Gulph stared at the crowd. An ocean of faces surrounded him, some expectant, some bored. There must have been hundreds of spectators—perhaps even a thousand—all dressed in finery the like of which Gulph had never seen. They filled the tiered seats of the Toronian Great Hall. Gulph used to daydream about playing to such a large audience but had never imagined that, when the time came, it would be as a captive of the king.
He inhaled, his empty belly gurgling at the tang of roasted pork wafting from trays carried by wandering servants. He listened to the low rumble of the audience as the king’s guests murmured to each other, shifted in their seats, waved their fans against the heat. He watched airborne dust move through rays of light pouring down from the gold-tinted windows in the roof. Was it possible to make glass from gold? Gulph didn’t know.
“Get on with it!” called a voice from the uppermost row of seats.
Not as if we’ve got any choice, Gulph thought.
He bowed low, bending forward at the waist until his nose touched the tip of his left shoe. He waited as a ripple of amusement moved through the crowd. Then he stood up straight again, paused, and bent over backward. This time the crowd gasped. Gulph’s spine folded over on itself. Gripping his ankles with his hands, he stuck his head through his legs and forced himself to grin his biggest grin.
With his body contorted in this seemingly impossible fashion, Gulph trotted from one end of the sand-covered floor to the other. On the way he passed Pip, who was juggling a selection of apples and pears and hopping from foot to foot. As Gulph circled her, she dropped him a wink, but there was no mistaking the sadness in her brown eyes. The other members of the Tangletree Players looked on and clapped their hands. The jester, Sidebottom John, went one step further by standing on his hands and jangling the bells attached to his ankles.
The crowd took up the applause. By the time Gulph had returned to the center of the hall, many of the audience were on their feet. He planted his hands on the floor and flipped his legs over his head. Landing on his feet, he bowed again, this time to the royal box.
King Brutan and Queen Magritt were unmissable in their crimson robes. The king stroked his beard, expressionless. The queen dipped her head, but, instead of a smile on her face, Gulph thought he saw a frown.
A cloud cast its shadow overhead and the golden light faded. Suddenly Gulph saw the Great Hall for what it was: a once-grand chamber grown old and tired. Paint was peeling from the thick supporting columns, and the uniforms of the various servants and orderlies were patched and in ill repair.
Castle Tor might have been the heart of the kingdom, but the heart was sick.
There was a particular face in the royal box Gulph wished he’d never set eyes on: that of General Elrick. This pompous military man with the face of a weasel looked very pleased with his place beside the king and queen, and took every opportunity to chatter to them, seemingly oblivious to their obvious dislike of him.
It was Elrick who’d brought the Tangletree Players to Idilliam. Weary from the war, he’d clearly been delighted to discover Gulph and his troupe of wandering entertainers performing for Brutan’s soldiers in the nearby forests of Isur. He’d promised them riches and full bellies, warm quarters, and the king’s protection.
The reality had been different. General Elrick had paraded the players before the king as spoils of war, then introduced them to their new home—Family secrets combine with fantasy in this epic tale of battle, magic, strange creatures, power, and fate—a Game of Thrones for a younger audience.
Toronia, a kingdom composed of three realms, is wracked with civil war. King Brutan rules with an iron fist. Cruelty and suffering abound. The kingdom’s only hope comes in the form of Brutan’s illegitimate triplets, prophesied to kill the king and rule together in peace. But the road to the throne is long and bloody. Separated at birth and scattered throughout the realms, the triplets face a desperate fight to secure their destiny. Will they survive long enough to rule?