The Storm Prince, Chapter 4

Hi all! I’m going to mush two chapters together today, since they’re both very short. Enjoy!

Everyone told him he was brilliant. They claimed they had never seen a weather worker his age with so much potential, but they were lying because his father was king. All of the other magi were older than him, had more control of their power. He had to work much harder than anyone else in his class to achieve the same results. At his old school, his teachers had often stared at him with open-mouthed wonder and proclaimed they could teach him nothing else. At the Academy, he was lucky when his teachers were not annoyed at his inability. Magic had never been hard for him before.

He couldn’t read the words in his grimoire. As if his troubles weren’t great enough, now he had forgotten how to read. He had six languages and he wasn’t even literate in his native tongue.

The door slammed open and his heart leapt up. She was eleven, a year and a half younger than he was, and her brown curls were an untamed halo around her head. She stood with her hands in her pockets and her hip cocked with childish arrogance.

Flatly, she said, “Beri, it smells like nerd in here.”

“I did not know you had arrived,” he said.

“Uh-huh.” Her lips twisted in sardonic doubt. “Please tell me you’re not studying on this beautiful Saturday in June when you knew your best friend was flying in today.”

He had been doing just that, hoping to finish before she caught him. She thought he was brilliant, too. Of all the people in the world, it was her he least wished to disabuse of the notion. “I have a cloud test on Monday.”

She rolled her eyes. “I have an idea. Why don’t you take me to the beach and show me how to make clouds there?”

He yearned to go with her. Of their own accord, his hands closed the book. “There are too many distractions at the beach.”

She smiled, dark eyes twinkling. “If you come outside, I’ll buy you a snow cone.”

He raised his eyebrow. “You do not have the money for a snow cone.”

“Yes I do,” she reached into her pocket. Triumphantly, she withdrew a few wrinkled bills. “Lawn mowing money, buddy! I took it to the bank and had it changed already.” She shot the money a faintly disappointed look and said, “Of course, in dollars it was a twenty, but whatever! I still have enough for snow cones.”

He had to smile. “I have so much work to do.”

She shoved the money back in her pocket. “I’ll buy you a purple snow cone.”

Pushing the chair out with a groan of mock-exasperation, he said, “Temptation, thy name is grape syrup.”

She laughed, the sound of wind and bells and childish pleasure. “You are such a nerd.”

“Beri.” His name was a small whisper and a puff of breath on his face. “Wake up, Beri.”

He opened his eyes to find Nikki inches from him, her head pillowed on her hand and her little face grim. He blinked a few times to bring his sister’s features into sharper focus. He had fallen asleep in his clothing. Beri was not surprised. The mixture of grief and fighting his magic had left him exhausted. “Hmm. Nikki. What is it?”

“Was Karen your girlfriend?”

Beri hardly knew how to answer her. “Something like that.”

“Then why did you say those things in the throne room?” Nikki asked. “Why did you say I should not get attached to humans if you do?”

Beri sighed and rubbed his face with his hands to buy himself time. His dreams still clung to him, and he had to push them away. “I did not mean those things I said.”

“Then why did you say them?” Nikki persisted. “Mother, too. Karen was not my pet, Beri. She was my friend.”

Tears burned the back of his throat and Beri rolled onto his back to avoid looking at his sister. The ceiling above him was painted with clouds and blue sky. He wished Solis were here with him, wished she had survived to teach their littlest sister the way she had taught him. Poor Nikki, he thought, she was born into a family full of brilliant siblings and they are all dead. All she has left is me. “I wish I never had to explain this to you. Do you know what a bigot is?”

“No,” Nikki admitted.

“A bigot is a person who hates other people for being different. Aynia is a bigot.”

“Oh.” Nikki fell silent for a moment. “And you wanted her to think you are, too?”

“Yes,” Beri agreed.

“That hardly makes sense,” Nikki said. “If she believes foolish things, and you believe true things, you should not pretend you agree with her. You should teach her how to be less foolish.”

Beri wasn’t sure whether he should laugh or weep. “It is not that simple.”

“Of course it is. I will explain it to her if you are afraid.”

Beri spun back to face her and gripped her arm to keep her still. “Nikkiana Quintinar, do not dare to speak a word of this to the Queen. She will kill us both, do you understand? We will die here underground without ever seeing the ocean again.”

Nikki’s blue eyes were very wide. His heart beat too quickly against his ribs.

“You are hurting me,” Nikki said. She kept her voice smooth and measured as if she wished to alarm him no further. Ashamed, Beri dropped his hand.

“I am sorry,” he told her, looking away from her frightened face. “Please, Nikki, you must not speak of it. We simply have no other choice.”

“I do not understand. Aynia has been so kind. Do you really believe she would hurt us?”

Beri sighed. “I promise you, she would hurt us. Please. Please, say nothing about Karen, or about humans at all, even if she asks you.”
Nikki nodded slowly, as if she still wasn’t convinced it was the best course of action to take. Anxiety curled around his guts. He had been too free with his thoughts around the child. Oh, fool, he thought, you have let emotion ruin you yet again.

“I will keep quiet,” Nikki promised. Her lower lip trembled and Beri pulled her into a tight hug before he had to watch her tears fall. He could not weep, and he suspected his sister’s tears might undo his resolve. She shook in his arms with silent sobs. He did not stop her, though he knew their mother would have. Perhaps allowing her to cry so openly would retard her abilities to survive at court. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to disallow her grief.

“She taught me how to color inside the lines,” Nikki wept. “And…and…she used to make up songs with my name in them. I do not understand why I am not supposed to be sad.”

Beri kissed the top of her head and said nothing. It was impossible to speak past the tears in his throat.

*

His mother summoned him to breakfast in her chambers after Nikki went away to classes with her governess. Mother ate with calm, measured movements while Beri cut a piece of fruit into smaller and smaller pieces without eating any of them. She wore a dark blue dress today; it would have been better on a Sidhe with darker coloring. On his mother the vibrant blue of the dress made her skin look pale and washed-out. Beri found himself in gray again. Whoever was picking out his clothing obviously had an aversion to color.

“You have not eaten a single bite, Beriani,” Mother observed.

Beri speared a tiny piece of melon and placed it in his mouth. It was too sweet and he had to chew it for far too long before it was smooth enough to make its way down his throat.

“I intend to join the Queen today for a Hunt,” Mother announced conversationally. “You are invited to come along, if you like.”

“What will be the quarry?” he muttered. “A Canadian?”

“Oh, stop,” Mother admonished. “Now you are being unkind. The Queen has expressed concern for your happiness. She only wishes to see that you are well.”

“She only wishes to see how prettily I can curtsy,” Beri snapped.

Mother swallowed. Her voice was tight when she said, “Perhaps you should stay behind. You are obviously in no mood for polite company.”

“No, I am coming. Far be it from me to deny the wishes of our glorious Queen.” Beri slammed his fork down on the table, causing his mother to jump. “I would hate to have her think I am grieving.”

“It would certainly not hurt your case if she saw you behaving gaily with the other young people,” Mother said. “Do not forget, we have a throne to retake. We need soldiers and she has them.”

“Soldiers,” Beri scoffed. “We have no land and no home. We have not even clothes of our own to wear. She dresses us like dolls and allows us to live with her threats over our heads. We are paupers with titles and pedigreed blood. Perhaps what I should do is assassinate her consort and seduce her. That would induce her to give us an army fairly quickly, I suspect.”

Mother blinked a few times, then placed her own fork on the table with a controlled click. “You are certainly not hunting today.”

“I said I am coming.” Beri pushed his chair out so hard it toppled backward behind him, then flung his napkin down over his plate. He left without righting the chair.

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