“I’ve seen a thousand futures, a million deaths. Avondale will fall.”
Sylvalla would rather fight dragons than deal with politics. But as the unexpected queen of two kingdoms, her newfound power is making the neighbouring kings nervous. One by one, the kings fall for Sir Arrant’s offers of power and the beguiling butterfly jewels he offers in exchange for their alliance.
Determined to save her kingdom, Sylvalla is willing to try anything, including diplomacy. Only there is little time, and her dying mother, Tishke, has an important warning, “The demons are here. They have your brother.”
Meanwhile, back in Bairnsley University, the wizard Jonathan and his father discover the evil Dothie has freed the Nameless Gods—gods that are determined to destroy the one person that stands in their way…
They call her Witch Queen.
They say she will destroy the Seven Kingdoms.
They say she will destroy magic.
They will say and do anything to destroy Sylvalla, but to save her people she must survive.
With the Seven Kingdoms turned against her, can Sylvalla save Avondale? Can she save her people, her brother, or even herself, from the demons who would possess them all?
Read an Extract of “Omens”
Out of Small Things Terror is Made
Sylvalla sat ramrod straight, pretending not to notice the way the crowd gasped “omen” at every ridiculous story of two-headed sheep, spoiled milk, and missing livestock.
There were too many powerful people in the court who wanted to see her fail—and the more powerful they were, the more they hated her for taking the Scotch Mist throne from Phetero. She needed to prove her worth. To do that, she had to ignore the backstabbing sycophants and all the other distractions, and focus on the things that mattered: the soldiers who’d never come back from the war and were creating havoc out in the countryside; and the rumours that a powerful magician had taken over the Scotch Mist thieves’ guild, aiming to take both Avondale and Scotch Mist.
The Goodfellows had assured Sylvalla that Dothie was safely locked up at Bairnsley University. Could there be two powerful wizards out to destroy her kingdoms? Hopefully not, but there was no question that the thieves’ guild was escalating its jewellery thefts, extortion, and murders.
If only Dirk had been able to smoke them out. If only I could join him.
“Your Majesty, the last petitioner is Granny Earwax of Highvalley Farms.”
An old woman shuffled forward, leaning heavily on her crudely-carved walking stick. She had a terrible hunch, her rheumy eyes half-hidden by her wild grey hair.
Sylvalla leaned forward to hear the old woman, who coughed and choked, rasping something about her crops, or perhaps the weather.
“The cold. Can you not feel the cold?” Granny Earwax said. Her eyes staring at something nobody else could see, she lifted a white-knuckled hand from the walking stick and pointed a gnarled finger at Sylvalla. Her voice rose to a shriek. “It is unseen and creeps into your very bones. Awake!”
The court erupted, the clamour so loud nobody heard Sylvalla exclaim, “Not another one.”
“Open your eyes to…to…” The crone gasped, clutching her throat, her eyes bulging hideously from their sockets. Desperately, her mouth formed silent words, her fingers clutched the air, and she toppled senseless to the ground.
Sylvalla rushed over, but a burly guard got there first. The old lady tried to whisper something to him.
“She wants to talk to you, Your Majesty.”
Sylvalla’s advisors waggled their heads, but Sylvalla wasn’t frightened of one little old woman. She bent down to hear what the old lady was saying.
The words were paper thin.
“Mighty are the fallen three
“Death stalks, evil walks,
“My gift to thee.”
As the old lady spoke her final words, she gripped Sylvalla’s hand and stared at her with sightless eyes. It was clear the old dear was dying, and that she meant every word.
If Sylvalla closed her eyes, she could still see serpentine tentacles dragging a shadowy bundle and flinging the substanceless darkness over the edge of the abyss, into the world.
Maybe the omens are real.
Sylvalla’s mind shied from the thought. Keep it together. Isn’t Granny Earwax’s death tragedy enough?
NAME: Queen Sylvalla Willetta Orlanda Roseblossom Dalrella
of the Kingdoms of Avondale and Scotch Mist.
RÉSUMÉ: Sylvalla is known for killing the dragon Asumgeld, but among the aristocracy she is best known for her complete lack of courtly skills, and being married to Prince Francis of Havondale—Avondale’s much fêted and beloved hero and dragon-slayer.
Sylvalla’s unseemly behaviour is better tolerated in Scotch Mist—despite her attack on their country, usurpation of their throne, and her involvement in the death of their king. She is, for reasons unapparent to any educated person, extremely popular among the common folk. Although some blame her for an increase in souring milk, broken mirrors and the like, most point the finger at their former king, Phetero. It probably helped that Queen Sylvalla put out an effective propaganda campaign outlining Scotch Mist’s former king’s worship of demons and demigods. Now she spends very little time in Avondale, largely leaving that kingdom to the beloved Grehaum the Wise, and her dashing husband, Francis.
Sylvalla spends most of her time with the well-known swordsman, Dirk, and Torri, her part-time lady’s maid, who is best known for her towering chunkers, enormous siege engines that throw boulders large enough to destroy castle walls.
PASSED: Killing, Sword Fighting, Hand-to-hand Combat & Archery. Under protest she also managed to scrape through: Diplomacy, Deportment, Reading, Writing & Arithmetic. (Arithmetic being a fancy word for a subject that is little more than bookkeeping and so shouldn’t be confused with the more advanced magmatical concepts expected of wizards.)
Sylvalla woke drenched in sweat. Muffled footsteps echoed outside her door and she tumbled out of bed, clutching her new sword, Dragontooth.
Her heart hammered. She didn’t remember wishing for excitement. Wanting it, but not wishing for it. It felt like she’d been shut up in Scotch Mist forever, when she’d only just made it back from her latest trip to Avondale. If only being a queen required less time cooped up settling disputes in court and more time out traversing the countryside. If only the talk of omens wasn’t getting to her.
Someone knocked at the door. “It’s only me,” Torri said.
“And Dirk,” Dirk said, squeezing his whip-thin frame through the door.
“I hope you don’t mind, Miss, Queen Miss. I heard the yelling and—is it nightmares again, Miss?” Torri asked.
Sylvalla slumped back on her bed. “I’m not sure why my dreams of butterflies should be so frightening, but the blasted creatures seem to carry death and chaos on their wings, tearing all the Seven Kingdoms apart.”
“Well, that’s cheery,” Dirk said. “Do you think we should go back to Avondale again?” He grinned. “Avondale’s cook always has the best food.”
“I don’t know,” Sylvalla replied. “I do think it’s strange we’ve been in Scotch Mist so long and yet there’ve been no mists. Sometimes I dream the mists have turned into demons. Other times, I wake and expect to be choking in one, but there’s been no sign of the famous mist since we attacked.”
Dirk shrugged. “Maybe they were caused by a magical object that Phetero or Dothie removed from the castle. We should be thankful they’re gone.”
“Surely there’re other things to worry about?” Torri asked unhelpfully. “What about those thieves Dirk’s supposed to be catching? The court is saying that you don’t care if Scotch Mist farmers die.”
Dirk glared at Torri. “Those thieves are slippery as eels. And my job is protecting Queen Sylvalla. Can’t someone else be hunting turnip thieves and cattle rustlers?”
“No, Torri’s right,” Sylvalla said. “I wouldn’t want to get rusty by not adventuring enough…”
“What?” Torri said. “That’s not what I was saying…I was saying Dirk—”
“Good plan,” Dirk said. “Everyone’s happy if we both go.”
“Except Sylvalla’s mother,” Torri pointed out.
“I’m a warrior princess. Whatever I do will make her unhappy.”
“You’re a warrior queen now,” Dirk said. “You don’t have to make everyone happy.”
Francis burst through the door carrying a silver bowl piled high with dark-red sorbet. “So the guards were right. What are you deciding without me?”
“We’re going to hunt raiders. Don’t lose my kingdom while I’m gone.”
Francis nodded. “So long as you don’t die and leave me running two kingdoms.”
“We’ll be fine,” Sylvalla said. “A bit of fresh air will do us good. Ah—” Time to change the conversation. “What’s that you’re eating?”
“Plum sorbet,” Francis said.
Sylvalla shivered. “I don’t know how you can eat ice in the middle of winter.”
Francis laughed. “Talking about winter, the Scotch Mist Mountains have treacherous footing for horses this time of year.”
“Fine, stable boy,” Sylvalla joked. “I promise to look after Thunderbolt.”
“Why are you calling the prince of Havondale a stable boy?” Torri asked.
“Ah—” Sylvalla bit her tongue. She’d forgotten Torri knew nothing of how Francis had escaped his old life as an unappreciated and abused young stable boy with only the tiniest bit of encouragement from a young and naive princess. Worse, it wasn’t a story she could tell, it wasn’t part of his legend as Prince of Havondale, mighty hero. “It’s um, he’s—”
“It’ll be easier to pick up small groups of troublemakers,” Dirk interrupted, “if we’re not parading around on horses.”
Francis raised an eyebrow. “And Amarinda? Sylvalla, you can’t go without a chaperone, and you can’t expect a lady of the court to walk.”
“Amarinda insisted on staying on in Avondale and looking after the wounded until they were back on their feet, so I guess I’ll take Torri—that ought to keep Mother and those wretched advisors happy. And you’ll walk, won’t you, Torri?”
Torri rolled her eyes. “I guess this is my fault for volunteering to take Amarinda’s place. But don’t be expecting me to be making no people traps for you, or nothing.”
Dirk shrugged. “Only if you want to save lives.”
“What are you talking about?” Sylvalla said. “We’re going after a handful of bandits. How difficult can that be?”
Francis laughed so hard he dropped his sorbet. It spattered like gore.
Sylvalla turned to her companions. “Don’t say it. Don’t even think it. It was not an omen.”