FAREWELL TO SWANSGAARDE
THE EARLY-MORNING sunlight shone through the French doors that led out to the balcony of Princess Clarice’s tower bedroom. From the balcony was the sweeping vista of the Borogny Mountains, spreading their pristine robes for admiration, their high peaks crowned in clouds and their slopes robed in snow year-round. They were the first thing Princess Clarice saw each morning as the sun rose over the Swanscrown.
I shall miss this. The thought came before Clarice quite realized she was awake. There was no point now in trying to convince herself she was asleep. Throwing back the covers, she shrugged into her wrapper, tucked her feet into her slippers, and padded over to the French doors. Taking a deep anticipatory breath, she flung them open and stepped out onto the balcony. As always, the dawn chill made her catch her breath, but she had done this every morning for as long as she could remember. Today, she would do it for the last time. In the distance, she could hear the faint music of the bells at the university calling the students to their morning lectures. Any other day, Clarice would have watched the valley awaken until she was chilled clear through. But today was a day unlike any other in all her previous eighteen years, and she was in a hurry to meet it.
Breakfast was normally a noisy family affair, but today Clarice saw only three places set at the long oak table. Duke Rupert was seated in his usual place at the head of the table, but the Duchess was seated to his right, instead of at the far end, and a place was set for Clarice on his left.
“Come in, darling,” Yetive said encouragingly.
“Where is everyone?” Clarice asked curiously, coming in and taking her seat.
“The ballroom,” her father answered, taking a slice of toast from the toast rack and buttering it. “Today is your birthday, after all. Had you forgotten?”
“Of course not!” Family tradition was that the birthday child had breakfast alone with Mama and Papa. Even Dantan had had his special day, though then, on his first birthday, he had been much too young to appreciate it.
And Clarice would not be here for his next one.
“I was just so…” She stopped. She couldn’t say exactly how she felt about leaving Swansgaarde. Preoccupied, absolutely. Nervous? Perhaps. Curious? Daring?
“Excited?” Mama asked.
Clarice smiled gratefully. “Yes. That. I can’t wait to begin, but at the same time, it feels almost disloyal to be so happy.”
“I shall call for the royal executioner at once,” Papa said, helping himself to eggs and sausage from the silver chafing dishes on the table. The Duke had a particularly dry sense of humor and generally cloaked his stronger feelings in it.
“Don’t you remember, dear?” Mama replied with a little smile. “Your great-grandfather pensioned the last one off and we haven’t had one since.”
“Drat,” Papa said mildly. “What’s the use of being a duke if you can’t order anyone beheaded?”
“Oh,” Mama said with a saucy wink, “you may order it as much as you like.…”
Clarice laughed, as she was meant to, at her parents’ gentle teasing. Duke Rupert was the mildest of men, preferring a day of fishing on the banks of the Traza to a day of making ducal pronouncements. Clarice knew that other countries were ruled very differently—why, far-off Lochrin, which she had studied in her geography class, had a parliament and a prime minister and hundreds of people who did nothing all day but help Queen Gloriana rule her vast empire.
“So,” Papa said. Breakfast was finished and the footmen had come in to clear away the dishes. “Today, Daughter, is your eighteenth birthday. Have you decided where you will go and what you will do?” He steepled his fingers. “Given your chosen ‘trade,’ I would become a very exclusive instructor, if I were you. I think you would excel at it.”
Clarice refrained from making a face. Granted, she probably would make a good instructor—and eventually that might be what she would do. But not before she had a chance to see more of the world!
“I shall seek adventure, of course,” Clarice said with a laugh. “Think how disappointed Damaris would be if I said anything else! But the best adventures come when one is not looking for them, so I have it in mind to see something of the world. Besides, the best instructors all have continentwide reputations, and I’m not going to get enough pupils to earn my living without one. I believe even traveling all the way to Lochrin itself will be far less costly than staying quietly in Swansgaarde.” And perhaps adventure will find me. “It isn’t as if I can’t do without servants, after all.”
This, too, was true. From the time they were fourteen, the princesses were required to spend a month of each year waiting on their sisters, and at sixteen, to spend three months living in the Royal Hunting Lodge without a single servant. It was one thing to be able to shoot a goose—any noble worth his salt could do that. But could he gut and skin it, then cook and serve it?
Duke Rupert’s daughters could. And polish a pair of boots, make up a bed, or muck out a stable. It was excellent training, Duke Rupert always said, in case one had to go incognito among someone else’s servants—or flee into the wilderness.
Clarice was unsurprised to see her mother nod. “An excellent choice,” Yetive said.
“I thought that was what you would decide,” the Duke added approvingly—but then, the Duke so trusted his wife’s judgment that he was inclined to approve anything she endorsed. “I have made arrangements with my banker in Heimlichstadt for the necessary funds, so remember to see him before you go.” While each of them would be expected to earn her own living, each princess would leave Swansgaarde with everything she needed to take up her chosen trade, and enough money to support her for perhaps a year. While it might seem like a great deal of outlay—especially since the entire purpose of this plan was to not bankrupt Swansgaarde—even the whole cost of sending twelve princesses forth to seek their fortunes was less than the cost of twelve royal dowries and twelve royal weddings.
The Duke got to his feet; Clarice and the Duchess stood as well. “And I wish you luck, love, and adventure, my darling.” He hugged her tightly.
“Adventure most of all,” her mother said, putting her arms around Clarice in turn. “And so you don’t forget us on all your adventures…” The Duchess cocked an eyebrow at her husband.
The Duke reached into his pocket and drew out a small blue box. “What’s a birthday without presents?”
Clarice opened the box. Inside, on a bed of royal-blue velvet, lay a golden brooch, perhaps as long as her thumb. Upon it, in silver and blue enamel over gold, were the swans and towers of Swansgaarde. As a proper princess, Clarice had had lessons on heraldry, and she could blazon the device as easily as the chief herald: argent and azure, shield quartered per chevron; center base, a swan swimming, argent; to dexter chief, a tower, argent; to dexter sinister, a mountain peak, argent. The arms were bordered by a double ring of diamonds alternating with pearls, and the back of the brooch was as ornate as the front, its smooth gold etched with an intricate drawing of Castle Swansgaarde. Engraved beneath was the family motto: Je me promène là où je vais. The first Prince of Swansgaarde had come from Wauloisene, and Waulois was still the official court language. “I wander where I will.” Perhaps it is a good omen.
“Of course it is bespelled,” Mama said. “So long as you have it, you will always be able to find your way back to Swansgaarde.”
“I shall wear it always—and think of all of you,” Clarice said proudly.
My thoughts: I fell in LOVE with this cover and was happy to get my hands on a book excerpt for The House of the Four Winds from the publisher. I love how this snippet lets us see that these princesses were not raised like the ones in storybooks. No, these young women were given the opportunity to get their royal hands dirty. Judging from the synopsis, Princes Clarice will need all of those skills in order to survive her trip to the New World in this lighthearted, swashbuckling adventure.
(My review copy is on the way, so I should have a review of this soon!)
The House of the Four Winds (One Dozen Daughters #1) by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.
The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.
Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.
Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.
Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Add to Goodreads.
What do you think of the book excerpt?