Princess Amarande is finally on the verge of having everything she wants.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The King Will Kill You, the final installment in Sarah Henning’s YA fantasy trilogy The Kingdoms of Sand and Sky, publishing with Tor Teen on August 2nd.
The first chapter of The King Will Kill You is available here, and you can read Chapter Two below!
Princess Amarande is finally on the verge of having everything she wants. To be with her true love Luca, no one nor law standing in the way. To rule Ardenia as queen outright, no marriage necessary, as Luca does the same with the reformed Torrence. To rebuild the continent of The Sand and Sky into a place not defined by archaic, patriarchal laws, but by the will of its people.
However, threats await in the shadows of Amarande’s hoped-for happily ever after. One expected and deadly to both her love and every one of her objectives. The other, unexpected, and arising with a vicious aim: revenge at any cost. Against the princess who killed him, the boy whose love made her do it, and the continent cruel enough to deserve his rage.
Hours later, Amarande and Luca stood together in a changed world.
One where a woman could gain power without marriage, and an orphaned stableboy could raise a dead kingdom from the bowels of the earth.
Both tales seemed woven by starlight and dropped into a storybook, but they were as real as the citizens of Ardenia milling about the grounds of the Itspi. By the thousands, those Ardenians poured through the gates and into the arena, the tiger’s-head flags of the kingdom’s official sigil flying high above the topmost rows. They climbed up to their seats, the mountain winds whipping the hair from their faces as they settled in, hoping for a decent view of history.
For, in minutes, Amarande of Ardenia would no longer be a princess, but a queen.
The last time Luca had been in the arena at the Itspi, he’d watched Amarande state her case for consent in the marriage required to become queen and promise the assembled crowd she would not settle for a union beneath her or her people. She’d been scoffed at—of course—by the old guard of the Sand and Sky, and in a bid to prove the seriousness of her request, Amarande went so far as to steal a sword straight from the scabbard of Crown Prince Renard and hold the point against his skin.
Luca had left the arena that day with a bubble of laughter on his lips, because though it wasn’t funny, he believed Amarande would kill that boy if Renard were ever stupid enough to attempt to marry her.
It turned out he was right.
That wasn’t funny either, of course. Though it was exactly what had happened.
Much more had happened after that, too.
Little more than a fortnight later and Luca was in the arena once more. This time, standing at Amarande’s side, as requested, wearing fine clothes tailored to him from King Sendoa’s closets. Everything Luca wore was black, as was the custom for the Otxoa royal family, or so he had been told.
He stood at her right shoulder—Beltza sitting proudly at his feet—while Ferdinand and Koldo anchored Amarande’s left side. Councilor Joseba sulked in the back, extremely displeased with the break in both tradition and proportional balance, but given he was still healing from a near-fatal stab wound, he couldn’t stand for the length of the ceremony. And so Joseba sat aside, the only remaining member of the Royal Council, as Satordi and Garbine were freshly buried on the grounds, victims—along with a myriad of guards—of Geneva’s escape from the Itspi less than a week ago.
Currently, the crowd before them was stunned to silence, the only sound the flapping of the tiger flags in the mountain breeze. Not simply because Amarande was alive and standing before them in garnet lace and diamonds, but because their newest king, fifteen-year-old Ferdinand, had just told them the truth—he was a bastard, born of General Koldo and King Sendoa. Then, as that heavy admission blanketed the masses, Ferdinand ceded his crown to Amarande, placing it straight on her head with the kind of gentle touch almost unheard-of among the royal blood of the Sand and Sky.
Diamond-and-garnet circlet catching the late morning light in the summer air, Amarande stepped to the podium, grasped the sides with her swordswoman’s grip, and looked out upon her people.
Just as at King Sendoa’s funeral, visiting nobility and councils were seated in the front rows on the arena floor, though the individuals present were almost entirely different. The representatives from the other kingdoms were the survivors of the poisoned wedding reception that killed King Domingu and King Akil and made Queen Inés ruler of three of the five kingdoms in very short but dramatic order. They had arrived on ships with the now-deceased Inés and her soldiers— ships that still stood in Ardenia’s harbor. And all would be headed home after a coming meeting to discuss next steps.
In fact, the only person in the audience with a royal title was Dowager Queen Sumira, consort to the recently deceased Akil. She did not have the blood to be called outright ruler of Myrcell, but that would be something to discuss later.
Also upon the arena floor and close at hand were Luca’s advisors and confidants from Torrence—Tala and his former resistance seconds. Pirates Ula and Urtzi, and former watcher Osana, were seated in the front row, friends of both Torrence and Ardenia, even if their official capacity had not yet been named.
Amarande took in the packed stands, her chin held with a confident tip. As always, and forever, Luca marveled at this love of his—so small but so strong in every way that mattered.
“Guardians of the Sand and Sky and loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Ardenia, the last time I stood before you, I pledged I would not sell the good people of Ardenia to the highest bidder, that I would not let a usurper sit on our throne through marriage, that I would not settle for less than what my people deserve. And, as my brother so carefully explained,” she gestured to Ferdinand, his shaggy, strawberry-blond head bowing in a nod, “you deserve the truth.”
Amarande paused as her words washed over the assembly. Reading their faces; lingering on the row of castle workers in the far center stands—Abene, Maialen, old Zuzen, and others who were family to Luca as much as to her.
“The truth of the matter is that my brother was a fine king. I believe Prince Ferdinand to be a skilled and loyal decision maker, and you must not hold the deception he has described to you against him. The reality of his parentage was kept from you by my mother, Geneva, who had her own lies in play. To solidify my belief that Ferdinand is a loyal servant of the Kingdom of Ardenia, as of this moment, as your queen, I hereby announce that I am naming Ferdinand First Knight and Protector of the Crown. This is a title that has not been used for three hundred years, and one which is most appropriate for his skill set, station, and proven loyalty. His Highness the prince will lead my castle guard and Ardenia’s internal security, while working hand in hand with General Koldo on all matters of protection of Ardenia.”
At Amarande’s pause, the crowd erupted into polite applause for their brief king. He accepted both the adoration and title with yet another simple nod, standing proudly next to his birth mother, whose stoic face happened to crack into a grin so slight that Luca was sure only those standing on the dais could detect it.
“I appreciate your applause,” Amarande responded in a measured voice, her shoulders back and long auburn hair rustling in the breeze, “but as part of this exchange of power, you, my people and those with us from other regions of the Sand and Sky, must understand the gravity of what nearly transpired as much as you must know what actually happened. I stand before you as queen not simply because of my brother’s good-heartedness and an informal change to laws written a millennium ago. No, I stand before you because the Sand and Sky was a hair’s breadth away from total takeover.”
Silence again descended over the arena. All eyes were trained upon the dais. Some somber, some disbelieving, some clearly entirely aware of what their new queen was about to say. Amarande inclined a delicate hand in the direction of the Port of Ardenia, several mountainous miles to the east.
“In our harbor sits a would-be armada, fashioned by Inés of Pyrenee, who for a short time—thanks to a marriage contract and copious amounts of poison—was able to take control of not only Pyrenee but also Basilica and Myrcell. Inés then sets her sights on Ardenia, bolstered by the news of my supposed death. With the majority of our great Ardenian army spread along our borders rather than holding down our castle seat, it is very likely that with a day’s fighting, Inés could have taken the Itspi, and the throne, making Ardenia her fourth conquest.”
Amarande nodded, punctuating just how close her kingdom had come to invasion.
“In doing so, Inés also would have believed she had taken the Torrent as well, because among Geneva’s many lies, she was serving as the acting Warlord concurrently with her status as Queen Mother.”
The silence now was heavier, it seemed.
“It was only by sheer fortune that this did not happen. Instead, Luca,” Amarande turned in profile to him, smiling like the sun, “the Otsakumea and last of the Otxoa, bested the Warlord’s proxy in the Torrent, reclaiming the land as the Kingdom of Torrence, and reinstalling the Otxoa monarchy. In that same battle, Luca and his seconds rescued me, and in the chaos, Prince Taillefer of Pyrenee escaped, only to reappear on his mother’s ship in the harbor. In short order, Taillefer dispatched Inés, and regained his kingdom for a brief time before succumbing to battle wounds.” This description, while true, made Luca’s stomach drop, because though Taillefer’s damaged lungs had him at death’s door, it had been Luca’s knife that slammed it in his face. “While,” Amarande continued after a deep breath, “we were able to wrest complete control of Ardenia.”
Again, she nodded at the gaping and wide-eyed faces. Even the pro-Otxoa rebels seemed stunned by the wild cadence of the action, though they already knew the general timeline.
“I am telling you this now for the same reason I will tell you the rest of it—you deserve to know. You also must understand the gravity of the other lies you have been fed and the rumors you’ve heard.”
At this, Amarande gave a sign, and garnet-and-gold-clad soldiers entered the crowd in an orderly manner, handing out neat squares of parchment, each written in heavy and unerring ink.
“What you will find on the sheets of parchment being distributed now is the official account of the past weeks, beginning with the death of my father, King Sendoa, may he rest in the stars, and ending with this ceremony and the transfer of power from King Ferdinand to myself. This document has been approved by the guardians of the Sand and Sky and details the cascade of action throughout every corner of the continent.”
Amarande paused again as the people took in the account, those knowledgeable of their letters reading out loud to those who were not, scrolling through the highlights of the continent-shaking saga that had occurred since King Sendoa’s final breath on the summer solstice.
After a long moment, as heads lifted slowly from the parchment, Amarande spoke again to her people.
“Read each word, to yourselves, to your family, to those who do not know their letters. It is right there in plain verbiage, how our entire country teetered on a knife’s edge, all within the council room of the Itspi. We are fortunate to have survived it. As a people, as a kingdom.” Amarande nodded to them, the crown atop her head catching the sun and radiating light like a star in broad daylight. “The elevation of my status to queen without a marriage is not an ending. It is a beginning—for Ardenia and all our sister nations—”
“A parchment?!” A voice as loud as it was irate cut through Amarande’s planned statement—close to the dais and easily heard. On the heels of its echoing indignation, a man shot to his feet, red-faced and wiping spittle from his chin, the paper crinkling in his furious grip. It was the lead councilor from Pyrenee—Menon. “Your Highness, this is highly unusual!”
The councilor flung his hands out wide in exasperation and turned toward the Ardenian crowd, seeking support from the masses.
Luca had witnessed the outburst in real time, with a front-row seat, and yet he could hardly believe it. Such an exclamation was done solely because this man believed himself safe from repercussions despite questioning the word of an outright queen in her own home. During her coronation, no less.
Anger gathered under Luca’s skin as his eyes slid to his queen—this was her fight and it would only make things worse if he intervened. Amarande’s beautiful face hardened into the sharp smile Prince Renard had witnessed in the moment between when he’d questioned her publicly on this same dais, and when she’d threatened him with his own sword. Luca knew the Pyrenee councilor’s challenge would not end better for him than it did for his now-deceased crown prince.
“Then we should make it more common, Councilor Menon,” Amarande answered, baring her teeth in a way that had Beltza tensing by Luca’s side. The black wolf had once fought Amarande and knew her strength. “It is crucial that after so much secrecy and misinformation, as many people are as well informed as possible at the same time. No hearsay. No rumors. Facts. Distributed to everyone within the Sand and Sky.”
Amarande raised her eyes from Menon’s reddening face and looked out to the remaining leaders of the Sand and Sky. “We have produced additional parchments that will be loaded to your ships ahead of your return home. Please distribute them in the most efficient way possible within your own kingdoms.”
Indeed, she’d approved the handouts herself, and a knot of men were already aboard each delegation’s ships, installing reams of parchment along with strict instructions for distribution. Luca thought it had been a stroke of genius, a way to toss open the doors of the castles and level the playing field across a continent so changed. Amarande and Luca ruled for their people, after all.
Yet the advisor from Pyrenee stood firm. Defiant before the crowd, defiant before the Sand and Sky’s first unwed queen. This councilor had no qualms about testing Ardenia’s ruler before her own people. This struck Luca as both incredibly entitled and incredibly stupid. Menon nearly stamped his foot as he lifted his chin to project loudly toward Amarande’s perch. “Pyrenee disagrees and will not.”
“That is interesting, Councilor, as the delegation of Pyrenee agreed to this timeline of events in a meeting before my coronation—”
“Yes—I did, but you did not tell us it would be distributed like a two-for-one deal at the fish market!” the man sputtered, loudly, reminding Luca very much of the departed Satordi—they were men cut from the same cloth, their egos forged deeply from years adjacent to extreme power.
Amarande blinked at Menon, her visage cool in a way that clearly annoyed him further. Luca muzzled a grin. “You mean equitably and open to all?”
“Well, no—yes.” The man did not know which answer was correct. Finally, he flung his arms out wide again. “Not like this.”
“Then how?” Amarande raised a sharp brow. “Because knowledge is not something you can tax at port, nor turn away at your border. Everyone in this arena now knows the truth. Refuse my handouts, fine. But the people of Pyrenee will now learn exactly how they lost three leaders in short succession, and then they will compare it with the tale you lay at their feet. Is your pride worth so much that you might wager the trust of your people, who are reeling from the top down? Geneva made that bet from this very stage and if you’ve been paying attention to this ceremony, you know that these pieces of parchment are just the first step in atonement from the Crown to the people of Ardenia for the lies she told.”
Amarande’s was a brutal response, as cutting as the Basilican steel she’d used to threaten Renard. The queen knew it, the councilor knew it, the crowd, too.
Luca tried very hard not to smile.
Menon’s pride sagged, his anger receded, and Luca waited to see if the man from Pyrenee was stupid enough to take a swipe from another angle in this fight he would not win.
In the end, Menon sank to his wooden bench with a creaking sigh, no response ready or available. When he was fully put in his place, Amarande lifted her chin and again addressed her most important audience—the people of Ardenia.
“I cannot command Pyrenee or any of the other kingdoms within our great continent to share the knowledge given to you in this arena.” Her eyes fell to Menon and the other aubergine-clad representatives of Pyrenee for a pointed moment before she continued. “But as your queen, I pledge from this moment forward that the loyal people of Ardenia shall know the truth of what has happened and not simply that we managed to survive it. That is my promise to you, whom I have the duty and honor of serving with my life.”
She nodded, firm, and clarified and confirmed her oath.
“You do not serve me, I serve you, Ardenia.”
And with that, Amarande took a step back from the podium, slipped her hand within Luca’s for all the world to see, and accepted the applause of her people.
Excerpted from The King Will Kill You, copyright © 2022 by Sarah Henning.