When her father is arrested for a crime she committed, Prismena will do anything to save him, taking her on a high-flying and shadowy adventure in this middle-grade fantasy debut.
In the kingdom of Oren, Prismena longs to fly hot-air balloons, but her father insists she keep her feet on the ground. When he's arrested for a crime he didn't commit--and one that Prismena did--she must decide between following the rules and following her heart.
Her decision will catapult her on an adventure that challenges everything she knows about her identity, her kingdom, and even her beloved balloons.
An Excerpt fromKingdom of Secrets
The Stranger and the Scarf
Abigail Smeade arrived like a black eye: sudden, fierce, and blossoming under my skin. When I met her, I was sitting in the shade of an old oak tree, minding my own business. I’d just removed a burlap sack from a hollow in the tree’s trunk and poured its contents out in the grass--scraps of metal, twisted brackets, and a few strips of a stretchy material called rubber. Most people would’ve described those things as junk fit for the bin, but I knew better. Pieced together just right, that “junk” would become more than the sum of its parts. And figuring out which way was just right happened to be one of my favorite pastimes.
But Father didn’t like me tinkering with the odds and ends I gathered (and sometimes even pinched from his workshop). It wasn’t proper, he said, and making something nobody had ever seen before might get a person looked at twice, which was the last thing we wanted. That’s why I kept my collection stashed inside an oak tree in the middle of Fletcher’s field. Nobody but Mr. Fletcher and me ever wandered into that field anymore, if you didn’t count the sheep.
At the bottom of the bundle, rolled up tight, was a scarf, a single piece of fabric more precious than all the rest of it put together. I unfurled it across my knees, and the silk shone and rippled like running water. It was cool to the touch, but the pattern--in shades of blue and yellow and purple--made me think of places drenched in sun. The kind of faraway places Mother liked to visit when she was flying hot-air balloons. In fact, the scarf had been a souvenir from one of her trips. She’d had a weakness for beautiful, unnecessary things. She’d filled the house with them once.
Startled, I crumpled the scarf and crammed it back into the sack. Then I whipped my head left and right, hunting for the owner of that voice. It wasn’t until I looked up that I spotted her, sitting on a branch of the tree and kicking her legs like she was lounging on a swing. She peered down at me with shrewd, glittering brown eyes. Without prompting, she extended a half-eaten shard of candy through the leaves. It glistened with a semicircle of saliva where she’d taken the last bite.
“No, thanks,” I said.
“Your loss.” She wedged the peanut brittle into the far reaches of her mouth and cracked off a piece. It rattled against her teeth as she spoke. “What’s that?” She pointed down at one of my projects, something I was still trying to get just right. A small flying machine I’d made using those strips of rubber Mr. Dudley had given me.
“Excuse me . . . who are you?” I asked. She looked about my age--long-limbed and gangly, with light brown skin. Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail that erupted at the back of her head in a burst of copper corkscrews. She wore several layers of clothes--an apple-green vest, a striped jacket two sizes too small, and two gauzy skirts that looked like petticoats that had been dyed pink and cut short. Her scuffed boots kicked at the air over my head.
“Abigail Smeade, at your service,” she said. “You can call me Abi.” She smiled with a mouth full of crowded, crooked teeth, each one shoving its way to the front. She stretched her arm down to me again, this time offering her long, tapered fingers for a handshake. As though it were completely normal to meet someone while perched in a tree. I unpretzeled my legs and stood on tiptoes to give her hand a single uninspired shake.
“I’m Prismena,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“Same as you,” she said. “Trespassing.”
That response almost knocked me backward. She was correct, legally speaking, but I’d spent so much time in that field it felt like part of our own property. Mother and I used to stretch out in the long grass here to get the best view of the balloons taking off, when she wasn’t flying one herself. I could still picture her that way--in profile, with bits of twig clinging to her strawberry-blond hair. She’d always gasp at the first sliver of color cresting over Fletcher’s Mill, as giddy as a child on Savior’s Day, and we’d watch that sliver grow and grow until it filled the sky and overtook the Wall, which didn’t look so impressive then. Our hot-air balloons made one hundred feet of stacked stone look no more imposing than Mr. Fletcher’s puny fence.
“You didn’t answer my question,” said Abi, jerking me out of my memories. “What is that thing?”
I fumbled for the words to explain my amateur flying machine to this strange girl, but it didn’t matter. Abi was already moving, zipping down the branches of the oak tree. In an instant, she stood beside me, holding it in her hands, which--I happened to notice--were caked in dirt. “How does it work?” she asked. Once again, she didn’t give me a chance to answer. She started twisting it roughly in ways it wasn’t meant to twist.
“Stop,” I shouted, yanking it away from her. “You’re going to break it! Just watch me.”
It was simple, really--a tight roll of parchment with a thin strip of rubber threaded through it, end to end. On one side, the rubber was attached to a lightweight propeller, and when I spun it, the rubber twisted around on itself. When I let go, it uncoiled, spinning in the opposite direction and thrusting the machine forward. Like I said--simple. It rose in a wobbly arc, glided for an instant, and crashed into the dirt.
“Wow,” said Abi. “You built that?”
“Yes,” I said, the heat rising in my cheeks. “But it’s not quite right yet.”
“Looks all right to me,” she said. “Why do you keep it hidden out here?”
“It’s not hidden,” I said. “It’s just . . . it’s where I store my things.”
“Oh. Like your Tuleran silk scarf?”
I inched closer to my sack, as if that would protect the scarf inside it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do,” said Abi. “How’d a Lollyhill girl like you wind up with a piece of the finest fabric in the kingdom? Something like that must be pretty expensive.”
“That’s none of your business,” I snapped.
In truth, that scarf was expensive. Mother had brought it back from a flight to Tulera. An import like that would fetch a king’s ransom now that the borders were practically closed. But that wasn’t why it was so valuable. At least, not to me.
“You’re not supposed to have it, are you?” asked Abi, eyeing me like she could see every thought in my head, written out like a diary. “Your daddy doesn’t know you took it, does he?”
I froze where I stood. How could she possibly know that?
I didn’t blame Father for selling Mother’s things. With the war in the South plodding on and the travel bans grounding most of his flights, he had to sell anything we didn’t need, just to keep food on the table. So, gradually, Mother’s knickknacks disappeared--the cobalt-blue bottle from Rivelle; the pink lace from Chinchester; the peach pit from Palma, carved into the shape of a tiny bird. That’s why, when I found Mother’s silk scarf tucked away at the bottom of a drawer, I swiped it. I couldn’t bear to see it traded for a handful of coins or a crate of onions, no matter how much my stomach may have disagreed.
Abi’s eyes flicked to something in the distance. She squinted at it. “Is that him?” she asked, shielding her eyes from the sun. “A bearded man in a leather apron, kinda scrawny and mean-lookin’? Is that your dad?”
I gasped and spun around. If Father caught me out here, he’d give me a going-over I wouldn’t soon forget. Worse, he’d destroy my collection--all except the scarf, which he’d sell quick as a heartbeat. Then he’d lock me in my room until I was old enough for him to kick me out.
Luckily for me, it wasn’t Father who had ambled into the field and was staring at us trespassers. It was a lone sheep, braying softly, in search of a fresh patch of grass.
“Are you daft?” I said to Abi, relaxing. “That’s not my--” I stopped short when I realized that I was the daft one. I looked down, and, sure enough, my sack hung open in a wide O of surprise, just like my slack-jawed mouth. Abi stroked the pristine silk of Mother’s scarf against her soiled cheek.
“It even feels expensive,” she said.
I lunged at her, but the edges of her skirts slipped through my fingers. “Give that back,” I growled. “That’s mine!”
“Is it?” Abi smirked. “When someone sneaks around like a common thief, it’s usually because they are one.”
“I am not!”
“If you say so,” she said with a shrug. She wound the scarf around her thick curls and tied it there. As if she needed more clothing. “As it turns out, I am a common thief, but that’s not why I’m here. I don’t want your mother’s scarf. I need your help. If you do what I ask, I’ll give it back.”
My stomach clenched so tight I thought I’d be sick right there in the field. “How’d you know it was my mother’s scarf?”
“I know everything,” she said. “I know your dad’s the balloonist--the only one left who doesn’t work for King Michael. I know you sit out here every day, tinkering with piles of junk, then you go home and sew balloons and look after an old man who hardly says two words to you. And I know following you is one of the most boring jobs I’ve ever had.”