Archive for May, 2020

Splitting the Team

I’ve been reading some Old School epic fantasy, and this weekend I read the novelization of The Rise of Skywalker and rewatched the movie, and it’s reminded me of one of my “epic” pet peeves: splitting the team.

I usually get into a story because I like the characters and the dynamic among them. The story usually starts with the team coming together, often beginning with an existing group, and then adding members along the way. And then just as I’m enjoying that, it generally seems that the author feels the need to split them up, with different groups going off in different directions on different missions. I suppose that’s necessary to make things truly epic. We can’t see enough of the world and what’s going on if we only see the small slice experienced by one group of people. That means we need multiple groups, and it’s easier to establish the characters and make readers care, so they have to start out together before splitting up. Usually in an epic fantasy series, they make it through the whole first book together and split up about a third into the second book, which is where I tend to lose interest in series. I may keep going to find out what happens, but I don’t enjoy it as much.

It’s frustrating to read and watch when that group and those friendships are what you love and then the writers take it away from you. I think that was in part why I was a bit disappointed in The Empire Strikes Back when I first saw it. I loved the trio of Han, Luke, and Leia. They bounced off each other so well. There was Han’s world-weariness, Luke’s idealism, and Leia’s focused determination. Luke on his own could be a little too earnest, but when he was bouncing off Han, he had to rise to the occasion and match the snark. Leia didn’t suffer fools and goaded both of them into taking action. The best parts of the movie were when they were all working together once they teamed up. They did split up a bit as they were running around the Death Star, but that was only for minutes. When The Empire Strikes Back started, it was a joy to see our friends again, all together as a team. And then they were split up for the entire rest of the movie, Luke off on his own (where he became a bit less interesting) and Han and Leia on their own. They had this wonderful team, but we didn’t really get to see them working together. The opening of Return of the Jedi was so much fun because it brought the team back together, and it looked like the rest of the movie would be that way, but then Luke went off on his own again. I get that he had to deal with that situation one-on-one, but I still feel like a lot of the energy left the movie once the team split up.

The newer movies did a weird thing where they teased the possibility of a team, with us just seeing a couple of different combinations of characters, then split the team entirely, then didn’t bring them all together until the third movie, where the dynamic was so much fun that I felt robbed of what might have been. And then they split them up again.

I guess one benefit of mostly writing in first person is that you can’t split the team. If you want the characters to be in the story, they have to be around the narrator. I haven’t really written that kind of “found family” team yet, even though I love that trope so much. It’s on my list of things I want to do. And then maybe I’ll be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to split my team up.


The Wolves Are Eating Me!

I had a nice, relaxing holiday weekend. It rained a lot of the time, which I didn’t really mind. I had just enough patio reading time, plus plenty of time to sit inside and listen to the rain.

One thing I’ve been doing during the lockdown is studying Norwegian. Part of my family came from Norway, and I’ve always been a bit fascinated by the place because it hits a lot of the things I like, with mountains, forests, and lots of water. A couple of years ago, I’d thought about taking a trip there, but that was when all the medical stuff hit and I didn’t want to make advance plans at that time. Now as I’ve been building a fantasy realm to write in, I’ve found myself modeling it on Norway. It has all the elements I need, along with some cultural things that I can work with. I’d been thinking of taking a research trip later this year, and then the pandemic happened, so travel isn’t likely for a while. But I figured that gives me some time to prepare for when I can go, so I got on Duolingo and started learning Norwegian.

I don’t know if it’s the words and sentences Duolingo chooses to teach or if there’s something I should know about Norway, but it’s starting to look like Norway might be the Australia of the north. One of the first words they taught was “spider.” Then we learned about wolves and bears. We learned how to say “The wolf is eating me” and “The bear is eating him.” We learned all that before we learned how to order in a cafe (which was one of the first things I learned in German).

What are the tourist brochures not telling us about life in Norway if you need to learn to say “The wolf is eating me” before you learn to say “A cup of tea, please”?

Annoyingly enough, I can remember how to say “The wolf is eating me” better than I can remember how to ask for a cup of tea. In fact, “Ulven spiser meg” is about the only sentence I can say in Norwegian off the top of my head. I’m not entirely sure how effective the Duolingo learning model is. I get most of the quizzes right, but I don’t know how much I actually am learning and remembering. From what I understand, “Norwegian” is a fairly recently constructed language, mostly based on Danish with a few touches of old Norse, and isn’t actually all that widely spoken. Most areas have their own dialects, and what we think of as “Norwegian” is mostly used as a written language and for things like national television broadcasts. It may be useful for reading signs and newspapers and getting around the country, but in a lot of places, people might be more familiar with English than with Norwegian when it comes to conversation. They start learning both languages in school around the same time, and they may watch more American television and movies than they do Norwegian television and movies.

Still, it’s good to know at least a few words. I like to know how to read things like signs and restaurant menus, and with my name it will probably be good to be able to understand what someone’s saying to me when they assume I speak Norwegian (I had that issue when I was doing PR for Ericsson). My library also offers a language learning system that’s more based on conversation, and I may try that one after I’ve picked up more vocabulary and sentence structure from Duolingo.

One thing I’ve learned is that the letter “d” is mostly silent in Norwegian. My whole life, I’ve been having to tell people that the “d” in my last name is silent, since it’s really hard to pronounce it if you try to sound it out. It turns out, that’s actually the proper Norwegian pronunciation. The family in Norway spells it with a “v” instead of a “w,” though. That got changed somewhere in the journey to America.

I may have to rely on YouTube travel videos instead of a research trip for now, but someday I hope to make use of my language lessons. The ordering in a cafe and getting around the country part, not the being eaten by wolves part.


Fantastic Journeys

While I’ve been reading some old-school fantasy, I’ve found myself thinking about what I liked about this genre in the first place. What made this the thing I wanted to read—and write?

The magic is a big part of it, and it was something I enjoyed in stories even before I was reading real fantasy. I liked fairy tales and any stories that had magic, even in a real-world setting, like Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Bewitched on TV. I like that sense of possibility, that there may be more to the world than we realize. Whether it’s miracles or magic, I like imagining that not everything has to fit the laws of science or make sense. There’s room for the ineffable.

But I realized while thinking about this this week that I also enjoy the sense of the journey. Most of my favorite fantasy stories, whether books or movies, have some kind of travel. I’m sure a lot of this comes down to the Hero’s Journey format, which is a literal quest, but that’s universal for a reason. It speaks to us on some psychological level. A journey also provides a way to let us explore an imaginary world as we travel with the characters. I love a fantasy novel with maps that let me follow along with the characters.

Looking at some of my favorites and the books that got me into fantasy … The Hobbit is literally subtitled “There and Back Again.” The Lord of the Rings is one big, epic journey (and my favorite part is the first book, which is a more straightforward travelogue before things become more about battles). All the Narnia books are to some extent about travel, since they involve going to another world, but the one that got me hooked, The Silver Chair, is a quest involving a journey within that other world. My second favorite is Voyage of the Dawn Treader, another journey. Going to more recent books, Stardust is a quest/journey story, as our hero goes to another land and then has adventures as he travels throughout that land. You could even look at Star Wars as a journey story, since it’s about Luke leaving his home and traveling to other places (Star Wars has spaceships and robots, but it’s structurally a fantasy story).

There are some exceptions. I love Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, but that’s because of the characters. They’re not really quest/journey stories. The Discworld books are more about the world, though I suppose some of the individual books involve journeys that are about exploring that world.

Oddly enough, even though journeys are something I love in fiction, I haven’t used that element much in my own writing. Spindled is about the only book I’ve published that really fits that pattern. The Fairy Tale books have some element of that, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I wrote them. No Quest for the Wicked, book 6 in the Enchanted, Inc. series, was meant as a kind of spoof of the quest story (I actually re-read The Hobbit and watched The Lord of the Rings to prepare for writing it and outlined some of the tropes I wanted to play with), though it was all set within the same city. I have written one other journey book that’s a more traditional fantasy. It didn’t sell (though it did win a writing contest), and I have plans to rewrite the story since I don’t think my writing skills were up to the concept at the time I wrote it.

I guess that means I need to write a journey book. I’m developing a fantasy series now, and I think I need to make book one a quest or journey.

I think next week I’ll be posting Tuesday and Thursday because Monday is a holiday and I’ve got an online conference on Friday.


Generic Fantasy Novel

I’ve been reading a lot over the past couple of months. During the time when the library was closed, I took the opportunity to read some of those things I’ve had lying around. There was one Big Fat Fantasy Series (which shall remain nameless) taking up a lot of space on my bookcase, and it existed in the limbo between To Be Read and Read. I remembered plowing through the first book and rushing out to get the rest, but for some strange reason that I don’t recall, I stopped halfway through the third book. I don’t think I decided I didn’t like it. I believe there may have been life events getting in the way. That was around the time I sold a book and had to do revisions, so I suspect that was why I put the book aside, though it might also have something to do with my tendency to burn out on a series if I try to read it straight through. By the time I was ready to get back to it, I’d forgotten what was going on, so I’d have had to re-read the whole thing, and that meant it got put aside for more than 20 years.

I decided that now was as good a time as any to pull those books out and finally read the whole series. Then I could decide if they were Keeper Shelf material or if I could donate them when I was done and clear a significant amount of shelf space.

It’s interesting how much my reading tastes and expectations have changed since then because I don’t think I’d have bought the rest of the series if I were reading the first one for the first time now. I think a lot of it is my age. I have a lot less patience with the very young main character now than I did when I was in my 20s. Reading expectations have also changed a lot since then. The first book in this series was published in the 80s, and I don’t think you could get away with such a slow start now. It was about page 180 before the action really started. You’d have to get that event in by around chapter three now. But reading this made me realize that the fantasy of the 70s and 80s certainly had a template. I present to you the Generic 1970s-1980s Fantasy Novel:

Our hero is a teenage boy or very young man (early 20s at most). He has a menial job in a castle or palace, working in the kitchen or stables or as a servant, and he’s not very good at his job. He tends to get sidetracked easily so that his work goes unfinished or done badly — could it be that he’s meant for something more than this? If it’s a multi-viewpoint book, we may get a look at our hero from some other character, who despairs of his prospects if he doesn’t get his act together and may remember his mysterious origins or the night of his birth. We get a tour of the castle through his eyes as he goes exploring when he gets sidetracked from his work, and during this tour we “meet” the major players in our story, including the ruler, priests, nobles, etc. There’s some kind of plot brewing, which our hero overhears but doesn’t entirely understand. Our hero likes to hang out in the chambers of the wizard/scholar/wise man/sorcerer/alchemist because he’s intrigued by the cool stuff there. The wizard takes him under his wing and teaches him some things, like reading and writing, and may make him his apprentice (if he isn’t already his servant). During our hero’s wanderings, he either stumbles upon something or learns something that he reports to the wizard, who becomes alarmed, puts it together with some other info, and decides to take action. He takes the hero with him on some quest or sends the hero away on the quest.

That doesn’t apply to every fantasy novel published during that era, but I can think of at least four series off the top of my head that follow that pattern. They generally diverge after that point in the story, varying by what the hero has to do and where he goes. I think being more aware of this pattern affected my enjoyment on this read. I’m about 3/4 through book two, and I’m committed to seeing it to the end this time. I remember just enough for some elements to feel familiar, but not enough to have any idea what will happen next. I think after I’m done, these books will be donated to the library book sale because I can’t imagine wanting to re-read them again. That should clear up some space for books I really want to keep. I’m trying to space out this read so I don’t burn out, reading other things in between books.

I do think that part of my issue is that I have little patience for the teenage hero, who is acting like a teenager. My interest is more with one of the other characters, someone I recall thinking of as “old” on my first read. Now he’s younger than I am. Ouch!

Still, it’s fun diving into the kind of fantasy series that made me a fantasy fan back in the day, exploring another world that takes me away from the present.



The serial book is now over, so I guess we’re back to normal operations. I don’t have any more novels just hanging around. Everything else I’ve got didn’t make it to the point of submission, so it would take a lot of work to get it ready for people to read. Most of those things, I do hope to actually revise and do something with them in the future.

I think I’m going to go to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of posting for now, though I may adjust that later. I plan to put out a newsletter next week, so if you haven’t yet signed up for that, you can do so here.

The weekend was pretty much perfect for me, weather-wise. Saturday, it rained all day and into the night. It was a perfect time to bake and read. I started with blueberry muffins for breakfast, then in the afternoon I tried the DoubleTree cookie recipe that Hilton posted. It was pretty close to what you get when you check in to the hotel, perfect for having with hot tea on a rainy afternoon. When I wasn’t baking, I spent most of the day reading. I didn’t even do a movie night because I was enjoying listening to the rain.

Sunday was nice and sunny, so I spent much of the day on the patio. I got the best of both worlds for reading conditions. Now I’m geared up for a busy work week. I want to finish revising this book, and I’m getting my house in order for taking an at-home “vacation” for the holiday weekend.

I’ve decided to pretend my house is a hotel. I may even go somewhere Friday afternoon so that I can come back and get the sense of checking in (and get my cookie when I do). I figure that since there probably won’t be a real vacation for a while, I can play a little at home. I’m trying to make weekends and holidays feel different from weekdays. I’ve always tried to do that while working from home, but it’s more important now that I don’t have any of my usual weekend activities.

My church is probably going to continue doing online only services through June, since this metro area still has a pretty high case count, and it may be a long time before we get back to doing in-person choir, since it turns out that singing in a group is probably the most dangerous thing you can do right now. Singing projects droplets farther in the air, and then the deep breathing you do when singing can bring potentially virus-laden droplets deeper into the lungs. We’ve done a couple of “cell phone choirs” where we record our part at home and it all gets edited together, and I’m joining in an online choir project one of my former choir directors is doing. I’m getting used to singing into a camera by myself.

I figure this summer will be a good time to really buckle down and get a lot of writing done. I still have a book to write in my mystery series before I’m ready to launch, and I’m developing a new fantasy series. I’ve also been kind of itching to play with a fantasy/paranormal romantic comedy, though I don’t have any ideas at the moment. It’s just something I want.


Serial Story Epilogue

We come to the end, at last, with the epilogue. If you want to start from the beginning, you can find it here. The previous chapter is here. Or you can buy the whole thing as an e-book (it’s not that expensive. You can think of it as leaving a tip and getting something in return). If you’ve enjoyed this, please consider leaving a review at the usual places (Amazon, Goodreads, etc.). The last time I checked, there was one review at Amazon, and it wasn’t very good, so that’s sad. If you know someone else who might enjoy this story, share the link to the first chapter.


Lucy stood behind the soda fountain counter, her history book open beside her. Knowing that there was a remote possibility that she might be a queen someday made her focus more on her studies. She might need to know stuff about history, government, and economics. But as weeks had gone by without a word from the other world, she started to wonder if she’d imagined it all. Only the fact that she could talk to Dawn and Jeremy about it convinced her that it had really happened.

It was hard to feel like a princess, though, when she was making ice cream sodas for bratty kids after school, especially while wearing a hairnet, an apron, and a paper hat.

The bells on the door jingled, and a group of people came into the drugstore. She didn’t look up from her book until she realized they’d taken seats at the counter. Dawn and Jeremy were there, along with a guy who looked familiar but totally out of context. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and he looked about their age. He had chestnut-brown hair, cut short on the sides and back, but a little longish and wavy on top, and he was wearing new-looking jeans and a polo shirt.

It was only when he smiled at Lucy that she recognized him. “Lucy, you remember my cousin Sebastian, don’t you?” Dawn said with a grin. “He’s spending the summer with us.”

“What are you doing here?” Lucy blurted. Why did he have to show up while she was wearing a paper hat, when he’d last seen her as a princess? But the smile he gave her made it clear he didn’t mind.

“The enchantresses believe they know where the king and queen are,” he said. “One of them gave the royal family a talisman to transport them away in an emergency, and the talisman was to take them to this general area, near where the guardians of the princess were.”

“So they’re around here, in East Texas? Gee, normally the most royalty we have in this part of the world is beauty queens.”

“They want us to help with the search, and they sent Sebastian,” Dawn said.

“They thought that from my time with you, I might know more about the local language and customs,” Sebastian added. “I also brought some friends, but they’re waiting outside.”

Lucy came out from behind the counter to look out the window, where she saw Leila and Larkin waiting patiently on the sidewalk outside, wearing collars and tags. She turned back to the others. “First, ice cream sundaes all around. Then, it looks like we need to come up with a search plan.”

Actually, first came a big hug and a kiss from Sebastian, but even a princess had to have her priorities.


Grasping Scene and Sequel

I had a grand epiphany about writing on this morning’s walk, and it should make writing so much easier for me.

I’ve always understood and yet still struggled with the “scene and sequel” structure. I think maybe I’ve been doing it unconsciously, but the moment I start thinking about it, it doesn’t work for me, and yet it’s a great way of testing a plot. When a story isn’t working, it’s usually because it fails on scene and sequel.

The idea is that in the scene, the action part of a story sequence, the character has a scene goal related to the story goal (usually a subset of the story goal). She encounters obstacles and conflict in trying to achieve the goal, ending in a “disaster” in which she can’t achieve the scene goal. In the sequel part of the sequence, she reacts to that disaster and then regroups and comes up with a new goal, which drives the action into the next scene.

That always makes sense to me when I read books on writing or go to workshops, and then when I try to apply it, it falls apart, mostly because I feel like it ends up with the character spinning her wheels. At some point, she has to achieve something in order to ever accomplish her story goal. In a mystery, for example, scene goals would be things like getting information from a witness or finding clues at the crime scene. The “disaster” in which she doesn’t achieve her scene goal would be not getting the information or not finding clues. While you don’t have much of a story if the detective gets all the info from the first interview or finds the critical clue early in the book, you also don’t have much of a story if the detective fails in every scene and never gets information or finds clues. She’s going to have to get answers somewhere along the way if she’s going to solve the case at the end, and you don’t have a very good detective if she’s wrong every step of the way.

My realization this morning is that I’ve probably been taking it all too literally. “Disaster” might be too strong a word for the kind of outcome you need. It just needs to be something that requires further work. You don’t want the character to be right all the time, but she can still get useful information. So, that witness may not have the information she expected or wanted to get, but the information she does get sends the investigation off in a new direction. She does find a clue when searching, but that clue is going to require her to track something else down. Or it may implicate someone she doesn’t want to think could be guilty. Not every scene has to end in a “no” for the goal. It’s possible to have a “yes, but” or even a “yes, and.” The main thing is that the end of the scene needs to lead the character to a decision about what to do next, and that should involve escalating levels of difficulty until she achieves the story goal.

That’s probably obvious to a lot of people, but it finally clicked for me this morning when I was thinking about it while walking. And then while writing this post, I realized what’s wrong with the book I’m revising and how to fix it. It’s like the heavens have opened and the angels are singing to me.


Serial Chapter 20

Here’s chapter 20 of the serial story. There’s just the epilogue to go. If you want to start from the beginning, you can find it here. The previous chapter is here. Or you can easily read it straight through by buying the e-book.

Chapter Twenty

Dawn watched a surprisingly regal-looking Lucy be escorted to the front of the throne room by the tall young man who was apparently the Sinclair boy the city guards had been looking for and tried to catch up mentally with everything that had happened to her. The last thing she remembered was being in the tower with the witch and Spink and touching the spinning wheel. Then she woke up to find Jeremy, Lucy, and the Sinclair boy there. And now Lucy was a princess?

Dawn grabbed Jeremy’s arm to steady herself as the realization hit her. If they thought Lucy was a princess, and Lucy had been taken because they thought Lucy was Dawn, that meant that Dawn was a princess, didn’t it? She turned to Mariel. “Who am I?” she demanded. “Am I really the princess from this place? Is that the secret you’ve been keeping from me my whole life?”

“Not now, Dawn,” Mariel said.

“Why not now? Tell me, and I want the truth, not more lies.”

“It’s probably best for now if Lucy continues in the role,” Matilda said gently with a hand on Dawn’s shoulder that Dawn shrugged off.

“I don’t care who gets to play princess. I don’t even want to be a princess. I want to know who I am. I want to know what you’ve been hiding from me.” Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. This wasn’t the time to cry, not when she wanted to be strong and defiant. And angry, oh so angry. None of this would have happened if her aunts had been honest with her from the start, or at least from the time Lucy had been taken. “You were protecting me from the witch, weren’t you? That’s what it was all about, us living in that other world?”

“Yes, dear,” Matilda said, moving as though to touch Dawn again, but thinking better of it and pulling her hand back. “But this is truly not the time or the place to talk about it.”

Dawn looked up and saw that Huw and the troupe had seen her. His face lit up with relief, and she grinned and waved in response. At least he’d been honest with her. In just a few days he’d become like a father–at least, what she assumed a father must be like, since she’d never known her own. That was one more thing she needed to ask the aunts about. Make that the enchantresses, since she had a strong feeling they weren’t really her aunts. She released her clutch on Jeremy’s arm and moved through the crowd toward Huw. Jeremy, Matilda, and Mariel followed her.

She lost sight of Huw when she turned to look for Lucy. The throne room was too chaotic to get a good sense of what was going on, but Dawn thought she saw the top of the Sinclair boy’s head. The witch must have noticed them, though, because a terrible sneer came over her face as she raised her arms over her head. Fire shot from her fingertips with a loud crackling sound.

The crowd quit fighting for the exits and turned in near silence to see what was happening. In that silence, the witch said, “So, you have a princess to present?”

“Yes, we do! We have the rightful princess!” a voice called out, but it wasn’t the duke who’d been confronting the witch earlier. It was Huw. He reached Dawn in the crowd, caught her hand and raised their joined hands over his head. “The rightful princess is here! She has returned to us, and she is just as the legends said, gifted with beauty and song!”

Behind Dawn, Mariel groaned. Dawn shook her head. Every eye in the throne room was now turned toward her. “No, there’s been a mistake,” she said. Feeling terrible for lying to Huw, she said, “I’m not who you think I am.” When his forehead creased in disbelief, she whispered, “Please.”

The witch started momentarily, as if she was surprised to see Dawn up and around. But then she laughed, long and hard. “How many princesses are there? There’s the one his grace the Duke of Grantley is putting forth, and now there’s another one just appearing here. Are there any more princesses with us today?”

Dawn knew the witch was being sarcastic, but part of her hoped that hands would go up all over the throne room. She’d be happy to let any of them take over for her. She’d never get to star on Broadway if she had to be a princess in another world, and she doubted they’d let her perform with Huw’s troupe if she had to stay here.

Unfortunately, no one raised a hand. “Just the two, then?” the witch said with a smirk. “The question is, which is the princess and which is the pretender?”

“There would be one way to tell,” Mariel said. “You created it yourself.”

Melantha arched one thin eyebrow, and her mouth went crooked as she thought. Dawn was sure Mariel was up to something, and the witch likely suspected that, as well, and was trying to figure out the angle. Then she smiled. “Why don’t we? Come up here, your highness.”

Mariel took Dawn’s arm, whispering as she did so, “Trust me, you will be fine.” The crowd parted as Mariel led Dawn up to the dais. There, the witch gestured toward a spinning wheel, very much like the one that had been in the tower.

Melantha gestured toward the windows. “You see that the sun has not set on the day of the princess’s sixteenth birthday. And you know what will happen to the princess if she pricks her finger on a spindle.”

“The fact that I am willing to allow this girl to touch the spindle should tell you that I don’t believe her to be the princess,” Mariel said. “You know that I, unlike you, would not allow harm to come to an innocent.”

“As you said, that is unlike me,” Melantha agreed as she whipped her arm over to Dawn, grabbed her wrist, and brought her finger down onto the spindle.

“Ouch!” Dawn cried out, jerking her wrist out of the witch’s grasp.

“Is that good enough for you?” Mariel asked. Without waiting for Melantha’s answer, she led Dawn off the dais and over to join Huw, Jeremy, and Matilda, who had come forward.

The witch didn’t seem too terribly upset. She turned toward the duke and said, “Your grace, perhaps you would like to put your candidate to the same test.”

The duke stood in front of Lucy and said, “You won’t touch her!”

Lucy exchanged glances with Mariel, then stepped around the duke. “I’m willing to take the test,” she said. The duke moved to stop her, but his brother and Miriam held him back. Miriam took Lucy by the hand, led her onto the dais and over to the spinning wheel, and forced her to touch her finger to the spindle. Lucy slumped silently to the floor.

The crowd gasped out loud, and Dawn buried her face against Jeremy’s shoulder. She didn’t think Miriam would have allowed Lucy to do anything dangerous, but then it wasn’t too long ago that she’d feared her aunts had willingly sent Lucy into danger. Dawn didn’t know what to believe anymore.


Lucy had to work very hard to keep her breathing shallow and not show any expression. She thought she knew where Miriam was going with her proposed test, and since she was apparently the only one around who’d read “Sleeping Beauty,” she’d known just what to do. Now she hoped Miriam had planned a way out of this.

From somewhere just above Lucy, Miriam’s voice said, “Was that what you expected to happen, Melantha?” There was no answer. Miriam spoke again. “But never fear, my good people. The princess is unharmed. My sisters and I found a way to counter that fateful curse. Instead of dying, the princess sleeps, and it is simple enough to revive her. All it requires is the kiss of her true love.”

“Very well,” Harald said, and Lucy felt the dais shake as he stepped onto it and walked over to her. She had to fight not to groan, grimace, or otherwise show a reaction. If he kissed her, she’d pretend to stay unconscious, just to prove he wasn’t her true love.

“No! I don’t think that will work,” Matilda’s voice said, moving closer toward the dais. “Betrothal is not a condition, and I sense no love in you.” Yay, Matilda! Lucy thought as she forced herself not to react. There was a long silence before Matilda said, “You, young man. You were with her earlier, and I saw the way you looked at her. I also saw the way you fought for her. It must be you.”

There were more footsteps, then Lucy felt someone leaning over her. She had to fight really, really hard not to grin in anticipation as she waited for a pair of familiar lips to touch hers. It wasn’t a first kiss, but since she wasn’t a princess and she wasn’t in a magical coma, she didn’t think that mattered all that much. She let him kiss her pretty thoroughly before she opened her eyes. “Hi!” she whispered to Sebastian.

“Hello, my Lucy,” he whispered with a smile. No one but Lucy could have possibly heard it, as everyone in the room—except maybe the witch—cheered, screamed, clapped, and whistled.

Sebastian helped Lucy sit up, then helped her to her feet. He kept his hand clasped around hers as they smiled down at the crowd.

“Oh, dear me,” Matilda said with a mischievous smile. “We must rethink that betrothal. It tempts the fates to interfere with the course of true love.”

The witch let out a scream of pure rage and raised her arms. Jagged lightning bolts flew from her hands—not toward Lucy but toward Dawn. Lucy realized that Dawn was unprotected, since she was still wearing Dawn’s necklace that seemed to protect against magic. Lucy dropped Sebastian’s hand and moved to stand between Melantha and Dawn, blocking the bolts with her body. The necklace grew hot, hotter than it had ever felt before, but she stood her ground. Melantha tried shooting the bolts over Lucy’s shoulders, but Lucy raised her hands to block each one. It was like playing a game with Jeremy’s Wii, but with much more at stake.

While the witch attacked her, the aunts and the other enchantresses made their move. They came at the witch with their own arms raised. A circle of light surrounded her, stopping the flow of lightning. Lucy staggered, and Sebastian steadied her with an arm around her waist. She suspected she’d have at least second-degree burns from the necklace getting so hot against her skin, but it was probably better than what would have happened to her without the necklace—or what would have happened to Dawn.

Melantha fought to escape, but the globe of light around her was like a cage. Geoffrey came to Lucy’s side and said, “Your highness, would you like the witch taken into custody by the enchantresses? They will be better equipped to deal with her.”

“Yes, please,” Lucy said. “And if they need to torture her or punish her a little, that’s okay with me, too.”

He bellowed, “My ladies, the witch is yours to do with as you will.”

Their leader bowed to him, then turned back to the others. “Sisters!” she called out. “Onward!” They all turned to walk out, still surrounding the witch, who was forced to walk along with them, the globe of light moving with her. The aunts stayed behind on the dais, and Lucy was glad because she had a feeling she’d need their help later to sort out the issue of who really was the princess. Plus, she hoped they’d be able to send all of them home.

The crowd in the throne room watched Melantha’s exit in silence, as though they couldn’t believe it was really happening. Into that silence, Geoffrey cried out, “My lords and ladies of the court, and citizens of all the land, I present to you, her royal highness, Princess Aurora!”

The crowd went wild in a big way, and Lucy started to see what Dawn liked about performing if this was the way it felt to get applause like that. She caught Dawn’s eye and winked. Dawn beamed at her as she cheered. Poor Jeremy just looked horribly confused. Lucy had a feeling they were all going to have to have a long talk when this was over.

“And now,” Geoffrey continued when the cheers had died down somewhat, “we came here today for a coronation, and that we will have, now that our princess—our rightful queen—is returned to us.”

Lucy whirled to him in shock. This was moving way too fast. She was just supposed to give the people a sense that their real rulers were still around while they got rid of the witch. She wasn’t supposed to be crowned. She couldn’t be crowned. She wasn’t the rightful princess, and she had to go home.

“No!” she said, surprising even herself with how forcefully she said it. “There won’t be a coronation today. We don’t know where the king and queen are, and I won’t take the crown until we know for certain they are dead.” A glance at Mariel told her this was the right thing to say. The enchantress nodded, with a slight smile on her usually stern lips. “And we will find the king and queen,” Lucy continued. “That will be our first priority.”

The crowd cheered again, and the soldiers all shouted, “Go! Fight! Win!” Jeremy did a double take at that, and Lucy just shrugged and grinned.

Mariel joined them on the dais and said, “I believe the Duke of Grantley is the designated regent. Your grace, you will manage the kingdom until the king and queen have been found.”

He bowed deeply to her. “It is my honor.”

Lucy faced the crowd again. “I’m sorry you all came here for a coronation and didn’t get to see one, but thank you for coming.” She hoped they took that as the dismissal it was, and she figured they shouldn’t be too disappointed about missing the coronation, since they got to see two potential princesses and a magical battle. The spell Melantha put on the doors had broken when she was taken away, so the people were able to leave, without a riot this time.

“Now, get me out of here,” Lucy muttered.

Misunderstanding her, Geoffrey escorted her off the dais and to a room behind it. Sebastian, Harald, and the aunts joined them. Lucy turned to Sebastian and said, “Could you please go find my friends?” He nodded and took off, returning with Dawn, Jeremy, and the dogs. Geoffrey and Harald looked confused, so Lucy explained, “They’re my friends from my world.”

Lucy glanced over at Sebastian, hoping he could read the question in her eyes, and he nodded. “Geoffrey, there’s something we need to tell you,” he began.

Geoffrey groaned. “I’m not blind. I could see it for myself. I’m certainly not opposed to the match, but we will have to examine the treaties.”

“Whoa!” Lucy said. “That’s not what we needed to tell you, though do feel free to check those treaties. The thing is, I’m not really the princess. There was a big case of mistaken identity when the witch sent her people to my world looking for the princess. I felt like I needed to play the role because, until a little while ago, I didn’t know where the real princess was and I wanted to keep her safe, and it would have ruined all your plans if you’d had to admit you had no idea where the princess was.”

“But where is the real princess?”

She pointed to Dawn. “There she is.”

“But she failed the test.”

“She’d already succumbed to the curse,” Mariel explained. “It was broken entirely by then.”

“And I knew what to do to sell it when it was my turn,” Lucy added.

“So, she’s the real Princess Aurora?” Harald asked. He didn’t look like he believed it. It must have been the Emperor’s New Clothes effect. Lucy was dressed in a fancy gown and had a tiara on, so she was a princess. Dawn was dressed in something from Stevie Nicks’s garage sale, so she couldn’t possibly be a princess.

“Well, let’s see,” Lucy said. “Aurora means Dawn. Do I need to draw you a picture?”

Dawn smiled. “But you make a better princess than I would.”

All three aunts turned to look at Lucy, and their stares made her uncomfortable. “You’re right, she does,” Mariel said after a while.

Dawn’s eyes lit up. Lucy had seen that look before, and it usually meant they got in trouble. “I don’t like being in charge or making decisions,” she said, pressing the point. “I don’t even want to be a princess. I want to be an actress. Since everyone already thinks Lucy is the princess, why do we have to tell anyone? Why can’t she just keep being the princess while you’re looking for my parents?”

“Maybe because I’m not really from here?” Lucy said. “I can’t stay here. What would my mom do?”

“We would only need the princess for ceremonial occasions while the duke manages the work of state,” Mariel mused out loud. “Unless the king and queen aren’t found, of course.”

Lucy shook her head. “You really want me to keep playing princess? Is it even possible to go back and forth between worlds like that?”

“We could have done it at any time,” Mariel said. “We only didn’t because we didn’t want to draw attention to where we were hiding. Now, your grace, do you think this arrangement would work?”

“It would certainly help stabilize the situation. Without the king and queen, I’m afraid that presenting an entirely different princess at this point would create an opportunity for another usurper to step in. If Miss . . .”

“Lucy. Lucy Jordan.”

“If Miss Lucy Jordan is willing.”

“Okay, I guess.” Lucy felt more like she’d fallen through a rabbit hole than at any other time in this whole adventure, but she told herself that it wouldn’t be a full-time gig. “But I don’t even know what this place is. I feel like I fell into a storybook.”

“You did, in a sense,” Miriam explained. “You don’t think people just made up all those tales, did you? There are many connections between our world and yours, and through those, the stories came. They’re history to us—or will be—but to you they’re stories.”

“So now ‘Sleeping Beauty’ will have a different ending?”

“I suppose it depends on which book you read and how the person who hears the story tells it. There are always multiple versions of each tale.”

“You can get us home, can’t you?” Jeremy said to the aunts. “I mean, if you’re talking about Lucy going back and forth, then that would imply you can send us home. I’m sure by now my mom will have completely freaked about me being missing.”

Lucy felt a pang for her own mom and what she must be going through. “Yes, we do need to get home, as soon as possible,” she said.

Miriam looked rather pleased with herself. “We can not only take you back, but we can return to not long after you left. It will still have to be after Lucy went missing, because it’s essential to the timeline for Jeremy and Dawn to have a reason to come here looking for Lucy, but we can eliminate the worry to Jeremy’s parents.”

“And I won’t have missed any play rehearsals!” Dawn said excitedly. “I’ll still get to be Guinevere. That is, if I got the part.”

“Of course you got the part,” Lucy said. “You’re a real princess. They have to cast you as a princess who marries a king.”

“We’ll need to go back to the boat to get our things and tell them we’re leaving,” Jeremy said.

“And say good-bye,” Dawn added, looking a little sad. “I think I also owe Huw an explanation.”

“Then you two go, as quickly as possible,” Mariel said, “and we will prepare the portal. Oh, and tell your friend Rhian that she has a place waiting for her at the abbey, if she wants it. She was most helpful, even though you managed to circumvent our best efforts at keeping you safe.”


The atmosphere outside the castle was very different when Dawn and Jeremy made their way to the river than it had been on the journey to the castle. People danced and sang in the streets, and it was a sign of just how overwhelmed Dawn was that she had no urge to join them. Instead, she held tightly to Jeremy’s arm to steady herself as he led the way.

Usually, when her emotions were too strong or tumultuous to express in words, she wanted to sing, but she couldn’t think of a song suitable for the occasion. As far as she knew, there wasn’t a Broadway number about finding out you were a long-lost princess kept safe in another world. There certainly wasn’t a song about being put into a coma by touching a spindle.

Thinking about the spindle made her dizzy again. Based on what Lucy and the aunts had faked in the great hall to discredit the witch, the way to wake the princess from the magical coma was a kiss from her true love. But who’d awakened Dawn? Surely not Sebastian, since he was clearly crazy about Lucy. That left . . .

She suddenly became intensely conscious of how tightly she was holding on to Jeremy. She eased her grip and moved a few inches away from him. He hadn’t said anything about it, but it had been pretty chaotic. She made the mistake of glancing at him and immediately felt her face grow warm. Had he kissed her? And did the fact that it worked to wake her up mean anything? She wasn’t sure what she thought about that, but she did know it was unfair that she’d been unconscious during her first kiss.

They reached the boat, where they were greeted with cheers and a few good-natured jeers. “Why, if it isn’t her royal highness!” Will called out with a grin. “Just think, I was so close to having performed with royalty!”

Nearby, Huw chuckled and winked. “I believe you have a story to tell us.”

“Yes, and it’s one I don’t have time to tell, not now,” Dawn said.

“I wasn’t wrong, was I?” Huw asked.

She could give him that much. “Not entirely,” she whispered in his ear before kissing him on the cheek.

“You’re leaving us, then?”

Dawn had to blink away tears. “I’m afraid we are. We need to get back home, and I have a show to do there. But maybe I can come back from time to time.” If Lucy could, then certainly she could.

Spink flew over and perched on Dawn’s shoulder. “I want to stay!” the bird chirped.

“And you’re welcome to,” Huw said. “We may be losing one performer, but we’ll still be the only troupe with a performing bird.”

Dawn and Jeremy exchanged a look. Should they let Huw know the bird had betrayed them? Jeremy surprised Dawn by shaking his head ever so slightly and saying, “Best of luck to you, Spink.”

“Thank you,” the bird said, more to Jeremy than to Huw, then it tugged at Dawn’s hair a few times before flying off, singing the soprano descant to one of the troupe’s folk songs.

“Thank you for helping us,” Dawn said to Huw. “I’m sure the princess will honor your troupe with royal patronage in thanks.”

“And tell Rhian thanks for trying to get the enchantresses to help. They said there’s a place for her at the abbey,” Jeremy added. “She’ll know what I mean.”

It was with decidedly mixed feelings that Dawn left the show boat. That had been her first real taste of the professional performing life, and she hated to leave it behind, but she reminded herself that Broadway was in the other world.


A servant brought Lucy’s backpack from the stables, where it had been in her horse’s saddlebag, and she went to a side room to change back into her old clothes. It felt strange to wear jeans again, and she even felt a bit of a pang when she took the tiara off. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, then picked up her backpack and headed out to the main room.

Sebastian grinned when he saw her. “That’s the way you looked when we met,” he said.

“And now we’re saying good-bye.”

“For now.”

“Yes, for now.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I can’t believe I agreed to this crazy scheme. But I think I’m glad I did. It means we don’t have to say good-bye forever.”

“And I am very glad that Melantha’s minions got the wrong girl.”

“You know, so am I.” A flare of light on the other end of the room told her the portal was ready, so she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. When Dawn and Jeremy returned, she had to tell herself she’d see him again, soon enough, before she could tear herself away. This was even worse than having a boyfriend who went to another school. She couldn’t look at him as she went through the portal that led back to her world.

It was still fairly early in the morning when Lucy, Dawn, Jeremy, and the aunts stepped into the garden shed in Dawn’s back yard. “Now I need a really good excuse for being out all night,” Lucy said before heading home. “It’s too bad they checked with you, so I can’t claim I spent the night and forgot to tell Mom I was going to. Or did the shop guys report my kidnapping?”

“Shop guys?” Jeremy asked.

“I was kidnapped right in front of the metal shop, and at least one of those guys watched. You mean they didn’t tell anyone?”

“Those guys probably thought they hallucinated the whole thing. Or else they forgot five minutes later.”

Jeremy hurried off to school, so Lucy had to face going home alone. She wasn’t sure what her mother would think about her rumpled clothes and her carefully curled hair. As she walked, she ran her fingers through her ponytail to frizz it up a little.

As soon as she came through the door, her mother screamed, ran to hug her, then said, “Where have you been?”

Lucy hugged her mother back, more glad to see her than she’d expected. “I guess I got lost,” she said, and it wasn’t a total lie. “I thought I saw something in the woods, went to check it out, and got totally turned around, and then it got dark and I was really lost, then I found my way back this morning. I’m so sorry if you were worried, but hey, if I’d had new cell phone with a battery that lasts more than five minutes it might have been different.”

She got grounded for wandering off, but she didn’t really want to do much other than be indoors, warm, safe, and comfortable for a while, so it wasn’t much of a punishment. It gave her plenty of time to read fairy tales so she’d be ready for any other crises to strike her new kingdom.

Concluded in the epilogue.


The Brave Little Tailor

I had some craziness in the house over the past few days. It started on Thursday when I had the patio door open with the screen door shut because it was nice weather. I noticed a giant fly sitting on the inside of the screen door. I figured it got in the house when I was coming and going from the patio, and it flew outside when I opened the door. I’d barely turned around, and there was another one. I swatted that one. Then there were more.

Friday, it was even worse. Every time I turned around, there were several flies on either a window or the patio door. I noticed some holes in the screen door and patched them. An hour or so later, there were more flies. Fortunately, they were really slow, and they mostly stayed around the patio door and the front window, so they were easy to swat.

I did a little research online and figured that they must be cluster flies. These are large flies that tend to lay eggs inside walls. Apparently, they usually make their appearance indoors in the winter when they mistake the warm indoor air for summer weather and come out. In my case, I suspect it has something to do with the construction work done on my house this winter. They found a hole in the outside wall, which would have allowed the flies to get between the walls, but they patched the hole, so they couldn’t get outside that way anymore. They then came into the house through the little gaps between the new interior walls and the windowsill or around power outlet plates, etc.

I spent the weekend chasing down flies. I had some Brave Little Tailor (“Seven at one blow!”) action going on — literally, because when I wasn’t hunting flies this weekend, I was sewing. It was rather distracting. I started seeing flies out of the corner of my eye, even when they weren’t there. The slightest movement, and I’d start hunting. There were a few times when it turned out I was hunting a strand of hair that I saw out of the corner of my eye. Every time I passed a window, I’d study it, looking for flies.

The onslaught seems to have slowed a bit. I only got four yesterday, and there have only been a couple today so far. When I have a day without a new one, I’m going to caulk around the window where they seem to be coming in (I’d rather not seal them up inside the wall). It’s a good thing I’ve been at home all day. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I’d been gone all day and had come home to find a swarm of dozens of giant flies. It would be like something out of a horror movie.

And now I need to figure out how to incorporate some monsters that are big fly-like creatures into a fantasy novel. I think they might be enemy spies.


Serial Chapter 19

We’re getting close to the end! Here’s the latest installment. If you want to start at the beginning, you can find it here. You can find the previous installment here. For information on getting the whole thing as an e-book, go here.

Chapter Nineteen

Sebastian and Fulk drew their swords almost simultaneously, and the rest of their men followed their lead. “Lucy,” Sebastian said very softly, “The stairs to the tower are behind the door at the end of the corridor. When you get the opportunity, go. We will hold them here as long as we can.”

“Gotcha,” she said, then added, “Thanks.” There was so much more she wanted to say to him, but there wasn’t time, and she refused to let herself believe she wouldn’t have another chance.

She, Jeremy, the dogs, and the aunts moved aside, leaving the way clear for the battle that was bound to start as soon as everyone quit staring at each other. “So, you’re challenging me, are you, boy?” Argus asked Sebastian with a sneer.

“Um, hello?” Sebastian replied. He’d apparently picked up a thing or two from Lucy over the past few days. “You’re working for the witch and you’ve betrayed your kingdom. And you were using me to threaten my brother while keeping me away from my family. Of course I’m challenging you.”

Lucy held her breath as Sebastian lunged at Lord Argus, kicking off the battle. In the previous fights, Lucy hadn’t had a chance to really watch Sebastian in action, since she was preoccupied with saving herself. He was good. Not that she knew much about swordfighting, beyond having seen The Princess Bride a few times, but he moved quickly and gracefully, and he swung his sword in slight, controlled movements.

“Who’s Sir Galahad?” Jeremy asked.

“His name’s Sebastian, and he’s the reason I’m still alive,” Lucy replied.

The sound of steel hitting steel was awfully loud in that hallway. It rang and echoed, which made it hard to think. Sebastian managed to push Lord Argus back a few steps. Some of the castle guards noticed their leader in trouble and went to help him. That left a gap down one side of the hallway. “There’s our chance, let’s go!” Lucy said and took off past the fighting, forcing herself not to look to see how Sebastian was doing against all those men.

Jeremy, Leila, and the aunts came with her. The door stood open, and beyond it was a spiraling staircase. “Oh, joy, more stairs,” Lucy said, panting. Leila ran past her and started up the stairs. The aunts gently moved Lucy out of the way before heading upward. Jeremy and Lucy brought up the rear.

The door at the top of the stairs was already open, and the group cautiously eased their way into the chamber. The first thing Lucy saw was Dawn lying on a four-poster bed. She looked like she’d been laid out for a funeral. Lucy desperately hoped the part about the curse being changed from death to sleep was true. A small reddish bird with a blue-gray head sat on the pillow by Dawn’s head, whistling mournfully. Lucy wasn’t surprised that Dawn had already made animal friends in this world. The witch, again in that fabulous red dress, stood over Dawn, her back to the door.

Jeremy froze, staring at Dawn’s lifeless body. The color drained from his face until he was as pale as she was. He snarled, “Spink?” and the bird buried its head under a wing.

Before Lucy could ask what that was about, the witch turned and saw them. “Oh, there you are. I’m sorry, but all your efforts to protect her came to nothing in the end. And to think, you even exiled yourselves. But I have won! The king and queen are missing, and the princess is dead, so the throne is mine!” She gestured triumphantly at Dawn.

“That doesn’t make you queen,” Lucy said. “I mean, just because you think you’ve got squatter’s rights, it doesn’t mean that the princess being out of the way means you rule.”

“But I am the one sitting on the throne.”

“Not at the moment,” Lucy pointed out. “And all your people have been defeated. Give it up, sister. It’s over.”

“Who will you put on the throne, though? You don’t have a king, queen, or princess.”

“Yes, we have,” a voice said from the doorway. Lucy turned around to see a sweaty and exhausted Sebastian standing there. He gestured toward Lucy. “We have a princess the people have already accepted, thanks to your capture and pursuit of her. You’ve vouched for her, yourself.”

“But she isn’t the real princess!”

“The only people who know that are here in this room,” Mariel said.

“And do you think anyone’s going to believe you if you claim otherwise?” Lucy added.

Lucy expected a witty response, but the witch instead raised her arms over her head and started to shimmer. Leila leapt at her, and both of them disappeared. While they were all still staring at the place where the witch had been, the door to the chamber slammed shut. Sebastian immediately went to open it, but he couldn’t. “It’s sealed,” he said.

Mariel went over there and waved her hands around the door. “It’s enchanted,” she reported, “and I can’t break it.”

“Wow, that was like she had a trap door,” Jeremy said.

Miriam was busy studying the spot where the witch had disappeared. “She did. A magical one. I think I can make it work for us.”

“Good, then get us out of here,” Lucy said. “We’ve got to stop her before she crowns herself, and with both the real princess and the one everyone thinks is the princess locked up here, she can do that.”

Miriam shook her head. “I’m afraid we can only get ourselves through magically. We wouldn’t be able to take you.”

“Leila went through with Melantha,” Lucy pointed out.

“But it’s Melantha’s escape hatch. It opens readily for her. We’d have to force it to work, and it wouldn’t be safe to try to take anyone else.”

“Then go. Make sure you stop her.”

Matilda wrapped her hands around Lucy’s. “We will send help.”

“Talk to my brother, the Duke of Grantley,” Sebastian said. “He should be in charge.”

One by one, the aunts each went over to the magical trapdoor, then disappeared, leaving Lucy, Sebastian, Jeremy, and the unconscious Dawn alone in the tower chamber. Jeremy, still horribly pale, went to Dawn’s side. “I take it you beat Lord Argus,” Lucy said to Sebastian.

He looked extremely satisfied as he said, “Yes, I did. My men and Fulk are guarding the tower entrance.”

“You didn’t . . .”

“No, he’s still alive, a prisoner. I want him to face justice for his treachery.”

“There’s nothing I need to sew up, is there?”

“Not that I can tell at the moment. The pains usually strike later.” He glanced over at the unconscious princess, and his face took on a more somber expression as he took Lucy’s hand and said, “I know you didn’t want to do this, but you may have to play the princess for us a while longer, until we can find the king and queen or otherwise secure the succession.”

“What? You mean you think she’s really dead?”

“She’s not?”

“I swear, fairy tales should be required reading, even for boys.”

“I know fairy tales. Just not the princess ones.”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “According to all the tales, the good enchantresses modified the curse so that she’s only in a death-like sleep.” Of course, Disney movies weren’t necessarily documentaries, so she could have been wrong. Dawn did look like she was carved out of wax.

“How do we wake her up?” Jeremy asked.

“That’s where it gets tricky. Some of the stories said she slept for a hundred years, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I mean, that would be a really silly curse modification, don’t you think? Sleeping for a hundred years wouldn’t be much better than dying. Generally, though, waking requires the first kiss of true love. And, wow, that explains why the aunts wouldn’t let her date and got very jumpy about her being around boys. If you need a first kiss to save your life, then you’d best not throw it away on some high school jerk. The trick is defining ‘true love.’ Dawn doesn’t have a boyfriend.”

“We could find Prince Harald once we get out of here,” Sebastian suggested. “He is her betrothed.”

“Her WHAT?” Jeremy asked, looking suspiciously red in the face.

“He’s from the neighboring kingdom. The parents made a marriage arrangement when the kids were babies to create an alliance,” Lucy explained to Jeremy, then turned to Sebastian. “But I refuse to consider that he might meet any definition of true love. That guy’s more likely to put you in a coma than get you out of one.” She turned back to Jeremy. “Trust me, he’s a real jerk. And I don’t think the alliance is such a great idea, not done that way, so I bet the betrothal can be broken somehow.”

Jeremy was getting redder and redder, which was weird because he’d never been someone who embarrassed easily. “While you’re taking traitors prisoner, here’s one you might want to consider,” he said. “The bird who sold us out.”

The bird flew to a windowsill on the other side of the room, well out of Jeremy’s reach, which Lucy thought was wise. From the look in Jeremy’s eyes, she got the feeling he’d have been perfectly willing to snap the bird’s neck. “I didn’t know she would be hurt!” the bird whimpered. “I just did what my mother told me to do. She never said Melantha was bad or that she’d hurt the girl from far away. I was only supposed to tell Melantha she was here. She was supposed to stay at the garden, only I got confused and brought her here.”

Lucy went over to a window and looked out. The ground was very, very far below, far enough to make her dizzy. “It looks like the Rapunzel solution won’t work. I don’t have enough hair to get out the window.” She ignored the boys’ blank looks. If they didn’t know their fairy tales, that was their problem.

“Do you smell smoke?” Sebastian asked after a while.

Lucy tested the air and said, “Yeah, maybe.”

“I smell it,” Jeremy said.

Sebastian went over to the door and sniffed around the edges, then pressed his hands against the wood. “The smoke does seem to be in the stairs, but the door isn’t warm, so the fire isn’t too close.”

Lucy gestured toward the windows. “At least we won’t die of smoke inhalation.”

“But it won’t be good for us when the tower burns through and collapses under us,” Jeremy said. He turned to the bird. “Here’s a chance for you to redeem yourself, Spink. I need you to go find Huw in the throne room and tell him we need help. Tell him the tower’s on fire and we’re at the top.” The bird immediately perked up and took off through a window. “The aunts wouldn’t know about the fire,” Jeremy explained. “The people we’ve been traveling with have some magic of their own. Of course, that depends on whether that stupid bird will remember what he’s doing by the time he gets to the throne room. If he can find the throne room.”

Sebastian paced the middle of the room, frowning in thought. “There are rumors about this tower,” he said. “Some think Melantha lived here secretly for years, or else came here often after cursing the princess and before she got rid of the king and queen and took over the castle herself. The stairs were guarded, so she couldn’t have made it up here that way.”

Lucy gestured to where Melantha and the aunts had vanished. “Um, remember the magical trap door?”

“That wouldn’t have worked then. There were protections in place that kept magic from being used in the castle without anyone knowing about it. A spell like that would have brought the court enchantresses here in a heartbeat.”

“So what you’re saying is you think there’s a secret passage?”


“There’s a fire below us,” Jeremy reminded them.

“The fire is in the stairwell. If the passage runs elsewhere, we might still be able to get past it, but we’d have to find the passage quickly,” Jeremy said.

“What are we waiting for?” Lucy asked. “Let’s get to it.”

The three of them took the room apart, pulling aside the wall hangings between windows and prying at floorboards. Finally, there was just one place in the room they hadn’t searched: the floor under the bed where Dawn lay. The two boys shoved the bed aside to reveal a square of carpet under where the bed had been. Lucy considered that as good as a sign saying, “Secret passage here!” and she ran over to pull the carpet back. Sure enough, there was a section of floorboards that didn’t quite match the rest of the floor.

Sebastian pried up the trap door with his sword. Beneath the door was a narrow tunnel with a ladder running down one wall. It reminded Lucy of a manhole. “We have to go all the way down the tower on that ladder?” Lucy asked, trying not to whine.

“The passage should have access to other rooms on the way down,” Sebastian said. “We only need to get past the fire, and then we can use the stairs. My main concern is how we will carry the princess out. The tunnel is too narrow to carry her over anyone’s shoulders. Perhaps we could find a way to strap her to my back.”

Jeremy cleared his throat, and the other two turned to look at him. Turning redder than ever, he said, “Don’t you think it would be easier if she could move herself?” He went to the bed, leaned over Dawn and kissed her lightly on the lips.

The color gradually returned to Dawn’s face and her eyes opened. Lucy thought she might faint, or maybe throw up. Jeremy was Dawn’s true love? Really? But she always thought he was meant to be with her. The thought sent a stab through her heart. For a split second, she hated Dawn. She hated her for being beautiful and talented and most especially for being the one Jeremy noticed when he didn’t seem to realize Lucy was a girl, even though he’d known her all his life. Had this been going on behind her back the whole time? Had her two best friends been conspiring against her?

But when she looked at Sebastian, her sanity returned. She knew she didn’t feel for Jeremy what she felt for Sebastian, and she wouldn’t feel that way, even if she and Jeremy went back to their own world and she had to leave Sebastian behind forever.

Dawn sat up slowly, rubbing her forehead. “What happened?” she asked, looking and sounding a little shaky. She blinked, focused her eyes, and saw Lucy. “Lucy! You’re okay! But what are you doing here?”

“It’s a very long story,” the three of them said all at once.

“We’ll explain once we get you out of here,” Lucy added.

“Can you walk?” Jeremy asked.

“I, I think so.”

“I will go first,” Sebastian said, stepping through the opening and starting down the ladder. “Leave the entrance open. That will ensure we get some fresh air.” Lucy wrapped her train around her arm before following him. Dawn came after her, and Jeremy brought up the rear.

The witch must have been really desperate to have a hideaway in the castle if she’d been willing to go up and down this ladder, Lucy thought as she felt for each step with her toes. She tried not to think about how far down the passage went. When they’d been on the ladder for several minutes, it grew uncomfortably warm in the passage. Lucy held her breath until the air cooled, hoping the fire hadn’t yet burned through the wall between the stairs and the passage.

She wasn’t sure her arms would hold her on the ladder much longer when Sebastian called out from below, “Stop there. I’ll see if we can get through this doorway.” Lucy heard the sound of a door opening, and soon the air smelled a little fresher. Sebastian’s voice called again. “It appears to be safe. Lucy, come down to where I am.”

She reached the level of the door and discovered that there was a three-foot gap between the ladder and the doorway that led into a room. That was a gap over what seemed to be a bottomless drop. Sebastian stood in the doorway and held his hand out to Lucy. “I’ve got you. You’ll be safe,” he assured her. She took a deep breath and jumped for it. He caught her and pulled her into the room. He then brought in Dawn and Jeremy.

There was the slightest smell of smoke coming from the door on the other side of the room. “Will it be safe to use the stairs?” Jeremy asked. “It seems pretty smoky out there.”

“Smoke rises,” Lucy said. “Remember, stop, drop, and roll!”

The stairwell was a little smoky, but it beat going down a ladder, so Lucy wasn’t complaining, and it got better the closer they got to the bottom. Still with her skirt wrapped around her arm, she followed Sebastian in running down the stairs. Jeremy came behind, guiding a still shaky Dawn. Lucy tried not to think too much about that. She loved her friends and wanted them to be happy, of course, but she couldn’t help but wonder what had gone on since she’d disappeared—that was, if it hadn’t been going on all along. Was that why Jeremy had never made a move on her?

Sebastian reached the tower entrance and held up a hand to tell them to stay back and be quiet. He peered outside, then signaled for them to join him. In the corridor, Fulk, Larkin, and several soldiers stood guard. “The tower’s on fire,” Sebastian reported. “We need to get a firefighting crew up there before it burns through and collapses on top of the castle.”

“I’ll see to it, my lord,” Fulk said with a bow.

“Have one of your men do it. I need you with me.” He took off down the corridor, toward the stairs, and the others followed. On the main staircase that led to the throne room entrance, they ran into a group of Geoffrey’s soldiers. “What’s the situation?” Sebastian asked their leader.

“My lord, the throne room was shut off not long ago. We can’t get in, and we presume no one in there can get out.”

“Who is in there?”

“His grace the duke, many of his men, and I believe Prince Harald, as well.”

“Yeah, he’ll be real useful in a crisis,” Lucy muttered under her breath. “He might be the one we have to stop from crowning himself.”

“There are musicians in there, too,” Dawn said. “All the performers brought here for the coronation celebration.”

“We believe the witch is in there,” Sebastian said. “She must have sealed the throne room until she can crown herself. But I wonder . . .” his voice trailed off as he frowned in thought. “There’s one doorway she might not have sealed. This way!” He turned and ran back up the stairs, then ran his hands over a section of paneling. “There’s a minstrel’s gallery here somewhere, and it hasn’t been used in years, so she might not know about it.”

He must have hit the right spot because the door slid open, revealing a dark, dusty velvet curtain. Sebastian pushed the curtain aside to reveal a balcony overlooking the throne room. He gestured for the soldiers to stay outside, and he, Lucy, Dawn, and Jeremy crawled onto the balcony, staying below the railing and peering between the slats.

The witch stood in front of her throne, in mid argument with Geoffrey and the aunts. Lucy noticed that there was a distinctly bite-shaped hole in the fabulous red dress, courtesy of Leila, who sat on alert at Geoffrey’s feet. “If you do not wish me to be queen, whom do you support as ruler?” Melantha said. “Why, if I am not mistaken, if the king, queen, and princess are all gone, then aren’t you, as the kingdom’s ranking duke, one of the candidates for the throne? Your grace, you aren’t staging a coup to seize power for yourself, are you?”

“I am restoring the throne to its rightful holder and removing the usurper,” he said tightly.

“And which rightful holder would that be?” She gave a giggly little laugh, which sounded odd in her deep voice. “You haven’t found the king and queen, have you?”

“But I have found the princess.”

Melantha looked around, her expression all wide-eyed innocence. “Then where is she? Are you sure she’s even alive? And are you sure you have the right princess?” A rumble in the crowd followed her statement.

“We’d better give him a princess,” Lucy whispered to Sebastian, “or this could get ugly.”

In the heavy silence that came as the crowd waited for Geoffrey’s response, a high-pitched voice trilled, “The tower’s on fire! We have to rescue them!”

The little bird who’d been in the tower had finally found the throne room and flown through a window. The mention of fire set off a panic in the crowd as all the performers and other coronation attendees ran for the sealed doors. “That stupid bird,” Jeremy muttered.

“But he created a diversion,” Dawn said.

Sebastian apparently agreed, for he signaled the troops outside to come in and head down the spiral staircase from the gallery to the throne room. In all the commotion, no one noticed a squad of soldiers joining the crowd. Sebastian, Lucy, Jeremy, Dawn, and Larkin followed them and kept to the shadows under the minstrels’ gallery.

In spite of their stealth, the aunts noticed them. Miriam remained with Geoffrey and the other enchantresses, but the other two wove their way through the panicking crowd to reach Dawn. “There you are!” Matilda said, grabbing her into a hug. “You’re safe!”

Dawn tried to pull away, but Jeremy stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, they aren’t out to get you. We had them all wrong.”

“But what—” Dawn started to ask.

Miriam interrupted her, “She’s awake. How did that—”

“We’ll talk later,” Lucy said, cutting in. “For now, what do we do?”

Mariel glanced between Lucy and Dawn. “We need to give the duke his princess and get this situation under control.” She frowned at Sebastian. “You’re the younger Sinclair boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Lucy noticed Dawn and Jeremy exchanging a surprised look and wondered what that was about.

Mariel nodded, still frowning. “Take our princess to your brother.” She gestured with her head toward Lucy.

Sebastian took Lucy’s arm and led her toward the front of the throne room. Their soldiers cleared a path for them through the crowd. “But I’m not the real princess,” Lucy protested as they walked. She glanced back over her shoulder at Dawn. “And we have the real princess now.”

“You’re the one the troops have seen, and you’re the one Geoffrey has seen. That’s important. Now is not the time for a new princess to present herself.”

Lucy did not like this. How could she take Dawn’s position when Dawn was right there? And how could she hope to pull this off if the witch already knew she wasn’t the real princess? But there was no escape, with the throne ahead of her, soldiers on either side of her, and all the exits sealed. To get through this and save the kingdom, she’d have to play princess as though her life depended on it.

Continued in Chapter 20.