I adjust my tie and then push through the ornate, wood-carved door to the king’s bedroom. The curtains are drawn despite the time. Just the smallest of cracks in the velvet fabric let the morning rays filter through, lighting up the room so I can see King Theodore resting in his four-poster bed, covered in heavy burgundy fabric.
His attending doctor, Armann, buckles up his bag, adjusts the spectacles on his nose, and then heads toward the door.
“See you tomorrow,” King Theodore calls out.
“Yes, tomorrow.” Armann glances in my direction, offering an annoyed glare, before he heads out of the bedroom, leaving me alone with the last-remaining royal.
“Keller, my boy—” He turns his mouth into his crooked elbow and heaves a horrendous cough that has plagued him for the last few weeks. After two bouts of pneumonia, Dr. Armann has now placed him on bed rest in order to get him back to his fully functioning self. “Excuse me.” He takes a deep breath, but it falls short from the lack of lung capacity. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
As the private secretary to the king, I’m his right-hand man, his most trusted advisor. Unfortunately for me, it’s been an uphill battle with this job. My predecessor had forty-five years on me before he passed away, and when I was hired, few believed a thirty-two-year-old belonged in this position. The only person who’d trusted me was King Theodore, or Theo, as I call him only when we’re alone.
By the side of his bed, there’s a burgundy wingback chair that I take a seat in. Pen and notebook in hand, I cross one leg over the other and say, “It sounded urgent when you called me.”
“Yes, well, this is an urgent matter,” he says right before coughing again. His light blue eyes squeeze shut, and the sparse pieces of hair on the top of his head hitch with every violent hack. He rests his head on his pillow and presses his large, meaty hand to his chest. “I need you to find her.”
Confused, I shift in my seat and ask, “Find who?”
He’s silent, catching his breath before he opens his eyes and says, “The only heir left.”
This is where things get tricky.
Let me give you a quick rundown.
Theo is an only child and the sovereign of our country. He married Katla and had four children.
They more than covered the old verbiage, “we need an heir and a spare.” They doubled down.
Pala was born first. The picture-perfect princess who always wore lavender, delighted the people with her flower crowns, and was well-known to try to sneak her cat, Norbit, into every state dinner. When she was at university, she met Prince Clinton of Marsedale, fell madly in love, and married him. But, because Clinton would one day become king of Marsedale, that trumped Pala’s throne, and she abdicated to live with him. It’s a sore subject.
Second born is Rolant, the troublemaker. Always pressing his luck, never following the rules, and single-handedly created the Fire Task Force—also known as Rolant fucked up, and now we need to put out the fire. His demise was inevitable. One drunk night led to him rolling around on one-thousand-year-old sacred moss, and the next day, he was exiled from the country.
Third born, the most promising of the four, despite being the third in line for the throne, is Sveinn. The listener, the do-gooder, the humanitarian. Known as the earth lover, Sveinn was good at everything. He married Kristin. After five years of marriage and no offspring, they were brought into the king’s quarters where Kristin admitted to having an affair with her lady’s maid. A brilliant lesbian love affair. They ran off together. Sveinn, on the other hand, found the nearest boat, set sail, and is still yet to be found—despite the king’s men’s best seafaring efforts—six months later.
So that brings us to Margret, the youngest. Fascinated with travel, she was bound and determined to flee from the chilling temperatures of her homeland and explore the humid climate of Miami, where she met the love of her life, Cameron Campbell, a larger-than-life food tour guide. And together, they had one child.
“You want me to find your American granddaughter?” I ask.
Theo slowly nods his head. “You must. Without her, we jeopardize losing our country.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, now leaning forward.
“As you are aware, we are a constituent of Arkham, and according to our bylaws, if there is no heir to the throne, then the monarchy dies with me.”
Which would be detrimental to the country.
“And with the battles we’ve fought over the years with Arkham, there is no doubt they will not only destroy our culture, but they’ll take over our people.” A cough bubbles up and he sputters a few moments before regaining himself. “I can’t have that.” With his tired eyes fixated on me, he says, “If it were my choice, you, my son, would take my place, but it must be blood.”
“I know,” I say, my throat choking up.
I failed to mention the fifth child because the fifth doesn’t matter. The fifth grew up in the palace just like the other four, but lost his servant parents at twelve, was orphaned, and then one fateful Christmas Eve was taken in by the king and queen.
He has no right to the crown.
Instead, he . . . or I . . . have dedicated myself to protecting what is mine. This palace, and this man resting on the bed in front of me, practically lifeless with a gray complexion, are mine to protect.
“I need you to find her, Keller, and I need you—” He coughs again. I wait patiently for him to finish before picking up a glass of water from his night table and offering it to him. He nods as a thank you and takes a sip. “I need you to train her.”
My concerned brow pinches together. “Train her?”
He nods slowly before resting his head on the pillow. “Yes, she will not know of our country, our traditions, or our culture. If she is to take the crown, she must be prepared. The country will not take kindly to an outsider.” His tired eyes flash to mine. “And if anyone can prepare the next sovereign, it’s you.”