What came before:
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Jarok showed the three newest sorcerers how to complete the incantation over the cougar he’d captured. He’d already mixed the potion and applied it, and now the three sorcerers held the amulet as they chanted the words to transform the beast into a monster. A mixture of forest plants in the potion would confine the creature to the woods, while the power from the amulet would protect William and allow him to control the creatures.
William stood in the corner of the room, arms crossed in front of his chest. He never let the amulet out of his sight for even a moment. If Jarok didn’t need its magic, he wouldn’t even be allowed to touch it.
Jarok left the others to complete the spell and went to William. “It needs to be done. You’ve spent all your gold, and these people will not work on a promise like I have.”
“Soon,” William said. “Soon there will be enough monsters roaming the forest that none will dare try to escape. Soon I will have enough sorcerers that Maury will not dare challenge me. Soon—”
“No, William. Not soon. The king has already discovered a way to kill the creatures. We cannot make them as fast as he can kill them. It has to be now. We will take the castle tonight.”
William’s eyes darkened, but only for a moment. He let out a deep breath. “You have served me well, Jarok. Tomorrow, when I am king, I will name you my head sorcerer.”
“Among other thigns.”
William chuckled. “Don’t worry. You’ll be properly recompensed.”
Jarok left to inform the sorcerers. The creature they’d conjured appeared to be part cougar with a scorpion’s tail and eagle’s wings. It was still disoriented from the spell, not yet aware of its power or instincts. The sorcerers dragged it outside to release it into the forest.
The old but spacious cottage just sat just inside the tree line. The quarters were cramped and uncomfortable with all the sorcerers William had gathered, but no one dared leave the safety of its walls. The creatures wouldn’t discriminate between their creators and any other prey. Only William was safe. When they left tonight, it would be under his protection.
Just before dusk, they all gathered in the main room, William in the center of the group, and shuffled through the door. Violet eyes lined the path, the forest echoed with snarls as the troupe made its way the short distance to the meadow beyond the trees. From there, they marched on the castle.
Maury’s army lined the walls, raining arrows down upon them. They’d prepared for this. Each sorcerer had a gift, and each had a job. Some created a barrier to ward off the arrows, while others worked a spell to open the gate, and more used their staffs to fend off the soldiers that tried to push them back.
It could hardly even be called a battle. A mere human army was no match for Jarok’s sorcerers. Once inside, they followed William as he made his way down the long corridor.
A woman peered out from behind a pillar. Jarok glanced at her, wary of danger.
She was just a maid, he saw at once, and she looked terrified. She was no danger. She darted in the opposite direction, a bundle held tightly in her arms.
Something about her made him feel uneasy, as though letting her escape with whatever she’d stolen would change his future, but he pushed the feeling aside. It was just nerves. No need to punish a frightened little girl for taking advantage of the chaos to steal some small comfort for her family.
William had already turned a corner. He shook off the uneasiness and hurried after the rest of the sorcerers.
Another group of soldiers guarded the door to a room at the end of a long hall. A man stood there, protecting the door as his life. Jarok knew instantly he was the king. His features resembled William’s, but his chin was firmer, his eyes more authoritative, and his mouth was set in a hard line, not the sardonic twist William usually wore.
“Hello, Brother,” William said.
“William, please. Let us go. We’ll leave peacefully.”
William pushed past him and shoved open the door. An old woman stood inside, holding a newborn baby in her arms.
William he sauntered toward them. “Congratulations, Maury. You have a son.”
“Your nephew,” the king said, his tone pleading.
William ignored him. He reached out to touch the baby. The old woman stared, frozen, as William took the child from her. “The firstborn of the king. The heir to the throne.”
The queen began sobbing, and Maury fell to his knees, begging. “William, please, not my son.”
“As I see it, since you are no longer king, you have no need of an heir.”
“Yes. Take the crown. We’ll leave and you’ll never hear from us again. You will be king. You are king.”
William chuckled. “If only it were that simple. You’ve already given me the power.” He fingered the amethyst that hung from a heavy gold chain around his neck. “However, we both know it’s not enough. As long as you are alive, as long as your heir is alive, the crown can never be wholly mine.”
William pulled a knife from his cloak and plunged it into the child, then into the king.
Jarok felt sick inside, watching William slaughter his brother and nephew. He buried the feeling. He’d chosen his allegiance.
The queen’s screams cut off as she fainted.
William finished by sending her to be with her husband and son. He wiped the knife clean on the queen’s blanket and looked at the old woman. “You have cared for me since I was a child, and I take no pleasure in killing the infirm. With your pledge of fealty, I will spare your life.”
The woman knelt. “I have always served the crown, no matter whose head it rested on.”
William nodded and turned away. He pulled the crown from Maury’s head and placed it on his own.
Jarok felt the same uneasiness, the same feeling of premonition he’d felt when he saw the maid.
William turned. “It is done.” He led the way to the throne room where he took his place upon the throne. The other sorcerers bowed and left the room. Only Jarok remained. He stood by the king’s right hand, his proper place as head sorcerer and chief advisor. “Majesty, I have one concern. The old woman, the one who was with the queen—I don’t trust her.”
“Ada? She’s just a midwife. She’s harmless.”
“She uses magic. I could feel it.”
“Yes, but only the smallest bit. She sees glimmers of the future and can make a few simple potions. Don’t worry about her.”
“She’s hiding something.”
“Perhaps. But whatever it is, it doesn’t concern me. She has no power, not compared to you. She was an ancient old crone when she delivered me. I expect she’ll not live long, but she will be loyal to me for as long as she’s here.”
Jarok decided not to press the point further, but he would watch her very carefully. If she had a secret, he would find it.
What will come after: