Royal Bastards


By Andrew Shvarts

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“Jon Snow won’t be the only ‘bastard’ whose name readers will remember.” —Entertainment Weekly

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children. At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half-brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla longs to sit by her father’s side, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey…


Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Shvarts

Cover design by Tyler Nevins and Levente Szabó

Additional images © Levente Szabó (goblet and background);

pne (eagle) and Mischoko (crown)/Shutterstock

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

Designed by Tyler Nevins

ISBN 978-1-4847-9853-9


For Alex

PRINCESS LYRIANA CAME TO CASTLE WAVERLY two months after I turned sixteen. That meant fall was setting in: the trees were red, the roads were muddy, and when Jax and I sat in the abandoned sentry tower on the eastern wall, passing a skin of wine back and forth, we could just barely see our breath in the air as we talked.

“Well, Tilla? Any sign of them?” Jax asked. He was slumped on the ancient stone of the tower’s floor, his back resting against the waist-high wall, while I sat just above him on the edge of the parapet, my bare feet dangling over a hundred-foot drop. It was midafternoon, but the sun was hidden behind a gray blanket of clouds.

I squinted out at the gap in the sea of treetops where the road emerged from the redwood forest. The feast began in just a few hours, and we’d already seen most of the guests arrive: the Lords of all the minor Houses, riding proud amid their hoisted sigils, and the Chieftains of the Zitochi clans, clad in cavebear furs, looking massive on their shaggy, horned horses. There was still no sign of the guests of honor, though, the Princess and her uncle. That seemed right. When you’re that important, you make everyone else wait for you. “Just a few more minutes. I promise it’ll be worth it.”

“Uh-huh,” Jax said. “Pass the wine.”

I leaned over and dropped the skin into his broad, callused hand. We shared the same mother, a castle servant named Melgara. Neither of us had known her, since she’d died birthing me when Jax was two, but she’d given us the same wavy auburn hair and pale, freckled complexion. But while Jax’s father had been a traveling soldier who’d given him a square jaw and a strong, dimpled chin, mine was Lord Elric Kent, head of House Kent, High Lord of the Western Province, Very Important Man. I had his face: lean, pointed, all high cheekbones and sharp angles. And I had his eyes: narrow, bright, sparkling green. A visiting Lady had once called them “aristocratic,” and I’d coasted on the happiness of that compliment for weeks. Mostly because I’d thought it meant “pretty.”

“So, this Princess.” Jax took a swig of wine and passed it back to me. “Think she’s good-looking?”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s gorgeous.” I grinned. “And I’m sure she’s just dying to have a roll in the hay with a mop-haired, sweat-smelling stable hand.”

Jax turned up his head in mock offense. “I happen to think I’m ruggedly charming.”

“And I happen to think you’ve got horse shit on your boots.”

“What? No! That’s justThat’s just mud!” Jax craned his head down and sniffed. “Oh. Nope. You’re right. Horse shit.” He rubbed the sole of his boot on the stone wall’s edge. “Speaking of which, you gonna come by the stables anytime soon? Lady Dirtmane misses you.”

“Her name is Enchantress,” I said with a smile, but avoided his real question. Truth is, I hated riding in the fall. It reminded me too much of being a little girl, back when I’d been my father’s only child. Fall was when he was home the most, so we’d go riding together all the time, and he’d shown me the fog-shrouded forest and the beautiful black-sand coves and the ruined shrines of the Old Kings, the ones we were supposed to keep secret from the Lightspire priests. Those rides were my best memories of childhood. Possibly my whole life.

Then that beady-eyed wife of his, the one who called me a parasite, had popped out a daughter for him. A real daughter, not a bastard like me. We went on rides less and less. And one day we stopped going on rides at all.

Just in time to pull me out of that terrible memory, the trees at the edge of the forest shook with the thunder of dozens of clopping horseshoes. “Hey!” I shouted to Jax. “They’re here!”

Jax instantly popped up alongside me, and his spyglass was already in his hand. The big liar was totally still interested.

The first men to step through the trees were royal footmen. They were even more impressive than I’d imagined: tall and fit, their faces hidden behind shining mirrored masks, their armor covered in intricate silver serpents. They marched in lockstep and held high banners with the sigil of the Volaris Dynasty: a luminescent tower glowing with inner light, with a blackened sword on one side and a blossoming elderbloom on the other. Four ivory white horses trotted after them, their manes billowing softly like fresh snow. They pulled behind them the fanciest carriage I had ever seen, with a rounded canopy and gold inlays on the frame, jostling along the road on polished, gleaming wheels.

“Oh, come on,” Jax muttered. “Is the Princess in a carriage? Am I not even going to see her?”

I elbowed him in the ribs and kept staring. What was it like in there? Was she wearing a dress made of glistening silk? Did she get to sit on fluffy pillows and eat bellberries and sip fancy sherry? Did a handsome, shirtless servant fan her with a giant leaf, oil dripping down his chiseled abs?

The carriage kept rolling, its mysteries unanswered. A dozen more footmen marched behind it. And then, once they’d all walked on, a lone horse rode out from the trees, with a single rider on its back.

“Whoa,” Jax whispered. “Is that

“Rolan Volaris,” I whispered back. Archmagus of the Royal Mages. The King’s brother.

Unlike everything else in the procession, there was nothing ornate about him. His horse was a plain black mare, he rode in a leather saddle, and he wore only a simple gray robe. But I still couldn’t take my eyes off him. Rolan’s skin was a pure, rich black, darker than anyone I’d ever seen. His gray hair was shaved close to his scalp, and a neat silver beard framed his mouth. Even in the hazy light, I could make out at least a half-dozen Titan Rings on each of his hands, gold bands with ancient gems set in them, glistening like a rainbow.

More amazing than anything else, though, were his eyes. They burned turquoise, impossibly bright, like they weren’t just reflecting light but making it, two smoldering stars set into his face. He looked like something ancient and powerful, hiding in a person’s skin.

“Bow to the King or die by the Ring,” Jax muttered.

I scowled back at him. Since when did Jax quote the rebels? “You shouldn’t talk like that,” I said. “Not when he’s here.”

“It’s not like he can hear me,” Jax said. “Wait. Can he hear me? Is that a mage thing?”

“If it is, I’ll make sure to speak at your funeral. ‘Here lies Jax the stable hand. The only surprise is that it took seventeen years for his big mouth to get him killed.’” I stretched out my arms, and the muscles in my lower back flared with pain. That was probably my fault: I’d spent the last three nights sleeping on the hard wooden floor of Jax’s room. Not a great idea, I know, but it’s such a hassle to sneak back into my room after a night partying with Jax’s friends.

“Hey,” Jax said, glancing up at the sky. “It’s the first night of fall. Sky should be clear tonight. When you’re all done fancy-pantsing it up at the feast, you wanna head down to Whitesand Beach and do our thing?”

“Sure.” I smiled. According to Jax, he only had one memory of our mother: sitting by her side on a white beach, gazing up at the sparkling Coastal Lights in the night sky. One year when I was five or six and feeling exceptionally sad, Jax snuck me down to the beach, and we hung out there all night, looking up at the Lights together. We’d lain there, side by side in that soft, shimmering sand, and he’d sung me the lullaby she’d always sung him, “The Mother Bear’s Kiss,” and promised me that as long as those pretty green ribbons twisted in the stars, everything would be okay. Ever since then, going to the beach when the Lights came out had been our little tradition, our way to remember our mother. It was silly and sentimental, especially since I’d never even met her, but hey, it was what we had.

The tower bells clanged five times in the distance, and my smile curdled. “Ugh. I gotta get going. I’ve only got a few hours to get ready for the feast.”

“I’ll walk with you. We’ve got a few good sips of wine left.” Jax glanced down at the stairway leading to the tower’s base. “Tunnels?”


The tunnels were our not-so-secret secret. Everyone at Castle Waverly knew that during the Golden Age, when the West had been its own Kingdom and not just an occupied Province, the Old Kings had built a network of hidden passages underneath the castle, connecting the various quarters; my ancestors used them to hide from Zitochi raiders, and later, during the Great War, to ambush invaders from Lightspire. Most people thought the tunnels had long collapsed or been filled in. When Jax and I were little kids playing hide-and-seek, we’d stumbled upon a cracked hexagonal tile in a larder in the Servants’ Quarters, and discovered that a handful of the tunnels were still around. Well, still around in the loosest sense. They were dark and dusty and filled with rubble, and most of them led to dead ends. But there were still a few that went to hidden exits, like the heavy hexagonal stone that slid aside at the base of the eastern watchtower. The tunnels were perfect for sneaking out to see Jax and his friends in the middle of the night, or for getting lost whenever Headmaiden Morga decided I was overdue for an etiquette lesson.

Besides. Why would I ever walk across the courtyard like a sucker when there was an awesome hidden tunnel I could sneak through?

A few minutes later, Jax and I walked side by side through the narrow corridor, its earthen walls lined with jutting tree roots. Jax, one of the tallest guys in the stables, had to duck low to keep his shaggy head from bumping into the ceiling’s lower jags. I held my Sunstone, a gift from my father, and its soft white light lit our way. My ancestors, the hardened Kents of yore, would’ve made their way through by flickering torchlight, but who was I to turn my nose up at the latest and greatest in Western innovation?

“So. You’re really going to that feast tonight,” Jax said as he tossed me the wine skin. “I bet that’ll be fun. Putting on a fancy dresshaving your hair braidedwhispering ‘Thank you, m’lord’ when Miles kisses your hand

I sighed. Kissing Miles, the bastard of House Hampstedt, had stopped being a fantasy ever since we turned twelve and he tried to woo me with a sonnet, got an asthma attack, and threw up on himself. The fact that I’d just sprouted a good head taller than him didn’t help. “Maybe he’ll stay away from my hand this year.

“Are you kidding? That guy loves kissing your hand! I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason he comes to these things!” Jax stiffened his neck and put on a prim, nasal voice. “‘Oh, I so can’t wait for the festivities this evening! Perhaps my good Tillandra will let me caress her knuckles with my warm, wet tongue!’”

“Shut up!” I shoved him in the shoulder and he stumbled forward, tripping over a loose slab. Good. “At least I have standards. As opposed to, you know, giving every visiting miller’s daughter your world-famous ‘tour of the haystacks.’”

“Millers’ daughters love haystacks. Who am I to deny them?”

We came to a fork in the tunnels where a small path branched off; it was mostly collapsed, but you could crawl through a narrow gap in the rubble to make it to an exit in the Servants’ Quarters. Jax split off to walk through it, bracing for the usual (and hilarious) ritual of squeezing his brawny frame through the crack, but then he turned back to me, an unusually serious look on his face. “Honest question, sis. Why do you do it?”

“Do what? Go to the feast?”

“The feast, the dress, the whole thing. Why do you keep putting yourself through this?”

I turned away from my half brother. “I’m Lord Elric Kent’s daughter, Jax. I might be a bastard, but I still have my duties.”

“Come on, you know that’s not true,” Jax replied. “You already sleep out in the Servants’ Quarters every night. You don’t even bother heading in for your lessons anymore. And Lord Kent has three real daughters already. It’s not like he’s going to legitimize you. I’m sure if you went to him and said you didn’t want to go to these things anymore, he wouldn’t even care.”

I didn’t say anything, just stared out silently at the dark passage in front of me. Jax had no idea, no idea at all, how much his words cut. He couldn’t. He just saw the side of me that I showed him, the side that didn’t mind sleeping in the rafters of the stables or wearing the same pair of dirt-crusted trousers three days in a row. He didn’t know how much I secretly liked the fancy dresses and the formal dances, how often I still closed my eyes and imagined myself being a noblewoman, how much I envied those three little girls.

He didn’t know how desperately I still wanted my father’s love.

“Tilla?” Jax asked.

I lifted the skin to my lips and swallowed the last of the wine, let its warmth slide down my throat and into my belly. Then I turned and tossed it to Jax, forcing a smile. “Free wine and free food. How could I pass that up?”

He caught the skin, shrugged, and turned to the gap in the wall. “Can’t argue with that. See you after the feast, sis.” And then he was gone.

I walked the rest of the way on my own. A cold draft blew in from somewhere, swaying the cobwebs. I closed my eyes and savored its feeling on my skin, even as it made all my hair stand on end. It felt better than the sting of Jax’s words.

THE TUNNELS’ EXIT IN THE castle was in a steam chamber in the lower baths. I waited in the dark passageway under the tile for a good few minutes, making absolutely sure it was empty; once I had started to open it when Headmaiden Morga was inside, and I saw way too much of her colossal, naked ass. As soon as I could see it was clear, I shoved the hexagonal tile aside and pulled myself up, scrambling my feet against the tunnel wall, and then closed the passageway off after myself as quietly as I could.

The bathing lobby was empty, thank the Old Kings. I needed to get cleaned up before the feast. And by “get cleaned up,” I meant soak in a hot tub for a good hour.

By that point in my life, I could honestly have gone on just fine without most of the comforts of the Nobles’ Quarters. I didn’t need the fancy stuffed quails they served in the Great Hall; the brown goat stew they cooked up in the Servants’ Quarters tasted just fine. I didn’t need to sleep in my canopy bed with its fluffy pillows and soft sheets; as much as the floor of Jax’s room made my back ache, I felt safer sleeping down there, with people I liked, than alone in a cold, stone room. And I sure as hell didn’t need to sit around trying to memorize the Kent family tree for Headmaiden Morga, not when I could be out hiking through the woods or lounging on the beach or playing Drinking Truths with Jax’s friends.

But hot baths? I couldn’t live without long, hot baths.

I reached for the handle of the door to the Lord’s Bath, and that was when I heard it. The splashing of water. The squeal of three giggling voices. The hushing of a stern, older one.

Evelyn Kent and her daughters. My half sisters. House Kent’s rightful heirs. Playing and enjoying their bath before the feast while their doting servants scrubbed them clean. Getting ready to sit at the head of the room, by my father’s side, while I had to sit all the way in the back.

So I wouldn’t be getting my bath after all. The real daughters got first dibs. As always.

I stormed out of the bath, spun a corner, and stalked toward my room. A familiar bitterness soured in me. Maybe Jax was right. Maybe it was time to give up on this childish fantasy of my father deciding to legitimize me, this idea that I’d be a real noblewoman with a castle to call her own and a last name to answer to. Maybe it was time to stop dreaming about being Lady Tillandra Kent and embrace just being Tilla of the tunnels, who sleeps on the floor and has mud on her pants. Maybe it was time to tell my father good-bye.

With every step I took, I became more and more certain. I was going to do it, and do it tonight. Screw this feast, screw braiding my hair, and especially screw that fancy teal dress with the beaded collar and the flowing train. I’d blow it all off. Instead, I’d spend the night hanging out in the Servants’ Quarters with Jax’s crew, dancing and laughing and getting the best pick of the feast’s leftovers. Maybe I’d even make out with that hot, broad-shouldered blacksmith’s apprentice. And when my father came to look for me tomorrow morning, I would tell him I was done with this and done with him. I’d embrace the commoner side of me, and be as happy and content as Jax. This was it. This was the last straw.

Then I threw open my door and found my father in my room, staring silently out my window, his thin hands folded neatly behind his back.

“Ah!” I startled, then pulled the door shut behind me. “Father! I didn’tI wasn’t expecting

He turned to me, his head cocked slightly to the side. He was already dressed for the feast, wearing a black tunic that clung to his tall, narrow frame. His brown hair hung straight at his shoulders, and you could only make out the faintest silver strands starting to appear in his neat beard. A narrow gold chain lay across his collarbone with clasps on each shoulder, and at the center of it dangled a golden medallion with an eagle emblazoned on it: the crest of the High Lord of the Western Province. “Hello, Tillandra,” he said.

“Hi!” I blurted out, my eyes darting wildly around the room. If I’d known he was going to come by, I would have at least gotten it ready. It wasn’t just that my bed was unmade or that my clothes were all over the floor. It was how obvious it was that I didn’t spend any time here. My desk was a mess of dusty papers, stacks of uncompleted assignments for Headmaiden Morga. The walls were covered with keepsakes I hadn’t touched in years: a wooden mask from the time my father took me to Bridgetown, a pinwheel from a harvest festival three years ago, a wooden sword from back when Jax and I would play Warriors and Zitochi with the Dolan brothers. It looked like a child’s room. A child who’d forgotten it.

“You were out,” my father said drily. “I was waiting for you.”

“I wasum” I scrambled for a plausible excuse. Bathing? I was too dry. Riding? I was too clean. Studying? No one would ever believe that.

“You were out getting into trouble with that half brother of yours,” my father said, his disdain for Jax barely concealed.

I looked down at my feet, cheeks burning. “What can I help you with?”

He walked toward me slowly, stiffly, his face unreadable. My father was always a calm, serious man, never rising to anger or showing any fear. I’d spent hours trying to analyze a memory of his face, trying to find the real expression behind the stern front, hoping to crack it for just one smile. “I know that you have been removing yourself from courtly life lately. That you have become distant here, preferring the company of the servants.”

“II may have skipped a few lessons here and there, but—”

“I’m not chastising you, Tilla,” he said sharply, and I decided it’d be best to shut up and let him talk. “I’m saying I don’t blame you. I know you and I were once much closer. And I know you’re smart enough to understand why that had to end. You know our laws.”

I nodded. I’d heard that in the other Provinces of Noveris, bastards were treated differently, but out in the West, the laws were clear. Each Lord could take exactly one unlawfully born child as the House bastard. This child would be raised in the castle but separate from the other children, alongside the family, but not part of it. At any moment, the Lord could legitimize the bastard as a rightful child, or disown them altogether. The reasons for this were coldly practical: kids died, wombs went barren, and a Lord always needed an heir. Jax liked to call us “noble spares.”

“I married Lady Evelyn Yrenwood because I needed her father’s armies to keep the peace,” my father continued. “I had heard it said she could never have children, but those rumors were wrong. The laws of the Old Kings dictate that her daughters are my rightful heirs. The laws dictate that you must always come after them. The High Lord of the West must uphold the old laws, even when he would choose not to. That’s the cost of power. That’s the burden. We’re all bound by our roles.”

I nodded again, but less certainly. What was he saying? That he only married Lady Evelyn because he had to? That he wanted to legitimize me but couldn’t because of the laws? That he really did love me as a daughter?

No. Couldn’t be.

“Do you know why the royal family is visiting us?” he asked. That was a subject change if I’d ever heard one. I struggled to keep up.

“As part of her education, Princess Lyriana must visit all four Provinces,” I said, happy to know the answer to this one. Like everyone else in the castle, I’d been gossiping about the Princess’s visit for months. “She grew up in the city of Lightspire, so she knows the Heartlands, obviously, and she’s already visited the Eastern Baronies and the Southlands. That just leaves us.”

“That’s why the Princess is here, yes,” my father said. “But why is the Archmagus here with her?”

I stared at him blankly. To protect the Princess? To tour the land? Something about taxes?

“He’s here as a show of force. To remind us of our place. He’s here so we know just how quickly the King could tighten his grip on us, if we so much as threatened to wriggle out.”

“Oh,” I said. I knew plenty of Westerners were unhappy with being part of the Kingdom, of course. Once the old-timers down in the Servants’ Quarters got a few pints of beer in them, they’d start cursing the royal tax collectors and singing ballads about the Golden Age and telling dirty jokes about Lightspire priests. And I heard the stories that came in, about those rebels who called themselves Rattlesnakes, ambushing caravans from the Heartlands and smashing the Titan shrines dotting the roads. But I’d never thought that was a big deal, just some angry people and the grumblings of old fogeys. I’d always thought most people in the West had accepted King Leopold Volaris of Lightspire as our rightful ruler. Was I just sheltered? Were things much worse than I’d thought?

“I found this on your desk,” my father said. He reached into a pocket in his tunic and held something out, something small and golden that sparkled in the sunlight. My stomach plunged with embarrassment as I recognized it: a thin golden necklace with a pendant of an elderbloom blossom. I’d bought it from a traveling Heartlands merchant a week ago, who swore up and down they were all the rage in Lightspire. I never bought fancy jewelry, but that stupid merchant had put the idea in my head that I’d be meeting the Princess, after all, and if she saw my necklace and liked it, well, that was the first step to becoming friends, and could I imagine being friends with the Princess?

It had seemed so plausible then. But now, staring at the necklace in his hands, my cheeks burned. “I justI thoughtThis merchant, he was really


  • "Jon Snow won't be the only 'bastard' whose name readers will remember."
    Entertainment Weekly

  • "Shvarts combines mystery, romance, and fantasy with dynamic and diverse characters of different ethnicities to create a book that is difficult to put down. This story has something for everyone; readers will be clamoring for the sequel."

  • "Shvarts' action-packed debut champions diversity, counsels perseverance, and highlights the human cost of war. The pace is zippy, Shvarts' mythology is rich, and...the conclusion packs thrills and a serious emotional wallop."
    Publishers Weekly

  • "Shvarts
    creates a diverse world with distinct geography and subcultures for this
    series opener. Adventure-loving fantasy readers will eat it up."—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
May 8, 2018
Page Count
384 pages

Andrew Shvarts

About the Author

Andrew Shvarts is the author of the Royal Bastards trilogy. He has a BA in English Literature and Russian from Vassar College. He works for Pixelberry Studios, making mobile games like High School StoryChoices, and more. Andrew lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, son, and two cats. 

Learn more about this author