The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga, #1) - G.A Aiken
The great king had barely taken his last breath before one brother took the head of another.
It happened so fast that I, the Follower of His Word, had no chance to escape. I attempted to run, but the castle halls were quickly filled with battling men and dying women and children. I ended up hiding where I could, but I had to keep moving in order to stay alive.
I could hear the screams of the dying but I was not brave enough to step in. To help. Not with what I already knew.
His Majesty had warned me of this many years before.
“When I die,” he’d said, looking at me from his throne, “my sons will tear everything apart. They will destroy everything I’ve built in their attempt to take my place. But none will be worthy. None.”
I don’t know the truth of that, but who was I? Just the Follower of His Word. I did not know if any were worthy or if all were. It was not my job to make those decisions.
But I had no idea it would be like this. This . . . fast.
All the youngest boys were immediately killed by their older siblings. Cut down with their protective mothers in their beds. There was no mercy for them.
The older sons quickly faced off against each other but not all of them were true warriors. The weakest met their ends quickly. Those who could fight did their best but in the end, it seemed that only five princes remained: Marius the Wielder of Hate, the Old King’s eldest and most feared; Straton the Devourer; Cyrus the Honored; and the twins—Theodorus and Theotimus—who were too young to have earned epithets but who were already loathed for their viciousness.
At one point, I saw Straton and Cyrus escape the castle grounds; Cyrus taking as many innocents with him as he could in order to save their lives. I tried to get downstairs to join him, but my path was blocked by fighting men.
It was said that Cyrus had taken half of his father’s army, those who were loyal to him, and was even now planning his next attack against his brothers while Straton already had an army of mercenaries waiting for their orders. As the day wore on, no one seemed to know where the twins had gone and no one was looking for them, except maybe the remaining brothers. But, despite their battle skills, they were relatively stupid and I was sure that no one had much to worry about. Even if they appeared again at some point, they would easily be wiped out.
That meant the castle and its grounds were currently held by Prince Marius, who had already taken over the rest of his father’s army. At this moment I could hear him moving through the castle, killing all those he didn’t believe loyal to him and only him or, even worse, those who might have the slightest chance of obtaining the throne through bloodlines.
Not knowing how I would be seen by Marius—I had always been openly loyal to his father and was a distant cousin to Marius—I scrambled into the Old King’s room and dove behind one of the giant pillars.
My timing was quick enough, thank the gods! Because another cousin of mine ran into the chamber shortly after me. He was already covered in blood, but Marius followed behind him and took him to the ground by slicing his sword down the man’s spine. Our cousin fell to the marble floor and sobbed. Desperately.
“Prince Marius, please! I am your kin! Please!”
Marius said nothing to his begging cousin, simply slammed his blade through his back and directly into his heart, ignoring the fact that the Old King’s body was still in his bed.
I covered my mouth, terrified I’d cry out. I was not meant for battle. I was not meant for war. I was simply a chronicler. I took notes of the Old King’s life. But each king picked his own chronicler and Marius would not want to have anything that once belonged to his father except his throne and his crown.
Marius finished his work and straightened. I moved farther back around the pillar, praying he wouldn’t search the room. But he didn’t leave and I knew he was coming. Coming for me.
Then the gods must have heard my prayers because that sweet voice rang out.
“Marius? Where are you?”
“Oh, there you are!” I peeked around the pillar again and watched Marius’s mother enter the Old King’s chamber.