The Storm Prince, Chapter 3

Aaaand here’s chapter 3! I hope you enjoy it!

A Hob governess and a pair of “bodyguards” in Hunt armor waited outside his door to accompany them to the throne room. Nikki held Beri’s hand until the governess said, “No no, m’lady musn’t cling. It is unbecoming.”

Subdued, Nikki dropped her brother’s hand and trudged beside him, eyes downcast at the rich carpets. When the governess looked away Beri took his sister’s hand again and she smiled up at him. The soldier on his left smirked. Beri met his gaze and narrowed his eyes until the soldier looked away. Nikki skipped beside him, oblivious.

The palace at Avalon was decorated in a minimalist style, with white marble floors and walls of glass overlooking the sea. The Summer Palace, on the other hand, was so baroque he could barely take in all the details. Every piece of furniture was carved with vines and flowers. Every painting was a masterwork, every carpet was silk and priceless. The windows hung with thick velvet that mostly served to obscure the greenery outside them.

He could imagine what Karen would say if she were here. Jesus. Maybe I should have worn my good hoodie.

The doors to the throne room stood open as they approached. Nervously, Nikki dropped his hand and patted her hair. Two heralds in green livery bowed so low their faces disappeared, then one ducked quickly inside. Beri heard the sound of a brass horn trumpeting and then someone with a melodious voice announced, “The High King to be, Beriani Quintinar, and the High Crown Princess, Nikkiana Quintinar.”

The heralds at the door, Nikki’s governess, and the two soldiers looked at Beri and Nikki expectantly. Suddenly overcome with nerves, Beri knelt beside his sister and adjusted her sash, pulling the bow straight behind her.

“What is she like?” Beri whispered.

Nikki’s small face was serious. “She looks a lot like Karen.”

Beri stood. He took one very deep breath and walked through the doors with his little sister beside him. The room was full of people, Fey in every variety imaginable, dressed in everything from fine silk to spun mist. The faces he looked into were blank as porcelain, but whispers hissed from every corner of the room. The courtiers fell away to allow him passage through their ranks. Beri tipped his chin up a little more than usual and smoothed his own expression to match theirs. Near the foot of the throne, his mother clasped her hands together in front of her dress. Though her expression was as flat as any other courtiers, Beri wondered why she looked so unhappy.

Beri had always been told the Summer Queen was remarkably gorgeous, even for one of the Daoine Sidhe, and it was true. He had spent his life around some of the most beautiful Fey in the world, but Aynia was enough to make his heart skip. The Queen of Light sat on a wooden throne with her bare feet crossed at the ankles and her hands resting in her lap. She wore a green silk shift and her golden hair trailed, loose, over the arms of her throne. A single, white daisy was tucked behind her ear. He found himself relieved by the simplicity of her clothing. If she wore anything more elaborate he feared he might be blinded.

As Beri approached Aynia dipped her head in a nod of acknowledgement. Beside him, Nikkiana curtsied low. Beri’s first inclination was to look down, away from the shimmering vessel of Summer magic, but then he remembered his father had never bowed to anyone. He returned her nod but didn’t lower his eyes. He felt sweat bead at his hairline and caused the drops to evaporate with a small effort of will.

Aynia smiled, and suddenly Beri realized Nikki was right: she looked remarkably like Karen. Her eyes were brilliantly green where Karen’s were rich brown, but they were shaped the same way. Her face was the same sweet heart shape, and her lips were the same lush bow. Beri suddenly found himself unable to look away. “We are very pleased you have come. Your mother has told us so many wonderful things about you.” Magic buzzed in her voice like the sound of distant bees.
It seemed rude to mention that she’d had him shot and taken prisoner. Instead Beri said, “I am quite pleased to be here.”

Aynia’s smile widened, and his heart sped up without his permission. Fool, he scolded himself, keep your head. “Have our servants been kind to you?”

“Very kind,” Beri agreed, hoping he did not sound as breathless as he feared. “Your hospitality has been impeccable.”

Aynia allowed her smile to fade then, a little at a time. “Unfortunately, we have not summoned you for the pleasure of your company, though we hope to do just that very soon. We have news that may interest you.”

Beri blinked and adjusted his expression to one of quizzical pleasantry. An image of his mother’s hands popped into his head, clenched so tightly their knuckles were white. Whatever the Queen of Light might tell him, he suspected interesting did not mean pleasant. He prepared himself even as anxiety chewed the inside of his belly. “I am most interested in anything you choose to say.”

The whispers he’d heard were silent now. Queen Aynia said, “It has come to our attention that you have expressed concern for what became of your human companion,” she said. “As a courtesy to a visiting ruler, we sent a search party out to look for the girl. The Wild Hunt found her.” Aynia stopped, took a deep breath as if reluctant to continue. “Her body had washed up on the lakeshore. There was… evidence of Nixie activity.” She paused again. “There was a great deal of blood on the sand.”

Beside him, Nikki cried, “No!” Everything else was silent. Beri placed a hand on Nikki’s shoulder, and she threw her arms around his waist, sobbing into the gray velvet of his coat.

Aynia gave Nikki a pitying look. “Oh, the poor child.”

Beri cleared his throat. For a brief, horrifying second, he found himself unable to make any sound at all. Then his training took over and he said, “Yes. Unfortunate one, she cannot yet understand that one should not allow oneself to become attached to humans.” He looked down at Nikki’s hair and tried to focus on breathing. “Humans are very delicate, Your Grace. A wise heart does not allow itself to grow too fond of them.”

Nikki looked up at him with stunned horror, face red and shining with tears. His insides lurched and he looked quickly away. Beri feigned an embarrassed smile. “Although, to be honest, the creature was quite charming. The princess cannot really be blamed for grieving.”

From Beri’s right side his mother’s voice said, “Please forgive us, Your Majesty. If it please you, we should comfort the young princess. She seems most distraught at the loss of her pet.”

“Of course,” Aynia said pityingly. “You may all be dismissed.”

Beri lifted Nikki, ignoring the burst of pain from his side. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. Hot tears bled through the fabric of his clothing, and Beri followed his mother out of the throne room. His hands shook. He hoped the flounces of Nikki’s dress would hide it.

They made it back to Beri’s room without speaking. The leprechaun body servant was still there.

“Get out,” his mother hissed. The little Fey scampered for the door and closed it behind himself.

Mother said, “You did well, Beri. Very well indeed.”

He thought, I should check for spies, but when he reached for the magic that lived at his center it felt shaky and frightening. If he tried to use it now the temperature in this room would drop forty degrees in a second. His control was cracking. He had to do something quickly, or the whole of the Summerlands would freeze.

“It is not true,” Beri said. His voice was low and full of pain. “She is lying to test me.”

His mother said, “You know she cannot lie while she wears a Queen’s mantle of power, Beri. Your father was the same. She could lose her magic if she lied to you about this.”

“It cannot be true.” Beri’s voice cracked, this time, and the air currents in the room swung wildly around him. The temperature dropped a few degrees and recovered. The Queen cannot lie, he thought. Karen is-

He set Nikki down. She wailed miserably but didn’t reach for him again. “I did this,” he whispered. “I…I told her to jump in that lake. I told her it would be safer, that we could not be tracked over the water.”

Mother placed a hand on his shoulder. Beri shrugged her off. Being eaten by Nixies was not a clean death, or a painless one. That sweet girl with the wicked smile and the wild ideas would have sucked in water as she tried to scream. His stomach lurched with nausea and he gritted his teeth against his gorge.

“Beri,” Mother whispered, “This room is getting very cold.”

He met his mother’s eyes. Steam hissed out between her lips. He said, “I am…I was in love with her, Mother.”

Mother’s eyes clouded with pain and her lips made a little o. “Beri. You are so young. You do not really understand yet what love is.”

Beri laughed wildly. “Really? When you came for Nikki, do you know where I was?”

His mother shook her head. Beri said, “I was applying for a U.S work visa. I never intended to set foot on Faerie soil again.” He paused. “When a person decides to self-impose exile to protect his mother from the scandal of a trial, I suspect his understanding of love is fairly clear.”

Mother’s blue eyes were wide and horrified, glistening with tears. “The girl was human, Beri.”

Beri barked another harsh laugh. “Yes. Yes, Mother, I had noticed that about her.”

His mother’s hand drifted up to her face to pinch the bridge of her nose; she might have been staving off tears or another of her headaches. “You have to stop this. You have to stop talking. Did you hear what the Queen said? ‘It has come to our attention that you have expressed concern for what became of your human companion…’ do you know what that means? Someone heard you asking after her. And they reported it to the Queen.”

“I am not afraid of the Queen!”

Mother clenched her fists and shouted, “Then you are stupider than I thought!”

Stunned, Beri closed his mouth with a click. His mother had never raised her voice to him before. She had also never cried in front of him, but now her shoulders hitched and she sobbed aloud. Mother covered her face with her hands and turned her back on him.

“Oh, poor Mirya,” she moaned, voice muffled by her palms. “She gave up everything for those children.”

Mother was right; the room had grown very cold. Beri took a single deep breath and poured out a little energy, pushing the air molecules in the room back up to speed. It had been a long time since he had lost control quite so thoroughly. No, that was not true. Just this week he had kissed a half-human girl like she was air and he was drowning. He had lost control of himself that day she met him at customs. He had yet to regain it.

Beri sank down on the bed beside his sister, and Nikki leaned her head against his shoulder.

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5 Comments »

  1. chalaedra Said:

    I love it. I can feel Beri’s pain. You are doing an great job!

    • Michelle John Said:

      Thank you! I’m glad you like it so far.

      • chalaedra Said:

        You’re not posting entire chapters, are you? You’re just giving us a real nudge to want more?

  2. Michelle John Said:

    I was posting whole chapters, honestly. This is a thing I write while I am stuck, so I didn’t think much of using it for blog filler…

    • chalaedra Said:

      Ah! I was just wondering because the chapters are so short. I still really, truly like it. You are a very engaging author.


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