Home > Tear Down the Throne (Gargoyle Queen #2)

Tear Down the Throne (Gargoyle Queen #2)
Author: Jennifer Estep


Maps

 

 

Part One

Worth the Risk

 

 

Chapter One

 


Sometimes, I despise being a princess.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how fortunate I am. As Gemma Armina Merilde Ripley, the crown princess of Andvari, I have everything I could ever want, from beautiful gowns to sparkling tiaras to scrumptious foods. And I do those fine things proud. I am an excellent dancer, a moderately talented jewelry maker, and an enthusiastic connoisseur of toasted cheese-and-jam sandwiches.

I want for nothing, smile at everything, and can converse on a plethora of benign topics, from the mercurial Andvarian fall weather to the most famous Bellonan gladiator troupes to the unusual intricate patterns of Ungerian competitive ballroom dances.

Oh, yes. I bloody excel at playing the part of a pampered princess. Most of the time, I even enjoy it.

But this was not one of those occasions.

“. . . don’t you think, Your Highness?”

The deep, booming voice jarred me out of my snide reverie. Several lords and ladies were staring at me, as though I were a caladrius in a menagerie they had gathered around to gawk at. At times like these, being a princess was definitely its own sort of prison.

Today my gilded cage was a dining hall lined with white stone planters boasting evergreen shrubs. To my left, servants were clearing away plates from the table in the center of the room. To my right, musicians were performing beneath a white wicker arbor draped with green vines. Clusters of pink wisteria bobbed above the musicians’ heads, as if the flowers were dancing along to the low, soft tunes, including “The Bluest Crown,” my own cursed, unwanted personal anthem.

A dark gray banner featuring a black snarling gargoyle face—the Ripley royal crest—hung on one of the walls next to a forest-green banner with a gold oak tree with gold acorns dripping from its branches. The crest of Lord Eichen, the luncheon host.

“Don’t you think, Your Highness?” Eichen repeated, his trumpet of a voice much louder than before, as though I hadn’t heard him.

With his silver-rimmed glasses, dark brown eyes, wrinkled dark brown skin, and cropped iron-gray hair and mustache, Eichen looked like a kindly grandfather, and he was a longtime friend of my own grandfather, King Heinrich Ripley. The sixty-something Eichen was also a wealthy plant magier whose estate was within spitting distance of the Mortan border.

His booming voice drowned out all the other conversations, and this time, everyone in the dining hall looked at me. The musicians paused their playing, and even the pink wisteria seemed to peer in my direction.

The weight of everyone’s stares pressed against my chest like an anvil, but I smiled as though my ears weren’t still ringing from Eichen’s sonorous voice. With that ability to bellow, he should have been a gladiator ringmaster.

“You’re right,” I replied. “The Black Swan troupe will be the main rivals to our Andvarian gladiators heading into the winter season. Why, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Black Swan troupe once again won a championship or two.”

“They’ve won almost every bloody championship for the last sixteen years. Ever since Serilda Swanson returned to Svalin.” Eichen spat out the famed warrior’s name like it was the vilest curse. Several of his grandchildren competed for the Andvarian troupes, so he took the gladiator rankings, victories, and defeats much more seriously than most folks did.

“Serilda is a fine warrior,” I murmured, not wanting to further incite Eichen.

“That she is.” A smile split his face, and his mustache bristled with a happier mood. “Did I ever tell you that I once saw Serilda herself compete? I did! It was against a Mortan troupe, and she wiped the floor with every gladiator they set against her . . .”

Eichen launched into a long-winded tale about Serilda’s tournament. I kept smiling, although I once again tuned out his words.

As Princess Gemma, I was a traveling ambassador for the Ripley royal family, responsible for maintaining good relationships with wealthy nobles, especially those like Eichen with strategic holdings near the Mortan border. For the last three days, I had been visiting with Eichen and his family at Oakton Manor, oohing and aahing over his impressive gardens, and charming and ingratiating myself with everyone, from the wealthiest lady to the newest servant.

Today was the grand finale of my visit and included a luncheon with dozens of nobles, merchants, and guilders from the nearby city of Haverton. The actual luncheon had ended thirty minutes ago, and now the guests were indulging in some more wine before taking their leave to get ready for the ball tonight.

A few weeks ago, I would have enjoyed whiling away the afternoon with idle gossip, picking up information, and seeing who I could convince to keep me abreast of the goings-on in Haverton so I could expand my network of unofficial spies into this corner of Andvari.

Not anymore. Now every hour that passed increased the threat to my kingdom—

I still can’t believe she defeated a group of Mortan soldiers.

The stories must be lies. She’s a princess, not a warrior.

She can’t possibly be a mind magier. Otherwise, she would know exactly how ugly I think her dress is . . .

I kept my smile fixed on my face, as though nothing were wrong and I couldn’t hear what everyone truly thought about me.

The nobles were right—and wrong. I might be a princess, but a few weeks ago, I had defeated a group of Mortan soldiers. As for my being a warrior, well, that was debatable, but I was most definitely a mind magier who could hear each and every one of their deepest, darkest secrets.

Unfortunately.

People thought all the bloody time, and their mental musings constantly buzzed around me, like bees droning on and on in my ears.

Not only could I hear the nobles’ not-so-kind thoughts, but I could also feel their emotions, from the slightest bit of dull boredom to the sharp pricks of curiosity to the petty jealousy that scraped against my skin like sandpaper. Lady Kendra really did not like my dress, and the disgust rolling off her was strong enough to make my own stomach churn.

I drew in a deep breath and focused on myself, on my tiny internal ship that constantly sailed around on the sea of other people’s emotions. Slowly, that choppy sea smoothed out, Lady Kendra’s disgust faded away, and my ship righted itself.

Normally, I would have ignored people’s thoughts and feelings as best I could. But given the danger I planned on putting myself in later, I actually needed to hear people’s silent musings to make sure I could pull off my scheme—and that no one was spying on me the way I planned to spy on my enemies.

So I waited until Eichen launched into another story, then reached out with my magic. In an instant, I was leaning over the deck of my internal ship, dipping my fingers into that sea of emotions, and skimming the thoughts of everyone in the dining hall, from the nobles clustered around Eichen to the servants still clearing the table to the guards stationed in the corners.

This wine is awful . . .

Wish I could get closer to the princess . . .

Glitzma’s hands are ruined now . . .

That last snide, mocking thought, also by the dress-hating Lady Kendra, made my hands clench into fists. Glitzma was my unofficial nickname, and one I had thoroughly embraced for years, since the pampered princess persona had been the perfect cover for my secret missions. But as more time had passed, the nickname had started to annoy me, and now I utterly despised it, especially given the brutal torture I had suffered a few weeks ago.

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