In honor of International Fairy Tale Day, I thought I would surprise you all with the first two chapters of my upcoming debut YA fantasy, The Lost Legends, available March 18!
But first, here are what some of the early readers are saying…
His feet slid across the loose gravel as he pulled himself around the corner of a building, nearly dropping the bag hanging from his shoulder. The bay glistened at the bottom of the hill, mere blocks separating him from his escape. Footsteps pounded the cobblestone streets all around. The sound of clanking armor and people rushing to get out of the way echoed off the stone buildings.
Loxley ran down the shadowed, narrow alley, keeping his goal in sight. He glanced over his shoulder to see a dozen of the king’s guards trailing behind him. Trying to slow them down, he grabbed onto a stacked tower of crates and shoved it to the ground as he ran by. He was yards from the open docks. His crew waited for him on the ship.
Or so he thought.
As soon as he stepped out of the alley and into the sun, guards came at him from both sides. He turned, looking for a way out, but the men who had followed him caught up. Guards surrounded him from every direction. With the water ahead as his only option, Loxley took a deep breath and prepared to jump. When he stepped forward, a path cleared among the guards to reveal his crew. Ropes and chains restrained each of them. One guard held a dagger against the throat of his second in command, Briar. Though his crew subtly nodded for him to go, he knew he could never leave them. After all, it was him the guards truly wanted. Slowly, he lowered the bag of stolen goods from his shoulder and raised his hands in surrender.
“Then what happened, Mama?” Adalina looked up at her mother with big, expectant eyes.
The queen pulled the blankets up tighter around her daughter’s shoulders with a smile. Adalina knew the story. She had asked to hear it almost every night for years. Some would argue that she knew it better than the man behind the legend himself.
With a chuckle, the queen shifted on the edge of the bed to rest against the headboard. “You know the rest.”
“But I like when you tell it,” the young princess insisted.
“Well,” her mother continued, “they were brought to the castle’s dungeon to be sentenced by the king. But when most of his advisors called for their death, the queen begged for mercy and the king agreed. Loxley and his men had caused trouble in the kingdom for years. They were smart and strong. So, the king came up with a different punishment. They were forced to serve as soldiers and spies in the war against Rayerna for three years.”
Adalina sucked in a breath and covered the lower part of her face with the blanket. She knew what was coming.
“Just as they were brought to the ship, the king’s mother appeared.” Growing weary, the queen moved lower in the bed and put an arm around the princess. “It was rumored that she was a witch, but no one was ever certain until that day. The king had collaborated with her in secret. On the day they were to depart, she went to the crew and pulled out a stack of cards used to tell the future.”
Adalina sat up a little with a grin, and her mother reached over to the bedside table. The princess held out her hands with anticipation as the queen placed two dozen cards in her palms. Together, they flipped through them, looking at the painted faces on each. Adalina stopped on her favorite and pulled it out on top. The dark-haired man looked brave, not cruel or troublesome like the story depicted.
“With their faces on the cards, she cursed the crew. So long as their images remained intact, the Nihryst would remain whole. Never aging. Never dying. The king promised that, after three years, the curse would be removed, and they would simply be banished from Detmarya for their treasonous acts. But instead of being brought to a different kingdom and set free, they were stranded on a remote, secret island called Cyfrin.
The rest of their lives wasn’t enough for the witch though. She believed them to be responsible for her second son’s death during the war—the king’s younger brother. She wanted them to suffer for all of eternity, so she refused to lift the curse, leaving their lives connected to the cards.”
“They were to live on the island forever as immortals,” the princess finished in a whisper. She grazed a thumb over the ancient language that swirled in gilded symbols along the edges of the cards.
“With the cards as the only clue to break the curse.” The queen kissed the top of Adalina’s head as her eyes began to flutter shut.
“I will break their curse.”
The queen didn’t open her eyes, but she smiled at the conviction in her daughter’s words. “Yes, my little blodau, perhaps one day you will be the one to find them and break your great, great, great, great grandmother’s curse.”
Adalina settled back down in the bed. She held the cards close to her chest with one hand while the other held up the most treasured item in her possession. Looking at the intense sea green eyes, she quietly made her vow. “I will find you one day, Loxley. And I will set you free.”
14 years later…
“How many times are you going to read that?” A boot nudged Adalina’s foot.
With a sigh, she closed her book and set it aside. She blocked the sun with her hand, squinting up at her brother. “Do you need something, Shane?”
He laughed and sat down across from her in the grass. The bright blue sky reflected in his eyes as he leaned back on his hands. Sensing something was wrong, Adalina sat up straighter, her back leaving the great oak trunk.
“Shane?” Her gentle voice questioned his silence.
“It’s nothing,” he replied, looking back down at the ground. He picked at a couple blades of grass. The light breeze blew the small pieces around as he pulled them apart. “Just stressed. I needed a break.”
“Is he still planning something?”
Shane scoffed. “Isn’t he always?” He tossed the remaining strands of grass and shoved a hand through his dark hair. “He’s being very secretive, yet he demands my presence. It’s confusing.”
Adalina understood. She knew how sporadic her father had been since their mother’s death. It was as if he wanted to confide in someone, but he couldn’t make up his mind who that should be. He constantly acted paranoid and on edge. After fourteen years, it seemed to be getting worse instead of better.
“Hey.” She bumped his knee with her toes, and his eyes met hers reluctantly. “It’ll be all right. You’re doing as much as you can.”
“But is that enough?”
At that, Adalina crossed her own legs and scooted closer. She covered his fidgety hand. Knowing what he was really thinking, she squeezed his fingers and said, “Yes, Shane, it’s enough. You are going to be a great king when the time comes. No one cares about this kingdom more than you. The people know that—they love you.”
The tension in his shoulders loosened, and he gave her a small smile. Though they were five years apart, they had always been close. Along with Phillip, Shane’s lifelong best friend, they often felt as if they were all each other had in the world.
“So,” Shane said, changing the subject. He reached around her to grab the book off the ground. “Why are you reading this today? Don’t you know every word by now?”
Adalina rolled her eyes and made to take it back, only to have it pulled out of reach. Shane quickly got to his feet and she followed. He held it up in the air, teasing her. With resignation, she leaned against the tree trunk and crossed her arms.
“You’re going to laugh,” she said.
He flipped through the worn pages of their mother’s book. It opened to reveal the Nihryst cards lying between the middle pages. Scanning the familiar faces, a corner of his mouth tugged up as memories flooded them both. He looked back up, waiting for her to continue.
“I think I can find the island.” Her words were barely more than a whisper.
“Ada.” Shane’s eyes looked sad as he stepped forward with the book. “It’s just a story. We’ve been through this. There—“
“Is no island,” she said in unison with her brother. She had heard the same thing more times than she could count. “But look.” She moved to stand beside him and pointed to the open page.
The pages were designed similarly to the cards. The story of the Nihryst was written just as she remembered her mother telling it to her all those nights. The edges, however, had the same swirling language as the cards. Small painted images of her kingdom and the other nearby islands surrounded by symbols filled the pages. Though she couldn’t read the language, she recognized a little of it by where each symbol appeared in the book.
Every time she looked at the map, the colors and letters whirled together, forming images in her mind. She spent hours staring at it, trying to decipher the meanings. Sometimes, it felt as if her whole life had been about decoding the book.
“See this symbol here? Well, it’s on a couple other pages, always near the bottom left corner,” she explained frantically, taking hold of the book. “I think it means southwest.”
Shane looked down at his sister with raised brows. He had never seen the pages as she had, as if they were full of magic. No one had, except their mother. Even then, it was as if she couldn’t see them but knew the princess could. She had watched her daughter’s face light up in wonder each time they read it together. After her mother died, Adalina stopped mentioning the symbols because of the anger it brought to her father’s eyes.
“And here, this one.” Adalina pointed at the image of a rose seemingly in the middle of the ocean. A rose Shane saw as simply a decoration was a clue in her eyes. “Do you remember that island some of the navy men used to speak of? The one they hated stopping at and avoided whenever they could?”
“Tugora,” he answered. “The—“
“Pirate island, yes.” She looked up, excited that he understood and followed her train of thought. “Well, I overheard one of them talking about a Rosy Inn one time, and I think that’s what this symbolizes. I think the key to finding Cyfrin is there!”
Shane sighed and stepped away, pinching the bridge of his nose. Adalina held her breath and waited.
“Ada, it’s just a flower. It’s a decoration on a pretty page. This was fun when we were growing up, but we’re adults now. It’s time to move on.”
She couldn’t meet his eyes. She knew it was coming, but it still hurt. No one had ever seen the things she put together. Only her mother had ever entertained the idea that she might figure out the clues one day.
“I know you think this is just some make believe game,” Adalina said softly. “You don’t have to believe I’ve started figuring out the clues. But these aren’t just stories, Shane.”
She finally looked up and met his gaze, his light blue eyes matching her own. He shook his head slightly. “They are though. They’re bedtime stories meant to teach children not to steal or go against the crown.”
“But they were real people! Our great, great—“
“Great, great grandmother was accused of being a witch,” he continued. “Yes, they were all real people. Real people with exaggerated stories for entertainment.”
She started to turn away, but Shane grabbed her elbow to stop her from leaving. “In all likelihood, they were the thieves we’ve heard of, but they were probably thrown in the dungeon cells and never seen again.”
When she didn’t respond, he walked around to face her and continued, “It’s been over a hundred years and no one has ever found the island. Cyfrin doesn’t exist. They weren’t turned into immortals.”
Adalina’s eyes began to burn, and she hugged the book tighter to her chest. She knew with every fiber of her being that he was wrong, but he was right about one thing: it was time to stop daydreaming under trees and talking about coded maps as if she were on a treasure hunt. She could act the part of the mature princess—who no longer believed in fairy tales—that they all thought her to be.
Clearing her throat, she glanced at her brother with a nod. “You’re right. It’s childish to believe in these stories. I just held onto them for so long because…”
She trailed off. While she had started off with a lie, the last part was true.
“Because our mother gave you the book and the cards,” Shane finished. “She believed they were real too.”
Adalina nodded again, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat. The prince wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed before guiding her back toward the castle. They walked slowly, neither eager to return to their duties. The wind stirred the fallen leaves at their feet. Their footsteps crunched as they made their way to the stone walkway shadowed by the towering stone walls. The red and orange hues of nature reflected off large windows.
Inside, they continued toward their father’s study. They both knew he would still be in there, looking over spilled books and papers that made sense only to him. Adalina had started to fear that Shane may need to step in as king sooner than expected. She kept those thoughts to herself though. She was the princess, but it would still be considered treason.
“Are you excited for the ball? It’s getting close,” she said, trying to sound casual as they crossed the marble floor. Guards stood near the doors, but no one else came through. The entryway was quiet as the staff went about their work elsewhere.
“Ha! No,” Shane replied with a groan.
She looked at him in surprise. Lady Beth spent little time in Detmarya—a short visit each year—but Shane had never complained about her presence or impending proposal.
“I thought you liked Lady Beth?”
Shane rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. Their steps slowed when they reached the staircase. They stopped beside it, wanting to prolong going up to their father.
“I do,” he said, bracing a hand against the banister as he turned to face her. “She’s sweet. I just…”
“Don’t love her?” Adalina gave him a soft smile.
He nodded. “And I really don’t want an entire celebration just to announce the official betrothal.”
“The celebration is for the end of the harvest season,” she said, correcting him. “Your announcement is an added surprise for the people.”
He shrugged as if to say it didn’t matter. He’d be the center of attention regardless, and Adalina was one of the few who understood how much he didn’t love that aspect of this life.
“Are you excited?” He raised an eyebrow with a smirk, changing the focus to her.
“Wipe that grin off your face.” She smacked his arm with a laugh.
“Rumor has it that a certain prince is attending…”
“It’s not a rumor if he’s on the guest list,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“You’re right.” Shane’s face shifted into a mischievous grin. “Those weren’t the rumors I heard about Prince Michel’s visit.”
Adalina felt the heat rise in her cheeks. As Shane turned to go up the stairs, she grabbed his wrist and yanked him back around.
“Fine!” she said in an exasperated whisper. “Tell me.”
He laughed and crossed his arms. “He’s extended his stay. I saw the letter myself.”
She raised her brow and urged him to continue.
“He’s asked to stay an extra couple of weeks. He is coming earlier than planned, and the rumor is,” he dragged out the words, making her suffer with impatience, “he wants to stay because he has proposal plans for some mystery girl.”
Adalina’s eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. She quickly covered it with her hand, trying to appear unconcerned. She knew she wasn’t fooling him though. A thousand butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Words wouldn’t form as she tried to come up with something to say.
Shane shook his head with a quiet chuckle. “Most people seem to think it’s one of the noble ladies.”
That eased some of her worry. It would be extremely difficult to carry on as normal for the next couple months if the people thought their princess was getting married.
“But we both know it’s really you,” he interrupted her thoughts with a wink. Quickly, he jumped back out of reach as she moved to hit him again.
Their laughter was cut off by a handful of people rushing through the doors. There was an urgency in the way they moved down the hall. When closer, Adalina saw a man being carried between them on a blanket. Melanie, Adalina’s lady’s maid, led the group. She met the princess’s eyes and rushed over to the pair.
She bowed her head. “Your Highnesses.” As she raised, she lifted a hand to usher them up the stairs. The group passed. The carried man looked barely conscious, and his moaning could be heard over their movements.
“What’s wrong with him, Melanie?” Adalina asked as she paused.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” she explained. “He’s come down with something, but he’ll be fine. You two should head upstairs though. We don’t want to take any chances.”
Shane thanked her and grabbed Adalina’s elbow to pull her along. As they climbed, she looked back over her shoulder and saw the people disappear around the corner. Adalina knew something more serious was going on—the former nursemaid didn’t even scold her for addressing her improperly—but she let it go for now.
“Don’t worry, Ada,” Shane said as they reached the landing. The study was a few feet away, the door firmly shut. “They’ll bring him to the infirmary and take care of him.”
Adalina looked to Shane and nodded. Moments like these, where he took charge and comforted her, reminded her of the king he would one day become. His air of confidence made him appear older and wiser than his twenty-four years. They paused outside the door that led to where the king schemed. There were still three months before the ball, but the closer it got, the less they saw of him. It concerned both of his children.
“You never answered me,” Shane said, bringing her back to the present. “Are you excited about Michel coming?”
She laughed and shook her head. “You’re very persistent.”
“It runs in the family.” He nodded toward the book tucked under her arm.
“Yes, I’m excited,” she replied, moving a strand of auburn hair behind her ear.
“Good.” With a hand on the doorknob, he added, “Just wait until after my own engagement announcement for yours please.”
Then he was gone, and she was staring at the dark, wooden door. With a sigh, she turned and walked up another flight of stairs to her bedroom. She thought of the prince across the sea and couldn’t stop the grin from spreading. Biting her lip, she quickened her pace, nearly skipping to her door.
Her room sat empty, but a small flame crackled in the fireplace. It fought off the chill that made its way into the air with the changing season. Outside of those in the castle, Prince Michel was her closest friend. She remembered visiting Rayerna after her mother’s death—spending the summer with a prince who knew nothing about cheering up a little girl only a year younger than him. But that hadn’t stopped him from trying. Images of running through the gardens and bright-colored flowers that seemed to glitter in the sunlight filled her mind. Unlike her brother, Adalina loved celebrations and couldn’t wait for the ball. The thought of Michel proposing made her heart pound.
Adalina crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed. Her fingers slid between the pages of the book and expertly pulled out the card of Loxley. She trailed her thumb down the side. Clenching her jaw, she put the card with the others, then put the book into the drawer of her bedside table.
She flopped back onto the soft comforter, replacing the book that was so often held to her chest with a small pillow. In a few months, she would be engaged to a man she loved. She would one day rule beside him as the queen—not that that truly mattered to her. What she wouldn’t have was her mother there to see her marry someone who made her happy.
Thinking of her mother and the book safely hidden away, Adalina rolled over and hugged the pillow tighter. Shane was right: she needed to move past the fairy tales. She needed to live in the real world. Knowing he was right didn’t make it easier. She thought about his disbelief in the story—in her understanding the symbols—and she fought the tears threatening to fall. Instead, she focused on the memory of hazel eyes and a prince always fighting to make her smile.
Pre-order The Lost Legends here!