To Love a Prince (Knights of Valor Book 1)

To Love a Prince (Knights of Valor Book 1)

Elizabeth Drake

Chapter 1

Intense sunlight blinded Prince Eli, and he slammed into a shimmering wall of heat as he exited the ship’s cabin. A cacophony of scents filled the air as the perfume of exotic flowers mingled with sweat, animals, and the tang of salt.

Better than the weeks he’d spent at sea, but not much.

Keeping his face impassive, Eli’s gaze fell on a man dressed in magenta, canary, and emerald silks leading a group of dignitaries. The man would’ve reminded Eli of a clown if not for his swagger and protruding stomach.

“Your Highness.” The man bowed to Prince Eli with a grand flourish. “His Eminence is pleased to welcome you to Qumaref.”

“And I am pleased to accept his gracious invitation,” Eli said. The inane pleasantries of diplomacy were as easy as any other lie after years in court. “You’re Premal, his senior adviser?”

The man in bright-colored silk beamed. “So glad news of me has reached Tamryn.”

Eli inclined his head, satisfied the information he’d gathered was correct, including the assessment on the sultan’s key adviser.

Premal waved over a gilded palanquin, and the bearers kept their heads bowed as they lowered it in front of the Prince of Tamryn.

Eli sat under gold lattice carved to look like swans. As he leaned back against plump pillows and studied the desert city, the massive procession tottered through the sand-strewn streets.

Squat adobe buildings crowded against the thoroughfare, and throngs of people crushed together as they meandered about their business under the blazing sun. Most dressed in light-colored robes with scarves tied around their heads to protect them from the ubiquitous sand. A few men dressed in silk and rode camels.

Everyone moved aside for the flamboyant parade though many stopped to watch it pass.

Eli stayed alert despite the heat and rocking of the palanquin as he surveyed the streets and people of Qumaref. The last Tamarian diplomat had left the desert city twenty years ago when King Garrett had recalled them to satisfy the Dragon Church. Qumaref had retaliated, and relations had all but ended between the kingdoms.

Eli had much to learn about the desert kingdom before he could re-establish meaningful relations.

As the prince compared all he saw to the last delegates’ stories of Qumaref, it seemed little had changed. Eli doubted the Dragon Church would be any friendlier to Qumaref now than it had been twenty years ago.

He wondered again why his father had sent him on this fool’s errand when the king’s health was failing. But no one disobeyed a direct order from King Garrett, not even the king’s son.

Eli sucked in air hotter than a dragon’s breath. He’d keep the trip short. There was little to recommend the desert city, and the trade agreement his father wanted was all but impossible with the restrictions imposed by the Dragon Church. The king had to know that, making Prince Eli more curious as to why his father had sent him.

Must be a test. Wasn’t be the first time Eli had been tested, and probably wouldn’t be the last.

Perhaps Dracor had finally chosen who would be the next king, selecting someone the church and nobility would both support. The prince almost smiled at the thought. They’d been waiting over twenty-five years for the Dragon God to choose who would succeed King Garrett. If Dracor had chosen someone, Eli would know. A secret that big didn’t stay secret for long, especially not with the prince’s spies.

Eli fisted his hands at his sides. Whatever the reason for King Garrett’s orders, the prince wouldn’t let this mission interfere with his plans to take the throne when his father died. Plans that required him to marry Lady Daniella, Duke Calloway’s daughter.

Though he’d have preferred to marry Lady Daniella before he’d set sail, the duke had negotiated six months to arrange the wedding. Eli didn’t think Dracor would choose another monarch before King Garrett died, but he worried his father might not live the full six months.

Eli’s marriage to Lady Daniella would cement Duke Calloway’s support and the support of fools who believed an Elven mystic. The engagement alone might be enough to secure their backing against the Dragon Church should the king die.

It would be enough. Eli would make it enough. He wouldn’t let his mother’s death be for nothing. Wouldn’t let the kingdom she died for fall into civil war, whatever the cost to him.

The prince unclenched his fists. The crown would be his. There would be no civil war.

The procession slowed, and Eli glanced up at the sultan’s palace and the high walls that encircled it. The alabaster exterior gleamed in a rippling haze of heat, its turrets capped by shimmering gold domes of varying sizes. Qumaref favored the mushroom-shaped towers, and Eli wondered if they offered an escape from the oppressive heat.

Large gates set in the wall opened, allowing the procession to enter.

And Eli entered another world.

Exotic plants filled the air with rich scents as they bloomed in riotous colors of magenta, crimson, and blazing purple. Fruits dangled from lush trees, and a massive fountain tiled in blue mosaics dominated the courtyard. Peacocks strutted past and squawked at the intruders while monkeys scampered along the wall. Rainbow-hued parrots perched in the trees.

This is what wealth bought in Qumaref, Eli thought. Fresh water.

His palanquin was lowered in front of a grand entrance, and servants bowed until their foreheads touched the ground as he climbed out of the conveyance.

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