Snippet – The Princess in the Tower (Schooled In Magic 15)

11 Mar

Prologue I

Alassa cursed out loud as she jabbed the needle into her finger. Again.

It wasn’t particularly ladylike to swear, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t the kind of person who liked being confined to a single suite, no matter how luxurious. She wanted to take her horse out for a ride or practice her magic or share a bed with her husband, not waste her time sewing … she’d never had the talent for needlework, no matter how many governesses had tried to train her in the ladylike arts.

She eyed her work for a long moment, then tossed it aside and began to pace the suite. It had everything she could reasonably want, except windows and freedom. The lights brightened and dimmed randomly, leaving her unsure just how long she’d spent in the suite. Her body didn’t appear to have changed that much, as far as she could tell, but without magic it was hard to be sure how well the pregnancy was progressing, if it was progressing at all. She was all too aware that her family found it hard to have children. The mere fact that it had taken her so long to conceive, even with a husband who wasn’t remotely related to her, was proof that the pregnancy wouldn’t be easy.

It has to be done, she thought, resting her hand on her abdomen. The child will be the next monarch of Zangaria.

A wave of despair crashed over her as she lay back in her bed. She’d gambled – she’d risked everything for her friend – and she’d lost. Her father had given her an opportunity to prove that she would defy him, that she would turn against him, and – like a silly little girl – she’d taken it. And yet, no matter how many times she second-guessed herself, she knew she’d had no choice. Imaiqah – one of her two closest friends – was condemned by the mere fact of being related to a traitor, a man who’d betrayed the king. Alassa knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the death warrant was nothing more than a mere formality. She’d had to move to save Imaiqah before it was too late. And she’d failed …

Jade was out there, somewhere. She clung to the thought, even though she had no way to know if he’d received her message. Mouse might have been caught, when she slipped out of the castle and into the town … or she might have betrayed her mistress and taken her message straight to the king. And if Jade hadn’t received the message …? He’d be suspicious, wouldn’t he? She’d made a point of chatting to him via parchment every day they’d spent apart. He might sneak back into the kingdom rather than ride up the High Street, sure of a hero’s welcome. She hoped he would have the sense to be careful – his father-in-law wouldn’t hesitate to have him executed, if he fell into the king’s hands – and bring help. He’d need a great deal of assistance if he wanted to save his wife from certain execution.

And his child from being raised by the king, Alassa thought. She didn’t think her father would have her executed, but he’d certainly send her into comfortable confinement shortly after she’d given birth. Boy or girl, her child would be the next legitimate ruler. He’ll take the child and raise him in his own image.

She stared up at the ceiling, battling despair. Imaiqah might have already been executed, now she’d served her role. Sir William should have been safe – he’d been following her orders – but he might have been sent into exiles. Not knowing was worse than anything. She’d tried asking her keeper about her friends and servants, but the wretched woman had refused to be drawn on the matter. Alassa, it seemed, was to be kept in a perpetual state of ignorance. Her letters to her mother and father had never been returned. She didn’t even know precisely how long she’d been a prisoner.

The door opened. Alassa tensed automatically, then told herself to relax as a maid walked into the suite. There was no point in trying to fight. She knew from bitter experience that the suite’s wards would immobilise her – in the most humiliating manner – if she tried to attack the maids. She thought she could break through the wards, if she had her magic, but her keeper had been very careful. She’d been forced to drink potion to keep her magic suppressed every day.

She glared at the maid as the young woman placed the tray on the bedside table, then curtseyed. She wanted the girl to flinch, even though it was unmannerly of her. But the maid showed no reaction, save for pointing a finger at a glass. Alassa grimaced as she reached for it, knowing that – again – there was no choice. If she didn’t drink the potion willingly, she’d be forced to drink anyway. She’d had that lesson hammered into her too.

“Very good, Your Highness,” the maid said, as Alassa swallowed the potion in one gulp. “I will be back for the tray when you’ve finished your meal.”

Alassa scowled at her retreating back, taking a drink of mead to waste away the taste of the potion. It tasted fundamentally wrong. She’d tried a few tricks, when she’d started, to make it look as though she’d drunk the potion, but nothing had worked. It was clear proof, as if she’d needed any, that she was under constant observation. The wards would allow their mistress to spy on her captive at any moment, if she wished. They might even be clever enough to alert her if Alassa did something dangerous.

Damn it, Alassa thought.

The food was good, but she could only pick at it – listlessly – as she sat back on her bed. She was trapped, her body and brain already turning to mush. The servants were practically treating her like a baby, someone who couldn’t even get dressed on her own. Whitehall had taught her that she didn’t need servants to dress herself, but now … it was hard to muster the energy to do anything. She couldn’t help wondering if there was more to the potion she’d been fed than she thought. She’d always been an energetic girl.

But not for long, if I don’t get out of here soon, she thought. She could practically feel herself wearing away as her world shrank to the suite’s four walls. Jade … where are you?

Prologue II

There was a small army of guards on the streets.

Sir Roger of the Greenwood kept his face under tight control as his horse cantered up the High Street, his guardsmen following at a distance. He hadn’t expected cheering crowds – it wasn’t as if he’d won a great victory in the last six months – but the sullen atmosphere pervading the city was worrying. There was hardly anyone on the city’s streets, save for the guards. The shops were open, but deserted; the temples were open, yet few people seemed to be going to pray. Alexis seemed to be holding its collective breath, waiting for something to happen.

Perhaps something has already happened, he thought, grimly. He’d heard hundreds of rumours, but each one had been crazier than the last. It feels as if we’re about to go to war.

A twinge of unease ran down his spine as he cantered over the drawbridge and into the courtyard, the amulet around his neck growing warm as it sensed the wards surrounding the castle. He had no magic himself – and he didn’t entirely trust those who did – but he took it for granted. King Randor appeared to have strengthened his defences, physical and magical, more than ever before. There were hundreds of guards within eyeshot, some of them eying him as if they thought him a potential threat. Roger’s eyes narrowed. He wasn’t fool enough to think the guards would respect his rank if the king had ordered them to be suspicious of everyone who entered the castle.

He jumped off his horse as he saw a familiar – and unwelcome – face making its way towards him. Viscount Nightingale, Master of the King’s Bedchamber … somehow, slimier than ever before. The only thing that kept him alive, Roger knew, was the king’s favour, a favour that would inevitably be lost one day. The bastard had so many enemies that the only real question was which one of them would get to him first.

“Sir Roger,” Nightingale said. “The king commands your immediate presence.”

Roger looked down at his sweaty clothes, then shrugged. There was no hurry, as far as he knew, but the king’s orders were not to be disobeyed. If he wanted Roger’s urgent presence – even a Roger smelling of sweat, mud and horse – he’d get it. It was possible, he supposed, that Nightingale had set out to embarrass him, but it wasn’t likely. Abusing the king’s authority would be a good way to get his head on the chopping block. Nightingale knew better than to risk alienating his protector for nothing more than snide amusement.

He passed the horse’s reins to a young man from the stables, then followed Nightingale into the castle and through a dizzying series of security checks. The guards frisked him thoroughly, removing his sword and both of his daggers before letting him into the king’s antechamber. Roger felt a flicker of humiliation at the search, knowing that only his relatively low birth allowed the king to risk treating him so poorly. He wouldn’t have risked searching a baron so thoroughly. But then, it would be a rare baron who was allowed a private audience with the king.

Nightingale indicated the door, his posture indicating that Roger should walk through alone. Roger bit down several cutting remarks – there was nothing to be gained by making an enemy of a man who had the king’s ear – then walked through into the king’s audience chamber. It felt cold, despite a roaring fire in the grate. The king himself sat on his throne, his face so impassive that it could have been carved from stone. There was no sign of the Crown Princess or her husband.

“Your Majesty,” Roger said, taking off his hat as he went down on one knee. “It is a great honour to be …”

“You may stand and face Us,” King Randor said, cutting off the flattery. “We have questions for you.”

Roger stood, carefully. “I am at your service, Your Majesty.”

He studied the king for a long moment. Randor had always been a powerful man – the tales of his martial exploits hadn’t been exaggerated – but now he looked … old. There were streaks of grey in his bushy brown beard. And yet, he wore a sword – it looked to be a charmed blade – at his belt, as well as a suit of golden armour. The runes carved into the gold would make it almost invulnerable to brute force. Randor was clearly expecting attack.

“You opened correspondence with Lady Imaiqah,” Randor said. “Did you come to any … agreement with her?”

Roger blinked. The king had urged him to open communications with Lady Imaiqah, with a view to getting married at some point in the future … clearly, the king was shifting away from that version of events. No doubt the politically-correct version wouldn’t mention the king at all. He’d been unsure how best to proceed when it came to courting a common-born noblewoman who was also a sorceress and close friends with two of the most powerful and dangerous people in the kingdom. No sorceress would accept the role of a traditional noble-born wife.

“No, Your Majesty,” he said, carefully. “We have yet to formally meet.”

The king studied him for a long moment. “The Lady Imaiqah is currently in the Tower,” he said. He didn’t have to say which tower. “Her father was responsible for the attack on Our daughter, on her wedding day.”

“Your Majesty,” Roger said. He was torn between defending Imaiqah’s honour and backing away from her as quickly as possible. There was no way they could get married now. A traitor’s kin were automatically sentenced to death, just for existing. Traitors had to know that their families would pay the price if they gambled and lost. “I had no idea.”

“Nor did We,” the king said. “Lady Emily, it seems, was the only one who knew until recently.”

Roger swallowed, hard. “Lady Emily?”

“Yes,” the king said. “She knew and she said nothing.”

He changed the subject with dizzying speed. “How stand the regiments?”

“The first four regiments of musketmen are ready to deploy, Your Majesty.” Roger was finding it hard to think clearly. “I believe the remaining six regiments require more seasoning.”

“We are surrounded by enemies, Sir Roger,” King Randor said. It was hard to tell if he was speaking of the entire kingdom or using the Royal We. “Your regiments may all that stands between Us and civil war.”

Roger bowed his head. He was a very junior nobleman – and he came from common-born stock – but he’d heard the rumours. The remaining barons were readying themselves for one final joust with the king, while the merchants and peasants were intent on claiming a share of power for themselves. There were stories of taxmen disappearing in the night, of entire communities that slaughtered the king’s inspectors and then fled into the wilderness … the entire kingdom was on a knife edge. And other stories, stories that were completely unbelievable. The war could not be long delayed.

He looked up, meeting the king’s eyes. King Randor was his patron, he’d been his patron since the day he joined the army. He would no more betray his monarch than he’d cut off his manhood. And the king knew it too. He would not have entrusted the musketmen to Roger if he’d had the slightest doubt of Roger’s loyalty. An unscrupulous man could do a great deal of damage with ten regiments that were loyal to him.

“It is my pleasure to serve, Your Majesty,” he said. “What do you wish of me?”

“Bring your regiments to Alexis,” King Randor said. “And make preparations to move against the barons.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Roger said.

“We will consider the matter of your marriage more fully at a later date,” King Randor added, coolly. “There will be many available heiresses after the campaign is concluded.”

Roger nodded. The king would distribute the heiresses – and their lands – as spoils of war, sharing them with his supporters. No one, least of all the monarch, would care what the women thought about it. He allowed himself a moment of hope – a good match would render his position effectively impregnable – and then dismissed it. He’d have to wait and see what the king was prepared to offer him.

“I thank you, Your Majesty,” he said.

“You may go,” King Randor said.

Roger bowed. “I am at your service, Your Majesty,” he said. He glanced around the empty room. Where was the Crown Princess? And her husband? “I live to serve.”

“Exactly,” King Randor said. “And do not forget it.”

Chapter One

“Emily?”

Emily jerked awake, her eyes snapping wide open as she brought one hand up in a casting pose. Someone was close to her, far too close to her … she lowered her hand as she remembered, with a flicker of irritation, just where she was. Cat knelt in front of her, his face grim. Behind him, at the front of the covered wagon, she could see Jade pulling the horses to a stop. Her body ached as she forced herself to sit up. The stories of settlers driving into the Wild West had somehow managed to miss just how uncomfortable it was to ride in the back of a cart.

“Cat,” she managed. She’d slept for … how long? It didn’t look any dimmer outside, so it probably hadn’t been more than an hour or two. “What’s happening?”

Cat stood and held out a hand. “I think you’d better come look at this,” he said. “It’s not good news.”

Emily took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. He’d shaven his hair, save for a single blonde forelock, and dressed in leathers. A sword, a knife and a small wand hung at his belt. It marked him as a mercenary, a sellsword of no fixed abode, but it still felt odd to look at him. She didn’t think the mercenary look suited him – or Jade, for that matter. Both boys – men, really – looked unsettlingly violent.

But at least they don’t look like a Prince Consort and a Combat Sorcerer, she thought, stumbling towards the front of the wagon. Or a kept woman, for that matter.

She peered into the bright sunlight, one hand covering her eyes. Jade had stopped beside a corpse of trees, planted to mark the boundaries between one set of common-held lands and the next. A set of bodies hung from the trees; their throats were slashed, dried blood staining their clothes and pooling on the ground. Flies buzzed around them, their hum somehow ominous in the warm air. The wind shifted, blowing the stench towards them. Emily had to fight not to cover her nose as the smell of decaying bodies washed over the wagon. The bodies had clearly been dead for several days.

“Tax farmers, at a guess,” Cat said, from behind her. His voice was very calm. “Or perhaps the local noble’s functionaries, plotting to enclose the fields and turn the peasants into serfs.”

He nudged Jade. “I thought you were meant to be doing something about this.”

“Very few complaints ever reach the king,” Jade said, tartly. “And when they do, you can rest assured that he always rules in favour of the nobleman.”

“And so the commoners take matters into their own hands,” Cat said. He waved a hand towards the bodies. “Who do you think they work for?”

Emily shrugged. The bodies wore a lord’s colours and badge, but she didn’t recognise the livery. Yellow and black, with gold trim … it was probably a middle-ranking nobleman. She didn’t want to go any closer to the bodies, even though it was possible that one of them was carrying something that might give her useful intelligence. The smell alone was off-putting, but the prospect of the murderers having booby-trapped the bodies was worse. Sergeant Miles had told her, more than once, that peasant uprisings were always savage. The peasants knew little of the laws of war and cared less. Besides, it wasn’t as if they could expect any mercy either.

She looked away, her eyes sweeping over the checkerboard fields. They would be held in common, if she recognised the signs correctly; an entire village of peasants would work them collectively, giving half of their crop to their local nobility and keeping the rest of themselves. Tiny canals ran between the fields, so dry that only a trickle of water remained. The fields themselves looked abandoned, save for a handful of scarecrows. She was no expect, but it didn’t look as though they were being regularly tended. The peasants seemed to have walked away, leaving the fields behind.

They might not have had a choice, she thought, looking back at the hanging bodies. If the lord was planning to enclose the fields …

Her heart clenched. The nobility wanted to enclose the fields, claiming that larger fields would produce more crops. And they were right, she supposed. She’d seen the figures when it had been proposed at Cockatrice. It would be more efficient. But it would also turn the peasants into serfs, destroying what little freedoms they had left. She’d banned the practice in Cockatrice. Other aristocrats were far less concerned about the rights and freedoms of their tenants, let alone their traditional way of life.

“We’d better be going,” Jade said. He cracked the whip and the horses started to move. “I don’t want to be around when someone comes to take down the bodies.”

Emily nodded in agreement as she settled back on the hard wooden seat. The air outside was foul, but it was better than trying to sleep in the back of the wagon. She checked her headscarf, just to be sure her hair was still concealed, then looked down at the loose shirt and trousers she was wearing. She looked like a camp follower, a woman who served two mercenaries in exchange for protection … part of her found it humiliating, if only because Jade and Cat would have to treat her as a servant when they met other travellers, but she had to admit it was a good disguise. Between the headscarf, the clothes, and the dust on her skin, it was unlikely that anyone would draw a connection between her and the Necromancer’s Bane.

“We’re not moving fast enough,” Jade muttered. “We’re not going to be in Alexis for another week.”

“It can’t be helped,” Cat said, from where he was sitting in the back. “Unless you want to change your mind and teleport …”

Jade made a rude sound, but Emily didn’t miss the worry and desperation in his voice. “You know better than that,” he said. “We can’t risk being detected.”

Emily nodded, remembering the day they’d sat down in Dragon’s Den and hashed out the possibilities. King Randor, whatever else could be said about him, was far from stupid … and he had magicians in his service. Teleporting into Alexis – or even into the countryside near the city – risked detection, bringing the king’s army down on their heads. And while they could teleport into Beneficence, Emily had checked with Markus and he’d told her that anyone who crossed the bridge into Cockatrice was subjected to a careful examination. King Randor lacked the tools to carry out a real check – computers and databases were far in the Nameless World’s future – but his guards would know to watch for any inconsistencies. Or maybe they just used truth spells. It was a risk they couldn’t afford to take.

“We’ll be there in time,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder. It was a gesture of affection she would never have normally allowed herself. But she trusted Jade. “The king won’t hurt Alassa until she gives birth.”

“Hah,” Jade muttered. “He has a bastard son, you know.”

Emily looked away. Jade was right. Randor’s son might be a bastard – and the mother married to someone else – but the king wouldn’t have any difficulty proving that he’d fathered the child. And, in the absence of any fully-legitimate heir, he could probably convince the nobility to accept the child as his successor. Enough noblemen had been concerned about the prospect of a Ruling Queen – and about Alassa taking the throne – to make it hard for anyone to dissent.

“He won’t risk hurting a woman,” Cat said. “The nobility wouldn’t stand for it.”

Emily glanced into the darkened rear. “They have no qualms about beating and raping and even killing their maidservants,” she pointed out, sharply. “I’ve seen fathers complaining about the treatment of their daughters while beating their wives bloody. Why would they question the king?”

“Because Alassa is a noblewoman, even if she isn’t in the line of succession,” Cat pointed out. He ignored Jade’s snort. “They’ll be reluctant to condone the king abusing a noblewoman, whoever she is. They like to think of themselves as chivalrous.”

Emily rolled her eyes at him. On the face of it, Cat was right; knights and noblemen did like to think of themselves as the protectors of the gentler sex. And yet, she couldn’t help noticing that their chivalrous conduct had the unintentional effect of making noblewomen practically helpless. They couldn’t protect themselves, they couldn’t speak for themselves, they couldn’t even dress themselves. Everything was done for them by their small army of servants. As children, they were little more than dress-up dolls; as adults, they were expected to have babies – after their marriage was arranged for them – and nothing else. Legally, they were effectively children – and property.

It does have some advantages, she conceded. It was vanishingly rare for a noblewoman to be executed, whatever the crime. Hell, she’d heard of noblewomen deliberately running up vast debts which their husbands were legally liable to pay. But I would find it maddening.

“They may make an exception in Alassa’s case,” she said, finally. Alassa had been the Crown Princess … she still was, as far as everyone knew. She was hardly some decorative bauble of a noblewoman. Her magic alone made her dangerous to men who thought that women simply couldn’t make the hard decisions. “And they certainly will in Imaiqah’s.”

Her heart clenched again. King Randor hadn’t just arrested Alassa, if Jade’s source was correct. He’d arrested Imaiqah as well. Emily didn’t know why he’d arrested both of her best friends, but she had a very nasty idea. Imaiqah’s father had betrayed his monarch, which meant a certain death sentence for his entire family. None of the nobility would have any qualms about arresting a common-born sorceress.

And we don’t even know if they’re still alive or not, she thought. Jade was sure that Alassa was still alive, but there was no way to be confident. Their marriage bond wasn’t as intense as Melissa and Markus’s. And there is definitely no way to be sure about Imaiqah.

“She is a noblewoman,” Cat said. “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

Emily sighed, inwardly. She knew that wasn’t necessarily true. She’d have to have a talk with Jade and Cat, sooner rather than later, about what Paren had done. Jade wouldn’t be happy when he heard the truth, even though he liked Imaiqah. He’d accuse Emily of ignoring a time bomb that had blown up in Alassa’s face. And he wouldn’t be wrong, either.

She leaned her head against the wooden railing and watched the countryside go by. A handful of scattered farmhouses and peasant hovels came briefly into view, half-hidden in the fields, but they looked deserted. Two were little more than burned-out shells, their occupants either dead or long-gone. There was no sign of the sheep, pigs or chickens that most farmhouses would keep as a matter of course. She shuddered as she realised that Zangaria was on the brink of war. The tensions had been rising for years, but now … now they were on the verge of exploding into violence.

No, she told herself. The violence has already started.

Emily heard snoring from behind her and smiled, despite herself. Cat had the gift of being able to sleep whenever and wherever he wanted, a gift that Emily rather wished she’d managed to develop herself. Sergeant Miles had urged her to try, but she simply hadn’t had the time. Too much had happened in the last few months for her to concentrate on expanding her magic. She should be back at Whitehall …

She felt a bitter pang, mingled with the grim understanding that she’d finally outgrown the school. Whitehall would always feel like home, she thought, and maybe one day she’d be back, but she’d never be a pupil again. She had a life outside the school now. And it hadn’t been the same since Grandmaster Hasdrubal had died. Grandmaster Gordian simply wasn’t his equal. She hoped he’d keep his side of the bargain and look after Frieda. There was no way she could visit her younger friend while she was trying to rescue Alassa and Imaiqah.

At least I got a chance to say goodbye, she thought. To her and to Lady Barb.

The sun was slowly starting to set as a small town came into view. Jade guided the cart down the road, eyes flickering from side to side as he watched for signs of trouble. It wasn’t uncommon for footpads to jump carts and wagons when the drivers thought they were safe, although Emily doubted that they’d mess with a pair of sellswords. Too much chance of getting killed for too little reward. And if the footpads realised they were attacking three magicians instead …

We need to keep our magic concealed, she reminded herself. The word was out. King Randor was hiring – and sometimes conscripting – every magic-user in his kingdom. Or we’ll find ourselves enlisted in his magic corps.

Her eyes narrowed as the town came closer. It was surrounded by a wooden palisade, a sign that it was a free town, but someone had been piling up earth to make it stronger. Emily didn’t think it would keep out a determined attack, let alone a magician, yet it might just deter bandits. Law and order had to be breaking down quite badly. Free or not, a town wasn’t supposed to build defences that might actually keep the local lord from asserting his authority. The mere fact that the townspeople had managed to get away with it was quite worrying.

“Watch my back,” Jade muttered, as he pulled the wagon to a halt. A set of guards were walking towards them, looking nervous. Emily had seen enough fighting men to know that the guards didn’t have any real training at all. Their weapons were probably more dangerous to their wielders than the enemy. “Cat, get up!”

Emily heard Cat standing behind her, but she didn’t look back. Jade jumped down from the wagon, careful to keep his empty hands in view, and walked towards the guards. Emily kept a wary eye on him, feeling a flicker of annoyance at how the guards barely glanced at her before dismissing her as unimportant. She knew she should be grateful to be ignored, particularly if Randor had any idea that she was accompanying Jade, but still …

“They’re taking their time,” Cat whispered. “What are they doing?”

“No idea,” Emily whispered back. It wasn’t uncommon for gates to be firmly closed after dark and not opened again until morning, no matter who demanded entry, but it was barely twilight. “Talking, it seems.”

Jade turned and hurried back to the wagon. “We’re not allowed into the town,” he said flatly, as he scrambled back onto the seat. “But there’s an inn on the far side, outside the walls. They’re playing host to a great many sellswords.”

“You’d think they’d want to hire us,” Cat said. “Did you see the way that idiot was holding his sword?”

“He came pretty close to unmanning himself.” Jade cracked the whip and the horses started to move, circling the palisade. “But we don’t want employment here, do we?”

“They wouldn’t want sellswords in their town at all, if it could be avoided,” Emily pointed out. “We’re about as welcome as wolves amidst the flock.”

She shook her head. Their cover story made sense. King Randor had put out a call for sellswords, as had most of the nobility. But it carried its own risks. Mercenaries were not loved, even during wartime. They were regarded as locusts; no, worse than locusts. She’d heard stories of sellswords being caught away from their bands and being brutally murdered by peasants who wanted to strike back at their unwanted guests. Jade had been insistent that they find a place to stay every night, even though it meant slowing their journey. The risk of being attacked if they camped in the open air was too great.

“I took a look through the gate while they were talking,” Jade said. “I didn’t see any young men, save for a cripple. They were all old.”

“Conscripted,” Cat said.

“Or they’ve taken to the hills,” Jade said. He pointed towards the rolling tree-covered hills in the distance. They were part of the Royal Forest, if the map was to be believed, and technically forbidden to peasants, but the locals had never paid much attention to unenforceable laws when their livelihoods were at stake. “You could hide and feed an entire army in there if you wanted.”

Emily shrugged. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that Zangaria was going to explode into war. All the grievances that had been neglected for decades, perhaps centuries, were about to tear the entire country apart. It wouldn’t be long before the urge to start settling grudges turned into a demand for wholesale reform …

“There’s the inn,” Jade said. He pointed to a long wooden building, positioned temptingly beside the Royal Road. A small statue stood in front, inviting passing travellers to rest their weary heads in a proper bed; behind, she could see – and smell – the stables. “Shall we go see if they have a room for us?”

“Hopefully, one without too many tiny visitors,” Emily said. She’d never stayed in an inn that hadn’t had everything from rodents to insects running around. The food would need to be tested carefully or they’d be laid up for days with stomach cramps. “Or will that cost extra?”

“Probably,” Jade said. “But we’re only going to be staying there for one night.”

“We should be able to get some news too,” Cat pointed out. “Right now, we don’t know enough to make a plan.”

“True,” Emily agreed. The inn didn’t look very inviting, but they were short of choices. It was probably too much to hope for a bath, or anything remotely resembling a shower. There would be buckets of cold water for washing and chamberpots under the bed. “Let’s go, shall we?”

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36 Responses to “Snippet – The Princess in the Tower (Schooled In Magic 15)”

  1. Jared March 11, 2018 at 9:54 am #

    its exciting!! I can’t wait for the book to come out.

  2. Stephen Hullott March 11, 2018 at 10:50 am #

    Excellent start, looking forward to reading the rest of the book!

  3. Issac March 11, 2018 at 12:54 pm #

    wandering if Emily will raise an army of her own…

  4. Kaesha March 11, 2018 at 4:06 pm #

    I’m loving the build up happening. Can’t wait for the book X).

  5. billy mccorkle March 11, 2018 at 4:15 pm #

    You made my day! I might point out that in C 1, as Emily, Jade and Cat approached a corpse of trees, that might be technically correct in this case but a stand of trees is a copse. Thinking ahead were you?

    • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:52 am #

      Probably. It’s one of those errors that creep through spellcheckers and make the writer look silly.

      Chris

  6. Jackie Griffith March 11, 2018 at 5:43 pm #

    I can hardly wait for this next book!!! I started this series and was completely addicted very rapidly. I would love to see a short story on Jade.

    • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:53 am #

      I might write one focused on his missing year, with Master Grey. I just need a good story hook.

      Chris

      • Wazman March 19, 2018 at 3:37 am #

        I believe that you may already have one. In Love’s Labor Won where Alassa is teasing Jade about him not being the same person that went into the Forest of Shadows to retrieve a missing village girl. Emily clearing points out that there is more to the story than he is telling anyone.

        It sounds to me that the combat sorcerer that he is today was shaped by what he experienced inside that forest.

      • chrishanger March 24, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

        Good point. That’s something I’ll consider.

        Chris

  7. G March 11, 2018 at 6:50 pm #

    Fantastic! Emily in Cockatrice as Baroness/Sorceress has always been my favorite part of the series!! Now she’s also a Spy/Infiltrator!!

  8. Keith D Paul March 11, 2018 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m looking forward to this!

  9. Fleeced March 11, 2018 at 9:42 pm #

    “corpse of trees”

    Freudian slip? 🙂

  10. Ann March 11, 2018 at 11:04 pm #

    Emily needs to be careful not to be seen to break the Compact.

    • G March 11, 2018 at 11:19 pm #

      King Randor made her a Baroness of Zangaria–and Baron’s use magician’s and rebel occationally…They’ll need far more people and resources than 3 people to successfully rescue Alassa and Imaquaih, though…I hope she returns to Cockatrice to gather support!

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard March 11, 2018 at 11:33 pm #

        Emily also didn’t swear an Oath to the White Council concerning the Compact.

        The “problem” of Emily being a Baroness has come up before concerning her Graduating from Whitehall because of the Oath Graduating Students had to take but she left Whitehall without Graduating.

  11. Dan March 12, 2018 at 4:43 am #

    So in hindsight Emily should have really seen this coming although she was kinda trapped nothing she did would have saved her friend remaining silent or telling the king the truth although I guess she could have made a backroom deal with randor maybe given him the magic batteries or the nuke spell for imaquah (I spelled that wrong I know)safety possibly getting her and her family exile or something instead. Welp hindsight twenty twenty and all that hmm wonder if Emily will start a rebellion or maybe just wing it like she usually does .You know the only reason she’s still alive is because of the villain monologue flaw. Bad guy should really just put a bullet through her head. I mean come on the first nekro sure second ok but man some of these guys need to get their act together oh wait they can’t they dead.

    • Jared March 12, 2018 at 5:59 am #

      Emily should have killed Randor back in wedding hells.

      • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:53 am #

        Alassa would NOT have thanked her for it

        Chris

  12. William Ameling March 12, 2018 at 9:47 am #

    I see my guess about Randor planning a marriage between Sir Roger and Imaiquh was correct, although it is now no longer means anything. I suspect Sir Roger will end up supporting Emily once she reaches him. The biggest problem is going to be Nanette operating behind the scenes to stir up trouble. Hopefully, this time Emily will get the chance to finish her off. Plus of course, Nanette’s hidden boss stirring up trouble as well.

    The only chance Emily would have had to avoid this mess would have been if she could have convinced Randor that Paren was under magical control by others, but she might not have succeeded if she had tried.

    • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:55 am #

      I went back and forth on the marriage, then decided to leave it as something the king planned, but never managed to complete (lucky for Sir Roger)

      Chris

  13. Ihas March 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm #

    IIRC, there was a shadowy wizard figure that hired the professional duelist who almost killed Emily when she fell from a roof? Was that book 2? I don’t recall that shadowy figure ever being revealed or dealt with, but I could be wrong. I recall suspecting Nightingale of being that wizard though, and of him somehow finding a way to subtly manipulate and dominate Randor. The stories surroundingCockatrice and Randor have been my least favorite part of the series so far, but I’m curious to see where it goes and hopefully it gets completely resolved so the series can move on to more time travel, magical innovations, and necromancy battles. That’s the stuff I like.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard March 12, 2018 at 7:22 pm #

      I suspect that the unknown magician in the Prologue of the Second Book is Nannette’s Master.

      Of course, only Chris knows for sure. 😉

    • G March 12, 2018 at 10:07 pm #

      I’ve always enjoyed the real world politics of Zangaria–it’s where Emily’s changes have impacted real life–and sorcerers vs. bad guys novels are a dime a dozen…I still wonder what Void’s doing in the background and how an immensely powerful spell in Master Wolf’s handwriting (with more knowledge than Wolf had when he supposedly ‘died’ in Past Tense) ended up in Beneficience….

      • Wazman March 15, 2018 at 2:46 am #

        Me too at one point someone on this forum pointed out that Emily is still very popular in Zangaria (at least with the common folk) and she might find help in the strangest of places that King Randor doesn’t think of.

        For instance Queen Marlena has been sending expensive dresses to Emily despite her being formally exiled. I think she has trying to curry future favor from the Necromancer’s Bane. Hopefully we’ll see more substantive character building of Alyassa’s mother in this book then previous ones. Being voluntarily sequestered in her private chambers with a “headache is frankly growing on my nerves. She and her daughter need to give Randor and piece of their collective minds. Preferably with Emily standing ready to flambe his sorry ass.

      • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:56 am #

        In story terms, only 6 years have passed. There’s a lot more to go.

        Chris

  14. Stuart the Viking March 12, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

    I think Emily STILL doesn’t “get” that she’s not in Kansas anymore. She still seems to think her new world should follow the same standards of fairness as her old one (as if anything is ever fair).

    It all makes me wonder if the only reason Imaiqah is still alive is as bait for Emily. At this point Randor probably REALLY wants to get his hands on her.

    • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 8:56 am #

      It’s possible to spend quite some time in a different culture and not be entirely sensitive to every last nunce, particularly when it is largely alien to your prior experience. I’ve done that

      Chris

  15. Pyo March 13, 2018 at 8:22 am #

    “She still seems to think her new world should follow the same standards of fairness as her old one (as if anything is ever fair).”
    Wouldn’t you?

    Ethics and moral principles aren’t something you can just wipe with a “it’s a different culture!” Maybe it’ll work for a while if you do anthropological work and go into the entire thing with an “I’m here to observe, not interfere” mentality – but she’s living there. There’s only so much you can take until you’ll want to do something about it.

    Personally I’d be disappointed if she at some point become some weird sort of monarchist or whatever. ^^

    • Stuart the Viking March 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

      Yes, I would like to think I would maintain my personal moral principles. However, that isn’t exactly what I was talking about.

      What I was talking about is that Emily still doesn’t seem to understand how things work in her new world, so she keeps being surprised by things and causing problems for herself.

      I also probably wouldn’t have caused so much problem for myself by introducing so much technology. However, I can’t really blame Emily for not realizing just how destabilizing some technology can be. Even introducing Arabic Numbers caused a LOT of change. Change that people would find VERY threatening.

      Then again, What I would do probably wouldn’t be interesting enough to make for a good series of books. LOL!

      • Pyo March 14, 2018 at 10:40 am #

        Ah, right. Yeah, that’s getting tedious. Hopefully things will change now that she’s “out in the world” instead of school and a bit older and so on …

        I mean, there’s many arguments and reasons and excuses for Em behaving the way Em does, but when it comes down to it, I’m reading this for entertainment, and that really needs some protagonist that has more of a clue of what’s going on by now ^^;

      • Ihas March 17, 2018 at 4:46 am #

        Pho, if you are waiting for a college age person with a low EQ to develop a high EQ, then either you should be disappointed, or the author should be lynched.

  16. Puffin Muffin March 17, 2018 at 1:06 am #

    I just caught sight of the artwork on Facebook. Yep, I’m looking forward to this.

    • chrishanger March 18, 2018 at 9:32 am #

      It’s good, isn’t it?

      • Ihas March 23, 2018 at 1:20 am #

        The last few covers have been fantastic.

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