Protect the Prince - Jennifer Estep
The First Assassination Attempt
The day of the first assassination attempt started out like any other.
With me girding myself for battle.
I perched stiffly in a chair in front of a vanity table that took up the corner of my bedroom. The long, rectangular table was made of the blackest ebony and adorned with all sorts of drawers and cubbyholes, along with crystal knobs that glinted at me like mocking eyes.
The morning sun slipped past the white lace curtains and highlighted the tabletop, which featured carvings of gladiators clutching swords, daggers, and shields. I looked down at the figures, which were embossed with bits of metal, along with tiny jewels. They too seemed to stare up at and mock me, as if they knew that I shouldn’t be here.
I leaned forward and traced my fingers over the carvings, wincing as the metal tips of the weapons and the sharp facets of the jeweled eyes dug into my skin. I wondered how many other women had sat here and done this same thing. Dozens, if not more. I also wondered if they’d all been as uncomfortable as I was.
After all, this table and the other fine furnishings had been their birthright, passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. The women who’d come before hadn’t stumbled into this position by accident like I had.
Someone cleared her throat, and I resumed my previous stiff perch. Fingers fluttered around me, adjusting my sleeves, smoothing down my hair, and even slicking berry balm onto my lips. A minute later, the fingers retreated, and I raised my gaze to the domed mirror that rose up from the table like gladiator arenas did from the Svalin city landscape.
More figures were carved into the wide band of wood that encased the mirror. Gargoyles with sapphire eyes and curved, silver horns that were pointed at the strixes, hawklike birds with feathers that glinted with a metallic, amethyst sheen. The creatures looked like they were about to leap out of the wood, take flight, and tear into one another, just like the gladiators on the tabletop did. A single pearl-white caladrius with dark blue tearstone eyes adorned the very top of the mirror, as though the tiny, owlish bird was peering down at all the other creatures below, including me.
Someone cleared her throat again. I sighed and finally focused on my reflection.
Black hair, gray-blue eyes, pale, tight face. I looked the same as always, except for one notable thing.
The crown on my head.
My gaze locked onto the thin silver band, which was surprisingly plain, except for the small midnight-blue pieces of tearstone that jutted up from the center. The seven tearstone shards fitted together to form a crown, as if the silver band itself wasn’t enough indication of who and what I was now.
But it wasn’t the only crown of shards I was wearing.
I reached over with my left hand and touched the bracelet that circled my right wrist. It was made of curls of silver that had been twisted together to resemble sharp thorns, all of which wrapped around and protected the crown in the middle of the design. The crown embedded in the bracelet was also made of seven tearstone shards, but it contained one thing that the actual crown on my head did not.
Like other jewels, tearstone could absorb, store, and reflect back magic, but it also had the unique property of offering protection from magic—deflecting it like a gladiator’s shield would stop a sword in an arena fight. Each midnight-blue shard in my bracelet contained a cold, hard power that was similar to my own magical immunity. The cool touch of the jewelry comforted me, as did the magic flowing through it.
I needed all the help I could get today.
Someone cleared her throat for a third time, and I dropped my hand from my bracelet and focused on my reflection again.
I slowly tilted my head to the side, and the silver crown swayed dangerously to the right. I straightened up and tilted my head to the other side, and it swayed in that direction.
“I still feel like this stupid thing is going to fall off,” I muttered.
“It will not fall off, my queen,” a low, soothing voice murmured. “We’ve put plenty of pins in your hair to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
A woman moved forward and stood beside me. She was on the short side, and the top of her head wasn’t all that much higher than mine, even though I was seated. She