Allies & assassins, p.1
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       Allies & Assassins, p.1

           Justin Somper
 
Allies & Assassins


  Digital Galley Edition

  This is uncorrected advance content collected for your reviewing convenience. Please check with publisher or refer to the finished product whenever you are excerpting or quoting in a review.

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  This is an uncorrected proof. Please note that any quotes for reviews must be checked against the fi nished book. Dates, prices, and manufacturing details are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

  Copyright

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

  Copyright © 2014 by Justin Somper

  All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  Little, Brown and Company

  Hachette Book Group

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  Visit our website at www.lb-teens.com

  Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  First U.S. Edition: May 2014

  First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Atom

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Somper, Justin.

  Allies & assassins / Justin Somper.—First U.S. edition.

  pages cm

  “First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Atom”—Copyright page.

  Summary: “Sixteen-year-old Jared inherits the throne of Archenfield after his older brother, Prince Anders, is murdered. He relies on the twelve officers of the court to advise him but soon suspects one of them could be responsible for his brother's death and vows to hunt down the killer, who may be after Jared as well”—Provided by publisher.

  ISBN 978-0-316-25393-2 (hc) . ISBN 978-0-316-25394-9 (ebook)

  [1. Princes—Fiction. 2. Courts and courtiers—Fiction. 3. Assassins—Fiction. 4. Fantasy.] I. Title. II. Title: Allies and assassins.

  PZ7.S69733Al 2014

  [Fic]—dc23

  2013017968

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  RRD-C

  Printed in the United States of America

  For Jenny Jenner

  Contents

  Cover

  Disclaimer

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Map

  The Archenfield Hours

  The Prince and Officers of Archenfield

  Day One

  Chapter One: The Falconer’s Mews, the Village of the Twelve

  Chapter Two: The Glen

  Chapter Three: The Palace

  Chapter Four: The Prince’s Library, the Palace

  Chapter Five: The Low Corridor, the Palace

  Chapter Six: The Queen’s Quarters, the Palace

  Chapter Seven: The Council Chamber, the Palace

  Chapter Eight: The Queen’s Quarters, the Palace

  Chapter Nine: The Physician’s Ice Chamber, the Village

  Chapter Ten: The Captain of the Guard’s Office, the Palace

  Chapter Eleven: The Kitchens, the Palace

  Chapter Twelve: The Cook’s Office, the Palace

  Chapter Thirteen: The Forest

  Chapter Fourteen: The Council Chamber, the Palace

  Day Two

  Chapter Fifteen: The Physic Garden

  Chapter Sixteen: The Grand Hall, the Palace

  Chapter Seventeen: The Palace Gardens

  Chapter Eighteen: The Long Corridor, the Palace

  Chapter Nineteen: The Dungeons

  Day Three

  Chapter Twenty: The Palace Gardens

  Chapter Twenty-One: The Council Chamber, the Palace

  Chapter Twenty-Two: The West Tower, the Palace

  Chapter Twenty-Three: The Forest

  Chapter Twenty-Four: The Prince’s Quarters, the Palace

  Day Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five: Prince Anders’s Bathing House

  Chapter Twenty-Six: The Prince’s Quarters

  Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Council Chamber, the Palace

  Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Physician’s Quarters, the Village of the Twelve

  Chapter Twenty-Nine: The River

  Chapter Thirty: The Captain of the Guard’s Office, the Palace

  Day Five

  Chapter Thirty-One: The Beekeeper’s Cottage, the Village

  Chapter Thirty-Two: The Falconer’s Cottage, the Village

  Chapter Thirty-Three: The Falconer’s Mews, the Village

  Chapter Thirty-Four: The Village Chapel

  Chapter Thirty-Five: The Grand Hall, the Palace

  Chapter Thirty-Six: The Palace Ice Chamber

  Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Palace Ice Chamber

  Day Six

  Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Prince’s Dressing Chamber

  Chapter Thirty-Nine: Archenfield

  Forty: The Forest

  Seven Days Later…

  Forty-One: The Fjord

  Acknowledgments

  THE ARCHENFIELD HOURS

  The Prince’s Bell

  The bell chimes once, for there can only be one true Prince.

  We use this hour to give thanks for his multitude of virtues and for how he embodies all that is good and fair in our Princedom.

  The Captain of the Guard’s Bell

  The bell chimes twice.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the protection and peace the Captain of the Guard affords our Princedom.

  The Cook’s Bell

  The bell chimes three times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the diverse and plentiful food that we eat three times each day.

  The Woodsman’s Bell

  The bell chimes four times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for our woods and forests and for those who tend them through the four seasons of the year.

  The Groom’s Bell

  The bell chimes five times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the horses and other animals, on whom we all depend, and those who look after them.

  The Poet’s Bell

  The bell chimes six times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the Poet’s gift for finding words to tell the story of our Princedom.

  The Falconer’s Bell

  The bell chimes seven times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the Falconer’s ability to communicate with her birds and for the protection this affords us all.

  The Huntsman’s Bell

  The bell chimes eight times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the skill and bravery of those who capture food for us to eat.

  The Bodyguard’s Bell

  The bell chimes nine times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for those who protect our Prince and thereby the Princedom.

  The Beekeeper’s Bell

  The bell chimes ten times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the honey harvested from her hives and for the sweetness of life we enjoy in Archenfield.
r />   The Physician’s Bell

  The bell chimes eleven times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for those who know how to cure us and for the mysteries of our mortal bodies we have yet to comprehend.

  The Priest’s Bell

  The bell chimes twelve times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the Priest, who guides our path through this life and shepherds us gently into the realm beyond.

  The Executioner’s Bell

  The bell strikes thirteen times.

  We use this hour to give thanks for the Executioner’s axe, which is wielded with rigor and justice so we may all sleep safe in our beds.

  The Edling’s Bell

  The bell strikes fourteen times.

  We use this hour to honor our illustrious heritage and also to look forward to the glorious future of the Princedom.

  THE PRINCE AND OFFICERS OF ARCHENFIELD

  Prince: Anders Wynyard (assassinated)

  Edling: Jared Wynyard

  Beekeeper: Emelie Sands

  Captain of the Guard: Axel Blaxland

  Chief Bodyguard: Hal Harness

  Chief Groom: Lucas Curzon

  Chief Huntsman: Kai Jagger

  Cook: Vera Webb

  Executioner: Morgan Booth

  Falconer: Nova Chastain

  Physician: Elias Peck

  Poet: Logan Wilde

  Priest: Father Simeon

  Woodsman: Jonas Drummond

  DAY ONE

  ONE

  The Falconer’s Mews,

  the Village of the Twelve

  THE LAST OF HER SEVEN FALCONS BALANCED ON her wrist, nova chastain walked back out onto the balcony once more. Her gray-brown eyes glistened, as if wet with dew; her dark hair, hanging low beneath the small of her back, was gently tangled from her previous trips out onto the windblown balcony. Already she had sent six of her falcons on their way—carrying their somber messages to her six deputies at each of the border gates. The new day had barely announced itself but already Nova was weary. Her head ached and there was a gnawing sensation in her stomach, though she had no appetite for breakfast. It felt like an age since they had brought her the terrible news, but she knew from the changing light that it had been less than an hour ago that the Prince’s Bell had sounded; the single chime that announced another Archenfield dawn. Albeit one which the Prince himself had not lived to see.

  She had been watching, as was her habit, the budding of the new morning from her perch high above the village when the Captain of the Guard’s messenger arrived. Hearing his cold, hard words, she had turned away—eyes already stinging—to watch the golden sunlight nudge away the pink residue of dawn. The view across the Princedom was as beautiful as she could ever remember but today its very beauty felt wantonly cruel.

  The Falconer could feel her bird’s eagerness to take wing and follow its six fellows. It moved impatiently from side to side on the worn leather gauntlet that encased Nova’s slender left arm, from her muscled biceps to the tips of her fingers. Nova had saved her favorite bird until last. She held Mistral close a moment longer, knowing that once the falcon took flight, she would be all alone with her grief. The Falconer’s Mews, set atop its high tower, seemed a cold and lonely place when the falcons’ roost was empty.

  She conjured the image of her other six falcons—already in the air, soaring swiftly in their appointed directions across the Archenfield sky, carrying the bleakest of messages to the smaller mews at each of the gates:

  Prince Anders has been killed. One or more assassins is on the loose. Close down the borders and take all other appropriate action.

  After these two hard-won, barely savored years of peace, Nova knew what a gut-churning shock it would be to her comrades at each border mews to unfurl such an ominous note.

  Stroking Mistral’s small hooded head with the fingers of her free hand, Nova looked out across the landscape spread out before her—the landscape she loved with a deep, visceral passion. She thought of how the news would travel swiftly, beyond the palace and the court, out to the settlements. Before the striking of the next bell, every man, woman and child might already share in the news of Prince Anders’s assassination. Shock and grief would run amok, like the most aggressive forest fire—no, like a wind-borne plague. People who had never seen the Prince’s face nor heard his voice would fall to the ground, keening in sorrow.

  Unlike them, Nova had known the Prince: his face was as familiar to her as the sun; his voice as commonplace as the rustling of the trees. Imagining a world without him was as implausible as conjuring up a day without sun, wind, or trees.

  Nova attempted a steadying breath. She was one of the Council of Twelve—the council that supported the Prince in ruling the Princedom. She knew she must try to damp down her personal feelings and keep focused on doing the job required of her. The Captain of the Guard’s messenger had briefed her with extreme clarity and she had executed his bidding to the letter. Just as she always did. No one could take issue with Nova Chastain’s dedication to duty.

  She nuzzled Mistral one last time. There had always been a particularly strong bond between the Falconer and this bird. She had always felt that she could sense Mistral’s emotions—whether exhilaration or anxiety—and she was equally sure that the bird could intuit her own moods.

  Now she removed the bird’s hood and gazed down fondly at Mistral’s jewel-bright eyes. They served as twin mirrors to her own disquiet. The bird’s head began moving jerkily about. Whenever her birds were free from their hoods, it felt as if they were thirstily drinking in every aspect of their surroundings. Often, she had the impression they were experiencing the world—its sights, sounds, scents and secrets—for the very first time each day.

  The moment could be delayed no longer; it was time to set Mistral free. Nova gave a practiced flick of her wrist and the falcon extended her vast wingspan and took flight.

  Watching her go, Nova felt suddenly weightless, giddy. She reached out both hands to grip the balcony. Snatching uneven gulps of air, she was distracted by signs of activity below her.

  To the right was the dark blue-green forest, and beyond that silvery fjord. Turning her gaze in the opposite direction, she saw a cluster of figures in the glen—a hunting party. She strained her sight with the effort of identifying the figures; but her eyes soon budded with water again and her vision became blurred. She lifted a square of linen to her eyes to absorb some of the moisture. As she drew it away again, she saw a lone rider setting out toward the glen.

  She knew from the way he rode that it was Lucas Curzon, the Chief Groom. Lucas, her fellow on the Twelve, was one of the gentlest and noblest of men. He was a man of few words—to human companions at least. She had sometimes heard him, when he thought he was alone, lost in “conversation” with his horses.

  Lucas must be taking a message to the hunting party. Piecing together the picture, Nova realized that Prince Anders’s younger brother, Prince Jared, might be one of the hunters. Was it possible that the young prince did not yet know of his brother’s fate? This thought sent a stabbing pain deep into her insides. She opened her mouth to cry out, but no sound would come. Her grief, she knew, was buried too deeply to be easily released. Holding her tender belly, she rocked to-and-fro for a moment, begging the pain to subside. But it was a stubborn hurt and she knew it would remain deep inside her, buried like a locked casket tossed to the depths of the fjord.

  She knew this just as surely as she knew that dark and difficult times lay ahead. Not just for her and the rest of the Twelve but for all of Archenfield.

  A sudden noise pulled her from her reverie. The north door had blown shut and, with such force that, one of the glass panes had cracked and shattered. A fresh pain searing through her head, Nova surveyed the fan of fallen shards.

  It was best to go inside. For now, her work was done. She turned and approached the broken door. Though she opened it as gently as possible, more shards of glass fell through and shattered next to her boots. One
of the shards, carried perhaps on the wind, ricocheted up and embedded itself in the pad of her forefinger. She watched, with horrid fascination, as a bud of blood appeared there and kept watching as it grew in size. It was rather like watching a rose bloom.

  As the blood began to spill over the side of her finger, she lifted it to her lips and drew the metallic taste of it into her mouth. In a strange way, it comforted her, offering her some kind of fellowship with Prince Anders. For blood was life but blood was also death. She imagined, once more, of the life draining from the young and virile Prince. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the vivid image. But there it was, lurking horribly behind her eyelids.

  “Prince Anders,” she whispered. Then, an even softer echo. “Anders.” Her eyes were still tightly shut. She felt a single tear snake down her cheek and fall saltily upon her blood-stained tongue.

  TWO

  The Glen

  “HOLD FAST, SIR,” KAI JAGGER, THE CHIEF HUNTSman, instructed prince jared. “you and i will wait here.”

  They had dismounted from their horses and now stood waiting in the long grass as the two other members of the hunting party set off on foot toward the woodland up ahead. The grass was wet with dew and some remnants of the morning mist still snaked around them. Jared could feel moisture seeping in above the tops of his riding boots. It was unwelcome but—at the same time—the cold and wet made him feel a bit more awake and alert.

  He hadn’t wanted to be dragged out of his bed to hunt this morning—he would never actively choose to be dragged from the comfort of his bed—but it was all part of his princely training. He knew there was no escape for him—any more than there would be for the stag.

  Jared’s crossbow was trained on the line of trees ahead—the line of trees from which, assuming Jagger’s subordinates executed their part successfully, the stag would emerge directly into the firing line. Jared watched his companions—a man and a woman—advancing on the glade. He noticed the precise way they walked, staying close to the adjacent trees so that their green and brown uniforms blended in with the flora and fauna. It was becoming harder and harder for him to distinguish the hunters from the trees. What chance would the stag have?

 
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