A kingdom in chaos…
A broken family…
A prince on the run…
And a MAD KING.
After a series of disastrous circumstances devastates the royal family, the citizens of Coimbra, having been so long under the crown’s protection, are seeing a great change fall over them. The royal family, once active in the city and ensuring the livelihoods of their subjects through their patronage, becomes withdrawn and reclusive, leaving Coimbra to fall into disrepair. To the people of the royal city, it is becoming more apparent that the tragedies have greatly affected Sua Alteza and the young prince. Príncipe Jônatas, Duke of Viseu and apparent successor to the throne, has been raised in seclusion within the protective walls of the deteriorating castle at Coimbra, with only vague memories of the sweet days of his childhood and no understanding of the outside world.
Now almost fourteen, he is still haunted by the memories of his past as he tries to cope with the damaging trauma of the assassination. More and more, Jônatas finds himself torn between his love and loyalty to his only remaining family and that for the people who live outside the castle gates. When it is discovered the prince has been sneaking into the city, Jônatas’ friendship with a boy from the lower city causes trouble for them both as the prince’s deepest secrets become known. The prince will see just how far the crown is willing to go to keep him safe, even if it means keeping him prisoner.
The Mad King is the debut novel from Rebekah Mabry.
MEET REBEKAH MABRY!
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE MAD KING:
“Mabry’s story takes you on a journey to the Old World, into a Portuguese kingdom rife with intrigue. If the king is truly insane, who can Prince Jônatas trust? Filled with twists and turns, bitter betrayals and unlikely allies, The Mad King is a great read.”
Jana Oliver, bestselling author of The Demon Trappers Series
“The Mad King is compelling, extremely hard to put down, and has some wonderful twists and turns that you won’t see coming. You’ll want to stay up all night with Jonatas and his companions, and at the end, you’ll feel like you’re leaving old friends behind—and you will want more!”
Robin Burks, author of Madame Vampire and the Alex Grosjean Adventures
The clash of swords rang out in the courtyard as the younger fighter’s weapon flew out of his hand. He fell backwards, gasping for air. Looking up, he saw his opponent looming over him.
“You are improving,” the king said, sheathing the sword and reaching out a hand to pull the prince to his feet. Though he was not yet fourteen, Príncipe Jônatas Aloísio Enéas Martim, Duke of Viseu, was nearly as tall as the king.
“Your initiation into the knighthood approaches. I wish you to be ready. The Ordem Militar de Cristo accepts only the strongest of arm and the strongest of faith.”
“It isn’t my faith which wavers, Sua Alteza,” sighed the prince, whose wish to join the Holy Knights was less than that of the king’s desire that he should. “Can we stop for now? I’m growing tired, and I never win against you. Not even the Order would train me so rigidly.”
“Then all the better you learn from me. One day you shall defeat me, infante,” the king responded. The prince hoped he heard some pride and encouragement in the king’s voice, but he could not be certain.
“Ah,” Jônatas began, fidgeting in place.
The king stopped and turned to look at the prince. “What is it?”
It was difficult to interpret the king’s tone; nothing but the eyes, cool and gold-green like all the prince’s family, were visible through the simple cloth mask covering the entirety of the king’s face. It was a mask worn for sparring, but it was not the only mask the king wore.
“Might I take the afternoon to paint? I miss painting, the way—” His voice caught in his throat as the king’s eyes flashed a warning, and the prince swallowed. “The way mother and I used to,” he continued despite the glare from underneath the mask.
The mask muffled and warped the voice and hid the features of the person beneath. Finally, the alteza spoke.
“I know it has been hard for you, prince, all this time. But you will move forward. It has been seven years; it is time to put that night behind us.” Jônatas’ face fell, and the king sighed. “Paint if it makes you happy,” the masked monarch said, waving a hand. It was a clear dismissal and Jônatas knew the king was not pleased. Still, it was permission given.
The boy bowed his head. “Yes… Alteza.”
Picking up his sword, he handed it to an attendant and left the room.
The king gripped the dagger hanging from a sash tied neatly at the waist and withdrew it. With a yell, the king spun the dagger and it sped through the air, embedding itself into a wooden pillar.
As the prince ran down one of the corridors towards his studio, he stopped only once. For a moment the prince paused in front of a portrait. It was Sua Alteza, before the fire the night of the assassination. He had a long face and a heavy, square jaw underneath a neat salt-and-pepper beard. A kind expression and kind eyes, before the assassination attempt that had lost the prince his mother. Breathing a sigh, Jônatas closed his eyes and began towards the studio again. It was not the face he remembered. That face was so very different. Everything had changed that night, and memories of it still haunted the prince, but the nightmares had mostly ceased after the first few years.
Ever since the night of the assassination, when two members of the prince’s family had been killed, the king had begun to wear heavy coverings. Head to toe, not an inch of the king’s body was ever seen by anyone anymore. Even Jônatas no longer had this exclusive privilege. Increasingly, the prince found it difficult to imagine the expressions on the face beneath the mask.
He opened the great door to the studio. How long had it been since he had been able to visit this room? Most of the canvases were covered with cloth, the paint brushes clean and where they were meant to go. Jars of paints lined one wall, dry pigments along another. The prince ran a finger along the jars, remembering the hours he had spent with his mother as she taught him the stroke of the brush, the perfect way to mix colors.
The very first painting he had finished hung the opposite wall. It was childish, but his mother had loved it. He thought it was silly, but he had to admit, for a six-year old’s first canvas it had promise.
Jônatas let out a breath and approached one of the many worktables, splattered in paint, and reached for a tiny brass key inside his pocket. Finding it, he dropped to the floor and crawled on his hands and knees. It was harder now that he was taller, but he slid underneath the table and felt around until he found the compartment. Unlocking it, Jônatas slid the piece of wood to the side and pulled out a jewelry box. It had belonged to his mother, infanta Joaninha Adelaide Dores Severina. One year after the assassination the alteza had ordered all the infanta’s things to be thrown in storage or to be burned, but the prince had managed to save her jewelry box. None of her jewels were in it anymore, but the prince kept it as a treasure box of his own. As he opened it, he saw his greatest treasure was still there, as he knew it would be.
It was a tiny painted portrait on a piece of wood cut from the branch of a tree. The woman in the portrait was smiling, full of happiness. Jônatas imagined she was smiling at him. Her hands were folded delicately in her lap; and her hair which was a little too red was bound with a circlet. Jônatas remembered mixing the colors, trying to capture the perfect shade of auburn for his mother’s hair. It had been painted from memory, and the hair was never quite right. The prince’s own hair was much lighter than was common in his country and curled, like his father’s, and he did not share the same defined features as his mother’s family. His father married into the royal family from elsewhere; the infanta Joaninha and her husband were then accorded the titles condessa and conde.
The prince sat there, crouched painfully under the table, holding the portrait of his mother in his hands. For a year or two after the assassination, the alteza had let Jônatas paint whenever and whatever he liked; he continued the tradition of donating paintings to the galleries in the kingdom, auctioning them for charities and the like, but after he painted this the alteza forbade him from continuing. At least for public view. That he was allowed to paint at all had become a rare privilege.
“Ei!” came a shout from somewhere to his right. Jônatas jumped, dropping the painted piece of wood and rapping his head on the bottom of the table.“Ai, ai, ai,” the prince said, cursing as he felt the sting travel down his spine. He looked up, his gaze meeting the upside-down face of another boy. The boy was grinning.
“Carmo!” the prince gasped as the older boy dropped to the floor and stretched out his legs. Hastily the prince put away his things and locked the compartment. There was no need to hide it from Carmo; he had helped the prince to build it in secret. He realized he had been too distracted, and did not dare risk someone else walking in. As he scrambled out from under the table, the two boys stood and embraced. Carmo was just taller than the prince, with shaggy black hair and dark eyes. In appearance, there could have been no two different young men. Jônatas’ dark blonde hair, thick with curls, and his gold-green eyes like the rest of his mother’s family stood out from the majority of his people. Carmo was taller and leaner, his face round and always ready for a laugh, with the dark brown eyes more common throughout the realm. Carmo’s hair, when clean, was a shade of auburn not unlike the infanta.
“Happiest earliest birthday, my dear princeling,” the other boy said with a mocking smile as he bowed. The prince rolled his eyes.
“I thought I forbade you from coming here,” Jônatas countered. “If the guards catch you again…my word only goes so far. A second, third time maybe. I don’t think I can keep them from throwing you in the dungeons a fourth time.”
Carmo inspected his fingernails, cleaner than usual but still dirty, and gave a dismissive shrug. “So that makes three times they’ve caught me out of how many times we’ve snuck in and out together?” The prince wrinkled his nose. Carmo was right, and he hated that.
“Three times is still three too many,” the prince muttered with a sigh.
“Oh!” Carmo said, and he reached inside his vest pocket.
“What’s that?” asked Jônatas, all fear and concern gone, replaced with intrigue.
“Birthday present. Smidge early, I know, but I thought, why not, maybe it’d cheer ya some!” He pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper tied with simple twine and held it out.
“So, what is it then?” the prince asked again as he unrolled it.
Carmo grinned. “New commission. I was goin’ to sneak it in and put it somewhere ya’d find it, but since yer here, better to give it to ya personally.”
“You know the king forbade me from painting for others,” protested Jônatas as usual, but his eyes sparkled as he scanned the request. “I can barely paint for myself. If the king finds out…”
“He won’t,” Carmo interjected, raising a finger. “He never has, and he never will. It’s solid, João. As always.”
“Thank you, Carmo.”
The boy flicked his wrist and wandered around. “So, did you come up here to paint or just reminisce?”
“A little of both,” responded the prince as he carefully folded the paper. It disappeared inside a pocket of his trousers. “I had an idea for something, actually, for your birthday since it’s also coming up.”
The two boys grinned. They shared a great many things—love of mischief being at the top of the list—but they almost shared a birthday and they decided it counted. Carmo was a year and a day older than Jônatas.
“Mind if I hang around and watch?”
Jônatas had already begun pulling paints from the shelves, his mind working out the sketch as he carried the paints to the table. Carmo pulled a dusty stool from the corner and climbed onto it.
The boys lost track of time as they often did. Carmo had said once it was almost hypnotizing to watch Jônatas paint, and the prince felt everything around him disappear when he painted. After a little while, Carmo dozed off, and it was when he fell off the stool and sent it crashing that Jônatas was finally jerked out of his trance-like state and set the brush down. He had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Carmo set the stool upright and dusted himself off—not that it made much difference to his appearance.
“Go on, laugh,” Carmo shot at him, though he was smiling himself, “I know ya want to.” And so, the prince did, they both did, but shushed each other quickly. Jônatas cleaned his brushes and Carmo walked over to examine. It was a dark painting, full of grays and blacks and some blues. He squinted his eyes and turned his head to the side. Though the painting was not finished, he could make out a deserted corridor and two small figures, one in the foreground with his back to the viewer, the other, slightly taller one at the edge of the painting as if far away.
“Feels familiar somehow.”
The prince smiled. “I dreamed about it last night. Remember the first night I caught you sneaking about? But I didn’t call the guards?”
“Ah!” Carmo agreed, nodding. “I would’ve escaped even if you’d’ve called ’em.”
“I wouldn’t have called them. I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed roaming around. But thanks to you I discovered a new way out of the castle.”
“And I’m sure it’s been put to good use since then, innit?” Carmo winked.
Jônatas eyed his friend. “You never told me what you were doing there, anyway.”
“Oi, gotta keep some of my own secrets!” the older boy laughed. “Ya have enough of ya own!”
A noise outside made the boys halt, and everything was quiet.
“You should leave,” the prince said, standing in one graceful motion.
Carmo snorted. “That an order, Sua Mercê?”
The prince shot him an exasperated glare. “It would not harm me in the least if the guards should find you here.”
“Sim, senhor,” Carmo said, waving his hand as he walked towards the window. As he sat on the sill, back to the world, he looked up at his friend. “Still on for tonight?” he asked.
A slow grin spread across the prince’s lips. “Wouldn’t dare to miss it,” he said. Carmo saluted him, returning the smile, and tumbled backwards out of the window. Jônatas resisted the urge to run to the window; no matter how many times the prince had seen Carmo perform that same trick it made him uneasy.