The Portal Thieves (Paperback)
The Portal Thieves (Paperback)
Book 3 in The Portal Wars Saga
After the failure in Straken, Otto is forced to accept that as long as Garenland’s enemies can send reinforcements through the portals, the Northern Army has no hope of taking Marduke.
But Otto has a plan, seize control of the portals and turn the enemy’s strength against them.
To accomplish this seemingly impossible goal, Garenland’s top spies are dispatched to place magical patches on the portals in every capital.
Behind enemy lines and on their own, it will be a miracle if the spies can survive, much less complete their missions.
Five men will determine Garenland’s future.
Can they complete the mission or will they die trying?
The square sheet of paper-thin mithril glowed white-hot as Otto poured ether into it. Sweat plastered his tattered work shirt to his back and soaked his hair. The glow was so bright he couldn’t even see his workshop in the basement of Franken Manor. He squinted and focused on the ether.
The rune was taking shape. A little nudge on the upper-right corner.
Not too much!
He withdrew the twenty-five-thread ethereal construct just in the nick of time. An instant longer and he would have had to start over for the sixth time. The final bend of the rune settled into place and Otto cut off the flow of ether. The blinding light slowly faded and when he could see clearly again, he studied his work.
This piece was the culmination of a winter of toil. After weeks shifting between his master’s tower and the armory, more weeks of practice, and too many failures to count, Otto had finally completed the last rune patch. This one would transform the Garenland portal, turning an impressive if useless monument to treachery into the new master portal. Once all the patches had been put in place, Otto would have full control of the continental portal network.
He grinned and wiped his brow. What he wouldn’t give to see the look on Valtan’s face when he realized what had happened. His power would be used to bring the continent under Garenland’s rule despite the other kingdoms’ best attempts to destroy them. It would be a delicious reversal, one that would please his master greatly, though not as much as her former mentor’s death.
Otto was still far from being strong enough to grant that wish, assuming he ever did grant it. Killing Valtan would also remove a convenient power source for the portals. Once Otto was an Arcane Lord, he could operate the portals himself, but why waste his magic when Valtan was already doing it for him?
That conversation was still a long way off, but even so he dreaded broaching the subject with Lord Karonin. Otto ran a finger along the smooth, cool metal, tracing the shape of the rune he’d engraved. It glowed in his ethereal vision. He needed to go to the palace and let Wolfric know they were ready to move on to the next phase of the plan. Wolfric was supposed to have agents ready to infiltrate the neighboring kingdoms and place the patches on their portals. It was a risky mission, but absolutely essential.
He slid the mithril sheet into a leather binder he’d designed specifically to hold the six patches. He’d take a quick bath and head over to the palace.
Before Otto could collect the holder, the basement door squeaked open and an unfamiliar voice called, “Lord Shenk? It’s time.”
He frowned and picked up the folder before walking to the foot of the basement stairs. One of the servants stood at the top. Otto had given strict instructions not to be disturbed. If the idiot had interrupted him during the rune forging, he would have ruined three hours’ work.
“Time for what?”
“The baby, my lord. Lady Shenk has gone into labor.”
And what exactly did they expect Otto to do? Whatever happened was out of his control. The midwife should be with her; it seemed the old crone had practically lived with them for the last two weeks. Not that she troubled Otto, seeing as how she camped out in Annamaria’s room most of the time.
Otto climbed the steps and paused beside the beaming young man. He couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than Otto, probably a new hire. “Let me make something clear. When I give an order not to be disturbed, assuming the house isn’t on fire, you don’t disturb me. This is your first and only warning. Another mistake and I’ll see you out the door without references.”
The servant’s smile had curdled as the blood drained out of his face. “Forgive me, Lord Shenk. I assumed—”
“That was your first mistake. Don’t assume, obey.”
Otto left him to contemplate his future and turned toward the main staircase. It was a short walk down gilded halls to the dining room. When he entered, he found Edwyn pacing, his white silk robe billowing behind him, the handful of heavily laden plates on the table ignored. In his months at the mansion, this might be the first time Otto had seen Edwyn in the same room as a meal that he wasn’t eating.
“Are you alright?” Otto asked.
Edwyn started and turned to face him. Rivulets of sweat ran down his many chins. Clearly pacing wasn’t something Edwyn engaged in often. “Fine, my boy, just nervous. Annamaria let out the most bloodcurdling scream a few moments ago. I’m sure she’ll be fine, but I can’t help worrying for my baby girl.”
Otto made an effort to look concerned. Personally, he hoped Annamaria was in a lot of pain. “Did I ever tell you about the noises my sister-in-law made when she was last with child? They’d have curled your hair. She came through it fine.”
That the malformed infant had perished was something best left unsaid.
“Yes, yes, very good. I’m sure you’ll want to go up and check on her.” Edwyn gave him a look of distaste. “After you clean up perhaps.”
“My very plan.” Otto nodded to his father-in-law and headed to the staircase.
At the top of the steps a shriek ripped the air. Sounded like matters were proceeding. He turned right, down the carpeted hall and away from his screeching wife. His room was on the opposite side of the mansion from Annamaria’s, which suited them both very well.
He ducked inside, washed up, and changed his clothes before stepping back into the hall. His preference would have been to simply go straight to the palace, but for appearances’ sake he strode back across the mansion to Annamaria’s room. Her chambermaid, Mimi, her uniform stained with sweat, stood guard outside the bedroom door. She shrank into herself as he approached.
Poor girl. They’d had a few run-ins when her loyalty to his wife grew inconvenient and Otto feared she believed he didn’t like her. The truth was, Otto respected her loyalty, misplaced though it was. He certainly bore her no ill will. If all the people he had to deal with were as obedient as her, his life would be far easier. Instead he had to deal with liars, cheaters, killers, schemers, and old-fashioned idiots.
“Lord Shenk.” Mimi’s voice quavered. “I don’t think she’d want to see you.”
“When has she ever? I assume all is well?”
Mimi didn’t get a chance to answer before a final scream rent the air followed a moment later by a high-pitched wail. And so the brat was born. How marvelous. At least he could leave.
Before he could escape, the bedroom door opened and the midwife, a crone in black who looked like something out of a child’s nightmares, emerged with a tiny bundle tucked into the crook of her arm. Bald, red-faced, and with her eyes closed, the little girl looked healthy enough.
“I gave your wife something for the pain and now she sleeps,” the midwife said. “You wish to hold the child? Also, as the father, it is your duty to name her.”
Otto had no wish to name or hold Lothair’s brat. Let Annamaria pick out a name for her, he couldn’t have cared less.
The reply caught in his throat when she thrust the baby into his chest. Otto caught her with his free hand and cradled her neck with his arm.
He grimaced. “Mimi, take her.”
The chambermaid hurried over and collected his burden. Relieved to be free of it, Otto turned back to the midwife. “When she wakes up, tell Annamaria any name she likes is fine with me.”
“As you wish.” Her tone said she didn’t approve.
Had her approval mattered to him, he might have been concerned. As it was, he turned and stalked off toward the front door. He had important matters that required his attention.
The only good thing he could see coming from the new addition to the family was that it should keep his wife busy and thus out of his hair. Not that she’d done anything to trouble him since their conversation last fall, but it was only a matter of time before her hate overcame her fear.
The baby should serve as a powerful reminder of what she had to lose. If that didn’t keep her in line, nothing would.