This week’s excerpt hails from Kate’s retelling of H. C. Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Our heroine, Magdalena, has found the crown prince washed ashore on an isolated beach. When he comes to his senses, he makes up in personality what he lacks in strength.
Chapter 1 (excerpt): The Crown Prince
“You need more treatment than what I have with me, your Highness.”
“I have a name, Malena.”
Her brows shot up, and so did the defensive wall around her heart. She might have attributed his words to delirium or shock, but he was more alert now—alert enough that she wondered at his resilience.
Her voice turned curiously detached. “Does everyone at court address the crown prince by his name?”
He wheezed a feeble scoff and rolled his head on her cloak, his eyes focusing further up the cove. “If my father gave an award for the longest-held grudge, you’d win it no contest.”
She’d never heard such cynicism from him. The prince was charming to a fault, not cynical. Still, she tightened her resolve. “There’s no grudge. I’m only following the rule.”
He pinned her with a stare. “The rule, Magdalena, was that I couldn’t show favor to one person over another. You and I are the only ones here, so I’m not favoring you over anyone else.”
The spark in his eyes soothed her worries over his health. She sliced the plum again, a larger piece, and tucked it between his lips. “So if there were others with me, you would ask them to call you by your name as well?”
Exasperation crossed his face. He struggled to sit up, but she pushed his shoulder to the ground, for the moment stronger than him.
“I am dying,” he said around pieces of half-chewed fruit. “Is this how you treat a dying man?”
But he wasn’t dying, and they both knew it.
She glanced wistfully in the direction that she had come. “If I don’t tell someone soon that I’ve found you and you really do die, your father will have me arrested and thrown in his dungeons.”
“If you leave me here alone, I will have you arrested and thrown in his dungeons.”
“You need treatment, your Highness.”
“Just use your magic to heal me.”
“That’s not how my magic works. You know it’s not. Or—” Her face flooded with embarrassment, for why should he know any such thing? Most people’s magic worked that way, so naturally he would assume hers did too. Quietly she rephrased her statement. “It’s not how it works. I can’t heal you.”
“No. You can only feel what’s wrong with me.”
Her breath caught in her throat as she met his studious gaze. He remembered. “That’s right,” she murmured.
“So what is wrong with me, Magdalena?”
She pursed her lips and listed the symptoms she had sensed. “Which is why,” she finished, “I should be finding someone to help you.”
“No. You should stay here and feed me more of your cloying plum. Help will find us.”
She shook her head in frustration. “No one but me knows you’re here. No one is going to come.”
“They’ll come looking for you when you don’t turn up. Won’t they?”
The way he asked her, as though questioning whether anyone would even miss her at the seminary, made her question it as well. Master Demsley had known what a state her mind was in. He might leave her to her own devices for the whole day. The fog steadily dissipated, and the muted disk of a sun behind it would burn hot as it climbed higher in the sky. She would need to shelter the prince. The vibrant color on his forehead, on his arms and at his throat, testified of his prolonged exposure already.
His voice stirred her from her observation. “You worry too much. More plum, Magdalena.”
“I thought you said it was cloying.” But she cut another sliver and placed it in his waiting mouth.
He chewed, thoughtful. “In truth, it’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Better still because it comes from your hand.”
Her expression turned instantly sour, and he huffed a laugh. Though it was at her expense, she was glad to see the humor return to his face.
“You haven’t changed at all,” he said.
Regret snaked through her. “Neither have you.”
“And why should I? Everyone’s always told me how perfect I am.”
She cut the next piece a bit too viciously. He wasn’t ready for it, but she pushed it between his teeth anyway. Mentally she resolved to ignore whatever else he might say.
But, as was his nature, he prodded at her.
“Court is so dull without you. Why did you never return?”
She spared him an incredulous look, her quickest defense against a rising blush. “I’m bound to the sage’s seminary.”
“But surely you have holidays. Breaks. Weekends. You can’t be in classes every single day of the year.”
“What few I have I use to visit my parents.”
He grunted and looked away. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say you didn’t like me.”
Magdalena’s scowl deepened. “Don’t sulk, your Highness. You know that everyone loves you.”
One brow arched. “Including you?”
Her mouth thinned. If he remembered her, he already knew the answer to that question. “I said everyone, didn’t I?” She chipped another slice of plum from its stone and held it toward him.
The prince took it from her. His eyes danced with mischief. “I used to get out of so many awful outings thanks to you.”
“I know. And everyone always blamed me for spoiling things.”
“I’m glad my little contrarian hasn’t changed, but I do wish you would find the time to visit me instead of your parents. Even once or twice a year would have staved off my boredom.”
Magdalena burrowed deeper into her cynicism. “If I were anyone else I might mistake your flirtation for something more serious, Highness.”
“If you were anyone else I wouldn’t flirt,” he replied.
Her heart flip-flopped in her chest. The firm conviction that he didn’t mean anything—that he was only staving off his boredom—kept her senses in check. “You’re too bold, especially for a crown prince.”
He rolled up onto one elbow, the better to pin her with a stare. “And why shouldn’t I be? I just almost died.”
Magdalena prodded at his shoulder, but he was stronger now and resisted her. “Yes, and everyone thinks that you are dead. I should be looking for someone to help you instead of sitting in the sand feeding you bits of plum.”
“You’re helping me. Lend me your lap, would you?”
Before she could even think to protest, he flopped his head onto her folded legs, his cheek upon her thigh as though she were a convenient pillow instead of a human.
“Your Highness,” she hissed, her blush renewing tenfold. “I’ve already given you my cloak to lay your head on.”
But he closed his eyes as though asleep, and all he said was, “I have a name, Magdalena.”
Mortification crashed upon her like the waves against the shore. She swallowed the knot that worked up her throat, tempering her embarrassment behind indignation. “You have my cloak, Prince Finnian.”
He only settled against her with a sigh. Sleep reclaimed him all too readily, and Magdalena, well aware of how near his brush with death had been, resigned herself to playing the role of furniture for an hour.
Brine and Bone is complete and in the editing stage. Release date TBA. If you missed the excerpt from earlier in this chapter, you can find it here.
In the meantime, check out Kate’s latest release, Namesake, available on Amazon.