The King Rolen's Kin: The Uncrowned King - By Rowena Cory Daniells

Chapter One

Byren's eyes burned from the piercing cold wind, and he could no longer feel his legs. He'd been skating since late last night, since Dovecote's great hall was set alight, since Elina died in his arms. Since his twin thrust him out of the hall, barred the doors and turned to hold off the enemy, trapping himself inside the burning building.

Grief, fuelled by fury, gripped him, driving him on. Byren had no tears, only a terrible determination. But he clung to one hard kernel of satisfaction.

The old seer's prophecy had been proved wrong. He had not murdered his twin to gain the throne. Despite their misunderstandings, despite Lence's pig-headed conviction that Byren meant to usurp him, Byren had remained loyal to his older brother. And, in the end, Lence had chosen an honourable death. Somehow, it made his loss easier to bear.

But it also made Byren the kingsheir against his wishes. After the lies his cousin Cobalt had told, his father would never believe this.

No, the only way for him to prove his loyalty was to take word of the Merofynian invasion to the abbot. Convince the old man to give him leadership of the abbey's standing army of warrior monks and march against Rolencia's ancestral enemy, Merofynia. He had to save Rolencia, save his family.

Byren had skated through the long winter's night and the short day without rest, and now it was dusk. But the time had not been wasted, for he'd planned his battle tactics.

Having met his enemy, Byren knew that Overlord Palatyne was a ruthless man, possibly even more cunning than the Merofynian king he served. Palatyne was sure to have escaped the burning of Dovecote's great hall. Even now the overlord would be regrouping his forces, calling for reinforcements and making plans to spear-head through Rolencia's rich, unprepared valley to take King Rolen's castle before Byren's father had time to gather his warriors.

His skates scissored over the ice, each stroke precise and powerful. His body ran on, thigh muscles propelling him over the ice, while his mind ran on how to beat the Merofynians.

The problem was timing... it was late winter. His father's lords and their men were at home on their estates, and the warlords had returned to their princedoms. Everyone was preparing for the spring planting, not war. His father would be lucky if he had two hundred experienced warriors in the castle. He might gather another five hundred eager, untrained men from the town, but even with them King Rolen wasn't ready to face Palatyne.

There was but a glimmer of hope. The Merofynian overlord's supply chain was dangerously overstretched. If Byren could retake Cockatrice Pass, then Palatyne and his warriors would be cut off from reinforcements and supplies.

It all rested on Byren reaching the abbot in time, and convincing him to place the monks under his command. The traitorous warlord who ruled Cockatrice Spar was dead and his men scattered, so Palatyne could expect no help from that quarter.

Once Cockatrice Pass was secure, all Byren had to do was lead the warrior monks down into the valley, force-march them to catch up with Palatyne's men and provoke a battle on his terms. He knew the lay of the land, the overlord didn't. He'd make sure his warriors had the high ground.

Byren believed he could defeat Palatyne. At twenty, he'd been leading warriors against upstart warlords for five years, and his father had saved Rolencia from a Merofynian invasion at eighteen. As Captain Temor, his father's friend and advisor always said, the worth of a warrior was in his head and heart, not in the years he'd lived or the strength of his arms.

Besides, he owed it to Lence. And he owed it to Elina. Her last words had not been words of love for him, but of revenge. Burn them all, promise!

Tears stung his eyes, blurring his vision.

As he rounded a bend, Byren hit a slippery patch and his skates slid out from under him. His body slammed down on the ice. He found himself skidding on his pack like an overturned turtle. The frozen lake had opened in front of him, but he was not headed towards it. He was headed for the bank, a solid wall of snow that hid rocks for all he knew. He had time to protect his face and curse his luck before he ploughed into it. The impact knocked the air from his chest and sent his wits spiralling away.

Byren woke with a shiver. The brilliance