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The Brooding Crown
The Second Book of Caledan
Soren has defeated his usurping uncle and the semblance of peace has returned to Caledan, but surrounded by the twelve noble houses of Caledan, King Soren can trust few. In the shadows, treasonous thoughts grow. When news of Zaki’s presence in Roher reaches Soren, can he ally all of Caledan to his cause – and keep them?
Zaki has not given up on his plans to regain Caledan’s throne. First he must prove himself to Harad, the mighty king of Roher, but Zaki will stop at nothing to gain the support of Roher’s army, march on Caledan’s borders and take back the throne of the dragon kings.
War returns to Caledan, but a greater threat looms. The pact is broken. The Eldarkind are fading. The dragons war amongst themselves. A power too terrible to name grows in the North, and He seeks revenge. Only Eve stands in His way – but can she stop magic as old as time?
Talons pinned Soren to the bed, gripping his flesh. He twisted, crying out as he thrashed, but the claws did not relinquish their grasp. With great shuddering gulps, Soren surfaced from sleep to his dimly lit bedchamber.
Cautious faces loomed over him. The hands, not talons, which had held him down loosened. One of the hands stroked his own in comfort, whilst the other soothed his forehead with a cold cloth, wiping the sweat from his face. His clammy nightclothes clung to him, constricting his movements.
Soren’s breathing slowed to a weak flutter as he lay back into his pillow, his eyes slipping shut once more.
“Another nightmare?” Edmund’s voice sounded from his side.
Soren did not nod; the answer was obvious.
“The usual,” Soren murmured. “Zaki’s searching for me, hunting me through the castle dungeons. I try to run, but I cannot. It’s as if the air has turned to water and I’m drowning, but then all of a sudden everything turns to light and pain and fire searing through me. In that moment, I know he’s found me, and I know I’m dead.”
Soren opened his eyes as Edmund gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Edmund’s face was ashen with his own exhaustion. He sat with Soren, guarding him through the inevitable torture that returned every night.
“This will not last forever,” said Edmund.
Soren rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “I hope you’re right. I cannot last on nightmares.”
Edmund did not reply, but Soren had a feeling he would be thinking the same. He had tried to send Edmund away for the man’s own health and sanity, but every night, when Soren awoke hyperventilating and in a blind panic, Edmund’s presence was the first thing he noticed.
With a flick of Edmund’s hands, the servants dispersed, though it took an extra shoo for the physician to retreat.
“You are safe here, Soren. Zaki is most likely dead, but if not, he would not be able to reach you.” Edmund shuffled to an armchair and sank into it with a sigh of relief. “It has been over two months since your uncle escaped. Rest easier in the knowledge that all of Caledan knows him for a traitor, a usurper… and a murderer,” Edmund added softly, his eyes flicking to Soren. “Zaki will find no shelter here.”
“I tell myself that daily, yet now I know what he’s capable of. The worst thing is not knowing where he is. I almost expect him to jump from behind the curtain or under the bed. Ridiculous, I know. And yet I cannot dispel the fear. I was so close to returning true peace and security to Caledan. He escaped so easily – what if he returns?”
“Zaki is long gone. The hundreds of armoured men crossing the border heading south, bearing no banner or crest, could only be him fleeing with his last supporters. The deserts will claim him before he reaches anywhere that he could survive.”
Soren could not help but question otherwise. Every shadow held his uncle waiting to leap out and kill him. Even at night, Soren insisted on the room being lit to give an extra shred of peace to his mind, for what it was worth, but the nightmares came as virulently as ever.
“What is it you fear the most?” Edmund’s hooded eyes regarded Soren thoughtfully.
Soren stirred, pulling the cover closer around him, despite the insufferable warmth it created. His eyes drifted closed again. They ached with such a fierce throb that it hurt to open them. “I’m not sure.” He’s a monster, and his absence only makes him grow more terrible. Soren could not think of his uncle’s face, nor his name, without flinching.
“I fear that he will never give up, that he will return, that he will hunt me down and that there is nothing I can do to stop it. I fear that he will kill me – I fear death.” Soren shivered as he thought of the blackened and contorted bodies left behind by his uncle. “I fear how he will kill me, what dark weapon he would use against me. Castle walls feel as thin as air when I know that he could escape from such a prison.”
“The entire kingdom hunts for him, Soren. He could not pass our borders, let alone reach Pandora or you. You have nothing to fear.”
“Yet Roher supplies him with military technology – so how sure can you be that he will seek to come alone?” Soren’s voice rose in pitch as his breathing quickened again.
Edmund paused. “I do not understand it myself. Lord Behan’s intelligence suggests that the incendiary device used in your uncle’s escape was almost certainly developed and produced within Roher’s borders, yet we cannot be sure Harad supplied it. Harad has remained true to his word: he left peacefully and has not returned.”
“Yet,” Soren said. The word hung ominously in the air.
“Perhaps Harad will return. However, think of the journey Zaki would have to undertake to even reach Roher’s borders, let alone its capital city. Why would Harad assist him, after trading him with us? Surely, he is a lost cause.”Soren did not answer. His gaze drifted from the stone walls of his chamber to the flickering light of the candle on his side table. Once more, he wondered how fire could break stone. “I don’t know what to believe anymore, Edmund.”
To be continued...
I hope you enjoyed the first taste of The Brooding Crown! Don't forget to sign up to my mailing list to receive the next chapters, some of which will NOT be shared anywhere else!