Genre: YA fantasy romance
Word count: 85,000
Sent away at age sixteen to serve as an artist in a foreign ruler’s court, Princess Delfina is eager to leave her uncle’s palace. Not only will she get to use her training as a painter of illuminated manuscripts, but she will delay the looming threat of an arranged marriage.
The price to be paid for such an opportunity? She must gather information for her uncle, the ruling Khan of Karavai. No easy task, since the Khan expects her to charm Prince Darclor--one of Karavai’s worst enemies--into sharing his secrets. Yet when Delfina meets the handsome young prince, his deep passion for the arts charms her. But as long as he poses a threat to her homeland, she cannot risk falling in love with him.
Upon learning she must return to Karavai, to marry an aging, half-crazed monarch, Delfina runs away. Only too late does she learn that her uncle promised her to Darclor instead, to secure an alliance between their kingdoms. When Darclor captures her, seeking revenge for the humiliation she caused him, Delfina must win back his heart. If she doesn’t, he will turn her over to the Khan, who knows just how to punish disobedient nieces--by imprisoning them for life.
The door to the palace workshop burst open, disrupting the silence of the afternoon. One of the younger apprentices stood there, catching his breath. “The Khan is coming for his inspection!”
I looked up from my work, placing the delicate, squirrel-hair paintbrush next to the unfinished page. My uncle was coming. Now. And I was in no state to greet him. “I thought he wasn’t due to visit until next week.”
“No, he’s on his way. He’ll be here within minutes!”
Master Giordani strode to the center of the room and clapped his hands together. “On your feet! Put everything away except the pages for the Khan’s book. Fetch them from the shelves and place them on the table. Hurry!”
Without hesitation, all of us--the apprentices, calligraphers, and senior artisans--were up and moving. To the untrained eye, the studio appeared a chaotic mess, the wooden tables crowded with paper, reed pens, brushes, and oyster shells filled with oil paints. Every bit of it was essential for our work, but the Khan would regard it as clutter.
Giordani reviewed the pages, nodded in approval, and then ordered everyone to stand in line. I lingered by the shelves until he caught my eye.
“Delfina, you need to join the others.”
“I don’t think I should. If I leave now, you won’t be blamed for my unkempt appearance.” I wound my finger around a stray curl--one of many that had escaped from under my headscarf.