Determined to purge the land of his father’s evil legacy, young King Armander has sworn death or exile to all who practice the black arts. But Armander’s determination weakens when the dead king’s mistress warns that he needs her help, or both his kingdom and his life will be doomed. Does he dare defy his own edict to save himself and his people? Can he trust the woman known to all simply as The King’s Witch?
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EXCERPT -- Chapter 1
She always knew they would come for her. They are coming again, the king’s men.
The young one this time. The one Nekros called his son. She called him by another name when she suckled him, before Nekros sent his men. Before they came and snatched the baby from her breast.
They came for him, too. The thought strikes her as funny. It makes her laugh, long and hard, until she has to hold her sides, wheezing for breath, laughing so hard her ribs ache.
One of her jailers yells at her. “Quiet, witch!”
They call her witch now. Once she had a name. Nekros called her Koreen when she pleased him. Bitch or slut or whore when she did not.
And the baby they snatched from her breast? What did Nekros call him? What does he call himself?
King. He calls himself King.
He sent his guards the day after Nekros died, brought her here to await his judgment.
If he dawdles much longer, this dungeon will be her death. Then all will be lost.
Death surrounds her here. Its smell permeates the place. But something more taints the air, an unmistakable odor, one all too familiar. The scent of evil.
Demons hover near.
The one who summoned them from their netherworld lies in his grave. Now they are free, they seek a new home. And they are hungry.
Unbidden, the Knowledge comes to her: In time, they will find a home. In time, a great man will die.
Yes, they will find a home, but not with her. Not while she has strength to send them on their way. Their kind can be discouraged. Demons are much like humans—given a choice, they take the easier course.
She has to struggle to get to her feet. Her joints protest every step as she travels the perimeter of her cage. Three paces north-south, three paces east-west. South-north, west-east. Three times three, the warding spell, each time around whispering their names.
“Go!” The word dies in a gurgle of phlegm. Persistent coughing has flayed her throat and robbed her voice of its strength.
Nekros’s demons are like starving curs. They must be ordered away with authority.
She takes a deep breath. The words have to be dredged from the depths of her will. Their sharp edges score her throat, leaving a taste of blood as they emerge.
“Be off! Find someone who will welcome you.”
As if in concert with her command, a shaft of sunlight angles through her cell window. The opening is no bigger than a man’s fist, too high to reach. But she has learned by standing in the opposite corner and craning her head back, she can see a patch of sky. At night, a star might briefly lodge there.
She turns toward the light, the way a flower turns its face to the sun, and drinks in the warmth. But it is impossible. Impossible to get warm in this place.
The dank walls exude a constant chill. Now, on the brink of winter, a cold wind often whistles through the window. The jailers refuse her a blanket. A layer of foul-smelling straw scattered over the stone floor serves as her mattress.
Once she shared a king’s bed.
The ground shifts beneath her feet, the walls around her bulge and pulse as though alive, the air quivers. Her surroundings slowly melt away, dissolving into a different time, a different place. She squeezes her eyes shut to ward off the vision and mutters a useless prayer. “No more of the future. Please. The present is torment enough.”
She wakes standing in the same spot. The sun has disappeared, yet she has no memory of time passing. Her limbs are cold as ice. They are clumsy and refuse to do her bidding.
She must stay warm. Stay warm or die.
She drops to the floor, scuttles into the corner. Her brittle nails break and bleed as she rakes the straw toward her, trying to cover herself.
Gad, but it smells of piss.
She hugs her knees to her chest and chants the words in a rasping whisper, reciting her single purpose: “Stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.”
An hour passes, maybe more. The wind dies down. Her body no longer trembles uncontrollably. Perhaps she will live, she cannot be certain. The Knowledge has never revealed her own end.
Something moves beneath the straw. A brief, sharp pain lances her thigh.
Like the demons, they are hungry.
She holds her breath, listening, knowing she has but one chance. Faster than thought, her arm shoots out, and her fingers close around the rodent’s thick tail. She yanks it into the air, holding it at arm’s length. The rat squeals and bites at her.
“Fate holds us all in its grip.” She dangles the creature and laughs while it paws the air, frantically twisting this way and that.
One of the guards yells at her from the other end of the passage. “Stop your cackling, witch!”
She laughs again as she carries the rat to her cell door.
“Shut your filthy gob or I’ll empty my chamber pot down it.”
They had thought it a wonderful jest the night before when they threw the contents of their piss pot onto the floor of her cell.
She thrusts her arm between the bars and watches the squirming rat a moment longer before tossing it into the air. The thing lands on its feet and runs in the direction of the two jailers.
The men’s curses reach her from the guardroom. A chair crashes to the floor as one of them jumps to his feet. She laughs, and laughs again, laughing even as the man’s heavy footsteps approach her cell.
They are coming for her. They will always come for her, the king’s men.
About the Author
|Sondra Allan Carr|
All her books are romances, with the obligatory Happily Ever After, although she does admit to tormenting her characters just a little before they've earned their happy ending.
You can go to Sondra’s website at http://sondraallancarr.com to sign up for email notification of new books, sales, and giveaways.
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