. Zofie was so focused on Risten, I don’t think she even noticed.

While I got to my feet, Galvyn ducked under yet another kick and reached for the horse’s reins. But the animal cleverly dodged and pulled away.

Galvyn shook his head. “What’s gotten into you, Morning Glory?”

Much to our surprise, the horse answered.

“I’m not your damn horse,” it said. “I carried your fat ass over hill and stream for the last three days! But that wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as you calling me Morning Glory. Killing you is going to feel so good.”

My eyes grew wide as realization struck. Hiding within an animal transformation was an assassin!

The horse wheeled and gave another kick in my direction before it spun and galloped a short distance away. Then it suddenly stopped and turned toward us. I thought he might be going to make another charge, so I hurriedly pull my sword and planted myself in front of Zofie. As I did, Galvyn drew his own sword and prepared for the next attack.

Spraggel snapped out of his surprised daze and did what he usually does in these types of situations—he dug in his enchanted pocket. It was some kind of portal which connected with Creator knew where. While it seemed to have an infinite storage capacity, it was sometimes difficult to locate items. “I know my sword’s in here somewhere,” I could hear him mumble.

The horse raised its head and I braced for it to charge, but instead it became enveloped in a purple glow—its outline gradually blurring. The equine shape quickly transformed into a tall, thin man, fully dressed in stylish tunic and pants. He strode toward us even as the last of his glow was still fading. He gave us a smirk. “Now that I’m free of that form, I can use my myst properly.”

Oh, Creator. A myst user. I tightened the grip on my sword and raised it toward him. I wasn’t too sure how much good a sword was going to do against charms, but at least I looked fearsome. And Risten had taught me that having ‘the look’ would put you at an advantage. Only, I wasn’t sure he was buying this whole fearsome thing.

The myst user held up his hand and continued to walk toward us, an evil grin on his face. Even I could feel his myst gathering. He was going to do something really bad.

“Abhulengulus!” I said under my breath. “Can I put a curse on him?”

The deep, dark voice of my curse answered. Even though I was used to him by now, I still shivered when he answered. And as usual, he was in a surly mood. Ah, a question! After days of ignoring me, you suddenly need my help. Oh, I rue the day I got stuck with you! He sighed dramatically. No, you can’t curse him until you steal his current curse. Remember, only one curse per customer. It’s not all that uncommon for really strong myst users to take on a minor curse to protect against a really bad one.

Unaware of the exchange going on in my head, Galvyn pointed his sword at the assassin. “You bastard!” he shouted in dramatic fashion. “Stop right this minute! I command it!” I was pretty sure he had practiced that line.

The assassin smirked. “Sorry, young lord. But I can’t do that. I’m here to capture the princess and her cousin, or if that becomes impossible, to kill them. And I honestly don’t mind killing the rest of you for free.” He looked toward Zofie. “But one must set their priorities.”

He raised his hand and pointed to the princess behind me. Then with a wicked smile, he released his myst.

“Watch out!” Zofie yelled.

How does one protect against a myst attack? Technically it was called a charm, but that seemingly harmless name hid a wide variety of ways to kill someone. I certainly had no idea what to do; Risten had not included it in my training. So I just did what came natural: I stepped in front of it and brought up my sword.

I felt the power of his spell hit my sword making it glow. The hilt grew hot in my hands, and I had time to be afraid of turning into something horrible or even disappear into nothingness.

And then the strangest thing happened. His spell bounced off.

It went into a nearby tree, splitting it down the middle. The assassin gave me a how-dare-you look. “You deflected my charm,” he stated matter-of-factly. He then quickly raised his arm and fired again.

The sword just seemed to move on its own, coming up to block the charm, and unfortunately, deflected it toward the keep, blowing off the heavy oak doors.

It had to be the Majestic doing it. I grinned. This was going to be easier than I thought.

Off to the side, Spraggel had continued to dig in his magical pocket with a sizable collection of items around his feet: an ink bottle, a shoe, an hourglass. He was absentmindedly chewing on an apple he had found with his free hand. I was glad he hadn’t found his sword yet.

The assassin paused, his confidence flagging.

“Give it up!” I shouted. “You can’t get through me.”

Furious, he raised his hand again and released another powerful burst of myst. My sword once more moved on its own and easily deflected it.

And to my horror, it headed right toward Spraggel.

“No!” I shouted.

Spraggel, completely unaware, was enveloped in purple light. He grimaced in pain, his apple falling from his grasp. He then began to shrink smaller and smaller until all I could see was a lump of gray fur lying on the ground.

Not Spraggel!

I gritted my teeth. This man was going to pay.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Risten slowly get to her feet. She was holding her chest. The horse’s blow must have done some damage. Zofie rose with her and tried to hold her back, but Risten pushed her away.

Grimacing, she looked my way as she drew her sword. “Fool!” she yelled. “The King’s Sword is not a toy. Get Zofie out of here before you kill us all!” She didn’t wait for a reply. She turned her attention on the assassin and charged.

Galvyn joined Risten and they both attacked. Much to my surprise, the assassin pulled his own sword from Creator knew where. He hadn’t had it a minute before. And he moved like a demon: his arms a blur parrying every move Risten and Galvyn made.

I fumed in anger. This couldn’t go on. I ached to join the melee, but I would likely be a liability instead of help—my skill level was nowhere near Risten’s or even Galvyn’s for that matter.

“Abe,” I said. “I need your help.”

You idiot. What are you thinking now?

“Can I steal his curse and then put a curse right back on top of him?”

Are you kidding? You have to touch him to steal his curse, and the one he’s using must make him stronger and faster than normal. You won’t be able to even get close.

I nearly shook with frustration. “Then what would you suggest I do?” I said through clenched teeth.

Run maybe.

“What!”

You heard me. Running is your best bet. He’s too powerful for you. And isn’t that what sword-bitch told you to do?

I shook my head. “I have to stop him!” I was frozen in place, conflicting emotions battling within me.

Risten got several swings in, but the assassin was ready and easily parried. Galvyn tried to help, coming from the other side, but surprisingly the assassin used his free hand to shove Galvyn away. As he stumbled, a portal appeared behind the young lord, and he fell backward through it. A heartbeat later, the portal reappeared facing downward about head high. Galvyn plunged out of it, landing hard on his back. He lay there stunned.

With Galvyn out of the way, the assassin grinned evilly and turned to Risten.

Risten glanced in my direction and yelled, “Get her out of here!” I could hear the frustration in her voice. I was ignoring all her training.

In our practices over the last couple of months, Risten had pounded into my head (and bruised body) that I had to protect Zofie at all costs. No matter if it meant leaving the sword-master behind. I wasn’t doing my job. And I knew it.

I grabbed Zofie by the arm tried and to pull her away. “I need to get you to safety,” I said. “We can barricade ourselves in the keep.”

But she shook me off. “I’m not leaving.” To emphasize the point, she scooped up her practice stick and brandished it like a sword. “He’s got to be running low on myst. He’s used a lot on the transformations and portals. Plus whatever acceleration curse he’s using has got to be taking a toll. He’s likely only got one good spell left. When that happens, we can rush him.”

I glanced at Zofie. Her face was the perfect mask of fury and determination—a goddess with vengeance in her eyes. And if I hadn’t already been infatuated with her, I definitely would have then. I raised my own blade to stand beside her.

Risten switched her sword to her left hand, her face a mask of pain. She had definitely broken something and was at a clear disadvantage. She needed to end this quickly. She rushed to strike the assassin but pulled back at the last moment as a portal appeared in front of her. It quickly disappeared, but another appeared gradually herding her in our direction. He slowly advanced his eyes gleaming in delight.

“This has been fun, but I must bring it to a close.” He raised his sword toward the sky and closed his eyes. For this one, sweat broke out on his brow and he shook with the effort. I could feel the myst massing… This was big.

A portal appeared beside Risten, dark and black, with cold radiating from it. I even could feel a gentle flow of air moving into it. I didn’t know much about myst casting, but I could tell this one was different.

Zofie gasped. “That’s a long-range portal. It could lead to anywhere in the world!”

I tried to pull Zofie away from it. But he blocked us and charged.

He attacked furiously. Risten and I defended but was forced back—closer and closer to the dark portal, until we were right in front of it. There was no way out. I could feel the cold from it, chilling my back. This was not looking good. Even though I would likely die, I braced to try and jump in to curse him.

Suddenly, a loud yell—actually a sort of “Yahhhh” war cry—came from behind the assassin.

Surprised, the assassin glanced behind him. Risten used the distraction to shove Zofie and me to the side.

And then Galvyn attacked.

The assassin whipped around to defend, but at a full run, Galvyn plowed into him and knocked him backward. The assassin stumbled, caught his heel on the edge of the portal, and fell inside.

The surprise on his face as he fell was priceless.

The assassin was enveloped by the darkness inside, and the portal snapped shut. The only evidence that we had even been there was the trampled grass.

Galvyn blinked at where the assassin had been. I think he was the most surprised of all of us. He grinned, sheathing his sword and squaring his shoulders. “He should have known better than to tussle with me.” He quickly turned to Zofie, brushing me aside, and took her hand. “Are you unharmed, my love? Let him show his face again, and he will taste my steel. I will do better protecting you next time.”

An unexpected voice joined the conversation. “The key words there are indeed next time.” We all turned toward the voice. It was high pitched, kind of gruff, and came from low on the ground. But the way it spoke—Spraggel?

A gray cat sat at our feet, gazing up at us with large, bright green eyes while its tail swished calmly back and forth.

“They will be back, your highness,” the cat said. “Your brother definitely wants you dead.”

Continued in Queen of Curses

 

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