Crown of Secrets: The Hidden Mage
An enemy kingdom. A powerful prince. And an Academy for mages.
To stay alive, Verene will have to uncover her hidden power.
Verene is a disappointment to her entire kingdom--the first royal ever born without power, despite her mother being the most powerful mage in history. So when she's sent to the Academy in neighboring Kallorway to forge ties with her people's traditional enemies, she's determined to succeed and prove she can still be of value to her kingdom.
Prince Darius of Kallorway is the strongest mage in his family--and the only reason his weak father is still clinging to his throne. Starting at the Academy at the same time as Verene, the crown prince is cold and distant and shows no desire to connect with her. Instead he seems suspicious of both her presence and her claimed lack of power.
Surrounded by unfamiliar politics and long-held enemies, Verene discovers that some at the Academy want her gone by whatever means necessary. As the threats grow ever more sinister, she starts to question all of her assumptions. The hardened prince might just be her best hope of survival and--even more shockingly--he might be right about her power. If Verene wants to survive Kallorway and the Academy, she must uncover her hidden powers and take her true place among the mages.
If you enjoy strong heroines, fantasy worlds, adventure, intrigue, and clean romance, then try this new adventure in the Spoken Mage world now!
The Hidden Mage reading order:
Crown of Secrets
Crown of Danger
Crown of Strength
Crown of Power
Verene lives in a world of written power--a world turned upside down by the first ever Spoken Mage. If you missed the adventures of her mother, Elena, then check out the completed Spoken Mage series, starting with Voice of Power.
Release date: October 11, 2020
Publisher: Luminant Publications
Print pages: 292
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Crown of Secrets: The Hidden Mage
Something hit the side of the carriage so hard it tipped to one side, teetering for a moment on the verge of falling before crashing back onto all four wheels. Our forward momentum lurched, slowed, and halted completely as the carriage continued to shudder and rock.
I picked myself up from the far side of the vehicle, where I had been thrown by the violent movement. Thankfully I was riding alone, or I would have ended up with a pile of others on top of me.
If any of my family members had accompanied me—as they had wanted to do—they would no doubt have now told me to stay safely inside while they investigated the disturbance. But since they weren’t present to baby me, I thrust open the carriage door and clambered down without obstruction. “Your Highness! Get back inside!” barked a familiar voice.
I sighed. I wasn’t entirely free of cautious protectors yet.
“What was that?” I asked Captain Layna.
When a scan of the immediate area didn’t reveal any obvious sign of attack, I frowned back at the side of the carriage.
The section that had taken the hit was easily visible, the paneling splintered and caving inward. The damage stopped just short of an actual hole, faint traces of power lingering on the wood.
I spun back around. “Mages? An attack?”
I gave my surroundings a more thorough examination. Although there was no visible sign of it in the air, I could sense the power that now enclosed us in a large bubble.
As royalty, I was so used to being shielded that I had hardly registered its presence earlier. No doubt the captain had released a shielding composition the moment after the attack hit. We hadn’t been expecting trouble on our own side of the border, or we might have already had one in place.
“Princess Verene, I really must insist you return to the carriage,” Layna said in a pained voice.
I continued to ignore her. Nothing lay ahead of us on the road in the direction of Bronton, no enemies appearing to spring an ambush or follow up their attack. I looked back the way we had come instead and recognized our location.
I frowned. “That’s the Wall. But I thought they cleared this section already. And we didn’t leave the road, so it should be safe anyway.”
Ever since we left the capital, we’d been surrounded by ripe fields, stretching out on either side of the West Road. But here, the ground lay barren for a wide strip, spearing out on both sides, perpendicular to the road.
I winced at the sight of the dark, dead land, so stark after the colorful growth we’d been passing through for so long. Here was a visual reminder of why I was being sent away from my home and everyone I knew and loved.
Even after more than twenty years of peace, a barrier lay between my home kingdom of Ardann and our western neighbors and long-term enemies, Kallorway.
But as the aging Head of the Armed Forces liked to remind my parents, the war had raged for longer than the peace had so far held. It took time to heal such scars.
Time, and apparently effort and sacrifice. And I was the chosen sacrifice.
I shook my head at the morbid thoughts. I should be grateful my aunt, Queen Lucienne, had finally found a way I could be useful, however unpleasant this particular prospect seemed.
I refocused my attention on the strip of land that had once been the Wall. It had taken a full twenty years of peace for the people to be ready to see it dismantled, so the work had only recently begun.
I had come this way with my family a few times as a child, on our way to visit the fortified border town of Bronton and the Abneris River which was the official border with Kallorway.
I called up a picture of how the Wall had looked then: a wide stretch of jagged rocks butting right up to the road on either side, the stones too large and sharp to allow either vehicles or horses to cross and while I had never ridden its whole length, I knew it had once stretched all the way along the river from the great northern forests to the tip of the southern forest.
Only Bronton and a few border settlements, instrumental to the war effort, had stood between the Wall and the Abneris. The barrier had funneled all traffic to the border through this one road and had been the only reason Ardann had managed to keep the war contained to the border region for so long.
The clearing efforts had begun at the road and spread outward, and only a scattering of smaller rocks were left as far as I could see southward.
But when I squinted north, I could see a patch of cleared dirt that grew steadily more rocky. Several distant figures milled around the point where the stones grew to full size. It looked like on this side, at least, the clearing crews were still within sight of the road.
The six people had stopped whatever work they had previously been engaged in and were milling together in what looked like confusion. One had an arm raised, pointed in our direction, and despite the distance, I thought I could see concern on their faces. After another moment, they all took off together, in a huddled mass, jogging in our direction.
I watched them come warily. Something wasn’t right with the scene, although I couldn’t put my finger on what. Beside me, Captain Layna stirred uneasily.
“Where’s their mage?” she asked, identifying the wrong note with the scene
The Wall had never been merely a collection of sharp rocks. Such a barrier couldn’t have hoped to keep back the might of the Kallorwegian war mages.
It had been created not with the labor of commonborns but with the effort of a hundred creator mages. When they moved the stones into place, they had bound them and strengthened them with power and in the three decades of war that had followed, every newly graduated mage in the kingdom had spent a two-year term at the front lines, adding their own workings to the ones left by the creators of the Wall.
Over the years, it had become a patchwork of power—a death-trap with no key or even record of the deadly dangers lurking within.
There was a reason—beyond our mistrust of the Kallorwegians—that no one had been eager to attempt dismantling it and there had certainly been no talk of assembling a hundred mages to undertake the difficult task. Mage numbers were too few to be diverted for such a purpose during times of peace.
But the work had been going on for many months now, a slow and steady process undertaken by teams of commonborns working with a mage.
The commonborns did the physical work of moving the stones only after the mage had painstakingly cleared each small portion of lingering workings. But the men racing toward us were clearly all commonborns, and I could see no sign of a mage robe anywhere.
My muscles clenched, and I rose onto my toes, poised for action, as the reality of the situation hit me. We hadn’t been attacked at all—at least not with any intent. The commonborn clearing team had triggered an old working, and we had been the unfortunate targets of its aggression.
My eyes picked out one of the commonborns who lagged well behind the others, both hands clutched around his chest. It looked like we weren’t the only victims and if they had reached an untouched section of the Wall, then there could be more danger still to come.
I took several steps toward the approaching workers, who were still outside the protection of our shield, but Layna darted forward to stop me. Using her unique privilege as my personal guard, she grabbed at my arm, pulling me to a halt.
“No, Your Highness,” she said firmly.
No doubt she had intended to follow the words with a lecture about my safety, but her words stopped, both of our heads whipping toward the approaching workers, although there was nothing to see but their running forms.
They neither slowed nor flinched because they couldn’t feel what Layna and I could—a swell of power growing behind them at the edge of the Wall.
“They’re nearly here,” Layna said in a strained voice. “They’ll make it into our shield. Although it may not be strong enough.”
Diverted by this thought, she let me go and thrust her hand inside her gold robe, searching for another shield composition.
“The injured one won’t make it,” I said, my hands moving as fast as hers.
At my words, she looked back at me, her own hands stilling on the small roll of parchment she now held.
“No, don’t—” She lunged forward and tried to pry the scrap of paper I had retrieved from my hand, but she was too late.
Ripping it, I released the power stored inside the written composition, flicking it toward the still unaware workers. The shield raced out to enfold them, reaching for the injured man just as whatever attack had been building at the Wall unleashed.
Raw power, stronger than the bolt which had hit our carriage, rolled toward us. It engulfed first the injured worker and then the others, only half of whom were within the guards’ shield.
The strength in the attack composition broke through the extra shield I had worked, but the wave of its power had already passed the injured man before his defenses failed.
Layna, her eyes widening, ripped the composition still in her hand, surrounding all of us, including the five closer workers, in a second layer of shielding. This new protection held when the attack broke through her old one, the power of the unknown composition from the Wall dissipating into nothing.
I still had no idea what it had been designed to do, and I was more than glad not to find out.
The commonborns had stopped, panting and regarding us with wide eyes. They may not have been able to feel the approaching power, but they could see the compositions in our hands and feel the tension radiating from our bodies.
I took several deep, steadying breaths, although I had undertaken no physical exertion. As a princess, I was always surrounded by guards and defenses. I had never before personally unleashed a shield composition in anything other than training.
“What were you thinking, Verene?” Layna snapped, clearly equally overcome by the unexpected emergency. It wasn’t like her to forget her usual formality. “We are here to protect you and are well-stocked with compositions. You, of all people, should know better than to use your own personal stores unless to protect yourself from direct and immediate threat.”
My sympathy for my guard fell away at the words you, of all people. I knew her concern was for me, but I didn’t need a reminder of why I was unlike any other royal charge she might have been assigned—unlike any other in history.
The other three royal guards who had accompanied us at the insistence of my parents had now drawn close. Each of them held a piece of parchment, their eyes focused on the distant Wall. If there was another threat, they would have us protected in layers of shielding before it could reach us.
The squad of commonborn guards in their red and gold uniforms formed a wider circle, enclosing us, the carriage, and the commonborn workers. They were my honor guard, but they had been chosen from among the Royal Guard’s finest.
The attention of the workers, however, was all focused on Layna and me. One of them stepped forward, visibly trembling as he looked from the royal insignia on the side of the carriage, to my white robe, to the golden circlet nestled in my dark hair.
He dropped to one knee, and the other workers all followed suit.
“P…Princess Verene,” he gasped. “Our apologies. We don’t know what happened.” He glanced over his shoulder to where the injured worker had apparently given up on joining us and sunk to the ground, his face white. “Johnson said something hit him, but none of us saw anything.” He glanced uneasily back toward the Wall.
I opened my mouth to assure him we were all unharmed and bid him relax, but Layna spoke first.
“That is because he was hit with a bolt of raw power,” she said. “A similar one to the missile that hit our carriage. I don’t know if they were targeted toward movement, or whether they just speared out in all directions and we were unlucky enough to be hit. The more relevant question is what were you doing working on an uncleared section of the Wall? Where is your mage?”
The man’s face whitened, his color now resembling his injured companion.
“Uncleared?” He licked his lips. “This section was supposed to be cleared. The mage assured us…” He pulled two torn scraps of parchment from an inside pocket. “I worked this myself, Your Highness.”
He held out the pieces to Layna, the movement highlighting the complex pattern of darker skin pigmentation around his wrist. He was one of the lucky sealed commonborns then, able to safely read and write and therefore to handle written compositions
The captain stepped forward and retrieved the two halves of the parchment, holding them together so she could read the words of the now-released working. Her face grew darker, and she bit back a curse.
“I repeat, where is your mage?”
The man swallowed. “In Bronton, Sir. He came out this morning, but he doesn’t like to spend his whole day standing around in the fields. He always goes back to Bronton in the afternoons.”
“Does he now?” Layna asked, her dark voice laden with dire threats. “Then I think we had better continue on to Bronton.”
I jumped in quickly, directing my words at the worker. “That is not your fault, however.” The poor man clearly expected some sort of terrible punishment for placing a member of the royal family at risk.
I peeked over Layna’s shoulder and scanned the composition, ignoring the clenching in my stomach. I never liked interacting with compositions—not when I was the only mage in history unable to create one.
Since the beginning of recorded history, the act of writing words had allowed humans to access power—power that could be shaped to an untold number of different tasks and purposes.
But people had always been divided into two groups—those who could control the power the writing unleashed and those who could not. And for those who could not—the commonborns—any attempt to write would result in an uncontrolled explosion of pure power that brought death and destruction to the writer and all those around them.
And so, for uncounted generations, commonborns had been forbidden all access to the written word. Because everyone knew reading led to writing. With so many lives at stake, it was too dangerous to risk someone absentmindedly tracing a word with their finger or being tempted to test their limits. If commonborns never saw the written word, if they never read, then they could never write. We had an entire discipline of mages—the Seekers—whose role was to prevent any illicit access to words.
Meanwhile, those who could control the power—the mages—formed themselves into disciplines, learning how to strengthen and refine their natural control.
They ruled Ardann—as they did Kallorway and the northern Sekali Empire—and their power allowed the kingdom to prosper. The growers and wind workers ensured the crops flourished.
The creators built roads and public buildings, and the healers ran healing clinics that even commonborns could access for a fee. It was a system of vast inequality, but one dictated by birth not will.
Everything depended on your bloodline. Mages handed down the ability to control power to their children, as the commonborns handed down the lack of ability and because some mages had more natural strength and control than others, mages formed marriage alliances designed to increase the future strength of their families and none had more carefully cultivated generations of strength than the royal line. Being born as royalty ensured a birthright of great power.
Here I was, child of our current queen’s younger brother, daughter of two of the strongest mages ever to live, and I was utterly without access to power. It was a great accomplishment, really. The first child ever born to a mage not to inherit their ability. I’m sure the Royal University would have loved the chance to study me. Thankfully my royal status was enough to prevent that, at least.
But I had received the education of a princess, even if I could not use all of it, and I easily understood the import of the composition in Layna’s hands. The mage assigned to this team had cleared this section of wall of old workings and then left. In what he no doubt felt was an abundance of caution, he had provided the commonborns with one of his compositions—a working designed to give a section of rocks a final check before the workers began clearing it.
The sealed commonborn probably had a small stack of similar, unworked compositions in a pocket somewhere, to release as they progressed with their work.
Once such a thing would have been impossible. Commonborns were not allowed to possess written words. Only the richest among them could afford to purchase compositions from the poorest and least powerful of the mages—the only mages who would stoop to such a degradation as selling compositions. And these purchased compositions were carefully sealed and color-coded for purpose, ensuring a limited range of use.
It was my parents who had changed all of that. They had traveled to the previously closed Sekali Empire and discovered a different world there. A world where all commonborns were sealed as young children, their access to power blocked, allowing them free access to the written word.
The discovery of the sealing composition had rocked both Ardann and Kallorway. But neither of our kingdoms could follow in the footsteps of the Empire. The sealing composition drew directly on the energy and power of a mage, and when it worked its purpose, it sealed the mage as permanently as it sealed the commonborns. In the Empire, whole clans were devoted to this purpose, the sealed mages raising their unsealed children in the knowledge that by one day taking their turn to seal a large collection of commonborn children they would serve their people and bring honor to their families.
But the enmity between the two southern kingdoms was of long standing, and centuries ago we had decimated our mage numbers in ancient battles. We didn’t have enough mages to make the sacrifices of the sealed Sekali clans, even if we could have convinced or compelled enough mages to do so. And so my parents had suggested a compromise.
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