Deception's Pawn (Princesses of Myth)

BOOK: Deception's Pawn (Princesses of Myth)
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A
LSO BY
E
STHER
F
RIESNER

Nobody’s Princess
Nobody’s Prize
Sphinx’s Princess
Sphinx’s Queen
Spirit’s Princess
Spirit’s Chosen
Deception’s Princess

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2015 by Esther Friesner

Jacket art copyright © 2015 by Larry Rostant

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Friesner, Esther M.

Deception’s pawn / Esther Friesner.—First edition.

pages cm.

Summary: Maeve begins her royal fosterage but her new companions are full of secrets and jealousy, her only friends are an elderly lady-in-waiting and Kian, the prince who rescued her kestrel, Ea, and her future promises only household management and childbearing until someone from her past brings a message about her true love.

ISBN 978-0-449-81867-1 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-449-81869-5 (ebook)

1. Medb (Legendary character)—Juvenile fiction. [1. Medb (Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Courts and courtiers—Fiction. 3. Princesses—Fiction. 4. Kings, queens, rulers, etc.—Fiction. 5. Sex role—Fiction. 6. Ireland—History—To 1172—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.F91662Deb 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014010448

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

For Liz Williams

A great friend, a brilliant writer, and a lot of fun to know!

Contents

Cover
Other Books by This Author
Title Page
Copyright
Dedication
Map

  
1   Women’s Chatter

  
2   Seeds

  
3   Rekindling the Flame

  
4   Luck and Skill

  
5   Swords and Slingstones

  
6   Samhain Shadows

  
7   The Most Annoying Boy in Èriu

  
8   An Unexpected Messenger

  
9   Children of Bards and Kings

10   Travelers on a Winter Road

11   Departures and Returns

12   Two Dogs, One Bone

13   Shut Out and Shut In

14   The Wolfhound’s Ghost

15   A Chill in Springtime

16   Kestrel’s Flight

17   Hungers

18   Spark, Flame, Embers

19   Roads and Roamers

20   The High King’s Folly

21   Oath at Tara

22   Wings

Places and Faces, or “How Am I Supposed to Pronounce
That
?”
About the Author

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Women’s Chatter

I
WOKE WITH
a gasp in a strange bed, my heart beating rapidly.
Where was I?
Midnight surrounded me. I’d been dreaming of unfettered flight, of joy, of soaring fearlessly across open skies. Now all that wild, glorious liberty was abruptly gone. A frightening thought shook me:
Was this harsh waking an omen?
I had worked hard to remake my life, to be more than the High King’s daughter, the prize he’d once used to tempt and tame lesser kings. Could all my hard-won freedom be torn away from me so easily? I shivered at the possibility.

Thank all the gods, my good sense finally woke up as well. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Enough
, I thought.
I left the safety of Father’s home because I’m not a coward, and I won’t act like an infant now, making monsters out of every nighttime shadow.
Yawning, I turned onto my side.
It will all be better by sunrise.

“Ugh, is it morning?” I grumped like an old badger who’d been dug out of his burrow and brushed aside the tangled curls that had fallen across my face while I slept. All of yesterday’s excitement and fuss surrounding my arrival at Dún Beithe left me too exhausted to braid my hair before bedtime. I’d pay for it this morning. I winced, imagining the pain of unsnarling so many knots.

My eyes blinked in the faint wash of daylight in the chamber I shared with three other girls. I stared up at the rafters and listened to the sound of unfamiliar breathing coming from their beds. One of my new companions snored so badly, it was as if she were breathing mud. Another muttered in her sleep. I thought I heard her say a boy’s name, but then she giggled and rolled onto her stomach. At least she had pleasant dreams.

I wasn’t used to this. When my older sisters still lived within the protective walls of Cruachan ringfort, the six of us slept in a single room. But year by year, by ones and twos, I watched them leave until I had a room of my own. I grieved most bitterly when my favorite, Derbriu, went off to fosterage. I hadn’t seen any of them since, except for our eldest sister, Clothru. She was a girl when she left us, but she returned as a married woman with her first baby on the way.

How changed would
I
be when—and if—I went home again?

I turned onto my side but didn’t go back to sleep. The bed coverings made my bare skin itch. They smelled … not
bad
, exactly, but different. Too different. They’d been washed in water that didn’t come from
our
streams, water that never raced over the stones of
our
land, Connacht’s land, my family’s realm, my birthplace and my home. I wished I hadn’t been so
tired last night that I simply stripped off my clothes and threw myself into bed. At least the thin shift I sometimes wore to sleep would have carried a comforting, familiar scent.

The alien smell of my bedding was only the beginning. From this moment on my world would be nothing but unfamiliar names, places, customs, and expectations. From the food I ate to the people I met, everything would be strange. I’d come to Dún Beithe to find my Ea, the wild kestrel who’d bonded to me, but I’d come here to claim a new life as well. I’d fought to get free of being Father’s little girl and I’d tasted the thrill of strength and self-reliance when I rescued our bard, Devnet, from Lord Morann’s arrogant plotting. Why did I feel so vulnerable now, and so uncertain and weak?

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