The King Slayer


By Virginia Boecker

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An action-packed and suspenseful sequel to The Witch Hunter, perfect for fans of Graceling and the Grisha Trilogy.

“I think, in time, you’ll either be my greatest mistake or my greatest victory.”

Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the price put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper king of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his thirst for power grows stronger every day. He’s readying for a war against those who would resist his rule–namely Elizabeth and the witches and wizards she now calls her allies.

Having lost her stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth’s strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur once more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she’ll go to save those she loves.

“[Filled] with everything a good fantasy book needs: swords, poison, black magic, and betrayal.”–April Tucholke, author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, on The Witch Hunter


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I SIT ON THE EDGE of the bed waiting, the day I've feared for months finally here. I look around the room, only there's not much to distract me. Everything is white: white walls, white curtains, white stone fireplace, even the furniture—bed, wardrobe, and a small dressing table set below a looking glass. On cloudy days, this lack of color is soothing. But on the rare sunny winter day, such as today, the brightness is overwhelming.

There's a gentle rapping on the door.

"Come in," I call.

The door squeaks open on its hinges and there's John, standing in the doorway. He leans against the frame and watches me a moment, his brows creased in a frown.

"Are you ready?" he finally asks.

"Would it matter if I'm not?"

John crosses the room to sit beside me, somewhat gingerly. He's dressed well today, in stiff blue trousers and matching blue coat, and a white shirt that somehow isn't wrinkled. Hair that manages to be curly but not unruly. He looks like he could be going to a masque or a ball, someplace festive. Not where we're really going.

"You're going to be fine," he says. "We're going to be fine. And if they make you leave, well"—he smiles then, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes—"Iberia is beautiful, even this time of year. Think of the fun we'll have."

I shake my head, feeling a rush of guilt at his being forced to make light of what's about to happen: the council hearing. To face my crimes, to answer to the charge of treason against Harrow.

When I was first summoned to attend, it was the week after Blackwell's masque, after John and Peter brought me to their home. After we'd learned of Blackwell's plan to steal the throne, to turn the hundreds of witches and wizards I helped capture into his army; after I gave John my stigma—the inky-black, elegantly scrawled XIII on my abdomen, the mark that healed me and gave me strength—and nearly died myself.

I wasn't conscious then, nor was I conscious when I received the second summons, nor the third. I received a total of six before I even opened my eyes, six more before I could take a step unassisted. They were coming at a rate of one or two a week before Nicholas put an end to it, assuring the council I would meet with them when I was ready.

It took two months.

And for two months, I've lived in the shadow of this hearing, wondering what will become of me. It's unlikely the council will allow me to remain living here, not without a price attached. Becoming their assassin is Peter's guess; their spy, John's. But mine is exile: given an hour to collect my things, then an escort to the boundaries of Harrow, ordered never to return.

"If they make me leave, you're not coming with me," I say. "Fifer, your father, your patients… you can't leave them."

John stands up. "We talked about this."

Actually, John did all the talking; I did all the protesting.

"I don't want to leave them, but I refuse to leave you," he continues. "And anyway, it won't come to that. Nicholas won't allow it." He takes my hand, gives it a gentle tug. "Come on. Let's get this over with."

I get to my feet, reluctant. I'm dressed well, too, today, in a gown Fifer gave me. Shimmery, pale blue silk skirt, the bodice a darker blue brocade, trimmed with silver thread and white seed pearls. It's the prettiest gown I've ever owned. It's the only gown I've ever owned. She even plaited my hair, pulling it into an elaborate rope that falls over my shoulder. I wanted to wear it down, like I usually do. But Fifer insisted.

"With your hair like this, you look about fourteen," she said. "The younger you look, the more innocent you look. It'll make the council think twice about exiling a child."

John reaches forward and gently grasps my plait, running his fingers down the length of it. I close my eyes against the sensation, against the feel of him standing so near. When I open them, he's watching me carefully, and I know I'm looking back the same way.

The sound of someone clearing his throat in the hallway breaks the spell. John steps away just as Peter appears at the door, concern etched into every line on his weathered face. Like John, he doesn't quite look himself today. Dark curly hair, carefully combed. Dark beard, closely cropped. He's clean, ironed, and starched, and if it weren't for the sword at his side—broad, curved handle, a pirate's blade—I might not recognize him.

He gives us a quick once-over.

"Good, good. You both look good. Proper but not prim. Well-groomed but not overly so." Peter leans in closer, taking in whatever he sees on our faces. "Mind, you might want to try and look a bit more somber. Save the celebration for after, hmm?"

I step back, away from John, but he only laughs and rolls his eyes.

"We should start out," Peter continues. "Best to be there early. We don't know what kind of crowd we might run into."

At the word crowd, my stomach seizes into a knot. It's something else I've feared since I was summoned to this hearing. Facing the people of Harrow, hearing their stories. Learning how I, or someone I know, have killed someone close to them; how I, or someone I know, have ruined their lives.

Downstairs, John helps me into my coat. Long, made of blue wool and lined in rabbit fur—another gift from Fifer—and the three of us slip from the cottage into the bitter late-February air, the wind biting our faces and numbing our cheeks.

John and Peter's home, nicknamed Mill Cottage for the enormous waterwheel built into the attached barn, lies outside the village of Whetstone in northern Harrow, tucked at the end of a narrow dirt road that runs alongside a slow-moving river. It's peaceful here, and quiet today as usual. Nothing but the sound of the water mill splashing softly in the banks and a pair of mallards swimming along the edge, squawking at us for food.

Mill Cottage is a funny, charming little place, once three separate smaller homes that, over time, Peter combined into one larger one. It still maintains a rather haphazard look: The front house is long and low, brown stone with a weathered blue door and large, blue-paned windows. The middle house is red brick and the tallest of the three, the façade lined with small windows and a brick-columned smokestack. And the back house, where my bedroom is, dark gray brick with a thatched roof, surrounded by John's lush physic gardens. He says they'll be full of birds come spring, building nests and hatching chicks; nearly unlivable for all the noise.

Not for the first time, I wonder: Will I still be here come spring? Will Mill Cottage? Will Harrow?

It's just over an hour's walk from Whetstone to Hatch End, where the hearing will be. Peter says it's tradition for every council meeting to be held at the residence of the head councilman—no longer Nicholas, not after his illness kept him from performing his duties, but a man named Gareth Fish. I met him once, at Nicholas's home after I'd first arrived: tall and cadaverous in black, taking dictation. Peter said he's a fair man, if a bit ardent; John and Fifer said nothing, their silence telling me all I needed to know.

Our path runs across sloping, grassy terrain, marked occasionally by weather-logged signposts with arrows that point to the nearby hamlets that make up Harrow's settlement: THEYDON BOIS, 3.2 MILES. MUDCHUTE, 17 MILES. HATCH END, 3.7 MILES. The sign reading UPMINSTER, 62 MILES has been crossed out and now reads in untidy scrawl beneath it: Hell lies this way.

Winter has settled in everywhere I look. The grasses in the meadows and distant rolling hills brown and dotted with unmelted snow; the trees barren and lifeless. Farmhouses dot the landscape, smoke from fireplaces seeping from chimneys, sheep and cows and horses huddled in quiet, shivering masses under the brightness of the heatless sun. The scene is peaceful but with an underlying current of tension: a village lying in wait.

"Nicholas will be there already, along with Fifer." Peter's voice breaks the frigid silence. "We debated whether Schuyler should come, but decided it was too much of a risk. We don't want to draw any comparisons between his somewhat… capricious past and yours."

Schuyler. A revenant, lifeless and immortal but with almost unimaginable strength and power. He saved Nicholas's life by helping me break the curse tablet that Blackwell used to try to kill Nicholas; he saved all our lives by pulling us out of Blackwell's palace and onto Peter's ship, bound for safety. But for all that, he's still a thief and a liar, a goad and a miscreant, and despite Peter's delicacy what he really means to say is that Schuyler's past is violent, unpredictable, and untrustworthy. Just like mine.

"As for George," Peter says, "he wrote a lovely letter, which will be entered into evidence on your side."

In the days that followed Blackwell's usurpation of the throne and Malcolm's subsequent imprisonment, and before Blackwell closed Anglia's borders, George—a spy once in the guise of the king's fool—took a ship bound for Gaul. He was to meet with their king in a bid for troops and supplies, knowing that sooner or later, probably sooner, Blackwell would attack Harrow. There are too many people here who have the power to oppose him. And as long as Harrow exists, it will be a threat to him: an unsteady king on an unsteady throne.

"Then there's Nicholas," Peter continues. "While it's true he's a bit diminished, politically speaking, after everything that's happened"—he waves his hand vaguely, but it's clear he means me—"he's still influential among the older Reformists. Of course, there are some in the council who argue that Nicholas is complicit in Blackwell's takeover. That if he hadn't been intent on helping you, on making sure your life was spared"—a glance at John, who scowls—"we could have somehow stopped him."

The idea, it's so absurd I almost laugh.

"Blackwell has been planning this for years," I say. "Decades, even. Since he started that plague that killed the king and queen. My parents. Half the country."

Peter holds his hands up, a conciliatory gesture. But I go on.

"Even if you'd known, you couldn't have stopped it. I would have said that even before I knew he was a wizard." I think of the man I knew—the man I thought I knew. The man who was once Inquisitor, devoting his life to rooting out and destroying magic. Who spent his life plotting in secret and lying in attendance; who used me, Caleb, the rest of his witch hunters to capture witches and wizards so he could build an army, overthrow the king—his own nephew—and take over the country. "You don't know Blackwell the way I do. You don't know what he's capable of."

I've stopped walking, and now instead of shivering I'm sweating beneath all this rabbit fur. John gives my hand a slight squeeze, and only then do I realize I was shouting.

"I do know," Peter says. "And the council needs to know, too. What Blackwell's done, everything he's done. With any luck, it will tell us something about what he plans to do next."

We've been over this strategy countless times. Nicholas wants to put me on the stand and have me tell them what I told him, things I've never told anyone else before. About my training, about how I became a witch hunter, about Caleb.


My stomach twists into a tight, painful knot the way it does every time I think of him. And I think about him often—too often. The way I raised my sword to try to kill Blackwell, the way Caleb threw himself in front of him. The way I killed Caleb instead.

He needed me out of the way, I know that now. He saw me as an obstacle, as something keeping him from the ambition he so desperately needed to reach. But knowing that is still not enough to quell the guilt that eats at me, that has eaten at me every single day in the two months since his death.

"…and that's it," Peter finishes. "That's all you have to say. I realize we've been over it a hundred times. But it's important to be prepared." I nod again, even though I didn't hear a word he said. I never do. Every time he starts to talk about it, my thoughts drift to Caleb and I don't hear anything else.

We travel the rest of the way in relative silence. I'm too nervous to talk, Peter too tense, John too worried. John walks alongside me, brows furrowed, running a hand through his hair until his once-neat curls are nearly standing on end. It makes him seem boyish, younger than his nineteen years.

The path before me begins to narrow, passing through a squeeze of trees lining the road. The trunks are high and twisted, their leafless branches curling and intertwining like fingers, forming a dense canopy to throw shade on the damp dirt beneath our feet and obscuring the view ahead.

"Mind your step." Peter points to the felled trunk blocking our path in the center of the road. "These trees, they're quite lovely in summer. But after the first of the winter rains, it seems as if half of them come down, quite a pain in the—God's blood."

I hear John's sharp intake of breath, and I look up and see them. Hundreds, maybe even a thousand people, lining the road to Gareth's. For a moment, we stand there, the three of us rooted to the ground, staring at the faces of the men and women before us, who wear expressions ranging from curiosity to disgust to hatred.

We push past them, shivering beneath wool cloaks and hats and scarves and gloves. I don't recognize any of them but I recognize the look they give me, the way their eyes sweep over my too-fine gown and too-fine coat, and all at once the effort Fifer put into making me look respectable, into making me look innocent, all of it seems at best a farce, at worst an insult. I don't belong here, and they all know it.

"Head up," Peter whispers. "You look hangdog. Worse, you look guilty."

"I feel guilty," I say. "I do feel guilt."

"Feeling guilt and looking guilty are two very different things," Peter says. "Now look, there's Gareth ahead. He'll lead us inside."

The endless sea of people ends at the low stone wall surrounding Gareth's home. Sand-colored brick two stories high, surrounded by an expanse of manicured gardens, trimmed low for winter. It's bordered by a hill on one side, thick with dark, winter-hardy trees, and on the other, a cathedral. Separate from the home but built from the same sand-colored brick, it's fenced by a tall iron gate and fronted by a crumbled cemetery, full of irregularly planted slabs and crosses, mossy and weatherworn.

Gareth, dressed in black council robes, the red-and-orange badge of the Reformists emblazoned on the front, strides toward us. He's as I remember him: spindly and gray, pale blue eyes flashing behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He offers his hand to Peter and then to John, who shakes it without enthusiasm.

"I trust you found your way here without incident?" Gareth says.

"We're here, aren't we?" John mutters.

Peter throws him a sharp look; John ignores it.

"No incident," Peter replies. "Though that's down to luck more than intent, I reckon. I seem to recall your wanting to keep this a private affair? Looks like half the northern hamlets showed up."

Gareth offers a thin smile, a glint of an apology. "News travels fast in Harrow, you know that. Especially news of this magnitude." He looks to the crowd, now pressed in so close they're nearly surrounding us. They've fallen silent, those in the back craning their heads, trying to hear him speak. "For many, this was the first they'd heard of Nicholas's illness. It's natural for them to be concerned for his well-being. He is a popular figure, of course." Gareth's smile wavers just a bit. "I'm sure many here are grateful to Elizabeth for sparing his life."

"She didn't spare it, she saved it." John's voice is sharp, irritated. Peter lays a hand on his shoulder but John ignores that, too. "And if people are so grateful to her, then why are we having this hearing at all?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't work that way." Gareth spreads his hands, as if he himself is helpless to the machinations of the council, as if he himself is not the head of it. "The council calls the hearings, not the populace. Although I am sure the vote will bring their gratitude into consideration."

Of all the looks leveled in my direction, not one could pass for gratitude.

"In any event, the council is convened inside, waiting for your arrival. Shall we?" Gareth gestures not at his home but at the neighboring cathedral. "With the crowd such as it is, we had to move the hearing there. I assume there are no objections?"

"Would it matter if there were?" John snaps.

"None at all," Peter says cheerfully. "Shall we?"

Gareth leads us down the short path to the cathedral's gate, the crowd pressing close behind. He opens it and waves us inside, striding quickly toward the front door, black cloak billowing behind him like a storm cloud. Peter steps through but I hesitate, feeling a sudden shiver of foreboding at my surroundings. The gates: like those at Ravenscourt, tall and forbidding. The crowd: like the one that protested in front of them, angry and demanding. The spire atop the cathedral: a judge pointing an accusatory finger. The tumble of tombstones: a jury waiting to pass sentence.

"It will all be over soon," John whispers in my ear, his hand steady on my back.

I turn to him and that's when I see it: a split second of movement, a man in a blur of black, and that familiar sound, the creaking of wood, the sound yew makes when strung with hemp; a bow with an arrow nocked and ready to fly.

The scream tears out of my mouth just as the arrow tears through the neck of the man standing right beside John.

THE MAN'S MOUTH OPENS WIDE, in shock as much as horror. Blood fountains from the wound in his neck, saturating his shirt even before he drops to the ground with a heavy thump, like an overstuffed sack of turnips.

The crowd around us erupts in screams. Another arrow, two, zing through the air. Another man goes down, then a woman.

Peter yanks his sword from the scabbard with one hand, points toward the cathedral with the other. "Go! Get inside. Both of you. Now." He charges past us, back out the gate, and disappears into the crowd.

John grabs my arm, viselike, and pushes me down the path ahead of the people who push and scream behind us. He shoves open the cathedral door and Fifer stands on the threshold, pale and pretty in an emerald velvet gown, her hair pulled back tightly from her face.

"What's happening?" Her normally gravelly voice is thin with fear. "I heard screams—"

"We're under attack." John thrusts me through the door. Throngs of people crowd behind him, push around him, come between us. He's released me and is now disappearing from sight, back out the door again. "Stay inside," I hear him call. "Don't come out, no matter what."


"Don't come out!" he repeats. I hear his voice but I don't see him. I call his name again, but he's gone.

I skirt along the back wall of the cathedral and down the side aisle toward the transept, Fifer on my heels. People crowd the nave, fill the pews, all of them screaming and pushing.

"Where's Nicholas?" I shout.

"With the rest of the council," she shouts back. "They convene in the crypt before hearings; they hadn't come up because you weren't here yet."

I stop before a tall arched window overlooking the graveyard. A dozen or so men, John and Peter among them, stand huddled beyond the gates. Peter presses a sword in John's hand and before I can make sense of what's happening, before I can reconcile the sight of John holding a weapon, they scatter.

I slip off my rabbit coat, let it slide to the ground. Lift up the outer skirt of my gown, tear off the kirtle underneath.

Fifer's mouth drops open in horror. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" I kick the fabric aside. "I'm going to help."

"I see that," Fifer snaps. "I meant, what are you doing to that gown?"

I shoot her a look.

"You can't go out there." She changes tack. "You could get hurt." She casts a furtive glance around, but the people crushed around us aren't paying attention; even if they were, they couldn't hear us above the fray. "You could die."

"Which is why I need weapons," I say. "Some of the men here must be armed. A sword, or knives, preferably, but I'll take anything."

Fifer hesitates, scowling. Finally, she picks up the hem of her heavy velvet skirt and pushes into the crowd. I turn back to the window. Arrows fly indiscriminately; men—I can't see who—dart behind trees, hedges, headstones. There's shouting inside, shouting outside; I can't make sense of anything. Moments later, Fifer reappears behind me, carrying a handful of silver-handled knives. She passes them to me one by one, handle first.

"I don't know if they're what you want," she says, "but I had to steal them, so I don't want a word of complaint."

A grin slides across my face at the feel of their cool, comforting weight. I pick up my discarded kirtle, slice off a strip with one of the knives, tie it around my waist into a makeshift belt. Shove the rest of my weapons inside, then step to the small door beside the window and unbolt the latch.

"Lock it after I leave," I tell her. "Don't open it again, not for anyone."

"Don't do anything stupid," she replies before shutting the door and sliding the heavy bolt back into place.

Before me, the cemetery and the surrounding gates. Beyond that, trees, and then an expanse of brown rolling hills. To my right, men fighting and shouting, Peter among them. I don't see John but I do see two others, not archers in black but townsmen in simple winter robes, lying faceup in the grass, arrows lodged in their chests. Dead.

I edge my way toward the front of the cathedral. I don't make more than a few feet before an arrow sings by me, lodging itself in a crack in the stone. It's followed by another, then another. They arrange themselves in a neat little row, not six inches in front of my face. The aim is not a mistake, it's a warning. I crash to the ground. Crawl on my stomach across the dirt and grass, take refuge behind a crumbled slab pocked with lichen and moss. Arrange my thoughts as neatly as the arrows messaged before me.

First, find the shooter. The arrows came in high, landed low; somewhere in the trees, then. Second, kill the shooter. I slide a knife from my belt and dart from behind the headstone to another, my eyes on the shadowed branches above me, inviting him to show himself.

Where are you? I think.

A reply comes in the form of yet another arrow, this one skimming the space between my third and fourth fingers, wrapped around the corner of the stone. I jerk my hand away, the smallest yelp escaping my lips as a stream of blood runs down my fingers, a crimson streak against pale skin. Out of habit, I wait for it, but it doesn't come. Not the flash of heat in my abdomen, not the sharp, prickling sensation. Because out of habit, I forget I no longer have my stigma.

I duck behind the slab again and assess. I'm bleeding, I'm cornered. I'm armed but not as much as I'd like, and I can't spot my attacker. I have no advantage. But I didn't survive two years of witch-hunter training without knowing how to make the most of a disadvantage. Unbidden, Blackwell's voice rings through my head: In order to regain lost advantage, you must always do the unexpected.

So I do the one thing I shouldn't do when surrounded by a hidden enemy: I stand up. I hear it then, the tiniest sound—a ruffle of leaves, a barely suppressed grunt of surprise. It's enough. I spot him perched in a low branch of an oak tree, camouflaged by the boughs of a nearby evergreen. I slide one of the heavy silver knives from my belt. Pull back my arm, take aim, throw.

And I miss.


A short, derisive laugh; the soft thud of feet hitting ground. Whoever was in the tree is out of it now, and he's coming for me. Footsteps. The rustle of fingers on fletching, the drawing back of an arrow. So I do the only other thing I can do when surrounded by a hidden enemy:

I turn. And I run.

The arrow whistles over my head, just barely and by mistake—my foot gets tangled in the hem of my gown and I tumble to the ground. Roll to my back, scrabble for another knife, but it's too late: The archer is standing over me. Dark hair, stocky build, early twenties. I don't know him, but he seems to know me. He regards me with a half-suppressed smirk, a shake of his head.

"From everything I've heard about you, I'd hoped for a better fight than this."

"Who are you?" I ask.

The archer doesn't bother to reply. He pulls another arrow from his quiver, slowly nocks it in place, never taking his eyes from mine.

"I like a good sport," he says. "Blackwell assured me you'd be one. He'll be disappointed to hear he was wrong." He cocks his head to the side, considering. "Perhaps not that disappointed."

I shuffle back and away from him, from the arrow now aimed directly at my face. I don't get far, backing into another headstone, the rough surface digging into my spine.

The archer swings his bow back and forth, slowly, as if taking inventory of my features. "You have pretty eyes," he says. "Seems a shame to shoot you there, but it's the best place, you know. It'll only hurt for a moment."

I notice it then: the badge stitched on the front of his black wool cloak. It's a grotesque thing: a red rose strangled by its own thorny green stem and pierced through the top with a green-hilted sword. I've never seen it before now, but I know exactly what it is: Blackwell's new emblem.

"He won't win," I whisper. They're my last words; I should make them count. "Blackwell. He thinks he'll win. But he won't."

A shrug. "He already has."

I don't reply; I only wait. For the arrow to pierce my skull, my brain; wait for death. I close my eyes, as if it will hurt less that way.

Then, in the space between one moment and the next, it happens. A footfall, the tread of boots on the soft grass, the snap of a twig. My eyes fly open as the archer whirls around but not in time, not before the blade lands hard across his neck and down his back, nearly slicing him in two.


  • Praise for The King Slayer:

    "A satisfying end to a series, this book is perfect for lovers of Cashore's Graceling and Maas's Throne of Glass...The King Slayer is a solid and entertaining read."—VOYA
  • Praise for The Witch Hunter:
    A YALSA 2016 Teens Top Ten Nominee

    * "An explosive cocktail of high-stakes adventure... The first-person, present-tense narration is rendered masterfully; coupled with the cinematic vividness of the descriptions, the whole makes for a page-turning delight."—PW (starred review)
  • "Debut author Boecker's first-person, present tense narrative creates a suspenseful mood by allowing readers to see Elizabeth's secrets, doubts, and fears...The book has plenty of action-sword fights, battles with monsters, black magic, and betrayal-but there is also camaraderie and romance...Fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Houghton Harcourt, 2008) will see similarities in this story of a girl with deadly skills who begins to question using her services to benefit a brutal ruler. This action-packed tale will be a welcome addition to most YA fantasy collections."—SLJ

  • "In her debut novel (a sequel is planned), Boecker has created an alternate sixteenth-century world whose characters are as intriguing as the magical world they inhabit...Woven within the complex fantasy is a new understanding of friendship and a tenuous but sweet Romeo and Juliet-like love story that promises to blossom, along with the witchcraft, mystery, and bloodletting."—Booklist

  • "Those who like their stories fast-paced will enjoy this mashup of historical and fantasy. Ghouls, ghosts, magic, and supernatural creatures all appear, lending humor and creepiness in equal measure."—School Library Connection

On Sale
Jun 14, 2016
Page Count
384 pages