Nicholas is a young man with no last name. He hardly ever sees his family. One day he goes by the name Laurence Fleur, another day Matthew Copperpenny or Eustace Grimpken. Nicholas’s best friends are a girl who often wears a false beard and a man who robs via the Thames. Nicholas, needless to say, does not live an ordinary life. He is a thief, reputed to be the best in London. But no one—no one—has ever broken into Westminster Palace.
No one except Nicholas, of course, who’s visited every few nights for months and months in order to steal—not crown jewels, nor secrets—but stories. The crown princess spins yarns in a tower study and Nicholas sits atop the roof; he listens through the chimney flute until one night, when things go wrong and Nicholas finds himself in the palace and knowing things he should not know. Someone loathes the idea that the King of England is planning to step down for his female heir, and will go to horrendous lengths to ensure this does not occur.
The way Nicholas entered Westminster is impossible as an exit. He must exit Westminster as something…someone, else. Suddenly, Nicholas wants to do the exact opposite of the thief’s code: helping to save a princess, instead of stealing one.
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The first time the boy had stepped foot here, he had paused a perilously long amount of time to admire the splendor, the cathedral-like façades, the glass glittering like frozen ice. Now he simply slipped into the shadows of the palace wall and sprinted for the relief of a bowing angel. Crossing himself, the boy leapt again, soft boots finding purchase on the stone angel’s head and, with all the dexterity of an acrobat, began climbing the architecture.
What was on his mind? The Crown Jewels? Documents of import? Secrets? Golden china, clothes?
Unknown to the guards making their rounds, the boy climbed higher and higher, until he reached the steepled roof. Arms out in a pantomime of a tightrope walker, he laughed, a low, happy sound. He traipsed his way past the countless slim turrets topped with crosses to a tower of grand scale. This too he climbed, slipping a little in his excitement. A hiss broke from him and for a moment his right hand shot inward to his chest. Then he climbed on, more gingerly 'til he mounted the top. The crown of the tower flattened out in a plateau about five feet square, boxed in by intricate fencing. The four sides sloped downward, a squat chimney protruded. No smoke escaped, and the young man put his face to it and caught a glow at the far bottom. Turning his ear to the opening, he shut his eyes and listened.
“If I may be so bold,” a tremulous voice wavered up to him, “my lady promised.”
“Oh, did I?”
The voice echoed up the chimney deep and teasing, feigning confusion. Not for the first time, the boy tried to imagine what the princess looked like.
“We shan’t tell, mistress. Please—could you do it in the voices?” asked another voice, an old woman’s.
“It makes the nights quicken so,” the tremulous voice chimed in. “Winter nights have been brighter since you started!”
The boy on the rooftop made a face, eyes shut to hear the reply.
He could hear the smile in her voice.
A secretive cheer went up among the—servants, no, ladies-in-waiting, most like.
The boy on the roof hoped the crown princess would start exactly where she left off; two nights ago she’d completely forgotten about the pirate set to be hanged, and one of the maids had had to remind her.
“Níl mé léi! cried the Empress of the Emerald Isle!”
The women applauded as the captive Irish queen, who’d been stolen by the pirate set to be hanged, threw off her forced disguise as a lowly servant and revealed herself to the Welsh king she’d been set to marry. The pirate had sent an imposter in her place, who now tried to run, but the Irish queen drew a sword from a guard’s hip and cornered her before she had a chance to flee.
When she was little, Rachael Kosinski wanted to be a paleontologist, an astronaut, a nature photographer, and the next Jane Goodall. Instead of being a new link between man and chimp, or discovering a planet suitable for sustained human life, or maybe even winning renowned fame by stumbling across an undiscovered dinosaur, Rachael finally decided that, if she never became a writer, she would simply die. Nearly a decade later, she now possesses a quirky knowledge of world mythology, an addiction to coffee, and a penchant for making over-expressive faces at her laptop.