After joining the Order of the Crystal Daggers, led by her dauntless grandmother, Lady Penelope, Eleanora Svobodová set out to save her kingdom from oncoming devastation.
And she failed.
Following the attack on Prague Castle, Eleanora is determined to redeem herself. She sets out to win Karl’s trust while distancing herself from Ferdy, whose secrets and lies have done nothing to stop her from falling in love with him. As she struggles to let him go, questions about the mission and her mother’s past cause a rift between Amir and Lady Penelope and add to the growing discord between Eleanora and her brother.
But when a cunning provocateur arrives in Prague, Eleanora discovers there is an even more deadly game afoot, one that reaches into Amir's past and threatens Lady Penelope's future. Now, the members of the Order must work together if they are to uncover the true enemy hiding in Bohemia.
Can they work together despite their divisions? Or will their division lead to even more destruction?
Full of spies, secrets, and plenty of suspense, Prince of Secrets and Shadows is the second book in The Order of the Crystal Daggers, a historical fiction adventure series from C. S. Johnson.
Read an Excerpt
The whisper of his voice inside my mind was enough to jolt me free from any dreams and propel me into the waking world.
I gasped as I woke, gripping the fine sheets I found surrounding me. The silken softness beneath my fingers was a foreign feeling, one that became clearer as I sat upright on the bed. I blinked, glancing around as moonlight glowed outside the window in front of me.
Squinting, I saw the view was completely unfamiliar.
Where am I?
My nose wrinkled, as the scent of lavender and mint wafted around me, and I began to feel a pounding pain in the back of my head. Reaching under my loosened curls, I felt a small bump.
The pain seemed to spread as I became aware of it; my muscles were sore, and my body ached. I took careful inventory of myself, finding a bandage wrapped around my right leg, just above my knee, and another around my shoulder. I was still in my stealth habit, with its short skirt, black bodice, and armored sleeves, tucked between fine sheets in a bed that was not mine.
As my eyes finally adjusted to the night, I could make out my surroundings.
My hand covered my mouth in shock.
I was in a bedroom, alone, seemingly surrounded by every creature comfort imaginable. The bed was grand, with intricate carvings and covered in delicate drapery. There were rugs on the floor from the East Indies, and a messy bookshelf tucked beside a window seat. Other items — chests and chairs and lamps of all sizes — dotted the room, shining in the retreating moonlight.
Despite the glory of the room around me, my gaze went immediately back to the window.
The dwindling starlight reflected through the glass as morning rapidly approached. Outside, the remaining walls of Prague Castle gleamed, taunting me with their unmoving stasis as my last memories trickled into my mind.
"The fire," I whispered hoarsely, struggling to orient myself to reality's bitter welcome. I did not know if the sound of my voice against the emptiness of the room would keep me from going mad or send me there sooner. There was a singed quality to my throat, and the taste of smoke was suddenly on my tongue.
I licked my lips and cleared my throat. Then I shifted out of the bedsheets and forced myself to find a cognizant starting place.
The last I remembered, I had been at the Advent Ball, the yearly event hosted by King Ferdinand V and his wife, Empress Maria Anna. It was the first time in over a decade I had seen the former rulers of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, which included my home nation of Bohemia, and it proved to be just as devastating as the last time.
"If not more so," I whispered, as my head fell into my hands. I rubbed my forehead and raked back my hair, the dark curls feeling frayed and knotted between my fingers.
It was almost like a bad dream, and my current surroundings did nothing to make it less surreal. The room I was in was crowned with high ceilings, the walls were decorated with splendid paintings and lined with silk wallpaper, and books of all sorts were scattered around, while a half-open wardrobe and several unlit, half-melted candelabras leered at me from the shadows.
On a nearby table, there was a basin filled with lavender-scented water. The fragrance caught my attention before I saw the folded dress beside it.
After only a second's hesitation, I went over and picked up the gown. The fabric felt as soft and pliant as liquid when I held it up to me, surprised to find it was my size. There was even a new set of matching combs on the table beside it.
Is this for me?
It was too much. Everything about the room was too much, I thought, spying a copy of Morte d'Arthur on the floor, splayed upside down, carelessly forgotten. I picked it up, briefly noting it was a different copy than the one my father used to own before I clutched it to my chest and looked around again.
The elegance of the castle room was something my stepmother would have sold her soul to have, even if it was just for a day.
I looked back at the dress, noting the fine stitching and the ornate design. My fingers fiddled with some of the ruffles, marveling at the elegance.
Cecilia would probably sell the souls of both her children for this dress.
Not that the devil would take them, I added, allowing myself a small giggle despite my uncertainty.
As I made my way back to the bed, my eyes scourged over everything; the room was elegant and beautiful, resplendent with treasures I had never seen and could never earn. But it was a kind of illusion — just like the heavenly city of Prague outside my window.
The room was still a prison, and I was its prisoner.
I was his prisoner.
I slumped back against the pillows as the onslaught of memories ran through me. I relived those last moments of terror all over again. In many ways, they kept me captive more than the sturdy locks on my door.
Fresh wounds scraped against the flesh of my heart, as I drifted back to that night, to that moment. The last moment before everything fell apart, and nothing seemed like it would ever be the same again.
I remembered running as fast as I could through the hallways of the castle, my breath coming in small pants. I knew I only had a limited amount of time before the walls would fall, thanks to the wine cellar collapsing. The castle's cellar had been set afire, and it was only a matter of time before it spread and wrecked its way through the castle.
It was an act of treachery courtesy of Lord Maximillian, the Duke of Moravia, his nefarious henchman, and possibly Karl Marcelin, the secret heir to the throne of Bohemia.
On the other side of the ballroom, guests were quickly evacuating the castle under the orders of the King, aided by the oversight of my grandmother, Lady Penelope Ollerton-Wellesley, the Dowager Duchess of Wellington and the leader of the Order of the Crystal Daggers. My brother, Ben, and our small team of spies were working to save as many people as possible.
I had been sent to find the second heir to the kingdom — only to discover I already knew him.
In my mind, I heard myself speak his name. I saw him, standing in the hallway outside the ballroom. He was regal and serious, nothing like the boy I had fallen in love with. We sparred verbally, fighting with our feelings, arguing over secrets and lies, before the castle rooms behind me echoed with oncoming destruction.
The last thing I remembered was grabbing onto him and trying to pull him away from danger.
There was a small part of me that felt him grip me back, that heard him call my name.
I clutched my arms, trying to force myself to distinguish between dreams and reality after that. It was too much to hope for that he would call to me, after everything else that had happened.
My shoulder shifted against the pillows. I saw it taped up, covered with medical bandages. Carefully, I reached up and began to unwrap the wound, flinching as the bandage tugged at my skin.
I was prepared for the worst, so I was surprised when, underneath it, I only saw a small cut across my skin. Immediately, my eyes squeezed shut, trying to ward off the memory.
It was hard — there were a million moments I wanted to forget, but they were all still there.
Ferdy dancing with me in the ballroom. He had worn a lord's jacket and combed back his coppery hair. There had been a distinctive shine on his boots and a twinkle in his eye. He was utterly irresistible, and never more so when he told me he was in love with me.
Ferdy kissing me with grand and growing passion as I unremarkably admitted I loved him, too.
Ferdy overhearing me discuss marriage with his brother, before confronting me, assuming I was only after Karl because he was a prince.
Ferdy trying to run from me before I could explain. Then him struggling as I tried to speak before he finally pushed himself free of me. I had scraped my shoulder at the time, causing it to bleed.
I barely registered the pain then, and now there was none left as I carefully touched the clotted blood scabbing over in a thin line and a patch of red, roughed skin.
But the bandage was soaked with herbs and medicine, and it had been tied back with care so evident it could have been a silent apology.
Does this mean he still loves me?
I could not stop myself from hoping he did.
For several moments, I allowed myself to indulge in my feeble hopes. I wondered if he would come and see me again. As the eerie light of dying night transformed into blossoming day, I finally shook my head.
I was being foolish — a lovesick servant girl and spy, pining for a prince.
"I shouldn't even want to see him," I said to myself. "He lied to me! And about so many things. Who's to say he was even telling me the truth about loving me?"
My memory tried to contradict me, and it was at its rebellion that I pushed myself out of bed and began to get ready to leave.
I had to find a way out of there.
"I still have a job to do," I reminded myself.
I needed to find out what happened to Ben and Amir, and the others, too. Admittedly, I was not as worried about Lady Penelope. My grandmother was a spymaster, no doubt one used to dangerous situations. She was probably used to finding a way out of a mission's complications, even ones like half of a castle collapsing. She might have been used to losing people, too.
After all, she had lost my mother.
Deep down, I knew it was possible Lady Penelope would be happy to see me when I returned to my father's manor. But I could already hear her chiding me for even needing to recover as I washed my face and brushed out the knots in my hair.
As I contemplated changing into the new gown, the locks behind me chimed, and the door opened.
A shadow stepped forward. "Good morning, my lady."
Disappointment crushed me. It was Philip, the servant I had originally believed to be the Prince of Bohemia. For the first time, I recognized the smothered accent of the streets, the hidden Bohemian harmony, tucked underneath his proper tone.
There were other things I noticed now, too; Philip was close to Ferdy's height, only a little taller than myself. He had a similar color of hair, but his eyes were brown rather than silver, and even in the darkness of the morning hours I could see the string of light freckles on his face.
I could also see the hesitation in his gaze as he looked at me.
Carefully balancing a silver tray in his hands, he cleared his throat, clearly embarrassed to be caught staring. "How are you feeling today, my lady?"
It was hard to give him an answer when I did not know myself. "What is today?" I sidestepped the question altogether.
"It's the seventh of December," he said. "Two days after the Feast of St. Nicholas."
Two days since the attack on the castle.
"How did I get here?"
"His Highness and I brought you here after you fell unconscious," Philip replied. He cautiously made his way to a bedside table and set down the small tray. My stomach grumbled at the smell of freshly baked bread and herbal tea.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"After you found us and argued with His Highness," Philip began slowly, "the floor in the ballroom collapsed in on the castle's underground hallways while some of the nearby walls and ceilings fell."
He looked up me, clearly overwhelmed with gratitude. "You pushed His Highness out of the way and protected him. Some debris fell on your head."
The small bump on my head twanged with remembered pain, as if in agreement.
"I see. So then you brought me here."
"Yes, my lady."
One of the lessons Lady POW had taught me was to observe things, and knowing how traumatized I was by Ferdy's deceit — how I failed to realize he was a prince in disguise, I would never fully understand — I vowed to be extra careful in the future. As I watched Philip, eyeing his quick and careful movements, I saw no immediate reason to distrust the freckled servant who apparently served as Ferdy's royal stand-in.
Admittedly, I was not willing to distrust him when I was as desperate as I was for news.
"What happened to my brother? And what about the ballroom? Did everyone ... survive?"
Philip stood, straight and rigid, as he informed me of what he knew. There was no way for him to answer some questions, but even then, I already knew some of the answers.
As Philip remarked on the damage, the Empress' pain, and the king's proclamation of sorrow regarding the loss of life, worry for Ben started to override my concern for Ferdy. I had to get back to my home, find Ben, Lady POW, and my other friends. Then, if I was still allowed to help after all of my mistakes, we had to find out what to do next.
Lady Penelope will be upset with me when I see her again.
I decided I would welcome her ire, if it meant Ben was alive and the Order would allow me a chance to redeem myself. And then Lord Maximillian would pay, I vowed, gripping my fingers into fists as my failure tormented me.
"Please," Philip said, stepping forward as I began to pull on my boots. "You are not well."
"I'm fine," I insisted. It was at that moment I realized my dagger, the one that marked me as a member of the Order of the Crystal Daggers, was missing. "Where is my dagger?"
Philip hesitated again. "Please, just rest for now, my lady. His Highness only wishes for you to recover."
"I am feeling fine," I repeated angrily, shooting him a threatening glance. "Give me back my things. I need to be on my way, and I won't let you — or him — stop me."
Philip did not seem to be very brave — or at least, he was not willing to anger me. As displaced and determined as I was, I supposed I could not fault him for that. He gulped and nodded slowly. "As you wish, my lady. I shall return."
He paused briefly when he opened the door. "I know I should not tell you this," he said quietly, "but His Highness wishes for you to stay here. You are safe, and so are your secrets. We are indebted to you for what you have done."
Heat poured through me. As Philip left, relocking the doors, I finally caught sight of myself in the mirror. My cheeks burned bright crimson as my heart began to beat faster inside my chest.
He wants me to stay.
But a long moment later, I forced myself to move. I could not stay. I had my family to find, my work to finish.
My dignity to salvage, my honor to restore.
I grabbed at the dress left out for me and tugged it over my head. With the stays laced loosely, I could easily wear it over my stealth habit. I hurried to secure it, grateful it would be a suitable disguise. Just as I was contemplating how to get home, even if it meant walking the whole way there, the lock clicked again.
The door opened as I pulled my hair free and tucked my hood down beneath a line of ruffles.
"You can put my dagger down on the table, Philip." I tugged the sleeves down off my shoulders, grimacing as the lower neckline brushed over the small cut and its brush burned. "I'll get it in a moment."
"I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that you hardly pay attention to me when we meet like this."
My spine tingled with sudden awareness, and my heart began to race at the sound of his voice. It was not Philip who had come.
It was Ferdy.CHAPTER 2
Ferdy's voice stilled me. My body felt paralyzed as he moved behind me.
"But then," he drawled, "you've never seemed to recognize me for who I am."
I whirled around to face him. He was leaning against the door, dressed in a new ensemble of princely clothes. His brown hair was brushed back and styled so I could not see any of the hidden red, although there were hints of it in the shadow of a beard on his cheeks. There was a faint smirk on his face as I studied him, trying to see the Ferdy I knew: the street urchin who had set out to save me from trouble, the footman who stole me away from ballrooms. The simple boy who had loved me as a simple girl.
"You look well." Nervously, I fiddled with my sleeves, smoothing out all the wrinkles as I called on my failing courage. I could feel Ferdy's eyes linger on my bare shoulder, the one he had bruised. "Are you going to Mass?"
"As a matter of fact, I am. Mother has called for special masses this week for the victims of the incident, and I am to attend them with her."
"I suppose Karl will be there, too," I said. "He assured me that he was dedicated to your mother's happiness."
Ferdy's breath released sharply. "I was hoping we could avoid talking about him."
"Why should we?" I snapped. All my courage and patience was gone, and only my anger was left. "You lied to me. About everything."
A new thought struck me as I stood there. "I don't even know your real name!"
His confidence faltered, ever so slightly. "My name is Ferdy. Well, Ferdinand. I was named after my father and the king. I wasn't lying about that. I only ... neglected ... to mention that my father and the king were the same person."
When I crossed my arms over my chest, he gave me a sheepish look. "The name goes back several generations," he murmured, still attempting to defend himself.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Prince of Secrets and Shadows"
Copyright © 2018 C. S. Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Prodigy Gold Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This author amazes me with this series! Her writing is excellent in how she writes a distinct emotional journey that is woven in with complex villains and swoon-worthy romance. Not only was this as awesome as the first book, but it was even more intense in the secrets and lies that come forth (or simply just "hidden"). In fact, I was so weighed down by everything Ella has on her shoulders, that I was telling her she just needed to break free from everyone and be free! Haha! One of the most potent things about Prince of Secrets and Shadows (though the series has it as well) is the truths that Ella learns and struggles with. Her friends are so wise! I felt many of the things they shared with her were super relevant to my own life (the good and bad) and caused some good reflection. Some of the most thought-provoking conversations were with Harshad, who I really came to like in this book (another shoutout to the author for that because I wasn't fond of him at all before). Now, my absolute favorite part was…FERDY!!! *fangirls* Yes, yes, yes to all the things that happen! (Well, almost all because there was a time I was gripping my book in fear of some developments.) Overall, I could say so much about how good this story was and how the ending was epic. It's another must read in this spy adventure and I VERY eagerly look forward to the conclusion, especially with that ending (though thankfully it was not nearly as much as a cliff hanger as the previous book).