For Ages
9 to 12

Braided is a part of the Sisters Ever After collection.

The fifth book in the Sisters Ever After series of fairy tale retellings from the point of view of the siblings in the background, this is the thrilling and mysterious story of Cinna and her older sister, Rapunzel, who was stolen from their castle as a baby. Now she’s back, leaving Cinna with more questions than answers.

Princess Cinna has grown up longing for her older sister, Rapunzel, who was kidnapped before Cinna was born. Now that Rapunzel has returned home, Cinna couldn’t be happier. She can’t wait to help Rapunzel take her rightful place as heir to the throne.

But Rapunzel is not what anyone—including Cinna—expected. And whoever took her might still be lurking in the castle. When magical creatures begin attacking both princesses, Cinna finds herself with no one to trust…except, maybe, Rapunzel herself.

Will she risk everything for a sister with whom she may have nothing in common except their long, magical hair?

An Excerpt fromBraided




I am your SisTer. You du not no me becuz you were kidnaped befour I was BOrn.

i Hope thay find you sune




“I give up,” Nanny Cresta said. “There is absolutely nothing I can do with this disaster. Honestly, Cinna. If you were going to do something as foolish as chop off your hair, couldn’t you at least have chopped it off evenly?”

I pulled at the too-­tight collar of my gown. The edges of my short, uneven hair tickled the back of my neck. My hair had turned pink with irritation, so it matched my face. “I’m sure it will be fine. Nobody will care what I look like, not with Rapunzel in the room.”

I could feel Nanny Cresta’s gaze on the back of my head. That’s how intense it was.

I kept my eyes on the mirror instead of turning around to see her expression. I knew perfectly well that I sounded like a sulky child. In my defense, I was both sulking and a child.

“Cinnariosia.” Nanny Cresta had been my nursemaid since I was born, so she could get away with speaking plainly to me. The fact that she was using my full name meant she was about to do exactly that. “Everyone’s had eleven years to look at you. Your sister has been back for only one day. The last thing we want to do is draw attention away from her.” She straightened, putting one hand on the small of her back. “Not that we could, even if we wanted to.”

“Her return is so miraculous!” Oriana added. “Of course everyone wants to see her. Her rescue was thrilling! I can’t believe Sir Joshan actually got her out of the Faerie Realms without either of them dying or being horribly cursed.”

I gave Nanny Cresta a pleading look. Oriana was technically my maid, but her only real task was helping with my hair, which had—­until this afternoon—­been too heavy for Nanny Cresta’s arthritic hands to manage alone. Oriana, who was sixteen, was great at braids. Never­theless, it seemed to me that we could do without her help today.

But one look at Nanny Cresta’s face told me there was no point in my asking. Not for that, or for anything else.

“Of course everyone wants to see Rapunzel,” Nanny Cresta said. “But it seems Cinnariosia has arranged things so that everyone will look at her instead.”

I winced and ran my fingers through my hair. It spread out around my face in frizzy waves. When it was long, it had been straight as silk. My face looked so different.

“I didn’t think this through,” I admitted.

Nanny Cresta sniffed. “That’s an understatement.”

“But maybe we still have time to fix it before the banquet?” I said hopefully. The banquet to welcome my sister was going to begin in about two hours, and I couldn’t wait. Mage Talyani had already prepared a ballad to relate “the truth about her rescue.” Rumors were flying around the castle: She had been locked in a tower deep in the Faerie Realms, she had been tied up with her own hair, she had wept magical tears. I was as curious as everyone else about what the real story was. “Do you think if we trim it to be more even, and get a headdress . . . ?”

Oriana clapped her hands together. She glanced at Nanny Cresta for approval, then dashed to one of the chests under the window with such speed that her own hairstyle—­black braids piled in an elaborate tower atop her head—­tilted precariously. She began riffling through the chest, swatting a hovering pixie out of the way, and pulled out a headdress that gleamed with gold thread.

Nanny Cresta had already picked up a pair of scissors. I could see by her faint smile that she had just been waiting for me to get over myself and do what had to be done.

(Which, I have to admit, is a large part of her job.)

By the time Nanny Cresta was done evening it out, my hair had turned a deep, joyous gold, with blue highlights that revealed my excitement. I took regular, even breaths, aiming for the blue to spread. Which would not only show how hopeful and eager I was to see my sister, but would bring out the color of my eyes.

By the time Nanny Cresta had finished combing, though, my hair was still mostly yellow. It would have to do. I got to my feet and headed to the door.

“Where are you going?” Nanny Cresta asked. “There’s still nearly an hour before the banquet.”

“I know,” I said. “I thought Rapunzel might want some help.”

Oriana made a little squealing sound.

Nanny Cresta cleared her throat. “Are you sure you’re ready to see her?”

Her voice caught on the question, and I hesitated. Nanny Cresta had been Rapunzel’s nursemaid back when Rapunzel had been stolen. Nanny Cresta had never talked about it, but from what I’d heard, she had been every bit as distraught as my parents. Now her face was carefully blank, but she was wringing her hands.

“Well,” I said, “I can either meet her now, or we can meet at a formal banquet with Mother and all the court watching. Which do you think would be better?”

“I think”—­Nanny Cresta bit her lip—­“you might be rushing things, Cinna. Rapunzel had been a prisoner for years. She’s probably feeling overwhelmed, and she might not want to meet you as much as you want to see her.”

My breath fluttered in my chest. That was exactly what I was afraid of.

“Well,” I said, “there’s only one way to find out.”

“Just . . . be careful, Cinna.”

Of what? I almost said. Instead, I turned, opened the door, and let myself out into the hall.

I knew exactly which room my sister was in. It was one of our biggest suites, and had been prepared in a flurry of excitement as soon as we received Sir Joshan’s message. It was a little farther from my own room than I would have preferred, but I took a shortcut through the servants’ stairway and got there in less than five minutes.

A knot of pixies was buzzing outside Rapunzel’s door—­which told me it was her room, even if I hadn’t already known. I brushed the pixies out of the way and took a deep breath before knocking. With my hair so short, I couldn’t see any of it, so I couldn’t tell what I was feeling.

Something tickled the side of my neck. A frizzy strand had escaped from the braid wrapped around the edges of my hair. It was a fishtail braid, which was the basic spell for grace, diplomacy, and patience. Nanny Cresta had tried to adjust it for short hair by weaving it thin and tiny, but clearly that hadn’t worked. I tried to tuck the stray strand back in, and was still trying when the door opened.

I jumped and dropped my hand.

Rapunzel stood in the doorway. She was tall and beautiful, her eyes dark and direct. Her hair fell over her shoulder in a golden wave, rippling along one side of her body, as if it was part of the design of her pale blue gown.

I opened my mouth, then closed it. I knew I looked ridiculous, but even if the fishtail braid had been intact, it probably wouldn’t have been powerful enough to help me form an appropriate sentence.

My sister blinked down at me, her hair brightening.

“Cinna?” she said. “Is it you?”

There was nothing in her voice but delight, and all at once I could breathe again. I nodded.

“I was hoping I would get to see you before the banquet!” She smiled widely. Her teeth were a tiny bit crooked. “I’m so happy to finally meet you.”

Up close, my sister didn’t look quite as much like me as I’d thought. I had my father’s pale blue eyes—­the only feature I had gotten from him—­and I was short and solidly built. Rapunzel was tall and slim like our mother, with dark brown eyes.

But the shapes of our faces were remarkably similar. We had the same wide noses, the same pointed chins, the same broad foreheads. And we’d had, until about an hour ago, the same hair. Rapunzel’s hair was golden through and through, which made sense—­she must be overjoyed to be home at last.

“Me too,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re really here. Until today, we all thought you were dead.”

She blinked. “You did? But Mother said she never gave up hope.”

“She didn’t.” Not officially. “But almost everyone else did.”

Rapunzel nodded as if I had given her very significant information. “I know you never gave up on me. But are you”—­her voice caught—­“are you happy I’ve come back?”

All right, then. Straight to the point.

To be fair, she had been alone in a tower for over a decade. No surprise that she hadn’t developed the most subtle social skills.

“I’m incredibly happy you’re back,” I said. “We all are.”

“All?” Rapunzel raised an eyebrow. “The court magician didn’t seem particularly pleased.”

Under the Cover