The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Mercy had read enough fairy stories to know bargaining with a sorceress was a lousy plan. There weren’t enough fairytales to show her a better way. (She looked.)

The trouble with magic is that power has to come from somewhere. Bright magic creates power, but that’s difficult—and slow. Dark magic just takes it. Every night Mercy and her eleven sisters dance from midnight to dawn, their energies leached by a powerful Sorceress’s dark magic. If they don’t, the Sorceress will destroy one girl entirely, using up every spark of her soul.

The Sorceress wants to regain her rightful role: queen regnant, not mere consort. Twenty-five years ago, the kingdom chose her husband. Now that she’s strong enough, she intends to take the crown. If she has to obliterate every soul in the kingdom to do it, well, she can rule just as easily over hell.

No one seems to notice the girls’ struggle. In fact, with the kingdom (and their father) absorbed in a bitter war, no one seems to notice the girls at all.

The princesses are growing weaker. They may not survive the year’s dark contract. If they don’t, no one will be able to warn the king of the Sorceress’s plans—and no one will be able to stop her.

King Frederick christened the twelve for what he thought the kingdom needed most. Each is named for a different virtue, but their defining virtue has always been loyalty. Above all, the sisters stay together.

But to save her family and the kingdom, Mercy may have to leave her sisters behind.


Sometimes Mercy wondered how she had ended up with eleven sisters. It wasn’t ardor; there was no love lost between the king and queen. It wasn’t a quest for a boy; daughters could rule as well as sons, and many had in their line. Mercy sometimes wondered if the king had thought he could love his wife into changing—if he was tender enough, attentive enough, devoted enough then perhaps she would become loving enough, and they could all have peace.

It didn’t work, of course.

As the old nurse told the story, King Frederick named his daughters for what he thought was most needed. 

“Perhaps what the situation needs is a bit of Patience,” he said when his oldest was born, and he saw that his marriage would not be what he had expected.

“Have Constance,” he told himself a year later, his wife cursing his name as she ached and bled.

“Mercy,” he murmured to his third babe, and the nurse wondered whether he was granting or begging.

He told himself to have Prudence instead of sending the queen away.

Verity, as he realized Queen Cornelia was not what she had seemed.

Clarity: a plea for understanding.

Honor to preserve what integrity he had, when he had little else to lean on.

Felicity and Blithe after St John’s Wort tonics failed.

Harmony, to protect his daughters from their hostile home.

Temperance: a plea for restraint, as the queen’s love of power grew dangerous.

“Amity,” he said when his youngest was born, and despite his wish for friendship (or, perhaps, because of it) was never seen to speak with the queen again. There would be no more daughters.