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First pages

Prologue

Jackzen awakened from a sound sleep when his wife clutched his arm and fearfully asked, “What was that?”

“What’s what?” His voice was groggy, but his muscles tensed.

They both listened intently for a moment, clutching each other’s body in the predawn darkness.

“That!” Annika responded as a crash from the front room was quickly followed by the sound of loud footsteps rushing toward their bedroom, accompanied by the light of four burning torches.

Jackzen tossed aside the covers and started to spring from the bed, but was immediately forced back by a spear that cut him in his chest. He dropped onto the bed, clutching the top bedspread to his chest to stanch the bleeding. Only then did he look at the men who surrounded his bed.

Soldiers. Or enforcers. Armed, surly, and mean.

“What’s the meaning of this outrage?” he demanded.

“We’re here to collect what you owe the Crown,” responded one of them, a tall burly man standing to the right of the one who held the spear that had wounded him.

“We’ve already paid everthing we owe the king,” Jackzen protested. “All taxes and fees that were due, plus the extra assessments that enforcers demanded.”

“That’s what you claim,” the enforcer who was apparently in charge replied. “We say you haven’t paid what you owe.”

“Kratzl!” Jackzen swore. “I can prove I paid it.”

“Let’s see your proof.”

“Let me get up, and I’ll get my receipt.”

The officer motioned for his men to allow Jackzen to rise from the bed. Still holding the bedspread against his chest, Jackzen made his way to his dresser, rummaged through a drawer, and withdrew the vital document. He handed it to the officer triumphantly.

The officer read it carefully by the light of one of the torches, and then burned it in the fire.

“What other proof do you have to offer?”

“Hey!” Jackzen objected. “You can’t do that!”

“I just did. What other proof do you have?”

“I shouldn’t need any other proof. That receipt showed I paid all charges in full.”

“Receipt? I don’t see any receipt.” The officer turned to his men. “Do any of you see a receipt?”

They laughed, sneered, and shook their heads.

“What proof do you now have to offer?”

Jackzen sputtered but held his tongue. “What is it you want?” he asked.

“I want your teenage daughter.”

“Marza? Why?”

“Come off it, Jackzen. You’re smarter than that. You know why.”

“No! You have no right!” Jackzen yelled while lunging at the officer before being clubbed over the head by another enforcer.

“We have all the rights,” Jackzen heard as he slipped from consciousness. “We’re the king’s enforcers.”

1.

King Kylandar stood on the balcony looking at his capital city of Van Seissling. Feelings of pride and foreboding fought for dominance within him.

He could understand the pride. It had been a long and bitter uphill struggle to unite the various tribes and city-states that now comprised the kingdom of Ventrivia, and to lead their armies against the powerful warlords who had controlled the land for centuries.

Military might alone wasn’t sufficient, of course. Even with the armed forces he commanded, he knew he could not have been successful had it not been for the encouragement of his indomitable wife, Queen Weyranne, and the courage and magical power of his good friend and compatriot, Wizard Malmortiken.

“Together we made a great team,” he muttered to himself, “both in the fight against the warlords and while ruling the land together after we won the war.”

The feeling of pride was undoubtedly justified. It was the foreboding he couldn’t understand. Maybe it’s because Weyranne is no longer here beside me, the king thought to himself. But she died almost two years ago, while this uneasy feeling of dread is something that’s much more recent. I don’t understand it, and can’t pinpoint what’s causing it.

He walked back inside his office, stood momentarily beside his desk, and shook his head, attempting to dislodge any lingering mental cobwebs. Come on, Kollie. You’ve never been one to dwell on phantom fears. Don’t start now.

The king’s right hand accidentally knocked something from his desk. He instinctively caught it before it hit the floor. Kylandar looked down at what he held—a model ship carved from whale bone, given to him by the people of Nantanna when that city had joined the alliance he and Malmortiken formed.

Kylandar gently set the ship back on the corner of his desk, opened the door to his office, and asked his secretary, “Do I have any appointments for the rest of the day, Fitzroy?”

“No, Sire.”

“What about tomorrow?”

“Lord Channing has an appointment first thing tomorrow morning. When you finish with him, you’re to see Lord Mallory. That’s all for tomorrow.”

“A rather light schedule, then.”

“Yes, Sire.”

“But I’m through for today?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Then I think I’ll take a walk around the palace.”

“Very good, Sire.”

 

As soon as the king was out of sight, Fitzroy pulled open a drawer in his desk, removed a small mirror, and said, “Scrymarron Malmortiken.”

One floor below, an alarm sounded on Malmortiken’s matching mirror. The wizard opened a drawer in his desk, picked up his mirror, passed his hand across it to turn off the alarm, and said, “Yes?”

“Sir,” Fitzroy answered. “You asked me to notify you if the king left his chambers.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No, sir. He merely asked about his schedule for today and tomorrow and then said he thought he’d take a walk around the palace.”

“Let me know when he returns.”

“Yes, sir,” said Fitzroy as he put the mirror away.

 

Malmortiken watched as his own mirror went blank. Then he commanded, “Scry Kylandar!” An image instantly appeared. The wizard scowled as he watched the king knock at the door of his daughter’s chambers and be admitted by her handmaid, Lady Lillian. My preoccupation with other matters has caused me to fail to isolate Kylandar and Rhylene. Well, I still have time to do so.

The wizard pushed up the left sleeve of his robe, exposing an arm covered with a series of tattoos. He pressed one of the ornate images and waited for the magic to summon his subordinate.

*****

Kylandar followed Lillian into his daughter’s chambers. Rhylene was not at her desk or anywhere else in the room. Lillian walked to the door to the princess’ bedroom and announced the king’s presence.

“Daddy!” exclaimed Rhylene as she ran to her father and kissed him. The king embraced his daughter and returned her kiss. After hugging her close, he held her at arm’s length, studying her features. She looks more like her mother every day . . . She’s grown up to be a really beautiful young lady—except for those puffy red eyes.

“Is anything wrong, honey? You been crying?”

“Some.”

“What’s got you upset?”

“Oh, Daddy. I’ve just been worried about you.”

“Worried about me? Whatever for?”

“Well . . . uh,” the princess began before faltering.

She hesitated, playing with a brooch while searching for the words to say.

The king’s thoughts raced back to when he had purchased the jewelry. That’s the same brooch I gave Weyranne while courting her. It looks good on Rhylene. I’m glad she’s wearing it.

Rhylene let go of the brooch, clasped her hands together, looked up into her father’s eyes, and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but—but your butler has been drugging your drinks.”

“My butler— What did you say Haughton did?”

“He’s been putting drugs into your drinks.”

“That’s a rather serious accusation.”

“But it’s the truth.”

“How do you know this?”

“Please don’t think badly of me, Daddy, but I took samples of your food and drink while we were together a few days ago, and had them—what was the word? I had them—analyzed.”

“Analyzed? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I had your food and drink checked.”

“How—and by whom? You’d better explain yourself, young lady. Who claimed my food and drink was drugged?”

“I’m sorry, Daddy—but I promised not to reveal that.”

“Not even to me?”

“No, not even to you.”

“What drugs did your mystery person supposedly find?

“He found morphine and some other drug he couldn’t identify in your drink. The food tested out as being all right.”

“Even if this unnamed person found evidence of drugs, how could you possibly know Haughton put it there?”

“Because I saw him do it.”

“How?”

“I guess it was magic, but I watched images that showed him taking a substance out of a bottle and putting it into our drinks before serving them to us.”

“You saw images—but you didn’t say or do anything to stop him or question him?”

“The images were shown to me several days later, but they accurately showed what happened while I was with you.”

“How do you know it was accurate?”

“Because the images continued as you and I came into the room, and I saw both of us say and do exactly what I know we did.”

King Kylandar studied his daughter’s face as she spoke. Her earnestness and conviction show she sincerely believes what she’s saying—but it still doesn’t make sense to me.

“I don’t understand what you mean by seeing images.”

“The man who told me what was in your food and drink showed me some kind of magic images of Haughton putting drugs into your goblet. I watched as he told us dinner was ready. We came into the dining room, I ran over and picked up our plates, and took them to the library. The images I saw showed us saying and doing exactly what I know we said and did.”

“So you’re convinced that what you saw was correct and valid?”

“Yes, Daddy. I’m thoroughly convinced.”

“What else did you see?”

“Oh, dear, you’re not going to like what I’ll say if I tell you that.”

“In that case, I definitely need to hear it.”

Rhylene got up, walked to the window, and stood looking out. Her father walked over and gently put his hand on her shoulder.

“Please, honey,” he whispered. “Tell me. I need to know.”

She stepped back, looked up into her father’s eyes, nodded, and said, “Haughton was acting under the wizard’s orders.”

Kylandar took a step backward and drew a breath before speaking. “Now you’re making accusations about the man who’s my closest and most trusted friend in the whole wide world— Well, after you, of course.”

“I know. That’s why I said you’re not going to like it.”

“You are in effect accusing both Malmortiken and Haughton of treason.”

“I know—but I also know that’s what I saw.”

“No, Rhylene, you didn’t actually see them. You said you saw images. The question is whether the images are accurate.”

“The ones with Haughton and us were definitely accurate. The others seemed to be.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“I saw and heard them. Malmortiken was concerned I was butting into your business, and was trying to decide what they should do about me. I even saw him and Carltroj plotting about how they could keep me under control, and find out precisely how much I knew about what they had been doing.”

“Carltroj? Isn’t he your . . . your—”

“Yes, Daddy. You don’t have to remind me. He’s the man I thought might—might love me.”

Kylandar’s knees buckled, and he lowered himself into a chair. “Oh, Rhylene. That had to come as a shock.”

“Tell me about it!” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve been having my own little pity party.”

I bet Carltroj’s the main reason for those red puffy eyes. “How did this unnamed producer of magic images show them to you?”

“He had some kind of metal box that magically lit up one wall with the images. It almost looked as if they were right there in the room with us. Were you aware that you were being drugged?”

“I’ve had suspicions for quite some time that something was happening. I had a great deal of trouble sleeping after your mother died. I’d roam around for hours after I should have gone to bed until I finally gave out from exhaustion. That went on for weeks—maybe months. Then I suddenly seemed to get over it. I was able to go to sleep at night, and also sometimes during the day when I should have been attending my duties.”

Kylandar sighed and shook his head. “As time went on, my duties seemed to get lighter as others took over things I had always insisted on doing myself. But I found I didn’t really care. A lighter schedule was an easier schedule. Why constantly work so hard? Why should I continually rack my brain trying to find solutions to problems that faced the kingdom, when much of that thankless work could be done by my friends and associates?

“There were times when I felt like doing more, and I would attempt to take a more active role. But there were other times when I would wake up without being able to recall what had happened for the preceding several hours—or maybe it was days. Yes, Rhylene, I’ve had some suspicions.”

“What do we do now, Daddy?”

Kylandar thought for a few minutes. Then he slapped his knees, stood up, and announced, “Well, I told Fitzroy I was going to take a walk around the palace. I think it’s about time to do it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll simply walk around, look at things, and see who’s watching me. I can at least see what my subordinates are doing.”

“Do you think it’s safe?”

“If my own palace is no longer safe, what place is? I’ll let you know what happens.”

“Please be careful. I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you too, honey.”

*****

Kylandar paused as he closed the door to his daughter’s rooms. He took a deep breath and looked around. No one was in sight. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. Perhaps I let a daughter’s overactive imagination get me concerned about something that doesn’t even exist. No one tried to stop me when I announced that I was going to walk around the palace. And why should they? After all, I am the king.

The sound of his boots reverberating around the empty hall of the third floor, Kylandar made his way to the stairs and descended to the second floor, where he encountered a band of soldiers blocking his path. The king forced a smile, said “Good afternoon, men,” and started to walk through them.

The soldiers snapped to a guarded position and their leader said, “I’m sorry, Sire—but we have orders not to let you pass.”

“Orders?” asked Kylandar, surprised. “Orders from whom?”

“From Wizard Malmortiken, Sire.”

“Yes. Malmortiken is my wizard. He works for me.” When the soldiers stayed in their positions, Kylandar added, “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m the king of this kingdom.”

“Yes, Sire,” the soldier replied. “We know who you are. But since we have received direct orders from the wizard, we have to follow those orders.”

“I understand the concept of a chain of command, soldier,” said the king in an irritated voice. “You take your orders from Malmortiken, and he takes his orders from me.”

Kylandar glared at the soldiers, but they stayed in their guarded positions, showing no signs of backing down or relenting. Finally he pursed his lips and sighed, “Very well, take me to him. I need to get to the bottom of this misunderstanding immediately.”

The leader snapped to attention, saluted, and said, “Follow me, Sire.” The other soldiers surrounded King Kylandar as they walked down the hall to the wizard’s office.

2.

“I was on my way to the Royal Gardens when these soldiers stopped me,” Kylandar informed Malmortiken. “They said they were acting on your orders. Is that true?”

“Yes,” the wizard answered, rising to his feet.

“Explain yourself!” barked the king.

Malmortiken turned and addressed the soldiers. “Thank you, men. That’s all for now. You may return to your posts guarding the stairs.”

After the soldiers departed, Malmortiken smiled, gestured to a chair in front of his desk, and said, “Please have a seat, old friend, and we’ll talk this over.”

Kylandar hesitated, nodded, and sat down. “Don’t ‘old friend’ me. I was denied the right to walk around my own palace! I need you to remind those soldiers immediately that, although they may take their orders from you, the proper chain of command goes all the way up to the king. They were clearly wrong to prevent me from walking where I wished to go.”

Malmortiken sighed, fiddled with his silver pentacle necklace for a moment, and then leaned forward toward Kylandar and said, “No, actually, they were correct in doing what they did.”

“What?”

“Please, hear me out. It’s time we discussed a few things.”

“Yes. I think you’re right.”

“When your wife died, you were in a daze for several months.”

“I’m—I’m sure that’s true.”

“However, your duties and responsibilities as king continued. The problems didn’t go away just because Weyranne died. If anything, they intensified. When it became obvious you needed help in managing everything, your friends and associates stepped in, and we did what we could. Instead of only needing help for a few weeks or months, it’s continued now for—what? Going on two years? During that time, long overdue changes have been made in the system. We’ve made tremendous progress. We can’t afford to go back to where we were. I’m sure you understand.”

“Oh, I think I understand very well. It appears we have had a coup and I’ve been deposed.”

“Please do not think of it that way, Kollie. You and your daughter and your respective attendants may have the run of the third floor of the palace. You are still King Kylandar, and she’s still Princess Rhylene. You continue to have the comforts you’ve enjoyed in the past. You’re not confined to jail—or even in exile. You have merely retired from actively running the country. That’s all.”

“I see. Are we allowed to come and go where we wish, or are we confined to only the third floor?”

“You may go where you wish—on the third floor. If you wish to go elsewhere, you will need a military escort.”

Kylandar closed his eyes, and sat in silence for several minutes as he thought through the situation. The only soldiers here in the palace right now have already shown themselves to be loyal to Malmortiken rather than to me. But if I don’t do something now, I may never again have a chance to act. How did I let myself get trapped like this? He looked up, nodded, and said, “Thanks for letting me know where I stand.”

“You are most welcome, old friend. And if you and your daughter need anything, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

Kylandar nodded.

“I’ll walk you back to your office,” said the wizard as he rose to his feet.

As Malmortiken stepped next to Kylandar, the king stood up and placed a knife next to the wizard’s throat.

“Tell your soldiers to drop their weapons and leave the palace immediately!” he ordered.

Vanarage!yelled Malmortiken, and an invisible shield suddenly surrounded him, repelling the king’s knife so that it no longer touched the wizard’s throat.

“That was incredibly stupid, Kollie,” spat Malmortiken. “Surely you remember the power I possess as wizard. I am constantly protected by my magic wards. I won’t punish you this time—but only because you are my old friend. ”

Kylandar sheathed his knife and walked with Malmortiken past the soldiers and up the stairs, stopping beside Fitzroy’s desk outside the king’s office and chambers.

“Fitzroy,” said the wizard pleasantly. “King Kylandar and I have been visiting for a while, and it appears that he will no longer require the services of a personal secretary. Clean out your things and report to my office for your new assignment.”

Fitzroy glanced from Malmortiken to Kylandar with a look that asked whether the statement was true. The king initially looked away without responding. After a moment, he reluctantly nodded.

“I’ll expect you at my office shortly,” the wizard told Fitzroy. Turning to Kylandar, he said, “Enjoy your new life.”

Without waiting for a response, Malmortiken turned and walked toward the stairs.

Fitzroy still looked mystified, but started cleaning out his desk. After a moment, he glanced up at the king, bit his lip, and meekly said, “I don’t know what this is about, Sire—but whatever it is, I’m sorry. I just want you to know how much I have appreciated being able to work for you all these years, and how much I admire you.”

“Thank you, Fitzroy. I appreciate that. And I have always been glad to have you as my personal secretary. It’s important to have someone who’s both competent and trustworthy.”

“Thank you, Sire.”

3.

King Kylandar trudged into his office and looked around. Although everything looked the same as it had for months—maybe even years—suddenly everything felt different.

He again glanced at the small model ship he had received from the seafaring people of Nantanna.

Our primary naval station is at Nantanna. Would the navy back me against Malmortiken? I—I don’t really know. Can I even get word to them?

The king walked out to his balcony and looked around. A contingent of soldiers armed with bows and arrows now guarded the palace grounds and courtyard. They weren’t there earlier—or at least, I didn’t see them. He returned to his office.

Arrayed on shelves were other treasured mementos, such as the bronze mounted warrior given to him by the people of the central plains, the scale model of the city of Trojhalter from the people of that city, and the statue of Winged Victory from the people of his own capital city of Van Seissling. Across its base was the inscription, “In grateful appreciation.” Does anybody still gratefully appreciate me or anything I’ve done in my life? Does anyone even care anymore?

We weren’t always successful in our efforts to bring the warlords to justice, Kylandar thought as two crossed swords caught his eye. The swords had belonged to pirate commanders who operated out of their stronghold on the northern shore of Lake Marrinator. Although he and Malmortiken had destroyed the pirates’ fleet, they had been unable to clean out the den of thieves who controlled Northlake.

“That was something I had always planned to take care of—when I found time to do so,” the king muttered. “Now I suppose I’ll never have the chance.”

Two paintings dominated one wall of his office. The first was a magnificent rendering of Mount Hilldebrand, which had been given to him by the mountain people in northwestern Ventrivia. The other was of a portrait of him, Weyranne, and Rhylene back when they were a family.

He turned to a shadow box surrounding a dazzling blue sapphire necklace mounted on black velvet. Numerous small diamonds surrounded the tear-shaped sapphire stone. It held special memories for Kylandar because it was his wife’s favorite necklace. It wasn’t her fanciest one or the most expensive, but it was the one he had given her when they first got married. Oh, Weyranne, Weyranne. How I wish you were here with me now. I need you, darling. You could guide me out of this maze. Annie, you’d know what to do in this crisis.

He walked back to the family portrait and looked longingly at his wife. What would Annie tell me to do?

Well, we faced other obstacles before uniting the peoples of this land. Once, it looked as if we were going to come up short and would not be able to drive out the criminal warlords who were so powerful. Weyranne said she believed in me and my ideals. ‘Don’t ever surrender what you believe in, Kollie,’ she said. ‘It makes you who you are, and is the standard around which the rest of us can unite. Stay true to what you know is right, just, and fair.’

That’s what Weyranne told me then. I believe it’s also what she’d say now.

Kylandar walked back to his daughter’s door and knocked. This time she herself answered the door, though Lillian stood next to her. “Oh, Daddy! I’m so glad you’re back,” Rhylene exclaimed, embracing him.

“You might not be when you hear what I’ve got to say.”

“What happened?”

Kylandar outlined what had occurred. When he finished, he asked, “So, princess, do you have any advice?”

Rhylene’s face screwed up in thought before she cautiously answered, “Well, I guess the good news is we still have each other and can still freely use the third floor—at least for the moment.”

“How many moments do you think we have?”

“Probably as long as it pleases Malmortiken. If he thinks it is to his advantage to keep us around or to continue to act in the name of the king, he’ll let us live—either here on the third floor or wherever else he chooses to imprison us. Whenever it is no longer beneficial to him, he’ll get rid of us. In the meantime, he’ll probably keep us drugged.”

“That’s the same conclusion I’d reached.”

“Is that what you want, Daddy?”

“No, of course it’s not—but what can we do? When I put a knife to Malmortiken’s throat, his magic wards blocked me.”

“I could ask for help, Daddy—provided, of course, that’s what you want to do.”

Kylandar rolled his eyes and sarcastically bellowed, “Yeah, go ahead, Rhylene. Ask for help. From whom? There are only three of us in here. Between us and the outside world stands an army under the command of my good old friend, Wizard Malmortiken.”

“I think I may have a way—provided you actually are ready to leave the palace behind.”

“Rhylene, I have no idea how you can possibly pull it off—but if there is a way, I’m more than ready to go.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive.”

Princess Rhylene sat in a chair, took off her left shoe, and removed a sock, revealing a bandage across her leg just above her ankle. She undid the bandage and fingered a small coin-shaped disk.

“Help,” she said into the coin. “Max, if you can hear me, please help us. This is Princess Rhylene. I have been imprisoned on the third floor of the palace with my father, King Kylandar, and my handmaid, Lady Lillian. Can you rescue us? Thank you.”

The king looked incredulous. “How in blazes do you think talking to a coin is going to save us? Do you mean to tell me this was the plan for getting us out?”

“That’s right, Daddy.”

“We’re sunk.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But I have faith in it, Daddy, because I know something about this ‘coin’ that you don’t know.”

“What’s that?”

“This is what I used to issue the command to discover the contents of your food and drink.”

“How can a coin do that? I really believed you were serious when we were talking earlier.”

“I was serious—and I still am. A man named Max gave me this magic coin and a glass rod. I would put the rod into an item of food or drink and say the word ‘analyze’ into this coin. After counting to ten, I removed the rod, wiped it off, and stuck it into the next item and repeated the procedure.”

“Sounds like meaningless hocus pocus.”

“That’s what I thought until I saw the results later. Max showed me some type of printing like nothing I had ever seen before—but it correctly listed each item of food. It also broke down the chemical ingredients in your food and drink. Any substance that should not be present was printed in dark letters. It wasn’t a hoax; it was real. In other words, this magic coin can transmit at least the word ‘analyze’ to whoever it is who needs to study the substance.”

“But that’s not what we currently need.”

“I agree, Daddy. But Max said to keep the coin securely hidden in case I needed to get a message to him.”

“So you think the coin can do more than just send a message to analyze something?”

“That’s what I asked Max. He said the primary purpose of the coin is to issue the command ‘analyze’—but we can use it to get a message to him.”

“All right,” sighed Kylandar. “I hope this Max person can come through for us. We don’t seem to have a large assortment of other options available to us.”

He picked up a chair and moved it next to his daughter. “While we wait to see if this guy can or will do anything, tell me everything you can about him. I know you earlier said you’d promised him secrecy—but if we’re asking him to rescue us, we’re way past that. Besides, you’ve already said his name. You might as well tell me the rest of what I need to know.”

The princess nodded her head. “I’ve been concerned about your health and well being for some time now. Lillian knew about it, of course, and mentioned it to her fiancé, Jamistan. He, in turn, told his good friend, Finaro, who was staying with Jamistan at the time. Max worked as Finaro’s assistant.

“Max said he suspected the problem could be a medical condition, magic, or drugs. Jamistan told Lillian, and she told me. I arranged to meet with Max. He gave me the glass rod and coin I used to check your food and drink—and I’ve already told you the rest.”

“Didn’t you say he showed you magical images of Haughton, Malmortiken, and Carltroj?”

“That’s right.”

“How did he show you those images?”

“He had some kind of metal devices that produced a bright light illuminating a blank wall. The magical images moved around in that light, and I heard the words each person said. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

“Do you really think there’s anything he can do?”

“Daddy, I’ve already answered that question several times.”

“Aw. I guess I know you have, honey, but I just—”

A buzzing noise interrupted his thoughts and a bright ball of light materialized in part of the room. The light quickly faded. In its place stood a brown-haired man about six feet tall.

“Max!” exclaimed a startled Rhylene.

“Hello,” said the man as he smiled and held out his hand toward Kylandar. “My name is Max Strider. I presume you’re King Kylandar.”

The king jumped to his feet—but then stood transfixed, gaping at the man who’d suddenly appeared. He hadn’t come through the door or window, but simply materialized out of thin air—but seemed to be solid and substantial. Instead of shaking the hand Max held out toward him, Kylandar first ran his hands across the man’s head, shoulders, and torso to make certain he was real. The stranger didn’t appear surprised or upset by the king’s actions.

“How—how did you—WHERE did you come from?” Kylandar stammered.

“I’ll try to answer your questions later, if you don’t mind. Right now we have to do a number of things—and there’s not much time. I understand the three of you need to get out of here. Is that right?”

“That’s correct,” replied the king.

“Wizard Malmortiken is currently giving your butler drugs to give each of you,” Max said. “Since the cook has almost finished preparing the food, we don’t have much time—probably not more than a few minutes. If there is anything you desperately need or want to take with you—such as clothes or a favorite weapon—bring it to the center of this room. You might want a royal robe or whatever you wear in public, Your Majesty. But also get things that are comfortable, and please don’t take more than three or four minutes.”

Max looked at the three captives. They acted as if they were in a state of shock or didn’t understand him, and were still huddled where they stood.

“Go! Go! Go!” Max urged. “Hurry! We don’t have much time!”

All three came out of their trances and began gathering items. Kylandar hurried to his own office and chambers, while the ladies scurried around their rooms. Soon all three returned, holding clothing and various other items.

As Max arranged their items into four individual piles, they heard the sound of heavy footsteps going from the stairs toward the king’s chambers. Max motioned for everyone to be quiet. In the stillness, they heard the distinct sound of knocking on a door down the hallway.

A door opened, followed by a formal-sounding voice announcing, “Your Majesty, supper is served.”

Kylandar whispered, “That’s Haughton, my butler, bringing my supper.”

“Make sure the outside door to this room is secure. Locked and bolted, if possible,” Max said.

Lady Lillian quickly ran to the door and checked it.

All four froze at the loud knocking on the door of their room.

“Supper is served,” Haughton announced loudly.

None of them answered.

He attempted to open the door, but it held securely.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Although Bill Kincaid spent over 35 years practicing law in Texas, he started out as a writer and journalist whose articles and columns received several state-wide honors. Now that Kincaid is slowing down his legal practice, he finally has time to return to his writing roots, publishing two historical fiction books and one fractured fairy tale. Wizard’s Gambit is his first science fiction / fantasy novel. Bill and his wife of over forty years have three adult children.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
I’ve been most influenced by The Bible and The Science of God. However, my favorite fiction includes White Fang, Hound of the Baskervilles, several of the Thoene books, and The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Jack Reacher, and Divergent series.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Probably someone like Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, or a young version of either Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover depicts part of a battle between Wizard Malmortiken's forces and those of King Kylandar.