Askia—a warrior, witch, and queen-to-be—confronts the monster that stole her throne…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Greta Kelly’s The Seventh Queen, the exciting conclusion to The Frozen Crown—publishing November 2nd with Harper Voyager.
The Empire of Vishir has lost its ruler, and the fight to save Seravesh from the Roven Empire is looking bleak. Moreover, Askia has been captured by power-hungry Emperor Radovan, who plans on making her his wife simply so he can take her magic as his own, killing her in the process. Aware of his ex-wives’ fates, Askia must find a means of avoiding this doom, not only for the sake of Seravesh, but now for Vishir as well. She must put both nations first and remember Ozura’s advice: you must play the game in order to survive. Askia was born a soldier, but now it’s time to become a spy.
But it’s hard to play a game where the only person who knows the rules wants to kill her.
And time is a factor. The jewel Radovan has put around her neck will pull her power from her in thirty days. Worse, Vishir might not even have that long, as the two heirs to the throne are on the verge of civil war. Without any hope for help from the south, without any access to her magic, alone in a hostile land, Askia is no closer to freeing her people than she was when she fled to Vishir. In the clutches of a madman, the only thing she’s close to is death.
Yet she’d trade her life for a chance to save Seravesh. The problem: she may not have that choice.
Qaden stood on the threshold, hands planted on her hips. She looked me up and down, jealousy flashing through her eyes before she quashed it.
“Are you going to come quietly, or will I have to drag you out by your hair.”
I allowed a slow smile. “Oh, my dear Qadenzizeg,” I said, mimicking the way Radovan purred the captain’s name. “While I genuinely look forward to the day you and I fight in earnest, that day is not today.”
I flicked my fingers in a haughty shooing motion that made Qaden’s lip curl. She turned on her heel and stomped out of the room. I didn’t try to hide my satisfaction, winking at the older servant before following.
Neither of the door guards accompanied Qaden and me as we swept down the hall and descended the long, curving stairs. She set a brisk pace, no doubt hoping I’d trip on my hem and smash my face into the floor. She severely underestimated me if she thought that was likely. I hadn’t spent years training with Arkady and the Wolves to fall now, no matter what I was wearing.
I surveyed my surroundings marking the people who now milled in the corridors we passed. Nobility by the fine cut of their clothing. Men and women in fur-trimmed coats and dresses admired this crystal vase or that silk-threaded tapestry, but I clearly had their full attention. I could feel them watching me from the corners of their eyes, like getting this fleeting glimpse of me could satisfy their curiosity, their naked desire to be one of Radovan’s chosen.
I glanced at Qaden, wondering if she felt that desire too? Or would she be standing behind my chair all night, hand fisted on the hilt of her sword. Qaden’s eyes flicked to me and away again, her mouth curving into a dark smile. “I know what you took,” she murmured, too low for anyone we passed to hear.
“I assumed you’d figure it out eventually,” I replied. “Is this your way of asking for it back—or is cleaning up after you ransack my room something I can look forward to after dinner?”
“Keep it. I’m sure I’ll get it back from you eventually.”
I struggled not to react. “Aren’t you afraid I might hurt someone?”
“Not even remotely.” She smirked. “You have some fire in you, Princess, I’ll give you that. Four and Five had fire too—Four even managed to kill one of her guards.”
“Four?” My brow creased as I tried to parse her words. “You mean Freyda?”
Qaden gave the tiniest of nods, swallowing down an emotion I couldn’t name. “But you know what I’ve noticed? The ones with fire are always the first to burn out. So you can keep that little knife, if it helps you dream of escaping this place.”
“Why?” I asked, my steps slowing as we reached the ground floor.
“Because I know exactly what is going to happen,” she replied leading me to a set of dark imposing doors. “Your days will grow shorter. Your dreams will tarnish. Your strength will become brittle. And sooner or later, you’ll begin to pin all your hopes on the edge of that blade. Just like Four and Five did. And you know what will happen then?”
She leaned closer to me, whispering in my ear. “I’m going to come looking for that knife. And I’m going to leave you to your misery and despair. Until you crack. And then I’m going to watch you die.”
She stepped back, nodding for the guards to open the door. “Enjoy your dinner,” she said, flicking her fingers to shoo me away.
Swallowing a swear, I entered the Great Hall on wooden legs, shoulders high. Ready for a fight. The gargantuan space easily matched the Great Hall of Bet Naqar, but size was where all similarities ended. Where the palace of Vishir dazzled and welcomed with glimmering tiles of silver and gold, this space oozed cold menace. Night and day. Summer and winter, I thought forcing myself to move.
White marble—the same as the rest of the castle, covered the floors and walls of the round room. Thick veins of blue stone ran through the white in a swirling pattern that circled the floor and crept up the rounded walls, higher, higher. Because there was no ceiling to this room that was not a room. Just the tower that lay at the heart of this winding, circular castle.
“The blue stone is Graznian porphyry,” Ragata said excitedly, appearing by my side as I crossed the empty space. “Beautiful.”
It was, I allowed as the tower stretched out above me, dizzyingly high. But that wasn’t what made it so terribly amazing. That distinction belonged to the oculus at its center. A perfect circle of stone was missing from the tower’s roof, letting me glimpse a slice of winter sky, where the uncaring stars twinkled far above. There must be some kind of magic sealing it, I thought, otherwise the blue porphyry table in the room’s heart would have been covered in a foot of snow and ice.
“Graznian porphyry is exceedingly rare—and terribly suited for construction on such a scale,” Ragata continued. “Especially considering how unstable the earth is along this part of Roven. A great scar cuts through Roven at the Riven Cliffs, a rift that travels up the length of the coast. Makes the land prone to earthquakes. And here is Radovan, basically constructing the Tower from butter.”
I let Ragata natter on without really listening, gathering strength into my chest, girding myself with unseen armor. My steps echoed off the hall’s curved walls and I could almost imagine that I wasn’t alone. That Seravesh was with me. Letting the thought bolster me, I stalked to the heart of the space, where a table was set and about a dozen men waited.
“Askia, my dear. How good of you to join us.” Radovan’s voice cut through the light, polluting it. He stood, dragging the other men to their feet, and rounded the table. “You look beautiful.”
I swallowed my first response in favor of silence, my shoulders drawing up when he held out his hand for mine. My hands closed into fists, joints locking in place. Radovan simply watched me, an amused smile growing on his face, waiting for me to take his hand. I saw the other men shift in my periphery, wary of the silent battle raging between Radovan and me.
Eliska’s diaphanous body appeared between us, her face edged and serious. “Askia, please. Take his hand.”
“Just do it,” she urged. “If you don’t, he’ll only send you away, and what will that gain you? Nothing. So play the game.”
Play the game.
It was the advice Ozura would have given me—that she had once given me. I could do it. Just for tonight, I could be what they expected of me. I could endure.
From THE SEVENTH QUEEN by Greta Kelly, published by Harper Voyager. Copyright © 2021 by Greta Kelly. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.