Without further ado, I give you a sample chapter of Pippa of Lauramore. I hope you enjoy it.
Strong and tall, valiant and true—that’s what my family sees when they look at Prince Lionel. What I see is a tree-like man with a thick, stubby neck and eyes too small for his wide face.
My forced smile—which is making my cheeks ache because I’ve held it for so long—falters as I look on the man and realize he looks a bit like an ogre.
I don’t mean that in a harsh way. It’s simply true.
“Are you listening, Philippa?” Lionel’s too-small eyes narrow.
My eyes drop from his strange, lopsided hairline. I can’t tell if it’s the way his hair curls over his temple or if his forehead is truly misshaped. His hair is a glorious mass of golden brown curls which fall in lovely ringlets to his ears.
How tragic for that hair to be gifted to a man.
“I’m hanging on your every word,” I say. “Please continue.”
Percival, my eldest brother and future king of Lauramore, purses his lips and narrows his eyes like Lionel just did. Unlike Lionel, he has very nice eyes, green like our mother’s and just the right size.
I flash him a smile—a real smile. The corner of his mouth twitches, but he shakes his head so subtly that Lionel doesn’t notice.
“You’re eighteen now and my future bride. It’s time you start acting like a princess and not an adventure-lusting tavern wench.” Lionel spits out the last two words in a sharp staccato.
Percival opens his mouth to protest, but before he can, I poke a finger in the middle of Lionel’s chest and stand on my tip-toes to make myself a few inches taller.
“You will have to win the tournament first.” I poke him again for emphasis. “Even you can’t be so proud you think not one of these twenty-nine men can best you.”
For a moment his confidence flickers, and he glances around the great hall.
The festivities are in full swing. The chaotic, colorful symphony of laughter and food makes my heart swell. Princes, lords, knights, and even villagers mill around the hall, talking and eating. Acrobats do tricks. Girls with tambourines weave through the crowds, their bright skirts swaying around their ankles as they dance.
Their joy and laughter makes me anxious to join in the merrymaking. Waves of impatience work through my muscles. I can barely hold still.
“I will win,” Lionel answers after he scans the room, his voice full of unemotional certainty.
I frown, and my eyes dart through the crowd looking for a man likely to beat him. My spirits slowly sink as I realize he’s likely right. Many handsome men catch my eye, but none are as strong or mighty.
“There.” My voice is smug. “By the table with the fruit and cheese.”
Lionel and Percival turn their attention toward the man.
He’s as tall as Lionel with, unfortunately, just as thick a neck. He has a nice smile, though, and his eyes look kind. I bob up on my toes for a better look. He’s a little older than I had hoped but young enough to be acceptable.
There’s a woman with him—his sister, perhaps. What is that she has with her? Oh, it’s a baby. Why is she handing him a baby?
“Lord Quinn from Yearling,” Percival answers. “And his wife, Eliss, and their new son, Todd.”
Lionel snorts, and it’s a mirthless sound. “You see?” He nods, satisfied. “I will win, and you will be my bride.”
The candy-dipped apple, three grouse legs, and two fruit pies I had during the blissful Lionel-free part of my evening now churn in my stomach, reminding me why a princess shouldn’t be such a glutton.
“Pippa,” Percival says. “They’re bringing in the cake.”
Four huge layers of red, orange, purple, and indigo frosted confection are wheeled into the hall. It looks like a summer sunset. White stars are painted on the dark upper layers, and fluffy, sunlit clouds are piped at the bottom.
It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Forgetting both Lionel and Percival, I rush to my mother, who’s standing next to the cake, beckoning me. My father joins her, and my brother Alexander pushes his way through our guests. I assume Percival is behind me, but I don’t stop to check.
Father puts his arm around me when I join them. Serving women pass trays of cider and wine to our guests.
“Friends,” he says in his loud, booming voice that I have always thought so fitting for a king. “Today we celebrate my darling daughter’s eighteenth birthday!”
The crowd cries their approval, and the sound amplifies itself off the stone walls. I laugh out loud, enjoying the attention. Soon we are surrounded by my father’s elite knights. My parents and brothers are each handed a goblet. Father holds his in the air, and the crowd mimics him.
“Pippa has grown into a woman of great compassion, beauty, and vibrant spirit,” he continues. “There were days I was sure she would drive me mad—”
“Here! Here!” Sir Kimble, my uncle, declares loudly from the ring of knights he stands with.
This outburst is rewarded by a roar of laughter that is much louder than the first cheer.
I give them all an indulgent smile and shake my head as if it weren’t true.
In the crowd, a handsome fair-haired man with dark, mesmerizing eyes catches my attention. He winks at me. I acknowledge him, giving him a small, promising smile.
I will seek him out later.
Father continues his speech, and even though it’s about me, I get bored. Father likes to talk.
I resume searching the crowd for faces dear to me and smiling as I meet people’s eyes. Ginna, my handmaiden, is standing at the very back of the throng. I wave, and she waves back, her eyes crinkling.
Cousin Anna is toward the front, looking serious as usual. I grin at her, and she gives me a tight smile. Her eyes always give her away, though; she’s about to cry.
“Today we drink to Princess Philippa of Lauramore, our darling daughter—my Pippa.” Father turns his goblet toward me, his eyes shining with pride.
An unfamiliar blush warms my cheeks.
“To Pippa!” The crowds yell, and they all drink.
My eyes pause in their assessment of the audience.
Who’s that in the middle of the mass of people?
He’s a head taller than most, so even in this crowd, he stands out. He must feel my eyes on him, because his gaze turns toward mine, and our eyes lock.
His hair is dark like the rich forest floor, his skin tan, and his chest broad. He has a strong jaw and well-defined cheekbones. His arms and shoulders are muscular, but his neck is well-proportioned to his chest and head.
He’s handsome like a painting, and I can imagine him atop a mighty steed, the sun streaming on his gleaming armor. He raises his goblet to his mouth and takes a slow drink, never breaking eye contact with me.
This is the man.
This is the man who will beat Lionel and win the tournament.
I glance over my shoulder, checking for Lionel. I don’t want him to corner me into a conversation again. Once again, the tambourine girls make their rounds, and a quartet of players have set up on the corner stage. Flute song twines with a mandolin, and somehow the tambourines, though in many different locations in the room, chime in and complete the joyful melody.
The man is here somewhere. I just have to find him.
He was easy to spot from my elevated position by the cake, but down here, mingling with the guests, it’s nearly impossible to see anything. Dearest friends, whom I’ve never met in my life, give me hugs and well wishes. It slows my progress considerably.
I make my way to the stage where the players are. If I stand on the first or second step, I should be able to spot him again.
“Princess?” A servant holds out his tray of cider.
I wasn’t handed a goblet during the toast, as it would be wrong to toast myself, and I accept one from the tray. With the hundreds of bodies filling the space, it has become hot in here.
I sip the cool liquid, savoring the flavor. This isn’t our kingdom’s cider. It’s tangier and has a depth ours does not.
Was it a gift from one of the visiting princes?
It’s not unusual for guests to bring gifts, and they are greatly appreciated. We are limited on the crops and fruit trees that will grow on our fair, forest-filled mountains.
I press on, stopping as needed. Through a gap in the crowd I see the master archer, who everyone simply calls Archer, laughing with several ladies’ maids and a knight.
Maybe I’ll join them and see what has my serious, and sometimes surly, instructor in an improved mood. I take a few steps and then shake my head.
No, I have someone more important to find.
I reach the stage and pause on the first step. It will be only a matter of moments before someone notices me, and then I’ll be forced into another conversation. I bounce on my toes, a nervous habit that Anna hates, and continue my search.
He must be here still. The cake’s just been served.
I take two more steps up the stage.
“Looking for someone, Princess?” a deep voice says from my elbow.
I turn, ready to give this man a polite brush off. Instead, my breath leaves me.
If possible, he’s even more handsome up close. His eyes—oh, those eyes—are a bright, sky blue, and they are focused right on me.
He offers his hand, and I only hesitate a moment before I set my palm in his. Something passes between us, and as I step down, I feel like I’m floating.
“Prince Galinor of Glendon.” He bows low.
For a moment I wonder if he’s going to kiss my hand, but he doesn’t.
“Princess Pippa of Lauramore,” I answer and then feel foolish. Of course he knows who I am, or at least he should after the toast.
He straightens, and much to my disappointment, drops my hand. “I imagined the word of your beauty was exaggerated, Princess.”
My spine stiffens, and I stare at him, stunned.
“But I was wrong. You are so much more beautiful than rumor gave you credit for.”
I squirm a little at the sincerity in his words. This isn’t the first time a man has told me I’m beautiful, but the sentiment is always joined with a cheeky smile. Galinor is looking at me like I’m exquisite and precious.
I almost wish he wouldn’t. I’m afraid I will disappoint him.
“You are from Glendon, Prince Galinor?” I ask, changing the subject.
“Just Galinor,” he says with a dimpled smile. “And yes, I am from Glendon. I’m the second born son.”
Glendon is just to the east of our kingdom, only about a day’s ride away. We are friendly with them, though there is very little trade between us. Their kingdom has rich grazing meadows, and they have very little need for Lauramore’s wool, which is the backbone of our economy.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever met, Galinor,” I say, perplexed.
He flushes. “I have visited Lauramore several times in recent years. Unfortunately, you were always otherwise engaged.”
I have evaded a few of Father’s non-celebratory feasts. Perhaps I should have surveyed the guests before I disappeared.
I lower my gaze and look at him through my eyelashes, giving him a small smile. “I’m glad to meet you now.”
“As am I,” he says, stumbling a little bit. His tanned cheeks go from embarrassed pink to red.
He’s sweet—just as I would expect a young man from Glendon to be.
“I have only been to your kingdom a few times, but I know your land is much lower in elevation than ours. What do you think of Lauramore?” I hold out my hand for him to take.
He gets the point and offers his arm. I lead him to the large glass windows near the front of the room. In the daylight they look over my mother’s extensive flower gardens, but now they are black with night and reflect the celebration like giant mirrors. The food tables are on the other side of the hall, so not as many people loiter here.
“It’s cooler than I am used to but very beautiful.”
“Not as cold as far north,” I point out. “We still have a warm summer.”
Moonlight spills from the clouds and illuminates the waterfall on the other side of the gardens.
“It’s stopped raining.” I peer through the windows. “Let’s go outside.”
Galinor stiffens. “I’m not sure—”
“It’s fine,” I assure him, opening the door.
It rained all day, and the cool, misty air is refreshing after the heat of the great hall. I breathe it in. The summer air smells like damp earth and rain-drenched flowers.
Galinor follows me with his arms crossed over his chest. He seems uncomfortable being out here by ourselves. He cranes his neck to look at the top of the waterfall, which is directly above and to the right of the palace. “Where does the water come from?”
“There’s a huge lake on the mountain terrace above us. It falls from that terrace, flows down next to this one, and ends in the pool on the terrace below us. Would you like to see?” I take his hand.
His skin is warm. He has the kind of hands a man should have—large and calloused.
When a man of lineage has calloused hands, it can only mean he’s well practiced with weapons. Being well practiced with weapons increases his chances in the tournament significantly.
We walk through the gardens. I pull Galinor, and he reluctantly follows. A low stone wall sits on the edge of the terrace to keep children and the graceless from falling from the edge into the depthless pool at the bottom.
I let go of his hand and place my palms on the rough, wet stones. I lean far over the edge so I may feel the mist on my face.
Galinor grabs my waist and pulls me back. Once I’m firmly on my feet, he drops his hands like I’ve scorched him.
“I’m sorry, Princess, but I’m not sure it’s wise to…” he trails off, looking at the ground.
I smile at him, amused. He thought I was going to fall in, headfirst. “I’ve only fallen in once on accident, several years ago.”
He thinks about what I’ve said, his pretty eyes narrowing. “When you say it like that, it almost sounds as if you’ve gone in on purpose.”
I bite back a smile. “I know how to swim.”
He stares at me. “Your father is all right with you jumping from this cliff and plunging into the water for a swim?”
I laugh. “No, he’s not fond of it.”
Galinor turns back to the waterfall. “How deep is the pool?”
“No one knows. It’s too cold to stay in long.”
He peers in the inky water. “What lives in there?”
“We don’t know that either. But there are a countless creatures in the lake above, so I assume there are many types.” I shrug. “See the dark crevices along the rock wall? That’s where water swallows build their nests in spring.”
He rests his hands against the wall, and he seems to be loosening up a bit now that he sees my father and his knights aren’t going to come after us.
“There’s a cave down there, too,” I say, pointing. “You can’t see it, though, because of the waterfall. It hides behind it. I go there sometimes when I want to get away. The only way in is to swim.”
“We don’t have caves in Glendon.”
“No caves?” I ask. “None at all?”
He shakes his head and turns around to sit on the wall. “None. We have forests and meadows but no mountains.”
The sky is clearing up, and the stars are shining like beacons in the night. I turn to Galinor, and a thought is forming in my head.
“What?” His voice is wary.
“I have an idea.”