Princesses have no value. Marin – daughter of the sea king – has long
known this. When she is sent away to her late mother's land kingdom,
she is no more than a pawn fulfilling a treaty made eighteen years
before. But she finally has a chance to take control of her own life.
Queen Ariss of Estellia is dying, and needs an heir. Marin's
competition is the three half-siblings she has never met. Marin is
intelligent. A powerful water sorceress. Raised to the task. It should
be easy. All she has to do is convince the queen that she's the best
Then she actually meets her siblings, and discovers they're more than
just competition, and that the crown is a trap - Estellia will be at
war the minute Ariss dies.
But if Marin doesn't become queen, she will never be in control of her own fate.
First Five Pages:
It was not, Marin reflected, as if this was the first time she had
been to the surface and the shore. Not the first time she had
experienced the twisting nausea of her body reshaping itself, her form
like liquid poured from one container to another. Not the first time
pain had knifed through her when her body’s need for water to breathe
suddenly changed to the water drowning her and a need for air. No,
none of this was new.
This was, however, the first time she stayed on the shore, alone, as
her people left her behind. She stood watching as head after head
closed their eyes and dipped below the water’s surface with barely a
ripple. One by one spears sank with their bearers, until only sunlight
shimmered on the sea.
Marin took several deep, deliberate breaths, holding back impending
tears, their hot salt water a reminder of home. She had known this day
would come since she was old enough to understand the stories she'd
been sung. The sea did not hold its princesses. They were born and
bred for another purpose: to bind the sea and the land, building
treaties at the shore. Her destiny was not the comforting waters of
her childhood, nor the songs of her father’s people.
She was a princess and a sorceress and she could not afford to act
like a child. Mastering herself, she forced down loneliness and
abandonment, and turned instead to those who waited for her.
Four horses, as pure white as sea foam, stood patiently. They had been
the sole volunteers accompanying her to a life on land. While they
were not the merfolk among whom she had been raised, they had their
own intelligence and now looked about curiously, silken tails
twitching, as they tested the air and ground. Their changes,
apparently, had been easier than hers.
Fewer than a dozen steps took Marin to the carriage behind them. As
she placed her hand on the door’s frame, she saw that the webbing
between her fingers was already shrinking back, nearly invisible. I
have lost the sea, she thought. Then, The sea is in me.
She shored up her confidence and stepped up into the carriage. The sea
was behind her, the future ahead. The door shut. Needing no command,
the horses surged forward.
* * *
As the page scampered away, having delivered his message, Ariss rose
to her feet. The red-haired queen, her coiffure already shot with
gray, offered her hand to Baron Greencove. Twice the queen's age,
nearer to seventy than sixty, her advisor was still devoted to his
wife, dead these last twelve years, and thus had long been a safe
choice as an escort.
A handful of merchants, hoping to petition the queen's favor, stood
waiting on the landing as the tall, spare baron promenaded her
outdoors. But the throng, unusually, took no notice of the diminutive
queen, instead watching the carriage that wound its way up the drive.
It took the baron's parade-ground voice to get them to clear a path
for Ariss and the court that followed her. Undeterred, she walked to
the balustrade with perfect poise, claiming the best view.
The carriage shimmered and shone like glass where it was not
ornamented with gold or mother of pearl. It glimmered and gleamed,
bobbling along the cobblestones. The vague shape of a passenger could
be discerned through the translucent walls. Four horses, white and
gallant, drew the exotic conveyance to the foot of the stairway.
Ariss raised an eyebrow. There was no driver. Not even a seat for one.
Footmen rushed to open the door and let down the steps. “My lady,
allow me.” One took the hand that emerged and steadied the traveler as
she stepped out. Her shoes were cloth-of-gold, embroidered with silk
ribbons and pearls. She wore white stockings which clung to the shape
of her ankle. Then she was out of the carriage in a rustle of darkness
and stood still, allowing the footman’s touch for a moment longer, as
if unsure of the ground beneath her feet. Well she might be; as far as
Ariss knew, she had never before stood on solid earth.
“A mere slip of a girl,” Greencove murmured.
“Hardly a slip,” Ariss replied. Unlike the queen herself, the princess
was tall and powerfully built, plump with lush curves. “And I was no
older when I came to the throne.”
The girl looked up, at the watching court who saw the princess clearly
for the first time.
Black hair with just a hint of green iridescence to its shine swept
simply back, held by golden shell combs, framing a heart-shaped face.
Her skin was like that of the most sun-shy of the court ladies, the
color of sunlight through water. A green-black dress with high collar
and long sleeves served as a background to a peacock blue surcoat, all
heavy with decoration.
Having set foot on ground, the princess now waited for no aid, walking
up the white steps, magnificently embroidered skirts held carefully in
her hands. For some reason, her steps put Ariss in mind of an eel
coiling through water. Not ungraceful, but not the moves of a dancer.
The crowd cleared to let Ariss meet her niece. The girl stood before
her, solid to her slightness, dark to her brightness, and a good head
taller than the queen. The only way in which they seemed alike was
their green eyes, though the queen's were the color of spring grass,
and the princess's the jade of the sea.
Now that she was up close, Ariss saw that though no jewelry adorned
the princess's fingers, her ears, crowned in gently curved points,
were laced with ropes of tiny, perfect pearls.
The girl's curtsy was flowing, but, the queen noted critically, a
shade too deep. “I am Marin,” the girl said. Her voice was soft and
low, her pronunciation strange and rippling, altogether quite unlike
any Ariss had heard. “As my father bid, I have come to you.”
Ariss smiled courteously. But nothing more. “I am Ariss, Queen of
Estellia, and your aunt. I hope you will be happy here.” Empty words.
She would let things play out, see how suitable Marin was for her
“I shall try, Aunt.” Marin's tone was inscrutable. Reserve or cleverness?
“Come, child,” Ariss said, taking her niece's arm, showing her public
favor, turning back toward the summer palace, “let us get you
settled.” A nod to Rosemarinda sufficed to set the châtelaine
“A moment, please.” Marin half-turned toward her carriage. The straps
binding a curious driftwood trunk to the back were being undone, two
stout young liveried men hefting it down.
The princess waved her free hand.
The carriage simply dissolved, water splashing the ground dark. Its
undercarriage rusted away in an instant, leaving a pile of red iron
flakes on the ground. Startled, one of the porters dropped his end of
the trunk, then bit back a cry as it landed on his toes. The hostlers,
come to collect the horses, stood frozen, as did the court.
Ariss looked at her niece, eyes widening. Marin merely nodded at her
horses, gesturing them to go with the hostlers, then turned back to
the queen. Ariss' surprise must have been plain on her face, because
Marin said in oblique answer to the unspoken questions, “I am my
“So I see,” said Ariss. She should not, she thought, have been
surprised. She had bargained for power to protect her kingdom, after
all. She smiled again, and this time it was genuine. “I should have
expected no less.”