The Thief's Daughter
A Wall Street Journal bestseller.
Owen Kiskaddon first came to the court of the formidable King Severn as a prisoner, winning favor with the stormy monarch by masquerading as a boy truly blessed by the Fountain. Nine years hence, the once-fearful Owen has grown into a confident young man, mentored in battle and politics by Duke Horwath and deeply in love with his childhood friend, the duke's granddaughter. But the blissful future Owen and Elysabeth Mortimer anticipate seems doomed by the king's machinations.
A pretender to Severn's throne has vowed to seize the crown of Kingfountain. But Severn means to combat the threat by using Elysabeth as bait to snare the imposter-and forcing Owen, as a pawn in the dangerous charade, to choose between duty and devotion. With poisoners and spies circling ominously, and war looming on the horizon, Owen must make painful sacrifices to beat back the advancing shadows of death and disaster. Will Owen's conflicted heart follow the king's path or will he risk everything for love?
Release date: May 31, 2016
Print pages: 368
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
The Thief's Daughter
The Duke of Westmarch
Owen Kiskaddon wasn’t comfortable wearing a full suit of armor. It made him feel constrained, like he was wearing someone else’s boots, so he rarely put on more than a chain hauberk. He was dressed that way now, his hand resting on his sword pommel, as he walked through the camp of soldiers on the eve before his first battle as commander. The night was settling in quickly, and even in the early twilight, he could see a few stars winking at him.
He missed the cold and beautiful North, which had become his home for nearly ten years. And he missed his closest friend, Evie, the Duke of North Cumbria’s granddaughter. She would be desperate for news about his first battle, and he was both nervous and excited for what was to come. Although he was expecting blood, he wasn’t looking forward to seeing the crimson stain. He knew the techniques of battle, but he had not yet tested them. For years he had trained in the saddle, trained with swords, axes, bows, and lances. Most importantly, he loved reading about battles, studying the accounts of the famous ones, ancient and modern. He could recite, from memory, how many soldiers had marched onto the muddy fields of Azinkeep and how the king had used a mixture of sharpened stakes, archers, and well-chosen ground to defeat a much larger force. But while everyone studied the histories, Owen brought it a step further. He liked to re-invent them.
What would he have done, as the battle commander of the Occitanian army, to defeat the King of Ceredigion at Azinkeep? Like the game of Wizr, he didn’t just look at opportunities from his own side’s perspective. He looked at it from the other sides too. And long ago, he had realized that there were more than just two sides to any conflict in the game of king and crowns, and there were always unexpected pieces waiting to be introduced to the board.
“Evening, my lord,” said one of Owen’s soldiers as he passed the man’s campfire, lost in thought.
Owen paused and stared down at the man, whose name he could not remember. “Good eventide. Who do you serve under?” Owen asked. Even though the man was twice his own age, he looked up at Owen with reverence and respect.
“Harkins, my lord. My name is Will, and I serve under Harkins. Do you think this weather will hold for the battle tomorrow?”
“Well met, Will. Hopefully it does with a little luck, eh?”
Owen gave him a tired smile, a grateful nod, and continued on his way toward the command tents. He did not think he would sleep at all. How many of the soldiers were feeling jitters and nerves over putting their trust in such a young man? King Severn had led his first battle at the age of eighteen. Owen was a year younger than that. He felt the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders.
It bothered Owen a little, more than a little actually, that his men had such blind faith in him. Very few people could sense the ripples of Fountain magic, but those who did were endowed with magical abilities that amplified some of their natural talents. These gifts were so rare that everyone knew the stories of how Owen’s ability with the Fountain had been discovered when he was just a child. What they didn’t realize was that while he was Fountain-blessed, his supposed gift of seeing the future was a total deception. The cunning Ankarette Tryneowy, the queen’s poisoner, had helped him perpetuate the ruse when he was a child in order to make him indispensable to the king. Together, they had misled the entire kingdom. After Ankarette’s death, the deception had continued with the help of Dominic Mancini, the king’s master of the Espion, who fed him some of the larger political developments before they were commonly known, cementing Owen’s reputation for future-seeing both within Ceredigion and abroad. Although the king had said Mancini’s appointment would only be temporary, the spymaster had an uncanny way of improving the king’s interests, and had managed to hold on to his position for years. Owen and Mancini had a mutually beneficial partnership, one that served both of them well.
Sometimes Owen had already guessed the news the Espion snuck to him because of his keen ability to predict the cause and effect of things. For example, Mancini had not told him that King Iago Llewellyn of Atabyrion would strike an alliance with Chatriyon of Occitania, uniting the two kingdoms against Ceredigion, but he wasn’t surprised in the least that it had happened. It wasn’t being Fountain-blessed. It was being smart.
As Owen approached the command tent, the guards protecting it lifted their poleaxes to let him through. At seventeen, Owen had not finished growing yet, but he was already a man’s height, and he was wearing his family badge, the Aurum—three golden bucks’ heads on a field of blue.
The instant he ducked under the entryway, Owen saw Duke Horwath, who was wearing his battle armor and holding a goblet of sweet-smelling wine. His hair had gone grayer over the past few years, but he still had the same calm, unflappable demeanor that had always impressed the young man. He was a soldier, through and through, and had fought in numerous battles over the last fifty years. His steady presence filled Owen with confidence.
“Evening, lad,” Horwath said, dipping his head, giving him a wry smile.
“You don’t look at all nervous,” Owen said, hardly able to suppress a smile.
Horwath shrugged, took another sip, and set his cup down on a small table near a fur rug.
“Any word from your granddaughter?” Owen asked hopefully.
“She said she’d hold the North if the Atabyrions invade while we’re here doing battle with the Occitanians. I think she’s hoping they do. She’s a little jealous, you know, that you get to be part of a battle before she does.”
Owen smiled at the sentiment, picturing her in his mind. Doing so always made him feel strangely excited, as if a cloud of butterflies had all clustered inside his stomach. He didn’t know whether the feeling was battle jitters or the simple longing to see her again. He did his best not to mope, but he did miss her. She had lovely brown hair that was long and thick. Sometimes it was braided. Sometimes not. She had eyes that were the most transfixing shade of blue . . . no, they were green . . . or gray. It really depended on the light and her mood. He missed her way of chattering on and on, her quick wit, and her wickedly delightful sense of humor. Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer—Evie—was his best friend in the entire world and the only other person aside from Mancini who knew his deepest secret.
“Careful, lad,” the duke warned, seeing Owen’s faraway look. “Keep your thoughts here in Occitania, where they belong. You don’t want to be daydreaming when a sword comes at your helmet.”
Owen had indeed been daydreaming, so he smiled ruefully. The duke meant him well—after all these years, he was almost a grandfather to him too. Owen could see the grizzled duke hoped for an alliance between their duchies. Though Owen and Evie were never allowed to go off alone together, not without Evie’s maid, the three of them were known to plunge off rocks into the river at the base of waterfalls and take some unnecessary risks to their health.
“When do we call in the captains?” Owen asked, chafing his gloved hands. He was impatient for dawn.
“They are settling down the soldiers for the night. They’ll be here shortly. You keep pacing. Should have brought your tiles to stack.”
Owen smirked. One habit that had survived boyhood was his love for stacking tiles into intricate patterns. Now that he was older, the patterns were even more ridiculously complex, and his collection had grown to an impressive quantity of tiles.
Owen’s herald, an officer by the name of Farnes, ducked into the tent. He was in his mid-forties and already had some gray in his reddish hair. He knew protocol better than anyone and had served Owen’s father in many battles. “My lords,” he said after a stiff bow. “The herald from the King of Occitania just arrived in camp. He wishes for an audience with you both.”
Owen looked over to Horwath, who frowned slightly. But rather than offer his opinion, the grizzled duke just said, “It’s your army, lad.”
“Well, send him in, Farnes,” Owen said. As soon as the man left, Owen clasped his hands behind his back and started pacing again. “My guess is he’s here to bribe or threaten us. A bribe is more likely. He can always pay us with the coins he’s planning to rob from the Duchess of Brythonica’s coffers.” The current hostilities had been sparked, in part, by the King of Occitania’s attempts to force the duchess to marry him against her will. The duchess had begged assistance from all the neighboring kingdoms, and Severn had heeded her call to secure an ally. “How much do you think he’ll offer to send us away without a fight?” Owen continued.
Duke Horwath chuckled to himself. “Does it even matter how much it is?”
“Of course not. He doesn’t understand us . . . or Ceredigion. I just want to get a sense of whether I should feel insulted or not.” Hearing the sound of boots approaching, he paused to listen. “Here they come.”
The herald announced the visitor as Anjers, and the Occitanian proceeded to enter the tent, striking his head on the tent flap when he didn’t duck low enough while entering. It mussed up his hair somewhat, making Owen stifle a smile.
There was something about Occitanian fashion that Owen hated. The man’s tunic was puffed velvet, a lavender color with lilies on it. The collar was stiff, straight, and high, making it almost look like a chain around the man’s neck. The hair, as always, was combed forward, regardless of whether a man was balding or not, making the front point out. It was combed forward on the sides as well, making the tips look like feathers. No matter the fashion, the Occitanians were darkly handsome, and Anjers was no exception, even at twice Owen’s age.
“Ah, the young duke,” Anjers said, trying to fix the hair that had been mussed by the tent flap. He spoke Owen’s language flawlessly. Commenting on Owen’s age was not the best way he could have begun his speech.
“You have a message from your master?” Owen asked in a bored tone. He folded his arms and gave Duke Horwath a sidelong look.
“Yes, my name is Anjers, herald to Chatriyon, King of Occitania. Once again he is making an invocation of peace to Ceredigion. The affair with Brythonica is a matter of no concern to you. The king would be your ally and friend. As such, he proposes to pay the expenses for your campaign. If a battle is required to appease your bloodthirsty king, then he will allow the slaughter of three thousand men of his ranks to appease the Butcher of Ceredigion. It is my master’s hope, however, that as princes, a truce can be signed between our realms without shedding any blood. The king rightfully seeks the hand of Lady Sinia, one of his own subjects, and a unified realm. At what price may my master be assured that this meddling will end?”
Owen listened patiently to the speech, but he was bristling inside at the words being used, both the accusations against his king and the brutal offer of collusion. He released some of his pent-up Fountain magic to discern the man’s weakness and saw that he was a diplomat, not a soldier. He wore no armor beneath his puffy sleeves and was completely vulnerable. Owen had learned much about his abilities over the years from the king himself, who had tutored him on drawing his magic from the Fountain. The two had learned that Owen’s well of capability had greater depth than the king’s, which may have been a result of the fact that the king hadn’t discovered his own gifts until much later in life.
Though Owen knew from Mancini that King Severn was deprecated in foreign courts as a ruthless tyrant, a villain, and a child killer, that version of him was no more the real King Severn than a toy sword could create true slices. Though the king’s nephews had indeed disappeared, he was not responsible for their deaths. His mistake had been to allow untrustworthy men to take the children into custody.
The herald had long since finished speaking, and the silence grew awkward. Owen stared the man in the eye, letting the silence draw out longer, increasing the herald’s discomfort. Men always felt uncomfortable in silence. He stared at Anjers all the while.
“I don’t know which offends me more,” Owen said evenly. “That your master believed he could buy us with a battlefield victory. Or that he thought we could be bought at all. Especially after his father tried to purchase my death at the hands of our former spymaster when I was a child.” Owen paused a moment to let his words sink in. His supposed ability to see the future had been perceived as a threat by the realm’s enemies, which had led to the assassination attempt. “I knew you were coming tonight,” Owen said, letting his voice develop a mystical quality. “You tell your master this. When the sun dawns over this field, he will know the true measure of the men of Ceredigion. There is no gold that will turn us away from our purpose. My king and master made an oath to the Duchess of Brythonica that he would defend her realm. Your master will see that we do keep our vows. Tell him this, Herald. And return to this camp again at your peril. My king has not forgotten that this land was once ours. We have every right to come to the defense of our true subjects.”
The herald’s expression flickered with rage and contempt. “By your leave then. Boy.”
He turned and marched back out of the tent, smacking against the tent fold again. This time he nearly knocked himself down, and it was all Owen could do not to laugh. He would have to tell Evie all about it later.
After Anjers was gone, Owen turned to give the old duke a questioning look.
“I think he meant to offend you with that parting comment,” Horwath said.
Farnes chuckled to himself, shaking his head slowly, recognizing Anjer’s blunder of almost criminally underestimating Owen.
“Farnes,” Owen said, turning to face his herald. “Fetch Clark. I want the Espion to tail Anjers back to his camp and report on the reaction of the king.”
“As you wish,” Farnes said, ducking out of the tent without ruffling a hair on his head.
“What mean you to do, lad?” Horwath asked, wrinkling his brow.
Owen smirked. “What the King of Occitania least expects us to do. We’re going to attack him tonight.”
The duke’s eyebrows furrowed more. “That is a very risky move, lad.”
“Well, I did warn him I would,” Owen said, holding up his hands. “Remember? Come morning, he would see the true measure of the men of Ceredigion? By morning, it’ll all be over. In the panic, his own army will probably start attacking itself. Let’s call in the captains now. I’m impatient to knock down the first tile.”
It is a common misunderstanding that kingdoms are defined places with fixed borders. A kingdom can be a city. It can also spread across a continent. Much depends on the ambition and ability of the kingdom’s ruler. Weak rulers lose ground; strong ones gain it. It is the historian’s purpose to shed light on the lives of the great people of time. Truly, it is the great ones and their decisions who guide the course of events—they are the cogs in the wheel.
Severn Argentine is feared by his people but also respected for his military prowess. He is sarcastic, impatient, and immune to flattery because he is not comely and has some acute deformations of the body. In the twelve years since he rose to power, he has consolidated his strength, placed trusted dukes throughout his domain, and he now seeks to expand his hegemony. The King of Occitania has only come into his rights as king since turning twenty-one a year ago. He is young and untested and half the age of his rival. Chatriyon loves fashion, music, dancing, falconry, and he is only now learning the arts of war. His eagerness to prove himself may play into King Severn’s hands. It will be interesting to see how the maps change once this rivalry has ended.
—Polidoro Urbino, Court Historian of Kingfountain
The night was lit by a pale moon, and it only took a moment for Owen’s vision to adjust to the meager light. He swayed slightly in the saddle, feeling his nerves tingle with excitement at the prospect of the upcoming night raid. He carried his helmet in the crook of his arm because he did not want anything to obstruct his hearing. The hooves of the horses were making an incredible racket, but they were going to ditch the horses and approach on foot to minimize the risk of discovery. The maneuver was dangerous, but it would not endanger his entire army.
Owen’s plan was simple. His main force, the one he was leading personally, consisted of one hundred men, of which only two dozen were archers. The archers were to send a hail of arrows into the Occitanian camp first to cause confusion and panic, and then the soldiers would rush in with swords and shields, trying to stir up enough noise that the Occitanians would think Owen’s entire army was upon them. Two more groups of fifty each had taken different roads, and they would await the sounds of fighting before doing the same thing on the flanks of the army. Owen wanted to catch the Occitanian king off guard and trick him into thinking he was outnumbered. Basically, he hoped to frighten him into running away. Of course, the king could be held for ransom if captured, and Owen wasn’t opposed to that outcome.
He ran the risk, however, that his men would make too much noise and the Occitanians would be waiting to ambush them. But he felt that was unlikely, for they had given the Occitanians no reason to predict his night raid. Owen had also set Espion up along the roads to catch any stragglers who might blunder into them by mistake. They were going to take out the other side’s night watch as well, allowing Owen to get as close as possible.
Duke Horwath rode next to him, silent and unobtrusive as always. He had picked at Owen’s plan repeatedly, telling him everything that could, and likely would, go wrong. The ground was unfamiliar. The scouts had not been precise in determining how far away the Occitanian army was. Rivers or streams might obstruct the way. Owen was grateful for the reasoning, but his own logic had held up. They were risking only a fraction of their army, and if they succeeded, the rewards would be well worth it.
A night bird called out from the woods to the left, and Owen jerked his head in response to the sudden sound. He felt a slight fluttering in his heart that reminded him of when he was a young child and he had been brought to the palace at Kingfountain, as a hostage to King Severn. Everything used to frighten him then. His courage had improved, but he still remembered being that scared little boy with the patch of white in his mouse-brown hair.
Like most memories, this one led the way back to Evie. That white patch she so loved was still in his hair, but it was partially hidden by the rest of his thick locks. She would reach up and touch it sometimes as they wandered the mountains of North Cumbria together, looking down on the vistas that filled him with awe and wonder. They longed to explore the ice caves together, but they had not had the chance; pressing affairs of state always kept them moving from castle to castle. Sometimes a celebration would require them to go to Kingfountain. Sometimes trouble in Owen’s lands meant he had to return home to judge a matter of land between lesser nobles or farmers. He was treated with great dignity and love at Tatton Hall, and always returned there during the winter months when North Cumbria was blanketed in ice. In his mind’s eye, he could see Evie kneeling in front of the hearth fire, reading one of her histories, chewing a bit of her hair as she let herself be engrossed by the stories of kings and battles and plagues, which she would later tell him about or share with him. She was unpredictable, lively, and heartbreakingly pretty. Sometimes she would catch him looking at her and her cheeks would flush. When that happened, it made his heart ache in a way that felt almost soothing.
“You’ll be needing your wits soon,” Duke Horwath said, riding so close their legs nearly rubbed together. “Stay focused.”
Owen wondered what had given him away, but Horwath was an observant man. While he was as tight-lipped as a turtle shell, he was always watching. He was one of the few people the king’s barbed tongue could never injure.
“My lord,” came a low voice from the darkness ahead of them. Owen reined in his stallion and waited as the man approached. It was one of the Espion, a trusted man named Clark. He was a lean, hatchet-faced man, his dark hair shorn to stubble. He was an excellent woodsman and tracker.
“What news, Clark?” Owen asked, trying to calm his restless mount.
“I recommend securing the horses here,” he said in his usual formal way. “The outer edge of the army is five furlongs away. It’s a short walk, but if you ride any closer, you’ll be heard in their camp.”
Owen nodded and slid on his helmet before dismounting. Clark held the reins for him and then led the stallion to the trees and secured the beast. The other men dismounted as well. The horses were given some provender to keep them quiet, and several handlers were left behind to tend to them. Owen saw the archers flexing their bows to fit the strings. Each one carried three quivers full of arrows. The archers were all talking amongst themselves.
“How long until dawn, Clark?” Owen asked, gazing up at the stars, but he was never good at constellations.
Clark sniffed, gazing up. “Few more hours, my lord. Some were up drinking recently, but most are fast asleep, except the sentries.”
“Well, let’s wake them early,” Owen said with a grin. His hand dropped to the pommel of his longsword. He also had a short sword and a dagger. The hauberk felt comfortable enough, and he was warm despite the puff of fog issuing from his lips.
The men started marching to close the distance separating them from the Occitanian camp. Owen’s heart began to race. He had trained and trained in the castle yard, but this was the deciding moment when he would learn if that training held true. It made him feel more confident that he had certain unfair advantages working in his favor. His ability to use Fountain magic permitted him to discern his opponent’s weaknesses. It also provided him with an uncanny resistance to the magic of others who could tame the power. Turning, he was grateful to see Horwath by his side, even though he knew the old man would rather have been abed than hiking down a strange road in Occitania. Owen found himself gritting his teeth as he marched. Clark kept stride with him. He imagined the Espion had orders to keep him alive. But one does not lead from the back, so Owen was the first among his men.
They pulled out their weapons, preparing to fight, and left the shelter of the woods. The land before them opened up into a rolling plain, and the lights of the Brythonican castle under siege—Pouance—could be seen in the distance. Owen had studied the few maps they had at their disposal, so he knew it was part of the outer defenses of the duchy rather than the capital Ploemeur.
“Get ready to light the torches,” Owen said to one of his captains. “Each man carries two. It’ll double our numbers in their eyes. Archers, at the ready.”
His nerves were calming, and a strange sense of peace washed over him. Then he heard it—the murmuring waterfall sound of the Fountain. He had not summoned the Fountain, but he felt it rushing through him. It had come to him, as if it were anxious to help him achieve his victory.
“Lads, let’s teach these fools what we’re made of,” Owen said in a firm, clear voice. He looked over at Horwath, who gave him a crooked smile beneath the nose guard of his helmet. There was an excitement in the air, a feeling of confidence.
“Hand me a torch, Clark. Would you?” Owen asked.
The Espion nodded and struck two stones over the torches he’d tied together. The wet oil flared to life and Clark thrust the smoking brand into Owen’s hand as the fire leaped and sizzled in the night. Owen lifted it high in the air and then shouted, “Ceredigion!”
It was like unloosing the waters of a dam. The roar from the men nearly drowned out the twang of bows as the sky filled with arrows. The archers dropped into low, taut crouches, then almost leaped into the air as their arrows went skyward. Another deadly wave was sent out before the first had even landed. The arrows began thunking into the camp. Shrieks of surprise came from the bewildered Occitanian army.
Owen started to run down the road, waving the torch over his head in circles. Clark was at his heels, still keeping pace with him. A wall of firebrands came behind him. It seemed like five hundred were charging with him, though his force was less than a hundred. Giddiness swelled in Owen’s breast as he ran. The long hikes in the mountains had filled him with energy and stamina. Ankarette’s medicinal tea had completely cured his lungs of their childhood weakness.
The camp below bobbed to life. Men were rising, hurrying to grab weapons and don armor, but it was too late for preparations now. The arrows were showering into the camp like rain, and the night sky was cleaved by shrieks of agony. Owen approached the first rows, where a few pikemen were shivering with their poleaxes. Then the pikemen dropped their weapons and bolted.
Owen knew he had won before the first stroke of hand-to-hand fell.
The archers stopped the deadly rain as Owen’s men smashed into the panicked defenders. Owen watched as Clark moved with grace and skill, using the two short swords in his hands to cut down the soldiers who rushed at them. He had a businesslike look on his hatchet-face as he dropped, spun, and plunged his blades.
Owen felt the rush of the Fountain all around him, as if he were the floodwaters himself. Men were fleeing the other way, some with arrows sticking from their bodies. Tents collapsed in tangled heaps with ropes still whipping about. Horses screamed and charged. Owen thought he saw one with the flag of Occitania attached to the skirts, bearing its rider away.
Another set of screams sounded as the two other groups of soldiers joined the battle. In his gut, though, Owen knew they had already won.
A soldier with a pike charged at Owen from behind a tent and jabbed the sharp tip of his weapon at his chest. Acting on reflex alone, he blocked the pike with his sword and then threw his torch into the man’s face. The pikeman flailed with pain and dropped his weapon. He too fled.
Another man came at Owen with a shield and tried to bull into him and knock him down. Owen ducked to the side and extended his leg to trip the man, who crashed face-first into his own shield. He slumped and didn’t get up.
Owen watched his men raze through the camp like farmers’ scythes through wheat. Strangely, he felt like laughing.
“Lord Owen!” one of his captains—Ashby—shouted, running up to him eagerly. “They are fleeing! Some of them barefoot! We tried catching the king, but he’s on horseback and riding away, surrounded by his knights. He was the first to flee. You did it, my lord!”
The air filled with the sound of trumpets coming from the other side of the camp. It was a harsh wailing sound, one that sent a shiver down Owen’s back.
“What was that?” another captain shouted in confusion.
“I’ll check on it,” Clark said stiffly. He ran off into the chaos of soldiers who were now beginning to plunder the tents. Some grabbed Occitanian flags or badges as souvenirs.
The trumpets blared again—a haunting sound.
“Gather the men to me,” Owen ordered. “Stop rifling through their braies! Now’s not the time to plunder. Pull the men in. Have the archers stand ready.”
There was a ripple in the magic of the Fountain, and it made Owen clench his teeth with dread. Something was not right. He was sweating, casting his eyes around amidst the chaos for some sign of the source of the trumpeting.
Clark returned in moments, his face dark with concern. “Brythonic knights,” he said gruffly. “They attacked the other side of the Occitanians’ camp. The army is scattering.”
Horwath walked up to Owen, sword in hand. “We’re in a vulnerable position if those knights turn on us.”
“Agreed,” Owen said. He felt that strange, jarring pulse of the Fountain again. “We did what we came to do. Call all the men back. Bring them to me.”
The commotion of the night only increased as more sounds of fighting came ghosting in from across the camp.
“My lord,” Clark said in his ear, “I have a horse ready for you.”
Owen turned and shook his head. “If I abandon these men, I’m no better than Chatriyon.”
The Espion scowled, giving him a fierce, weighing look. It was clear he was deciding whether to risk Owen’s wrath by insisting again that he flee.
“Here they come,” Horwath said, tightening his grip on his sword.
Owen saw the flag before he saw the man. The standard was a field of white with black trim made from a quarter circle. The symbol amidst the white was a black-feathered bird, a crow or a raven, with a hooked beak. It struck Owen that King Severn’s standard—a white boar on a black field—had a mirrored element.
The man riding the horse with the standard was middle-aged, about the same age as Severn. Although he was not an old man, his hair was slate gray and combed forward in the Occitanian style. He had a stern, brooding look in his eyes as his mount approached Owen’s men, who gathered around him like a wall. The rider did not have any weapons drawn, and a long, white cape came down from his shoulders, covering the withers of his steed.
“Marshal Roux,” Duke Horwath said evenly.
The stern man seemed to notice Horwath for the first time. “Duke Horwath,” he said with a stiff nod and a slight accent. He adjusted himself in the saddle. “You’re a little far from North Cumbria, my lord. Aren’t you afraid of melting this far south? You lead this band? I thought it was Kiskaddon.”
“It is,” Owen said, feeling the Fountain’s force ebb to a trickle now. He could discern that although the man was gruff, he did not intend to attack. The young duke kept his hand on his sword hilt anyway. He did not trust in coincidences.
The marshal turned toward the sound of Owen’s voice, seeming to notice him for the first time. “Oh, you are here. I hadn’t recognized you in the dark. My lord duke, I have a message for you from my lady, the Duchess of Brythonica. She thanks you for your pains in defending her sovereign rights. Your timely involvement has routed Chatriyon’s army. We’ll take it from here. I’ve ordered my knights to harry them back to their own borders. She bids me to thank you and your king for interceding on her behalf. You have a loyal ally in Her Majesty. When war comes to Ceredigion, you may be assured she will not forget the favor done to her and she will repay your kindness with her own. Thus speaks my lady.” He bowed his head respectfully to Owen. He extended his arm and waved it ceremoniously. “Please divide the spoils amongst your men. Your bravery has earned you that right. I am Brendon Roux, marshal and protector of Brythonica. By your leave.”
“Tell your lady,” Owen said, nodding respectfully in return, “that it was our honor and privilege to come to her aid. Our lands border each other. We should be allies.”
The marshal’s brow knitted darkly. “I will tell her you said so,” he said stiffly. Then he turned and rode back, his armed knights following him back into the maze of flapping tents and groans.
Owen turned to Horwath, whose eyes bore a distrusting look.
The grizzled duke rubbed his chin. “It was interesting that his knights attacked Chatriyon’s army at exactly the same time as ours did. It was almost as if . . .”
“They were expecting us,” Owen said softly, frowning.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...