Capture the Crown (Gargoyle Queen #1) by Jennifer Estep



I stuck my tongue out at the gargoyle, just like I had done ever since I was a child. He grunted with amusement, closed his eyes, and returned to his nap, with his stubby legs still sticking up in the air.

Grimley was right. I could take care of myself, despite my pampered princess persona. As a mind magier, I had the ability to move objects with just a thought, hear people’s private musings, and walk through dreams, among other things. I was far more powerful and much more dangerous than most folks realized—when my magic actually worked.

An old, familiar worry throbbed like a jagged splinter embedded deep in my heart, and I stood up, grabbed the silver chain around my neck, and pulled it out from underneath my clothes.

A pendant dangled from the end of the chain. The base was silver, while the small pieces of black jet arranged on top formed a snarling gargoyle face—the Ripley royal crest. Tiny midnight-blue tearstone shards made up the gargoyle’s horns, eyes, nose, and teeth, turning the design into Grimley’s face.

The pendant had been a gift from Alvis, the Andvarian royal jeweler and metalstone master. Alvis was one of the few people who knew all the terrible things I could do with my magic, and he had crafted the pendant years ago to help me harness my power. The pieces of black jet helped me block out people’s mundane thoughts, while the blue tearstone shards would deflect others’ powers, if I was ever attacked. The blue jewels could also absorb and store my own magic, giving me an extra boost of power should I ever need it, although I had never used the shards in that way.

I always wore the gargoyle pendant, and I didn’t take it off for anything or anyone, no matter how many times Yaleen, my thread master, complained that it clashed with her designs.

I was too afraid of what would happen—of what I might do—if I ever removed the pendant.

I rubbed my thumb over the tearstone shards embedded in the gargoyle’s face. The soft pricks of the jewels against my skin eased my throbbing worry, and I tucked the necklace back underneath my coveralls. The light touch of the silver chain around my neck and especially the heavier pendant close to my heart further steadied me.

Think of the pendant like a miniature version of Grimley protecting you, Alvis’s voice rumbled in my mind. That had been his kind, evasive way of saying the dark truth we both knew—that the pendant was more for everyone else’s protection than it was for mine.

I went over and grabbed a dagger from a nearby table. The weapon was made of light gray tearstone, with Grimley’s snarling face inlaid in black jet and blue tearstone in the hilt. Another gift from Alvis. A matching sword and shield, each boasting the same crest, also lay on the table, but those weapons were far too large and obvious to take into the mine.

I slid the dagger into a black leather sheath and tucked it into the side of my right boot. Then I grabbed a gray tin lunch box from the table and looked at Topacia again. “Let’s go. It’s time for Miner Gemma to report for work.”

* * *

Topacia and I left Grimley snoozing by the fireplace and stepped outside. The cottage Topacia had rented for me under a false name stood off by itself in a patch of woods, but I still reached out with my magic to confirm that we were alone.

Everything had its own energy, a layer of power that surrounded it, whether it was an assassin skulking through the woods, a butterfly fluttering its wings on a tree branch, or a rock hidden in the grass. As a mind magier, I could mentally reach out and manipulate that energy, whether it was tripping an assassin, flicking a butterfly off its perch, or prying a rock out of the ground and sending it careening down a hill.

When I was younger, and first learning how to control my power, I used to pretend that I was a puppeteer, with invisible strings attached to my fingertips that connected to everyone and everything around me. All I had to do was grasp or release, or push or pull on those strings to make things happen—for better or worse.

I didn’t sense anyone lurking in the woods, and the smallest thought was all it took to make the front door swing shut behind us. I waved my hand, manipulating the invisible strings of energy connected to the door, and the lock turned as well.

We stepped onto a dirt trail that led to a gray cobblestone road teeming with foot, carriage, and wagon traffic. It was just after seven o’clock, and people were streaming into the city to go to work.

As was the case in much of Andvari, mining was the main industry in Blauberg, a moderate-size city located a scant three miles from the Mortan border. Most people walking along the road wore gray coveralls and ridged helmets, marking them as miners, while the wealthier nobles and merchants rolled by in carriages and wagons.