Home > Quests for Glory (The School for Good and Evil #4)

Quests for Glory (The School for Good and Evil #4)
Author: Soman Chainani

PART I

 

 

1


AGATHA


The Almost Queen


When you spend most of your life planning your Ever After with a girl, it feels strange to be planning your wedding to a boy.

A boy who’d been avoiding Agatha for months.

She couldn’t sleep, dread brewing in her stomach. Her mind flurried with all the things left to do before the big day, but that wasn’t the real reason she was still awake. No, it was something else: a memory of the boy she was about to marry . . . a memory she couldn’t bear to think about. . . .

 

Tedros, stained with tears and slung over a man’s shoulder. Tedros unleashing a primal scream, so pained and shattering that sometimes Agatha could hear nothing else—

She rolled over, burying her head under a pillow.

It had been six months since that day: the day of the coronation.

She hadn’t slept well since.

Agatha felt Reaper tossing tetchily at the foot of the bed, her restlessness keeping him up. Agatha sighed, feeling sorry for him, and tried to focus on her breaths. Little by little, her mind began to ease. She was always better when she was doing something to help someone else, even if it was falling asleep to spare her bald, mashed-up cat. . . . If only she could do something to help her prince too, Agatha thought. Together they always managed to work things ou—

Click.

Her heart stopped.

The door.

She listened closely, hearing Reaper’s soft snores and the sound of the latch creaking open.

Agatha pretended to sleep as her hand inched forward, probing for the knife on her night table.

She’d kept the knife there ever since she’d arrived at Camelot. She had to—Tedros earned enemies here long before he’d come to take his place as king. Even if these enemies were in jail now, they had spies everywhere, desperate to kill him and his future queen. . . .

And now the door to her chamber was opening.

No one was allowed in her hall at this hour. No one was allowed in her wing.

Moonlight spilled onto her back through the cracked-open door. Her breaths shallowed as she heard footsteps muffle against the marble floor. A shadow crept up her neck, stretching onto the bedsheets.

Agatha gripped the knife harder.

Slowly a weight sank into the mattress behind her.

Hold, she told herself.

The weight grew heavier. Closer.

Hold.

She could hear its breath.

Hold.

The shadow reached for her—

Now.

With a gasp, Agatha swiveled, swinging the knife for the intruder’s neck before he seized her wrist and pinned her to the bed, the knife a millimeter from his throat.

Agatha panted with terror as she and the intruder stared into the wide whites of each other’s eyes.

In the dark, it was all she could see of him, but now she felt the heat of his skin and smelled his fresh, dewy sweat, and all the fear seeped out of her body. Bit by bit, she let him pry the knife away before he exhaled and dropped into the pillow beside her. It all happened so fast, so softly, that Reaper never stirred.

She waited for him to speak or pull her to his chest or tell her why he’d been avoiding her all this time. Instead he just curled into a ball against her, whimpering like a tired dog.

Agatha stroked his silky hair, mopping up the sweat on his temples with her fingertips, and let him sniffle into her nightgown.

She’d never seen him cry. Not like this, so scared and defeated.

But as she held him, his breaths settled, his body surrendering to her touch, and he glanced up at her with the faintest of smiles. . . .

Then his smile vanished.

Someone was watching them. A tall, turbaned woman looming in the doorway, her gleaming teeth gnashed tight.

And just like that, Tedros was gone as quick as he came.

Splinters of August sun streamed through the window onto the chandelier, refracting light into Agatha’s eyes.

Blinking groggily, she could see missing crystals in the chandelier, covered in cobwebs like an old gravestone.

She hugged her pillow to her chest. It still smelled like him. Reaper slithered up from the foot of the bed, sniffing at the pillow, poised to slash it to shreds, before Agatha shot him a look. Her cat slunk back to the foot of the bed. He’s improving at least, Agatha thought; the first night in the castle, he’d peed in Tedros’ shoe.

Voices echoed in her wing. She wouldn’t be alone much longer.

Agatha sat up in her baggy black nightgown, peering at her room. It was three times the size of her old house in Gavaldon, with dusty gem-crusted mirrors, a sagging settee, and a two-hundred-year-old desk of ivory and bone. Clutching her pillow like a life raft, she soaked in the quiet coming off the cracked marble tiles dyed robin’s-egg blue and the matching walls inlaid with mottled gold flowers. The queen’s chamber was like everything at Camelot: royal from afar, tarnished up close. This applied to her too—she was living in the queen’s quarters but she wasn’t even queen yet.

The wedding was still two months away.

A wedding that was making her uneasier each day.

Once upon a time, Agatha had imagined she’d live happily ever after with Sophie in Gavaldon. The two of them would be proud owners of a cottage in town, where they’d have tea and toast each morning, then jaunt off to Mr. Deauville’s Storybook Shop, now the A&S Bookshop, since she and Sophie would take it over once the old man died. After work, she’d help pick herbs and flowers that Sophie would use to make her beauty creams, before they’d visit Agatha’s mother on Graves Hill for dinners of lamb-brain stew and lizard quiche (steamed prunes and cucumbers for Sophie, of course). How ordinary their life would be together. How happy. Friendship was all they needed.

Agatha squeezed the pillow harder. How things change.

Now her mother was dead, Sophie was Dean of Evil at a magical school, and Agatha was marrying King Arthur’s son.

No one was more excited about the wedding than Sophie, who’d sent letter after letter from her faraway castle with sketches of dresses and cakes and china that she insisted Agatha use for her big day. (“Dear Aggie, I haven’t heard back from you about the chiffon veil swatches I sent. Or the proposed canapés. Really, darling, if you don’t want my help just tell me. . . .”)

Agatha could see these letters piled on the desk, coated in spidery trails of dust. Every day she told herself she would answer them, but she never did. And the worst part was she didn’t know why.

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