A STOLEN BRIDE. A TERRIFYING BRIDEGROOM. THE GAME THAT WILL DETERMINE THEIR FATES.
No one told her the most important law of the court - the Law of Greeting.
If they had, maybe she wouldn't have greeted Bluebeard when he arrived to claim a mortal wife. And if she hadn't greeted him, she wouldn't have become his sixteenth wife or been swept away to the lands of the Wittenhame.
But if none of that had happened, then she wouldn't have been an integral part of the game that takes place every two hundred years - a game that determines the fates of nations .
For all is not as it seems, not in her homeland of Pensmoore, not in the Wittenhame, and certainly not in her new marriage.
Can she find a way to save her family and nation from the great game of crowns?
For lovers of SPINNING SILVER, OATH TAKER, and THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE comes a tangled fantasy story of faeries, epic adventure, magical trickery and wagers of crowns and thrones from USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah K. L. Wilson. Prepare to be enthralled, spell-bound, and utterly addicted to this chillingly hopeful tale.
INTENSE, ROMANTIC, TWISTED, RICH
ENEMIES TO LOVERS
BLUEBEARD & IZOLDA
"Is it really too much to ask that you give your life to me?"
"I'm a practical girl. If anyone can make sense of this mad world, it's me."
"Enchanting. Enthralling. Bewitching.
With a refreshingly self-possessed heroine plunged into Wonderland, a fae prince destined to fight the laws of magic and not afraid to remove an enemy's head - shades of The Witcher - and the captivating storytelling of Spinning Silver, FLY WITH THE ARROW is a sure hit fot fans of well-crafted fantasy. Unputdownable. Another five-star read from Sarah K. L. Wilson."
- Melissa Wright, YA Fantasy Author
Some laws are talked about by all – featured in story and song – and as a result, it’s easy to know that if you turn traitor to the king, you’ll soon see your head mounted on the battlements of Pensmoore, or if you steal another woman’s horse, a hempen noose will be the last to embrace you.
It’s not those laws that are the problem. It’s the other kind of laws. The laws no one talks about at all.
Like the Law of First Greeting.
And it is those laws that bite you in the end, just like that law bit me.
“Izolda must come to court with me this season,” my father had declared one day before riding out on the hunt. When he said that, I had never heard of the Law of First Greeting.
“You must be careful to be very polite to the fine ladies of court Izolda,” my mother warned as she packed my fur robes and velvet gowns into a small chest. “Remember what I taught you. They will all be above your station. Try to be meek. It is not your strong suit. And whatever you do, don’t decide to go out shooting or riding with your brothers.” She was wiping tears from her eyes, as she always did when one of us left. She would miss us sorely – though even she could have had no idea how long I would be gone for. “Be a good girl. Help the women with their weaving and stitching and they will be pleased with you. You are young and very beautiful.” She paused to stroke my face lovingly as she said that. “But trust me Izolda, that beauty will fade in time and you will be sorry if you haven’t made use of it while you had the chance. Have some fun. Flirt. Enjoy yourself.” She paused as if worried she’d said too much. “But definitely don’t do anything more than that with the men there because your father will be working very hard to secure a wise match for you. It’s high time we found someone suitable. You can’t live here forever and you’re already nineteen.”
“Don’t worry so much, mother,” I said, kissing her cheek. I was not worried. I was excited. I never got to go anywhere interesting and I doubted my father would procure me a husband in just one visit.
Since we were a very small martial family on the outer edges of the King’s territory, my father would have to be very clever indeed to find a match. I’d be lucky if he found a sober man of forty who still had all his teeth, but I didn’t bother to mention that to my mother. After all, I was supposed to be dazzled and delighted at this age by pretty faces and they were supposed to be my folly and ruin. No point in proving that was true.
“Don’t forget to check on Brueller in the stables,” I reminded her as I put some pine scented soap and a comb in the chest. My mother would forget those. Practical things were not her specialty. “If I am gone, he will have to help Sasa foal all by himself.”
“You think too much of horses when you should be thinking of being wed,” my mother said with a sigh.
All of that advice, and no mention whatsoever of any Law I must be careful of. No mention that the Wittenbrand might come to the castle, too, tearing through it like a winter storm with all the same icy rage. If she’d said any of that, I might not have even believed her.
Which made sense in a perverse sort of way. If I had been a beautiful but brainless girl of fine fortune and the perfect heroine for a story then I would have been warned of the Law and I would have known not to break it but I would have been courageous and headstrong and done it anyway. But since I was sensible and calm in a crisis and of mediocre appearance – despite my mother’s assurances of my beauty – no one had bothered to warn me of a pit that only a heroine could possibly fall into. Girls like me didn’t have to watch out for Laws and traps.
The next day, my little bay mare stamped with excitement in the swirling wind and I tried not to tug on her reins even though my own heart was just as exuberant. I was bouncing on my toes as my mother kissed my cheeks. Flurries of snow swirled around her as I said my goodbyes. Her lips were faintly blue in the cold and her eyes were filled with sadness to see us go.
“I shall miss you my Izolda,” she said, pushing strands of my long dark hair back behind my ear.
“We should not be gone for more than a turning of moons, mother,” I said because she always kissed us goodbye like she thought we would all die of the plague while we were gone. My cheeks were hot from her attention already.
If I’d known this would be the last time that I saw her, I would have taken more time to treasure it.
“It’s always been you and me standing here holding hands as they go and now it will just be me. I will feel an ache in my heart until you return,” she said, and my cheeks flared even hotter. I wouldn’t be feeling any aches. In fact, I was so excited to see court for the first time that I could hardly keep my breath careful and measured.
“Be safe and healthy, Mother,” I said. “Know that you hold our hearts.”
“Be careful not to go off on your own,” she said, cupping my cold cheek in her warm hand. “We don’t want the Wittenbrand to snatch you away.”
“You know those are only fairy stories.” I shook my head, laughing the laugh of the young and hale.
“Fairy stories are sometimes true,” she said, kissing me again.
My bay stomped and huffed as my mother moved on to my father to exchange goodbyes. He’d end up as red-faced as me if she had her way.
While they were distracted, my brother Svetgin edged his gelding in close to mine as he double-checked the straps holding his bow and quiver in place. He was watching the hills around us as he worked. Winter storms could blow down in a moment’s notice and no one took fair weather for granted. Or fair fortune.
“You women fuss too much,” he said, rubbing his unshaven face as if he thought there might be a beard there by now. “Men know that traveling is normal and natural.”
“How nice for you,” I said dryly. “Hopefully all your heavy man-knowledge doesn’t make your horse too slow.”
“In Pensmoore, we will drink honey ale and dance with big-eyed women,” he said smugly, ignoring my jab. “And you may even be favored with a dance, sister, if you can rein in that tongue.”
“Big eyes?” Rolgrin, my other brother asked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Like me, he was dark of hair and eye, unlike Svetgin who had our mother’s pale hair and complexion. “Is that what you’ve been noticing, brother?”
I ignored their banter. Perhaps, were I a boy and able to pick my bride someday, I might be weighing the merits of eyes, too. But I was not a boy. I would have to allow my father to negotiate a suitable situation for me and the likelihood of me having any say in it was slim. The likelihood of the man being only double my age was also narrow.
I did not resent my father for this. He was a practical man – I had inherited that from him – and he would choose well. Even if the thought of marrying a stranger he chose for me still put me into a cold sweat.
He had already told my mother that he would prefer a man with enough wealth that we could live without fear of hunger, but too little that he would be tempted to keep mistresses. A man with a good reputation in the court, but not enough reputation to be kept often from his hold. A man old enough to see sense, but not so old as to be unfit company for his daughter. That he considered my feelings in regard to faithfulness and company was a relief. Not all daughters could depend on such good grace from a father.
And since I was an expert at self-control, it would be easy to pretend that what I really wanted wasn’t deep dark eyes and broad shoulders. That daydreams of dashing knights on horseback with flashing swords were only for other girls and not for me. I felt my cheeks growing hot again. Of course, I could manage that.
I sat my mare with a straight back and skillful hands and smiled serenely at my brothers – both younger than I, and yet both more familiar with court. Boys always got the best opportunities. Svetgin had already been to court once before and Rolgrin twice.
At nineteen years of age, I was old to have never been, but my mother was very fond of me and had not wanted to see me married too soon. She had the romantic notion that I may even fall in love or have a whirlwind romance. It was a kind thought – but ridiculous. What had she expected would happen? Had she thought some stranger would appear in the night? Someone dashingly handsome who demanded my hand in marriage for the smallest of dowries? That kind of thing didn’t happen outside of stories.
And it certainly didn’t happen to minor nobles who had to embroider flowers over the holes in their dresses so that no one at court would know how tight the purse strings had to be in Northpeak.
“Ready to ride, daughter?” my father asked as he mounted his dancing gelding. Storm was too energetic for a good mount, but he suited my hearty father well. It always surprised me that he – being such a practical man in all other respects – chose my high-spirited, dreamy mother and then this unsuitable horse. It was a weakness of his. And one that made me all the fonder of him.
If I was allowed to do any choosing for myself, I might choose the same.
The ride from the Hold of the Savataz of Northpeak to Pensmoore City takes eight days and though we stayed in inns and keeps of other Landholders along the way, we were worn and dirty by the time we arrived in Pensmoore City. I made careful mental notes of each inn we had stayed at. The people as we moved closer to Pensmoore City wore finer clothes – even the commoners. They ate finer foods. Drank finer mead. Their swords and shields showed more polish and their furs less wear from moths and age.
It was foolish to feel smaller just because my father’s hold in Northpeak was poorer than these holds of the plains’ folk. The sensible thing would be to be glad we were a part of a prosperous nation where many holds were strong and wealthy. After all, if it came to war with the Salamoore or the Ayyadmoore along the borders or the strange islanders of the east, it would be favorable to have such strong allies. And yet, I felt smaller. I felt shabbier. I began to understand what my mother meant when she said my father would have to be very clever to find me a good match. Any dreams I had of a whirlwind romance – however carefully tamped down – were quickly smothered and buried where I could no longer blush in shame that I’d ever had them at all.
In Northpeak, the people held us in respect. Here, we barely garnered a look and those who did look at us often wrinkled their noses. We were plain and bluff people with simple clothing and weapons. We were nothing now that we had left our land.
I could almost feel the smart of being without it – as if everything I had ever been was wrapped up in those trees and snows, and now I was a living ghost haunting these other lands without body or succor.
By the time we reached Pensmoore City, I was eager for any distraction from this constant reminder of my place in the Kingdom of Pensmoore. I tried not to let a stab of jealousy pierce me when we reached the city gates and were spattered with mud by a passing coach. A girl my age looked out between the curtains, her fine golden hair pulled back into an elaborate dressing and a large emerald hanging from a chain over her forehead. Her eyes didn’t even focus on us as she drifted by – as if we were nothing more than trees or goats along the horizon.
“We should hurry before night falls,” my father said practically. “The steward will be expecting us, and it will make more work for everyone if we are late.”
I felt something cold on the back of my neck as he spoke. I glanced over my shoulder through the city gates. The snow swirled thick and heavy, dampening sound and sight like a warm down blanket in the winter. And yet, something felt wrong. Was that a figure I saw in the whirling snow?
There were a handful of shapes that almost looked like men riding horses, though there was something wrong with the horses’ heads. I squinted at them, trying to see clearly enough to make out the shapes. Perhaps they were just fellow travelers journeying to court. But if that was true, then why did they leave little shivers along my spine? Something was not right. My mother’s warnings about the Wittenbrand surfaced in my memory and I shook my head at them. Superstition was a waste of everyone’s time. All the same, I had the oddest feeling that winter had opened its jaws and was trying to swallow me up.
I pulled my fur cloak in tighter as if it could shield me from the malice I felt in the swirling wind and the darkening storm.
“Don’t dawdle, Izolda,” Rolgrin said, tugging on my rein. When I looked back behind my shoulder, there was nothing in the swirling snow except my imagination and a single black raven.