The Storm Prince, Chapter 9

The moon was full and glinted silver from the shining flowers of the palace garden below. Beri leaned against the balcony railing, an empty flute dangling from his gloved fingers. What a shame it was he could not get really, truly drunk on these tiny glasses of champagne. A summery breeze blew against his face, bringing him the scent of hot flowers and baked grass left over from the day.

He imagined what Karen would say if she were here. Okay, kid, you’re getting sloppy. Time to go to bed. Tears threatened, and he flung the glass as hard and far as he could into the moonlit garden. It shattered against some unseen surface with a delicate tinkle.

At least his mother was gone. She had said, All of the money your father spent on rehab is wasted now, and Beri had snarled back, My father is dead. Everything he ever did was a waste. To his surprise, it was enough to rebuff her and she left him alone.

He was never going home.

Down the hall behind him, distantly, girls’ voices giggled. Beri closed his eyes and willed himself invisible. He had never been good at glamourie. Just this once, he prayed, just let it work this once.
The laughter stopped. They had seen him.

“Beri?” The voice was Linnit’s. “What are you doing out here?”

Sighing, he turned to find Linnit and Glianna approaching arm-in-arm. They were both dressed for the ball, Linnit in blue and Glianna wore crimson. Linnit’s golden hair was woven into a complex braid and spotted with white flowers, while coal-dark strands of Glianna’s had come straggling out from the ruby pins that held most of it off her neck. Both ladies were flushed, eyes shining with humor and drink. A bottle made of green glass hung from one of Linnit’s hands.

Glianna bumped her friend with one hip and tipped Beri a wink. “He is brooding, obviously.”

Linnit tittered. “What has become of your cravat, Most High?”

Beri opened his mouth to reply and found that he did not know. “I honestly cannot remember. I must have lost it somewhere.”

Glianna clucked admonishment and unwound her arm from Linnit’s. “Ah well. It hardly suited you anyway. We have been looking everywhere for you.” She sidled nearer, wrapping her hand around the crook of his elbow. She smelled of wine and jasmine.

“Really? I thought Mercund was angry with me.”

Linnit snorted and waved dismissively. “Please. If we stopped speaking to everyone who offended Mercund, we would have no friends at all.” She lifted the bottle and swigged from its mouth, then offered it to Beri. “Peace?”

He took the bottle from her and swallowed a long draught of the red wine inside it. It was unlikely to be poisoned, since she was drinking from it as well. But who cared if it was? He handed it back to her. “I looked for you. Where have you been all night? ”

Glianna rolled her eyes. “We never intended to abandon you. Your mother swooped in so quickly, though, and my mother was with her…I simply cannot abide hearing her complain about the way I have coiffed my hair, Beri, and then you were dancing with the Queen… you are too high ranking to escape until they are ready to release you.”

Had that plain creature in orange been Glianna’s mother? He had never met two Fey so dissimilar.

Beri grimaced and Linnit offered the bottle again. “You need this more than I do,” she said. “How awful was it?”

Beri thought of the Queen’s voice: We would like you to rid us of him. “Awful.” He swallowed another mouthful of the warm liquor. It was strong enough to heat his throat and belly, and the bottle was pleasantly heavy still.

“Bygones.” Glianna waved her free arm expansively. “Come down from here. You are cold and lonely.”

And it was true; he was cold and lonely despite the Summerland’s constant eighty-degree heat. He let Glianna drag him down the hall toward the lights and music of the ball but they did not go back inside. Instead the girls turned down another hallway and ran lightly up a flight of stairs. He was thoroughly lost by the time they came to a door carved with the depiction of a hart. Lights and shadows flickered underneath it. Muffled, pipes and a harp played some boisterous jig.

Glianna knocked a sharp rhythm against the door and it swung open. A flushed and sweating Flame Sprite opened the door, panting. “Password?”

Linnit whooped laughter. “Jareth, you fool, you have already opened the door! Next time, call out first.”

“Ah!” Jareth slapped his forehead, ruffling his red and gold hair and sending a wave of heat washing over Beri. “I knew I had forgotten something! Come inside, then. Who is your friend?”

“This is Beri,” Glianna said. “No need to worry, he can hold his tongue.”

Jareth shrugged and fell back to allow them passage. Beri found himself standing in an underground cavern with bare rock walls. Bonfires blazed in a dozen places, and every few seconds they changed colors, first red, then green, then violet and back to red again. Stalactites glistened in the firelight, their creamy surfaces picking up the colors of the shifting flames.

In one of the cave’s uneven corners a group of musicians performed a rowdy song he almost recognized. Fey of all sorts danced and capered in whatever way best suited their forms. None of them seemed to be doing the same steps, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

It hit him suddenly: the song was Sheena is a Punk Rocker Now, but arranged for pipes and harp and violin. For a moment he found himself unable to close his surprised mouth.

Laughing, Glianna clicked his jaws together with one finger and dragged him inside. “Tell me you know some dance besides the waltz.”

Affection for the dark-haired beauty washed over him, or maybe it was gratitude and wine. Either way, he looped his arm around her waist and twirled her onto the dance floor.

The band stopped covering the Ramones and tried their strings on Thin Lizzy and The Dropkick Murphys. Beri danced with Glianna, then Linnit, then some tiny gnome who only came up to his waist and gestured him down so she could kiss his nose. He gave the little Fey a very solemn bow before Glianna snagged his arm and propelled him into a strathspey so fast he could barely keep up.

When the song ended they fell apart, laughing and gasping for breath. Glianna curtsied, still grinning. Her face was flushed and strands of dark hair stuck to her neck.

“I have never seen you smile before,” she said.

Beri felt the expression in question fade a little under her scrutiny. “That cannot be true.”

Glianna shrugged. “I have seen you smile politely. But I have never seen you happy.”

“I am drunk,” Beri said dismissively. “Where has Linnit gone?”

Her dark eyes went mischievous again and she pointed. Near a green fire, Linnit was wrapped around Jareth, kissing him with drunken passion.

Beri chuckled. “Well. She seems too busy to miss us.”

“I need air,” Glianna announced. “Come on.”

She laced her fingers through his and pulled him through the crowd as the music started again. Past the edge of the firelight was an opening wide enough to walk through if he ducked. A cool breeze tantalized his skin, lifting the hair off his neck. The cave’s mouth was softened with dead pine needles and enclosed by a semi-circle of toadstools. They did not step over the demarcating fungus.

“Why are you still wearing these gloves?” Glianna asked, holding his hand up to study it in the pale moonlight.

“To be honest, I had forgotten about them,” Beri admitted. “Besides, I would hate to frighten you.”

Glianna snorted. “Have you ever cast the Birthright by accident?”

Beri shook his head. “It is impossible to cast it by accident.”

“I thought so. And we are friends, yes?”

“I think, in time, we could become friends.”

Glianna shrugged, bare shoulders lined with silver. “Fair enough. In any case, I believe you mean me no harm.”

“That is true.”

“So take them off.”

Beri hesitated. He certainly hated them. But the idea of taking anything off at Glianna’s order seemed…intimate. She had made no secret of wanting something from him, something she might mean to get with cleverness and sex. His head was full of liquor fumes and music and the curvature of her body under the tight bodice of her dress. There was a time, not long ago, when caution could be damned in the presence of flesh that comely. He could bury himself in this girl, and for a while forget about grief and fear and homelessness.

This was not a good time to make decisions. He was too drunk. He had stopped drinking for just this reason; because when he drank he was stupid and he couldn’t stop himself.

“Fine,” Glianna said, “I will take them off for you.”

She tugged on the leather covering his left thumb. “Glianna-“

“What?” The glove slid off easily and she tossed it over her shoulder. “There, is that not better? Gone the way of your cravat. Give me the other one.”

She didn’t wait for his response. She grabbed his right hand and that glove sailed over her shoulder as well. Then she took his hands in hers, threading their fingers together.

“You have lovely hands,” she said. She did not meet his eyes. “Do you play an instrument?”

She took a step closer to him, her dress rustling around her feet, and suddenly her belly and breasts were pressed against him. He felt her heartbeat racing through the fabric between them. Beri cleared his throat.

“No. I sing a little. Wizards need to be musical.”

“Of course. For rituals.”

“Right.”

She looked up at him with wide, dark eyes. For a moment her whole heart was visible in the softness of her mouth and the uncertainty of her gaze. “Beri? Are you in love with the Queen?”

“What? No! Whatever makes you ask such a thing?”

Glianna blinked. “Just…the way you looked at her. During your dance.”

Beri breathed out, wishing he could clear his mind of its insufferable fog. “She…reminds me of someone I used to know.”

“Is it the exile? I hear the Dragonsbane looks very much like her mother.”

Beri swallowed. “Right. Her, too.” And now he was lying to a girl he was standing close enough to kiss. Oh, Goddess spare me, he thought desperately. “Glianna-“

She lifted their hands to her line of sight, shifting her grip to encircle his wrist. Her small hand could not quite reach around it. She placed a very soft kiss at the center of his palm. “What?”

She pressed his hand against her cheek. Her skin was smooth as petals and still clammy with the perspiration of hard dancing. Absently, Beri ran his thumb over her cheekbone. He had not realized how much a pair of suede gloves could feel like sensory deprivation. Her eyes drifted closed.

His heart raced. You need to put a stop to this, he thought, stop this now. “This is a very bad idea.”

“Why?” Her eyes opened: she pinned him with eyes so dark stars reflected in them like pools of deep water. “Is there someone else?”

Yes, his pounding heart whispered, but that was not true, was it? Karen was dead.

“No,” he said.

Glianna released his hands and wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. He leaned down to meet her kiss. She tasted of wine. Her lips parted, yielded. He could feel her desire in the hot line of her body forced against him, in the surprising strength with which she pulled him to her. His heartbeat went thready. Blood pulsed beneath every inch of his skin, begging. Frantic, he buried his hand in her hair to pull her closer.

Sunlight gleamed from honey-brown curls, and he tipped that wicked smile up to meet his kiss. She laughed against his mouth. Beri’s heart swelled, filled up the cavity of his chest like a bright yellow balloon filling with breath. I love you, he thought. Stay here with me. Please.

A hard shudder of magic thrummed against his skin. Shocked, Beri jumped away from Glianna. Her face was as stunned as he felt.

She bespelled me, he realized, horror mounting.

“What have you done?” He whispered. She shook her head slowly, as if negating something unbelievable. Beri grabbed her shoulders to force her to meet his eyes. “You…you liar, you lured me out here to magic me! What have you done?”

“I-I did not! I did not mean to!” Her dark eyes filled with tears and she pushed him away. “W-who was that girl? She…that girl was not Fey!”

“What girl?” Confused, Beri looked around and found himself alone with Glianna. “What are you talking about?”

“That girl, the girl you remembered when you kissed me! The one you are in love with!”

Beri felt his mouth drop open again. “You are a telepath,” he whispered.

Glianna lifted her hands and buried her face in them. “You are a pervert.”

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