Con artists, a terribly-run inn and a high-paying criminal job with less-than-ideal stakes? The good news is Dan Koboldt’s upcoming novel Silver Queendom has it all. The bad news is that the book isn’t out until this summer. Luckily we at SciFiNow hate bad news so we’re exclusively revealing the awesome cover of Silver Queendom PLUS revealing Chapter One of the novel right here!
But first, check out the official synopsis for Silver Queendom…
Service at the Red Rooster Inn isn’t what you’d call “good,” or even “adequate.” Darin would be the first to say so, and he owns the place. Evie isn’t much of a barmaid; Kat’s home-brewed ale seems to grow less palatable with each new batch; and Seraphina’s service at the bar leaves much to be desired. As for the bouncer, Big Tom, well, everyone learns right quick to stay on his good side.They may be bad at running an inn, but they’re the best team of con artists in the Old Queendom. When a prospective client approaches Darin with a high-paying job, he knows he should refuse. But the job is boosting a shipment of priceless imperial dream wine, the most coveted and expensive drink in the world. And, thanks to a stretch of bad luck, he’s in deep to The Dame, who oversees criminal enterprises in this part of the Queendom.
If they fail, they’re as good as dead, but if they succeed… well, it’s enough money to get square with the Dame and make all of their dreams come true. Plus, it’s an option for Darin to stick it to the empress, who he has good reason to despise.
Then again, there’s a very good reason no one has ever stolen imperial dream wine…
Want to enter Darin’s world and discover more about the Queendom? Read Chapter One of Silver Queendom right here…
Darin Fields never got invited to elegant affairs, but that didn’t stop him from showing up.
Tonight’s occasion was a gala hosted by the Duchess of Eskirk to celebrate the end of harvest season. Nevermind that the Rethaltan nobles in attendance had little to do with the harvest itself. No, they had people for that. They packed the ballroom of the duchess’s summer palace like colorful hens. The buzz of nervous conversation filled the air, and beneath that, a heavy layer of perfume. Neither was sufficient to dispel the salty-sweet odor of fear. After all, there was always a risk that the duchess might make an appearance at her own gala.
Only the blood plague killed more nobles than Her Grace’s temper.
At least the plague could be avoided; its bright red pustules were hard to miss. The duchess offered no such warning, and the guests knew it. Their terror showed in how they snapped at one another like strange cats. How they didn’t eat, but drank to excess. And not just any drink, either. Darin recognized the dark-wood barrel that everyone was looking at while pretending not to.
Ounce for ounce, the most precious substance in the queendom. Dreamwine was an extravagance even for those born into prosperity. There were times in Darin’s life when he might have afforded a glass. Brief times. But he vowed he’d never touch the stuff no matter what it promised. The nobles drinking it sat on plush divans around the edges of the room, their eyes glazed with hallucinated euphoria. The nobles who hadn’t yet indulged hid their impatience poorly.
Thus distracted, they paid no attention to Darin as he slipped through the press and relieved them of their valuables.
The first coin was the hardest. He plucked it fair and clean from the purse of a fat lordling who’d already sweated through two layers of silk. It was a good coin, too: a queenpiece. He exhaled softly as he pressed the silver into his palm. The crowded room came sharply into focus. He moved more quickly now, cutting purse-strings with an invisible blade. Cajoling the coins into his pockets. Liberating the occasional necklace or jeweled brooch. He had a fortune of purloined jewelry secreted about his person, and fewer than ten paces to reach the exit, when he stepped on someone’s boot.
“Watch yourself, you oaf!” a man spat.
Darin tried to ignore it, but someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. That shook something loose from the stash hidden in his jacket. Felt like one of the sapphire earrings. He whispered a silent prayer, and it fell into his breeches rather than clattering to the floor.
The owner of the trodden boot, unfortunately, was not so easily swayed.
“I called you an oaf,” he said.
He was a highborn noble of the worst sort, young and fat-cheeked and angry. Darin wore the plain dyed woolens of a servant. It made him an easy target.
“Apologies, m’lord.” Darin kept his body still, to minimize the clinking of half a dozen purses tied to his belt. “I was just–”
“Wipe it off.”
Oh, wonderful. This flabby brat actually wanted a fight. Darin took his measure while pretending to think it over. Soft was the word for him. No callouses marked his hands. Big surprise. Men like this didn’t work for a living. “Beg pardon, m’lord?”
“You scuffed my boot. Wipe it off.”
His breath carried the mingled smells of wine and spiced meat. The least-capable member of Darin’s crew could gut him like a deer. But we don’t have time for that.
Darin made his voice cheerful. “Can’t say I see it, m’lord.”
“It’s right there!”
“Never did have the best eyes, but I’ll be certain to have them checked.”
A wisp of a girl in a silk-and-taffeta gown tittered with laughter behind a tiny hand. She looked barely of an age to be husband-shopping, but the gems encrusting her bodice could serve no other purpose. Darin’s fingers itched just looking at them. Yet another highborn. So that was why he was putting on this display.
Sure enough, the man’s cheeks reddened even further. “Are you mocking me?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, m’lord.” Darin tried to move around him, but the man shifted over to block his path.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“That’s terribly flattering of you, but I’m happily spoken for.”
“You insolent little–”
“I wish I could stay and chat, but I’ve been sent to fetch wine for my master. He’s not a patient man, I’m sure you understand.”
“Who is he?”
The pearl-and-silver necklace threatened to spill out of Darin’s left sleeve, so he thought it best to head this fellow off. So he spoke the name of the most dangerous and short-tempered man in Eskirk. “Lord Peyton.”
Recognition bloomed in the man’s eyes. Oh, yes. Even the most wine-addled fool would know to be cautious here. Peyton had challenged and killed men for the smallest of insults. Harassing one of his personal servants would undoubtedly qualify.
“You’ve heard of him, I take it,” Darin said.
“I should hope so.” The brat wore a smirk that stabbed unease straight into Darin’s belly. “After all, he’s my father.”
Of course he was.
Being around all these nobles made Evie want to stab someone, but since her mother had raised her better than that, she’d settle for robbing them blind.
She glided between the embroidered frock-coats and opulent evening gowns, trying not to look at any of their faces. Better to consider them strangers, rather than the holders of names she once learned on her mother’s lap. Better not to be recognized by anyone who would understand how far she’d fallen. Her plain servant’s garb rendered her practically invisible among so much finery.
But not completely invisible, as the lecherous old Count of Sunbury’s unwelcome hand in her skirts reminded her. She grabbed his pinky finger and bent it backward, rewarded with a yelp and the sight of the count spilling his drink on himself. He withdrew the offending hand when she released his finger. She moved on without a backward glance.
She approached a pair of women in luxurious silk dresses, one as green as a cut emerald, the other a deeper blue than sapphire. Exotic dyes both, and that spoke to the wealth of their owners. “Drinks, my ladies?” She held forth a silver tray with seven little porcelain vessels. A few brandies, a cognac, and a small assortment of other spirits. Fine offerings by most accounts, but both women refused.
“Come back when you have dreamwine,” said the one in green.
Always with the dreamwine. Evie couldn’t fathom their obsession with something so expensive, yet so fleeting. She dipped her head as they expected, then brushed her fingertips against the woman’s side. “What a lovely bodice.” She slid past, plucking two emeralds free and dropping them into her sleeves. Gemstones always brought good coin. A bit harder to move, perhaps, because you couldn’t melt them down. Maybe that was why Darin often went for the silver instead. Well, that’s not the only reason.
She hadn’t wanted to come here. Eskirk’s gala was the event of the season. In the not-so-distant past, she’d pleaded for an invitation. Begged. But only the elite got their names inscribed in silver ink on the coveted scroll. Half a lifetime ago, that might have included her, but no more. She knew it, and so did the castellan who managed the guest list. He was deaf to her pleas, but not entirely immune to her charms. He looked her up and down and offered her a job serving drinks during the event. She’d considered it just long enough to be polite, as much as she wanted to throw the offer back in his face. Serving those who were once her peers went beyond ordinary humiliation. Yet it was good she hadn’t burned that bridge. The job paid far better tonight.
Now, in the moment, she realized it was foolish to expect that anyone might recognize her. The invited guests were too self-involved and probably too inebriated to look twice at the help. Besides, she needed to be here to keep Darin out of trouble. He possessed certain talents, but marks like these had their own culture. Their own vocabulary. Understanding them required a childhood in their world, and for Evie, that was all she had. Even now, the timbre of rising voices from Darin’s spot near the door told her he’d gone off script.
She wove her way through the crowd to find him squared off with a stout lordling who could only be Lord Peyton’s eldest son. She tsked to herself at Darin’s impeccable ability to find trouble of the worst sort. She slid between them to present her tray at just the right level to draw his eyes to her cleavage. “Another drink, m’lord?”
A girl in silk and taffeta to her right stared at Evie and fanned herself vigorously, the equivalent of a snarl. Well, nothing she could do about that now.
“A drink? No,” said young Peyton. His eyes slid up and down her as if sizing up a hog at the market. “Is that all you have to offer?”
Evie could almost sense Darin’s blood rising, but gave him a curt signal to stand down and giggled, touching Peyton’s arm. “At the moment, m’lord. Perhaps later…”
The girl in taffeta gave her a look that would freeze imperial dreamwine. “He’ll be busy later.”
Peyton’s gaze shifted from Evie to the girl and then to Darin, who’d begun to edge ever-so-casually toward the door. His eyes narrowed. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I was thinking anywhere but here,” Darin said.
“You’re a liar,” Peyton said.
“An honest mistake, that’s all.” Darin offered a curt bow. “My apologies. I’ll be on my–”
“Who are you?”
“No one of consequence.”
Men in dark blue uniforms had taken notice of the confrontation and began working their way through the crowd. Evie gave Darin a tilt of her head. They needed to break this off and get out before the audience got any bigger.
But Peyton had other ideas. “I’ll have your name.” He took a step forward and shoved Darin in the chest. “Or I’ll have you thrown in a cell.”
Silk-and-taffeta girl gasped. Palace guards had begun to quietly assemble in a loose circle around the two men. Darin drew a deep breath, and Evie could practically see the wheels turning. She prayed that he knew better than to try plan B. Not with Peyton here and spoiling for a fight. But even as she whispered the prayer, she knew there was little point. The gods were too deaf.
Darin sighed. “Very well.” He adopted a new posture, spine straight, shoulders back. Evie caught his eye and ran two fingers through her hair–her own panic signal. It was too late, though. He’d slipped into the new role like a man tugging on his favorite jacket. “My father is Lord Delamere. Viscount of Harradine Fields.”
Silence fell over those within earshot. Faces turned toward them. And then, whispers flew across the room like wildfire. Guests elbowed one another, nodding in Darin’s direction. It was all in the bearing, the diction. And the careful study of long-forgotten noble lineages.
“You’re a peer,” Peyton said.
It might be Evie’s imagination, but some of the ruthless bravado had faded from his voice. Still, this ruse made her nervous. Granted, the Viscount of Harradine Fields hadn’t appeared in public for decades. No one here had seen him, or knew much of his family. The duchess’s clerk might dispute Darin’s claim, were the man not passed out under a table near the back. Even so, by taking this step, Darin opened himself up to new avenues of danger. Ones he wouldn’t understand or see coming. The worst part was, she couldn’t wave him off any longer. He’d already spoken the name. She gripped the edge of her tray to keep her hands steady. She could feel the hilts of the daggers hidden up her sleeves. The cold steel was a comfort.
“My father wished for me to keep a low profile,” Darin was saying. He’d settled into the casual confidence of a man born into wealth and privilege, like someone putting on a pair of favorite gloves.
“Understandable,” said Peyton, through gritted teeth.
“If you’ll excuse me.” Darin put his back to them, and faced the ballroom door once again. The full weight of his gaze fell on the two guards in his way. They stepped aside hurriedly, murmuring apologies.
“One more thing, Delamere,” Peyton said.
Darin turned right into the slap of the glove. His cheek reddened where it struck him; Peyton had put some weight behind it.
Knew he wouldn’t see it coming, Evie groused to herself.
“I demand satisfaction,” Peyton said.
Satisfaction would be meeting this man in a dark alley, with a sharp dagger in each hand. Evie elected not to say so.
Darin let out another sigh, a more theatrical one. Like a queen indulging a pleading commoner. “Tomorrow, at midday. Swords.”
“There’s no reason to wait. As it happens, I brought mine with me.”
“You brought your sword to a gala,” Darin said.
Peyton’s eyes glinted victoriously. “I like to be prepared.”
A hawk-nosed guardsman with two stripes on his shoulder stepped forward and coughed politely. “My lords, Her Grace the Duchess has a dueling green just outside.”
Evie pursed her lips. Of course she did.