Hearts and Thrones #3
By: Amy Raby
Releasing April 1st, 2014
The imperial princess has been offered in marriage to the Prince of Inya as part of an alliance needed to ensure Kjall’s military prowess. And despite having been hurt in the past by men using her to gain power, Celeste finds herself falling for the passionate fire mage.
Prince Rayn has no intention of allying his country with the militaristic Kjallans. But his political enemies at home may be the greater threat. The princess’s beauty and intelligence catch him off guard, throwing an unexpected and dangerous hurdle in the way of his plans.
As a deadly political plot threatens Rayn’s life, the attraction between Celeste and Rayn ignites into a sizzling affair. But to save her people and herself, Celeste will have to discover if Rayn’s intentions are true or risk having her love burn her yet again....
Celeste followed her older brother, Emperor Lucien of Kjall, down the sun-drenched pier at the docks of Riat. Shielding her eyes, she gazed at the Inyan ship Magefire which rode at double anchor in the harbor. It looked like an interloper among the heavy Kjallan warships. Its masts were higher, its lines sleeker, its hull paler in color.
Sailors and dock workers moved aside to clear a path for them. The emperor was an infrequent visitor to the docks. He moved at a brisk walk, limping almost imperceptibly on his wooden leg, his eager eyes fixed on the barrels rowed in earlier this morning.
Beside Celeste gamboled a large black and white dog, who darted longing glances at the ocean waves that lapped at the sides of the pier. And on all sides were the Legaciatti, their bodyguards and security staff.
“You’re going to love this,” said Lucien. “A stone that burns.”
Celeste smiled; she knew his real reason for dragging her out here. Celeste wasn’t naturally sociable except with a few trusted people. She had a tendency to lock herself with her work in her rooms, where the hours slipped by faster than she intended. Her brother interrupted her now and then, when he thought she needed sunshine and conversation.
The dock guards before the barrels stood straight and stiff, awed by the presence of the emperor. Lucien studied the label of the first barrel and signaled the nearest guard to open it. Celeste ran forward to see its contents revealed.
Inside was a bright yellow powder. Celeste scooped up a handful and let it sift through her fingers. "This isn’t stone."
“It’s brimstone.” Lucien dug into the substance and cupped a handful of it, staring reverently as if it were powdered gold. “It's been pulverized into this powder. Do you know where the Inyans gather it? Along the edge of a volcano."
“What poor sod gets stuck with that job?” She had no personal experience with volcanoes, since there were none in Kjall, but everyone knew a volcano had destroyed the nation of Dori.
“A well-paid sod, I hope. But Inya’s volcanoes are more manageable than Dori’s. The Inyans have a system for controlling them. Ask the prince about it when you meet him.”
Celeste was trying not to think about the prince. He’d come in the Magefire to negotiate a trade agreement with Kjall and had brought the barrels of brimstone as a demonstration of good faith. What the prince didn’t know was that Lucien wanted more than a trade agreement. He wanted an alliance, and to secure it, he meant to offer Celeste’s hand in marriage. Celeste had never met the Inyan prince, and in a matter of months, he could be her husband.
Scooping up a double handful of brimstone, she asked, "Does it really burn?"
"Absolutely. Come and see." Carrying his own handful, Lucien gestured her to follow. The black and white dog wagged its tail beseechingly, and he addressed it. “Oh, just get in the water, Patricus. Everyone knows you want to.”
With a joyous bark, the dog leapt off the pier and splashed into the ocean.
As they walked the length of the pier, passing by the staring dock workers, Celeste cradled the powdery treasure in the folds of her syrtos to shelter it from the breeze. At the end of the pier, they descended a wooden staircase to a sandy beach.
Lucien found an open space with nothing flammable around and, with the foot of his wooden leg, dug a crude hollow in the sand. “In there.”
Celeste poured her brimstone into the hollow, and Lucien added his. Though the brimstone had a consistency similar to the sand, it was a brighter yellow.
Lucien took Celeste’s hand and backed away from the hole, drawing her with him.
A bit of movement caught her eye—a dark shape appearing and disappearing among the white froth of the breakers. “Don’t light the brimstone yet. Patricus is coming.”
“I see him,” said Lucien.
Patricus burst from the waves and loped up the beach.
“He’s sopping wet,” said Lucien. “Shake it off, Patricus!”
The dog kept coming. His feet sank into the soft sand, but he pumped his legs and scrambled on, sending the sand flying out behind him.
“Shake it off!” Lucien commanded.
Patricus galloped to Lucien and shook, spraying sand and seawater all over him.
“Pox this animal.” Scowling, Lucien brushed sand off his imperial syrtos and turned to the Legaciatti, who were covering their faces to hide their grins. “Where were you? Some security detail.”
“We don’t interfere with the imperial dog, Emperor,” said one of the Legaciatti.
Lucien muttered to Celeste, “I don’t get half the respect Florian did.”
“They love you. Everyone does.” This was not true, of course. Lucien had numerous enemies. But Celeste felt that if those people truly knew Lucien, they would love him as much as she did.
Lucien grabbed Patricus by the scruff and gestured to the fire mage in his security detail. "Light the brimstone, Jasper.”
The fire mage waved his hand, and the yellow powder ignited.
Celeste gasped. The flame was blue. "Three gods, that can't be right. It's unnatural. Like a Vagabond fire."
"It stinks like the Vagabond's breath.” Lucien waved away the smoke.
Celeste got her first whiff of the fumes and choked. He was right; the burning brimstone smelled like something rotten. She backed away and so did Lucien, dragging Patricus with him.
Lucien beamed like a delighted schoolboy. "Have you ever seen the like?"
Holding her nose, Celeste shook her head.
"Only the gods could devise something so strange and wonderful. No wonder it's needed for making the most important substance in the world."
"Chocolate?" said Celeste.
Lucien gave her a look. "Gunpowder, as you well know. Put the fire out, Jasper." When the fire was out, he released Patricus, who fell into step at his side, wagging his tail. He offered his arm to Celeste, and they headed to the carriage, followed by the Legaciatti.
“Where are the Inyans?” asked Celeste.
“Up at the palace,” said Lucien. “They’ve had a long sail. They need to rest, freshen up. So do we, I think, after that brimstone.”
“I wish you had told the prince in advance that you were going to offer him my hand.”
“And spoil the surprise?” Lucien grinned. “Trust me, it’s better he should see what he’s getting. If you can’t sell this alliance, no one can.”
Celeste shook her head. Lucien thought the world of her, but he was her brother and obviously biased. She was not as pretty as he suggested. “When will you make the proposal?” Her stomach knotted at the thought of seeing her potential marriage partner for the first time at a formal event, with everyone’s eyes on her. She’d heard a few things about the prince: that he was twenty-two years old, a good match to her own age of nineteen, and handsome. Those were points in his favor, but they were surface traits and told her little about whether she would be happy with the man. Or whether he would be happy with her.
“I don’t care for official presentations,” said Lucien. “The last one I attended turned into a fiasco. Instead I’ve arranged a small dinner party. You and me and Prince Rayn, plus a few officials to balance things out and keep the conversation flowing. What do you think?”
She let her breath out. “That sounds less intimidating.”
They had arrived at the imperial family coach, an imposing blue-and-gold conveyance which comfortably seated six and was drawn by a quartet of matched grays.
Lucien took her hand and squeezed it as he lifted her into the carriage. “Courage, sister. It will all work out.”
Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horses. Amy is a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist and a 2012 Daphne du Maurier winner.