Chapter One

Jonas paused at the door, held his breath, and pressed his ear against the polished oak -listening to see if his brother was outside. Silence, save for the beating of his own heart, and he managed a small grin in spite of the wound on his face. Lately, every time he opened the door to leave his private suite, he found Keven hovering outside. At first Jonas thought it was amusing having his younger brother waiting on his every need but it had become tiresome. Wherever he went in the castle Keven popped up, offering to clean his shoes or carry his scrolls.

It had been an accident; that was what Jonas had told them. Besides, the arrow had merely grazed his cheek and both knew the risks of hunting in the forest. But Keven was insistent that he make up for nearly killing the heir to the throne and the king had been happy to let him so Jonas could not object. At least it wouldn't be for much longer. Soon Keven wouldn't be around to bother anyone.

Satisfied that the corridor outside was empty, Jonas slipped the iron latch, crept out, and stealthily hurried to his rendezvous in the rose garden.

It was dark, and low clouds drifted on a chill wind, occasionally obscuring the crescent moon that hung limp and wan above the Chakstone Hills far to the east. It was perfect; all of Sealand was shrouded in darkness.

Jonas knew the winding paths through the garden as well as he knew the rest of the castle and its grounds. He'd spent years exploring them, seeking out every nook and cranny, every hiding-place, every passage through the ancient walls. While his bookish brother Keven was hunched over some boring tome or scroll in preparation for the next day's lessons, Jonas would be creeping through some long-forgotten passage or dungeon. Jonas smiled again, his expression cruel and thin-lipped. His unerring sense of direction had led him unfailingly to the precise spot chosen for the clandestine meeting.

He waited, standing with his back to the high wall, arms folded, his right hand resting lightly on the pommel of the jewelled dagger in his belt. He didn't have to wait long.

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