“Yessir.” The young captain snapped a salute before leaving.

Severin watched him for a few moments before he followed. Severin entered the main hall and exited the front door. He nodded when the soldiers stationed there saluted, and followed a walkway to the gardens.

The gardens swarmed with soldiers like every other part of the chateau, but they were completely devoid of plant life. Severin still found the place soothing, and he breathed in the fresh air with gusto.

He parked himself on a bench nestled into a copse, keeping his back to the trees. From his spot he could see the patrolling soldiers making the rounds.

Severin yawned. “So much for one squad,” he grumbled. “Lucien has half of the third regiment here. If the assassins make an attempt now they are either vastly underpaid, or total idiots.”

Severin wondered how long the army would have to be camped out in his grounds. Perhaps he should return to the palace for the time being. Elle was there, and the palace was swaddled in guards. Even the best assassin wouldn’t try his/her luck there.

“It would only bring trouble,” Severin supposed. “The best chance is to speak to the Arcainia monarchs so they remove the price over my head.”

A crow landed on a branch above Severin and cawed, sounding forbidding in the howling wind. Severin lurched to his feet, frowning when he didn’t see the next pair of patrolling soldiers.

A twig snapped in the trees behind Severin. The prince casually placed a hand on his rapier, lifting his nose to the wind and sniffing.

He swung around, sliding his rapier free of its scabbard. He lifted it up in the air, blocking a sword strike from a man clothed entirely in black.

Severin leaned forward, using his hulking mass to press the assassin backwards. His lips pulled away from his fangs as he opened his mouth to roar out a warning when he was hit on the head from behind.

Severin toppled over and stars exploded in his eyes. The pain was nauseating, and Severin could barely resist as the assassins dragged him into the copse of trees.

“Cover our trail,” an assassin grunted.

Severin hung limply as the assassins pulled him by his arms. His vision started to clear when they dropped him.

Severin waited until an assassin knelt next to him to move, grabbing the man by the throat before he could react. He rolled onto his back and tossed the assassin into his cohort, sending them flying.

Severin leaped to his feet, shaking his head to clear it before facing the third assassin—who had returned from stamping out the drag marks Severin’s body had made in the ground.

Careful to listen for back up, Severin dodged a thrown dagger before leaping at the assassin like a cat pouncing on prey.

He chopped the assassin in the neck, making the fiend sag and fall to the ground. He twisted just in time to avoid a nasty strike from a recovered assassin. A roar ripped out of Severin—one that he hoped would bring the soldiers scurrying to him—before he dodged another dagger blow and grabbed the assassin by the arm.

Severin lifted the man into the air and shook him, jostling the assassin until he dropped the dagger and flopped like a rag doll. Severin then threw him on top of the recovering assassin. He swiped the dagger just in time to raise it against the assassin with the sword.

Severin greatly outmatched the assassin in strength, but Severin was also willing to bet his opponent’s weapon was coated in poison and he took no risks.

While wondering where the soldiers were, Severin roared again, letting the assassin push him back. Several times the assassin’s sword was perilously close to slicing him. The assassin even managed to slash a wad of fur off Severin and cut his waistcoat.

Severin glanced at the others assailants, who were standing again. They were holding throwing daggers, waiting for a clear shot.

Severin blocked another downward chop from the attacking assassin as he started calculating a retreat. He was close enough to the copse of trees that he thought he could duck into it.

The attacker sliced off one of Severin’s whiskers with a curved strike.

Severin was about to make a run for it when the attacking assassin stopped. His eyes went wide as he fell head first, a black arrow shaft sticking from his back.

“Don’t move,” ordered a smooth, daunting voice that Severin recognized all too well.

Severin looked up at the newest members of the drama.

Three people wearing black stood in a row. The one on the right held a short sword; the one on the left was crouched in an offensive stance, holding a halberd thrust in front of him. The slight figure in the center carried a wicked looking crossbow and wore Elle’s face.

The remaining assassins exchanged glances. One of them discreetly adjusted his hold on his dagger. He howled in anguish when Elle shot him in the arm without blinking.

The assassins ran, the injured one holding his wound to try and staunch the blood.