Read an Excerpt
"Rule #17: To rescue a princess from magical imprisonment, a handsome prince must first slay the dragon. If one is not available, a large iguana will do in a pinch."
-Definitive Fairy-Tale Survival Guide, Volume 1 1 Dragon Slaying for Dummies "Stupid princes," I muttered as I stalked down the green-flecked quartz-and-marble hallway. "Why is it that when I don't want them, they're practically popping out of the closets? But the one time, the one time, I actually need a knight in overpriced armor, they're nowhere to be found?" I checked the guidebook in my hand one last time, to make sure I hadn't missed anything. My plan was perfect-so brilliant, in fact, that I was amazed none of my other ancestors had thought of it. The fact that it took me seventeen years to come up with it was moot. For once, I was grateful that the world of fairy tales and magic adhered to such strict rules. Still, the entire thing hinged on finding a single prince willing to help me end my lifetime of house arrest in the Emerald Palace. So far, I'd searched through the north and west towers, the potions pantry, the arcane arcade, and the armory. Next, I'd try the main floor. On my way down the curved staircase, I had a perfect view of the one and only entrance to the palace. The double doors were made of ironwood cut from Sherwood Forest and large enough to accommodate visiting giants. Sunlight filtered through the ornate and impenetrable stained-glass side panels, casting a shimmery green-and-gold hue on my skin. Before I reached the bottom step, the doors slid open with a whoosh. For a minute I hoped the new arrival was one of the palace's visiting princes. Unfortunately, it was just UPS (United Pegasus Service). Even worse, since I hadn't ordered anything for a few days, the delivery wasn't for me. I waved one of the postal brownies over. "What's in the crate?" He gave a sharp whistle, and the workers set down the box-with the arrow saying "this side up" pointing to the ground. To tell the truth, I didn't care about the contents. But it kept them busy while the double doors remained wide open. Maybe I wouldn't need a prince after all. While the brownies unpacked, I slipped past them and headed to the one and only palace exit. As soon as I was within five feet of it, the doors slid closed with a clap. That's the problem with automagic doors: they knew who to let in and who not to let out. "Sign here please." The boss brownie either didn't notice or care about my experiment with the door. Without looking at me, he held out a quill and a parchment saying I'd received the goods undamaged, though I had no clue what it was to start with-some sort of ornate gold stand with filigree chains coming out of the center. About a dozen little glass balls hung at the end of the chains. Those seemed to be intact, so I signed and shooed the brownies to the ballroom. Even from a room away, I could hear Queen Em-my mother-directing the servants in their preparations for tonight's holiday festivities. She commanded her battalion of party planners like a general on the battlefield, even setting up a triage corner to treat the wounded. Imagine the number of paper cuts from folding thousands of star ornaments to hang on the Story Spruce. Year after year, I took part in the Muse Day tradition just like everybody else; I wrote my wishes on the foil stars, hoping the Storymakers above would hear my prayers and make them come true. It hadn't happened yet. Obviously as a princess, I would get my happy ending, but the Makers were taking their sweet time getting around to it, and I was tired of waiting. Movement in the courtyard caught my eye. Still on the prince hunt, I went over to investigate, taking great pains to stay out of view of my mother. A man stood on a ladder, waving a net frantically back and forth. Though he had a bit of a tummy that hung over his belt, he used to be a handsome prince. Now he was just my father, King Henry. "What in Grimm's name are you doing, Dad?" I hurried over to stabilize the ladder as it started tipping over. "Language, pum'kin," he chided and wobbled down the ladder. "And a Merry Muse Day to you too. Your mother sent me to gather will-o'-the-wisps for the new chandelier. I'd forgotten how tricky they were to hunt. I believe I prefer trolls." So that's what that package was; the globes were to contain the will-o'-the-wisps' light while the chains were to keep them from getting loose. It was a smart idea after last year's glowworm fiasco. Some of my heels still had glow-gook on the bottoms. Hummingbeeswax candles would be easier, except every heroine has her Achilles' curse: apples for Snow White, spinning wheels for Sleeping Beauty, and fire for the House of Emerald. Our family became spelled after my ancestor pixed off two evil witch sisters. The witches' curse was supposed to doom my great-great-great grandmother to turn evil and torch the world-except the spell wasn't worded right. It didn't specify which Emerald princess. So ever since, all the girls in the Emerald family have been stuck inside, since there's no way to know what generation will inherit the curse. Until we know for sure who the unlucky royal is, candles, lava lanterns, and anything with a flame is banned to keep the palace safe. As for the outside world...well, if you aren't allowed out, you don't have to worry about it. Completely lame that I have to suffer because one princess couldn't mind her own glammed business. Well, suffered-past tense-if everything goes as planned. "Father, any chance you've seen a prince lying about? I seem to have misplaced them all." "Well, which one are you looking for? Your date to the ball, perhaps?" He leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially, "I bet it's Hudson, right?" Hudson was the half-giant prince and Dad's favorite of all the suitors he and Mother recently infested the palace with. Dad probably figured Hudson would make a very good hunting companion, given he was fierce looking and around the size of a boulder. Unfortunately, he also had the IQ of granite. With a dreamy look, Father put a hand around my shoulder. "Ahhh, I remember when your mother finally accepted my suit. It took more time and patience than getting Cerberus to fetch. That's the thing about love: the best kind isn't easy or instant, and you often get roughed up a bit on the way." He winked at me. "But I suppose you know a thing or two about love yourself now." "What in spell are you talking about?" I sighed, tired of the little talks, not to mention the entire game of thrones and accompanying prince parade. "I'd rather date Quasimodo than any of those royal rejects. I just need one of them for a little project I'm working on." Father exhaled heavily and crossed his arms. "I'm guessing I don't want to know. That way I can't get yelled at by your mother for not stopping you." I smiled and tapped my nose, indicating he was right. Neither of us had illusions about who wore the biggest crown in the family. "I think I saw Sterling earlier in the hall of mirrors," Father said and climbed back onto the ladder. I groaned internally because, one, I'd missed such an obvious spot-Sterling was hardly ever without his entourage of stylists and personal mirror holders-and two, finding him meant I had to deal with his ego, which was so large I was constantly amazed he didn't pop his armor wide open. "Thanks," I said, heading off for the south tower. "Dorthea," my father called after me. "Try to remember it's a holiday and have a little fun tonight with your friends." "Sure." I waved, not bothering to paste on a fake smile since he couldn't see me. Though all the major fairy-tale families were coming tonight, I wouldn't exactly call any of them friends. Aside from the once-a-year gathering, I never spoke to any of them, except the occasional chat on Flitter with Cinderella, since we shared a love of designer footwear. All the other princesses were too busy, wrapped up in their own adventures to distract me from my lack of them. I found Sterling exactly where Dad said he'd be, flexing his muscles and making duck lips at one of his fifty reflections. "Princess, you look as stunning as ever. To what do I owe this immense pleasure?" He gave a half bow, and I couldn't help but notice that his eyes were still darting to his own reflection. He was generically dashing but unremarkable from a lineup of a dozen other princes. Still, he fit the bill: royal and handsome-and boy, did he know it-with a sword hanging from a sheath around his waist. "I have something that I desperately need help with. I would be ever so grateful if you would loan me the services of your sword arm." I purposefully made the request formal, so he would be less likely to refuse. "Of course, dearest of my heart. What manly task may I perform for you?" "If you care for me at all, you'll slay a dragon." "Such a simple task to prove my devotion? For you, I will gladly take up this quest. Why, by the age of ten, I had already felled my first ogre." I spun around on my satin ballet flats and started walking, so Sterling wouldn't see me gagging as he recounted his knightly résumé for the rest of the trip through the tower's maze of spiral staircases until we reached our destination. "Here we are. Go get 'em." I gave Sterling a little push toward the waist-high mother-of-pearl column situated in the alcove between the grand staircase and the entrance. "That?" he asked incredulously, pointing the tip of his sword at the object resting on the column. That was a very detailed dragon sculpture, carved painstakingly out of the highest quality emerald. The statuette was approximately eighteen crown lengths across and as high as my arm from elbow to fingertip. "Breaking an antique is hardly a fitting feat for a knight such as I." He went over and poked the emerald dragon with his finger. "Don't you have anything bigger? Perhaps something along the lines of a great beast?" I shook my head fervently. "Nope, it has to be this." Though it wasn't exactly what the guidebook intended, I didn't even have access to the village pet shoppe, so the dragon work of art would have to do. Sterling sighed. "As my lady wishes." Hoisting his broad sword into the air, he sliced down, hitting the statue with a great reverberating crack. The noise filled the palace, much louder than it should have for the small chunk of glittering green that broke off from the dragon's spine. The statue shuddered, lifted its head, and roared.