Bestselling author Jessica Day George continues her heartfelt fantasy series about a girl who can communicate with horses and a kingdom on the brink of collapse.
Anthea knows the truth about horses. They're not carriers of deadly disease like everyone in their kingdom thinks; they're majestic creatures who share their thoughts and feelings with her through The Way. Anthea has convinced the king of this, but at a costhe demands that horses and riders with The Way do his bidding.
But when a deadly plague breaks out, the people believe that horses are the cause. As more fall ill, it's up to Anthea and her friends to transport medicine, all while keeping out of reach from Anthea's wicked mother. And when Anthea discovers a secret that could change the kingdom forever, she must risk everything to reveal the truth before it's too late.
Continuing the sweeping storytelling of The Rose Legacy, bestselling author Jessica Day George delights readersespecially horse loversonce again.
About the Author
JESSICA DAY GEORGE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Rose Legacy series, Tuesdays at the Castle series, the Twelve Dancing Princesses series, and the Dragon Slippers trilogy. Originally from Idaho, she studied at Brigham Young University and worked as a librarian and bookseller before turning to writing full-time. She now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and their three young children.
Read an Excerpt
The Forest of Arn
ANTHEA LEANED LOW OVER Florian's neck as his hooves pounded the road. The low mist that crept out of the trees on either side of the road swirled out of their way as they passed, and closed again behind them, obscuring the way they had come as much as the way ahead. Anthea didn't like it. There was something unnatural about the mist.
She pressed her face against Florian's damp neck. He smelled like sweat and dust, and his mane whipped at her eyes. She closed them and listened to the beat of his hooves and the pounding of the blood in her ears.
Keep going, she told him. Keep on, my brave one! Hold tight, Beloved.
She tugged her scarf up over her nose and mouth as protection against the mist as Florian surged forward again. Her hair fluttered out behind her — she had long ago lost the ribbon holding it back, but as long as they kept moving it hardly mattered. She shifted position again: she had been in the saddle for hours, and needed a break, but there was no time. She sat up a little and looked over her shoulder, but all she could see was mist. Florian slowed, but she urged him on.
After a few more minutes, though, they had to slow down. Anthea didn't want Florian to injure himself going flat out for too long. Besides which, the mist was thickening and she didn't want him putting a foot wrong.
I can keep running, Beloved, Florian said.
When the mist clears, Anthea reassured him. For now, call ahead to Brutus. If you can.
I can feel him, but I do not know if he hears me, Florian told her.
We will go closer, we will reach him, Anthea said.
Anthea cast her own thoughts ahead with the Way. She could dimly sense that there was a horse somewhere ahead, but that was all. They had never been able to re-create their feat of last year, when Florian and Anthea had reached all the way across the length of Coronam and told Constantine and Finn that Anthea was in trouble. Uncle Andrew was sure that they would be able to do it again, but so far they had not had any luck.
She lost the feeling for Brutus, but then it came back stronger. The mist was being stirred by the wind, and this section of road was as smooth as they could hope it to be, so she gave Florian a little nudge with her heels.
Go, my love! Go!
Florian went. He practically flew. Even though he was exhausted, he raced along the road, parting the mists like a saint parting the waters of a sea. Anthea wove her gloved fingers into his mane to make sure she was holding tight as she reached yet again for Brutus.
They had to deliver their message, but the mist had slowed them down since they had left their last posting. They were hours behind now.
"I. Can. Almost. Find. Him." She panted into her scarf, spitting out wool. "I can —"
Florian reared and Anthea screamed. A man had appeared in the mist directly in front of them, holding something large and dark in front of his body. Anthea yanked the reins up and back and Florian nearly sat on his haunches to avoid stepping on the man. With one hand Anthea fumbled out her pistol, cursing the safety strap on the holster.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Anthea shouted.
"Don't kill me!" the man screamed. "Please! I have a family!"
Anthea brought Florian down on all fours and backed him away from the man. She had her pistol out finally, and trained it on the dark thing the man held. He was muffled from head to foot against the mist and cold, and she could barely make out his eyes, which were wide with fear. What was that thing he was holding? And what was he doing on this lonely stretch of road, on foot, in this weather?
"Don't move!" Anthea ordered him.
"Don't let your beast kill me," the man pleaded.
"Then tell me who you are!"
"I'm an emissary for the Crown!"
Anthea took that in for a moment.
"Oh," she said, lowering her pistol. "So am I."
He slowly took in the long gray army overcoat she wore, the pistol, and the wild tangles of her brown hair. His eyes went to her face, stopped on the scar through her eyebrow, flicked down as though embarrassed, caught on the rose pin on her lapel, and grew even wider.
"They didn't say there would be a girl," he muttered. "Who didn't say that?" Anthea asked, her voice sharp.
"Who sent you?"
"The ... the Crown," the man said.
Florian snorted, and Anthea felt her mouth twitch in response. "Could you be a bit more specific?" she asked. His eyes were on her pistol now, but she didn't lower it.
"The Crown," he said stubbornly.
"Where are you going?" Anthea said. "What did the Crown send you to do? Alone. In the middle of nowhere. On foot."
She looked at her watch. She could almost feel Brutus still, and it was making her testy. If this man made her even later for her rendezvous ...
"I'm looking for the ... the horses," the man said.
His eyes went to Florian, then slid back to her pistol. Anthea realized that this was not because he thought the pistol was more dangerous, but because he could hardly bring himself to look at the stallion. Nor did he look back at her face again. Anthea knew that her scar, while it visibly bisected her left eyebrow, wasn't hideous or disfiguring, so she guessed that what made him uncomfortable was seeing a girl riding a monster.
A girl wearing the Queen's Rose.
"Well, you've found one," Anthea said. "Now what?"
"I have to ... to take your photograph," the man said.
"What on earth?" Anthea marveled. "Here? Now?"
"My motorcar broke down," the man explained. "I was told there was a camp of your ... brigade ... near here ...?"
"Perhaps there is," she said warily. "What is your name?"
"Er, Watson. Arthur Watson."
Anthea's attention was snagged. Was that Brutus? She reached out to him, remarking idly to the man, "I have a pet owl named Arthur."
What is it, my dear? Her attention snapped to Florian.
There are horses coming!
I cannot tell yet!
Where are they coming from? Is Brutus coming toward us with Caillin MacRennie?
No, they are behind us!
Once he said it, Anthea could sense them as well.
"It's Finn and Uncle Andrew," she said aloud as she identified Marius and Pollux. "They're supposed to be farther up the line," she added, mostly to herself.
"What's that?" the man asked sharply.
"Two more riders are coming," Anthea told him. "From relay stations farther up the road." She frowned. "One of them is the leader of the Horse Brigade, Captain Andrew Thornley."
"Thornley?" the man said, looking even more pale. "Then we are at war."CHAPTER 2
The Last Camp
LEONIDAS CAME OVER TO the paddock ropes as Anthea slid off Florian's back. The nearly black stallion radiated concern, his broad chest pressing against the makeshift fence.
It had taken hours for Anthea and the others to reach the brigade's camp, since Arthur Watson refused to touch or ride on a horse, and Leonidas had been pacing and snorting since Anthea had reached out to him to say that she was near. He had only gone to this camp with Brutus and Caillin MacRennie because Anthea had promised that she would follow in two days' time, and it had been three days, as he was quick to inform her.
Leonidas had recovered from his injuries after being caught in a snare months ago, but the whole episode had made him very anxious. Mostly he wanted to prove himself to Anthea, over and over again, to show that he was sorry. Because he had run away, he had gotten caught in the snare. Because he had run away, Anthea had been shot and then become ill. Because he had run away, the mare Bluebell had also been hurt. Because of him.
"Shall I ride you later, to stretch your legs, Leonidas?" Anthea fondly tugged his forelock with one hand as she pulled Florian's reins around with the other.
Please, Beloved of Florian, Leonidas said. I was worried that you were hurt, he said after a pause.
She was with me, Florian reminded him.
Leonidas shied away. Anthea gave Florian a mental reprimand and reached out to slap Leonidas on the shoulder. Gently.
I am quite well, Leonidas. Thank you! Only we had to bring a stranger with us, and he would not ride, she explained. Then I took my message to the next courier.
She did not add that he had not yet left with it. No one was leaving the camp, not with Andrew and Finn just arriving, and without a word to anyone about why they had left their posts.
Florian lowered his ears. He did not like these developments, but even more, he did not like Arthur Watson. None of the horses liked strangers, and when Anthea had arrived with Uncle Andrew and Finn and another man who insisted on walking to the side of the horses, there had been quite a hue and cry. Watson had quickly been ushered into the command tent and Anthea had herded Marius and Pollux into a paddock, even before uselessly passing along her message to the rider who was supposed to carry it on.
He Who Will Walk smells of fear, Florian said, using the name that he had come up with for Arthur Watson.
I know, my darling, Anthea replied through the Way. She sighed. They always do.
Anthea patted Florian and tied him to the nearest post. She would need to take off his tack and brush him down before she turned him in to the paddock, but first she wanted to know what was happening in that tent.
She lifted the tent flap and stepped inside. It was dim, after the bright morning light in the clearing, and Anthea was embarrassed by the squeaking noise she made as she first collided with Watson and then stumbled the rest of the way into the tent. Anthea managed to grab the edge of a folding table to keep from falling.
"Whoa! Careful there!"
Andrew caught Anthea's arm before she could put her hand in an open bottle of ink. She muttered an apology and he gave her elbow a squeeze as she righted herself.
"I believe you've met Mr. Watson," he said.
"Yes." She nodded at him. "My name is Anthea Thornley," she added, since they hadn't been properly introduced. "Courier First Class. Of the Horse Brigade."
Everyone just looked at one another. So Anthea went ahead and asked it.
"The Crown sent you to photograph what, exactly?"
It wasn't the only question she wanted to ask. The other question, one she wanted to ask even more urgently, was what he had meant when he said they were at war. But she thought it was probably better to ease into that.
"The horses, and the men," Watson said. Then he looked at Anthea. "I mean, and women, er ... everyone." He finished in a rush. "The Crown has sent me to photograph you. All."
Anthea felt her scarred eyebrow lifting. She looked across the table to Caillin MacRennie, who also looked skeptical. He was sewing a button back on his own coat, but he kept watching Watson while he sewed without looking down, which was disconcerting.
"The Crown? Or the king?" Caillin MacRennie asked.
Growing up, Anthea had always thought of the Crown as being a single entity, with the king as the head and everyone from the queen to the lowliest courtier as the body, all working in harmony.
Now that the brigade actually worked for the king and the queen — and there were rumors that the royal advisors were doing their utmost to get the brigade exiled and Andrew arrested for treason — they knew differently. The brigade had been the queen's idea, one that the king had gone along with only reluctantly. The queen was of an old horse-loving Leanan family, something that the king did not like to talk about. What he did like to talk about was how he would get rid of the brigade the moment they didn't prove themselves useful.
"But tell them what you said on the road," Anthea prompted the photographer when it looked like he wasn't going to say anything more. He opened his mouth and she cut him off. "Not about photographs, the other thing you said, when you heard that Uncle Andrew and the others had left their stations."
Watson looked around helplessly. Since the brigade wasn't really part of the army, the riders didn't have any official insignia. Everyone in the tent had an army issue coat, but there was no indication of rank. Beside which: Anthea was a girl, and Finn was only a year older than Anthea. Andrew was in his forties, but he looked much younger despite the little gray in his hair. He was wearing a cable-knit sweater and had thrown his coat over a stool in the corner. He was marking something on the map spread across the table as though he couldn't be bothered to give a visitor his full attention. Caillin MacRennie was the oldest person in the tent, and he was also coatless, sitting on a barrel.
The confused photographer finally directed his eyes to the back of the tent and held out a letter to anyone who would take it.
"The Crown sent me," he said again, to no one in particular. "That's all I know."
Uncle Andrew took the letter, looking amused.
"Have a seat," he said, pointing vaguely to the various collapsible stools around the table as he slit the heavy wax seal with a pocketknife.
"Is it from His Majesty, or Her Majesty?" Caillin MacRennie asked. He bit off a thread and shook out his coat.
Watson gasped. "It's from the Crown," he said.
"Yes, well, we actually know what that means," Finn said.
Watson gasped again, but this time he was looking at something. Anthea turned.
Jilly had just arrived. Of course Arthur Watson had gasped.
Anthea's gray army overcoat was warm and serviceable. Both girls had been given the two smallest ones Andrew could find when they were outfitting the riders. But the smallest size made to fit a grown soldier was still slightly too big for the cousins. And Jilly did not like wearing anything that was bulky. Or plain.
She had tailored the coat so closely to her figure that Anthea marveled Jilly could fit a shirt underneath, and replaced the standard-issue black leather-covered buttons with blue velvet ones. And that was just to start with. In the evenings, Jilly embroidered an expanding pattern of vines and horse heads around the hem and up the sleeves, in blue and red and green, and today she had accessorized with a blue silk scarf tied around her jaunty curls.
Jilly was just generally striking. She was, in fact, turning into a great beauty. Meanwhile, Anthea was frequently mistaken for "one of the men" until people noticed her long hair. But Anthea shoved her jealousy aside.
"How long did it take you to get here?" Jilly demanded as she dropped the tent flap behind her and kissed her father on the cheek and then gave Anthea a hug. She was clearly bursting to tell them her time, her cheeks rosy and her eyes bright. Outside, Anthea sensed Caesar and Florian greeting each other, as fond of each other as their riders were.
"Six hours," Anthea said shortly. "And then some."
"Four and a half!" Jilly crowed, before Anthea had even finished.
"The mist was terrible, and then this happened," Anthea said, jerking her head at the photographer.
"Yes, who are you?"
The shocked look on the photographer's face, which had been in danger of turning to a gooey-eyed expression, was wiped clean by this. Despite her generally flighty air and penchant for unique fashions, Jilly was indeed her father's daughter. And her father was the commander of the Horse Brigade.
"Have you shown them your credentials?" Jilly asked. "How did you find us?"
"He's not a new recruit," Anthea said. "He's a photographer."
"What? Why?" Jilly frowned at the man, who wilted. "The — the king sent me?"
"Hmm," Jilly said.
"My name is Arthur Watson," the photographer said.
"She has a pet owl named Arthur," Jilly informed him, waving a hand at Anthea. "So we'll just call you Watson."
"Er, all right ...?"
"You said we were at war," Anthea said loudly.
"There's always rumors of war," Caillin MacRennie said soothingly.
"The Kronenhofer emperor has been threatening to withdraw all trade unless we —" Finn began.
"The Kronenhofer emperor has been threatening to withdraw trade for years," Caillin MacRennie said. He started to say something else, but then he frowned. "Is that why you came all the way here, Andrew? Or was there something else?"
Andrew cleared his throat. "We got word from our ... patron ... that we needed to consolidate our forces, and possibly send some of our younger riders back to Leana."
"And I don't think we need to panic," Finn interjected. "The qu — our patron, that is, didn't say why, just that there were rumors of trouble."
"Actually, sir?" Watson raised his hand. He looked at Andrew, seeming a little relieved to identify the man in charge.
"Two Kronenhofer naval ships came up the river toward Coronam last week. They refused to dock or reply to any signals. When one of our river patrol boats tried to approach, they fired on it. I think what this patron of yours is trying to say is ... well, now we are at war with Kronenhof."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Queen's Secret"
Copyright © 2019 Jessica Day George.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
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