The Secret Princess: A Retelling of the Goose Girl
Princess Giselle is excited to be leading her first royal delegation—until everything goes wrong before they even reach their destination. With her rank and authority stripped away and her people scattered, she’s left with nothing but a gaggle of geese.
Giselle is determined to prove herself a true princess—in action as well as in name. But to do so she must uncover a conspiracy that threatens far more than her own future. With her life in danger and only a talking horse and an irritable goose boy at her side, she needs assistance. One of the servants is willing to help her, but Philip’s attractive smile hides yet more secrets, and Giselle is running out of time.
In this reimagining of the classic fairy tale, The Goose Girl, the wronged princess must prevail in a deadly game of identities with the fate of kingdoms at stake.
If you enjoy clean romance, adventure, and intrigue, then try the books in the Return to the Four Kingdoms series now! These interconnected fairy tale retellings each feature a different heroine who finds herself friendless in a strange land and who must fight to save her new home and win her happily ever after.
Release date: May 22, 2020
Publisher: Luminant Publications
Print pages: 322
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The Secret Princess: A Retelling of the Goose Girl
A wave, larger than the ones preceding it, slapped against the hull of the ship. The deck beneath my feet lurched, sending me staggering against the rail. I managed to get a firm grip before it swung back the other way, the tilt sharper than it had been before. Several sailors called to each other, but a breathless voice shouting my name distracted me from their words.
“Giselle! Giselle!” Daisy, a thirteen-year-old wearing an elegant gown which she had hitched up to give her freer movement, scrambled up the steps from below decks. “There’s something wrong with Arvin. He’s screaming and neighing, and it sounds like he’s going to smash his way out of his stall.”
“Arvin?” I let go of the rail and dashed across to meet her at the top of the stairs.
When the ship pitched again, I nearly lost my footing and sent us both tumbling into the depths of the ship. I managed to stop myself just in time, Daisy steadying me on one side.
“Is he injured?” I asked.
“Not that I could see. But he was kicking up such a fuss, I couldn’t get a good look at him. I didn’t know what else to do but come and get you.”
Like everyone else on board, Daisy had noticed the connection between me and my horse—the only mount brought along for the voyage. What she didn’t know was that he was a recent gift from my godmother.
I half-climbed, half-slid down the steps, racing toward the horse’s stall as quickly as I could given the increased tilt of the ship. I didn’t have to make it all the way, however, before I could hear him.
Giselle! Get those useless sailors down here. There’s a leak. Starboard. Aft. Where is that useless girl? GISELLE!!
I pulled myself to a stop. At first I had been surprised to learn no one else could hear his equine sounds as words, but I had given up attempting to get any answers out of Arvin. The godmother had given him to me, and I alone could understand him. His manner and behavior made me fairly sure it was an enchantment on him rather than me though.
I reversed direction, Daisy slipping and sliding a few steps behind me. The ship tipped again, and a thin stream of water rushed over our feet.
“There’s a leak,” I said, hoping she couldn’t hear the fear in my voice. “We have to get the sailors—”
Bodies tumbled down the stairs, their voices filling the space below decks as they crowded after each other. I grabbed the closest one.
“There’s a hole—or something. Starboard. Aft.” I pointed in the right direction.
He hesitated for only a second, before calling to the others to follow him. Daisy and I flattened ourselves against the wooden walls, trying to get out of their way as they rushed past. As soon as they reached Arvin, the horse instantly calmed, and I could no longer hear his shouts.
The yells of the sailors soon replaced them, however, the location of the leak evidently discovered. Daisy looked like she wanted to go after them, curiosity all over her face, so I herded her back toward the deck.
“Giselle! Daisy! There you are. Do you know what’s going on?” My older brother Oliver, crown prince of Eldon, appeared from the door of the great cabin. “Everyone else is in here.”
“There’s a leak,” Daisy announced, a little too much relish in her voice.
The ship tilted steeply to the side, and Oliver caught me before I stumbled into the door. His grip didn’t loosen, but he glanced back over his shoulder into the cabin, concern on his face.
Someone barreled into him from behind, pushing us both away from the door.
“Sorry!” Celine gasped as she flew past us and up the steps to the deck.
Oliver abandoned us to dash after his wife, both of them disappearing up the steps. I peered through the still open doorway at two more girls. Daria’s concerned eyes flitted from me to Daisy.
“What should we do, Giselle?” she asked.
“I think we should all head up on deck,” I said, conscious of the continuing shouts of the sailors from the depths of the ship and the increasing tilt at each wave.
“I second that,” said Cassandra, hurrying forward to join me. “I don’t fancy being caught below decks if the ship’s going down.”
Daria’s worried eyes flashed back to Daisy, the youngest of us. “I’m sure it won’t come to that.”
“Imagine if it did!” Daisy’s eyes were shining. “I’ve never been shipwrecked before. We could all cling to pieces of wreckage and kick our way to shore.”
“Perhaps we could try the longboats before we’re reduced to scrounging for flotsam,” I said, ushering the others ahead of me toward the steps.
But privately I admitted to some relief that we had been sailing north along the Arcadian shoreline since sunrise. We had been traveling through open ocean for some time now, and I wouldn’t have liked to go down days from any land. I had grown up with the closely clustered continents and island of my home lands, where no sea voyage took you far from shore. So this voyage to the distant Four Kingdoms was my first true experience of that vast, open ocean.
For most of my life, any ships that sailed east from our lands encountered a solid wall of impassable storms. Legends held they had been placed there by the High King to protect our people when they fled from their original kingdoms to the uninhabited lands that we would build into kingdoms of our own. But that was countless generations in the past, and few believed or even remembered the legends—until five years ago when the storms stilled.
Daisy, Daria, Cassandra, and I came from the lands of my childhood, but my sister-in-law Celine had grown up in Lanover, one of the original Four Kingdoms. She had come with the first delegation sent by the Old Kingdoms and had stayed to rescue my kingdom of Eldon from a vast enchantment, gaining fire powers and falling in love with my brother in the process.
They had been married for nearly four years now, and she had been promising to take Oliver and me to see her kingdom for at least three of those years. A leak in the boat before we even reached the Arcadian capital didn’t seem an auspicious start to the long-awaited journey.
I climbed the steps last, gripping tightly with both hands to keep from losing my footing. When I emerged back into the sunshine, I staggered my way over to the railing to join the others.
Celine, looking pale, managed a smile in greeting. Apparently she had finished being sick over the edge. I gave her a sympathetic wince in return.
“Does it feel like the ship is steadying a little?” Cassie asked, gazing across the deck.
Oliver frowned. “Perhaps a little.”
“My men have plugged the hole with their hammocks.” The captain appeared beside us, looking grim. “And now they’re hard at work at the pumps. But a lot of water got in, and it’s only a temporary solution.”
Oliver and Celine, the official heads of our delegation, exchanged looks.
“Will we make it to the port at Arcadie?” Oliver asked, naming the Arcadian capital.
The captain’s frown deepened, and he rubbed his chin, eyeing the six of us. Daisy was the youngest princess from Trione which meant we consisted of four royals, as well as Cassie, the niece of a minor noble from my kingdom of Eldon, and Daria, a close friend of the queen of Eliam. I could understand why our presence on his damaged ship was making him uneasy.
“It’s not ideal conditions,” he said at last. “You’ve seen how slow our progress has been this morning. That storm three days ago drove us slightly off course, and we’ve hit the coast too far south. Now we’ve got the wind and the current working against us. An hour ago, I wasn’t concerned, steady going would get us there eventually. But now…”
“We have to put to shore,” said a panicked voice behind us. “At once.”
I turned to my personal maid, Sierra, with a flash of guilt. I hadn’t even thought of her since the crisis began. She had always been a diligent and attentive maid but had been strangely absent and distracted since we started the voyage. It hadn’t occurred to me her strange behavior might be motivated by a fear of the ocean, but I couldn’t mistake her terror now.
She leaned forward. “I can’t swim,” she whispered to me.
I frowned across the water at a gleaming stretch of sand, picturing the map of the Four Kingdoms. We were working our way northward, toward Arcadie, our planned first stop in our tour. But southward lay Lanover, Celine’s home kingdom, and its capital of Lanare. Putting a comforting hand on my maid’s arm, I turned to the captain.
“So you’re saying even though Lanare is further away than Arcadie, you could reach it faster and with less strain on the damaged ship?” I asked.
The captain rubbed his chin again, looking at Oliver uneasily before turning back to me. “That would be correct, Your Highness.”
I faced my brother. “You’ve already decided Celine can’t stay in Arcadie. You were planning to beg a carriage to take her to Lanare as soon as we arrived. But that just means more travel for her. It makes far more sense for you to take the ship south now.”
Celine made a noise of protest, but since she had to break it off to be sick over the side of the rail, it didn’t carry much weight. Oliver rubbed her back, murmuring about staying cool. Celine had strong feelings about being sick, but she couldn’t afford to lose control of her emotions and overheat the baby. At least that was the theory. No one—including the ship doctor—had any experience with the combination of fire powers and pregnancy, but everyone agreed it was better not to take any risks.
She had only just discovered the pregnancy before we set sail and had been determined to proceed as planned. Our trip had already been delayed for years, delegations traveling back and forth to finalize various trade treaties with only officials to represent Eldon. When Celine said she wanted to tell her family the happy news in person, my parents had agreed. At that point, Daisy, Daria, and Cassie had already joined us at our palace to prepare for the voyage, and the Arcadian royal family were expecting our arrival. After so many delays, my parents were uneasy about how it would appear if we canceled at such a late point.
But no sooner did we hit the open seas than Celine began to feel ill. And the further into the voyage we got, the sicker she became. We had intended to finish our tour in Lanover, rather than starting there, but Oliver now wanted Celine settled with her family as soon as possible.
They didn’t know if the illness would last the whole pregnancy, and my sister-in-law was in no fit state to conduct official visits. Oliver hadn’t said whether he was more concerned about the risk of her causing a diplomatic incident by losing control and blasting part of the Arcadian palace, or whether he just wanted her calm and comfortable in familiar environments. And it didn’t matter. Both were valid.
I pointed at the shoreline. “There seems to be some sort of beach there. Put me ashore with the longboat, along with Sierra, and Arvin, and a few guards. We can continue on to Arcadie while the ship takes the rest of you south to Lanover. I’m sure once I explain the situation, King Henry and Queen Eleanor will understand.”
I stood on the beach, watching the longboat row away from me, back to the ship. Our haphazard and somewhat damp disembarkation on a deserted beach wasn’t the arrival in Arcadia I had been expecting when we set out from Eldon.
“Your Highness!” Sierra waved for me to join her further back from the water.
The slim girl, slightly older than me, beckoned again, and I slipped through the milling guards toward her. I had no trouble keeping sight of my maid since the sunlight bounced, almost painfully bright, off the blond braid that hung down her back.
There had been debate, of course, but eventually everyone had agreed to my plan—with some modifications. Daisy, Daria, and Cassie had all insisted on accompanying me, driven by varying mixtures of responsibility to our original diplomatic mission and desire for adventure. Oliver capitulated only when Celine reminded him we had pigeons on board and could send a message to the Arcadian capital. Given how long it had taken us to make the necessary arrangements and get all the relevant people to the beach, I hoped the carriages Arcadia had been requested to send wouldn’t be far away.
I waved at the distant figures on the ship as the sails were slowly raised again. Soon they would be in Lanare, and Celine could have some relief from her illness. Once the repairs had been completed, the captain would return to Eldon as fast as he could sail to bring our family’s personal doctor back to attend her. The two of them had been conducting experiments on Celine’s power for years now, and there was no one better to attend her given this turn of events.
From the captain’s dire mutterings as we prepared for departure, he was looking forward to being home again so he could have some hard words with the shipbuilders responsible for checking the vessel before the expedition and declaring it seaworthy.
I tugged at my left sleeve, feeling the lump of material I had wedged in there. Now we had stepped foot in Arcadia, I didn’t mean to let the family heirloom out of my possession for a moment. The handkerchief—the only working godmother object my family had left from past generations—was not only a useful tool, but a sign of my mother’s trust. She had passed it down to me, not Oliver. And now circumstances had proven her right. I would be taking responsibility for the delegation—primarily an Eldonian one, despite the presence of Daisy and Daria from Trione and Eliam—and representing our family without my brother by my side.
And I was more than ready for the chance to stand alone.
“Your Highness!” Sierra appeared beside me, apparently determined we remain glued to each other’s sides. A surprising development given her absence on board ship.
I nodded to her, but my attention was focused on locating the other girls. They had been sent with the delegation so they could experience the Four Kingdoms—a small adventure away from their familiar homes. I couldn’t help but be conscious it had already become something more of an adventure than their families had likely been expecting.
I eventually spotted them together, Daria their calm center as always. Her brown skin shone warmly in the sunlight, her demeanor reserved. You wouldn’t guess she was several years younger than me—not given the way she expertly managed the terrifyingly adventurous Princess Daisy. The thirteen-year-old Trionian princess currently hung off Daria’s arm, saying something to her at a fast pace, her whole body quivering with the excitement that was only hinted at in Daria’s eyes. I suspected Daisy’s family, at least, wouldn’t be surprised to hear she had catapulted herself into unexpected adventure.
Cassandra, standing beside them, looked up and caught my gaze. Smiling, she pointed toward Arvin, who stood calmly several steps away. He regarded her pointed finger with an expression of contempt that should have been impossible on the face of a horse before following her gaze to me and tossing his head.
I grinned and started toward them. I had insisted Arvin accompany us, despite the difficulties of getting him to shore. Leaving him behind hadn’t been an option. I had no doubt he would have kicked open his stall, trotted up the stairs, jumped overboard and swum to shore on his own if we had dared to forget him.
The young one seems to be greatly excited, he whickered at me, as if it was somehow a personal insult directed at him.
I slung an arm around his neck. “Well, it is all rather exciting.”
Is it? I can’t say I’ve seen anything I would label exciting.
“Yes, I am sorry about the awkward trip to shore.”
I don’t know what you’re talking about, he said, with great dignity. I am always happy to be of service. I am not in the habit of putting others out with my own needs and wishes.
I snorted. “Of course not. How foolish of me.”
“It’s strange the way you talk to your horse,” Daisy said at my elbow. “Almost as if he talks back.” Behind her I could see Sierra watching us, the same confused expression on her face.
I swallowed a grin. “I can’t help it.”
If the small one wishes to ride me, tell her no, Arvin neighed.
“I thought you were happy to be of service?” I asked innocently.
He whipped his head around, turning the full force of his baleful left eye on me instead of Daisy.
You misunderstand. I think only of her safety. I am not saddled.
I raised an eyebrow, smothering a laugh. “Oh, of course. See, there I go, being foolish again.”
It is certainly something you should work on, he said gravely.
I rolled my eyes and turned back to the other girls. “I hope you don’t regret coming with me instead of staying with the ship.”
Cassie grinned at me. “Of course we wanted to come.”
In all honesty, I liked the idea of having the other Eldonian girl at my side. Cassie had proven herself many times over—she had the ability to blend in anywhere she found herself, and the smarts to make the best of every situation.
“Plus, Cassie had to come,” Daisy piped up, a disconcerting gleam in her eye. “Eldon might still need her. What if Percy’s taste doesn’t run to blond hair? He might find he likes Cassie here better than you, Giselle.”
Cassie and I groaned in unison. Prince Percival of Talinos was the one remaining eligible prince from our set of kingdoms, but he had led his own delegation across the seas weeks before we left. The Arcadian court had claimed to be delighted to host us all at once, and my parents had been no less delighted at the prospect of throwing me and Percy together. Now from Daisy’s comments, it appeared Eldon’s interest in an alliance with Percy’s kingdom of Talinos was a more open secret than I realized.
Not that anything formal had been arranged or even discussed. But I knew his presence in Arcadia was the reason my parents had made the kingdom the first stop on our itinerary. A marriage alliance with any of the Four Kingdoms was unlikely for either Percy or me since none of the distant kingdoms had any available royalty of marriageable age. Eldon would have to rely on trade treaties and the alliance Oliver had already secured with Lanover—the richest of the Four Kingdoms. Hence the reason my parents had turned their eyes to our close neighbor of Talinos.
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