Heir of Crowns and Curses
Read on for a preview of the fourth book in the Kingdom Legacy series - Rhyss's story!
“I can’t believe it. They want me to be a what?”
I stared in dismay at the fancy script gracefully inscribed across the thick cream paper.
You are cordially invited to the dedication of Crown Prince Coran of Calia, to be held in our capital city on the third day of our annual Haerfest Celebration, in honor of the autumn season …
And underneath, in the blocky handwriting I recognized as being from the hand of one of my best friends:
Jennica and I would be honored if you would stand as Coran’s godfather. We can think of no finer person to be his future mentor.
The handwritten part of the note was signed by both my friend King Beyan and his wife, Queen Jennica.
The rulers of the northern kingdom of Calia.
“Did you get one of these too?” I held out the paper.
Across the table, Farrah reached over and plucked the ivory invitation from my unresisting fingers, narrowly avoiding her mostly full mug of mead. I grabbed mine up and took a drink.
Or tried to. It was empty. I turned it upside down, just to make sure. Yep, nothing there. Of course. Just my luck.
"Would you like some more mead, Rhyss?"
I looked up, sighing in relief. "You're an angel, Sylvie. That's why you're my favorite barmaid here at the Dragon's Tail."
Sylvie grinned as she refilled my mug. "I'm the only barmaid here at the Dragon's Tail. And you two—" she nodded at Farrah, who was reading the letter but looked up to give a brief nod of acknowledgement "—are in here often enough that I can tell when you're running low on drink even before you know."
"That's why you're the best barmaid in the best tavern in Orchwell."
Sylvie rolled her eyes. "It's the only tavern in Orchwell."
She topped off Farrah's cup, although it didn't really need it. "And I may be an angel, but don't think that flattery means I forgot your tab."
I groaned. Just add that to my already unlucky day. "I'll get it to you soon."
Sylvie snorted. "That's what they all say. You're lucky I like you. And that Farrah's been nice enough to pay down your bill from time to time." With that, the barmaid left to attend to another table.
Farrah, meanwhile, had finished reading the invitation, and was going over it again carefully, running her finger from word to word as if she needed to make sure she was really seeing what was written there. She burst out laughing. “Well, Rhyss. It looks like you’ve acquired yourself a baby.”
I frowned as I ran a pale, freckled hand through my bright red hair. “Not like that, gods forbid.”
“The chances of you actually becoming Coran’s parent are slim. But that’s not what gets me.”
Farrah laughed even harder. “The part about being his mentor.”
Even if I was unsure about the whole godparent thing, her comment made me feel defensive. “Hey. I’d make an excellent mentor.”
Farrah laughed so hard she couldn’t speak for several moments. “Uh-huh, sure. You keep believing that.”
I toyed briefly with the idea of pushing the issue, and then decided to drop it. This was Farrah, after all. She knew me too well, and was too often right about, well, everything.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
Farrah was waving the cream-colored paper in the air at me. I plucked it from her hands and stared at the fancy script again.
“Do I really have a choice?" I stared morosely at the invitation in one hand, and with the other, picked up my mug of mead and downed it one swallow. "I’m going to be the godparent to the heir of the Calian throne.”
A few weeks later, Farrah and I traveled from our homes in the kingdom of Orchwell to its nearest neighbor, the kingdom of Calia. It was a trip we both knew well; as a Seeker, Beyan had been our former employer, and one of our dearest friends, before his marriage to the Calian princess, Jennica. He was still one of our dearest friends, as was Jennica. But instead of roaming the Gifted Lands Seeking out dragons, he now spent his time helping rule a kingdom.
Even after all this time, it still took some getting used to.
As if reading my thoughts, Farrah asked, “How long has it been since Beyan got married to Jennica and moved away from Orchwell?”
I scrunched my brow in thought. “Two years? Three? I lose track of time.”
Farrah shook her head. Her violet hair, indicative of her half-Fae heritage, fell in front of her ebony face, and she tucked it behind her ear. I thought she was going to make a quip about time’s not the only thing you lose track of, or something similar, but instead she was marveling about something else. “I honestly never thought I would have seen the day when Beyan got married, much less had a child. Never mind marrying into royalty. It had just been the three of us, for so long. I guess I thought things would never change.”
“You’ve known him longer. I suppose it did come as a bit of a shock when it happened. But things can’t stay the same forever.”
“That’s true.” Farrah looked … sad? Wistful? I couldn’t quite read the expression on her face. For some reason, it worried me. Farrah was usually the calm, logical, competent one. Sentimental was not a word I’d ever use to describe her. She turned that indecipherable look on me. Now I was really worried. “One day the same thing might happen to you and me.”
“I hardly doubt I’ll go off and marry a princess.”
Farrah shrugged. “You could. But that’s not what I meant. Ever since Beyan left the field, it’s been harder to find work. We were lucky with Kaernan’s commissions, but it’s not like he takes them all that often—”
“But he did recommend us to his other Seeker friends.”
“Who had their own established teams and only hire us if their regular team can’t do the job. It’s not like it was before. We might end up working for different Seekers instead of being hired together. One of us could move away from Orchwell. Or maybe one of us decides to leave the help-for-hire business entirely. My point is, things are changing, but it feels like we’re not choosing the changes, the changes are choosing us, and I hate feeling powerless about it all.”
Farrah looked away. I was too stunned by her outburst—so unlike her—to have a response, and for a while the only sound was the clop-clop-clop of our horses’ hooves as we traveled the well-worn road north to Calia.
Finally, I ventured, “Are you okay, Farrah?”
She sighed heavily. “Yes, I am. Or, I will be. Don’t worry about it.” Her tone told me the conversation was over. At least, for now. Quite possibly, permanently.
Farrah changed the subject. “What did you get as a dedication gift?”
Fine by me if she wanted to talk about something else. Dealing with emotions was never my strong suit, anyway.
I patted the satchel attached to my saddle. “Just a little token, really. Baby’s first sword.”
“Rhyss. You didn’t.”
“Well, he might need to go out in the world adventuring one day. Rescue princesses, stop evil sorcerers, slay dragons. Well, forget that last part. He’d be disowned by his parents if he did that.”
“But what is a baby going to do with a sword? Is it a magic sword?”
“Um. No. It’s just a regular sword. But really, what is a baby going to do with anything? It’s not like he’ll remember his dedication, anyway. Someday his godfather Rhyss will teach him how to use that sword, so really, I’m ensuring we’ll have a strong bond in the future.”
Farrah snorted. Miffed, I asked, “What did you get him?”
“I bought a simple necklace with a small golden sun for a pendant.”
Now I snorted derisively. “Sounds impressive. I’m sure a newborn baby will love jewelry.”
Farrah ignored my comment. “And then I enchanted it so when he wears it, it will mark him as a Friend of the Fae. It will keep him safe from the tricks and glamours of minor faeries, protect him from the Fae who might inhabit the woods and waters of the Gifted Lands, and its status will be recognized by the Faerie royals, King Finvarra and Queen Oona of the Seelie Court, should Prince Coran ever visit.”
I swallowed the witty comeback I had been preparing, and instead repeated, “Sounds impressive.”
This time I truly meant it. Farrah’s gift would definitely be useful for a royal child and future ruler.
Farrah must have caught my changed demeanor, because her face changed from smug to sympathetic. “I’m sorry about my earlier comment. A sword is a great gift. He’ll grow into it, and I’m sure he’ll love training with you when he’s old enough.”
“It’s really a silly thing to give him. I mean, Coran is the Crown Prince of Calia. He can have hundreds of swords made for him, much finer than the one I’m giving him. Magic to boot, if that’s what he wanted. He doesn’t need the absolutely worthless one I’m giving him.”
Now it was Farrah’s turn to ask, “Is everything okay?”
I laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “You’re worried about things changing. I’m wondering …”
I sighed as the words came out in a rush. “Why Jennica and Beyan picked me to be the godparent for their child. For the heir to the throne, of all things! It should have been you—you have magic, after all. Or I’m sure Beyan has a Seeker cousin or knows someone in Orchwell who is still an active Seeker. But aside from being a friend of the royal couple, I don’t have anything extraordinary to offer Coran. It just doesn’t make sense to me, that’s all.”
We rode on in silence. I pretended to admire the scenery around us—the green of summer was beginning to give way to the reds and golds of the coming autumn.
Inwardly I chastised myself. Now who was being all emotional? But, I realized, it was a sentiment I had been harboring for a while, since we had gotten our invitations to the dedication. I just hadn’t allowed myself to fully face my feelings about the situation until just now. But as long as Farrah and I were getting personal …
When Farrah finally did say something, it was with her usual unflinching honesty, the trait that seemed so harsh and yet, over time, I had learned to appreciate. “You’re right, Rhyss. At first blush, you do seem like a surprising choice. But Beyan and Jennica wouldn’t have wanted you specifically without a good reason. And sometimes traits like bravery and honesty and trustworthiness are more important than having magical powers or an inherent ability like Seeking. You’re important to the royal couple, and therefore you’ll be important in the life of their child. And that’s all that matters.”
I hope so. I didn’t say the words out loud, but Farrah gave me a gentle smile, as if she had heard what I’d been thinking.
"Is there anything else bothering you?" she asked.
"Yes, actually," I said, smirking. "Shouldn't it be godsfather, not godfather? Although godsfather is harder to say." I tried out each word. "Godsfather. Godfather. What do you think?"
Farrah groaned. "I think you should spare me your superstitious nonsense."
Talking about the gods never failed to get a rise out of Farrah. The religious beliefs in the Gifted Lands was as varied as its people—some believed in the old gods, as I did, that were rumored to have founded our kingdoms. Some worshipped the Fae, whose ancient magic permeated our human realm to varying degrees, depending on where you lived. And some people didn't believe in anything at all, unless it was something they could see with their own eyes and create with their own hands.
Farrah's half-Fae heritage made her uncomfortable with the idea of Faerie worship. "I believe in myself, but not like that," she would quip whenever the subject came up.
I grinned. "I haven't yet, and I don't plan to, ever."
Farrah grimaced and sighed. "Lucky me."
We fell into a companionable silence. We passed a few farms and single homes along the way, then reached the modest-sized town on the outskirts of the Calian capital city. From there, it wasn’t much longer until we reached the open gates to Calia’s capital, with its cool gray stone palace rising in the distance.
We passed through the city gates, which were, as usual, bustling with merchants, traders, visitors, and Calian citizens entering or leaving the city. Farrah scrutinized everything as we walked by—the city walls, the gates, the cobblestone streets, buildings, and even the majestic fountain in the city square.
“Would you stop gawking? You’re acting like you’ve never been to Calia before, when we both know you’ve been here dozens of times.”
Farrah stopped examining everything and gave me an exasperated look. “That’s not why I’m looking, silly. I'm just impressed at how quickly the capital was repaired after the recent attack. You can hardly see any damage at all.”
Oh, yes, that was right. Several months ago, Rothschan, a fellow Gifted Lands kingdom, had caught Calia off guard with a surprise magical attack. That Rothschan wanted revenge for the overthrow and subsequent death of King Hendon, who had been a beloved knight of Rothschan before becoming a not-so-loved king of Calia, was not a surprise. That the kingdom used magic—which they outright mocked, feared, and despised—to attempt that revenge was a surprise. One that had nearly succeeded in ruining Calia, and had definitely caused significant damage to her fair capital city.
Looking around, I saw that Farrah was right in her assessment. “Queen Jennica and King Beyan must know how to inspire their subjects. A generous treasury doesn’t hurt, either.”
“I wish we had been there to help,” Farrah said. “Although it sounds like they had things under control. For the most part.”
I chuckled. “I think that was the first time we missed all the action. Who would have thought going on a Seeker commission would be less exciting than staying home and going to visit friends?”
“Not only was I surprised when we came home to find out the news about the attack on Calia, we got a second surprise when Jennica and Beyan announced her pregnancy.” Farrah chuckled as well, remembering. “Although, with everything that happened, it was smart of them to wait until they could be sure Rothschan wouldn’t try to attack again.”
I thought for a minute. “That’s right; Beyan mentioned they were just about to announce it when all the chaos with Rothschan erupted. But are they sure Rothschan won’t retaliate in some way? That’s a kingdom with a long memory that holds even longer grudges.”
“Didn’t Beyan tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“They have an ally from Rothschan now. Several, in fact, and some of them had been refugees living in Calia for a long time. But this new ally has the magical ability to overthrow the kingdom’s current royal family and rule in their place, if she chose to. And the Rothschan royals know it. So there’s a sort of stalemate between the two kingdoms right now. A rather reluctant truce, if you will.”
“Honestly, Rhyss, don’t you remember? It’s pretty big news; Beyan had to have mentioned it.”
I frowned, trying to recall my last conversation with my friend. I had been so surprised by his “Jennica and I are having a baby” announcement that I may have missed out on the rest of what he had been saying. I’m sure as King Beyan, his subjects hung on his every word, but my friend Beyan knew exactly what I—his longtime friend and former traveling companion—was like.
But I had always paid attention when it counted. Like if our group was under attack by bandits. Or we had to tread quietly because a dragon was near. Things like that.
Farrah shook her head at me, like she was annoyed, but it was more from force of habit than anything. After all the years of traveling together, she knew what I was like, too. She gave a heavy sigh of fond exasperation. “Well, at least you remembered that Rothschan attacked Calia, even if you didn’t recall the details. That’s something, at least.”
“Don’t worry, if Jennica and Beyan talk about it, I’ll act like I know what they’re talking about.”
Farrah laughed. “Beyan will see right through that. Besides me, he’s the only other person who knows you all too well.”
Our conversation had taken us into the heart of the capital, past the Merchants’ District, beyond the Academy of Magical Arts that Queen Jennica had founded a few years ago, and right to the palace gardens. Just beyond was the fountain-lined walkway leading to the Calian palace. The shimmering blue-and-green cobblestones in the palace courtyard always gave me the feeling I was underwater. No matter how many times I had been here, the palace never ceased to impress me.
Farrah giggled at me. “Now who’s gawking?”
I playfully poked her—no easy feat, since we were both atop horses. “Still had to believe rough-and-tumble Beyan lives in this fancy place.”
Her grin softened as she stared at the majestic building before us. “Changes,” was all she said.
As we approached, the door to the palace flung open dramatically. A musical voice proclaimed, “Lord Rhyss and Lady Farrah have arrived! Welcome to Castle Calia!”