Chapter 1

In the palace courtyard, Robrek Angusstamm stirred the cauldron, brewing the potion that would cure Duke Argblutal’s former forces of the mass diarrhea caused by the princess’s supporters in the palace. Argblutal had attempted to usurp Samantha’s throne, and Robrek had just helped her retake it. The potion was ready except for the final ingredient—his magic. Robrek spread his hand over the cauldron and closed his eyes. Pure joy and pleasure flooded his body as his magic flowed out of him. Nothing felt this good. He smiled as he opened his eyes. The potion would provide a nearly instantaneous cure.

Robrek took the ladle from the waiting servant and began ladling out the potion to those waiting. They were bent over from discomfort, and the smell was atrocious. Robrek tried to breathe only through his mouth.

The crowd broke into cries of “Long live Queen Samantha!” He looked up and saw Samantha on the palace balcony. Holy Sulis, she’s beautiful! How can she truly be mine? It still seemed like a dream that they’d been handfasted the night before and that she had spent the night in his arms.

The man in front of him groaned, reminding Robrek of the task at hand. He filled the stricken soldier’s cup. “Thank you, Milord,” the soldier said, startling Robrek with the use of his new title.

Robrek filled another cup, then looked back at Samantha. A servant came forward and bowed. “May I, Milord?” The servant reached for the ladle. Robrek relinquished it, but felt awkward doing so. He wasn’t used to standing around while others worked. He supposed it was just one of many things he’d have to get used to as consort. Can I truly be king? He shook his head at the absurdity of the idea. Only in bards’ tales did peasants become kings, but what had his life been if not a bards’ tale?

Up on the balcony, Samantha raised a hand, and the crowd fell silent. “My people! Duke Argblutal murdered your king and tried to steal my throne. He has suffered the fate Sulis intended for such betrayal. Let us celebrate this victory, achieved with so little loss of life.”

The crowd roared its approval, and Robrek beamed at her. Duke Caedmon stepped onto the balcony beside Samantha, and Robrek frowned slightly. Caedmon disapproved of him, didn’t think him worthy of the princess.

Caedmon removed Argblutal’s head from the pike. Robrek suspected Darhour, the captain of the princess’s personal guard and a former assassin, had put it there. Where is Darhour? Robrek would have expected him to be by Samantha’s side, but the only two guards with her were Bearach and Conroy.

Caedmon raised his hand for quiet. “Let us remember the fate of those who raise their hands against the goddess’s chosen!” Caedmon dropped the head into the midst of the crowd. As the crowd roared and tossed and kicked the duke’s head about, Robrek felt a surge of nausea. For what Argblutal had done he’d deserved to die, but did they have to desecrate his remains?

Samantha’s eyes sought him out in the crowd, and she smiled down at him. Lost in that smile, he forgot everything else.

The thousands of peasants who had joined Samantha’s army as she’d marched on the palace and who now filled the courtyard erupted into dancing and celebration, and Robrek was swept up in the dance. People pounded him on the back and beamed at him, accepting him as he’d never been accepted in the village of his birth.

At the edge of the crowd stood Wild Thing, his Horsetad mare, with Brazen, Fancy Man, and Holy Writ—the magical bronze, silver, and gold horses who had changed his life and helped him win the contest that allowed him to claim Samantha as his bride. Now, the despised youngest son of a peasant farmer would be king. Now, surely, he’d be able to do what he was meant to do and heal in peace. Beyond that he couldn’t imagine what his new life would be like.

But having Samantha in it would be enough.

:She liked your moves, didn’t she?: came the laughing voice of Fancy Man, who taught him how to dance, among other things. :Now I’ve taught you all I know.:

Holy Writ nodded her head and snorted. :Thou hast done well.:

:It is your destiny.:

Robrek laughed as Brazen again said her oft repeated line. Robrek felt happy and at peace. With the horses and Samantha beside him, he had nothing to fear.

Robrek danced over to the horses and gave each one a hug around the neck, ending with Wild Thing. :Wild Thing and Robbie big heroes.:

He scratched her neck. “Yes, my girl, I guess we are.”

He looked over at the line of soldiers waiting for the remedy and noticed one limping badly. He approached the man as his cup was filled by the servant. “Your foot pains you?” he asked.

The man started and turned to Robrek, eyes widening when he saw who had addressed him. “Er . . . er . . . yes, Milord. I stepped on a nail about a week back, and I’m afraid it’s began to fester. I fear I might lose it, Milord.”

“Not while I’m here you won’t. Drink it down.” He pointed to the cup. “Then come with me.” After the man drank the remedy, Robrek led him to the nearby mounting blocks and had the man sit and remove his boot. The foot was swollen and red. The nail wound on the bottom was oozing pus and turning green. Red lines of infection travelled up the man’s foot. If it weren’t for Robrek’s skills, it would definitely have to be amputated. Robrek reached out to touch the foot, and the man flinched. “I have to touch you if I’m going to make it better,” Robrek said. “It won’t hurt.”

The man nodded, but he was trembling slightly. Robrek put his hand on the foot, closed his eyes, and went into a healing trance. He gathered the infection and pushed it toward the hole in the foot, so that it streamed out with pus and blood, but after a few moments, the pus stopped flowing, and the foot slowly reduced to normal size. The greenish tinge and the redness disappeared, and finally Robrek closed the small puncture wound.

When Robrek opened his eyes, the man’s eyes were wide with awe. The man fell to his knees. “My life for yours! How may I serve you, Milord?”

“You can’t,” a voice spoke beside Robrek. Robrek turned to Hawk, captain of the Royal Guard, who was looking down at the man with loathing. “His Lordship has no need for traitorous scum. You will depart with the rest after you’ve sworn your loyalty to Her Highness.” He gestured toward the front door of the palace. There stood Samantha, with Bearach and Conroy on either side of her and one of Argblutal’s men kneeling before her. A line of men, all who’d fought for Argblutal, waited behind him.

The man whose foot Robrek had healed looked between Captain Hawk and Robrek. “But, Milord, I only served Argblutal for the money. I will give my life for yours.”

“Once a traitor, always a traitor,” Hawk said, and signaled two Royal Guardsmen over to him. “Escort the traitor to Her Highness.”

The Royal Guardsmen took him by the arms. The man was so upset at being taken Robrek thought he should say something, but nothing came to mind. He had no idea how he could make use of the man and no assurance he could be trusted. Hawk called two more Royal Guardsmen over. “You and you are now guarding His Lordship.”

“I have no need of guards,” Robrek protested.

“Her Highness’s orders,” Hawk said. “Too many traitors still in the courtyard, not to mention all the peasants.” Hawk gestured toward the dancing commoners, all of whom were armed, mostly with makeshift weapons. “Her Highness requests your presence.”

Robrek smiled at the thought Samantha wanted him and followed Captain Hawk. The two men Hawk appointed as his guards followed as well and took up station on either side behind him. They were large, imposing men, at least a head taller than Robrek. He felt intimidated rather than protected.

Samantha acknowledged him with a slight smile, but otherwise, her attention was taken up with the men kneeling before her. She held a piece of paper in one hand, and Robrek sensed something was wrong, but he wasn’t sure why she wanted him there. She didn’t seem to have anything for him to do.

A lot of men had followed Argblutal, and Robrek soon found the oath taking tedious. He scanned the crowd for signs of injury, but couldn’t find anything major. Still, wouldn’t healing scrapes and bruises be better than doing nothing? He shifted from one foot to the other, wondering if he should go back to ladling out the potion. Samantha touched his arm. He relaxed at her touch and smiled at her. She smiled in return, but the smile seemed forced somehow and not her true smile. Robrek wondered if he’d done something wrong, but he couldn’t imagine what.  

When the last of Argblutal’s supporters had finally pledged their oaths and been escorted from the palace grounds, Samantha turned to Captain Hawk. “Make sure the palace and grounds are thoroughly searched for any stragglers.”

Hawk bowed. “It’s being done as we speak.”

She turned to Caedmon. “Now, I’ll see to my father.”

Of course. That’s what’s wrong. Robrek cursed himself for being so thoughtless. Argblutal had killed her father. Unlike Robrek’s relationship with his father, Samantha’s with the king had been close.

Still clutching the paper, Samantha took Robrek’s hand in her free hand and led him into the palace. Caedmon and their bodyguards followed. The entry hall was overflowing with the nobles who’d sided with her against Argblutal. Although Robrek had been in the entry hall before, he couldn’t help staring around like the country peasant he was. Chandeliers full of candles dangled from the ceiling. Robrek wondered how the candles had been lit. Wall sconces provided more light. Between the sconces were brilliant statues of long dead heroes, crossed swords, and suits of armor.

Surrounding him and the princess, the nobles danced and celebrated the nearly bloodless victory. “Long live the queen!” resounded all around them, and the nobles pressed close, congratulating her and reminding her of the part they’d played. She smiled that false smile he found so disconcerting. “Let the wine cellar be breached,” she announced. “And all celebrate the joy of our victory!”

Cries of “Hear, hear!” broke out. However, joy seemed to be the last emotion Samantha felt as she moved among the courtiers.

Slowly, they worked their way to the edge of the crowd and down a deserted side corridor. Samantha led him past rich paintings of distinguished looking men and women in gilt frames, bright tapestries of knights and battle, more statuary and suits of armor.  The floor was polished flagstone, and large windows provided light. The corridors were wide and the ceilings high. His father’s entire farmhouse could have fit in that corridor. Can I truly be a part of such a world?

Samantha slowed. She seemed to be in no hurry to reach their destination. She clung tightly to his hand, and he squeezed back to comfort her. But he had no idea what to say. How can I comfort a queen?

* * *

Clutching the note Darhour had left pinned to the door above Argblutal’s corpse in one hand and Robbie’s hand in the other, Samantha approached the room where the king lay dead. No, Father! You can’t truly be gone! Their steps echoed off the stone floor in the vast emptiness, reminding her of the emptiness of her own life. The air seemed to thicken about them, and she slowed. If she never reached the king’s bedroom, maybe she could make his death a lie.

After a few moments and an eternity, she stood before the king’s chambers. She hesitated and then squared her shoulders and pushed open the door.

The king lay on his bed, his eyes closed as if merely asleep. His body had been washed and dressed for burial. Seeing him lying there reminded her of when she’d had nightmares as a little girl; she’d come to him and crawl in bed for comfort. He had held her, stroked her hair, and told her stories. She’d snuggled against his long white beard until she fell asleep.

Will I ever feel that safe again?

She was certain she wouldn’t. Not when Darhour, too, had deserted her. Darhour had been the captain of her guards, her friend, and as she’d discovered only a few days ago, her true father. Now, according to the note left near Argblutal’s body, he’d left her. “My final gift to you,” he’d written. “From one unworthy to serve you.” How dare he think of himself that way?

She forced thoughts of his betrayal out of her mind and looked around the room—everywhere but at the king’s body. Above the mantle across from the bed was a portrait of her sitting in her windowseat and looking out at the palace grounds. Every two years the king had had a new portrait of her painted to hang in his bedroom. He’d told her he wanted her to be the last thing he saw before he fell asleep.

Maybe it’s all a mistake. Praying for life to flow back into him, she knelt beside the bed and took the king’s hand. It was freezing and felt more like marble than flesh. Robbie laid his hand on her shoulder. “Can you do something?” she asked him.

To ask anyone else the question would have been absurd, but Robbie was the most powerful sorcerer Korthlundia had seen in centuries. He’d saved Darhour’s life when he’d taken an arrow through the heart. Could he not heal her father’s heart now, through which Argblutal had thrust his sword?

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sam. Maybe if I’d been here at the time. But I can’t bring back the dead.”

“Holy Sulis, how can I go on without him?” She let go of Solar’s lifeless hand and rested her cheek against the coverlet. She wanted to sob, to wail out her grief, but the man who’d always soothed her tears was dead. Robbie knelt beside her and put his arm around her. He didn’t tell her the lie that everything would be all right or say any of the trite things people say to comfort those in grief. He just held her.

“Damn Argblutal!” she choked.

Before disappearing, Darhour had done a thorough job of killing the duke—eviscerating, castrating, and decapitating him. Still, she wished Argblutal was alive, so she could kill him with her own sword, rip his heart out of his chest with her bare hands. But nothing she could do to Argblutal could heal the gaping hole in her own chest as she knelt beside the greatest king Korthlundia had ever known and the best father a child could have.

She dropped the note to the floor. Robbie picked it up. His mouth dropped open. “Is this from Darhour?” he asked. “Has he gone?” She nodded and turned away, unwilling to cry over a betrayer. Robbie engulfed her in a hug. “Oh, Sam, I’ll so sorry.”

She clutched him tightly, grateful for the one thing she hadn’t lost.

* * *

His inadequacy in comforting her like a knife in his heart, Robrek held Samantha and smoothed her auburn hair with his hand. Why doesn’t she weep? He knew how much she’d loved the king and Darhour, too. The pain in her face was nearly unbearable.

He heard a noise behind him, and Samantha stiffened in his arms. Duke Caedmon was entering the room. “What do I do now, Uncle?” she asked him. “How do I go on?”

Caedmon didn’t meet her gaze. “It would seem a celebratory feast is in order. The preparations shouldn’t take long, seeing Argblutal had been preparing for a marriage feast that never happened. The people need to celebrate the victory of the rightful queen. Tomorrow you can declare a week of mourning for the king.”

She tore away from Robrek and stood. “Are you mad? My father lies dead!” She snatched a gold and gem horse figurine from the mantel. “I gave him this when I was a mere child! He kept it here with my portrait. He loved me! How dare you suggest I celebrate?”

Caedmon held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “You asked my advice. I have given it.”

Samantha glared at Caedmon for a moment more; then the grief flowed off the princess’s face and an expressionless mask took its place. The mask made her seem less human somehow. “Very well. Tell Blaine and Maggie to arrange . . . a celebratory feast.”

Samantha grabbed Robrek’s hand and, without another glance at her father, she led him out of the room. She sped through the corridors, her jaw set.

“Where are we going now?” Robrek asked.

“Anywhere but here,” she snapped.

They arrived at the edge of the swarming crowd; nearly all the people held glasses or bottles of wine. Glasses were shoved into his and the princess’s hands, and the princess halted to propose a toast. “To victory! To another fifty years of unbroken peace!” She drained her goblet. Someone immediately filled it.

The hallways rang with cheers, and when no one seemed to be paying attention, Robrek emptied his glass into a potted plant and set the glass aside. Healers couldn’t tolerate alcohol. But before he knew it, someone had shoved another glass into his hand.

Dozens of men Robrek had never seen before pounded him on the back, congratulating him and the princess. They made passage through the corridor slow and difficult. Again, cries of “Long live the queen!” broke out on all sides. The princess smiled at everyone, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. Every time she emptied her glass, it was soon filled again. Robrek merely held his, brimming with wine.

By the time they made it to the banquet hall, where their betrothal had been celebrated two days previously, Samantha’s gait was unsteady, and she leaned against him for support.

* * *

“What happens now?” Count Nola asked. “We just sit back and let a bastard reign over us?”

He and the other Lundian members of the Royal Council were sitting at the dining table in his townhouse. Nola, Counts Ultan and Weylin, and Baron Arawn had all sided with Argblutal in his failed attempt to usurp the throne.

Arawn sighed. “Argblutal’s accusation about her bastardry was certainly self-serving. Perhaps it isn’t even true. Just who is supposed to be her father, anyway?”

Weylin took a large gulp of his wine and waved the matter aside. “Who cares if it’s true or not? She has the throne. If Argblutal failed to take it from her, which of us could?”

Ultan’s lips tightened. “It is wrong to even speak of it. She gave us our lives when few monarchs would have, and we gave her our sacred oaths of loyalty.”

Nola stood. “Words! That’s all an oath is. Mere words, spoken under the threat of the axe.” The three other men stared at him, mouths hanging open as if the mere thought of breaking their oaths would damn them to the seven hells. “All I want to know is, will she honor Solar’s bequests?”

Weylin laughed. “You’re concerned about the king’s lands?”

Nola turned red. “Shouldn’t I be? I have the deed right here.” He held up a piece of paper. “Signed by Solar himself. If she’s truly the late king’s daughter, she won’t break her father’s word.”

Arawn chewed a grape and seemed to consider his words carefully. He spat out the seeds onto a plate before him. “If I were you, I’d figure on kissing those lands goodbye.”

“Not while there’s still breath in my body. And what about the promises Argblutal made to the rest of you? Are you willing to let them go so causally?” He leaned over the table. “We have to unite on this, or she’ll rob us blind.”

* * *

Father Faolan knelt before the altar on a plush crimson and gold rug. He fingered the fine silk cloth that had once covered the high priest Shylah’s personal altar. The cloth was embroidered with a gold star surrounded by baskets of fruit and roses of the deepest scarlet. He lit the candles on either side of the statue of Sulis. The candlesticks were of gold, inlaid with silver roses and rubies. The statue itself stood two feet tall. Made of pure white alabaster, it depicted Sulis dressed in long, flowing robes. In contrast to most depictions of the Holy Mother, it lacked the curves that differentiated a woman’s body from a man’s. The goddess’s hair, traditionally depicted in long braids interwoven with flowers, was here hidden under a priest’s cowl. The statue’s face had a strong chin, a pointed nose, and a stern expression. Indeed, it looked far more masculine than feminine. Its sculptor seemed to understand, as very few did, the truth about Sulis, the truth Father Shylah had taught Faolan.

Faolan had taken these things of Shylah’s to honor the high priest after his supposed suicide. Faolan, however, wasn’t fooled. Shylah had been far too great a man to take his own life. He had been murdered both physically and in reputation. The accusations of child sacrifice were slander of the basest variety, and Faolan knew who was responsible: the bastard who would reign on the great Solar’s throne and the abomination she’d taken to her bed.

There was a knock on the door, and Father Eadoin entered. His blonde hair was shaved to a fine buzz, and he had small, beady eyes that avoided looking directly at Faolan. “Am I interrupting?”

Faolan shook his head and got to his feet. “No, I was just praying, asking Sulis for a way to restore the high priest’s reputation. What’s on your mind?”

Eadoin rubbed his fingers over the silky smoothness of the altar cloth, still not looking at him. “It’s the high priesthood, Father. Until the new high priest is chosen, I’m afraid of your flaunting your closeness to Father Shylah. Few believe he was not guilty of the crimes with which he was charged. Your chances of being chosen the next high priest would be greater if you were to repudiate—”

Faolan put his hand on the younger priest’s shoulder. “I will not repudiate Korthlundia’s greatest high priest merely for worldly ambition. I will find a way to clear his name and trust in Sulis to guide our fellows in the selection of the one most fit to lead the church in these troubled times.” Times in which a bastard and an infidel were set to take the throne. Such a travesty must be prevented, and who better than the church to stop it?

* * *

With Samantha laughing somewhat hysterically beside him, Robrek entered the banquet hall. Robrek wondered what was funny. All he’d seen and heard in the entrance hall was nobles boasting of their own feats when really they had done nothing except ride with him and the princess to the palace. Samantha led him up to the high table, and Robrek felt small as a sea of nobles followed them and sat.  As Samantha took her place, she called for music, and soon the hall rang with songs of long-ago battles and bright victories:

And he marched up to Boirche,
And rode it round about:
‘O where’s the lord of this castle?
Or where’s the lady of it?’

But up spoke proud Lord Armunn then,
And O but he spoke high!
I am the lord of this castle,
My wife’s the lady gay.

‘If thou art the lord of this castle,
So well it pleases me,
For, ere I cross the Borderlands,
The enemy’s force was nigh.’

Armunn took a long spear in his hand,
Shod with the metal free,
And for to meet the Demons there
He rode right furiously.

Robrek didn’t know who Armunn was or why they’d be singing about him now, but it was obviously a popular song at court; the nobles pounded the tables and sang along with the bard. Samantha merely sipped more wine and leaned her head on his shoulder.

Bard after bard sang until the servants began serving the first course—a leek and chicken soup. Robrek took a spoonful of the soup, remembering to eat in the manner Fancy Man had taught him. But Samantha picked up her goblet instead. Worried about her, Robrek put his hand on hers. “Eat something.”

She shook her head, took another sip of wine, and commanded the bard to sing a romantic ballad. Robrek grinned and blushed as the song reminded him of last night in the princess’s tent. Hungry from healing, he ate heartily, but he had a hard time getting Samantha to even try the food. All that alcohol on an empty stomach wasn’t a good idea.

Midway through the feast, people tapped their forks against their glasses and called for a speech. Samantha rose unsteadily to her feet, her hand on Robrek’s shoulder to keep her balance. “Lards and . . . ! I mean Lords and Ladies! Nobles of the land! All of you who helped the rightful queen regain the throne, I thank you! My consort thanks you! If my father were still here, he would thank you! But he was foully murdered.” She swayed, but Robrek steadied her. “Argblutal has paid the price for his treachery, and this we celebrate here today!”

Cries of “Long live the queen” broke out again.

“So on with the music!” she said, nearly falling into her chair.

* * *

Duke Sheen watched the princess down goblet after goblet of wine; the wench could hold her own with a sailor. He’d thrown everything he had behind keeping her on the throne; he hoped he hadn’t backed a sot. In all the years he’d known Solar, he’d never seen him the worse for drink. Could Argblutal’s accusation be true? Was she a bastard? Did it matter if she was?

He frowned at the peasant boy sitting beside the princess, then looked away. “That will never do.”

“What won’t?” Baron Teague, his fellow Korthian Royal Councilor, asked.

Sheen looked askance at the Baron. He hadn’t really intended to speak aloud, but now that he had, he might as well let his opinion be known. “Are you willing to see a peasant, and a mere child at that, in the place you once sought for your own?”

Teague frowned. “Tonight we celebrate our victory against the Lundian scum. Tomorrow’s soon enough to worry about who the princess marries.”

Next to them, Count Pandaran took a sip of his wine. “His fashion sense is appalling. And look how he positively dotes on her. It’s almost putting me off my food.”

Sheen grunted. Pandaran’s complaints were trivial, as was everything about him, but who cared, if they got him on Sheen’s side? The important unknown was Duke Caedmon. Would he support a Lundian peasant on the throne? If Korth united against her, they could force her to realize the absurdity of her peasant lover. Solar had adeptly performed the tricky balancing act between the Korthians and the Lundians on his council, but after the Lundians’ betrayal, the princess wouldn’t have that recourse. With the Lundian interference out of the way, Korth, not the princess, would direct the course of the joined kingdoms.

Sheen smiled and lifted his goblet. Yes, it was a new day in the joined kingdoms.

* * *

Robrek led the princess through the corridors toward her quarters, the princess leaning against him, giggling, and singing a verse from one of the ballads:

“But who will bake my bridal bread,
Or brew my bridal ale?
And who will welcome my brisk bride,
That I bring over the dale?”

Her bodyguards had to show him the way; she was in no condition to do so. The two men Captain Hawk had appointed were still following him. Both they and Bearach and Conroy stopped at the door to Samantha’s quarters. Robrek followed Samantha in.

When they were alone in her bedroom, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. Gently, he pushed her away. “You’re drunk, Sam.”

She clung to his shirt. “Please, Robbie, make love to me. Touch me like you did last night in my tent.”

Despite himself, his body responded, and he wanted nothing so badly as to give in. But it wouldn’t be right. “Sam, I can’t take advantage of you when you’re like this.”

Abruptly, she collapsed sobbing against his shirt. “Robbie, I feel so alone. They’re gone! Both of my fathers are gone!”

He led her to the bed. He lay down beside her and let her soak his shirt with her tears. Holy Sulis, she’s lost so much. At least she was crying now. It seemed inhuman to withstand so much loss with dry eyes. He wouldn’t have been able to.

After a long while the sobs subsided and were replaced by a soft snore. She’d fallen asleep on his chest. He gently extricated himself and stood. For the first time, he looked around her room. One entire wall was covered by a painting of a princess, resembling Samantha, riding a Horsetad. Horsetads ran free on the Reidhlean plains, and people said they could never be tamed. Robrek had never known anyone other than himself who had ridden one. He thought of Wild Thing, his Horsetad mare, down in the palace stables, and he reached out to her with his magic. She was sleeping contentedly in the paddock and didn’t want to be disturbed.  

Besides the painting, the room held two huge wardrobes, carved with horses and stars in intricate detail. He opened them and found them full to bursting with dresses in silk and satin, lace and velvet, so many she could wear a different one every day for an entire year. Robrek shook his head. Although his father had been considered wealthy by those in the Valley, Robrek had never had more than a couple changes of clothes. Figurines of horses in gold, silver, jade, crystal, and precious stones arrayed themselves on the mantle. Ten years’ proceeds from his father’s crops couldn’t have afforded one of them.

Last night the princess had had him leave her tent before dawn—they’d been camped at the base of Gloine Torr waiting for today’s battle—so it wouldn’t be known they’d slept together. Tonight he didn’t know where to go. Robrek left the princess and walked into her reception room. A life-sized horse made of smoked crystal dominated one corner. It had a gold mane, tail, and hooves and wore a gold saddle studded with emeralds. On the wall was a huge tapestry of a white mare at the edge of the forest, helping her newborn foal stand. The mare reminded him of Roberta, the horse he’d helped Samantha choose at the horse fair where they first met. The mantle was covered with more horse figurines. There was enough wealth in this room to support the entire Valley for a hundred years.

What in Sulis’s name am I doing here?

Not wanting to wrinkle his bronze silks by sleeping in them, he removed them and placed them over a chair. Then he wrapped himself in a blanket and fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire.