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Authors: J. D. Rinehart

The Lost Realm

BOOK: The Lost Realm
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Special thanks to Graham Edwards

For M. K.

PROLOGUE

W
eighed down by the thick iron boots, Kalia's feet dragged on the cobbles. Heavy iron gauntlets enclosed her hands. Metal chains ran from these and into the hands of the two legionnaires who were escorting her along the corridor.

They have done this because they are afraid of me
, she told herself.

One of the chains pulled tight, yanking painfully at her arm. Kalia almost fell, but recovered and stumbled on.

But I am not afraid of you
, she thought.

She almost believed it.

The soldiers, dressed all in black, soft-soled and silent, had come for her in the middle of the night. They'd clamped the metal gloves and boots over her hands and feet before she'd been fully awake.

“What is the meaning of this?” she'd demanded as they'd hauled her from her bed.

Saying nothing, the legionnaires had shoved her through the door and into the hallway beyond.

“When the king hears of this . . .” she'd started to say. Then, seeing the savage amusement on their faces, she'd stopped.

Brutan will learn of this soon enough. Until then, I will do nothing to provoke them.

They dragged her through the secret ways of Castle Tor, avoiding the public passages and keeping to the narrow tunnels hidden deep within the massive stone walls. They held her arms tight, wrenching her shoulders with every turn. As she plunged deeper into darkness, Kalia's fear bloomed like a sick, black rose.

Soon the cobbles gave way to flint flagstones. Kalia's iron boots scraped along, creating sparks that flickered on the tunnel walls. After two more painful turns, the tunnel ended at a wide arch plugged by a stout wooden door. Etched into the timbers was an image of a crown with three points.

The crown of Toronia.

The crown of the king.

He sent them! Brutan sent them! And now he's waiting behind that door, waiting for his prize!

“I would have come,” she said. “If you'd told me the king wanted to see me, I would have come willingly. Why would I not?”

She tossed back her disheveled red-gold hair, hoping she sounded defiant. Yet dread congealed in the pit of her stomach. . . . Why did Brutan have them snatch her from her bed? Why have her brought to him in chains?

The answer hit her like a blow to the stomach. Her heart faltered in her chest.

He has found my children. My triplets. And when he has shown them to me, he is going to kill them!

She bit her lip to stifle the scream.

“It's better if you don't talk,” growled the first legionnaire from beneath his black hood. “Just do as you're told. It'll go better that way.”

“When the king commands, even the king's mistress obeys,” said the second legionnaire. His lip curled in a sneer.

Kalia flinched. Her status was common knowledge throughout Toronia; everyone knew that Castle Tor was home to the king, the queen . . . and Kalia. The three of them.

Three was a powerful number. And it held a special place in Kalia's heart.

My three! Oh, my children!

“Please, won't you tell me . . . ?” she began, but it was too late. While one legionnaire shoved open the giant door, the second hustled her into the chamber beyond.

She stumbled forward. There was no sound but the dull clang of her metal boots against the stone floor. She kept her head down, unwilling to look at what she knew must lie ahead.

After twenty paces, her guards brought her roughly to a halt. A cold hand gripped her chin and forced her head up. Summoning all her strength, she held it steady and stared straight into the eyes of King Brutan.

The king was seated on a simple wooden throne, slightly raised on a platform of oak. Beside him, on a matching chair, sat Queen Magritt. Despite the lateness of the hour, both wore the full ceremonial regalia of Toronia: red robes and gold chains.

“Kalia,” said the king. “So good of you to come.”

The words were sweet, but his voice rumbled like thunder. His cheeks—usually red—were pale. His whole face seemed hard and blunt, and Kalia had the sudden, dizzying sensation that topping those luxuriant robes was the head not of a man but of an animal.

“I would have come willingly,” she said, “had you but asked.”

“I didn't,” Brutan grunted. Wordplay had never been his strong point; he was a man of action. Being around him was like courting an unruly bear, and that had always frightened Kalia. Yet sitting beside this brute was someone who frightened her even more.

“Welcome, dear,” said Magritt. The venom in her voice was in complete contrast to the smile on her lips, and therein lay her power.

When you came right down to it, bears were simple creatures.

Magritt, however, was a snake.

From behind Kalia came the sound of footsteps, many of them. She heard the creak of leather and the clatter of arms. Soldiers, she guessed, forming ranks behind her.

She cast her gaze to the sides of the room, knowing there was no escape but seeking it anyway. This was the Undersalle, the chamber that lay directly beneath the great throne room of Castle Tor. Like the throne room, it was long and broad, dominated at one end by the royal platform. Unlike the throne room, it was dark, lit only by flickering torches set in black sconces on the walls. The ceiling pressed down.

Kalia wondered how many criminals had faced their fate in this court of judgment. How many had protested their innocence. How many had begged for their lives.

How many had been put to death.

I will not beg.

Silence had fallen once more. Kalia glanced around and saw exactly what she'd expected to see: an entire legion of Brutan's guard—one hundred men, armed and alert in their bronze armor, no doubt with orders to keep her here until the king's business with her was concluded.

In the Undersalle, that could mean only one kind of business.

“Traitor!” Brutan shouted, rising suddenly from the throne. “You lied to me! All along, you lied!”

“How so, my liege?” said Kalia. She hoped the formal address might soothe his anger.

It did not.

“First you said you were carrying one child. But there were three.” Foam splashed from Brutan's mouth onto his bushy beard. “Three, as was foretold by the prophecy. The prophecy!”

“But the triplets were yours, my liege. Your blood.”

“My blood is what they would have spilled!”

“They were stillborn. What possible threat could a dead child be to a king?”

“Do you deny the words of the prophecy? ‘Beneath these fresh celestial lights, three new heirs will enter in. They shall summon unknown power. They shall kill the cursed king.' The three stars appeared in the sky that very night, Kalia. Who knows what other dark magic was afoot? Do you think me stupid?”

Maybe not. But if ever there was a cursed king, it was you, Brutan!

Aloud she said, as calmly as she could, “Three years have passed since the three stars appeared in the sky, my lord. Nothing bad has happened since. The prophecy has not come to pass. There is no danger.”

“Oh, but there is danger, my dear,” said Magritt from her throne. Her voice was as silky as her husband's was coarse. Still that maddening smile played upon her lips. “The danger is you.”

Kalia snorted. “Danger? You had me brought here in shackles! What possible threat could I be to you?”

“You know very well why you wear the iron,” Magritt replied.

“It is to stop your magic, you damned witch!” shouted Brutan, stepping off the platform and planting his meaty hands on his hips. His face was flushed, and his eyes gleamed, as did the sweat on his brow.

It was true. As long as Kalia's hands and feet were enclosed in the cold, unyielding metal, she couldn't use her powers. Even had they been free, she doubted her abilities would have aided her in this abominable place, in the presence of so many armed men. Like the earth and air that drove it, her magic was soft and subtle, made not for confrontation but for love.

Yet their fear of her talents gave her strength.

“I abandoned my magic years ago, as well you know,” she said. She found Magritt's gaze and held it. “I put it aside for my king.”

“Liar!” yelled Brutan. “You cast spells to hide the truth. You say the babies were dead? I say different. I say that when I came into your bedchamber that night, you tricked my eyes into thinking the children—the three children—were dead. You even fooled the wizard, faithful Melchior.”

If only you knew
, Kalia thought. It was Melchior who had fooled the king. She wondered what Brutan would do if he discovered the wizard's loyalty was not to him but to the very prophecy that predicted his downfall.

She glanced around again, this time looking at the door through which she'd been dragged. She willed Melchior to walk through it.

But Melchior did not come.

“The triplets are as dead now as they were on that day,” she said, tasting the bitterness of the words. “Why would you say otherwise?”

Brutan wiped spittle from his beard with the back of his hand. Spinning on his heel—for a big man he was surprisingly agile—he snapped his fingers at one of the two legionnaires who'd brought Kalia to the Undersalle.

“Bring him out!” he roared.

Kalia's heart stopped.
Bring him? Bring who?

Numb, she waited as the legionnaire retreated into the shadows behind the two thrones. Waited with dreadful anticipation for the man to emerge again carrying a three-year-old child.

Will it be Tarlan? Or Agulphus?

The legionnaire returned dragging not a child but a bedraggled tramp. Kalia's shoulders sagged with relief. The man's clothes were rags and his greasy hair was clotted with filth. His eyes rolled and his lips mumbled. When the legionnaire released him, he swayed, barely able to hold himself upright.

Kalia's relief turned rapidly to puzzlement as she wondered who this man might be.

King Brutan regarded the tramp with undisguised contempt, but Magritt rose smoothly from her throne. “Kalia,” she said, “may I introduce you to Sir Brax? He has quite a story to tell. Quite a story.”

Kalia's hands tried to clench, but the restricting gauntlets prevented her from making a fist.
Sir Brax! You were Melchior's ally. Which of my children did he give you to look after?

As she stared at the tramp, her horror mounted. It was impossible to imagine anyone less suited to caring for a child. She tightened the muscles in her face, resisting the urge to scream at him.

BOOK: The Lost Realm
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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