BOOK DETAILS

The Kingdom Within

The Kingdom Within

by Samantha Gillespie

ISBN: 9781618990525

Publisher Smooth Sailing Press, LLC

Published in Romance/Fantasy, Literature & Fiction/Historical, Teens/Historical Fiction, Romance, Children & Teens (Young Adult), Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

$2.99

Upon her coming of age, Meredith is to marry the prince of Alder, the most powerful kingdom in the world. Though the idea of marriage to a complete stranger is appalling, she knows she has no choice. Without the marriage contract, Stonefall’s alliance with Alder will be lost, and her people will be safe no longer.

Connor, an elite soldier entrusted with Meredith’s safety, arrives at the palace just as things begin to take a turn for the worst. Together, they will embark on a journey of survival, in which Meredith will find that the only thing she never prepared for was falling in love.

Sample Chapter

Prologue

“Their fear is your weapon.” The old man’s words ring loud and true within the walls of the banquet room. They display eloquently against the pale face of his latest target—or rather, his latest conquest. The rebellious nature of the fugitive landowner before him crumbled to an embarrassing spectacle of soiled trousers and desperate pleas.

“I’ll pay double,” he says through hasty breaths.

The old man smiles. “Your debt is no longer a concern.” He gestures to the two armored men who hold the landowner captive. “Guards, please introduce him to Eva.” The landowner throws nervous glances at the guards as they usher him across the room. Like all the others before him, it takes him a moment to realize who Eva is. I watch him stiffen, throwing his legs out in front of him to stall the guards, his heels dragging uselessly against the polished wood. He gives in to a series of screams as they reach the human shaped cabinet. It stands open, the long, sharp internal spikes ready to impale its next victim.

“Life is a cradle of victories and failures, my son,” the old man says over the man’s screams, raising his cup to me. “The more victorious you are—”

“The longer I shall live,” I finish flatly. “I can recite your teachings in my sleep, old man. When will I get to do anything with them?”

He takes his time to answer, enjoying the last of the landowner’s melody as Eva’s iron door grinds to a close. He welcomes the ensuing silence with a sigh. “You are young still, boy. But if you are ever to do my bidding, you must work on your patience; revenge is not to be rushed.”

I snort. “What is it now, thirty years? I’d wager you are in no danger of rushing anything.” The old man stares back through zealous eyes.

“Patience, son. The best poison is that which spreads through unsuspecting veins, killing slowly and gradually. The kind that tastes sweet to the tongue and doesn’t bitter until the very end.”

Chapter One

Flames engulf the hall. They scorch a path of destruction, consuming the space around me. Thick, black smoke clouds my view, disorienting me. I press on blindly anyway. I could be headed for a dead end and imminent death, but what choice do I have? I can’t just stand here.

I’m desperate for a breath of fresh air. The raw irritation in my throat forces me to cough so violently I can’t move. I rest a hand against the fevered wall as I try to regain composure. Lungs burning, I inhale but only swallow more smoke.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a faint light. I hold my breath and run toward it. A sense of relief spreads in my aching chest and I will myself to move faster. As I get closer, I can make out the hazy shape of a window. I force my legs to keep running and ignore the suffocating feeling that chokes me and screams at me to slow down. I grip the window’s blackened frame and shove my head and torso outside. I gasp, relieved to inhale something other than smoke. When I look down, however, my hopes of survival are instantly crushed. The ground is too far. If I jump, I will die. Panic washes through me. For a moment, I’m rooted to the window, unable to make a decision. No matter what I do, I’m going to die. But then I feel the heat behind me, closer and stronger with each second. In my mind, I picture jumping to my death. I tell myself that I can do it, that I’d rather break every bone in my body than burn. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I won’t feel any pain. I close my eyes and jump. Tightening my muscles, I brace for impact. But nothing happens. I don’t feel myself falling, nor do I feel the gushing rush of air at my descent. I feel nothing. Am I dead? Maybe falling to my death was a painless way to go after all.

A mocking laugh erupts nearby. Confused, I open my eyes. I’m on the ground. A man towers before me, the sun shining brightly above him, casting a shadow over his face. I hold a hand to my eyes and squint. I don’t know what he looks like but somehow I know. King Theros. The cruel king who takes lives and land mercilessly without remorse. At his side, he holds a long sword that drips with the dark red of fresh blood.

Is that my blood? My dress is intact; the fall hasn’t even ripped the fabric. When I look up again, I register countless bodies in pools of blood, scattered across the courtyard, beyond the gates and the outskirts of the palace. My eyes continue down the silent path of terror, finally resting at its point of origin, the town below. Or what is left of it. It is the living depiction of chaos, a painting, brushed on its canvas with vicious strokes. I hear the distant cries of men, women, and children, the slashing of swords, the crackling of buildings burning, and the undeniable thunder of cannons. Nauseous, I turn away from the violent scene, just in time to see King Theros raise his sword and thrust it into my chest.

I wake up gasping, hands clutching at my chest. I am drenched in sweat.

“My lady?”

I look up to see Anabella, my chambermaid, running up to me; in her arms is a pile of folded clothes.

“I’m all right,” I mumble. “I was having a nightmare.”

“Well, that was some nightmare, child; you are sweating like a pig.”

She pulls back the covers, exposing my bare legs to the chill of the room. “You need to get ready. The king’s expecting you.”

I frown. What does he want now? Every time Father wishes an audience, it’s because I did something inexcusable, or because there are important matters to discuss. Matters that have to do with me, that is. Anything and everything else is apparently none of my business. I sigh. I am probably being scolded, but for what, I haven’t the faintest idea.

I get into the tub and shiver in the cold water. I don’t bother complaining to Anabella. I’m happy enough that she has agreed to let me bathe on my own. I have always hated the idea of having others wait on me, tending to my every wish and command as if I were too useless to do anything on my own. Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with ladies in waiting. Though it’s a widely practiced royal tradition, Father never assigned me any. He’s always believed that a chambermaid is more than enough for me, though I am pretty sure his reasoning has something to do with my unruly nature. I am too crude, too clumsy to have more delicate companions.

But I am fortunate to have Anabella. A woman wise beyond her gray hairs, she is the queen of cleanliness and tidiness, and the epitome of multitasking; I’ve been in her care since I was a little girl. She is like the mother I never knew. My mother, Queen Olivia, died several months after I was born. She fell ill with a mysterious fever that physicians had no cure for. They tried many things—ointments, herbs, rituals, leeches, bloodletting, prayers. None of it worked, and her health quickly deteriorated. That is all I know of her. Father seldom mentions her, but thanks to the portrait that hangs in his study, I at least know what she looked like. A lot like me, it seems. I inherited her golden locks and tender amber eyes. Father once said he could almost see her looking out through my eyes. I wish I knew what she was like, not as others knew her, but as a daughter would know a mother. Thinking of her brings forth an odd feeling of emptiness, like a part of me is missing.

Anabella helps me into my dress.

“What was it about? Your nightmare?” she asks while she ties my corset. A chill runs down my arms at the recollection.

“The same I always have—Stonefall’s defeat to King Theros.”

“Oh,” she replies.

“This time I died by his sword.”

I touch my chest instinctively. My dreams have tormented me with Stonefall’s demise many times now. I die a different way every time, but the nightmare always ends in the slaughter of my people. Anabella shakes her head, pressing her palm against the creases of my dress.

“You need to stop having those dreams before they come true.”

“They will never come true,” I counter, as if it were a fact written in stone. “Theros would not dare attack Stonefall once the alliance with Alder is solidified. He might be powerful, but he is no fool.”

It’s tragic really, that the fate of a kingdom rests on me. I’ve never been in love and yet I’ve been betrothed from the moment I filled my lungs with air. I am to be married when I turn eighteen, which is a little less than a year from now. The marriage was arranged by my parents and the king and queen of Alder, my future in-laws and the leaders of the most powerful kingdom in the Eastern Continent. My stomach stirs uneasily at the thought. I have never met the prince nor seen a portrait of him, though I have overheard many people at court comment that he is rumored to be quite charming. Still, I can’t help but be terrified at the prospect of marrying a complete stranger.

When I was first told my fate, I decided to run away. I would never let my father do such a thing to me. That was, of course, before the alliance between Stonefall and Alder weakened. Father never spoke a word to me about it, and I didn’t ask any questions. Perhaps, I thought, I would not have to marry the prince after all. But my joy was short lived. When news of the waning alliance reached the kingdom of Talos, King Theros immediately set his greedy sights on our kingdom. Theros’ thirst for power and control was insatiable. His own father had embarked on a mission to overthrow the countries of the Western Continent, a land of famine and poverty, ready for the taking. But he was stopped short by a plague that killed thousands, the king of Talos included. The continent was quarantined, and Theros rose to power. No one was surprised he was interested in a vulnerable kingdom like Stonefall. With lush, rolling hills and flowing rivers, it’s the most beautiful kingdom in the Eastern Continent. It also happens to be one of the smallest; our army is almost pitiful in size. Our army has many courageous and honorable soldiers who would die for their kingdom without question, but I do not want to sacrifice them. As much as I dislike the prospect of marrying a complete stranger, if it keeps our soldiers alive and our kingdoms intact, I know it is the right thing to do.

My shoes resound against the empty hallway. The noise disturbs the deep silence and echoes against the marble columns and stucco walls. A light breeze dances with the translucent curtains that hang from the floor-to-ceiling windows. I can see the courtyard through them. An intricate maze of geometrically trimmed bushes decorates the walkways around a large fountain. Beyond the courtyard is my favorite area of the palace, an enchanting grove of old oak trees, where I can practically spend an entire day without being bothered. The court is not too fond of nature. They seem to prefer the courtyard, where they congregate to socialize and gossip.

Outside Father’s study, the door ward opens the heavy wooden doors. They groan against their hinges as they swing open into the small chamber. I can’t imagine what I have done wrong this time. I’ve been on my best behavior lately, all serene smiles and repressed opinions. And all to please him. If I am a better daughter, then Father might learn to love me, if only a little. I used to think he particularly disliked me, but I know now he’s simply hardhearted. He places great trust in his closest friends and advisers, but never offers a hint of warmth, not even for my uncle, the Duke of Elsham.

I take a deep breath and step inside. Greeted with the pungent scent of burning candles and leather-bound books, I keep my head down as I walk. I do not dare look at Father, expecting a fierce glare. But when I hear nothing from him, save for papers rummaging, I bite my lip and lift my gaze.

Hunched over a desk blanketed by documents, Father studies what looks to be a letter. A lock of gray hair hangs out of place, dangling across his forehead. With a rich, red robe, and large gold rings adorning several of his fingers, he looks indeed like a king. I realize he must be ignoring me. Surely he heard me come in. He seems agitated.

“Father?” I croak.

He drops the piece of paper in his hands and looks up at me. To my surprise, there is no anger in his eyes. So accustomed to his disapproval, I find its absence a little disconcerting.

“Meredith,” he says, clearing his throat. “Sit down.” He motions at the chair in front of his desk. The empty seat beckons like an omen. I move quietly, though I’m sure the sudden, nervous pounding in my chest is loud enough to hear. I have no idea what he is about to tell me, but from the lines on his face and the tightness around his eyes, I can tell it’s serious.

“It has come to my attention that King Theros wants you dead,” he says quickly, as if addressing his advisers on matters of state. I take the news with a hard swallow. The man who haunts my dreams wants to kill me. Are my nightmares premonitions? I feel the room spin as a heavy weight creeps into my chest, making it hard to breathe. “It seems Theros will go to any lengths to prevent your marriage to the prince of Alder. Thus, I’ve hired an escort to help keep you safe. He is to remain at your side at all functions and anytime you step foot outside the palace walls. Is that clear?” He speaks so fast that it takes me a moment to register every word.

Continues...

Excerpted from "The Kingdom Within" by Samantha Gillespie. Copyright © 2014 by Samantha Gillespie. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Samantha Gillespie

Samantha Gillespie

Samantha Gillespie is a creative, helpless romantic who was born in Mexico, where she grew up with her family until they returned to the States at age eleven. An avid reader from a young age, Samantha finally gave into her passion for writing, making her debut with The Kingdom Within.

View full Profile of Samantha Gillespie

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