During the first lockdown, much of my time was taken up with outdoor activities, such as gardening, dog walking, and riding my horse. There wasn’t much time left over for writing and, like it was for so many others, creativity didn’t flow well during that period.
This time around though, what with being more severely restricted by both lockdown and the weather,
I hit my stride, producing 2 chapters a week of my WIP, plus blog posts for two blogs (this one and my equestrian blog), some guest posts, and this week, a short story. For some, that’s not much, but for me, it has been a very productive period.
Now it’s drawing to a close (back to work this coming week), but it has given me some insight into what I can produce on the days when I’m not working.
It also means my WIP – The Prince’s Heir, book #4 in The Five Kingdoms, is on schedule for a release date probably this autumn, instead of next year (yay!), as I originally predicted.
So, I thought it might be a good time to share a little from the start of the new book.
THE PRINCE’S HEIR
Princess Annasala peeked through the spyhole to scan her cousin’s antechamber. The entire court was down in the town to witness the traitors’ executions, so the king’s rooms should be empty, but Annasala was too well trained to make assumptions.
Did Marten know she had a key to this secret entrance? Her father, Prince Halnashead, had given only his most trusted spies access to the network of tunnels infiltrating the palace walls. Halnashead’s widow—and successor to his position of Tyr-en’s spymaster—Lady Risada, certainly had no inkling that Annasala, now regarded as the ‘problem princess’, possessed a key.
Pinching her nose to stifle a sneeze, Annasala thrust that irritating label aside for the moment. When she was as certain as she could be that the suite was unoccupied, she slid the tiny key into the hidden keyhole and twisted it, first left, then right, to avoid triggering the poison dart that was the last line of defence should anyone breach the tunnels. The door swung silently open at the push of one fingertip.
Annasala surveyed the room, noting the precise placement of desk, chairs, tables, and ornaments. Richly patterned purple and white rugs covered sections of the wooden floor, deliberately spaced far enough apart that anyone in heeled shoes would announce their approach to Marten’s substantial desk, which sat towards the rear of the room.
After one last pause to be certain she was alone, Annasala lifted each foot in turn and brushed the dust from the soles of her soft slippers. There was surprisingly little, confirming her suspicion that her cousin received regular visits via this route from members of his own spy network. She slipped past the door that masqueraded as a bookcase, leaving it ajar in the event her mission should require a hasty exit.
Skirting the boundary of the room, she headed for the large circular table positioned beside the door to Marten’s sitting room. Her skin began to tingle: magic. There was no mistaking the sensation. Nausea and breathless anticipation squeezed her chest. Whilst sorcery was anathema, this was different—it was the magic of the goddess, a miracle, and not the evil employed by ungodly individuals.
Annasala recalled the last time she’d seen the object currently nestled beneath the heavy scarlet cloth in the centre of the table. That had been the first time she’d been allowed to handle her Family’s heirloom: Chels Casket; the goddess’s seal of approval on their fitness to rule. Only those with royal blood could open the casket, and that day Annasala had been permitted to prove her worth. Her throat tightened as she relived the euphoria of touching the battered wooden box.
Not that Marten had allowed her to handle the talisman hidden inside. She’d witnessed the artefact come to life as her fingers brushed its surface, but Marten had ordered her to stop, and Chel Herself had slammed the lid, delaying the moment when Her avatar would be freed.
A year ago, Marten had been chosen to wield its power, but his courage had failed him, and now it was Annasala’s turn. The Temple had given her cousin approval, and he’d wasted the chance. She did not intend to do the same. When Sister Valaree had informed her that the priesthood’s original endorsement had been amended in favour of her as the new custodian, she decided that taking possession of the casket should be her first action.
And now here she was, about to make a move that could not be reversed. Was this really the best choice? She had no grievance with Marten himself, but the moment he’d declared a relaxation of the laws governing the use of magic, she’d known he could not be trusted to rule the kingdom.
Yes, this was the only way. Magic must be eradicated, and all those who practiced it, even her half-brother, Rustam. Pinching a corner of the protective fabric between thumb and forefinger, she reached her other hand up to brush away a tear.
She’d loved Rustam since childhood, long before the revelation that he was her sibling. His courage, his devotion to her—their—father, his mastery of the Game, and his rescue of her from her nightmare captivity: all of those things filled her heart. And yet, he’d willingly embraced the small portion of himself corrupted by evil magic.
Firming her jaw, Annasala pulled the cloth aside to reveal the battered and charred box beneath. Her fingers hovered above the domed lid as she fought the almost irresistible urge to open it. There will be a better time, she admonished herself, and resolutely dropped the insulating fabric back over the casket. The compulsion dwindled, allowing her to regain control of her hands. She nudged her fingers into action to withdraw a canvas bag from her belt, before dragging the covered casket to the edge of the table until it tumbled from beneath its protective layer into the velvet-lined bag she held at the ready.
Annasala pulled the drawstrings tight, straightened, and drew two deep breaths to steady herself. She regarded the abandoned red cloth, now dripping off the side of the table like a pool of semi-congealed blood.
She’d done it; she’d taken the first step towards saving the kingdom. Marten might not see it that way, but with the backing of the priesthood, perhaps she might yet convince him the time had come to use the contents of the casket, and destroy magic forever.
Taking every precaution to leave no sign of her presence, Annasala left the suite, locked the secret door behind her, and headed for the farthest exit. Brother Freskin would be the perfect guardian for the casket until such time as the priesthood advised her to open it, and use the concealed miracle within. She had just enough time to make it to the Temple and be back in her place at the execution before she was missed.