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The Starkin Crown

Kate Forsyth


  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Royal Family of Ziva

  Royal Family of the Stormlinn


  Map of Ziva

  Chapter 1: A Messenger

  Chapter 2: The Yuletide Feast

  Chapter 3: The Oak King

  Chapter 4: Child of Storm

  Chapter 5: The Door to the Underworld

  Chapter 6: The Escape

  Chapter 7: The Ambush

  Chapter 8: Lightning Attack

  Chapter 9: Lost

  Chapter 10: The Storm King’s Spear

  Chapter 11: Nightmare

  Chapter 12: Fallen to the Blade

  Chapter 13: Vernisha the Vile

  Chapter 14: Into the Bog

  Chapter 15: The Marsh King

  Chapter 16: The Marsh King’s Daughter

  Chapter 17: Eel Stew

  Chapter 18: Tongue of Flame

  Chapter 19: The Story of Old Grim

  Chapter 20: Attack from the Air

  Chapter 21: The Seal Ring

  Chapter 22: A Toast to Success

  Chapter 23: Blind Boy

  Chapter 24: Corpse Candles

  Chapter 25: Lord Grim

  Chapter 26: The Gallows

  Chapter 27: The Starkin Crown

  Chapter 28: Twelfth Night

  Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books for children and adults, including The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starthorn Tree and Dragon Gold.

  Since her first published book was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus magazine, Kate has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including a Cybil Award in the US. In 2007, Kate became the first author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year when Books 2–6 in the Chain of Charms series were jointly awarded the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children’s Fiction. Book 5, The Lightning Bolt, was also named a Notable Book for 2007 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

  Kate lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and three children, and many thousands of books.


  The Starthorn Tree

  The Wildkin’s Curse

  The Puzzle Ring

  The Chain of Charms series:

  The Gypsy Crown

  The Silver Horse

  The Herb of Grace

  The Cat’s Eye Shell

  The Lightning Bolt

  The Butterfly in Amber



  Ben and Tim’s Magical Misadventures:

  Dragon Gold

  Wishing for Trouble

  Sea Magic



  I Am

  First published 2011 in Pan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited

  1 Market Street, Sydney

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2011

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

  Forsyth, Kate, 1966–

  The starkin crown / Kate Forsyth.

  9780330404044 (pbk.)

  For children.


  Map by Jeremy Reston

  Typeset in 11.5/15 pt Minion by Midland Typesetters, Australia

  Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

  Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

  These electronic editions published in 2011 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

  1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

  The Starkin Crown

  Kate Forsyth

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  Visit to read more about all our books and to buy both print and ebooks online. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events.

  For my own bold adventurers,

  Ben, Tim and Ella

  The Prophecy

  Three times a babe shall be born,

  between star-crowned and iron-bound.

  First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer,

  though lame, he must travel far.

  Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker,

  though broken himself he shall be.

  Last, the smallest and the greatest—

  in him, the blood of wise and wild,

  farseeing ones and starseeing ones.

  Though he must be lost before he can find,

  though, before he sees, he must be blind,

  if he can find and if he can see,

  the true king of all he shall be.

  Royal Family of Ziva

  Royal Family of the Stormlinn


  At Stormlinn Castle, the stronghold of the wildkin in the Perilous Forest

  PRINCE PEREGRINE (also called Robin)—aged 15

  JACK, Peregrine’s squire and royal taster—aged 16

  LADY GRIZELDA of Zavaria—aged 15

  KING MERRIK, Peregrine’s father and rightful ruler of Ziva

  QUEEN LILIANA, Peregrine’s mother and queen-consort

  LORD ZEDRIN, the king’s third cousin and best friend

  ROZALINA, the Erlqueen of the Stormlinn and Queen Liliana’s cousin

  SIR MEDWIN, the royal tutor

  STIGA, an old servant

  PALILA, a healer and one of the Crafty

  TOM-TIT-TOT, an omen-imp

  The Merry Men, the prince’s bodyguards







  At the Isle of Eels, stronghold of the Marsh King

  LORD PERCIVAL, Lord of the Marshes

  MOLLY, his daughter—aged 15

  NAN, his mother


  At Swartburg Castle, the stronghold of the starkin in Zavaria

  VERNISHA, the pretender-queen


  Lords and ladies of the starkin court

  Starkin soldiers

  Other members of the royal family

  MAGLEN, King Merrik’s mother (called Mags)

  BRIONY, Queen Liliana’s aunt, Erlrune of the Evenlinn

  LORD PEDRIN, Lord Zedrin’s father

  LADY LISANDRE, Lord Zedrin’s mother

  Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute—

  What you can do, or dream you c
an do, begin it;

  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

  Goethe, Faust


  A Messenger

  BEING A PRINCE WAS NO FUN AT ALL, PEREGRINE THOUGHT moodily, staring out through the arrow slit at the pine trees shivering in the snowy dusk. Especially when you’re the son of a king without a kingdom.

  Peregrine was meant to be memorising the rivers and forests of all the counties of Ziva, but he couldn’t help thinking there was little point when he wasn’t allowed to visit any of the other lands. It was too dangerous, his parents thought. He could fall into the hands of their enemies and be killed. Or worse.

  At least there was the Midwinter’s Eve feast to look forward to, the only break in the dreary round of lessons. It was Peregrine’s fifteenth birthday and he was, for once, allowed to take part in the wildkin rituals. He was to be the Oak King and fight the Holly King for an end to the dark winter months.

  ‘Your Highness, you are daydreaming again,’ his tutor, Sir Medwin, said, tapping the atlas with his long pointer. A tall, thin man whose bones all seemed to jut at right angles to his body, he wore shabby black robes that flapped about his skinny ankles and a pair of immensely thick spectacles that perched on the very tip of his long nose. He adored biology and geology and geography and chorography and all the other things that end in ‘aphy’ and ‘ology’, and could not at all understand why Peregrine did not enter into his enthusiasms. Sir Medwin was, however, also remarkably kind-hearted, always scooping spiders out of his bathwater and rescuing moths from candles, and he never ever told tales on Peregrine, even when the prince spent the whole day hawking instead of learning the alchemical tables.

  Peregrine sighed and dragged his attention back to the atlas. Suddenly he heard the pounding of horses’ hooves through the rush and swoop of the wind. He jumped up and ran to the arrow slit. By pressing his face right up to the narrow aperture, Peregrine was able to get a glimpse of a cloaked and hooded figure galloping across the drawbridge. At once he propelled himself away from the wall and caught up his fur-lined coat.

  ‘Come on, Blitz,’ he called. His small falcon spread his speckled wings and flew to perch on his wrist. Peregrine flung open the door and rushed outside.

  ‘What is it, sir? What’s wrong?’ his squire cried, one hand flying to his dagger hilt.

  ‘Nothing, Jack! At least, there may be … There’s someone at the gates. Let’s go and see.’

  Peregrine raced down the corridor towards the stairs, then slid down the broad marble banister to the great hall below. Blitz was quick to take to the air, screeching in displeasure. Jack ran after Peregrine, taking the steps two at a time. Sir Medwin flapped behind them, calling, ‘Your Highness! Sir! What about your studies? Your Highness!’

  ‘What a noise!’ Peregrine’s mother looked up from her weather maps. ‘Must you slide down the banister, Robin?’

  ‘I’m in a hurry. Somebody’s here! A rider, coming in from the storm!’ Peregrine held out his arm for Blitz, who at once flew down and perched on his wrist.

  ‘A rider? Who could it be?’ Queen Liliana got to her feet at once, looking worried. ‘It must be urgent if they’re prepared to brave the winter storms’.

  ‘I’ll go see!’ Peregrine cried. He did not wait for his mother but ran down the great hall. Jack, as always, was right behind him.

  Peregrine flung open the doorway, letting in swirls of snow like a cloud of cold white butterflies. He bent his head against the arctic wind, so strong it threatened to force him back through the door, and fought his way through the storm to the inner bailey. He was in time to see the iron-barred gates creak open, letting in the mysterious rider.

  By hanging over the battlements, Peregrine could see the horse limp in and the rider slip down to the ground, catching at the horse’s stirrup. A tall hound was at the horse’s heels; as the guards ran forward, weapons at the ready, the dog snarled. The rider uttered a quick command and the dog fell silent. Both horse and dog were white, the hound standing as tall as the mare’s withers.

  ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ the guard demanded, his sword out of its sheath. Behind him, the portcullis slammed back to the ground.

  ‘I must speak with King Merrik!’ a clear, sweet voice rang out. As she spoke, the girl flung back her fur-trimmed hood to show a patrician profile and a fall of shining fair hair.

  ‘A starkin girl?’ Peregrine whispered. ‘Here at Stormlinn Castle? She’s brave!’

  ‘Or stupid,’ Jack responded, leaning beside him.

  One of the guards rumbled something and the girl said imperiously, ‘I will speak only to the king! Take me to him!’

  Peregrine bounded down the stairs to the lower courtyard. Jack hurried behind, calling, ‘Your Highness! Please … she may be dangerous’.

  Peregrine ignored him. Bearing Blitz on his wrist, he strode across the cobblestones, saying, ‘You want to see my father? He’s in council, but I can send him a messenger’.

  The girl gazed at him in surprise. She was dressed in a blue velvet mantle edged with white fur, which matched the voluptuous muff in which her hands were buried. Her eyes were an extraordinary colour, blue and translucent as aquamarines.

  ‘I don’t think that’s wise, your Highness,’ one of the guards said. ‘She’s starkin’.

  ‘I know that,’ Peregrine said impatiently. ‘What else could she be with hair that colour? But I doubt she’s here to assassinate me, not galloping up to the gate like that. And I’ve got my dagger’.

  ‘And I’ve got mine,’ Jack said, his hand again on its hilt.

  ‘Are you … could you possibly be Prince Peregrine, the son of King Merrik?’ the girl asked.

  Peregrine nodded, and was dumbfounded when she dropped to her knees in the snow, seizing his hand and bending her head to kiss it. He snatched his hand away. ‘Don’t do that!’

  Blitz shrieked his displeasure, spreading wide his speckled wings, and the girl flinched back.

  ‘I’m sorry, your Highness, I didn’t mean to offend you. It is just …’ She rose to her feet again, one hand on her dog’s collar to steady herself. ‘Your Highness, I have come to warn you and your father!’

  ‘Warn us? What about?’

  ‘Can we not go inside? Please, sir? I’m so cold … and I’ve ridden so very far’. She swayed on her feet, and at once Peregrine was sorry. He reached out a hand to support her, and she crumpled against him, her muff falling to the ground. ‘I feel rather faint …’

  ‘Your Highness,’ Jack said desperately, starting forward, but Peregrine waved him away with an impatient hand, helping her stand and asking anxiously if she was all right. She nodded and stood upright, keeping one hand on his arm for support. She wore crimson gauntlets with a flaring cuff, embroidered with gold thread and jewels. A heavy silver ring, set with a huge aquamarine the same colour as her eyes, was worn over the leather. Despite the heavy gloves, her hand was trembling.

  ‘You’re shivering,’ he said contritely. ‘Come in out of the snow’.

  Jack bent and picked up her muff and she took it from him with a faint, sweet smile, cuddling it to her face. Gently Peregrine led the girl up the stairs towards the great hall, his falcon perched on his other arm. The tall hound slunk close behind them, his tail between his legs, a ridge of hair standing up stiff along his spine. Jack followed, scowling and gripping his dagger, while more men came to lead the horse away to the stables.

  The girl slipped and almost fell on the ice. Peregrine put his arm about her back to support her. She leant against him, murmuring, ‘Thank you, sir … I’m sorry … It’s just I’m so tired. I’ve been riding for days, as fast as I could, to get here before them’.

  ‘Before whom?’ Peregrine asked.

  ‘An army … sir, they seek to take you by surprise … attack you under cover of the snowstorm’.

  ‘Jack, go and get my father, will you?’ Peregrine said.

  ‘But, sir …’

  ‘I’m fine. Go on!�

  Jack hesitated a moment longer, looking imploringly at the prince, but after another impatient wave of Peregrine’s hand, he went running away across the courtyard.

  Sir Medwin hurried towards Peregrine. ‘Your Highness, that was most ill-considered! You must learn to think before you act. And walk, not run! Have I not told you a thousand times?’

  Peregrine hardly heard him. He led the starkin girl across the snow-whirling courtyard. Queen Liliana was standing in the arched doorway, her old shawl wrapped close about her. ‘Come on in, it’s freezing!’ She drew the girl inside, the dog staying close to his mistress, growling low in his throat. Peregrine followed, Sir Medwin scurrying behind him.

  As the starkin girl pulled back her hood, Queen Liliana’s old nursemaid struggled to her feet from her rocking chair by the fire. She pointed at the girl with two fingers spread wide in an age-old wildkin gesture against evil, her heart-shaped face grey with fear. ‘Starkin!’ Stiga hissed.

  ‘Yes, I am of starkin blood, but that doesn’t mean I’m your enemy,’ the girl said angrily. ‘I have ridden many furlongs here, through the snow and the storm, to bring you warning!’

  ‘Venom in your heart and venom in your hand, to spill out across the land,’ Stiga intoned, her eyes wide and blank.

  The girl’s face whitened. She clenched her hands into fists. ‘How dare you!’ she said in a shaking voice. ‘I have come to warn you. How dare you accuse me?’

  Stiga whispered, ‘I see true’.

  Queen Liliana frowned. She gestured to the guards, who at once drew their weapons.

  ‘I can assure you I have no poison … or weapon of any kind on me,’ the girl said through her teeth. ‘I’ve put my own life at risk to come here!’

  ‘Nonetheless, I’m afraid we shall have to search you,’ Queen Liliana said. ‘We are at war with those of your kind, remember’.