The Neal James Website

Subtitle

Guest Author

Submission Guidelines

 

As an opportunity for fellow writers to have greater exposure, this section of my website is reserved for those wishing to make a written contribution to its pages.


Each month, a fresh third party will be given the chance to list here a submission of their choice, together with a suitable image for the piece of work. If you are interested send a message via the mailing address below, and we'll go from there.


Content will be scrutinised to ensure that it fits in with the rest of the site's tone and appearance, but every effort will be made to accomodate those wanting to take part.


Submission length is limited to no more than 5,000 words, and a suitable spellchecker should be used to remove errors beforehand. A personal photograph should also be included (no avatars please), together with a brief biography.


Mailing address is: [email protected]

August 2019 - Annie Douglass Lima

Annie Douglass Lima considers herself fortunate to have travelled in twenty different countries and lived in four of them.


A fifth-grade teacher in her “other” life, she loves reading to her students and sparking their imaginations.


Her books include science fiction, fantasy, YA action and adventure novels, a puppet script, anthologies of her students’ poetry, and Bible verse colouring and activity books.


When she isn’t teaching or writing, Annie can often be found sipping spiced chai or pomegranate green tea in exotic locations, some of which exist in this world.

King of Malorn

Life as the king’s younger sister should be exciting.


Not for Princess Kalendria. She’s sick of the dissent and of constantly having her family undermined by those who think they could rule Malorn better than King Korram.


Hoping to lighten the mood in the palace, Kalendria plans a ball to celebrate her seventeenth birthday. It doesn’t hurt that their handsome Alasian ally King Jaymin has promised to attend, and she’s been waiting for him to notice her for as long as she can remember.


But unfriendly forces have their own party plans. When Kalendria, Korram, and Jaymin barely survive an assassination attempt, their only recourse is to flee into the wilderness.


Tracked by unknown assassins, they must figure out whom they can trust and who is behind the plot. Can Kalendria help her brother reclaim his throne – oh, and catch Jaymin’s attention while she’s at it – before they are all killed and war destroys both kingdoms?



                                      ISBN 9781074287061

 

Preview

Chapter One

 

 

“Princess Kalendria is here, your Majesty.” The servant stepped aside with a bow as he pulled the door open further. 

Kalendria hurried into the sitting room where her older brother sat hunched at his desk by the window, poring over a thick leather-bound copy of Malornian Law and Government. When he glanced up at her, his face was glum.

“There you are, Korram. Are you ready to go down and meet our guest? He’ll be arriving at any moment.” 

“No, I’m not ready.” Her brother leaned back in his chair and rubbed tired eyes. He waved the book at her. “There’s got to be something in here that I can use. I know there is. I’m not letting the High Council get away with chopping up my kingdom and handing out pieces to any troublemaker who brandishes a weapon in the wilderness. I’m not!”

He thumped the book down onto his desk and rose to his feet, where he stood only a few inches taller than Kalendria. She wished for her brother’s sake that he looked a little more imposing. Maybe if he were taller and broader of shoulder it would be easier to intimidate the High Council members who made ruling Malorn so difficult for the young king. 

“It’s ridiculous!” Korram threw up his hands in frustration. “Those bandits have been raiding the Western Wilderness for generations, but all it ever takes is a few hundred soldiers to teach them a lesson, and then they leave us alone again for months. Has any other king ever actually given them land before? Given them land!” He picked up the book again just so he could slam it down on the desk for emphasis and began to pace across the room. “I'm going to go down in history as the only Malornian king who ever gave away Malornian land — and to bandits, no less.”

“It’s only a few dozen square miles,” Kalendria pointed out, hoping to calm him. 

“I don’t care if it’s a few square inches; it’s Malornian land! Malornians live there, and now they’ll have to pack up and leave. I would never have dreamed that even my High Council would think up such an idea, much less have the eighty percent majority they needed to force me into it. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so appalling. What are they thinking?”

“Maybe they’re thinking that allowing the bandits a little land of their own will make them leave us alone for good.” Kalendria watched her brother stride back and forth, alternately running his fingers through his already unruly black hair and slamming his fist down on whatever piece of furniture was convenient. 

“That’s what High Councilor Heggen said, but I know perfectly well they’re thinking nothing of the sort. They don’t care what happens to Malorn. They just want to make a fool out of me. Decisions like this always get attributed to the crown because people think the king’s in charge of everything. Never mind that we have a constitution that even the king has to follow.” Korram picked up the book again and shook it at his sister. “But I’ll find a way out. I will! There has to be a loophole. This time they’re not getting away with it.” He plopped into a chair. “I wish Mother’s business trip hadn’t gotten extended. I could really use her advice. The three of us and Arden need to have one of our little strategy meetings to figure out a plan, but now with Jaymin’s visit, it will have to wait.”

“Maybe King Jaymin could help,” Kalendria suggested. “And speaking of him, he’ll be arriving any time now. Are you ready to go down and meet him?”

“I don’t want to bring Jaymin into this,” Korram growled, ignoring her question. “He came to celebrate your birthday, not talk government. Let him enjoy your ball and some of our cuisine, and maybe a few duels or scenic rides through the city. I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste his visit discussing the latest problems in my government. Besides, what advice could he give when his council members don’t try to undermine everything he does? He can’t relate to how things work here.”

“Well, all right, if you’d rather not. But I think he’d probably have some good insights.” If her brother could let go of his pride long enough to listen to them, of course. “Anyway, I’ve been trying to tell you that he’ll be here at any moment. He might even be here already. We should go down and welcome him.”

Korram tossed the book aside and rose to his feet, and Kalendria could tell he was deliberately setting the problem aside for now. “All right, all right, Little Sister. I know you’re dying to see him again.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kalendria felt herself blush as her brother led the way to the door.

“You know perfectly well what it means.” Korram held the door open for her as the attendant in the hallway stepped aside and bowed. “You’re always talking and thinking about Jaymin.” 

“I am not!” But Kalendria was glad her brother had no way of knowing how long she had spent that afternoon trying to decide what to wear for King Jaymin’s arrival. She’d summoned Anya, her friend and favorite dressmaker, for advice, and tried on half a dozen different gowns before Anya finally helped her select the green one that brought out the color of her eyes. Then Kalendria went through all her jewelry to see what best matched the gown and its silver embroidery. After that there was the additional hour it took for an attendant to arrange her long black hair three different ways until they found a style she and Anya agreed truly complemented the gown and jewelry. Kalendria wasn’t sure if King Jaymin would even notice or care how she looked, but it was certainly worth putting her best foot forward just in case. 

“You have no idea what I think about,” she informed her brother loftily. And it’s a good thing, too. 

Korram cast her a teasing smile as they headed down the hall toward the grand staircase. “I did notice that Jaymin was the first person you invited when Mother suggested you celebrate your seventeenth birthday with a ball.” 

“It’s only that he’s the ruler of the neighboring kingdom.” Kalendria tried to sound as matter-of-fact as Mother would have. “And you always say it’s important to keep up a good relationship with our Alasian neighbors.”

“Yes, a very good relationship.” Her brother threw her a wink as they started down the stairs. “And considering that he accepted your invitation more quickly than he usually responds to mine, I would say that there’s a fair chance he feels the same way. Shall I ask him?”

“Korram! Don't you dare!” She felt her cheeks turn warm again. 

A trumpet fanfare from the courtyard told them they were just in time. The two of them hurried out the double doors to see eight mounted guards in blue and white uniforms trot up the entrance road and through the gates. They were followed by a carriage trimmed in red and gold with servants riding on either side. Eight more guards on horseback brought up the rear.

The carriage rolled to a halt before the palace, and one of the servants lowered the step. King Jaymin climbed out, cheerful and handsome, his light brown hair windblown from the journey. His brown eyes lit up with a smile when he caught sight of Korram — and maybe Kalendria, though she couldn’t be sure if his smile was directed at her as well. She had always been a little shy around the Alasian king, who was more Korram’s friend than hers. He was scrupulously polite — a perfect gentleman — but she had never quite been able to tell what he thought of her. So she hung back behind her brother as Korram stepped forward to greet the other king.

“Jaymin! Welcome back to Malorn.” He had to look up a little to meet Jaymin’s gaze. His Alasian friend was half a head taller, even though Korram was several years older. “It’s good to see you again.” The two kings clasped hands and embraced like the old friends they were. “How’s everything in Alasia?”

“Going well, and better all the time.” Jaymin was always enthusiastic when he talked about his kingdom. “It’s good to see you too. How goes it here in Malorn?”

“Oh, no worse than usual,” Korram’s tone was dry. “My mother is taking care of some business down in Pendren, and she’s been delayed there for an extra day, but she sends her regards and is looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. In the meantime, Kalendria and I will do our best to keep you entertained.”

“Princess Kalendria.” This time King Jaymin’s smile was definitely directed at her, and her heart fluttered. “I know it’s a day early, but allow me to wish you a very happy birthday.”

She dropped her most graceful curtsy as he bowed formally over her hand. “Thank you, your Majesty. It was kind of you to come.”

“Not at all. I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Really? “I hope you had a pleasant journey,” she ventured, trying to make conversation as the three of them turned toward the front doors.

“Oh, it’s always pleasant in southern Alasia and Malorn at this time of year,” the king replied, “which I’m thankful for, considering the length of the trip. Of course, it’s a lot better than it used to be before we had the highway paved and the bridge built,” he added to Korram as they stepped through the doors, servants and guards bowing on either side. “But still, every time I make the journey on horseback I remind myself how much more comfortable it would be in a carriage, and every time I take the carriage I end up wishing I had a good fast horse under me.”

Korram laughed. “I’d choose the horse any day. Speaking of which, we’ll have to go out riding sometime while you’re here. There’s a lot to see and do around Sazellia in the spring.”

Kalendria shot her brother a grateful glance. He knew she loved riding, too.

“I’d love to.” King Jaymin smiled again. 

Erik stood by the door, watching, while Jaymin chatted with King Korram and Princess Kalendria. Sometimes it felt as though the majority of his job involved watching from beside doors. Or behind chairs, as he had done earlier at supper, keeping an eye on the room from behind Jaymin’s seat and watching the servants scurry in with trays of food and out with empty dishes. No supper for him, of course; not while he was on duty. He would eat later, after Jaymin retired to his room for the night. 

At least the usual platter of appetizers had been waiting in the guest suite when they arrived. Erik was good at seizing any opportunity for quick snacks or meals at odd times, since he rarely had the chance to eat at normal times. And Jaymin didn’t mind if his friend helped himself to a bunch of grapes or a wedge of Malornian flatbread with spiced cheese before they met others for meals that Erik’s job didn’t allow him to join. Not to mention that Erik had no desire for the awkwardness of sitting at table with Jaymin’s friends, who would think a mere bodyguard far beneath them.

Now, with supper over, the three royals sat chatting in King Korram’s private sitting room. Their conversation in the dining hall had been carefully polite and superficial, due to the presence of the servants who would doubtless make certain everything that was said found its way into the palace gossip network by the next morning. And Erik knew that while his friend liked and respected the Malornian queen mother who would return tomorrow, he felt more free to talk casually with his friends without her there. So now, with no servants or queen mother in earshot, the two kings plus Korram’s younger sister laughed and caught each other up on goings-on in their respective kingdoms.

They were interrupted by a tap at the door. Erik was expecting it, since King Korram had ordered after-supper refreshments, but he opened the door cautiously just in case. In his line of work, caution was always wise. He stepped back, muscles tensing out of habit, making sure he had enough room to swing a fist or a foot if necessary.

A uniformed servant stood in the hallway, holding a tray containing a plate of little white cakes, another of sliced fruit, a pitcher of bright red wine, and three cups. The servant was alone, though at the end of the hall Erik glimpsed a guard striding past on patrol. There was no obvious danger in sight, and yet a prickle of suspicion tickled Erik’s mind. Why was this man so pale? Why was his forehead beaded with sweat? Jaymin sometimes joked that Erik was paranoid, but Talanthus had taught Erik to notice and react to anything out of the ordinary. On more than one occasion, it had saved their lives.

“Refreshments for their Majesties.” The servant’s voice quivered a little.

Perhaps he was simply nervous about waiting on his king and the royal guest. But Erik recalled seeing this man before on Jaymin’s other state visits to Malorn. He wasn’t new on the job. Could he be sick?

Well, he carried no obvious weapon, and his physique didn’t indicate he’d be much of a match for a bodyguard trained in unarmed combat. Erik stepped aside and let him in, closing the door behind him. The servant bowed awkwardly to the roomful of royalty, balancing the tray in shaky hands. 

“Put it on the end table there.” King Korram pointed. The wine sloshed as the man set his tray down with a thud, barely rescuing the pitcher before it tipped over. 

Palace servants weren’t usually so clumsy. Something was definitely wrong. Why is this man at work if he’s unwell?

“Sorry, your Majesties.” The servant dabbed at a few spilled drops of wine with a napkin.

The princess was watching him, obviously puzzled. “Are you all right?”

“I — well, I — no, your Highness, not really.” The servant swallowed and his face contorted as though with a spasm of pain. Everyone stared at him as he bent double and gasped, clutching at his midsection.

The Malornian king rose to his feet, taking the man’s arm. “Sit down a moment. Here, there’s a chair right behind you. What’s the matter?”

“I don’t — oh, it hurts.” The man gasped again, seizing the arm of the chair as he sank into it, still doubled over in agony.

“What have you been eating or drinking?” King Korram’s voice sounded angry, but Erik suspected he was just concerned. 

“Nothing, Sire. I don’t — I mean — well, I only had a little. Ahh!” He rocked back and forth.

Oh, no. Erik had a very bad feeling about this.

“You had a little of what? Answer me!” Seizing him by the shoulders, King Korram forced the man to look up at him. 

“The wine, Sire. I — I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. It just — it looked so — ohh ….” He grimaced again. “It was — only a taste before I brought it up here.”

Erik exchanged an alarmed look with Jaymin. They all turned to gaze at the pitcher on the tray, its bright red contents sparkling in the lamplight. King Korram bent over the writhing servant once again. “Who prepared the wine? Who else had access to it? Tell me.” 

But the man slipped off the chair and crumpled to the floor, crying out in agony. He rolled over once, twitched, and then lay still. His face froze in a mask of pain, mouth and eyes open, one hand still gripping the red-spotted napkin. His skin was so pale it might have been made of paste.

Silence filled the room for a full five heartbeats. They were all on their feet now, staring in shock at the motionless figure before them. 

Erik stepped forward and knelt beside the body, feeling for a pulse in the neck and placing his ear over the man’s mouth and nose. As he had suspected, there was nothing. “He’s dead.”

 

Purchasing Links