From bestselling author Kaitlyn Davis comes a fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Throne of Glass, Graceling, and Game of Thrones.
In the land of Ourthuro, cruelty is a way of life. The king rules with an iron fist and no one dare defy him - no one except his daughter. Princess Leena is keeping a dangerous secret, she has fallen in love with a soldier and it would mean both of their lives if her father ever discovered their affair.
But Leena will risk it all to be with the man she loves--her heart, her life, her freedom. And when her brother's birthday celebration takes a dangerous turn, Leena is forced to make a decision that will change the fate of her nation and eventually the world.
The Golden Cage is a prequel novella to The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)--available now!
Author's Website : KaitlynDavisBooks.com
Facebook Page : Facebook.com/KaitlynDavisBooks
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Princess Leenaka was a flirt.
Resting on her gilded throne, face hidden behind a veil of golden links dangling from a jeweled crown, she held the attention of every boy in the ballroom. Her smile was coy, half lifted in mystery and half drooped in boredom.
Casually, she made eye contact with a young nobleman, piercing through the metal wisps of her veil and then shyly looking away. Repeating the process, she found another son of a noble house close to her age. Another wink. Another smile. Another victim.
It wasn't a game of ill will or even the whim of a foolish girl--it was survival. Her survival...their survival.
A hush settled over the crowd, pausing Leena mid-thought. It could only mean one thing. The King of Ourthuro had arrived with his son, her brother--the youngest of King Razzaq's children and the only male heir.
Leena spared a glance to her side, eyeing her sisters. They sat still on eleven petite thrones all lined up behind the main dais where the king, queen, and prince would preside. Like statuesque decorations in flowing golden dresses and jingling jewelry, their faces were hidden behind veils. A backdrop. Pieces of art to be admired.
Such is the way of the Ourthuri. Leena sighed. Of the twelve princesses, she seemed the only one uncomfortable with the whole display.
Returning her gaze forward, she watched as the royal family walked through the sea of guests and approached their stage. Her father was not an overly large man, but he was still imposing. The king's crown rested upon his head, shimmering gold and glistening with polished stones, making him seem a foot taller. His flowing robes, like the sun, seemed to produce a light of their own. And the only things in stark contrast to the gold draped over his body were the black tattoos elegantly circling his arms from wrist to shoulder, branding him undeniably as king.
Everyone in Ourthuro had tattoos, a gift from birth. Leena's were those of a princess, painted with images of flowers and jewels as they swirled up her skinny arms. The noble families were allowed images of their own choosing so long as they did not pass one's elbows. The upper arms were reserved for the royal family alone. And for the lower classes, a simple band of black was usually all anyone could afford.
It was another tradition Leena was unsure of. History taught her that it gave hope, that tattoos could always be built upon but never lessened, giving the common people something to dream of or aspire to. But everyone in Ourthuro knew that was not true. There were the unmarked--slaves and criminals whose inks had been forcibly removed. Really the tattoos were just another display, like a line of princesses at one's back, hiding something darker.
Leena's eyes shifted to the queen, who was adorned in a dress made of metal petals that seemed alive, seemed to move like fire in the candlelight. As usual when sighting the queen, Leena's thoughts shifted to her own mother. A woman she would never know but often dreamed of. A woman stolen from her at the moment of her birth. For the darker side to the display of princesses was the missing display of queens. In Ourthuro, a queen could only live if her first child was a boy, if she provided an heir.
But... Leena pushed her morose thoughts aside and smiled at her brother. Finally my kingdom has a son. A son who was turning five, a son with a birthday to celebrate.
Despite looking exactly like the king, Prince Haydar had a warm spot in Leena's heart. Perhaps it was his innocence, perhaps his jovial smile, his carefree attitude, his young defiance. Whatever the cause, she loved him.
Biting her lip to keep back a giggle, Leena watched as he walked forward--three steps for every one of the king's. His eyes furrowed in concentration, his small lips resolutely firm yet raised just slightly with a smile. He looked straight ahead, marching as he was taught, but still a boy, thankfully. He was not yet the man her father was pushing him to become.
Nonetheless, Leena saw a difference in him. Like a ghost before her eyes, memories flashed. Her brother at the age of four, of three, of two, of one. A baby with wide eyes, a toddler with an untamable laugh. He used to run wild through the halls. He used to visit her to play. He used to talk to everyone he met regardless of their tattoos.
But now, he was starting to learn the rules. Nod to the nobles. Do not speak with the servants. Never look down. Show no mercy. All laws of a future king.
It hurt her soul to watch him grow up, to watch the bars slowly build around him, a gilded cage. A cage invisible to everyone it seemed except her. But it was there.
Even in this ballroom, wide and open, she saw the bars. Columns built of stone lined the floor, surrounded its occupants--wide and immobile. The exits were plentiful but all guarded with soldiers. More displays of wealth and power. But everyone smiled except her, the only frown in the room. Luckily, her veil mostly hid her expression from the guests.
The royal family reached their seats, settling in. Her father paused for a moment, letting the tension in the room build as it always did before his speeches--a little knot of angst he loved to hold onto if just for an instant. No one was ever sure what would come out of his mouth, what new command he might speak, but that was how her father liked it. He thrived on their uncertainty, on their fear.
"Today we celebrate the fifth birthday of our most honored son, Prince Haydar," he began. Leena tuned him out, refused to give him her fear. But his voice, like always, seemed to drown her, to suffocate her.
So she searched for her solace.
There was a reason Leena was known as the court flirt. The more men she talked to, the fewer she was tied to. The more flirtatious she was, the less anyone thought she held a secret. It was a display, just like those she had learned from her father--a pretty front hiding a darker truth.
Hiding a forbidden love.
As slowly as she could manage, Leena let her gaze pass over the crowd. She continued to smile at a few boys, to meet their eager glances, to make them feel special for a quick second before releasing their hold. But all the while, her eyes were moving imperceptibly further away from the guests, closer to the shadows in the back of the ballroom, until finally her eyes met the one gaze they were meant for.
Beside the column, second to the left from the center, in his spot so Leena could easily find him, stood Mikzahooq--soldier, honored personal guard, true love. If the palace was her cage, he was her trapdoor, her little glimpse of freedom. And the ache in her chest instantly released as he grinned slightly, letting her know he had caught her staring.
You were staring first, she thought, fighting back a smile. Then again, he was her personal bodyguard--it was his job to stare. But Leena knew the deeper meaning in his eyes. He watched because he wanted to, because he could not look away.
Leena could not look away either.
In his formal garb, chest encased with gleaming armor, arms firm and strong as they held a curved sword at the ready before his eyes, Mikza was so beautiful--a perfect statue. But knowing the gentle soul hidden inside those hard muscles made him all the more handsome. The deep rumble of his laughter echoed in her ears, a memory, a weapon to block out her father's voice.
But even Mikza could not block out the collective gasp of a hundred noblemen or the clang of a sword slamming on stone. Leena's head jerked to the noise as her mind fought to piece together what had happened.
A servant was splayed across the floor, head bowed down against the stone, his entire body trembling. A few feet before him rested an amethyst silk pillow, wrinkled from the fall. Before that, a sword, curved like the sun, inlaid with rubies, flickering with reflections of candlelight. A sword too small for a grown man but perfect for a little boy.
Leena closed her eyes slowly, taking a deep breath, dreading what would come next. It was Haydar's present. It had to be.
Now, instead of a sword, her brother would be given a new weapon. Power. Authority. This offense was not something her father would dismiss with the wave of his hand, not in front of the entire court, and not on a day meant to honor his only son.
Leena looked closer at the man, still shaking against the cold stone. His tattoos were gone, as she expected. In place of ink rested mangled flesh where his skin had been cut off, forcibly removed. An unmarked. A slave.
He would not be easily forgiven.