Nothing is quite as it seems in this thrilling YA fantasy adventure by Jillian Boehme, The Stolen Kingdom!
For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.
When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love.
The Stolen Kingdom will be available on March 2, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
[dropcap type=”circle”]I[/dropcap] pulled the pen from the wall where it had lodged itself after a particularly well-aimed throw. A trail of thick ink snaked its way toward the floor, eliciting barely veiled giggles from my three charges.
It would have felt good to knock their heads together, just once. “I take no pleasure in sending negative reports to your parents,” I said, laying the pen pointedly in front of the offender—ten-year-old Rupert, youngest son of Lord Gryndock of Sailings Port.
“It was an accident, my prince.” But the gleam in Rupert’s eye said something different.
“In any case, you’ll not be excused until you’ve scrubbed the ink from the wall.” I reached for the brass bell next to my pile of books and maps.
Rupert’s mouth dropped. “I don’t know how to scrub ink from a wall.”
“Then it’s time for you to learn.” I rang the bell. “Nathan, Figg, you’re excused.”
My two exonerated pupils hastily gathered their things—probably because they feared I’d change my mind. A servant entered as the boys made their way to the door, my brother Cannon close on his heels.
I ignored him and addressed the servant. “Please bring Master Rupert something to clean the wall.” I gestured to the ink stain, which had spread almost to the baseboard.
“Enjoying your stint as a stand-in tutor?” Cannon had a way of saying things that made me wish he’d swallow all his teeth and choke on them.
“Is there something you wanted?” I straightened my maps and stacked them on the books, one eye on Rupert, who had slid down in his chair with a dark expression.
“Just to let you know that Father wants to see you,” Cannon said. “I figured I’d catch you in here boring young boys to death.”
His disdain for me was palpable as always, but my dread at having to speak to my father outweighed any feelings of irritation toward my brother. I was nothing more than a spare, and neither of them let me forget it. When I was younger, I once tried to remind Cannon how he’d almost died of the Black Death when he was small. He’d grabbed my collar and pulled my face so close to his own that my eyes crossed.
“As long as Father lives, I will never die,” he’d hissed.
I was nine. It terrified me. I knew of the dark magic that Cannon stood to inherit along with the throne, and I believed what he said.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“In his study, making last minute plans for his journey. Don’t keep him waiting.”
I swallowed the indignant reply that buzzed behind my lips. “I’ll see him as soon as Rupert has finished cleaning the wall.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Cannon walked over to Rupert and clapped him on his shoulder. “Off you go, lad. Leave the cleaning to those whose station demands it.”
Rupert looked at Cannon, wide-eyed, and then at me. I stood frozen by the cold rage that shot through me, balling my hands into fists and setting my jaw against words that, if spewed, would’ve been inappropriate in front of a ten-year-old.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Rupert offered as he hastily grabbed his things and left, almost running headlong into the servant who had returned with a bucket of soapy water.
“Take care of that,” Cannon said, gesturing to the wall.
“You have no right to undermine my authority.” My words were tight, teeth clenched.
Cannon rolled his eyes. “Teaching Elred’s pupils while he attends his niece’s wedding isn’t authority.”
“Hardly. But your life would be more interesting if that were true.” He started walking toward the door. “At any rate, you’re free to see Father now. You’re welcome.”
I picked up an inkwell to lob at the back of his head, but thought better of it. After the door had closed behind him, I placed the inkwell on the table and let out a long stream of air—softly, so the servant wouldn’t hear. Then I straightened my tunic with a sharp pull and made my way to Father’s study.
I stood for long seconds before the closed door, flanked on either side by a guard standing at full attention.
“My prince,” they both said, their eyes never meeting mine. Not even the palace guards took me seriously.
I wiped my palms on my breeches, then knocked three times, as Father required.
Even through the heavily paneled doors, his voice had the power to make my bones wilt. I turned the brass knob and pulled the door open. King Selmar II of Perin Faye—my father—sat in his usual splendor at a desk three times the size it needed to be, as though the vast space at his elbows made him feel the reach of his power with every stroke of the pen. I’d caught Cannon more than once running his fingers along its surface, coveting.
To me, it was just a desk. “Your Grace,” I said, bowing. “Close the door, Alac.”
I pushed my back against the door until it latched behind me, facing my father at all times—another royal requirement. He regarded me with mild interest—the best I could hope for—as I approached him. His silk robe was encrusted with a ridiculous number of gemstones that winked in the light of the candelabras sitting at either end of the desk. The crown resting on his pale blond head was a mute reminder of his station. I swore he slept in it.
He rested his quill in its holder and folded his hands before him. “I’m leaving at first light.”
I nodded. For a brief moment, I thought perhaps he was going to invite me to join him, the way Cannon had joined him on his late-summer progresses in the past. But that was less likely than his telling me I had an ounce of worth in the royal household, and I didn’t want to go, anyway.
“I’ll be cutting my journey short, of course, considering Cannon’s upcoming wedding.” As if I didn’t know that. “You’ll need to offer him your support while I’m away.”
“I’m sure Cannon doesn’t need anything from me.”
Father’s eyes blazed silently. “I don’t need to remind you that, until he has a son, you’re second in line for the throne.”
I shrank smaller in my skin. The throne—and the dark secrets that came with it—was never something I’d aspired to.
“Yes, Your Grace.” Holy God, I hated calling him that.
“There’s something else.” Father reached into his top desk drawer and pulled out a plate and a small dagger.
I quailed. I’d seen the dagger before, glowing with an unearthly light as he cut the flesh of his own hand and spilled the blood into a crystal goblet. He hadn’t cried out or even flinched—just cut his flesh as though it were a sack of grain. I was six, hiding beneath a tablecloth in my father’s private chapel, where I knew I wasn’t allowed. And I remembered it like it was yesterday.
Father took the plate and moved it beneath his hand. As I watched, thirteen-year-old terror clenching my heart, he made a small cut in his palm, deep enough to draw a steady stream of blood droplets onto the pristine, white plate.
“I trust there will never be a need for the magic to pass to you,” he said, his eyes on the blood. “But I can’t leave anything to chance.” Before I could react, he grabbed my hand and slashed it with the dagger. I sucked in a hot breath, more from shock than pain. As I watched, horrified, he pulled my hand over the plate and allowed my
blood to mingle with his own.
By the time he released my hand, I was too mesmerized by what was happening on the plate to pay the pain much heed. As my father uttered words I could barely hear and couldn’t understand, the blood sizzled and smoked, swirling slowly on the plate until it formed a perfect circle. Instead of crimson, it was black.
Wordlessly, he tipped the plate so that the darkened blood spilled into a metal box the size of a shoe buckle. He flipped its hinged lid closed, and I swore I saw, for a moment, a thin, black mist swirl around the box before quickly dissipating.
“Take this.” He held out the box, which was attached to a chain. “Wear it.”
I didn’t want to touch it, but refusing the king wasn’t something even a son could do. Especially a second-born.
“Why?” I whispered. “For protection.”
No way in damnation did I want that. “From what?”
“From harm.” I must’ve had a stupid expression on my face, because his grew impatient. “I wouldn’t go on this progress if I didn’t need to waste time convincing people of the merits of my war effort. If something were to happen to me, the transferal of the power to Cannon could be delayed. You know how dangerous that would be.” It was what the Thungrave kings had prided themselves on—a glorious history I’d been forced to memorize. A century ago, a dark magic had appeared that roamed free, destroying anything in its path.
The Thungrave ritual, passed from father to son, ensured that the magic would stay contained.
My father refused to acknowledge the truth—that the roaming magic was never meant for the Thungraves, and that using a ritual to harness its power didn’t make it rightfully ours.
But I couldn’t say that.
Reluctantly, I took the locket and held it in my palm. “That’s it? I wear it and nothing can hurt me?”
“And when you return, I can take it off?”
His smile was slow and unnerving. “You won’t want to take it off. But, no.” He pressed his fingers together, tip to tip. “Wear it until Cannon produces an heir.”
“That could take years.”
“Then you’ll wear it for years,” he said.
“Why now?” I asked. “You’ve gone on progresses every year without making me wear a locket.” Or whatever it was.
An odd expression passed Father’s face. Sorrow? Fear? “Because I’ve decided it’s necessary. You may not be the crown prince, but you still have a duty to the throne.”
“A throne kept with stolen magic.”
I knew I shouldn’t have said it as soon as the words left my mouth.
Father’s eyes went cold, his face hard.
“I am the magic,” he said, “as will Cannon be after me. Only we can contain this magic. Only we can control it.”
My chest tightened. “Do you control it, Father? Or does it control you?”
He fisted his hands on the desk, a sign that I was bordering on angering him beyond his ability to contain it. “The kingdom was almost destroyed by dark magic over a century ago. If my great-grandfather hadn’t received the gift of the magic, Perin Faye would be. No. More.” He pounded a fist on the table with each word.
I swallowed, wanting to tell him once and for all that I hated the magic—and that I didn’t want the throne, anyway. But I’d angered him enough; one more ill-spoken word would see me on the receiving end of wrath that seemed beyond human.
I’d been there before and never wanted to see it again.
“Yes, Your Grace.” It’s what I always said, because what else was there to say?
“Tell me what is required.”
I sighed. “The breath. The blood. The words.” “And where will you find what you need?” “In your chapel.”
He nodded. “And the missing element?”
“Cannon has the scroll, which he will give to me as soon as he becomes king.” In other words, as soon as Father was dead.
Father regarded me with eyes that were still smoldering. “Wear the locket beneath your tunic. Let no one see it. And don’t open it.”
Reluctantly, I slipped the chain over my head and tucked the blood-filled box beneath my tunic, where it left a strange bump.
He nodded once. “That will be all.”
No fatherly smile, no warm expression that perhaps I meant something to him. He wasn’t the father I remembered from childhood—the one who would sit me upon his knee and give me “horse rides,” the one who held my hand and Cannon’s at court functions. That father had left the day my grandfather died, leaving him the throne and the legacy of magic that forever changed him.
I’d be damned if I ever let that happen to me.
At first light, the royal entourage gathered in the courtyard, preparing to leave. I stood dutifully at the base of the stairs, the blood locket pressing uncomfortably against my chest beneath my tunic.
When Father finally swept onto the patio, the light seemed to dim, as it often did when he first appeared. Either most people chose to ignore it, though, or else they were so used to the effect that it didn’t bother them.
It would never stop bothering me.
He clasped Cannon’s shoulder before climbing into the carriage. Cannon stepped back, hand on his hip as though the universe would be his as soon as Father rolled out of sight.
After a few last-minute adjustments and orders, the entourage started off—Father’s carriage, a supply wagon, and twenty men-at-arms, bearing the king away to the north. Already, I tasted freedom. Not only would my father’s heavy presence be gone for four weeks, but also I was paid so little mind to begin with that I was sure I’d be nigh invisible.
I turned and entered the palace, my steps light. The first thing I’d do was to take off the annoying blood locket. I wouldn’t let the magic rule me the way it ruled my father.
Not today. Not ever.