by Sarah Daltry
Publication date: November 7th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Synopsis:Who makes YOUR choices?
“I was once the type of person who was impressed by starlight; the type of person who would dance beneath glass ceilings and let the world swim in its loveliness. The sky reminds me of the parties we used to throw – parties like the one last night. The memories bring back the trill of harps and endless ripples of satisfied laughter. Now, though, when I try to recall what I felt, all I hear is screaming.”
In a world ravaged by war and oppressive forces of evil, a princess must fight to claim her bloodright and save her people.
When the princess, Alondra, falls for the beautiful, blue eyes of a hooded stranger, it awakens in her a taste for freedom and an escape from her duty.
But her parents have other plans; they have a kingdom to protect and Alondra must marry to ensure the peace between nations. Only what happens when your parents choose a cold-hearted assassin as your betrothed?
As lies, illusions, and long hidden vendettas surface, the princess has to confront a very secret history. One that makes her realize that she not only risks losing her liberty, but also everything she has known and loved.
A scream distorts the sound of marching footfalls on the bleeding earth. I don’t know when Seamus dropped my hand, as I have kept my eyes trained forward; focused on the caves and what we will find. I do not want to see what the army does to make my passage safer.
However, I cannot avoid turning this time. There is something about the scream that is ceaseless. I wish I hadn’t; Seamus removes his sword from the stomach of a boy whom I guess is little more than twelve-years-old. The boy’s entrails slither along the blade and out of his wound. The woman standing behind them is the one who is screaming, but she does not move.
“Make it stop,” I ask no one in particular. “Please, make it stop.”
It is not the first death I have seen and I am certain it will not be the last. I want to feel compassion or empathy, but the blaster in the dead boy’s hand tells me that Seamus’ blade is the reason I am not dust.
At my side, Theomore flinches at the pitch of her screams, but he readies his aim and the bullet enters the woman’s windpipe, bringing a sudden and eerie silence. Her body joins the boy’s in the dirt. Their blood, mingled in the pools forming below them, glides in an unhurried stream to my boot tip. I wonder about the stories that used to run through that blood. I didn’t recognize either of them. Were they Kooramen who hated us for the luxury of our lives? Did they come with the army from another land? Were they simply people who misunderstood the targets of their violence? The answers are forgotten in the scarlet slicks.
“And we continue,” Ereditus says, taking the boy’s blaster. The woman was weaponless.
This time, Seamus does not jest. He does not take my hand. He joins me in walking toward the caves, but I can see that the dead boy burdens him. I do not have the words to console him. The wretch had been aiming for me and that fact truly resonates for the first time. I am eighteen and I have lived a life of silliness, yet, according to my father as we fought in vain to save our city, I am now the greatest threat Anara faces as death reigns – and I don’t know why.
“Alondra, last night,” Leliana says as she braids my hair. It is copper red, which I know glimmers in the sunlight and stands out against the jet black of my tunic.
“Mhm,” I say, drifting off in the afternoon sun as I think about the blue of his eyes.
“You need to be careful,” she warns, pulling me from my reverie. “You do not have the freedom you crave and your mother spent a great deal of time searching for you after the dancing.”
I knew I would not go unmissed, but no one was waiting in my room when I climbed in my window during in the early hours of the morning with the taste of sugar on my lips.
“I was with Sanara,” I reply. Sanara went home before the dancing ended, but I know she’ll lie for me. She was heartbroken because Lormander had told her he’s thinking of enlisting in our army. If Lormander enlists, he will be ineligible for marriage for five years. Sanara had hoped that she would be a wife before twenty.
“You’re like my own daughter, child, and I know more than you think. Just be careful, please. Your parents mean well, even when you doubt their intent.” Leliana finishes my braid and places it over my shoulder. “Please do not give them cause to worry. The last few years have been hard on everyone. Losing your brother…” She stops speaking. There are certain topics about which servants are not expected to have opinions.
Two years ago, my brother Eriham disappeared. On the morning after a party, I ran to his room to wake him for a hunt but his bed had not been slept in. No one recalled seeing him after dinner and search parties reached every end of Anara to no avail. He was simply gone. My parents tried to move on, for my sake, but as their only daughter and now only child, I am the hope on which Kooram’s future rests.
I break the rules and admit something to Leliana I have never spoken aloud. “I know it’s wrong, but sometimes I get angry at Eriham for leaving. If he had never gone then he would be in line for the throne and I would be free to make my own destiny. It’s wrong to blame him, I suppose, especially if something happened…”
Sometimes, I still think of him – especially when I look to the hills. There had been no signs of foul play and his friends believed he had hinted about a journey. We all like to imagine that he’s alive and well somewhere, although I wish he would contact me. However, we’re eight years apart and I suppose he didn’t think I would understand. I shouldn’t feel this selfish anger about his disappearance, but I wonder if he considered the consequences for me.
“I understand, Alondra, but some things… You know I will never speak of your thoughts, but for your family’s sake, for all of Kooram, I only beg of you to consider your actions.”
“Leliana, I’m fine. I will try harder, okay?”
She nods. There is no more time for discussion or reverie. I have a date with a killer.
My parents are sitting by the fire; Sanara is with them. People eat in silence. The joy felt by gathering here was quickly overshadowed by the awareness of how much smaller the group is than when we set out. I sit beside Sanara. She hands me a plate of greens without speaking.
“Have you taken a tally?” Ereditus asks Lormander. “We must know who is missing.”
Lormander looks to Sanara; she won’t meet his eyes. He starts to gather names and stories spill from the lips of the Kooramen.
“My mother was running, but they shot her before she could make it out of the alley.”
“They cut off my brother’s hands in front of me and told me to keep my mouth shut, unless I wanted to end up the same way.”
“Blood. There was so much blood.”
“Where is my child? Please, find my child.”
I try to focus on the fire. The crackling wood shoots out sparks, small fires that land on the rocks edging the flame pit. The smoke swirls around the cauldron; I see bodies through the haze.
“Is it as bad as they’re saying?” Sanara asks.
“It’s bad. Just... bad.” I can’t describe what I saw, not because I don’t have the words, but because I don’t want to fill Sanara’s life with those images. “How long have you been here?” I ask.
“After Galatia sent out the siren spell, it was chaos. You were there. You know how insane it got.” She looks at her feet. “Lormander told me to get out and then he left. It was all too real too fast.”
“Who led you here?” I ask. I know what happened in Kooram after the attack started. I heard the call to retreat to the caves, but I was there through the first wave. Sanara may have been fortunate enough to get out before she saw too much.
“After the call, we just started moving. I was alone, running through the fields. The moon was high, so I was lucky, I suppose.” She pauses. “I made the wards. They won’t last another night.”
“You can rest, gather strength to repair them. Until then, I am sure another mage...”
Sanara looks directly into my eyes and shakes her head. “No. They won’t. There are no other mages. He killed them all.”
I take in what Sanara says. Her training is not enough to replace all of our mages.
Curiosity echoes through the room. No one goes to Challar. We live in a world that does not need history books; stories that we need to know are preserved through the bards and everything else... Well, some things are better left in the past. I know there is much of Anara that has been kept from me, but I always believed my parents and elders when they said the past was buried to save us. Now, though, I feel like a marionette, and I want to know who’s holding the strings.
“Something’s bothering me,” I tell Seamus. “I can’t explain it, and please don’t ask. But I want to go to see if I can get some questions answered. I planned on going without telling anyone and being back for dinner. Still,” I pause, “I would be happy to have your company.”
“Sure,” he says. The truce is unspoken, but it’s there. As he said yesterday, I cannot fight my destiny; now at least I have someone to go alongside me.
“Thank you. I’m sorry I can’t say more, but I hope you take comfort in knowing that my asking is…”
He nods. “I understand. Actually, there was something I wanted to say to you before you left, and I suppose now is as good a time as any. You see, Alondra, I… Well, I know that this is challenging for you. I know that our parents strive to think for the future, to establish an alliance that will better both of our kingdoms and Anara as a whole. However, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Seamus,” I start, but he brushes his fingers across my lips and continues.
“I never anticipated that you would love me, but I don’t want to be hated. Not by my wife. I see the way you look at me. I see what you see, and I know what I am. I am prepared to offer you a choice, Alondra. After you depart Demoria, I will not contact you until we return to your kingdom for the engagement ball. When I return to Kooram, I ask that you tell me how you feel then. If you still feel that our marriage would never be more than a punishment, I will publicly ask for a dissolution of the agreement.”
“Your kingdom will blame me,” I argue.
“Although I am an assassin, Alondra, I am also a prince. I know how to affect change with words as well as with a blade.”
I want to reply, to say something, even though I don’t know what words would bubble to the surface. Choices swim in my mind and I try to pull the threads of them apart to see the future lying at the end of each. As I contemplate, Seamus leans over. He gets closer and I realize he is going to kiss me. I don’t have time to decide if that’s okay before a scream rings out from the party below.
AUTHOR BIO:Sarah Daltry is a varied author, known best for the contemporary New Adult series, 'Flowering', a six-title series that explores the complexities of relationships, including how we survive the damage from our pasts with the support of those who love us. Although the books are no longer in print, they are being rewritten and redeveloped for future publication. Please visit Sarah's website for more details.
As a former English teacher and YA library coordinator, Sarah has always loved Young Adult literature and 'Dust', an epic fantasy novel where romance blends with the blood and grit of war, is her second official foray into YA, following the gamer geek romantic comedy, 'Backward Compatible'. Most of Sarah's work is about teens and college students, as it's what she knows well.
Sarah's passion in life is writing - weaving tales of magic and beauty. The modern and vast social networking world is an alternative universe that she makes infrequent trips to, but when she does, readers will find her attentive, friendly and happy to discuss the magic of stories and reading. Please stop by and say hello anywhere Sarah is online! You can find these places at http://sarahdaltry.com
Sarah has moved back and forth between independent and traditional publishing. Her first novel, 'Bitter Fruits', is with Escape, an imprint of Harlequin Australia, and she signed with Little Bird Publishing in the spring of 2014.
Sarah has also written 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,' a reimagining of one of her favorite poems in a contemporary setting.
She is an obsessive Anglophile who spends more time watching BBC TV than any human being should, as well as a hardcore gamer and sarcastic nerd.
What is the most important thing you have learned since becoming an author?
You need to write for yourself. It's hard for me, because I love books and I love to read anything, so I guess I naively used to believe everyone was like that. It took me a while to put it all together and figure out what was most important to me and what that meant for me as an author.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
I can't redeem characters who abuse other people or animals. A character who sexually assaults someone or bullies them or beats them will never deserve redemption in my eyes. There's a line and I am a fan of complicated characters, but once you abuse another person for your own benefit, you don't earn the right to be redeemed. And I absolutely will never make that abuser a love interest.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
My Gamerscore? :D
You write across many genres, from fantasy, to comedy, is there a genre you prefer not to write in?
Not really. I used to write romance, but when I think of romance I like, I think of books like those by Simone Elkeles or Jenny Han or even Danielle Steel (at least when I used to read her books 20 years ago). However, I've never enjoyed the "Fabio romances," and when I wrote romance, I wanted to write love stories about real people. I don't think the escapism that people prefer in romance and my style of writing mesh well, so generally, I think romance is something I'm going to put aside.
Do you remember the very first book you read on your own? What was it?
I don't really, because I remember reading before anything else. I don't have a lot of memories of my childhood and I loved The Velveteen Rabbit and the Little House series, but I don't remember what I read first on my own.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Trusting yourself. It's incredibly difficult for me to have faith in my work, because I don't have a lot of faith in myself as a person. I tend to hate everything I write and I have very loud inner critical voices that never go away.
What is your favorite quote?
"Everyone who isn't us is an enemy." - Cersei from Game of Thrones
for two reasons: 1. I think she's awesome and 2. it says a lot about how empathy really works in the world. Eventually, if it comes down to ourselves or anyone else, most people choose themselves.
What advice would you give the younger you?
None of it matters, so do what you want to do. You can't please anyone, not really, and it's the only life you have. I spent a lot of my life trying to make everybody else happy, but in the end, it wasn't enough and no one really was.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
I like the escape into another person's life and to be able to put into words the ways of the world.
As the author of YA novels with strong female protagonists is there anything you would like to say young girls who would be reading your novels?
To quote Cersei again,
"Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls." Let's make a world where they don't.Growing up who were your role models?
My grandfather, my high school English teacher, Holden Caulfield, Jane Eyre, Eponine in Les Miserables
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