When two warring kingdoms unified against a deadly dragon laying waste to both their lands, they had to make a choice: vow to marry their heirs to one another, or forfeit their lives to the dragon. Now, centuries later, everyone expects Princess Sorrowlynn to choose the barbarian prince over the fire-breathing beast—but she is determined to control her own destiny or die trying.
As she is lowered into the dragon’s chamber, she assumes her life is over until Prince Golmarr follows her with the hopes of being her hero and slaying the dragon. But the beast has a different plan. . . .
There are no safe havens for Sorrow or Golmarr—not even with each other—and the stakes couldn’t be higher as they risk everything to protect their kingdom.
"[A]n exciting and magical adventure, with heaping helpings of romance." —Booklist
"[For] readers looking for new fantasy works about princes, princesses, and dragons." —SLJ
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Today is my sixteenth birthday. I am wearing a gown I can barely walk in, my artfully styled hair is giving me a headache, and I feel like I am going to throw up.
“Hurry! Bend down!” Nona snaps, tugging on my shoulder with frigid fingers. “I can hear them marching down the hall!” I lean forward and she quickly fastens a gold tiara in my hair just as the chamber door swings open. I jump as four armed guards stride in.
“Princess Sorrowlynn, we are hereby ordered to escort you to the opening ceremony of the Mountain Binding,” says the tallest guard, Ornald. It sounds like a death sentence, and my hands begin to tremble, so I clutch the delicate fabric of my skirt in them and square my shoulders.
The guards studiously do not look at me, staring instead at the gray stone wall behind me. I glance from them to Nona, who is slouching in the corner of my bedchamber and chewing on her thumbnail. She stops chewing long enough to nod and wave me toward the guards.
“I don’t want to go.” My voice quivers like I am on the verge of tears, and I take a tiny step backward.
Ornald scowls and stops studying the wall to look at me. “If you don’t come by choice, my lady, I have been instructed to drag you to the courtyard. Please don’t make me do that. That’s no way for a Faodarian princess to make her grand entrance into society, is it?” he asks, his eyes pleading.
“Instructed by whom?” I ask.
Ornald frowns. “Beg pardon, my lady?”
“Who instructed you to drag me? My mother or my father?”
The guard clears his throat and puckers his mouth like he is about to spit, but then stops himself. He tugs on the collar of his red uniform and says, “Lord Damar, your father, instructed me to drag you if you don’t comply. Let’s show him you’ve grown into a lady and can follow orders.” A small smile softens Ornald’s square face. “You look like a lady today, my lady.”
I glance into the mirror. My light brown hair is braided in a crown around my head, the golden tiara gleaming in front of it. The sapphire-blue dress I have been stuffed into is low-cut, and the corset gives me double the curves that I normally have. The eyes staring back at me are on the verge of panic. I do not know this woman I am looking at. I feel trapped in her body.
“Princess Sorrowlynn?” I blink and turn away from my reflection. Ornald holds his arm out to me even though it is forbidden for guards to touch royalty. It is a gesture that would get him demoted if he weren’t already the lowest man in the guard despite his being one of the older men. But somehow that tiny gesture offering human contact sends a bit of courage through my trembling body.
I swallow, put my frigid hand on the red sleeve of his uniform, and nod. “Ready,” I whisper, and together we walk into the shadowed passage.
The walk through the palace goes by too fast, even with me tripping on my skirts every three steps. My mother and father are waiting for me by the palace doors. Both of their gazes go directly to my hand, resting on the arm of a lowly guard, and my father’s face turns crimson. My mother purses her lips and her blue eyes narrow. I quickly clasp my hands behind my back as Ornald steps away from me.
“Who dressed you?” my mother snaps, eyeing my gown. Her perfume is so strong that I can barely breathe.
“Nona,” I say. She is the only person who has dressed me since the day I was born.
“Your corset is too loose. Has she forgotten how to string a corset?” Her eyes flash accusations at me.
Probably, considering this is the first time I have ever worn one in my life, I think, but hold my tongue. One does not talk back to the queen.
Outside, a horn blares, a clarion call announcing the looming arrival of our guests of honor, and the irritation disappears from my mother’s face and is replaced with majestic indifference. She lifts her chin and grasps her silver-and-gray skirt in one hand, and lays her other hand on my father’s proffered arm.
Two guards throw open the massive double doors leading out to the palace’s courtyard, and my mother and father walk outside into evening sunlight. They are greeted by the cheering and applause of a massive crowd. Ornald gives me a small shove forward, and I stumble from the shadows into sunshine. Regaining my balance, I grasp my skirts in both my hands and climb a small staircase that leads to a raised dais.
The courtyard is filled with nobles and commoners, and like water and oil, they remain steadfastly separate of each other. The commoners, at the far edges of the courtyard, seem to suck the sunlight away with their drab and dreary clothing. At the base of the dais, the nobles reflect the light, making it difficult to look at the white, silver, and gold clothing they favor.
My gaze drifts over their eyes, which are devouring every visible inch of me from the tiara in my hair to the silver-embroidered hem of my dress. Everyone wants to see the youngest Faodarian princess, who has been hidden away in her rooms for most of her life. But they look at the young woman standing before them, in a dress she’s never worn before, with her hair braided in a coil for the first time. They don’t see me at all. They see only what my mother wants them to see.
The whispered words offering and Suicide Sorrow drift through the crowd like wind, and I grit my teeth, fighting the urge to plug my ears. Even whispered, their words seem to batter against me. And then I hear something else, hoofbeats, and my knees start to tremble.
The nobles turn and face the open gates leading from the courtyard to the rest of the world. The commoners quickly copy them. My heart starts thundering in my ears, louder than the horses’ hooves, as the king of Anthar and his party gallop into the yard and part the crowd with their animals. They stop directly in front of the dais and the smells of leather, horse, and sweat compete against my mother’s perfume for supremacy. The horse clan has arrived.
Their animals are sleek and beautiful: rippling muscles, glossy bodies, strong legs. Ribbons and beads and flowers have been braided into their manes, like something I would do to my dolls when I was a child. A smile forms on my lips as I look from the horses to their riders—and then it falters. These dark-haired, strapping men and women are examining me from their saddles like I am for sale. At that thought, my face starts to burn, because I am for sale, in a manner of speaking.
I stare back at them, trying to guess which man I will be offered to, but they all look the same, with long black hair and skin as golden as toasted bread. More disturbing are their women, sitting astride their horses instead of sidesaddle, and dressed no differently from the men: brown leather pants and chain mail that has been shined until it looks like sparkling silver. Curved swords hang at their hips, and strung bows at their backs. Out of the whole group, only one person stands out. He is at the back of the party, and a cut on his cheek has bled trails of red all the way down to his jawline. I shudder at the thought of associating with these barbarians.
“For three centuries you and your sons have been our honored guests. That tradition still holds strong,” my mother, the queen, bellows, practically in my ear. I try not to flinch and take a small step away from her. “I bid you and your family welcome, King Marrkul.”
The biggest man, the one at the front of the group, nods to my mother. He has gray streaks in his dark hair, and a beard that looks like a bird’s nest hangs halfway down his chest.
I shift my gaze from the king to the man on his right. He looks powerful and stern, and at least two decades older than me. When our eyes meet his jaw clenches and he glares, so I lift one eyebrow and look at the next man. He, too, looks powerful and stern and way too old for me to marry. He flashes his white teeth in a grin, and my father hisses into my ear, “Smile, Sorrow!” So I turn to my father and smile. “Not at me. At them.” He rolls his eyes in the direction of the horse clan, and I can see how desperate he is for me to make a good impression. So I do as he wants and turn my practiced smile toward them, the smile that doesn’t show my teeth, that makes me look soft and regal, like my mother.
“I thank you, Queen Felicitia,” the Antharian king says, his accent thick. “May I present my oldest son and heir, Ingvar,” he adds, holding his hand out to the man on his right. My three older sisters all were offered in marriage to this brute, but he turned them down. Now, standing in the exact same place they all stood, and meeting the Antharian heir for the first time, I realize how lucky my sisters are to be married to Faodarian noblemen.
Ingvar looks at me again, his eyes moving up my body, and the smile slowly fades from my face. I can’t smile because a hollow ache has opened up in me, stealing every emotion I have been feeling, but one. For the first time since birth, my name fits. I fight to keep the tears at bay.