Knight Devoted | An Enslaved Chronicles Novella

He will have to choose—his goddess or his princess.

Devoted Knight Javarin wants nothing more than to serve his goddess and his kingdom—in particular, guarding the quiet, kind Princess Iseris. She’s stolen his heart, not that anyone can ever know the truth. Orphan temple boys can’t marry royals, even if those boys grow up to be knights.

Jav is drawn to protecting Iseris from anything and everything—but especially her older brother, the crown prince, in his quest to destroy all possible rivals to the throne.

Unfortunately, Iseris has a secret—a forbidden magic, abhorred by his goddess. Punishable by death. And those sworn to carry out the goddess’s cruel punishment? The Order of the Knights Devoted.

When the crown prince orders Jav to do his duty and murder Iseris, refusing would mean turning his back on his kingdom, his beloved goddess, and the only home he’s ever known… But how can he kill the only woman he’s ever loved?

KNIGHT DEVOTED is a sweet, romantic fantasy novella in the Enslaved Chronicles universe. Perfect for fans of forbidden love, sexy men of honor, and brave, smart heroines. It takes place south of the original Enslaved Chronicles trilogy, with new characters.

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Chapter 1: The Messenger

It was hard to miss the thundering of approaching hooves. The rider had returned, bringing news from Kavanar.

At the distant sound, even before shouts rang out at the castle gates, Iseris sprang into motion. This was powerful news. Depending on what was said, it might change nothing. Or it might mean her death.

It wasn’t proper for a princess to run, but she strode as briskly as she could from her rooms toward the stairs. No one would like her any better for exhibiting restraint and decorum, but they already didn’t like her now, so she didn’t know why she bothered.

When she reached the long, spiraling stairs of the eastern tower, she ran.

Her morning had been quiet in the castle, spent discussing with Red Squirrel and Owl how she might acquire a map that no one would miss. She’d packed her bag a few weeks ago—in secret, of course. But without a map, having never traveled or even ridden a horse before, she had no idea where she would go or how she would get there. Not to mention how poorly the last time she’d tried to ride a horse had gone… She needed more time to think, to plan. She wasn’t ready.

But the rider didn’t care if she was ready. He brought his news just the same.

Vicious winter winds whistling through the tower’s arrow slits tugged at her thick, wool skirts the color of a bluebird’s wings and bid her feet to go faster as she dashed down, down.

The pieces were moving in the elaborate game of Rooks and Pawns she’d played all her life. The board had always been tilted, stacked against her, but one slight chance of her winning remained. She hoped.

She slipped from the tower into the shadows of the mezzanine, wrinkling her nose. The throne room where her parents held court reeked of too much perfume and incense and looked even worse than it smelled.

Maybe throne rooms ought to be gaudy, but she had always had the sense that her family was trying too hard. The place was an architectural monstrosity. Not that anyone was asking her. Five generations had made their mark here, one on top of the next, layers encrusting over layers, each successor trying to surpass the last in grander and grander attempts.

Was every royal court done in such poor taste? She’d never seen another throne room, but somehow, she didn’t think so. If she ever found herself in another kingdom’s throne room, it would be to be married. She’d flee first, if she could. Because marriage would mean the discovery of her secret, the end of the game, and—ultimately—her death.

The court gathered on the lower level, a sea of gold feathers and ivory satin, storm-gray brocade and ash-black velvet. Iseris’s path through the shadows of the upper mezzanine was mostly deserted. If she could just find a pillar in full shadow to hide behind…

What news would the messenger bring? Rumors in the castle spoke of war in the Northern Kingdoms. War between Akaria and Kavanar.

A war over magic.

If the news truly concerned magic, the court would cease to speak openly about it as soon as they knew she was present, hence the need to hide in the shadows. Reaching the corner closest to the throne platform, she slipped behind a smooth, cold column just as the murmurs began to build. Perfect spot. Throne in sight.

The crowd parted for the messenger. His stride was quick and self-assured, the gait urgent but not desperate, not thrumming with the violence of tragedy. Yet.

But something was still wrong.

He bowed before the king and queen, straightening with a speed that only messengers were allowed. “I bring word from Kavanar, Your Majesty. My news is dire.”

“Spit it out, boy,” her father growled, although the messenger was a grown man.

“Kavanar requests your aide. The war between my lords and Akaria escalates. The kingdom’s enslaved mages are being conscripted to fight, but my king fears they will not be a match against the power of the many free mages in Akaria.”

“You can’t be serious.” The queen drew in a breath, like she’d been burned. Her contribution to architectural posterity was an abundance of sapphires studding her throne, except that there wasn’t enough light to reach them, to make them sparkle. They glared like frozen, unblinking almost-black eyes out of the gold. If they’d once sparkled, they didn’t now.

“I, myself, am a mage slave, Your Majesty. I can only relay what my Masters have ordered. I am bound by the power in the brand.” He barely pointed at his shoulder, but the queen flinched as if he’d revealed a hideously infected wound.

Iseris shifted in the shadows. She had heard of the enslaved mages of Kavanar, but she hadn’t heard much. Books about anything related to mages were hard to find. She only recalled that the monarchy of Kavanar possessed a magical artifact that they used to brand the mages, like cattle—somehow turning their own magic against them, forcing them to do the bidding of those who branded them.

“Perhaps we should start our own mage force,” interrupted one advisor, a stout, self-important-looking man.

“Gods, no. We do not want their unholy blight on our side,” snapped a priestess.

The advisor cleared his throat. “It’s a waste to just kill them all. We should harness their power.”

“I do believe the man is on to something,” chimed in her half-brother Alekur. She figured he would think that, the vicious snake.

“Yes, yes, come now. If Kavanar has already been cowed by Akaria, it’s only practical.” Encouraged by Alekur’s support, the advisor puffed his chest a bit.

“It’d be more practical if we hadn’t already killed so many,” cut in an older priestess, glaring wickedly at the advisor—but not at Alekur, Iseris noted. Alekur was the heir to the throne, so perhaps that was wise.

“Silence,” growled the king. “There’s more to the message from our allies in Kavanar.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty. As I said, the fighting has intensified. There are rumors of kidnappings, villages destroyed, surprise attacks. Worst of all, Demikin is dead. At the hands of a m—”

The queen straightened sharply. “We must tighten our constraints.”

“Let him talk,” the king drawled.

The queen cast a sidelong glance at him. “The mage blight grows, my lord. It will soon overflow our shores. We must not stoop to the levels of either of these foreign kingdoms.”

The king only narrowed his eyes at her. Murmurs rose in the room, cutting into the tense silence, advisors launching into bouts of advice on how to handle the “mage threat.”

Iseris swallowed and tightened her fist. This did not bode well. Not well at all. Her fingernails dug into her palm.

“Quiet down, all of you!” The king was shouting at them, but she didn’t hear more than that. She had a vague sense that a truly good king would be able to demand decorum in a different, more dignified manner. Not that she’d ever seen such a thing.

The soft, musical chink of chain mail alerted her too late that she was not alone.

She tried to hide the way she stiffened by pasting a demure smile on her lips as she turned her head, feeling like a cornered cat preparing to fight.

But the eyes of the Devoted Knight that met hers had a familiar laughing glint, their brown hue almost black in the dimness.

“Javarin,” she whispered in greeting. Her heart eased its pounding, but only slightly. Whatever laughter and warmth she always found in those beautiful, sharp eyes, she knew the truth, and he didn’t, or he certainly wouldn’t look at her that way.

They were enemies. Deep down.

Not because she’d chosen to be, though. She would have chosen quite the opposite with him if she could. Javarin was the closest thing she had to a friend.

“What a bunch of clucking hens, eh?” he murmured, sidestepping closer to her. “You’d think events a continent away actually affected them.”

Oh, it affected their hate well enough. But she nodded, keeping her smile in place easily now. “When one has no problems of one’s own, one must turn to one’s neighbors, I suppose.”

“I think that’s precisely their hobby.” From gods only knew where, Javarin produced an apple, holding it low but clearly offering it to her. “When was the last time you ate?”

She frowned, then snatched it from his hand. “I have no idea.”

Worry could turn her body into a bundle of nerves, a twitching, untethered thing that forgot the daily needs of water and food and sleep. His fingers brushed her palm as he handed over the fruit, a brush of warmth after the cold. The apple’s skin was firm and smooth in her hand, mottled crimson and pale green, but she missed the warmth. What would his skin feel like beneath her fingers?

She’d never know.

“Thank you,” she replied, holding the fruit close. It was too risky to eat it now, and the gift too precious to consume too quickly. The minute she was out of this hall, though…

“What if he’s lying to us?” The queen’s question caught Iseris’s attention.

“He told you, he can’t. He’s a slave,” the king snapped.

“Prove it, then.” There was a cruel twist to her lips. “Thrust your hand into the fire, mage.”

The messenger’s features twisted, but his feet moved with just as much urgency as when he’d arrived, carrying him to the nearest brazier, and—

Iseris tore her gaze away. “I can’t look,” she whispered. She didn’t think Javarin heard her over the man’s cry, but he had.

“Wise choice.” Javarin’s murmur was rough, his features transfixed, horrified.

“Enough!” The king’s voice was thunderous in the hall. “Remove yourself from there. Priestesses, treat him.”

“N-no need, Your Majesty. With a little rest, I can heal myself.” The man’s voice was shaking. She trained her eyes on the apple, not looking up. Gods, the cruelty. Her heart was pumping faster now. Could death be preferable to this man’s fate? No, no. Life was always preferable, but… so, so cruel. “Perhaps an hour or two,” the mage continued. “I can fix it.”

“See that you do. I do not want you returning to our allies damaged by your stay here. Now listen well. I shall tell you my reply. I will send three ships of soldiers, weapons, and supplies to assist Kavanar. They shall leave in three days’ time, and you may return with them if you like. Until then, I insist you partake of my hospitality until that wound is healed and whatever powers your Masters require of you to do your unholy job are restored. Please convey to them that I do not appreciate them sending someone corrupted by magic to my door, but as a staunch ally, I am always hospitable. Aren’t I, dear wife?”

The queen snorted. “Indeed, my lord.” She could call him that, as more of an equal, while most others were required to use the more grandiose forms of address.

Message delivered, the king dismissed the poor man, who walked off with just as much urgency, as if his work were never done, but now holding his burned hand.

“What potions or salves does he carry to ensure that he could heal such a grievous wound so quickly?” Iseris asked Jav. “How is that possible?”

He shrugged. “Do you know of any? I do not. Perhaps Kavanar grows some healing herbs we do not possess.” There was a distance to his voice that made her wonder if he suspected something else, that there was more to the story, but she couldn’t guess what.

The decorum in the court returned to quiet circles of people, mingling and murmuring. A few advisors gathered close to the throne, speaking in more conversational tones. But the advantage of this particular position—as long as there were shadows enough and no one, especially her awful brother, could see her in her hiding spot—was that she could still hear most of what they said.

She was about to ask Javarin why he was hiding near this pillar when a question from an advisor cut through, suddenly sharp.

“Speaking of all that, Your Majesty… What of your daughter?” It was the temple priestess who had spoken before, her gown white and trimmed in gold. A disciple of the goddess Nefrana.

Silence tightened around the thrones, and her throat tightened too. She cradled the apple against her chest.

Her tension seemed to flow into Javarin, too, as his eyes had narrowed. The queen was tense as a cat hit by lightning, too, but not out of concern.

Iseris was not her daughter, although that secret was more widely known than her hidden magic. The two conversations often came hand-in-hand, however, as it was quite convenient to blame Iseris’s curse on her harlot mother.

“Yes, what of the princess?” drawled Alekur into the silence. He was holding the arm of a young woman in the crowd—and by the blush on her cheeks, flirting with her—when he spoke up.

The king narrowed his eyes at his son, then waved his hand. Such an annoying triviality, the fate of his daughter. “What of her?”

“Will you marry her off soon?” the priestess asked. “I hear the Akarians have a prince looking for a bride.”

Laughter ruffled quietly through the group. The queen rolled her eyes. “An Akarian prince would be the last person to whom I would consider offering any woman of our kingdom. I doubt he’ll last long in power, anyway.”

“Why would she be so certain?” Javarin asked quietly.

Iseris shrugged, but before she could answer, the king joined in. “As if we would want such an ally as the prince. That troublemaker himself is a mage, they say. That’s what sent it all boiling over.”

Iseris’s breath caught in her throat, the comment catching her too off guard to hide it. Hopefully, Javarin didn’t notice the hitch of her shoulders.

But another mage! Anyone, really, that she could reach out to for help… This was rare news.

If there were mages here in Brusidal, they were all in hiding. And to think that in Akaria, this mage was a noble?

An unmarried prince looking for a wife? That was hard to believe. Too good to be true. Maybe it was a trap they were setting for her somehow. Waiting for her to beg to be sent to him.

Although… if she thought they would do it, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But they never would.

The queen stood abruptly, and everyone else scrambled to stand with her, the king included. “We will retire to our chambers for now to discuss matters of state,” she said primly, granting them all a brief nod.

The king murmured his agreement, and the ensemble began to move, like a herd of anxious goats, heading out.

Iseris hesitated. She couldn’t miss a word of their decisions behind closed doors, but with Javarin at her side, would he notice how she followed? How she vanished between the tapestries into the hidden door?

Strictly speaking, his loyalty was to the goddess Nefrana, but here in Brusidal, loyalty to the goddess and to the crown were one and the same.

To her surprise, he sighed. “To be a fly on the wall of that discussion, eh?”

“What an unlucky creature.” Her smile broadened.

He grinned. “You don’t wonder… Well, you know.”

“Wonder what?”

“Oh, all that.” He gestured broadly, but she didn’t shift her expression. “You don’t wonder what they’ll say?”

She bit her lip, which stilled him, his eyes flicking to the gesture.

Did she dare take him along?

She had to flee soon. Today, maybe. Or tomorrow or the next. That might be too long to wait. But the touch of his hand would not be the only thing she didn’t know about him. There were so many things she wished to know, and soon, she’d leave him and all those things behind.

“I do know a place…” she murmured.

His eyebrows arched. “A place where one could be a fly?”

“In a sense, yes.” She bit her lip again, trying to read his steady, interested gaze. Was he interested in eavesdropping—or sniffing out a traitor? Or simply playing games of words?

Sometimes, she wondered if he cared for anything other than trading clever barbs. She’d seen him delay his duties many times with various excuses so he could engage in wordplay. But that had been one of the few nice things about the last few years. She had her books and her squirrel friends who could climb the tower and chat with her, but it was nothing like having a genuine friend to talk to.

“I have always said you know this castle better than anyone.” He glanced around them, which gave her the freedom to do so as well.

There was no one nearby.

“Would you…” Here went nothing. “Would you like to be a fly with me for a day?” She put on a polite smile to hide her nerves at what he might say.

Instead of raising his eyebrows, he treated her to a devilish grin. “Lead the way.”


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