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.


Serial Chapter 18

Here’s the next chapter (which might look familiar if you saw the last installment soon after I posted it since I skipped a chapter and then corrected it). If you’re just stumbling upon this serial story, the first chapter is here. If you got the wrong chapter the last time or missed the previous installment, you can find it here. Or if you just want to read the book, the e-book is available.

Chapter Eighteen

Lucy found herself re-thinking Sebastian’s idea about sticking to her role the next morning when she learned she was expected to give the army a pep talk. It would have been really nice if somebody had warned her so she could have written a good rah-rah speech. She wished she could remember any of those rousing Shakespearian speeches from English class. Unfortunately, all that came to mind were football cheers, and she wasn’t sure that telling the troops to Go! Fight! Win! and push onward to V-I-C-T-O-R-Y was going to cut it. Maybe a famous speech from history would work, like something Churchill said during World War II, but she couldn’t remember much beyond something about blood and tears. Maybe her history teacher was right about Lucy needing to pay more attention in class.

They put her on a big, white horse and arranged the skirts of her red dress carefully to drape around the horse. Harald was on a steel gray horse beside her, and Sebastian and his brother rode together at the head of the procession. They came to a hilltop overlooking the camp, and there were a lot of soldiers there, a whole ocean of men. When they saw Lucy, they all cheered. She must have made quite a sight, wearing that bright red dress and sitting on that white horse. That was about all they would have been able to see from that distance. Then the procession rode down into the valley toward the troops. Geoffrey stood in his stirrups and shouted, “We march today, and this is why you march!” He gestured toward Lucy, and the cheers started again.

He nodded at her, and she figured that was her cue. Too bad she still hadn’t thought of anything to say. “Um, well, hi,” she started, then winced at how lame it sounded. They couldn’t have known that she didn’t grow up as a princess, and they weren’t here to fight for an American teenager. So, she tried again. “Until a few days ago, I didn’t know who or what I was. I didn’t know about my home or my heritage. Now I know that my home is this wonderful kingdom, and I’m honored to have so many brave soldiers fighting for me.”

Now she was getting into it, so she raised her voice and went on. “But you’re not really fighting for me. You’re fighting for yourselves, and for the opportunity for your families to live in a happy, safe place. You’re fighting for your kingdom. You’re fighting for your homes. You’re fighting for each other. And because you’re fighting for these things you love so much, I know you’ll fight your hardest.” Then because she simply couldn’t resist, she added, “Go! Fight! Win! And on to victory!”

She almost fell off her horse when they shouted back, “Go! Fight! Win!”

“Yay, team,” she muttered under her breath. That wasn’t half bad for something she did on the fly, but she hoped nobody wrote it down and made kids memorize it in school. Maybe if the opportunity came up, she’d have to teach them the one about “push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaay back.” It was kind of scary how well football cheers applied to war. She’d only have to change words when there was a specific mention of the ball or a touchdown.

After Lucy’s pep talk, Geoffrey led her up and down the ranks for a while so that more of the soldiers could get a good look at her. She did a royal wave, and she had to work hard not to burst into giggles when the soldiers shouted “Go! Fight! Win!” at her.

Then the army took off to march on the castle. Harald and Sebastian were in the group assigned to stay with Lucy. She got the impression Sebastian was supposedly the military leader, probably because of his position, but he had an older man beside him who seemed to be the one really giving the orders.

While they waited for their time to head out, Sebastian brought the older man over to Lucy. “Your highness,” he said with a twitch of his lips and a twinkle in his eyes, “may I present to you Sergeant Fulk? He was my mentor, who trained me for knighthood.”

Fulk bowed his head to Lucy. She couldn’t tell quite how old he was because the combination of scars and sun damage made him look ancient, while his body was as trim and toned as Sebastian’s. “Your highness. That was quite a speech you gave.”

“Thank you. And it seems I must thank you for my life. If you trained Sebastian, you made it possible for him to keep me safe.”

“He was a good student, your highness.”

“I didn’t expect you to be here,” Sebastian said to him. “I was worried that Lord Argus might have done something after you sent me away.”

Fulk spat on the ground, then quickly said, “Forgive me, your highness.” To Sebastian, he said, “I stayed as long as I did only because you needed me. Once I got you safely away, why would I continue serving a traitor?”

“When this is over, I’m sure my brother would welcome you to his service.”

Finally, it was time to head out, once the army was thoroughly on their way. They kept a slower pace, probably because Lucy was such a novice rider and riding sidesaddle. They reached the road down which the men who’d kidnapped her had brought her on that first day. Lucy could barely believe it had only been a few days ago, so much had changed. She had changed so much. She had to gulp back a sob when they reached that tiny village where the soldiers had attacked the people for trying to help her. The people lined the road once more, but there were far fewer of them, and some of those who were there carried signs of what the soldiers had done, with bandages and bruises. It broke Lucy’s heart that it had all been for nothing, since she wasn’t the true princess, and they hadn’t been able to stop the guards from taking her, but she forced herself to put on a brave face. They all looked so proud and happy to see her alive and free that she was sure they didn’t want to see their princess weeping. She put on a fake beauty-queen smile and waved at them as she and her escort rode through the town, while making a mental note to tell someone to send food and maybe some other goods to this village.

They finally came to a spot overlooking the river and bridge. From there, they could see the capital city and the castle, but there were no obvious signs of fighting, other than the lack of guards on the bridge.

Sebastian helped Lucy off her horse and led her to a sheltered spot. Before they could speak to each other, Harald cried out in a surprisingly girly scream. “Dogs! Wild dogs! Attacking us! The witch must have sent them!” he yelled, flailing wildly.

Lucy and Sebastian whirled to see what was happening, and Lucy immediately squealed for joy. “Leila! Larkin!” she called out, hitching up her skirts and running toward the dogs. “You’re back!”

“We heard from other animals that an army was gathering, so we were sure we’d find you coming this way,” Larkin said. His voice was gruff, but his tail wagged wildly.

“We really missed you both,” Lucy said.

Harald approached cautiously. “They . . . they talk!” he blurted.

“What, you don’t have talking animals in your kingdom?” Lucy asked.

“None that I would associate with.”

“Your loss,” she said with a shrug. “Leila and Larkin, this is Prince Harald of Ernstmead. Ignore him.”

They went back to their vantage point to watch the battle, and having Leila next to her made Lucy feel a lot better about waiting for her next big move as a princess.

It looked like the Loyalists were winning. At least, no one was retreating. The troops were supposed to signal when it was time for Lucy and her group to make a triumphant appearance. The idea was that the sight of the princess would rally the townspeople to the cause and make it easier to take the castle and capture or kill the witch.

Lucy hated the waiting, especially when she knew that people were out there being hurt and maybe even killed not too far away, and they were doing it in part because of her. That was the part of being a princess they didn’t put in the storybooks.


Dawn made it to the top of the main staircase, surprised that she’d yet to run into a guard. Apparently, they were all out defending the castle and weren’t so worried about what might happen inside. At the wide landing, there were two more staircases on either side. Dawn didn’t even have to pause to know which way she should go, the pull was so strong. She headed straight to the staircase on the left. That led to a corridor, which she followed to another staircase. The staircases gradually became narrower and narrower as she went higher. Eventually, she realized she must be in Spink’s tall, tall tower when she reached a spiral staircase that hugged the outer wall.

By this time, the pull was so strong she felt she could let it carry her up like an elevator but, unfortunately, she had to climb the stairs. She passed the occasional door along the way as the staircase flattened out to a narrow landing, but the pull continued to drag her up the stairs.

The stairs ended at a door that stood ever so slightly ajar, beckoning her to come inside. She gave it a gentle push, and it opened wide into a circular room. There were windows all around, letting a lot of light in. It was a pleasant room that would be ideal for reading on a lazy afternoon.

Then Dawn saw that the room was occupied. A richly dressed woman sat in a chair by one window. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude,” Dawn said, backing toward the door.

The woman gave her a smile. “You’re not intruding at all, my dear. Please come in.”

Dawn took a tentative step further into the room. She felt like this was the right place, but Lucy was nowhere in sight. This didn’t even look like a place where a prisoner might be kept. It looked more like a lady’s chamber.

“Were you looking for something?” the woman asked. Her voice was deep, the kind of woman’s voice that could sing tenor parts.

“I–I thought I was, but perhaps I was mistaken.”

The woman smiled again, but this time her smile wasn’t quite as warm. It had an icy edge to it. “And perhaps you weren’t.”

“You’re in the castle! In the tall, tall tower!” a familiar voice said from the other side of the room, and Dawn whirled to see Spink sitting in a window.

“Spink! What are you doing here?” she said.

“He’s doing his duty,” the woman said. “Fulfilling a family obligation. Not in quite the way I planned, but that has actually worked out for the best.”

The bird flew across the room to perch on the back of the woman’s chair. “I brought the girl from far, far away to the castle,” he chirped as he ruffled his feathers to puff up his chest.

Dawn shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

“That doesn’t matter,” the woman said. “Or it won’t, very soon, if you’re who I believe you are, and that would certainly explain why things didn’t work properly before. I should have known then.”

Dawn’s mouth went dry. Even though the woman hadn’t said or done anything threatening, she had the strangest feeling that she was in terrible danger. She’d walked into a trap, and the silly little bird had helped set it up. But the most important thing to Dawn at the moment was something the woman had said. “Who do you believe I am?” she asked.

The woman leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. “Tell me, my dear, is there anything that compels you, anything you feel you absolutely must do?”

Dawn realized she’d been rubbing her finger against her skirt. She needed to touch something to make that pain go away. As if acting on its own, her hand rose and seemed to lead the way across the room. She followed helplessly behind it over to where a spinning wheel sat. A spinning wheel? All this time, she’d thought her necklace was calling to her, but it was a spinning wheel? That made no sense.

She’d never seen a real spinning wheel outside an illustration in a school book. She raised her hand to touch it but hesitated as a memory surfaced. When the bird had sung about the tall, tall tower, he’d sung about Melantha, the witch. She was with the witch in a tower room.

But while she’d been remembering, her hand was still moving. Before she realized what was happening, she’d touched the spinning wheel, and then everything went black.


After what felt to Lucy like hours of waiting, a horn blew and a flag waved from the city wall across the river. It was time to ride to the castle. A squad of Loyalist soldiers met them inside the city walls, along with a group of women wearing black dresses with white collars. They looked like Dawn’s aunts. A second glance told Lucy that three of them were Dawn’s aunts. She was glad she’d told Sebastian the truth about who she was. Otherwise, this could have been awkward if the aunts recognized her.

But they didn’t show any sign of recognizing her. They bowed to her, even as the men with her bowed to the women. “Your highness, we put ourselves and our talents at your disposal,” the lead woman—Dawn’s Aunt Mariel, if Lucy wasn’t mistaken—said. Lucy could have sworn that Mariel winked at her ever so slightly.

“Thank you,” Lucy said. She assumed the women with the aunts were the rest of the enchantresses Sebastian had mentioned.

“You are well, your highness?” Mariel asked, and now Lucy was sure there was a twinkle in her eye.

“It hasn’t been easy, but I’m okay.”

“Report!” Sebastian barked to the men who’d met them.

“Most of the city has been secured, my lord, and we’re battering the castle gates.”

“You may leave the gates to us,” Mariel said. Moving as precisely as a marching band, all the women in black turned and flowed up the street toward the castle. At Sebastian’s signal, Lucy and the troops followed them.

There didn’t seem to be much bloodshed in the streets. The only bodies wore the witch’s livery. Lucy wasn’t sure how many of them had been killed by the Loyalist army. The people of the city looked like they’d done their fair share of the fighting. Some of them were still out in the streets, carrying whatever they could use as a weapon. At least a couple of enemy soldiers had been brought down by housewives swinging heavy iron skillets.

The people lining the streets cheered when Lucy’s procession passed. Some of them had tears running down their faces, but they were grinning, so Lucy assumed they were tears of joy. People began throwing things, and at first she ducked, but then she realized they were throwing flowers. Now she knew how the homecoming queen must feel, except, to be honest, she didn’t think people were really all that excited to see the homecoming queen pass by in the parade. Lucy hadn’t ever seen anyone cry about that.

With all the flags and banners for the coronation, the whole thing had a festive atmosphere. It was easy to forget that not too long ago there had been fighting in these streets, and there was still fighting going on ahead. But Lucy didn’t want to ruin the day for these people by looking grim, so she put on her biggest smile and busted out the royal wave again. She felt a little like a cheat, taking their cheers when she wasn’t really the princess, but then again, she was the one with the soldiers in the battle zone, which meant she’d earned some of those cheers.

They reached the castle gates, where the rest of the army had the castle surrounded. Geoffrey supervised troops hammering at the gates with a battering ram. Sebastian called out to his brother to stop, then gestured toward the enchantresses. Geoffrey nodded and ordered his men to stand back. The women lined up in front of the gates, joined hands, and soon the gates swung open on their own. “Levitation isn’t that complicated,” Dawn’s Aunt Miriam explained. “All we had to do was levitate the bar on the other side.”

“Melantha must be sidetracked,” Mariel said. “She should have had a protective spell on that.”

Geoffrey led the army into the castle courtyard while Sebastian, Lucy, Harald, and the enchantresses stayed behind. Lucy winced at the sound of clanging swords and the occasional cry of pain or anger. She didn’t know how well-defended the castle grounds would be, so she had no idea how long to expect the battle to last. “How do you think it’s going?” she asked Sebastian.

“They’ll tell us when it’s safe for you to enter,” he replied.

“I will find out, highness,” Larkin said. He ran through the gate, then returned moments later. “There is still resistance, but the Loyalist forces are prevailing. The area will be secured soon enough.”

Lucy was just about to send the dogs in again when Fulk came out and bowed to Sebastian. “The castle courtyard is secured, my lord.” At Sebastian’s signal, they rode through the castle gates. The doors of the castle itself stood open.

Just then, though, there was a crackling noise, followed by a rumbling sound as snaky tendrils rose up the castle walls. Sebastian jumped off his horse and called to his soldiers, but the vines had already covered the castle doors before they reached them. As the flowering vines grew up the castle walls, the lower portions matured into thick ropes of thorns. Soon, the entire castle was encased in thorny vines.

“She seems to have that much of a protective spell,” Sebastian muttered.

Lucy shook her head. This was very, very familiar, and she wasn’t sure it had anything to do with defending the castle. When she realized where she’d heard of this sort of thing, her heart rose into her throat, then sank into her stomach, where it settled like a rock. She turned to the aunts. “Dawn isn’t here, is she?” The looks on their faces told her she wasn’t wrong about what the thorns meant. They were part of the curse. Dawn was inside that castle, and she’d touched the spindle, so now she was out cold until they found a true love to kiss her. The problem was, as far as Lucy knew, there wasn’t even a boy Dawn liked. Unless Dawn had managed to meet and fall for someone between the time Lucy had last seen her and now, they’d have to find a guy who was turned on by unconscious chicks.

Of course, whether that would work depended on how, exactly, “true love” was defined. Was it someone Dawn loved, or someone who loved Dawn? And did it have to be mutual? Or was it about potential or destiny, so that it was the first kiss from the person Dawn was meant to be with, even if they hadn’t met before? Something told Lucy that nobody had thought through either the curse or the counter curse. Not much about it made sense.

Then she realized they had a bigger problem than that. Right now, the witch must know who the real princess was, and she had the real princess, helpless and unconscious, in her clutches. “We need to get in there, now!” she said.

Sebastian, Fulk, and several of the soldiers were already at work, hacking at the vines over the doors with swords and knives. Lucy signaled for one of the other soldiers to help her off her horse, and she went over to the aunts. “What is Dawn doing here? I thought she’d be safe as long as the witch didn’t know she had the wrong girl.”

Matilda put a calming hand on Lucy’s arm. “She seems to have come looking for you. We built a portal in the garden shed to bring her home after her birthday safely passed, and she found it. She’s with that boy.” In aunt speak, “that boy” was Jeremy. At least Dawn wasn’t here in this crazy world alone. “It does seem that you know, though.”

“Yeah, because I know my fairy tales. This is “Sleeping Beauty.” But she has no idea who or what she is, does she?” Lucy asked.

“We were going to tell her.”

“It’s a little late for that, huh? If she’d known, she wouldn’t have walked into this.” Without waiting for an answer, she turned, gathered her trailing skirts, and headed toward where the men were still trying to get through the doors. They’d managed to create a gap wide enough for the dogs to slip through. Then they cut through the rest of the vines.

“Your highness,” Sebastian called out, and Lucy joined them, along with the aunts.

Harald hung back. “I will wait until the castle is secured,” he said. “Better to make a grand entrance at just the right moment, don’t you think?”

Lucy rolled her eyes before running into the castle. “You seem to know what the vines signify,” Sebastian said to her.

“They mean my friend Dawn is here, and she’s touched the spindle. We have to get to her.”

“Where would she be?”

Everything else about the fairy tale had been true, more or less, so Lucy hoped one more crucial detail would also track. “The tallest tower,” she said. “That’s the most likely place. Do you know how to get up there?”

He nodded and led the charge up the grand staircase. When they reached the landing, a voice called out, “Lucy?” and someone caught her in a big hug. “You’re here! You’re safe!” Only when he released her and backed away did she see that it was Jeremy, and then she grabbed him and hugged him.

“Wow, that’s a new look on you,” he said when she let him go.

“Yeah, well, it’s a long story and we don’t have time to get into it now. We need to find Dawn.”

He noticed the aunts and jolted. “Get away from them, Luce,” he said. “They’ve been chasing us the whole way. They aren’t who they said they were, and they’ve been holding Dawn prisoner all this time.”

“We have not!” Matilda said indignantly.

“We were protecting her,” Mariel added. “And we wouldn’t have this trouble now if you hadn’t been so busy running from us. We even tried to keep you from being asked to perform at the coronation.”

“I knew that was you!” Jeremy cried out.

“And there we go with another long story or two,” Lucy said to Jeremy. “Bottom line: Dawn’s in trouble, it’s not from the aunts, and we have to get to her, fast.”

“Come on, this way,” Sebastian called out from the top of the stairs to their left. Jeremy followed the group making their way toward the tower.

He tried to catch up as they ran. “Could you give me at least a hint about what’s going on here?”

“It’s ‘Sleeping Beauty.’”


“Come on, I’m sure I made you watch that one with me when we were little. Evil witch/fairy/whatever curses infant princess to prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and die before sunset on her sixteenth birthday. Good fairies/enchantresses/whatever alter the curse to sleep, then take princess off to safety where no one will know she’s a princess. Except, apparently, they went as far as another world.” He still looked blank, so she added, “The princess’s name is Aurora, which means dawn.”

“Oh,” he said, finally getting it. “So the aunts are . . .”

“Yeah, the good enchantresses.”

“And Dawn is . . .”

“A fairy-tale princess.”

“But Dawn already had her sixteenth birthday.”

“In our world. But apparently there’s a time lag, or else the calendars are off. Today’s our birthday here.”

“And so she’s going to prick her finger and sleep?”

“She already has. We had to hack our way through thorny vines to get in here, and that’s a sign that the curse has kicked in.”

“So, where do you fit in?”

“Everyone thinks I’m the princess, since I’m the one they took because I was wearing Dawn’s necklace. Dawn would have been perfectly safe if you’d stayed home.”

“We were trying to help you! And Dawn was very, very determined.”

At the top of the next flight of stairs, they met the last of the resistance. The corridor was heavily guarded, which was a pretty good sign that something important was somewhere down that hallway. Leading the guard was Lord Argus, himself.

Continued in Chapter 19.

Exciting Things

My excitement for the day yesterday actually was kind of exciting. My area got the Blue Angels flyover, and the route took them pretty close to my neighborhood, about 9 miles from where they’d be directly overhead. I live in a pretty deep valley, so I walked up the hill to the parking lot of the movie theater that’s at the top of the hill. I can pretty much see the whole region from there, so I figured it would be a good vantage point. There were a few cars in the parking lot with people watching, so I wasn’t alone in that idea.

And we did get a good view. We could see part of the loop they made around downtown Dallas, and from that distance they looked like one plane (in fact, I wondered where the rest of them were). Then they flew right by us on the way to their next “stop,” and we could still see where they turned on their vapor trails for the next hospital. I grew up around military bases, so I’ve seen a lot of stunt flying and air shows, but I don’t think I’ve seen the Blue Angels before. That was some really tight flying, so close that they really did look like one plane from not that far away.

Then I came home and tried to go back to work. I’ve figured out how to fix some of the problems with the second mystery novel, and I even managed to do some writing on it this morning. I haven’t been able to put words together in a while, so that’s pretty exciting. I can already feel a difference in how the book’s working.

So maybe I’ll get these books finished and launched this year, after all.


Serial Chapter Seventeen

Here’s the next chapter! The first part is here. The previous part is here. Or you can get the e-book.

Chapter Seventeen

Dawn couldn’t help but feel cheerful as she and Jeremy made their way back to the boat. She was fairly certain she knew where Lucy was and she had a show to perform that evening. If Lucy hadn’t been in possible danger all this time, Dawn would have considered these days to be the best of her life. She was getting to do what she wanted instead of living under the aunts’ rules.

As so often happened when she felt particularly good, she found herself singing, softly at first, then louder as she got into it and forgot where she was. She walked through the streets of town singing “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, which the school choir was doing in the spring concert. She was vaguely aware of people stopping to stare at her, and soon a small crowd followed her.

When she finished the song, there was a round of applause, and Jeremy quickly said, “And that’s just a sample of what you’ll hear tonight in our concert. You’ll find our show at slip nineteen. Come one, come all, and hear more of what this little lady can do.”

“That was slip nineteen, was it?” someone asked, and Jeremy verified it.

When they were able to get away from the crowd, Jeremy gave her an amused grin. “Do you have to burst into song in public?”

She shrugged sheepishly. “I’m sorry. Most of the time, I don’t even know I’m doing it. It’s like the song is in my head, and by the time I realize I’m singing it out loud, it’s too late to stop myself.”

“Well, you know, in the musicals, people may sing their way around town, but in real life when people do that, they tend to get psychiatric treatment. On the upside, I think it worked out to be great advertisement for the show, and one of the people asking me the details seemed to be in an official uniform, so maybe it was a royal talent scout.”

She danced a few steps and said with a smile, “See? Bursting into song in public isn’t so bad. But I am sorry if I embarrassed you. I know it sometimes upsets Lucy when I do that.”

They made it back to the boat just before Huw’s deadline. Huw met them at the gangplank. “Have you seen Rhian?” he asked.

“We didn’t see her in town,” Jeremy replied.

Huw snorted. “Well, she’s late now.”

“Only by a little, though,” Dawn said. “She must have lost track of time.”

Rhian didn’t show up until the troupe was already preparing for the performance. She greeted Dawn with a huge smile as she passed by where Dawn and the musicians were practicing. “Good luck with the show tonight,” she called out.

“Oh, thank you!” Dawn said, reminding herself that the superstition about not wishing luck before a show didn’t exist here. “She must have had a good day,” she remarked to the musicians after Rhian had gone to find her father. “I thought she didn’t like me much. Maybe she’s just getting to know me better.”

Rhian wasn’t the only one who was late. Spink arrived after the first group number, barely in time to sing with Dawn. Huw glared at the bird but didn’t say anything. It was unrealistic to expect a bird to tell time. They were lucky Spink had remembered to come back at all. After their number, Dawn asked, “Where were you? I thought you weren’t coming back.”

“Of course I came back,” the bird chirped. “I love to sing. But I saw the castle!”

“Yes, it does loom over the town, doesn’t it? Are you happy now that you’ve seen this castle?”

“It has a tall, tall tower, like my mother said! And you have to go to the castle!”

“That’s what we’re trying to do here, perform well enough to get invited. So do your best.”

“We’ll go to the castle!” Spink insisted, and she hoped he was right. Otherwise, she wasn’t sure what she’d do.

During her next song, things went wrong in a very strange way. The musicians accompanying her suddenly went silent. She turned to see if they’d forgotten the songs they’d only just learned, and saw they were still playing all-out, but making no sound. They looked as confused as she felt. She wasn’t afraid of singing a capella, so she raised her voice and continued. Spink did his part to help make up for the lack of music. The applause when she finished was just as loud as ever.

The instruments still weren’t working when the next performers took the stage. Huw himself sat in with his violin and couldn’t make a sound. The singers were pros, though, and were as comfortable performing without accompaniment as Dawn had been. After that number, Huw waved the musicians off the stage. “We’ll skip the dances,” he said. “Rhian!”

“Yes, Da?”

“Go out there and do your magic. Buy us time to regroup.”

“Gladly, Da.” She crooked her finger at Jeremy. “I’ll need some assistance setting up.” She alone, of all the performers, wasn’t at all flustered by what was going on. Dawn couldn’t help but wonder if her magic—real or the trick kind—would still work, but she stopped herself before she wished it wouldn’t. It might be up to Rhian to win their way to the coronation.

Huw addressed the others. “I don’t know what’s happening or why, though I suspect a rival might have a hand in it. We’ll simply have to do everything else even better.”

“We could take advantage of performing without instruments,” Dawn suggested. “We’ve practiced harmonies, and that can sound very impressive.” The others looked doubtful. “Oh, come on! We’re not going to give up, are we?” she asked. “We can do this. We deserve to be part of the coronation. We won’t let them get us down!”

Will raised a fist in the air. “The show must go on!”

The others joined in the chant—softly, so it didn’t interfere with Rhian’s act onstage. Dawn put her hand into the middle of the circle the way they always did before going onstage in drama club, but no one else joined her and she realized it wasn’t a universal tradition. She pulled her hand back and said, “Let’s show them what we can do.”

Rhian’s act had gone without a hitch, so the crowd hadn’t moved on. The whole troupe went onstage and Huw called for a song, then nodded to Dawn to sing the first note. The multi-part harmony was spine-tingling, and the fairly rowdy crowd on the docks grew silent. Just as the song reached its climax, a loud hum filled the air, drowning out the voices. They finished the song and received some applause, but the audience was already drifting away, clutching their ears.

Dawn leaned over the railing, resisting the urge to beg the audience to come back. Jeremy joined her, putting his arm around her and pulling her against him in a half hug. “Maybe the royal talent scouts saw the first number, before things went haywire,” he said.

“I hope so. What do we do if we don’t get invited to the coronation? We won’t be able to get into the castle to find Lucy.”


Lucy had to do a lot of smiling and nodding throughout the evening as everyone came before the head table to greet her. The fact that she was an imposter weighed more and more heavily on her, and not just because her betrothed was a jerk. These people were rallying around the wrong person, and she couldn’t let them crown her, but then if they didn’t actually have the princess, they’d have wasted their efforts.

She glanced over at Sebastian and caught his eye. He rose from his seat and walked behind the head table, pausing as he passed her chair. “I need to talk to you,” she said without turning her head. “Privately.”

“Excuse yourself from the table. I will meet you at the bottom of the main stairs.”

“Okay. Got it.” She went back to smiling and nodding at everyone who approached her. If there had been babies to kiss, she’d have felt like a political candidate at a rally. In a sense, she was. They were just having a war instead of an election to put her in office.

Eventually, the flow of people stopped and she was able to slip away from the table and run down the stairs. Sebastian met her a few minutes later, and they retreated to a hidden area under the stairs. He still had that stoic look on his face, and he avoided touching her entirely. Now that they were both there, she had second thoughts about telling him. But she had to tell somebody, or she could very well end up getting crowned under false pretenses and being forced to marry a first-class creep.

“There’s something you need to know,” she began, then took a deep breath, bracing herself for whatever might happen next. “I’m not really the princess.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up a hand. “I know who the princess is. She’s my best friend, Dawn—you know, as in Aurora. I guess that was her cover identity.” She touched the necklace. “This is hers. It was my birthday, too, the other day, back in our world, and she didn’t have money for a gift for me, so she gave me this. Not to keep—I wouldn’t let her, since I knew she got it from her mom—but just to wear for the day. Those men saw it and took me by mistake.”

He moved as if to speak again, but she kept going because she needed to get all of this out before he said anything. “I probably should have told you from the start, but I didn’t know what to do, and I was scared. I was worried that you and your people wouldn’t be as willing to help some nobody. Plus, as long as the witch thought I was the princess, Dawn would be safe. So, there you have it. I’m not a princess, and they can’t go to war to put me on the throne. Or marry me to that idiot.”

“You’re not the princess?”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you. My name is Lucy Jordan, and I’m nothing special, just a victim of mistaken identity.”

His face broke out in a spectacular grin, and he picked her up and spun her around before kissing her. “Lucy Jordan,” he said, as if getting used to the sound of her name.

“Yeah, that’s me,” she replied, dizzy from the spinning and kissing. In all her worries about how he’d react when he found out who she really was, that response wasn’t one she’d anticipated. Lucy turning out to not be engaged to someone else was a bigger deal to him than the fact that he’d fought and even shed blood for an imposter. And that must have meant that he really liked her, Lucy, as a person, not just as a princess. That thought made her dizzy all over again. “Now, what do we do? We have to tell someone.”

He shook his head. “No, we can’t tell anyone.”

“But they’re about to go to war for an imposter!”

“They’re going to war to remove a pretender. She has to be stopped now, before she crowns herself. Without you—as the princess—that will be more difficult. We have to march tomorrow, and you have to be there since we can’t get to the real princess now. We still don’t know who the spy is, and it would devastate our cause if word got out that we didn’t really have the princess, so we don’t dare tell anyone. Once we’ve defeated Melantha, we can worry about the succession.”

“Are you sure? People are gonna notice that the real princess looks nothing like the one they fought for.”

“The situation isn’t entirely without precedent. Royalty uses decoys all the time to avoid assassination. The enchantresses guarding the real princess could have used a decoy, one who would be up to the rigors the princess might face, while the real princess was brought in quietly to a safe place.” He grinned again, “And you were certainly up to the rigors. I should have known you weren’t a princess. I can’t imagine a real princess would have been so hardy or spirited.”

“Okay, so the plan is we kick out this witch, and then we worry about finding Dawn or the king and queen in some big surprise move?” She still wasn’t sure about this, and she didn’t know if it was because she thought it was a bad plan or because she was afraid of having to play princess for a bigger audience.

“The enchantresses will be at the castle, and they will know how to proceed.” He hesitated, frowning, then added, “And they will know how to get you home. That is, if you want to go home.”

Her heart broke a little right then. This was a no-win situation. She did want to go home, where she had her mom and her friends and all the comforts of twenty-first century life. But she didn’t want to be away from Sebastian, and she couldn’t have both. “My mom will be worried sick about me,” she said. “My dad died when I was a kid, so it’s just the two of us, and I can’t leave her alone like that.”

“No, of course not. You shouldn’t have to leave your family.” He was back to that stoic Gregory Peck expression that made her want to kiss him all over again.

“Should we at least tell your brother who I really am? It seems like someone other than the two of us should know.”

He considered that for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t think so. And I doubt we’d get the chance. We’ll tell him when the time is right. And now we should get back to the hall before we’re missed.” He smiled again. “It is very nice to meet you, Lucy Jordan.”

That went better than she thought it might, though, really, did she expect him to be a jerk about it? She just wasn’t sure she agreed with him about not telling anyone else. That wasn’t the sort of thing to spring on someone in a crucial situation. She knew she wouldn’t want to say, “Surprise! I’m not the princess!” just before they put a crown on her head.

But she would definitely do that before she married Harald.


The troupe had gone to bed relatively early, as none of them felt much like celebrating after the disastrous performance, and that meant they were all up early the next morning. They were supposed to learn before noon if they would be invited to the coronation. None of them held out much hope, but Huw insisted that they all be ready to go, just in case. While she put on her lacy dress, Dawn tried to come up with a secondary plan for getting into the castle. As much as she hated to be disloyal to Huw, she considered finding a troupe that did get an invitation and talking her way into the group. Surely one of Huw’s rivals would be willing to steal her. Or perhaps she could try out on the spot as a solo performer.

The troupe milled about on deck in their performing clothes. A few halfheartedly went through the motions of rehearsing. The musicians polished their instruments, and Rhian supervised Jeremy’s packing of her magical supplies. She looked more smug than usual, and Dawn wondered if she thought she might have received a solo invitation. Dawn went over to stand near Jeremy. “Have you seen Spink yet this morning?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t, come to think of it,” he said with a frown. “But you know how he is. He comes and goes at random.”

“I hope he remembers that we might have to perform today.”

“You think we’ll be performing, after what happened last night?” Rhian asked.

Dawn shrugged. “You never know. It was obvious that the problems weren’t our fault, and the acts we did were really good. You didn’t have any problems.”

Rhian suddenly flushed dark red and grabbed her case away from Jeremy. “Perhaps whoever was interfering was afraid to bother someone with magical abilities,” she said before stomping away.

“I thought I was complimenting her,” Dawn said. “She was the only truly successful performer last night.”

“Unless maybe she has a reason to feel guilty about that.”

“Do you think she’d sabotage her father’s troupe? Surely not.”

Every head on deck turned to watch the docks as a pair of black-clad men bearing sealed packets walked past. Those had to be the coronation invitations. Dawn crossed her fingers. At the sight of the invitations, even the pretense of work stopped while everyone waited to see if one of those men would come to their boat. It reminded Dawn of waiting to see audition results posted. Nearly half an hour went by before the men returned, coming the other direction, and they still carried packets. Dawn unconsciously took Jeremy’s hand and squeezed it in a nervous reflex.

The men reached the gangplank of the troupe’s boat, paused, and checked through the remaining packets. There was a collective gasp on deck as everyone held their breath. One of the men came up the gangplank and handed a packet to Huw. Huw waited until the man was back on the dock before he broke the seal and unfolded the parchment. The troupe clustered around him as he read. Dawn had to remind herself to breathe before she passed out. This was worse than waiting for audition results because far more was on the line.

At last, Huw looked up. “Well, what are you lot waiting for?” he asked gruffly. “We have an important performance ahead of us, and we need to leave in half an hour. Get yourselves ready.” Only as the troupe burst into cheers did he allow himself a grin.

Dawn turned to Jeremy, released his hand, and fell into his open arms. “We did it!” she said.

“That’s step one. Now we need to figure out what to do once we get inside.”

“I think this pull I’m feeling from my necklace should guide me. I’ll be able to follow it to where Lucy is.”

“Which will likely be guarded.”

“We’ll worry about that when we get there.”

Within half an hour, a procession of performers came down the riverside docks, and Huw’s troupe joined it. Huw walked next to Dawn, and Jeremy held her hand. If Huw was going to stay with her like that, it could be a problem once they got into the castle. She wasn’t sure he’d like the idea of her heading off on her own.

The city was full of soldiers, even more than the day before, and they were more heavily armed. Dawn noticed a few archers on rooftops. It looked like the witch wasn’t taking any chances. Crowds lined the streets, and the guards didn’t seem to be holding back the people so much as they were forcing them all to be there. This was apparently a mandatory parade. There were strange, loud noises in the distance, from back at the river, and the guards’ attention strayed from the crowd, like they were concerned about something. Dawn wondered what was going on, but the press of the procession didn’t allow for any dallying or turning back.

Huw fell a few paces behind Dawn as he looked back. A cry went up from behind, and some of the guards left their posts to fight their way against the flow of the parade, back toward the river. “What’s happening?” Dawn asked Huw when he rejoined her.

“I didn’t think they’d let her crown herself,” he said. “They’ll put up a fight.”

“Who will?”

He ignored her question, instead putting a hand on her shoulder and saying, “If something happens, you take cover and stay out of the way. Hide if you need to, but you must remain safe.” Turning to Jeremy, he added, “Boy, that is your job, to keep her safe. Don’t worry about anything else, do you understand me?”

Jeremy nodded. “Yes, sir. That was my plan all along.”


The noise from the river grew louder, even though they were moving away from it, but Dawn’s attention was focused ahead, on the castle. The pull she’d been feeling was stronger than ever, creating a roaring in her ears. She wasn’t sure she’d even be able to sing while it was doing that, and she’d never yet found a situation in which she couldn’t sing.

They reached the castle gates and were herded inside. The guards were in a hurry to get the entire procession in the castle, but when a distant trumpet call sounded, they shut the gates, right behind Huw’s troupe. Dawn shivered as she realized how close they’d come to being shut out. Once they were in the castle courtyard, guards directed them toward the throne room. Dawn wanted to turn aside at the main stairs because that was the direction she knew she should go, but Jeremy steered her along with the rest of the group.

The throne room was a mass of confusion. All the performers were there, along with a gallery of nobles, but the throne was empty. The witch herself wasn’t present, and no one was to perform until she arrived, according to the official who spoke to Huw. The performers were directed to wait for further instructions. Huw guided his people to a corner at the back of the throne room and told them to get ready to perform. The musicians got out their instruments and started tuning up, adding to the cacophony from every other troupe doing the same thing. The singers went up and down their scales.

Dawn knew she ought to do the same and warm up her voice, but all she could think about was that tug from her necklace. Lucy was here, nearby, and she couldn’t stand just waiting around in the throne room. She felt like someone had tied a rope around her waist and was giving it a good tug. She kept shifting her weight from foot to foot as she’d find herself lifting a foot to walk away and had to force herself to put it down again. Next thing she knew, she’d moved several feet away from the group.

They did have some down time, and the witch was nowhere in sight. Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to investigate? She’d be back before anyone knew she was gone. She slipped through the crowd to the throne room door and headed straight for the staircase.

Continued in Chapter 18.


Empire of Dreams

I celebrated “Star Wars Day” (May the Fourth be With You) yesterday by watching part of the Empire of Dreams documentary (it’s two and a half hours long and I was sleepy, so I got up to the release of the movie. I’ll watch the aftermath later). It was fascinating seeing what went into getting the movie made and all the various iterations the story went through.

One thing in the documentary is clips from actual auditions. You get to see some of the actors who were considered for the roles. For instance, William Katt, who’d go on to be the Greatest American Hero, seemed to have been close to being cast as Luke. The dialogue in the auditions was absolutely ridiculous, and Mark Hamill really did seem to be the one who did the best job of delivering it in a way that sounded sincere and natural. They were initially just using Harrison Ford (who already knew George Lucas) as someone for the various people auditioning to play against, but then decided they liked his take on Han Solo.

You also get to see the footage of Darth Vader with Dave Prowse doing the dialogue, before they dubbed in James Earl Jones. Anthony Daniels was originally cast mostly to wear the suit for C-3P0 — he was slim enough to fit it and had experience as a mime artist. They were auditioning people to do the voice. He mentioned that someone known as a “man of a thousand voices” who did cartoons was brought in to read, but he told them they should keep the performance they had. That implies that Mel Blanc could have been C-3P0, and it’s largely due to him that we got the version we did. Now I’m trying to imagine 3P0 sounding like Bugs Bunny.

The special effects guys were having trouble figuring out how to do the big space battle, so George Lucas edited together clips from WWII movies to fit what he had in mind, and they then were able to maneuver the models to recreate those scenes. They showed some of the original footage side-by-side with the Star Wars version. It was fascinating.

And during all this, they had no idea what was going to happen with that film. They were all braced for utter disaster, sure that it would be a complete flop.

I guess that’s an object lesson in going after your dreams and being true to your vision even when everyone around you is being critical and dismissive.


Serial Chapter 16

Here’s chapter 16 of the serial. If you missed the beginning, you can find it here. The previous chapter is here. If you’re impatient to read the whole thing or would rather read it as an e-book, you can find info about it here.

Chapter Sixteen

When the troupe arrived at the kingdom’s capital city the next morning, Jeremy saw that Huw was right about everyone being there. The river was thick with boats, and they were only able to get a decent berth because they arrived fairly early in the day. Any later, and they’d have been docked on the outskirts of town, where they’d have had almost no audience. Dawn stood on the foredeck as the boat pulled into its berth, gazing up at the castle that towered over the town. “There’s the castle, Spink,” she said to the bird sitting on her shoulder, her voice trembling with excitement. “There it is.”

“The castle!” the bird whistled. “And the tall, tall tower! You have to go there!”

“That we hope to do, my little friend,” Huw said from where he watched the mooring operation nearby. “But first, we have to earn our way in. And to do that, we’ll need the show of a lifetime tonight.” He raised his voice and called out to the crew, “Let’s get set up, and if you finish on time, I’ll give you leave to explore the city.”

Spink didn’t wait for the leave. He took off, flying toward the castle, still singing about the tall, tall tower. “Gee, thanks for the help,” Jeremy muttered.

Dawn laughed. “All he does is get in the way, so it’s probably best if he goes to see that tower.”

The crew was highly motivated to get their work done, so they finished setting up the boat for the evening’s show in time to get the whole afternoon off. Jeremy was resigned to spending the day on the boat, since he was sure Huw wouldn’t let Dawn out of his sight before the big show, but Huw surprised them by giving them leave to go, as well as a handful of coins. “Even with the show interrupted last night, we earned far more than we usually do, and I’m sure it was partly due to you,” he told Dawn.

Dawn pulled Jeremy down the gangplank and shoved her way through the crowds on the dock. “Whoa, there,” he said to her. “I don’t think that castle’s going anywhere.” She eased up, but he kept his arm linked through hers, and she frequently strained against it.

When they reached the gates to the city proper, a black-armored guard stopped them. Guards hadn’t stopped anyone else as they passed, so Jeremy couldn’t help but be concerned. “Who are you, and what is your business here?” the guard asked.

Dawn gave him a sunny smile, and Jeremy wasn’t sure how the guard could resist her. “We’re performers, here for the coronation. We’re with the North Country Minstrels.”

“You should come see the show tonight,” Jeremy added.

Another guard came over to join the first one. “What do you think?” the first guard asked his colleague. “They’re about the age of the ones we’re looking for.”

“No, that’s not the Sinclair boy,” the second guard said.

The first guard frowned and hesitated, but he waved them through. “I wonder what that was about?” Jeremy asked when they were well away from the guards.

“We got through, so there’s nothing to worry about,” Dawn said. “Now, let’s get to the castle.” The city was crowded, with people jostling their way through the narrow streets. Jeremy started to believe what Dawn said about being drawn toward the castle because it would have been easy to get lost as the crowds pushed and pulled them in every direction, but she led them unerringly there, like she had a compass planted in her head. More black-clad soldiers were all over the place, standing where they could watch the crowds. The people gave them plenty of space.

“If I’m really linked to my necklace, then Lucy is definitely in that castle,” Dawn said after a while as she tugged harder on Jeremy’s arm. Then she rubbed her right index finger against her pants leg.

“Is something wrong?” he asked. “You’ve been scratching at that finger all day.”

“I don’t know. Something must have stung it the night I stayed outside. I thought it was getting better, but it’s worse now than ever.” He took her hand to inspect it, but it wasn’t even red. “Maybe I’m just anxious,” she said with a shrug.

They reached the castle gate, which was guarded by more black-clad men. The guards weren’t letting anyone near the castle. Even people who strayed too close to the gates as they passed were shoved aside. “We’ll never get in there,” Jeremy said. “I guess they don’t sell tickets for public tours.”

“But we have to get inside. We’ll just have to get in as part of the coronation program tomorrow.”

“We ought to check out the marketplace,” he suggested.

She didn’t take her eyes off the castle. “Why?”

“Well, for one thing, the guards are giving us funny looks, and I’m not sure we’d be let go on the basis of me not looking like some Sinclair boy if we’re arrested for suspicious loitering. And for another, as we learned before, markets are very good places to get info.” She nodded in agreement, but he had to drag her away.

The marketplace was even more busy and bustling than the streets had been. It looked like a festival day, although most of the people appeared more strained and sad than festive. The ones who looked happy didn’t look like very nice people. Dawn and Jeremy browsed the booths for a while, then Jeremy went over to a booth selling woven scarves and shawls and started looking through the merchandise.

“Are you local, or did you come in for the coronation?” he asked the shopkeeper as he examined a pink shawl.

“Oh, I’m local,” the woman in the booth said. “Been here all my life.”

“Good. We’re here for the coronation, and we wanted to buy local wares. I’m sure the things brought in just for the coronation aren’t nearly as good.”

“You’re right about that, young master, and a very discerning customer you are. Some of these outsiders will buy anything. You’d think they’d never seen a market before. But you’ll not find finer weaving anywhere.”

“Are you here most days?”

“Most market days. I need some time to weave.”

“Then maybe you could help us. We were supposed to meet a friend here. She would have come to town a few days ago, but we haven’t found her yet.” Dawn stepped forward and gave a description of Lucy.

The woman’s eyes narrowed, and she went ever so slightly paler. “I’ll have to think about that. So many people come through the market, it’s hard to remember. But while I’m thinking, is there anything among my wares that you find particularly interesting? Take a look, and let me know if something catches your eye.”

Dawn joined Jeremy in looking through the scarves. Most of them were brightly colored, and some were embroidered. One was solid white with a blue border embroidered around it, and another was dark green, embroidered with black. “I like this one,” Dawn said, holding up a rose-colored shawl.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall seeing your friend,” the woman said crisply. “Now, would you like to make a purchase?”

“We may come back later,” Jeremy said. “Thank you for your time.” As he guided Dawn away, he muttered in her ear, “Is it just me, or was that kind of weird?”

“She must not have liked my choice.”

“Pink is a very sinister color.”

She elbowed him in the ribs. “She’s probably afraid to talk. Just about everyone here looks frightened.”

“Yeah, something tells me that witch isn’t big on free speech.”

The next couple of merchants they tried had just come to town. The one after that claimed not to have seen anything. Then they found a merchant selling souvenir jewels and trinkets. “Do you see anything you like?” Jeremy asked Dawn.

“Some of these charms might fit on my bracelet.”

“Pick something out. You might as well have a souvenir.”

“You don’t have to buy me a present.”

“You’re the one who earned the money. I just have the pockets to hold it. You’re buying yourself a present. If you like, you could buy me one.”

She browsed the offerings and picked out a charm that looked a lot like that necklace she’d given Lucy and held it up to the merchant. “How much for this one?”

“Ah, an interesting choice, miss, very appropriate to the occasion. You’re here for the coronation, I take it?”

“Yes, we’re performers,” Dawn replied.

“We were supposed to meet a friend here,” Jeremy said. “She would have arrived a few days ago.” He described Lucy, then asked, “Have you seen her?”

The merchant looked at Dawn’s charm, then at the two of them, winked, leaned closer and whispered, “Long live the king.”

Jeremy and Dawn looked at each other, not sure what to say to that. Obviously, the king wasn’t around anymore, and it was likely that talking about him was considered treason. This merchant was taking a huge risk, but he seemed to have identified them as people he could trust. They’d have to take a similar risk to show him they agreed. Jeremy leaned closer and whispered, “Yes, long live the king. And the queen, I guess.”

The merchant grinned and tapped the end of his nose. “I’ll put the charm on your bracelet for you, if you’ll give me your wrist, Miss,” he said out loud, then when Dawn held her wrist to him, he added in a whisper as he bent his head over his work, “Your friend did come through a few days ago, and she didn’t come on her own, if you know what I mean. They took her straight to the castle.”

“So, she’s there now?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. There’s been some commotion, and the guards have been looking for someone, but as far as I know, no one saw her leave the castle, and no one has seen her since. But don’t worry, I do hear that plans are afoot.” He finished with the charm, then said loudly, “And how do you like it, Miss? It looks good on you.”

Jeremy paid him, then guided Dawn away from the booth. He would have liked to ask more questions, but there were guards watching the marketplace, and spending too much time talking after making a purchase might look suspicious. “So, she really is here,” he murmured into Dawn’s ear as they moved through the crowd. “And it sounds like she’s in danger.”

“We should have asked why she was taken to the castle.”

“I’m not sure we’d have had an answer. So far, people have been reluctant to even say they’ve seen her.”

“She was taken because they thought she was me. Why would this witch want me?”

“Maybe to sing at her coronation? Boy, is she going to be disappointed when she hears Lucy.”

“Lucy has a very pretty voice.”

“But not like yours. You have a voice worth kidnapping someone from another world to hear.”

Her face went a delightful shade of pink, and she looked away from him. “Do we have enough money to buy some food? I’m starving,” she said, clearly changing the subject.

He jingled his hand in his pocket and said, “I think so. And we might as well spend it all, since we won’t be able to exchange it for dollars before we go home.” He bought a couple of fruit-filled pastries, and they sat on a low wall to eat them while they watched the crowds.

“You know, we are in the capital city, which was where we wanted to go,” Jeremy said after a while. “We don’t have to go back to the boat. We could just go about finding Lucy.”

“You mean, go against our word? Huw trusted us enough to let us go out today. How can we betray that?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not planning on staying with a traveling musical troupe in another world until we’ve paid off whatever debt we owe them—which shouldn’t be that much. We’ll leave when we find Lucy, anyway.”

“But the troupe may be our only way to get into the coronation, and it’s not as though they treat us badly.”

“And you want the chance to perform.”

She blushed again, looking down at her feet. “Yes, and I want the chance to perform.” She looked up at him, her eyes shining. “And I think it really is the right thing to do.”

“Okay, then. If that’s what you want.” He’d have dared anyone to resist her when she looked at him like that.


The entire tent remained absolutely silent for a long moment after Lucy finished her song. She was preparing herself to confess all and beg for help when Geoffrey sank to his knees in front of her and took her hand. “Forgive me, your highness,” he said. “I had to be certain.” Around the tent, everyone else knelt, including Sebastian, who gave her an awestruck grin as he stiffly bent his knees.

“Please, that’s really not necessary,” Lucy said. She didn’t think she was that good, but it seemed to have done the trick. She was just lucky they’d never heard Dawn sing, or they’d have never accepted her. They’d have known what magically gifted really sounded like.

Geoffrey stood and ushered her to his own chair. “Your highness, you must be hungry. Eat something. You, too, Sebastian. I will send word to Mother. We will have a feast tonight.”

Sebastian took a seat at the table, but he didn’t seem to have much of an appetite. “You’ve gathered an army,” Sebastian remarked as Lucy ate.

“Yes. If we must remove the witch by force, then so be it. And now that we have the princess with us, we have a legitimate claimant to the throne. All of the loyal nobles have contributed men to the cause, as has the kingdom of Ernstmead.”

“Ernstmead? Why would they fight on our behalf?”

“They worry the witch won’t be satisfied with one kingdom. The situation will be more stable with the rightful ruler on the throne, and there is the possibility of alliance then.”

Sebastian looked surprisingly unhappy about that. There was probably some history between the countries that Lucy didn’t know about. Actually, there was a lot she didn’t know about, like, for instance, the name of her own kingdom, now that she thought about it. Well, Dawn’s kingdom.

When they finished eating, Geoffrey escorted them out of the tent, where a big horse stood waiting. “I would love to talk more, but Mother would never forgive me if I kept you out here.”

“Do you mind riding double?” Sebastian asked Lucy, a wry smile on his lips. This was how they met, what seemed like ages ago, but which really was only a few days.

“I’m not much of a rider, so that’s probably the best idea,” she said, hoping her cheeks didn’t look as red as they felt. She wasn’t the only one blushing. Geoffrey would have had to be blind not to see that there was something going on. Unless maybe it was so unthinkable that he couldn’t see it.

Just as he’d done that first day, Sebastian mounted the horse, then held down a hand to Lucy. Geoffrey helped boost her up so that she was settled in front of Sebastian. He circled his arm around her, this time squeezing her for more than just holding her on the horse, and she leaned back against him, resting her head on his shoulder.

“You did it,” he said into her ear. “You surely saved me from the gallows. I owe you my life.”

“Yeah, and I owe you mine many times over, so we’re still not close to even. But I don’t think they’d have hanged you. You look just like your brother, so surely someone would have noticed before it was too late.”

They entered in the castle courtyard, where chaos ensued. Stablehands helped Lucy out of the saddle, and Sebastian was barely on the ground before a woman ran to hug him and weep all over him. Finally, she let go and stood back to get a good look at him. “You’re so much like your father,” she whispered.

Then she noticed Lucy. “Oh, your highness,” she said, dropping to a deep curtsy. “Welcome to our home. We are honored. I am the dowager duchess. The duchess sends her apologies. She was unable to greet you herself.”

“Duchess?” Sebastian blurted.

His mother took his arm. “Ten years have passed for us, as well. Your brother is now a grown man, and that means he is also a husband—and a father.”

Sebastian looked shellshocked at finding out he now had a sister-in-law as well as nephews or nieces.

“I suppose you didn’t know,” his mother said sadly.

He shook his head. “If you sent word to me, I never received it.” His lips went thin and his jaw took on the look that usually meant he was about to start swinging a sword.

His mother looked horrified for a moment, then she recovered and said, “We can talk later. For now, you two need baths and clean clothing. Your highness, you and the duchess appear to be about the same size, and she has plenty of clothing she isn’t using at the moment, so I will have some things sent to you. As for you, young man,” she turned to her son. “You are almost your brother’s size. I can’t believe how you’ve grown.”

Sebastian’s mother, along with a few servants, escorted Lucy to a bedroom while Sebastian went off with a group of other servants. The room was like something in a museum, with tapestries on the walls and massive, ornately carved furniture. A big copper tub sat on the floor, steam rising from it. It took all Lucy’s self control not to tear off her clothes then and there and dive right into it, but she had a feeling that would shock her hostess.

“The servants will attend you,” the duchess said.

“Oh, no need, I can bathe myself.”

“Then I will send my lady’s maid to dress you after you’ve bathed.”

Lucy was still drying off after her bath when a maid showed up, her arms full of dresses. The maid curtseyed before laying the gowns out across the huge four-poster bed, then approached Lucy with a silk dressing gown. She timidly touched Lucy’s hair. “Oh, your highness, you have such lovely curls,” she said shyly.

“Um, thanks . . . uh, I don’t think I caught your name.”

“I’m Gillian, your highness. And now if you allow, I will dress your hair.”

“Okay, Gillian, knock yourself out.” Lucy figured there wasn’t much the maid could do to make her hair worse, so she might as well see what a proper lady’s maid could do to make it better.

After rubbing a nice-smelling oil through Lucy’s hair, Gillian wrapped her head in a small sheet of cloth. “Now we must wait for it to dry. And you must choose a gown.” Lucy didn’t need any more invitation than that. She scampered eagerly over to the bed to look at the gowns. One was white with a lot of gold stitching on it. It was lovely, but it made her think of wedding dresses. There was a red one with gold embroidery. The third gown was a rich royal blue, also with gold embroidery.

“The white one may be too formal,” Lucy said.

“I agree, your highness. It is more of a coronation gown.”

Wow, coronation. Lucy hadn’t thought in those terms, but she supposed that if they won and didn’t get the king and queen back, it stood to reason that she—well, Dawn—would eventually be crowned queen.

“Every eye would be on you in the red dress,” Gillian said. “Perhaps it would be better for when you need to be seen in a crowd.”

“Let’s go with the blue one,” Lucy said.

Gillian helped Lucy take off her robe and put on a simple white underdress that was a lot softer than what she’d been wearing the past few days. She helped Lucy put on the gown and did up a bunch of laces. Lucy could see why it took a maid to help a woman get dressed. “Ah, yes, that one suits your coloring very well. It brings out your eyes,” Gillian said. “Now, let me finish your hair.”

She sat Lucy down again, removed the cloth from around her head, and fiddled with her hair before opening a wooden box and bringing out a jeweled tiara, which she placed on Lucy’s head. After some more fiddling with her hair and arranging it around the tiara, she took Lucy’s hand and led her to a looking glass in the corner.

A princess looked back at Lucy. If she’d caught a glimpse in a reflective window or if she’d seen a photo of herself like this, she wouldn’t have recognized herself. Her hair hung in soft ringlets past her shoulders. The gown fit snugly through the bodice before flaring around her legs to drag in a train on the floor. Topping it all off was that tiara, which sat nestled in her curls. For the finishing touch, she put Dawn’s necklace around her neck. She couldn’t wait to see Sebastian’s face when he got a look at her like that. For once, she really felt like the princess he thought she was.

The door opened and the dowager duchess came in. After making a graceful curtsy, she said, “Your highness, you look lovely. Your betrothed will be most pleased with you.”

“My what?” Lucy blurted.

“Oh, did you not know? Of course you didn’t. I’m sorry, I should have realized. Sebastian told me you grew up with no knowledge of who you are. When you were born, your parents made an agreement with the rulers of our neighboring kingdom to betroth you to their young son and create an alliance.”

“Wait, so you mean I’ve been engaged since I was born?” It was odd to imagine that she was engaged before she ever even had a date. Well, Dawn was, and she was in the same dating boat as Lucy.

“It is the way things are so often done,” the duchess said with a sad shrug. “We are fortunate if we can find love with the men we marry.” She smiled and reached to take Lucy’s hands. “But Prince Harald is a handsome young man, and I’m sure you’ll like him.”

She brought Lucy to the castle’s great hall, where Geoffrey, now in full-on Duke mode, was holding court. When he saw Lucy in the doorway, he said, “It is my pleasure to present to you, after her long absence, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Aurora.” Every head in the room turned to look at Lucy, and then everyone bowed. Geoffrey held his hand out to her, beckoning her toward him, and they all cleared a path for her so she could join Geoffrey on the dais.

The crowd rose, and her heart caught in her throat when she saw all those faces looking at her with joy. The princess meant a lot to these people, Lucy realized. The very idea of her seemed to give them hope. One man in the back of the room shouted, “Huzzah!” and then the room roared with cheers and applause. It was all a little overwhelming. Normally, Lucy was the girl who made the costumes, not the one who stood on the stage and got the applause.

She looked around for something familiar and finally found Sebastian in the crowd, not far from the dais. He was dressed in clothes worthy of a nobleman, and they were only a little too big for him. The expression on his face when he looked up at her was exactly what she’d hoped it would be, and she was sure her expression looking at him was similar because he was really impressive when he looked like the young lord and future knight he was, in spite of all those bruises.

Geoffrey gestured to quiet the crowd and said, “It is also a great honor to have with us our closest ally, His Royal Highness, Prince Harald of Ernstmead.” Lucy’s stomach wrenched when he said the name as a man came toward the dais.

He looked pretty much like a storybook prince—the kind who was bland and interchangeable, since the princess was the focus of the story, and he was more the dance-at-the-ball kind of prince than the slay-the-dragon kind. He was good-looking in a plastic way, with perfect blond hair, a perfect face, and eyes that were a little vacant. In Lucy’s world, he probably would have modeled underwear for department store ads. This was the guy she—or the princess—was supposed to marry?

He reached the dais, bent his knee, took her hand, and brushed his lips in the general direction of her knuckles without actually touching them. She bobbed a quick curtsy, since she wasn’t sure how royalty was supposed to greet their peers. “Not bad,” he said as he took his position at her side. “I’d heard they cast a beauty spell on you, but I must say I’m disappointed in the results. Still, at least you’re not fat and hairy.”

Lucy wished she had on shoes heavier or spikier than soft leather slippers so she could have caused more pain when she “accidentally” stepped on his foot. There were benefits to full, long skirts. A woman could do a lot with her feet under there without anyone noticing.

She glanced again over at Sebastian and saw that his jaw was firmly set, his mouth pressed into a tight line. The situation reminded her of the end of Roman Holiday, when Gregory Peck went to the palace one last time and saw Audrey Hepburn as the princess after they had all those adventures together. Except, for maybe the only time in Lucy’s life, she had on a more fabulous outfit than Audrey did.

The applause for Prince Harald wasn’t nearly as loud as Lucy’s applause had been. When it faded to nothing, Geoffrey said, “And, finally, it gives me great joy to welcome home my younger brother, Lord Sebastian, safely returned to us at last.”

There were more cheers as Sebastian made his way forward. Geoffrey embraced him in a huge hug when he reached the dais. Sebastian stood next to Lucy, and she edged away from Harald toward him. It wasn’t just because she liked Sebastian more (though she did). Harald was wearing a seriously noxious cologne, and he must have marinated in it. Her eyes watered from being near him.

After the cheers for Sebastian faded, Geoffrey said, “And now that the princess has returned to us, our moment of destiny approaches. Tomorrow, we march on the castle. The witch has planned this as her coronation day, now that she believes she’s fulfilled her curse and eliminated the last claimant to her throne. But we will win the throne back for our king and queen, wherever they may be, and for our princess who is with us now!”

There was more cheering. Lots of cheering. Life under this witch must have really sucked, Lucy figured. They all looked at her with such hope in their eyes. It made her feel bad about not really being the princess. “Once you’re crowned queen,” Harald said out of the side of his mouth, “we can have the wedding and then I’ll get my kingdom.” She suddenly felt quite good about not really being the princess. Not that she’d wish this guy on Dawn, but she was most definitely not going to marry him when she wasn’t the one who was betrothed to him.

“Cool your jets, hot shot,” she said to him under her breath. “I’m just sixteen, and I am sooooo not ready to get married. I’ve got to finish high school first, and I’d really like to get my degree. And, oh yeah, I’m totally jailbait.”

Of course, half the words or phrases she’d used were probably foreign to him, so he just stared at her. It might possibly have been the first time someone had talked back to him. On her other side, Sebastian’s shoulders shook. She hadn’t meant him to hear it, but it looked like he had and was enjoying it. She had to suppress a squeak when a hand grabbed her bottom. Harald might not have thought she was beautiful, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to grope her. She shifted her stance, not-so-accidentally stepping on his foot again.

Geoffrey said, “And now, let us feast. The next time we celebrate, it shall be in the royal palace with our rightful queen.” The crowd went crazy again, Harald took Lucy’s hand and raised it in a victory salute, and Lucy felt like she’d trapped herself in something too big to talk her way out of.

Continued in Chapter 17.