TITLE: Crown of Bones
GENRE: YA Fantasy
The stables reeked of death, but I marched toward them anyway. The tip of my nose froze as I walked, and I pulled the hood of my cloak lower in a vain effort to keep my face from freezing. The ends of my old emerald cloak dragged in the mud behind me, but there was nothing to be done about that. Instead I focused on my steps, avoiding icy patches. My toes were numb in the old riding boots, and I quickened my pace, grateful the sun had begun to rise and cast brilliant streaks of pink and orange across the sky.
When I reached the back door of the barracks I yanked the door open, fully expecting Alec to be in the small kitchen, waiting.
A new face greeted me instead. A boy no older than twelve, with a mope of curly brown hair, sat in Alec's spot at the old wooden table. He jumped out of his seat while I closed the door, his spoon clattering to the floor as he bowed down low.
"Good morning, Princess Anya," he said. "I'm instructed to assist you today."
No one else occupied the kitchen. My lips pressed together while I stared at the boy. "A little young, aren't you?"
"Alec thinks I have potential."
"Of course he does," I scowled. Though I wanted to yell at the kid to go home to his mother, I held my tongue. Something clearly required the assistance of the other grooms, and unless I wanted to do everything myself, I was stuck with the boy.
But I would be having words with Alec later.
"What's your name?" I asked the kid when he blinked at me.
"Jim, my Lady."
"Well, Jim, stick close. Don't stray too far from me, and pray the Da'ath Ras don't eat you."
His eyes widened as he rushed over, standing so close I could have hugged him. Smart boy.
"They say you keep them from eating anyone," he said. We left the barracks and headed to the stables. "That you can control a whole army of them."
They say a lot of things, I thought, but kept that opinion to myself. "I have the ability to keep them from eating people. But that doesn't mean you should be stupid around them."
He trotted beside me, still sticking close. We went inside, and I stopped at the edge of the first stall. "This is Alastir. He's big, mean, and likely to give us the most trouble. Muck out the stall while I walk him to the fields, and don't make eye contact."
Though he paled a little, Jim nodded. I peered into Alastir's stall and sent a quick message to him.
This is Jim. Don't attack him, or no breakfast for you.
Alastir whinnied in reply, and then swung his large head over the stall door.
Jim sucked in a breath. I studied Alastir, trying to see the Da'ath Ras through Jim's eyes.