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Prince of Alasia (kindle version)
Prince of Alasia (paperback version)
Prince of Alasia
Jaymin knew he would never forget that terrible night.
He was sound asleep in his room in the palace when Erik, his youngest bodyguard and closest friend, shook him abruptly awake.
“Jaymin! Jaymin, wake up! Something awful is happening,” Erik had hissed in a frantic whisper.
Groggy and disoriented, Jaymin sat up in bed, clutching the heavy woolen blankets to his chest. For a split second he couldn’t understand what Erik was talking about, and then from somewhere in another part of the palace he heard muffled shouts and the metallic clash of swords.
Swords? In the palace? Suddenly wide awake, Jaymin shoved back the blankets and sprang out of bed, fumbling in the chilly near-darkness for his clothes. The fire in the grate across the room had died down to glowing embers, and at this time of year the air had a bite to it, even indoors. He shivered as he snatched up the garments a servant had laid out for him the evening before.
“Hurry,” Erik whispered urgently, yanking a coat on over his night clothes and gliding over to listen by the door. Outside, the sounds of swords and shouting were growing louder.
Why hasn’t anyone come to tell me what’s happening? Jaymin wondered, tugging his tunic over his head. Where were the guards who always patrolled the corridor at night? “Guards!” he called out just in case, raising his voice as he jammed his feet into his shoes. “Guards?”
“Shh!” Erik hissed, gesturing frantically at him to be quiet, his ear still glued to the crack by the door. There was no other response.
Suddenly Erik leaped back, and the next instant the door flew open, making Jaymin jump. Erik slid instantly into position, slipping into a defensive half-crouch with both hands in front of him, ready for action. He had no weapon, but he needed none. Erik was an expert in unarmed combat, and although he was just a boy, his skills made him the perfect bodyguard for the young prince.
Those skills were not needed now, however. Into the room swept Sir Edmend, a loyal member of the king’s Council of Advisors. He, too, wore only a coat over his night clothes, and his graying hair stuck out in all directions. He was followed closely by a nervous-looking young guard with a drawn sword, his blue and white uniform damp with sweat in spite of the night’s chill.
“Your Highness!” Sir Edmend, out of breath and looking anxious but relieved, hurried up to Jaymin as Erik slid silently aside. “Thank goodness you’re still safe – I thought for certain they’d be in here before now. Quick, come with us.”
“Don’t worry, your Highness, I’ll protect you,” the guard added proudly, flourishing his sword with a dramatic flair. Though Jaymin couldn’t recall his name, he recognized the young man as the newest member of the palace guard. He had taken the oath of allegiance only last week, and was full of that enthusiasm and eagerness for action that new guards often displayed.
“What’s happening?” Jaymin demanded, as he and Erik followed Sir Edmend through the bedroom door, half-running to keep up with his swift strides. The guard paused to quietly pull the door shut and then hurried after them, boots thudding in a staccato rhythm on the hard stone floor. “Where are we going?”
“This way.” Without answering the first question, the old advisor led them rapidly down the wide hallway, strangely deserted, though from just around the corner they could hear shouts and screams and crashing noises, as if doors were being broken down. His heart pounding with excitement and confusion, Jaymin hastened after Sir Edmend away from the sounds, following him into a smaller hallway used mainly by servants. The alarming noises grew fainter as the four of them hurried down back staircases and little used corridors, lit only by the occasional smoky lamp and by moonlight streaming through the windows. Now and again they passed frightened servants scurrying about, but aside from the young man behind him, Jaymin didn’t see a single guard anywhere. Had they all deserted? Been killed? Left their posts to go fight whoever was breaking down the doors? Or were the guards themselves the ones causing all the commotion?
From somewhere ahead and to the left came the bang of a door being flung open, and bellowing voices and heavy footsteps burst forth, startlingly close. Sir Edmend stopped in his tracks so abruptly that the others nearly plowed into him. Jaymin grabbed Erik’s arm for balance as the guard bumped into them both, almost knocking them over. They all glanced around frantically for somewhere to hide as the shouting voices drew nearer.
“In here!” Erik whispered, yanking open the door of a closet on their left and pushing Jaymin inside. The others crowded in after him, stumbling against mops and brooms and bundles of dusting rags as they squeezed into the tiny space. Jaymin knocked his head on a shelf in the closet’s dim interior as Sir Edmend backed in against him, trying to pull the door shut. But the little closet was not designed to hold four people, and the door wouldn’t quite close. They all held their breath and watched through the crack as half a dozen soldiers charged by brandishing swords and torches, shadows fleeing before them and sweeping after as they passed. Jaymin was hardly surprised, at this point, to see that their uniforms were not the familiar blue and white livery of the palace guard, nor the dark green of the Alasian army, but wine-red and black.
“They’re Malornians, aren’t they?” he guessed, frowning in confusion, after the shouting had faded and Sir Edmend had finally sighed with relief and let the door swing open.
His father’s friend swatted at a couple of brooms that had toppled over against him and gave a brusque nod as he peered both ways before stepping back out into the hall. “Yes, I think so. I don’t know how they got in, but there seem to be more of them than of our people in the palace now.”
“And outside in the city, too,” added the young guard grimly, pulling his boot out of the mop bucket it had been wedged in and ushering Jaymin out of the closet ahead of him. “Have you looked through a window lately? Almar seems to be swarming with Malornian soldiers. We have to get you away from here, your Highness.” A sudden volley of distant screams from the direction in which the soldiers had disappeared punctuated his words, and he glanced around nervously, gripping his sword hilt with white knuckles.
The four of them set off down the corridor once more, their steps even faster now. Jaymin tried to puzzle out what was happening as he followed Sir Edmend down another narrow staircase. Malornian soldiers in Alasia? Was this the beginning of a war? But why would the Malornians attack his kingdom? Alasia and Malorn had no official alliance, but they had gotten along peacefully for decades.
The neighboring kingdom had been ruled by King Kerman until his death several years ago, and was now under Kerman’s son, Prince Korram. Jaymin knew that Malornian law prevented the teenaged ruler from actually being crowned king until he turned eighteen, but he didn’t know much else about Korram. He had met the other prince only once, four years ago, but Jaymin would never have predicted Korram would someday send his army to attack Alasia for no apparent reason.
“Careful now,” Sir Edmend warned softly, motioning the little group to stand back as he paused before a door that stood ajar on the right, spilling torchlight into their corridor. “We have to get through the banquet hall here without being seen.” He leaned forward and peered in cautiously.
Jaymin could see the banquet hall in his mind. It was the largest room in the palace, with seating for over three hundred. Last night at supper it had been nearly full, but he knew it would be empty and bare now. They might be able to hide under the long wooden tables, he thought, if anyone came in before they got through. The room had five doors: this one, a matching one in the opposite wall, two small servants’ doorways leading to a kitchen, and the large double doors in the western wall, which always stood open to welcome guests on feast days.
Sir Edmend drew back and hastily stepped away from the door. “There are soldiers in there,” he whispered tersely. “Six of them. We’ll never get through.”
“Can’t we go a different way?” wondered the guard, casting anxious glances all around. “We can’t just wait here in the hallway. Someone’s sure to come along.”
He was obviously a little excited as well as scared, though he was trying hard to cover it, Jaymin thought. He looked young: probably no more than eighteen, and now facing a crisis his first week on the job. Jaymin would have to recommend that he receive a commendation for this later.
“There’s only one other way around, and it would take too long,” Sir Edmend groaned in frustration. “We have to get the prince out, and we have to do it now. They must be combing the palace for him already. It’s just a matter of time until....” He glanced at Jaymin and let his sentence trail off.
“But why –” Jaymin began, still confused.
“I know!” exclaimed the young guard in a sudden whisper, in his excitement probably not even realizing he had interrupted the prince. “We need a diversion. I know what to do.” Quickly but quietly, he pushed them all forward past the doorway, through which Jaymin caught a brief glimpse of tables and benches and a brightly tapestried wall, and stopped them just beyond the doorway, where the angle of the open door blocked their view into the room. Suddenly the guard seemed more nervous, his face paler than it had been a moment ago. “Wait here,” he breathed, shifting his sword from hand to hand as he wiped sweaty palms on his tunic. He paused, licked his lips, and glanced at Jaymin, looking as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t quite find the words. Then he forced a grin and bowed, straightened his shoulders, gripped his sword, and pulled the door wide open, stepping boldly around it out of their sight.
“This way, your Highness,” he exclaimed in a loud voice, and then stopped short. “Oh, no! There are soldiers in here! Quick, go the other way! I’ll be right behind you.” He turned and they could hear him sprinting back down the hallway in the direction from which they had come.
Jaymin held his breath, frozen in place beside Erik, as voices roared from inside the banquet hall. “Did you hear that? He’s got the prince with him! After them!” There was the crash of a bench overturning and the thud of boots pounding across the floor. Jaymin, Erik, and Sir Edmend shrank back as the soldiers poured through the doorway and turned left, running full tilt down the hall. Jaymin risked a quick glance around the door and caught a glimpse of the young guard disappearing around a corner, half a dozen red and black clad soldiers in hot pursuit, before Erik grabbed his arm and jerked him back out of sight again.
Sir Edmend drew a deep breath as the booted footsteps faded in the distance. “Well, he’s cleared the way and bought us a little time, and I hope he lives to tell of it. Now let’s go.” They hurried into the banquet hall, staying around the edge to avoid having to weave between tables, and darted through one of the smaller doors into a shadowy kitchen. Then it was out of the kitchen through a back entrance and down a dark corridor through which they felt their way to an even darker staircase, half stumbling down its narrow, creaky steps.
Finally, the trio arrived at a low door in the wall of a damp cellar somewhere below the palace kitchens. Sir Edmend fished out a jingling bunch of keys from his coat pocket and inserted one into the keyhole. It turned reluctantly, as though the lock had not been touched for years, and the door finally opened with a grinding creak. Jaymin peered in, seeing only a low, narrow hallway, or possibly a tunnel, stretching into musty-smelling black nothingness.
“It’s a secret exit,” explained Sir Edmend, gesturing for them to enter. “It will take us out into the forest on the other side of the hills.” He groped around on a shelf just inside the doorway. “There should be candles in here somewhere.…”
“But we can’t just leave the palace,” protested Jaymin, belatedly realizing that they had not come here to meet his parents and make some sort of plan or at least escape together, as he had assumed. “Not if everyone is in danger. We’ve got to stay and help. I should be fighting beside my father. Where are my parents, anyway?”
Sir Edmend did not reply. He wouldn’t meet Jaymin’s gaze. “Your parents would have wanted you to leave, your Highness,” he murmured. “There’s nothing you can do here.”
And then Jaymin knew. He drew in his breath, and the world seemed to reel about him. Erik caught his arm to steady him, and Sir Edmend placed a compassionate hand on his shoulder.
“No,” Jaymin heard himself whispering hoarsely. “It can’t be true. It can’t. No!”