THE CHRONICLES OF WARSHARD (book 1): HAVEN
“You will be perfect. You will be great. You will be a just queen.” Haven paced the length of the hall, trying to calm her rattled nerves. “You will lead them fairly. You will save them. By the grace of the gods, you will.”
The distant boom of drums startled her. Her heart leapt for her throat and she stopped abruptly. Her gaze lingered on the large oak doors leading to the throne room.
“All rise,” a muffled voice said behind the closed doors.
The time had come.
Clearing her throat, Haven smoothed her regal skirts and stepped up to the ornately carved entry. Warm afternoon light spilled across the floor, bathing her dark-red dress in fire. Sparkles from her jewel-covered throat cast a dazzling pattern across her olive skin.
Haven never thought she’d live long enough to take the throne. In a family of two older brothers and a healthy father, the eldest daughter would never be expected to ascend. But it was her misfortune to be blessed with longevity. Haven had outlived much of her family, and as the idea of becoming Queen grew nearer, that blessing only became a curse.
Her fists clenched around her dress, her palms sweaty.
She had thought of perhaps ending her life just to spare her people her inadequacy. She could try hanging herself, but the moment she was released from the noose, even if her neck broke, air would return to her lungs and her neck would mend itself. She could slit her wrists, or even her throat, but the wounds would heal in minutes, the scars in hours. There were many ways Haven had contemplated death—until she realized something. The only thing worse than living forever without her family was to leave her people without a Queen, especially in times like these.
With war at their doorstep, Rythern needed a queen, one who would not die like the rest of her family. They needed Queen Haven Fyre, one of the last remaining members of her royal lineage. Only she could lead the kingdom past this time of turmoil, or so she hoped.
“You can do this,” she told herself, her amber eyes drawn forward as two Queen’s Guard parted the doors. She smoothed her skirts and took a deep breath.
Her coronation was held in the main throne room, as per the custom. With high vaulted ceilings, large stained-glass windows, and a red carpet leading up the center aisle, it was just how she’d imagined. The red-and-gold banners of her family hung from the walls to her left and right. Candles dappled the walls and the ends of the aisles, dusting the room in a golden glow.
A flash of concern sent her heart racing. Were the guards too close to the open flame? She paused. Not a piece of fabric stuck between the metal folds of their uniforms. She sighed in relief. They were dressed in full Queen’s Guard armor.
Turning her gaze from the décor, Haven basked in the warm glow of candles. Tears sprang to her eyes. This was a glorious room, filled nearly to the brim with people.
Her people. The ones she would lay her life down for. Even if, for Haven, there could be no such reality.
She wished her mother were there, standing beside her most trusted adviser, once the adviser to the king. She’d known Toma since birth. There had never been a time when the aged man hadn’t been at her father’s side. But Toma wasn’t her mother.
Toma stood in front of the throne at the end of the never-ending aisle, a golden scepter in one hand and a great silver sword with a hilt of gold and rubies in the other. These things would dub her Queen of Rythern, along with the crown that she assumed was hidden until the right moment.
Blinking away the tears that threatened to fall, Haven steeled herself. She had to be strong for her people. For her parents. For her kingdom.
Her cheeks warmed as she stopped at the end of the red carpet. All eyes rested on her, lighting her skin aflame with nerves. She wouldn’t trip. She wouldn’t mess up.
Haven held Toma’s gaze for a moment before kneeling. Her long brown hair tipped from her chest, its red ends blending with the fire of her dress.
“Princess Haven Fyre of Rythern, we are gathered here today for your coronation.” Toma’s voice echoed over the crowd and through the great hall. All were silent as they bowed with her. “My Lady, in our greatest hour of need, do you consent to be made Queen of the kingdom, in sickness and in health, until your final hour?” A smile pricked at her lips, as she was sure it pulled at Toma’s. She knew as well as he that no sickness or injury could ever take her. She would be Queen of Rythern until old age took her last breath.
“I do.” She kept her gaze on the floor as she had been instructed.
“Will you treat your people fairly and with justice, so long as you live?”
“Will you put down your own life for the people of Rythern if the day should ever come? And will you, My Lady Princess, lead us into the glory of battle should war ever return to the Warshard realm?”
Haven stood. Her eyes found Toma’s, which blazed like the sunrise at dawn. Pride swelled within them, glossing them in tears. She smiled.
“By the grace given to me by all the realm and the people of Rythern, by your mother and father, Queen Denica and King Keane Fyre, I now pronounce you, Princess Haven Delyth Fyre, Queen of Rythern. Long may you reign.”
“Long may she reign,” the people echoed back.
Haven couldn’t help the smile lighting her face. This was it. She was about to be queen for the rest of her days.
Taking her skirts in hand, she climbed the stairs to join Toma, who gently turned her to face the crowd. He placed the scepter in her left hand and the sword in her right. Both were cool to the touch. She bowed again, hours of rehearsal leading her movements. Heavy metal sat atop her hair—the royal crown of a thousand rubies. Her heart fluttered. This crown had sat on the heads of many kings and queens throughout Rythern history. Now, she was one of them.
Straightening, Haven looked to the crowd.
Every person present echoed again, “Long may she reign.”
Haven turned to her queen’s throne: a high-backed dark wood chair with gold patterns weaved through the wood. Sitting there would complete her marriage to the kingdom. In a very real sense she’d said her vows and married her husband. Though her husband was not a man, but a great country. One that she never imagined would be entrusted to her.
Turning to face her people, Haven’s gaze roamed the still crowd. Her knees bent to sit. This was it.
A shadow flashed through the rafters. Her eyebrows furrowed, and her lips parted. But it was too late. As she opened her mouth to shout for her guards, an arrow pierced her chest. Blackness swallowed her.
Haven awoke with a gasp. Frantic screams rang all around. Toma kneeled at her side, along with two others. She blinked slowly, her mind struggling through the haze to get to the surface. What had happened? Why was she on the floor?
She leaned on her elbows and wiped her eyes. Haven had three women as her personal guards, and these beautiful ladies were two of them. Deep-blue eyes met hers. Soothing words floated through the fog clouding her brain. Lareina, a warrior and a healer, must have been the one to pull the bloody arrow from her chest.
The weapon lay on the step beside her, still clasped in Lareina’s right hand. Dark red dripped from the metal point.
“Thank you.” Haven shifted to stand.
The second girl held her down. “Just a moment, My Lady Queen.” Blythe cautiously glanced around in a stance blocking Haven from further attack.
“Blythe, come now,” Haven chastised. She sighed. “If my assailant were still in the rafters you could be dead. I should be the one shielding all of you.”
That earned her a smile from the strong-headed Blythe. Dark-brown eyes met hers. She nodded and stood, taking Haven’s hand and helping her majesty to her feet.
“Thank you.” Haven smoothed her dress.
“Of course.” Blythe nodded before joining the protective formation that Haven hadn’t realized encircled her.
“Are you all right, My Queen?” Toma asked, inspecting her for further injury.
“Honestly”—Haven rolled her eyes—“this is far too much of a fuss.” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment.
She turned past her Queen’s Guard. Some had fled the throne room, while others were frozen in place. A few candles had been knocked asunder, but no one was hurt.
She thanked the blue skies that whoever had made an attempt on her life seemed to be long gone. “Toma, how do we get these people to remember their heads and quit running about like a pack of startled hens?”
Toma, who still seemed concerned over her person, finally met her gaze and understood. They needed order in the throne room so her guards could pursue the would-be assassin. “Raise your voice and they will listen, My Queen.”
“All right.” Ignoring the sweat collecting in her palms, she cleared her throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, I will have silence in my court.”
For a moment, the noise continued. Had she not spoken loud enough? She prepared to repeat herself, but once the moment had passed, a hush passed through the crowd. Their panic lulled now that the Queen, who’d clearly been shot straight in the heart, seemed to have made a full recovery.
“Thank you.” She hesitated, unsure of what to do next.
“We should remove the people from the throne room, My Queen,” Toma whispered.
Haven smiled and gave him a grateful look. “As you can see, I am all right. Now if we are to find my assailant, we must clear the hall.” She tried to give a grave look to the crowd before continuing. “We will continue with this evening’s festivities as planned in the ballroom where you will find plenty of wine to soothe your souls. Could I please have everyone evacuate the room in a civilized fashion?” Haven took this moment to motion to a few guards to escort the lot outside. “I will join you soon.”
Once the crowd seemed assured no one else was going to be targeted by flying arrows, they fled the room in a relatively organized manner. As the buzz of conversation left, Haven turned back to her guard and adviser.
“Well done.” Toma nodded before moving on to a tall, broad man, the head of the Queen’s Guard. Toma spat orders for a full-scale investigation and to have the castle put under lockdown until the archer was caught.
Haven turned back to her personal guard and friends. Lareina waited patiently with her third guard, Malka, a gifted archer in her own right with emerald-green eyes and short brown hair. Blythe had yet to rejoin them, and as second-in-command of the Queen’s Guard, she also barked orders about securing the throne room. Haven smiled at all of them. She’d known these three since she was a child, and she trusted them more than words could say. They were likely blaming themselves for her temporary injury, and she wouldn’t have it.
“My ladies, it appears we still have a party to throw and I am covered in blood.” Haven held her dress out to demonstrate her point.
“We will have to get you to your rooms, then, My Queen.” Lareina smiled, gently placing her hand on Haven’s forearm.
Having overheard their intent, Blythe rejoined them. “I will gather a few guards to bring with us,” she said before calling out to several of her trusted Queen’s Guard nearby.
Haven didn’t say a word, didn’t bother to argue. Though having a dozen men and women surrounding her seemed like too much, she hoped it’d put her guards’ minds at rest. One look at Blythe and Haven knew there would be no arguing anyway.
Once the guards had been gathered, they formed a loose circle around her, Lareina always staying by her side. They ushered her through the back entrance to the throne room, slowly making their way to her chambers.
Her heels clacked on the smooth stone as Blythe paused, seeming intent on investigating every dark corner they passed, which made their usually short journey quite long and tiresome.
By the time they reached her rooms, she feared the banquet would already be over.
“Blythe,” she said, pausing as per instructed.
“Yes, My Lady Queen?”
“I don’t mean to rush you, but I don’t think my assailant is going to jump out at me when I’m surrounded by guards.”
Blythe considered this, and with a quick nod she sheathed her sword. “You’re quite right, My Lady.”
Haven sighed, pleased to find their pace quickened through the dark stone hall. Soon she was safe in her rooms. Lareina nearly danced over to her dressing room, always eager to pick a dress for her Queen. Blythe stood guard at the door, and Malka disappeared into her bathing room, leaving Haven to herself.
Blood was smeared across her chest, drowning the reds and golds of her dress in darkness. Her heart clenched. With the amount of blood soaking her bosom, she should have been dead. She knew that, and so did her guard. They would always be overprotective of her for fear of her death, and she would always be protective of them for they could die.
Raising her gaze from the sight of her own blood, she caught her own amber gaze in the vanity mirror.
“Is this what it’s like to be Queen?”