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The Kingdom of Korin: Books 1- 2: The Kingdom of Korin
The Kingdom of Korin: Books 1- 2: The Kingdom of Korin
The Kingdom of Korin: Books 1- 2: The Kingdom of Korin
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The Kingdom of Korin: Books 1- 2: The Kingdom of Korin

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The Prince of Korin
Prince Endomer of Korin is not a hero. Nor does he want to be one.
He spends his days in the royal library, poring over old manuscripts, studying archaic languages and playing chess. He's never been like Krollis, his fearless twin brother, who is an expert swordsman and hunts wild beasts in the forests.
When an army of vizzens, the fearsome old enemy of Korin, attacks from the east and Krollis disappears, Endomer is left in charge of the country. He struggles to find a way to save his people while his soldiers are dying and his citizens are forced to flee. As he fights to gain the respect of the palace court, he discovers a threat coming from within the palace walls. There is no one he can trust.
He isn't only fighting for his country – he's fighting for his life.

A Prince in Exile
The vizzen war is over but the palace is far from peaceful. Lord Gavindro, a foreign diplomat, arrives unexpectedly at the palace, his motives unclear. Endomer suspects something sinister lurks behind Lord Gavindro's supposed negotiations for trade, but Krollis refuses to listen to his concerns. When the contention between the two brothers escalates to the breaking point, Endomer leaves Korin and sails to Lord Gavindro's country to unearth the truth.
Across the sea, he discovers the threat goes far deeper than he imagined. A new enemy is on the rise, possessing weapons unlike anything seen before. Alone and far from home, Endomer is the only one who can stop the threat. To save his kingdom, he must face a dark villain determined to vanquish his people and all he's ever known.

Release dateOct 11, 2019
The Kingdom of Korin: Books 1- 2: The Kingdom of Korin
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    The Kingdom of Korin - Melody J. Bremen



    © 2019 Melody J. Bremen

    All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

    This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


    Map of Korin

    and Surrounding Areas

    Book 1: The Prince of Korin

    Chapter 1

    The palace library was a quiet place, just the way I liked it. In the early morning, it was quietest of all, with the pale morning light filtering in through the windows, the birdsong floating in from the palace gardens, and the rustle of parchment as I, Prince Endomer of Korin, lost myself in the pages of a dusty old book about ancient civilizations. No one else was around at this early hour.

    I stood, stretched my arms and turned my gaze out the window. The capital city of Phylamoria stretched for miles, the red shingled rooftops glowing golden in the light of the rising sun. It was a layered city, with arches reaching over buildings to walkways that led to another tier of dwellings. Little puffs of smoke drifted out of chimney stacks.

    My gaze fell on the paper calendar that I had hung up on the wall near the window. One week left until my fifteenth birthday. I blew out a long sigh. This was going to be the longest week of my life, but it would never be long enough. My fifteenth birthday had been hanging over my head my entire life like a dark thundercloud ready to spit out lightning.

    I walked to the wall where Nono lay curled up in her basket, her little pink nose quivering in her sleep. Nono was a kip, a round, furry, big-eared creature that fit in the palm of my hand. She’d wandered out of the forest and into the palace courtyard five years ago as a pup, limping horribly. I found her, patched her up, and released her. But apparently she liked me, and she returned the palace no matter how many times I sent her away. So I kept her. Sometimes I read reports and books aloud to her. She always listened, watching me with unblinking eyes.

    I lifted the jar of fish that sat on the shelf and poured a few fish into Nono’s bowl. Her nose twitched rapidly and she opened her enormous violet eyes. She scuttled to the bowl and hopped onto the edge of it, peering intently at her breakfast. I smiled. Watching that little ball of fur behave like a hunter always tickled my funny bone.

    Your Highness?

    I turned around.

    Hap stood near the door. He was the son of the palace steward and he’d grown up here in the palace. When he was seven years old, he’d been assigned as my personal servant. He was two years younger than I and thin in a wiry way. He had a perpetually polite expression on his face, which was topped by floppy flaxen hair.

    The ambassador from Shastahan will be arriving shortly, my lord, he said. Your presence is requested in the main hall.

    I could hear the bustling noise of palace activity growing in the halls. I tapped on the edge of Nono’s basket. See you later, my fuzzy friend, I whispered, and turned to leave.

    When I joined my family in the main hall, Father stood near his throne, talking to several advisors. Most days he wore a light crown of intertwined silver and gold leaves, but today – in honor of the guest – he wore the heavier gold crown studded with rubies. He was dressed in rich, dark colors and he cut an impressive figure, tall and athletically built, with a proud bearing. He was dark-haired like I was, though he was graying at the temples and in his short beard.

    Mother stood with them, but she stepped towards me when I entered the room. She was nearly as tall as Father and just as proud-looking, but she was fair and blue-eyed where he was dark. Ah, good, you’re here, she said as I approached. How are you this morning, darling?

    I woke early. Got a good bit of reading in.

    I can see that. She took one of my hands and rubbed a smudge of ink off. Stand straight, please.

    As I lifted my head and set my shoulders, I glanced around to see who was in the room. All the important members of the court were gathered. They stood silently near the edges of the room as we waited for the ambassador to arrive.

    I caught sight of my twin brother Krollis sitting on the shoulder of the marble statue of our great-grandfather that stood against the back wall, his arm slung around the statue’s head. There wasn’t much in the palace that Krollis hadn’t yet climbed. Lately, he was only indoors to sleep and eat, like there was some restless spirit in him, constantly driving him to keep moving. His shoulder-length hair was slightly damp now, probably recently washed after a morning ride.

    Though Krollis and I were twins, we scarcely looked like brothers. He looked the way everyone expected a prince to look – close to six feet tall and still growing, broad in the shoulders, easy smile on his face. He had Mother’s coloring but his skin was brown from many hours spent outdoors. I was dark like Father and five foot five if I stood straight. My shoulders were the opposite of broad. A string of childhood illnesses had stunted my growth and left me the small one in a tall family. Mother said I made up for it in other ways.

    Krollis pointed out one of the floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the front of the palace. He’s coming, he announced. I see the coach.

    Father glanced at Krollis, his gaze sharpening when he saw where Krollis was sitting. You will behave yourself while our guest is here.

    Krollis scooted off, his smile a little sheepish. Yes, sire.

    Father strode toward the towering throne set near the back wall. He settled onto it, looking not unlike the imposing statues that stood nearby. He even had the same inscrutable expression. Baclen, the king’s bodyguard, loomed in the shadow of the throne.

    Mother sat in the throne next to Father and Krollis and I took our places, flanking the king and queen. The lords and ladies formed two lines to either side of us, curiosity on their faces. This was a new ambassador and everyone was eager to see if he’d be someone who would connect well with our court. Shastahan had always been a good ally for Korin throughout the ages, particularly when it came to trade, but their choices of emissaries left something to be desired.

    The front doors groaned open. A servant stepped inside. Lord Zalando, in representation of His Royal Excellency Emperor Palti, Ruler of Shastahan. He moved aside.

    Lord Zalando swept into the hall. He was a young man with slicked back dark hair and a neat beard. He crossed the large room with quick strides, footsteps echoing, then flourished a bow. He straightened and clicked his heels. Your Royal Majesty. What a great honor to be here. A great honor. He beamed at everyone around him. It was a somewhat oily smile. A great honor, indeed.

    If he said a great honor one more time…

    Lord Zalando bowed his head towards Father’s advisors. A very great honor.

    I glanced at Krollis. He bit his lip and ducked his head to hide his smile. He was getting better at keeping a straight face. When we were ten years old, he would giggle whenever he heard a name or word he found amusing.

    Father didn’t miss a beat. He nodded at the lord. The pleasure is ours. Welcome to Korin.

    I have long awaited to visit your glorious country. Lord Zalando turned and swept an even more elaborate bow to the queen. His head almost touched his toes. I wondered if that hurt. Your Royal Highness, he went on. The grace and wisdom of Queen Neralyn are spoken of until the distant shores, but the tales of your beauty do not do you justice.

    The queen gave him a cool nod. Thank you, Lord Zalando.

    I smirked to myself. The queen, like many members of the court, found the ambassadors from Shastahan irritating. She also hated flattery. Between those two things, this man had just put himself on her bad list.

    Lord Zalando turned back to the king. His Royal Excellency Emperor Palti, in his extreme graciousness, has sent you a gift. He motioned behind him. In the courtyard of your splendid palace you shall find a wagonload of presents as well as ten of Emperor Palti’s finest horses.

    Thank you, Father inclined his head. The emperor’s gift is greatly appreciated. He turned to Naswall, the palace steward, a bald, bony man who was the father of my servant Hap. His expression rivaled his son’s for the perfect mixture of bored and polite. Naswall, the king said, please see to it that the gift is stored properly.

    Naswall bowed and dispatched a servant with a simple gesture.

    Now, Father said, You’ve had a long journey, Lord Zalando. I’m sure you wish to freshen up before breakfast.

    Yes, indeed, Your Majesty. Thank you. He bowed again.

    A servant stepped forward and led the dignitary out of the room.

    Krollis watched him leave, then looked at Father. That’s it? We all gathered in here just to watch him prance around? He bowed exaggeratedly. What a great honor, Your Majesty. What a great honor.

    Many of the lords glanced at Krollis with amusement, but the king didn’t seem as pleased. He cast a particularly imposing look at Krollis. I knew how quelling it felt to be on the receiving end. Still looking at Krollis, the king said, Naswall, is breakfast ready?

    Yes, sire.

    Good. Transfer Lord Zalando’s belongings to his room. Father stood. Come. Let us eat.

    I turned and followed my family to the largest dining room. I hoped this wasn’t going to take long. I really wanted to get back to the library.

    We entered the dining room and made our way towards the head table. As we passed the row of tall windows, Krollis let his hand trail along the thick, embroidered drapes. We ascended the three steps to the raised platform where the royal family dined. The dining room filled with noise as everyone took their seats, voices echoing in the domed ceiling.

    The tables were spread with nearly every dish available in Korin – stuffed bird and platters of lamb, an endless assortment of vegetables. The ambassador from Shastahan would only be in the capital city of Phylamoria for two days. Every effort would be made to impress him.

    As soon as Father pulled his seat in, Lord Korvane leaned over his shoulder and spoke to him in quiet, urgent tones. Korvane said most things in urgent tones, like every thought of his was gravely important. At age seventy-five, he was one of the oldest advisers. His shoulders were hunched and his skin was wrinkled, but he still moved about quite spryly and, as the Minister of Foreign Relations, did a fair bit of traveling.

    Then Lord Zalando strolled in with an escort of personal guards and servants and I heard Father say to Lord Korvane, We will resume this discussion later.

    A servant pulled out a chair for the ambassador at the end of our table. Lord Zalando snapped his cloak back and sat down. What an elegant feast!

    Are you greatly honored? Krollis asked under his breath. Mother shot him a look of warning. He flashed a bright smile in return.

    The king began to eat, and the meal began. As I reached for my bread, Krollis announced, I rode all the way to Briar’s Keep and back this morning. It took me less than an hour each way.

    I’d rather you didn’t ride through the marshes, Krollis, Mother said.

    Krollis shrugged. I know my way. Also, if I ride fast enough, my horse’s hooves don’t sink into the marsh. It’s pure science.

    No, it’s wishful thinking, I muttered.

    Lord Zalando leaned forward. And this must be one of your princes? He gestured to Krollis.

    Yes, this is Prince Krollis, Father said.

    Krollis set his fork down and gave his princely smile, the one that put everyone at ease. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lord Zalando. Welcome to Korin.

    Lord Zalando dipped his head, then asked, And where is your other son?

    Father regarded him for a moment, then motioned towards me, Prince Endomer.

    Ah. Lord Zalando’s gaze landed on me, noticing me for the first time. Yes, of course. I did not see you there. He chuckled.

    I nearly commented that he, on the other hand, was hard to miss. Instead, I smiled politely.

    The birthday of the princes is fast approaching, is it not? Lord Zalando said.

    Yes, at the end of next week. They will be fifteen years old, Father said. As of now, they do not know which is the older twin. The queen and I decided when they were born to keep this information from them, as well as from the entire kingdom. We did not want one son to feel superior, knowing he’d be the one to inherit the kingdom. On their fifteenth birthday, we will announce which one is older. Next week, they will be ready and mature enough, he glanced pointedly at Krollis, to accept their destinies.

    How very interesting, Lord Zalando spread marmalade on his toast. If they don’t know which is older, they don’t know which of them will be king.

    That is correct. They will find out on their birthday.

    I glanced at Krollis. He was scraping up the last of his meal, seemingly unconcerned about all of this. I dropped my gaze to my plate, a nervous tremor running through me. One week left and I would find out whether I would grow old with my books in the library, or take on the burden of the kingdom. The idea of me sitting on the throne was ridiculous. I could barely lift a sword off the ground. But the other choice was Krollis, the prince who was never on time, never where he was supposed to be, and had the attention span of my pet Nono.

    There was no positive outcome, no matter how I looked at it.

    Father, I’m going to Woodhaven today, Krollis said. Lord Vale’s son told me there’s to be a jousting competition.

    You’re going on the barg hunt with Sir Adaire, Father said. Or did you forget?

    Krollis smacked his forehead. Oh, that’s right! I forgot about that.

    Endomer, the king said, I’d like you to join the barg hunt with Krollis today.

    My head snapped up. Me? Outdoor activities generally led to injuries on my part, so I did my best to avoid them. A hunt?

    Barg hunting is a princely sport. I think it would be a good experience for you.

    I stared at Father for a few long seconds, even after he moved the discussion back to Lord Zalando. I blew out a long breath. There went my hopes of spending the rest of the day in the library.

    When the meal was over, I fell into step beside the queen. Mother, I think I’d rather not go barg hunting.

    Nothing terrible will happen if you step outside of your comfort zone, Endomer.

    I step out of my comfort zone all the time. Last week I wrote a report on mining.

    That isn’t quite what I meant. Sir Adaire will be leading the hunt. I’m sure he’ll look after you.

    He hates me. Sir Adaire had been Krollis’ sword master when we were younger. He had been my sword master, too. For a month. And then he gave up.

    Mother stopped in front of the palace’s main entrance and turned to face me. Sir Adaire does not hate you. And truthfully, the reason you’re going is because your father and I want you to spend more time with your brother.

    I blinked. When and where and how would Krollis and I spend more time together? We had nothing in common. Would Father send him into the library to study ancient languages with me? Did Krollis remember where the library was?

    Naswall is going to bring you several royal economy reports, Mother said, Do me a favor and check through them before you leave. I’m off now to meet the Duchess of Kail. There’s been some politics in her area and your father asked me to see to it. I’ll be here when you get back. And cheer up, maybe you’ll even enjoy yourself.

    Chapter 2

    Very funny, Mother.

    Nothing about this trip was enjoyable. It had started badly enough – a long, bumpy horse ride in an uncomfortable saddle into the forest west of Phylamoria. And then the foliage became too thick, so we dismounted and continued on foot. Mosquitoes buzzed around my head. Something slimy dripped from a vine and into my hair, then slid down the back of my neck. With every step, something snagged my clothing. I paused to unsnarl my cloak from a thorn bush for the umpteenth time, and when I looked up, Krollis and the soldiers were gone.

    I turned in a circle. Trees five times as thick as my waist stood around me. Thorny thistles reached out at me from the brush. I listened hard, but no, not a sound. I was sure they would realize any moment that I’d been left behind and they would come back for me. I looked for a place to sit, but the prickly foliage grew everywhere.

    I wondered how long I would be able to survive if I were lost out here. I leaned forward and peered at the lichen on the forest ground. That was probably edible.

    Something rustled in the undergrowth beside me. I froze, then straightened slowly. Bargs were scaly four-legged creatures about ten feet tall. They had two horns on their head and three rows of teeth. Their jaws were powerful enough to cut through stone and they could run as fast as a horse. Thankfully, they did not eat humans. But they would attack in certain situations, like if one came between a mother barg and her child.

    Krollis, I called, not too loud. I didn’t want to attract the attention of anything dangerous. Sir Adaire? I took a few steps. I couldn’t remember if this was the sort of situation where I was supposed to back away slowly or run for my life.

    I stepped through the trees and tripped on a vine. Ouch. What did Mother say about leaving my comfort zone? Well, mission accomplished. I was highly uncomfortable. I scrambled up and stumbled onward. Krollis! I called again, louder.

    I entered a small clearing. As I walked across it, something crunched under my foot. I looked down. A thick orange liquid oozed across the ground. Several broken pieces of a pale round object lay around my boot. I seemed to have stepped on an… egg? A very large egg.

    I turned slowly. Three more eggs lay nearby. Each was nearly the size of my head. Leaves padded the ground beneath them. Ah. I had stepped into a nest. I took a closer look at the eggs. Light brown, orange flecks. Barg eggs. My body temperature dropped ten degrees.

    I took a few slow steps back. I reached for my sword, but it wasn’t there. Oh, right, I’d left it with the horses. I hadn’t planned on using it.

    I edged out of the clearing, then stopped to listen. The forest around me was completely still. I blew out a long breath. That was a close one.

    I wiped the orange mess off my boot, then shoved through the thick foliage. It would’ve been best to remain in one spot, so the group could find me more easily, but I wanted to put a little distance between myself and the—

    Footsteps thudded behind me. Heavy, slow footsteps.

    The skin on the back of my neck prickled. I turned and peered through the trees. An enormous creature had entered the clearing. I caught a quick glimpse of grey scales before I spun and fled. I probably had the scent of barg egg on my feet, just so I could leave an unmistakable trail wherever I went.

    First, there was only the sound of my panicked breathing. Then, a deafening roar that rattled the trees.

    I sprinted through the trees. Maybe bargs roared when they were happy. Thundering footsteps raced after me. The earth trembled.

    I raced ahead blindly, darting between the trees. I tripped and tumbled down a slope, then leaped back up. I could barely breathe. I knew I should’ve stayed home.

    The barg roared again.

    Endomer! a voice shouted. It was Krollis.

    I turned sharply. Finally! I’d never been so happy to see him. I raced towards him. It’s after me!

    He smiled broadly and pointed past me. Look! It’s a barg!

    Yes, thank you for pointing that out! I ran past him, then skidded to a stop. "What are you doing?"

    He raised his crossbow and shot an arrow. Hunting it, of course.

    I looked back. The monster was barreling towards us, only twenty feet away, her mouth wide open.

    Krollis reloaded and shot a second arrow. The barg stopped abruptly and bellowed, throwing her head back in rage and pain. Krollis flung the crossbow aside and unsheathed his sword. With a war cry, he charged at the barg and slashed across her flank.

    Two guards ran past me with crossbows. Your Highness! one yelled. Get back!

    Krollis didn’t hear them, or didn’t care to listen. He leaped away as the barg took a swipe at him, then stabbed her in the side.

    A wave of nausea passed over me. I turned and leaned my head into a tree. Deep breaths. Endomer, I told myself, don’t ever go barg hunting again.

    Krollis whooped and I knew the creature was dead.

    Your Highness?

    I looked up. Sir Adaire stood at my elbow, holding a flask of water. He was one of the youngest generals – he was barely past thirty – but he did not seem any less experienced. It may have had something to do with the thin, white scar that cut across the left side of his reddish-brown beard. I’m sorry I lost you back there, he said. I thought I caught a bit of exasperation in his eyes, as if it were my fault.

    I took the flask and gulped down nearly half of it. Thank you. My entire body was shaking and my heart still pounded. I kept a hand on the tree to hold myself steady.

    Sir Adaire looked at me, a crease forming between his eyebrows. Are you ill, my lord?

    I needed a vacation for a month. No. Never been better.

    Krollis ran over, his face flushed and hair tousled, grinning at me with a wicked gleam in his eye. Are you enjoying the hunt, brother? Do you feel the bloodlust surging through your veins?

    No, I said flatly. No amount of bloodlust is surging at the moment.

    You did an amazing job leading our quarry straight to us. The panic on your face was a nice touch.

    I glared at him. It wasn’t panic. It was merely apprehension.

    He laughed, grabbed my flask and poured the rest of the water over his head. It’s hot out here.

    I was going to drink that, actually, I said.

    Oops. He handed the empty flask to me, then shook his wet hair in my face.

    Luckily, we did not have to trek back to the horses. The soldiers retrieved them, along with the wagon for our catch.

    Look at the size of that beast, Krollis pointed to where the soldiers were hauling the barg onto a wagon. He mounted his horse and looked down at me, beaming. It’s barg for dinner tonight! I’ll have them stuff the head and put it up in my room above my bed.

    I stepped onto a soldier’s pair of cupped hands and flung my way into my mount’s saddle. Definitely the first thing you’d want to be looking at when you wake up.

    I know. We can put it in your room. It can go low on the wall and you can stack all your books on top.

    I rubbed my face with my sleeve, trying to rid myself of the sweat and whatever had dripped on me over the course of the day. How creative. It’s a shame they haven’t asked you to redecorate the entire palace.

    Krollis snapped his fingers. Yes, brilliant! A barg head in every room! Which means… He turned in the saddle to smile at me. More hunting!


    The palace stood on a hill close to the forest. We approached from behind and circled around the large outer wall to the front gates, which faced the capital city. The guards opened the gate and we entered the front courtyard. The sun was going down and it was nearly time for dinner, but I doubted I would be eating much. The smell of dead barg had made me queasy.

    As we dismounted, I saw Lord Jurin, the Minister of Inventory, walking up the front steps that led to the inner courtyard. He was a tall, slender man with eyes that always looked tired. It made him seem older than he was, though his dark hair and beard was only graying at the edges. He was looking at several small scraps of parchment and seemed lost in his own world, in that way he had.

    He stopped as the clamor of our group filled the courtyard and looked around, as if trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. His gaze fell on us and he called, How did Your Highnesses enjoy the hunt? Lord Jurin served in the king’s court, but he was more like family. His father had been an advisor to my grandfather and Jurin grew up in the palace alongside my father. He had no family of his own and when Krollis and I were children, we called him Uncle.

    Killed the barg single-handedly, Krollis called back. He jumped down from his horse and bounded up the wide steps two at a time. How old was Father when he killed his first barg? I’m starving. What’s that noise? It sounds like a merrow got inside the palace.

    Lord Jurin watched him disappear inside the twenty-foot archway that led to the inner courtyard with an amused expression, then looked back at me.

    I came up the stairs slowly, my legs aching. I stepped on a barg egg, I said flatly.

    He tried to hide his smile. I see. Killed it single-handedly, as well. You’ll have better luck next time.

    With better luck, there won’t be a next time. I passed under the archway and wearily climbed the next set of stairs to the large double doors that led into the palace. Hap greeted me inside, took my cloak and handed me a damp towel. I took it gratefully and wiped my face.

    An animal-like screech reached my ears. I looked across the main hall. It sounded like a merrow had flown into the building. Merrows were the largest birds in Korin, with a wingspan extending to fifteen feet. They were generally black or brown, with white beaks and a ruff of white feathers around their necks. They were also extremely stupid. They had a tendency to fly into buildings and not know how to find their way out again.

    Hap, is someone taking care of getting rid of that merrow?

    I believe they are, my lord.

    The merrow shrieked again. It was closer. The doors across the room were open and I could see it flying up the corridor. I just hoped Mother wouldn’t find out about this. She was so frustrated that they were able to get inside so easily.

    With an ear-piercing shriek, the merrow shot into the main hall. It swerved abruptly, narrowly missing a marble column.

    I stared up at it. Was that…? No, it couldn’t be.

    Krollis was riding on the merrow’s back.

    Not just riding. He was standing on the merrow’s back. I’d heard of peasants riding on merrows at fairs, but standing? I didn’t know how that was physically possible. He was leaning over, gripping fistfuls of feathers, his face alight with exhilaration.

    You might want to call the court physician, I said.

    Hap gaped up at Krollis. You think he’ll be injured?

    No, I think I will faint.

    The merrow banked and swooped just above our heads, then out the room. It disappeared down a tight corridor and I heard several maids scream. Krollis’ laugh echoed off the walls.

    I dropped the towel into Hap’s hands. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the east library.

    Yes, Your Highness, he said, still staring after Krollis.

    As I climbed the stairs to the princes’ tower, I heard a sharp voice, Krollis Alinhonder! What is the meaning of this? Get down at once! There will be no creatures in my palace!

    It seemed that Mother found out about the merrow after all.

    I passed the landing of the second floor and caught a whiff of cookies and peppermint. A high voice called, Ah, Prince Endomer! How wonderful that I chanced upon you now!

    I stopped and turned, smiling.

    The palace cook was a tiny woman. She reminded me of a bird sometimes, with her high piping voice and the way she flitted when she walked. She stepped onto the landing and held out a tray with five neat rows of muffins. It’s not a new recipe, but I added a little something this time around, Your Highness. Have a taste. If you can guess the added ingredient, I’ll give you a second muffin.

    No, thank you, Cook, I’m not hungry.

    Not hungry? She looked at me closely with her small bright eyes. And you’re so very pale. I heard you went barg hunting with your brother today, didn’t you, Your Highness? Ah, I know what you need. A cup of tea. I believe you are the only one in this palace who appreciates a nice cup of tea.

    Thank you, Cook, but I really don’t need anything right now. I edged away and continued up the stairs. The smell of muffins was overwhelming and I was starting to feel lightheaded.

    Not even tea? I never thought a boy that age could turn down food… Her voice faded away behind me.

    The library was wonderfully quiet. I slipped in the door and stood still a moment, breathing in the smell of old pages.

    Lady Lihonis was in the room. In her younger years, she was a lecturer in the Phylamoria University, and after she retired, Father asked her to become the royal tutor. For years, she taught Krollis and me, and when Krollis abandoned his studies for other pursuits, she continued to teach me.

    Her snowy head was bent over a large book when I walked in. She glanced up, then rose

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