Home > The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1)

The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1)
Author: G.A. Aiken

PROLOGUE

The great king had barely taken his last breath before one brother took the head of another.

It happened so fast that I, the Follower of His Word, had no chance to escape. I attempted to run, but the castle halls were quickly filled with battling men and dying women and children. I ended up hiding where I could, but I had to keep moving in order to stay alive.

I could hear the screams of the dying but I was not brave enough to step in. To help. Not with what I already knew.

His Majesty had warned me of this many years before.

“When I die,” he’d said, looking at me from his throne, “my sons will tear everything apart. They will destroy everything I’ve built in their attempt to take my place. But none will be worthy. None.”

I don’t know the truth of that, but who was I? Just the Follower of His Word. I did not know if any were worthy or if all were. It was not my job to make those decisions.

But I had no idea it would be like this. This . . . fast.

All the youngest boys were immediately killed by their older siblings. Cut down with their protective mothers in their beds. There was no mercy for them.

The older sons quickly faced off against each other but not all of them were true warriors. The weakest met their ends quickly. Those who could fight did their best but in the end, it seemed that only five princes remained: Marius the Wielder of Hate, the Old King’s eldest and most feared; Straton the Devourer; Cyrus the Honored; and the twins—Theodorus and Theotimus—who were too young to have earned epithets but who were already loathed for their viciousness.

At one point, I saw Straton and Cyrus escape the castle grounds; Cyrus taking as many innocents with him as he could in order to save their lives. I tried to get downstairs to join him, but my path was blocked by fighting men.

It was said that Cyrus had taken half of his father’s army, those who were loyal to him, and was even now planning his next attack against his brothers while Straton already had an army of mercenaries waiting for their orders. As the day wore on, no one seemed to know where the twins had gone and no one was looking for them, except maybe the remaining brothers. But, despite their battle skills, they were relatively stupid and I was sure that no one had much to worry about. Even if they appeared again at some point, they would easily be wiped out.

That meant the castle and its grounds were currently held by Prince Marius, who had already taken over the rest of his father’s army. At this moment I could hear him moving through the castle, killing all those he didn’t believe loyal to him and only him or, even worse, those who might have the slightest chance of obtaining the throne through bloodlines.

Not knowing how I would be seen by Marius—I had always been openly loyal to his father and was a distant cousin to Marius—I scrambled into the Old King’s room and dove behind one of the giant pillars.

My timing was quick enough, thank the gods! Because another cousin of mine ran into the chamber shortly after me. He was already covered in blood, but Marius followed behind him and took him to the ground by slicing his sword down the man’s spine. Our cousin fell to the marble floor and sobbed. Desperately.

“Prince Marius, please! I am your kin! Please!”

Marius said nothing to his begging cousin, simply slammed his blade through his back and directly into his heart, ignoring the fact that the Old King’s body was still in his bed.

I covered my mouth, terrified I’d cry out. I was not meant for battle. I was not meant for war. I was simply a chronicler. I took notes of the Old King’s life. But each king picked his own chronicler and Marius would not want to have anything that once belonged to his father except his throne and his crown.

Marius finished his work and straightened. I moved farther back around the pillar, praying he wouldn’t search the room. But he didn’t leave and I knew he was coming. Coming for me.

Then the gods must have heard my prayers because that sweet voice rang out.

“Marius? Where are you?”

“Mother?”

“Oh, there you are!” I peeked around the pillar again and watched Marius’s mother enter the Old King’s chamber. Maila had been the Old King’s lead consort because she’d given birth to his first son. The Old King never married, so Maila was as close as the subjects had to a Dowager Queen. And, unlike the other consorts, she’d lived almost like a queen because when the Old King needed to entertain, it was Maila that he always had by his side. That also meant she had ample gold and jewels and could purchase anything she liked whenever she liked. Her gowns were always the most beautiful and glamorous, her hair artfully done. It also helped that Maila had managed to keep her beauty.

“Mother, what are you doing here? You are supposed to be in the safety of—”

Another cousin ran into the chamber, mace swinging. Maila quickly ducked and Marius blocked the weapon with his sword before slamming his dagger into the man’s belly. Again and again, then slitting his throat for good measure.

“Mother, you need to go back to my soldiers. They will protect you.”

“I needed to speak to you and it cannot wait. Besides, most of your brothers are either dead or gone. The castle is ours.”

“Still, I’d feel better if—”

Another screaming soldier ran into the chamber, sword above his head, ready to strike Prince Marius. The soldier wore the colors of Prince Cyrus and was ready to die for the man he hoped would be king.

Marius raised his weapons again but Maila held up her hand to stop him and, a few seconds later, the soldier stopped in his tracks, his sword still raised above his head. He coughed, blood shooting out of his mouth. Maila gave a small laugh, covering her mouth as the soldier fell forward, dead.

“Mother, what did you do?”

“I poisoned the soldiers’ well. Oh, don’t look at me that way,” she complained. “We both know I could never stay out of this. I’ve been waiting since your birth for you to ascend to the throne.”

“This is my fight.”

“Wrong. This is our fight. Do you really think all my other sons actually died accidentally? No. I took their lives because it was my right, as their mother, to do so. I couldn’t get near your other half brothers because of their mothers but I knew when the time came, you’d be able to handle the rest. And here you are doing a brilliant job. So allow me some fun.”

The sound of more battling soldiers in the hallway had the prince pulling Maila closer, moving in front of her.

“Just tell me what’s going on and make it quick, please.”

“A messenger arrived not too long ago. From the Witches of Amhuinn.”

I was surprised by that. The Witches of Amhuinn usually stayed in their mountainside fortress, reading their books and keeping their tallies. They didn’t dance naked in the moonlight, they didn’t sacrifice bulls in the early hours of dawn, they didn’t make potions for love or revenge. But despite all that, their declarations had power. Even the Old King respected what they had to say.

And what they had to say must have been important for Maila to leave the safety of wherever her son had placed her.

“What do they want?” the prince asked.

“They have called to the gods and—”

One of the prince’s uncles charged into the room, but he was older and didn’t move as he once had. Marius took his head and kicked his body to the floor.

“Mother, just get to it!”

“Their seer has seen a queen. A queen to replace the Old King.”

I frowned in confusion. In all my years, I couldn’t remember the Amhuinn having a “seer.” It would have to be someone who’d truly proven themselves since it had always been said the Witches of Amhuinn relied on statistics rather than those who could see into the future.

“What queen?”

“A girl. A farmer’s daughter.”

“A peasant?”

“I was a peasant before being sold to your father.”

“Then put the bitch in chains and bring her to me. One way or another, I will be the next ruler of these lands.”

Maila glanced at the Old King’s body in his bed, and I saw no pain, nor pity at his death. “Your half brother, Straton, has already gone after this farmer’s daughter.”

“Good. Let him kill her. I’ve got other things to—”

“Don’t be like your brothers,” Maila snapped at her son. “Short-sighted. Whether peasant or royal, if a girl has been chosen by the Witches of Amhuinn, she will be more readily accepted by the dukes and barons of these lands.”

“Why would I need—”

“You need their armies. Cyrus has already taken half your father’s men. The rest are loyal to you, but if you hope to win against Cyrus and, more difficult still, Straton, who has been building his mercenary army for years, then you need more men. Men willing to die for you.”

“Soooo . . . you want me to kill her?”

“No! Dammit, Son! Think! To have a queen at your side, with the blessing of the Witches of Amhuinn. The same sect that put your ancestors on the throne four hundred years ago.”

Marius let out a long sigh. “You want me to rescue her from my brother.”

“It’s too late for that. Protectors have already been sent to her.”

“Protectors sent by you?”

“No. These are not friends of ours. But they’ll need to take her to the Witches of Amhuinn for the girl to be confirmed in person. We can find her there. Take her and then you marry her. Make her queen.”

“I don’t want to get married.”

“Your father was the only son of his father. You, my dearest, were not that lucky. But having a wife—a queen—does not mean you cannot have your own whores on the side. Your great-grandfather certainly did and your great-grandmother, the queen, always knew her place.”

“I don’t know—”

“Meet her. She’ll be retrieved and brought to you. I’ll arrange it all. Once we have her, you can decide if you want to keep her or slit her throat.”

   
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