The Spy Princess by Sherwood Smith




  ALSO BY SHERWOOD SMITH

  The Sartorias-deles Books

  A Stranger to Command

  Crown Duel

  Over the Sea: CJ’s First Notebook

  Mearsies Heali Bounces Back: CJ’s Second Notebook

  Hunt Across Worlds: CJ’s Third Notebook

  Poor World: CJ’s Fourth Notebook

  Senrid

  Fleeing Peace

  Sasharia en Garde: Once a Princess

  Sasharia en Garde: Twice a Prince

  The Trouble with Kings

  The Spy Princess

  The Wren Books

  A Posse of Princesses

  Barefoot Pirate

  Wren to the Rescue

  Wren’s Quest

  Wren’s War

  Wren Journeymage

  SHERWOOD SMITH

  VIKING

  An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  VIKING

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published in the United States of America by Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012

  Text and map copyright © Sherwood Smith, 2012

  All rights reserved

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE

  ISBN 978-1-101-57554-3

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  To the memory of that attic room overlooking Lake Arrowhead,

  the summer I turned fifteen

  Contents

  Also by Sherwood Smith

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Map

  PART I

  one

  two

  three

  four

  five

  six

  seven

  eight

  nine

  ten

  eleven

  twelve

  PART II

  one

  two

  three

  four

  five

  six

  seven

  eight

  nine

  ten

  eleven

  twelve

  thirteen

  PART III

  one

  two

  three

  four

  five

  six

  seven

  eight

  nine

  ten

  eleven

  twelve

  thirteen

  Afterward

  PART I

  Friends

  If you visit my old home, Selenna House, the first thing you see is the wrecked gate. Weeds grow all around. The broad drive, once so smooth, is pitted with holes.

  Then you come to the fountain, which still spouts four streams of water, for the magic spell on it will probably last another hundred years. You think, Whose idea of art is this, flying babies and cats and other sentimental footle? Well, let me tell you, that fountain hides secrets.

  But you don’t know that, so you look at the house. Its forty tall windows—twenty-four upstairs, sixteen downstairs—are now mostly broken, like a big grin with missing teeth. Soot blackens the walls, and if you go inside, you see the dangling chain where the great silver and crystal chandelier once hung, and the grand stairways on either side of the hall that sweep upward to a landing littered with animal nests and ashes and broken bits of furniture. A row of rooms opens off it.

  The door at the end? That led to my rooms.

  It’s cleaner downstairs, because the last tenants swept the floor before they were swept by slam justice.

  Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard about that, and maybe some of what you heard is what actually happened.

  I am here to tell you the real truth, because I—Lilah Selenna—was there.

  one

  I glanced at my time-candle. It hadn’t burned down any farther since I last checked. If only the sun would hurry! Because a person’s first adventure had to begin at midnight. Wasn’t it that way in all the best records?

  One of my windows overlooked the cedar-lined drive that led to the high, guarded gates. Beyond those gates was Riveredge Village. The only glimpses I ever got of Riveredge were as our carriage, surrounded by armed guards, rolled through on the way to the royal city. The houses were falling apart. The boys and girls my age—dirty, ragged, and sullen—stared at the carriage, and I stared back. Of late the stares were more angry than sullen.

  Once a girl yelled something at me. One of my father’s outriders veered his horse just enough to club her with the hilt of his sword. “That girl—” I exclaimed.

  “Worthless, Lilah,” my father snapped. “Sit properly. Remember your manners.”

  I sneaked a peek at my older brother Peitar, whose thin, tired face didn’t change, except for one quick glance in my direction, which I knew was a warning.

  I didn’t want warnings, I wanted answers. “She sounded mad. Is she mad at us, Father? At me? Why?”

  “No reason, child. They are merely lazy and disobedient.”

  “But—”

  My father, His Highness Oscarbidal Selenna, Prince of Selenna, pursed his mouth in disapproval. “That filthy rabble is not a matter for your concern.” His courtly drawl had shortened in irritation. “Your duty is to learn to be a proper lady.”

  I gave up on my father. I’d ask Peitar. And if he disappointed me, as happened more often these days, I’d find out on my own.

  Not that Peitar treated me like Father did. Far from it. But Peitar was moodier than ever. I assumed his lame leg pained him, because he stayed in his rooms reading and writing not just all day but far into the night.

  Once I managed to get him alone after supper. His answer? “Politics, Lilah. Let that subject lie while you can. I am very much afraid . . .” He looked away. “There’s little we can do at present.” Then he fell into one of his abstract moods.

  I decided I had to find my answers on my own. Since I was confined at home, and expected to waste my time thinking about ruffles and hair ribbons, I needed a disguise.

  I got my idea from Lasthavais Dei the Wanderer. Ever since I’d discovered her amazing life, I’d b
een glad of those long, tedious lessons learning Sartoran, even though it was no longer spoken at court.

  Lasva had written, The best disguise is to assume a role that no one would expect. From man to woman, or woman to man—though these are not always possible for all people, and are very hard to maintain. The next easiest is to change status, but again it is hard to maintain, for it is not only our clothes but our manners and mode of speech that divide us from the other tiers of society. Be observant, my young sisters reading my words! And pay attention to detail. . . .

  So I’d disguise myself as a village boy.

  My father didn’t like servants—even stable boys—to wear stained or ragged clothes. If something got ruined it went to the rag pile, which I had made part of my daily walk, resulting in a shirt one day and some knee pants another. I’d had to wait longest for the cap.

  Last year, the noble boys had all worn soft cloth caps. When the fad passed, those caps were handed down to the servants. Peitar’s, worn by his favorite among the stable boys, had found its way to the rags just the day before.

  Now it was tucked under my mattress, and I was ready to go exploring.

  • • •

  JUST BEFORE THE midnight bells, I got out of bed, drew my curtains, and lit a single candle.

  First, I yanked a brush through my reddish-brown mane. It always looked messy and made me hot, and I longed to cut it all off—except noble ladies had long hair, and that was that. I braided it tightly and wound it around my head, tucking the ends under. I’d practiced many times and had finally gotten it to stay.

  Then I pulled out the cap and the clothes, which were wrinkled and dirty from their stay on the rag pile. The tunic fit fine, but the knee pants were much too big. I tied them on with one of Peitar’s old sashes. Last, I fitted the cap over my braid.

  Then I looked in the mirror and laughed.

  It is easiest for the young to disguise, Princess Lasva had said. Those without adult contours have more freedom of choice. It was true!

  The boy in the mirror would not have raised a second glance. True, my slanted eyes and bony face now seemed more foxlike than ever, but these were common enough features in Sarendan. I’d borrowed the name of a former stable hand, now in the Blue Guard: Larei.

  The one problem was my clean skin. Remember the details! My first appointment would be with the dirt in the garden.

  It was time to go.

  My palms were sweaty. I wiped them on my knee pants, opened the curtains and the window, and shinned down the argan tree, fast from long habit. Then I eased through the ferny border near my brother’s windows.

  As soon as I was out of sight of the house, I dug my fingers into the clean-smelling loam, then rubbed it over my neck, face, arms, and legs. Since I was little, I’d run barefoot through the garden. My feet were tough.

  I let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Above me, the clouds glowed like a ceiling of silver cotton, rendering the garden and house as silhouettes. The brightest light came from the windows of the guardhouses at either side of the big gates, far to the south.

  Then I looked around, giddy with triumph. The one good thing I’d inherited with my slanted Selenna eyes was night vision. I ran toward the wall between the guardhouses, then stopped in dismay. It was a lot higher than I’d remembered.

  I found an oak with one great branch that extended beyond the wall. I was about to hoist myself up when a taunting voice startled me.

  “What’s the matter? Are you turning into a hatchling?” I could just make out the speaker, a scrawny boy. “Too cowardly to stay and have fun?”

  “Got lost.” I could tell from the way he spoke that he was a villager, and I tried to talk the way he did.

  “They’re all over there. Except the hatchlings. Went home. Are you one?”

  I wasn’t about to admit where home was. “I’ll stay.”

  “Right, then. Come along.” He stepped closer. “You don’t sound like anyone I know. Who told you about the run?” His face was narrow, with eyes slightly less slanted than my own. “Like that cap,” he added. “Nacky. Swipe it from a noble?”

  “Yup.”

  He gave a nod of approval as we walked. “How old are you?”

  “Twelve and seven months. You?”

  “Twelve this season. You count the months, like the nobles?” When I shrugged defensively, he added, “Or is it your mother counts?”

  “No mother,” I said. “Father couldn’t care less. Only the—” I remembered that villagers didn’t have governesses or servants.

  “The . . . ?”

  “Never mind!” I snapped, afraid of being discovered.

  The boy flung up his hands. “You sure do get riled! What’s your name?”

  “Larei. You?”

  “Bren.” He scowled. “I’m named for a noble, so if you hear t’other name and use it I’ll smash you a good one. Sometimes my cousin says it when she’s mad.”

  The stable boys talked to each other like that. It meant that the speaker was upset about the thing in the threat. “What’s the name? I won’t use it,” I added, “but so I know.”

  “Sharadan.” Wondering why Bren’s mother had picked the name of a court family, I only nodded. “Anyway, Breneos is my dad’s name. He said I could use it, too. Ma’s snobbishness might get me into trouble.”

  I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I was glad that he was so talkative. “So you hate the family in the palace?” I asked.

  Bren laughed. “Where you been?”

  “In my house. Sick. Long time—most of my life.”

  “So that’s why I don’t know you, and your dad is, what, one of the farmhands, lives out east o’ the village?” After I shrugged, he said, “Want the whole story?”

  At last! And I didn’t even have to figure out how to ask!

  He let out a happy sigh. “Derek said we ought to recruit, and I never thought I’d get the chance. See, Riveredge used to be a good market town. Used to be lots of ’em in Selenna. But King Dirty Hands wanted more taxes, on top of the prince’s, so a lot of the guilds and merchants moved. Now all that’s left are people who work for Prince Greedy—or don’t have skills enough to get away. And Prince Greedy still collects taxes, even with the drought going on now two years. Derek says the taxes are supposed to be against times like this, so there’ll be food, and money for the Blue Guard, and renewing the magic spells—like our cleaning frames and the wands to get rid of animal droppings. Well, the taxes go straight to the prince’s belly. Or to his brats, Lady Fluffbrain and Lord Cripple. Or get wasted on his fancy wigs. And the rest go to the king, who’s got a gigantic army, even though there’s no danger from outside.”

  Lady Fluffbrain? Heat prickled my face. “What about defending ourselves against the evil warriors of Norsunder?”

  Bren snorted. “Everyone talks about them, but they never come.”

  “They hold Sartor,” I said.

  Bren snorted even louder. “They won’t come here. Nobody’s crossed those mountains in generations. King Dirty Hands is building that army to use against us, Derek says. Because people are tired of being hungry. In some villages, where the spells have run out and haven’t been renewed, things are dirty and falling apart. It causes disease—everyone knows that. We’re tired of a king who doesn’t do anything but collect taxes and make ready for war. No one helps us.” He laughed. “So here we are, to help ourselves. Slam justice, that’s what it’s called!”

  I forced a laugh as well, wondering what they were there to help themselves to. Then he pointed at a plum tree. “I didn’t believe it until I saw it myself. They really do grow food as ornament here,” he said with loathing. “And in Riveredge people sleep hungry at night!”

  He plucked viciously at the plums, cramming one in his mouth and flinging others against the nearby trees.


  I thought that it would make more sense to carry some back to the hungry people, but again I was afraid to speak.

  Crashing bushes and the light thud of footsteps were followed by a girl’s voice. “Bren?”

  “Here! With Larei.”

  “Larei? Who’s that?” The girl appeared, two boys with her. “Phew, it’s hard to get about in this dark. We found an orange tree, right near the stream. A stream! All for no one, and we only have the one well left for the whole village!” She hefted an apron full of oranges.

  Bren began adding plums to her pile as the girl continued, “Where are the others? Went hatchling on us, huh? Just like I thought! Well, we saw someone lurking round the house, and we yelled ‘Down with tyranny!’ and ran. Fun! Where you been?” Her voice was wonderful, high and clear, like a singer’s.

  “Here, talkin’ to Larei.”

  “Never saw you before,” she said, coming close to me. She was small and thin, the shape of her face like Bren’s.

  “I never saw you before,” I said, deciding that it was better to bluff.

  The others laughed.

  “Larei lives out on one o’ the east farms,” Bren said. “Larei, that’s my cousin Deon.”

  “She’s the one who met Derek first,” Bren added. “And those are my brothers, Tam and Tim.”

  The younger boys bobbed their heads.

  “I’d like to meet Derek,” I said.

  “Is he coming to the village?” Bren asked his cousin.

  “Tomorrow night. If the scummers don’t get him first.” Deon jerked her chin in the direction of the walls, where the guards patrolled.

  Bren turned eagerly my way. “We meet him at the bridge, when the moon comes out. If it’s cloudy, we wait for the next night, unless he says. Can’t see if the Selenna scummers are sneakin’ up on us if it’s too dark.”

  “Don’t need to overwork the gallows.” Deon was grim. “They already get more customers than most traders, these days.”

 
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