Being left with a disagreeable Regent and a stack of history books isn’t exactly how Princess Jes had hoped to spend her school vacation. When she overhears the new Regent plotting to overthrow her family and take over their island kingdom, Jes sets out on a quest to protect her island and rescue her parents. Joined by the princess and princes of the other three islands, Jes will have to use all her courage if she is ever to see her home again.
About the Author
Hope Erica Schultz writes science fiction and fantasy stories for kids, teens, and adults. Her first novel, the young adult post-apocalyptic Last Road Home, came out in 2015, and she co-edited of the YA anthology One Thousand Words for War. Her stories have appeared in multiple anthologies and magazines.
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Jes bounced on her sister's bed, just missing the pile of dresses Alex was packing. She frowned, kicking her worn boots against the sideboard. "I wish I was going, too."
Alex snorted. "No, you don't. It will be dressing up every day and boring dinner parties and getting introduced to boys who either can't dance or have nothing interesting to say."
Jes shrugged, running her hand over a blue silk dress. "I like dresses. They're not as good to run and climb in as normal clothing, but they're fun sometimes."
"You couldn't wear your boots under these."
Jes shuddered and let go of the dress. "But why do you have to go?"
Their mother poked her head in from the hallway. "Because she's sixteen and old enough to get introduced into Society. She needs to see if she enjoys this kind of life before she rejects it. She can't refuse her birthright until she's eighteen, so she has two years to decide if she'll stay a princess, and be heir to East Waveborn, or choose to be a commoner instead."
Queen Eris of East Waveborn was shorter than Alex, but with the same auburn hair and green eyes as both her daughters. Jes stood up as tall as she could, but her mother was still just a little taller.
"I'd rather be a commoner. I think this royalty business is a royal pain," Jes grumbled. "I have to stay, but I'm not in charge of anything. And it's school break, so I won't even have my friends around!"
The queen smiled. "You'll have that adviser from Alsandia to stay with you. Technically, I suppose she'll be your regent if anything comes up, but I'll bet that Gregor sent someone nice. It makes sense that he wants someone experienced to help you."
Gregor was King Gregor of Alsandia, a college friend of their parents and the reason Jes was stuck being a Princess. It had been his bright idea to make the islands into tiny kingdoms and give this one to her parents. He'd better have sent someone nice.
"And that reminds me," Queen Eris said. "You need to get in your reading while we're gone. History and science. I ordered some new books."
Jes took the books from her mother's hands and looked them over dubiously. "But it's vacation."
Her mother snorted. "You haven't been reading much of anything except fiction lately. You need a grounding in reality."
Jes thumbed through the top book, A Brief History of the Known World. "Hey, there's a section about the islands! 'And then Crown Prince Gregor did summon from across the Kingdoms heroes to combat the strange evil lurking in the Western Sea. Mighty warriors and warlocks, sorceresses and scholars, all came to face the dreaded foe.'"
Queen Eris snatched the book away from her. "So much for reality."
Alex hid her face, but she couldn't stop her laughter. "Warlocks, Mom!"
Their mother glowered a moment and then sighed.
"It wasn't like that at all. We were just friends of Gregor's from college. People mistook Melia for a sorceress because they didn't understand science. The closest thing we had to a warrior was your Uncle Phineas, and he usually just talks people into doing what he wants. We were ... just looking into things for Gregor when we ran into the pirates. And then we ended up raising the islands back up out of the ocean, and Gregor appointed each of us the rulers of one of them to keep the big countries from fighting over who owned them."
She pushed the hair back from Jes's eyes and smiled. "You and your sister both know that ruling here just means that all the people who choose to live here now are our responsibility. It's our job to make sure that they are safe and that they have at least a chance to be happy."
"And that's why I have to go," Alex said to Jes. "I don't know if I want to be a ruler here after Mom and Dad step down. It's still my job to know what I'll be getting into if I do decide to rule. Do you understand?"
Jes kicked the floor, looking down. "I'm not a baby, you know. I'm nine."
"Well, you'll have Everyday Alchemy and A Beginner's Guide to Steam to keep you busy while we're gone," Mom told her. "At least science can be counted on not to embellish things."
Jes grimaced. "Wonderful."
"Cheer up, Bean Sprout. We'll be back before you know it." Alex held out her hand, revealing two gold earrings. "I'll let you play with my earrings while I'm gone. I'll even hide the right one for you before I leave."
Mother looked like she couldn't decide whether to object or laugh, and Jes slipped on the left earring quickly. A birthday present from Queen Melia and her son Donal, the right picked up sound and transmitted it to the left. Technically, it was a tool for spying. Alex liked to use them for hide and seek.
"Go see if Mrs. Clemens needs help with lunch," Alex advised. "I'll hide the other one while you're there."
Jes opened her mouth to argue — her family would be leaving after lunch, for five whole days! — then closed it again at a look from her mother. "See you at lunch," she said instead and let herself out of the door. She dropped the books off in her own room, then headed for the main stairs.
The stone castle had been underwater for centuries, the rock smoothed and oddly pitted, and none of the rugs and wall hangings could hide how old the place really was. It was also huge — thirty-seven bedrooms for a family of four.
Mom and Dad had filled it up some by using many of the rooms for the island's school — which meant Jes had no excuse to ever be late for class. They had a housekeeper, Mrs. Clemens, and six maids, three groundskeepers, and a pair of footmen, but there were still rooms that stayed empty most of the time.
The main staircase from the third floor to the first (you had to take other stairs to get to the second floor) was made of bone-white marble. The banister was new, polished wood and gilt, and Jes used to love to slide down it. She had given it up, mostly, now that she was getting older. She tramped down the stairs instead.
The kitchens were in the far back of the first floor. Mrs. Clemens was chef as well as housekeeper. Sometimes, she was also hair untangler, clothes patcher, and secret keeper.
Right now, she was taking bread out of the enormous brick oven. She paused, pushing a strand of graying hair back from her round face, and smiled.
"What trouble are you up to now, Princess?"
It was much more a nickname than a title, and Jes smiled as she pulled a wooden stool up to the gray stone counter. "Not much. I just wish that they didn't have to go."
Mrs. Clemens nodded. "It's hard to be left. Sometimes, though, it's just as hard to be the one to go. Your father hates these trips; your mother would enjoy them if she didn't have to watch every blessed word she said, and your sister has got to be nervous. She's been swimming in the shallows, and now she's being tossed out into deep water."
It was strange, thinking about it from other people's point of view. Jes frowned, considering. She'd been born on East Waveborn and had visited the other islands, but never the mainland. What was the mainland like?
"How did you come here, Mrs. Clemens?" she asked suddenly.
Mrs. Clemens laughed. "Me? I was a pirate, lass, about the age your mother is now. It was hard work, but it paid. I was navigator under Dark Mathis when he went up against your parents and the others and lost. Most places, they just killed pirates on sight, but that group didn't believe in killing, no matter what stories you hear. If there was violence and treachery, it was on our side. Dark Mathis they dealt with somehow — I never asked — but the rest of us? We got a choice of a share of the money onboard that ship or a few acres of land here. I don't like farming, so I took the money and then asked your mother for a job."
Jes stared openmouthed until Mrs. Clemens handed her a slice of apple. She took a bite then looked up again. "Did you fight and everything?"
"With pistols, cutlasses, cannons, and most im-portantly, with my head. So yes, 'and everything.'"
Jes finished her apple and shook her head. "Then why be a housekeeper? You could still be off having adventures!"
Mrs. Clemens laughed softly and turned back to the stove. She stirred a pot of stew and looked back over her shoulder. "Sometimes, smaller adventures are more fun. I wrestle with numbers for your parents, conquer recipes, subdue whole classes with a look and a wooden spoon. Even better, I go to bed warm and safe — and wake up the same way." She pulled down a serving board and began cutting the fresh bread. "It's hard to believe at your age, but the best part of an adventure is getting home afterwards."
Jes tried not to complain at lunch. Her father, King Willem, had a tight look around his blue eyes, like he was facing something he'd rather avoid. "Airship, hmm?" he asked.
"Apparently, Gregor's sending the regent here in one, so it just makes sense that we take it back," Mom answered, patting their father's hand.
"I can't wait to fly on an airship!" Alex crowed, then winced. Jes suspected that Mom had kicked her under the table.
"I'm sure I'll get to ride in one eventually," Jes said, shrugging. "I hope you have a goodtime."
Mom's smile made her feel happy about the almost lie.
Alex chatted a little about things she hoped to see — a wax museum and the indoor water garden of Darrius Hall and an entire street that sold nothing but shoes. Jes, who had been interested in the wax museum and water garden, shuddered at the idea of shopping.
There was a distant clap from the front door knocker as the table was being cleared. Dad jumped a little, and his guarded look came back, but Mom smiled.
"The airship must be here. Why don't we go see?"
They were in the breakfast room, where they always ate as a family. The oaken table and chairs would have held triple their number, but it was still tiny compared to the actual dining room. That room held the entire school for lunch, with room left over.
Alex touched her earlobe meaningfully. Jes brightened, remembering, and pushed gently on her single earring, turning it on.
Her family's feet clattered on the stone floors of the corridor, while Jes's boots made barely any sound. She thought of five days squished into sharp, noisy shoes. Maybe staying behind isn't such a bad thing.
Three people waited beside a very uncomfortable looking footman. A pleasant, dark-skinned man in uniform was obviously the airship captain. Beside him stood a tall, imposing woman with black hair and sharp features. At the end was a little mouse of a man with graying hair and a nervous tic in his left cheek.
The woman swept into a low curtsy. "Your Majesties. I am Lady Umber, here to keep your younger child company while you are gone." She rose and looked them over, one eyebrow raised, then frowned. "I was told that you had two daughters?"
Jes felt herself flush. Alex opened her mouth, and Mother took a step forward, making a motion like a sword cut with her hand. "Indeed, we do. Our younger daughter, Princess Jesireen of East Waveborn, will, we are sure, be interested in your counsel."
I will never like her. I am never going to the mainland if they act like that, and I wish Mother would cut her head off. Jes didn't allow herself to look down at the tunic, hose, and boots that had made this stranger doubt her gender. She pretended that she was Mother and looked Lady Umber in the eye, nodding without smiling. "Welcome to East Waveborn, Lady Umber. And your companion?"
Lady Umber looked uncomfortable and waved a hand toward the mousy gentleman. "My secretary, Mr. Wilson."
"Mr. Wilson." Jes nodded again, still not smiling. Alex was giving her their secret victory sign, and Father looked both proud and perturbed.
"Thank you, Captain, for delivering Her Ladyship here," Mother said, rather less icily. "We'll be ready to leave in just a moment." She turned and held out her arms to Jes, who ignored Lady Umber and her secretary to hug her back, hard.
"Good girl," Mother whispered. "Rough start, but I think she knows who's in control."
Alex hugged her next, then Father, and then they were out the door. Jes took a deep breath and turned back to her unwelcome companions.
"You must be tired. Franz will show you up to your rooms. Would you prefer a tray there or to come down to supper?"
Poor Franz, the footman, who had never wit-nessed such formality in his years at the castle, hid his face behind his hand and cleared his throat.
"A tray would be best for tonight," Lady Umber agreed. "I hope you will call on me with even the smallest concern."
Jes nodded. "I will certainly remember your presence," she said truthfully. "Until tomorrow, then."
She turned and went up the main staircase to her room, where she punched her pillows until she was calm. If this is being royalty, I don't want it.CHAPTER 2
She did not cry herself to sleep. Her eyes might have been bothered by allergies, and she might have nodded off for a nap for a moment, but she wouldn't let a disagreeable person drive her to tears. Still, she woke up when sound began coming through the earring.
"Is it taken care of?" Lady Umber demanded.
"Yes," Mr. Wilson replied. "The airship was shot down."
"Shot down? It was supposed to explode. People can survive a sea landing."
"No one will survive. They're twenty miles from the nearest land. The girl is the only heir now, and you're the regent."
A feminine snort. "She's not going to be as easy as we were told, but she's still a child. Besides, if this island is too much trouble, we can always sink it again as a warning to the other three."
Jes held her breath, wondering if she still napped after all. Surely, they didn't mean — her parents, dead? Alex? They were willing to sink her island?
She remembered Aunt Anya talking to her mother late one night. A hostage is already dead. Nothing you do can make that worse. Maybe, just maybe, you can help.
Mrs. Clemens's voice echoed in her head. Remember, in any crisis, you can always think of one good thing to do. While you're doing it, you'll think of another.
First, she could stop the island from sinking. Second, she could get herself away, so she couldn't be used against her people. She'd have to warn someone — Mrs. Clemens — about what was going on. And she'd have to get word to someone she could trust.
If Gregor sent her, who can I trust?
Spare clothes went into a pack, along with some tools. She snuck down the back staircases to the kitchen. Preparations were underway for dinner, but the room was briefly empty, so she snuck through to the larder. Bread, cheese, and dried fruit went into her pack, along with a flask of ginger water.
She whirled around at a slight sound and sighed in relief at the sight of Mrs. Clemens.
"Princess Jes, what are you up to?" Title, not nickname. Mrs. Clemens looked like she was withholding judgment but suspected shenanigans.
"I overheard Lady Umber talking," Jes confessed. "She arranged to have the airship shot down. My —" She broke off, blinked hard, then went on. "She's willing to sink the island. I need to stop her."
It sounded preposterous. Just for a second, Jes questioned again whether she'd dreamed it. Then Mrs. Clemens nodded slowly. "I worked too many years with blackguards not to suspect that there was something off about her. Who are you taking with you?"
"Nobody. I don't know who might be working with her. King Gregor sent her! Maybe he knows, maybe he doesn't, but I can't risk it." Jes pulled herself up as tall as she could. "This is my country now. I won't let anyone hurt it."
Mrs. Clemens sighed. "I'll cover for you for as long as I can — you were up early, they just missed you, I'll be sure to pass on a message when I see you. You ... you be safe, Jes. You'll be going below?"
Jes nodded. The tunnel system was damp, but it was her only chance to go unnoticed. It was also where she needed to go to keep her kingdom safe.
Donal's mother, Queen Melia, had explained it to her once. Some ancient people had once used volcanic vents to raise and lower the different islands for their own purposes. It was impossible to tell if they had been used as farmland before, but it had taken years of special crops to clear the salt so the land could be fertile. Even if every single person made it off safely — impossible — the kingdom's livelihood would be gone if their island was submerged.
Mrs. Clemens stood guard as Jes took a candle and slipped through the larder to the root cellar. A trapdoor there led her down into caverns that were natural rather than manmade. At the bottom of the stairs was an armful of torches wrapped in oilcloth to keep them dry. Jes lit a torch with the candle, then blew the candle out. Two more torches went into her pack, to light from the first.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Royal Trouble"
Copyright © 2018 Hope Erica Schultz.
Excerpted by permission of CBAY Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This first installment of a new series was great fun. My 9-year-old self would have adored it, but it was definitely still fun for me too as an adult. This entertaining little adventure introduces a rich world with cool tech, mystery, intrigue, and clever kids forced to rise to an assortment of challenges. The characters and their relationships are well developed. There is both suspense and humor. Great dialog. Nicely paced story. I would recommend this especially for the advanced reading 7-9-year-olds out there who want a bit more meat in their story but aren't ready for YA fare.
Where was this book when I was growing up?! Wow, what a page-turner! Jes, princess and younger sister, is left behind while her family goes off on a visit of state. But staying home proves to be anything but boring, with threats to the kingdoms, mysteries to solve, and important things for Jes to learn about herself along the way. The setting is so richly imagined –an island, steampunk world, where science and clever contraptions rule the day. Picture castles, airships, secret caves. I love how multidimensional the characters are, where no one is reduced to a category (the housekeeper’s a former pirate, for example), and difference – cultural, individual – is both matter-of-fact and valued. I love that the characters can just be who they are, find their own strengths. All that, and an exciting plot, too -- not to mention snappy dialogue and plenty of comic relief. This is the kind of book that young readers AND their parents can enjoy. I can’t wait for the sequel so I can spend more time in this strange and wonderful world.