The Queen's Secret (The Queen's Secret #2) - Melissa de la Cruz

The Story So Far . . .

A demon stalks the four kingdoms of Avantine—Renovia, Argonia, Montrice, and Stavin. He is the tyrant King Phras, a monster of legend and a stain on Avantine’s history.

Mortal death many centuries ago did not free Avantine of the tyrant. The ashes in his urn mean nothing. When his human form was first cremated, the fire of Deia failed to purify his spirit. Phras’s violent sect of followers, the Aphrasian monks, made sure of that. Their incantations and enchantments around his funeral pyre ensured that the king lived on.

For hundreds of years the shapeshifter Phras has possessed many bodies, many faces, and consumed countless lives and souls. If a possessed body dies but is not in the fire of Deia before sunrise, Phras’s spirit lives on.

With the disguised king hidden in their midst, the Aphrasians grew in strength and audacity, having taken possession of the Deian Scrolls, the repository of Avantine’s magical knowledge. Centuries passed and the brave King Esban of Renovia stood against the Aphrasians, dismantled their monasteries, and demanded the return of the scrolls and the sharing of their knowledge with all his people. The Aphrasians responded with a bloody rebellion, launched from their stronghold, Baer Abbey. The Chief Assassin, Cordyn Holt, led the strike against the Aphrasians. Alas, King Esban was killed on the battlefield.

Cordyn Holt swore a blood oath to the newly widowed Queen Lilianna to restore the sacred scrolls of Deia to the kingdom. He pledged his own life, and those of his heirs, to the service of the queen, to defend the crown, and to return the mystical texts. Yet now, a whole generation later, the scrolls remain in Aphrasian hands.

When the Tyrant King ruled, he ruined or murdered many of his subjects. One he even cursed to a life of perpetual service to him: a stable boy named Jander, who spoke so rarely that he was thought mute. He escaped from slavery but remains doomed to immortality until the king himself is killed.

Cordyn Holt had one son, Caledon, who took his father’s place as Chief Assassin. Queen Lilianna had one daughter, Lilac, who assumed the guise of a girl named Shadow of the Honey Glade and longed to be an assassin of the Hearthstone Guild. Together Cal and Shadow journeyed to Montrice to uncover a plot against Renovia, and with Jander’s help, they unmasked the Duke of Girt as the shapeshifting, soul-stealing King Phras.

Regrettably, they were unable to burn the king’s spirit, and so the demon lives on to plague the kingdom. And only when the king is truly dead can Jander be free of his curse and rest in peace.

Complicating matters, Cal and Shadow fell in love, and when Cal was found guilty of the duke’s death, he was sentenced to death himself. Shadow revealed her true identity as Princess Lilac to save his life, and married the King of Montrice to unite the two kingdoms, forsaking their love forever.

But Queen Lilac has a secret . . .

The Ducal Palace

- Duchy of Stavin -

Your Majesties,

Felicitations to you, King Hansen and Queen Lilac, and to the Kingdoms of Renovia and Montrice. I salute you in the name of our great goddess Deia, who once united the four kingdoms of Avantine, and pray that one day we may know her blessed peace once more.

Your blessed wedding last month, at the time of our annual harvest celebrations, promised a golden autumn and a new era of abundance, harmony, and fruitfulness.

But now, the abundance of autumn has passed. We have learned of new and terrible activities along the southern border of Stavin. It appears that the Aphrasian order is on the rise again. Their monks have been sighted crossing from Montrice into Stavin. Lately there have been a number of border skirmishes and incursions into Stavinish territories, including horrific raids on Stavinish villages and farms. We believe the Aphrasians are responsible for these. Stavin will not stand by while our citizens are in peril. If dark magic is at work, it requires action without delay.

I am also in the possession of some unfortunate intelligence from Argonia. It is said that Renovia not only harbors the Aphrasian order, but may be deploying the Aphrasian attackers on a campaign designed to invade and annex Stavin. It has been suggested to me that this is why Your Majesties, and your combined kingdoms, have made so little progress in uprooting the Aphrasian order. The presence of a Dellafiore queen on the throne of both Renovia and

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