Prince of Spies - By Bianca D'Arc

Dedication

As always, I dedicate my work to my family and those who believed in me when I decided to make a break from the corporate world and try “this writing thing.” I couldn’t have made that leap of faith without the love and support of my friends and family. I love you guys!

I also want to thank my new friends, the Book Obsessed Chicks line dancing crew. Especially Denise and the whole Scarangella family, the ringleader—Kim Rocha—and all the folks who have welcomed me and Dad so warmly.

Prologue

Under cover of darkness, the black dragon slipped across the border into Skithdron, his dark hide blending with the night. Nico truly was the Prince of Spies and he was on a noble quest. The North Witch, Loralie, had intimated that his new queen’s missing sister was in Skithdron, but Nico hoped his agents might provide more specific information.

Aside from locating the girl, Nico also had some spying to do on the neighboring king and his troops. Things were not yet settled between the two kingdoms and Nico feared more violence was coming. Such was the way with tyrants.

Nico’s brother, King Roland, had routed the tyrannical warlord, Salomar, to the north and now celebrated with his new queen, Alania. It would be up to Nico to gather enough intelligence to defeat the despot to the east, King Lucan.

Mission firmly in mind, Prince Nico landed on the outskirts of the Skithdronian capital city some hours later. He changed swiftly and secretly from dragon to human form. His contact would meet him shortly. Hopefully he’d have the information Nico needed—or at least another piece to the puzzle that was slowly taking shape.

Nico was eager, but not stupid. He’d searched the ground from above while still cloaked in the stealthy darkness of his dragon shape. The immediate area of the pre-arranged meet seemed clear, but Nico approached cautiously, eyes wary for any sign of trouble.

When it came, however, trouble still caught him by surprise. A troop of Skithdronian royal guards surrounded him before he could react. He dared not change to dragon form in front of so many witnesses. Odds were he couldn’t kill them all before escaping, and the secret of the royal black dragons was too precious to reveal so clumsily. He would hold that in reserve. For now, Nico allowed himself to be shackled and led away toward the enemy king’s palace. He wanted to get a look inside anyway, though he would have chosen another method had it been left up to him. Still, this would get him in. Once inside, he had little doubt he would be able to free himself. There wasn’t a chain or shackle made that could hold a black dragon.

With an almost jaunty stride, Nico went to face whatever waited. There was more at stake in this game than just his own personal safety. No, the security of Draconia itself was at stake, and the safety of his land and people was more important than anything.

Chapter One

King Lucan’s guards shoved Nico into the ornate room. They had manhandled him from the street to the guardhouse, to the dungeon and now here, to King Lucan’s private chambers. Nico knew being brought so quickly before the reclusive king of Skithdron meant one of his network of spies had either been compromised or sold out. Nico vowed to discover which at the earliest opportunity and mete out any punishment that might be necessary. Selling out the Royal Spymaster of Draconia was grounds for death and it would come, swift and certain, if such was the case.

Nico searched the room as the guards shoved him roughly inside. He couldn’t control the jolt of surprise when he caught sight of the poor creature chained at the foot of Lucan’s large bed. It was a girl clothed in rags, with deep, dark circles under eerily familiar, luminous green eyes. She was mere skin and bones, clinging desperately to life, and while he couldn’t be absolutely certain of her identity, Nico began to suspect.

“Do you like my little witch?” Lucan asked from a shadowed corner of the grand room. Nico cursed inwardly, realizing he’d gazed too long at the bedraggled waif, betraying his interest. “You can look…” Lucan moved into the light wagging one bony finger at him, “…but don’t touch.”

Nico shifted his gaze to the king and was shocked by what he saw. Always a tall, thin and gangly man, King Lucan seemed almost snake-like now, with dark, scaly patches on the small amount