“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
“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
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
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
“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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.