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       Slave, Warrior, Queen, p.1

         Part #1 of Of Crowns and Glory series by Morgan Rice
 
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Slave, Warrior, Queen


  SLAVE, WARRIOR, QUEEN

  (OF CROWNS AND GLORY--BOOK 1)

  MORGAN RICE

  Morgan Rice

  Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising twelve books; of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising two books (and counting); of the epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising six books; and of the new epic fantasy series OF CROWNS AND GLORY. Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.

  TURNED (Book #1 in the Vampire Journals), ARENA 1 (Book #1 of the Survival Trilogy), A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1 in the Sorcerer’s Ring) and RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Kings and Sorcerers—Book #1) are each available as a free download on Amazon!

  Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to join the email list, receive a free book, receive free giveaways, download the free app, get the latest exclusive news, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and stay in touch!

  Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice

  “If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”

  --Books and Movie Reviews

  Roberto Mattos

  “An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”

  --The Wanderer, A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)

  “A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”

  --Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)

  “THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”

  --Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos

  “In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”

  --Publishers Weekly

  Books by Morgan Rice

  THE WAY OF STEEL

  ONLY THE WORTHY (Book #1)

  OF CROWNS AND GLORY

  SLAVE, WARRIOR, QUEEN (Book #1)

  KINGS AND SORCERERS

  RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)

  RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)

  THE WEIGHT OF HONOR (Book #3)

  A FORGE OF VALOR (Book #4)

  A REALM OF SHADOWS (Book #5)

  NIGHT OF THE BOLD (Book #6)

  THE SORCERER’S RING

  A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)

  A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)

  A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)

  A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)

  A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)

  A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)

  A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)

  A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)

  A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)

  A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)

  A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)

  A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)

  A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)

  AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)

  A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)

  A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)

  THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)

  THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY

  ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)

  ARENA TWO (Book #2)

  ARENA THREE (Book #3)

  VAMPIRE, FALLEN

  BEFORE DAWN (Book #1)

  THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS

  TURNED (Book #1)

  LOVED (Book #2)

  BETRAYED (Book #3)

  DESTINED (Book #4)

  DESIRED (Book #5)

  BETROTHED (Book #6)

  VOWED (Book #7)

  FOUND (Book #8)

  RESURRECTED (Book #9)

  CRAVED (Book #10)

  FATED (Book #11)

  OBSESSED (Book #12)

  Download Morgan Rice books now!

  Listen to THE SORCERER’S RING series in audio book format!

  Now available on:

  Amazon

  Audible

  iTunes

  Want free books?

  Subscribe to Morgan Rice's email list and receive 4 free books, 3 free maps, 1 free app, 1 free game, 1 free graphic novel, and exclusive giveaways! To subscribe, visit: www.morganricebooks.com

  Copyright © 2016 by Morgan Rice. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Jacket image Copyright Nejron Photo, used under license from Shutterstock.com.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

  CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

  CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

  CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

  CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

  CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE
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  “Come close, dear warrior, and I shall tell you a tale.

  A tale of battles distant.

  A tale of men and valor.

  A tale of crowns and glory.”

  --The Forgotten Chronicles of Lysa

  CHAPTER ONE

  Ceres ran through the back alleys of Delos, excitement coursing through her veins, knowing she could not be late. The sun was barely rising, and yet the muggy, dust-filled air was already suffocating in the ancient stone city. Legs burning, lungs aching, she nonetheless pushed herself to run faster, and faster still, hopping over one of the countless rats that crept out of the gutters and refuse in the streets. She could already hear the distant rumble, and her heart pounded with anticipation. Somewhere ahead, she knew, the Festival of the Killings was about to begin.

  Letting her hands drag along the stone walls as she twisted and turned down a narrow alley, Ceres glanced back to make certain her brothers were keeping up. There, she was relieved to see, were Nesos, at her heels, and Sartes, only a few feet behind. At nineteen, Nesos was just two sun cycles older than she, while Sartes, her baby brother, four sun cycles younger, was on the verge of manhood. The two of them, with their longish sandy hair and brown eyes, looked exactly like each other—and their parents—and yet nothing like her. Still, though Ceres might be a girl, they had never been able to keep pace with her.

  “Hurry!” Ceres yelled over her shoulder.

  Another rumble came, and although she had never been to the festival, she imagined it in vivid detail: the entire city, all three million citizens of Delos, crowding into the Stade on this summer solstice holiday. It would be unlike anything she had seen before, and if her brothers and she didn’t hurry, not a single seat would remain.

  Picking up speed, Ceres wiped a drop of sweat off her brow and smeared it onto her frayed, ivory tunic, a hand-me-down from her mother. She had never been given new clothes. According to her mother, who doted on her brothers but seemed to reserve a special hatred and envy for her, she didn’t deserve it.

  “Wait!” Sartes yelled, an edge of irritation in his cracking voice.

  Ceres smiled.

  “Shall I carry you, then?” she yelled back.

  She knew that he hated it when she teased him, yet her snide remark would motivate him to keep up. Ceres didn’t mind his tagging along; she thought it was endearing how he, at thirteen, would do anything to be considered their peer. And even though she would never admit it openly, a huge part of her needed him to need her.

  Sartes gave a loud grunt.

  “Mother will kill you when she finds out you disobeyed her again!” he yelled back.

  He was right. Indeed, she would—or give her a good flogging, at least.

  The first time her mother had beaten her, at the age of five, it was the very moment Ceres lost her innocence. Before then, the world had been fun, kind, and good. After that, nothing had ever been safe again, and all that she had to hold onto was her hope of a future where she could get away from her. She was older now, close, and yet even that dream was slowly eroding in her heart.

  Fortunately, Ceres knew her brothers would never tell on her. They were as loyal to her as she was to them.

  “Then it’s a good thing Mother will never know!” she cried back.

  “Father will find out, though!” Sartes snapped.

  She chuckled. Father already knew. They had made a deal: if she stayed up late to finish sharpening the swords due for delivery at the palace, she could go see the Killings. And so she did.

  Ceres reached the wall at the end of the lane and, without pausing, wedged her fingers in two cracks and began to climb. Her hands and feet moved swiftly, and up she went, a good twenty feet, until she scrambled to the top.

  She stood, breathing hard, and the sun greeted her with its bright rays. She shaded her eyes with a hand.

  She gasped. Normally, the Old City was dotted with a few citizens, a stray cat or dog here and there—yet today it was positively alive. It swarmed with people. Ceres could not even see the cobblestones beneath the sea of people pressing into Fountain Square.

  In the distance the ocean shimmered a vivid blue, while the towering white Stade stood as a mountain amongst twisting roads and sardine-packed two- and three-story houses. Around the outer edge of the plaza merchants had lined up booths, each eager to sell food, jewelry, or clothes.

  A gust of wind brushed against her face, and the smell of freshly baked goods seeped into her nostrils. What she wouldn’t give for food that would satisfy that gnawing sensation. She wrapped her arms around her belly as she felt a hunger pang. Breakfast this morning had been a few spoonfuls of soggy porridge, which had somehow managed to leave her stomach feeling hungrier than before she ate it. Given that today was her eighteenth birthday, she had hoped for at least a little extra food in her bowl—or a hug or something.

  But no one had mentioned a word. She doubted they even remembered.

  Light caught her eyes, and Ceres looked down to spot a golden carriage weaving through the crowd like a bubble through honey, slow and shiny. She frowned. In her excitement, she had failed to consider that the royalty would be at the event, too. She despised them, their haughtiness, that their animals were better fed than most of the people of Delos. Her brothers were hopeful that one day, they would triumph over the class system. But Ceres did not share their optimism: if there were to be any sort of equality in the Empire, it would have to come by way of revolution.

  “Do you see him?” Nesos panted as he climbed up beside her.

  Ceres’s heart quickened as she thought of him. Rexus. She, too, had been wondering if he was here yet, and had been scanning the crowds to no avail.

  She shook her head.

  “There.” Nesos pointed.

  She followed his finger toward the fountain, squinting.

  Suddenly she saw him, and could not suppress her burst of excitement. It was the same way she always felt when she saw him. There he was, sitting on the edge of the fountain, tightening his bow. Even from this distance, she could see his shoulder and chest muscles move beneath his tunic. Hardly a few years older than she, he had blond hair that stood out amongst heads of black and brown, and his tan skin glistened in the sun.

  “Wait!” cried a voice.

  Ceres glanced back down the wall to see Sartes, struggling with the climb.

  “Hurry up or we’ll leave you behind!” Nesos goaded.

  Of course, they wouldn’t dream of leaving their younger brother, although he did need to learn to keep up. In Delos, a moment of weakness could mean death.

  Nesos ran a hand through his hair, catching his breath, too, as he surveyed the crowd.

  “So who is your money on to win?” he asked.

  Ceres turned to him and laughed.

  “What money?” she asked.

  He smiled.

  “If you had any,” he answered.

  “Brennius,” she replied without pausing.

  His brow lifted in surprise.

  “Really?” he asked. “Why?”

  “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just a hunch.”

  But she did know. She knew very well, better than her brothers, better than all the boys of her city. Ceres had a secret: she hadn’t told anyone she had, on occasion, dressed as a boy and trained at the palace. It was forbidden by royal decree for girls—punishable by death—to learn the ways of the combatlords, yet male commoners were welcome to learn in exchange for equal amounts of work in the palace’s stables, work which she did happily.

  She’d watched Brennius and had been impressed by the way he fought. He wasn’t the largest of the combatlords, yet his moves were calculated with precision.

  “No chance,” Nesos replied. “It’ll be Stefanus.”

  She shook her head.

  “Stefanus will be dead within the first ten minutes,” she said flatly.

  Stefanus was the obvious choice, the largest of the combatlords, and probably the strongest; yet he wasn’t as calcul
ating as Brennius or some of the other warriors she had watched.

  Nesos barked a laugh.

  “I’ll give you my good sword if that’s the case.”

  She glanced at the sword attached to his waist. He had no idea how jealous she had been when he received that masterpiece of a weapon as a birthday gift from Mother three years ago. Her sword was an old leftover one her father had tossed into the recycling pile. Oh, the things she’d be able to do if she had a weapon like Nesos’s.

  “I’m going to hold you to it, you know,” Ceres said, smiling—although in reality, she would never take his sword from him.

  “I’d expect nothing less,” he smirked.

  She crossed her arms in front of her chest as a dark thought crossed her mind.

  “Mother wouldn’t allow it,” she said.

  “But Father would,” he said. “He’s very proud of you, you know.”

  Nesos’s kind comment took her off guard, and not knowing exactly how to accept it, she lowered her eyes. She loved her father dearly, and he loved her, she knew. Yet for some reason, her mother’s face appeared before her. All she ever wanted was for her mother to accept her and love her as much as her brothers. But as hard as she tried, Ceres felt she could never be enough in her eyes.

  Sartes grunted as he climbed the last step behind them. He was still about a head shorter than Ceres and as scrawny as a cricket, but she was convinced he’d sprout like a bamboo shoot any day now. That’s what had happened to Nesos. Now he was a muscle-bound hunk, hovering at six foot three.

  “And you?” Ceres turned to Sartes. “Who do you think will win?”

  “I’m with you. Brennius.”

  She smiled and ruffled his hair. He always said whatever she said.

  Another rumble came, the crowd thickened, and she felt the urgency.

 
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