22658 YD (1336 CE) Heartwing, Cydrithenna
One of the rare moments I had to sneak off to the market occurred shortly before one of Jemier’s birthdays. I found the perfect gift, one that spoke to Jemier’s apparently sole intellectual pursuit as an amateur battle historian, a runic dagger.
Inlaid with gems and beset with magickal runes of the Last Dragons, runic daggers had fallen out of favor during the second Drakon dynasty. Once ubiquitous, many were smelted, sold off-world, or simply buried beneath time. Jemier had always wanted one, citing an old general of House Wraithstone and how he’d fended off Frost Giants single-handedly with nothing but a runic dagger.
I’d found one and paid mountains from my meager princely allowance for it. I’d all but drained what I’d acquired over my youth. Its formidable condition came from eons of care and the original, polished wood chest the maker had placed it in. I kept the dagger in its chest and tucked it beneath my bed. In the meantime, I drove up Jemier’s anticipation through friendly taunts.
“I have the perfect gift for you,” I said as we walked amongst the tall pillars in the palace.
“You keep saying that, yet you won’t show it to me.” He gave me his devilish smirk, one that said I would be in for a bout of wrestling or some other form of friendly torment.
“I want you to wait for it.”
“I think you have no gift.”
“I think you have no patience.”
I darted through the halls of the palace, waiting for that perfect moment to mask and throw him off. I’d finally perfected the skill of personal illusion, and he fell for the trick every time, just as he fell for my teasing.
His birthday came, and House Wraithstone threw him one of their famous, wondrous bashes. Where there weren’t people, there was food, alcohol, or entertainment. Scents were always a focus of a Wraithstone party, with incense and oils permeating the air. Open spaces became the stages for the drunken and shadows the nooks for the amorous. This year’s theme created plenty of shadows, coaxing Jemier into manhood by giving the manor the violet-and-red ambience of a brothel.
Varin, young as he was, inebriated himself before the bash reached the halfway mark, but I avoided him, making a point to stay as bruise-free as possible before presenting Jemier with my gift. I clustered with my friends, though Jemier and Eleric were currently missing, each for different reasons.
“You’d better not be lying,” said Renny while we waited for the Wraithstone’s hallmark gift-presentation ritual to begin. His voice cracked in all the wrong places, and his face bore all the marks of adolescence.
“I’m not lying. It is going to be the best gift he’s ever received, and I dare you to beat it.”
“No one’s going to beat your gift,” said Corian, stepping between us. “Jemier already told us you’ve won this year.”
“It’s not a competition,” said Renny.
“But he still declared Solin the winner, and you’re still upset about it.”
Renny gestured at me. “We don’t even know if it exists!”
I smiled, thinking of the box beneath my bed. I didn’t dare bring it here where some drunkard could take it. I would wait until the last minute. “It exists.” Renny rolled his eyes, and Corian said nothing. “I can prove it. Come with me.”
Corian looked at Renny. Renny looked at Corian.
“I said I can prove it. Come on!”
“We’re coming,” said Corian.
Renny grumbled and followed.
We ran until we were breathless, with Corian reminding us of how little time we had to return to House Wraithstone’s manor. Our legs weak and faces flush, we arrived at my ample bedchamber, panting.
“Over here.” I dashed to my bedside, sliding to my knees in my excitement. I pulled up the lavish bed skirt and shoved my arm beneath the bed. I reached for the box, my fingers waggling, grazing it until I was shoulder-deep beneath the mattress. “Got it!” I tapped the floor for Corian to pull me out. She did, and the box came with me swifter than expected. I rolled out from my position and, grinning wildly, flipped open the lid to the chest.
The dagger was not there.
Renny laughed so hard that I immediately lunged for him.
“Give it back!” I cried out, pounding on his chest while Corian wrestled me away. “Give it back, Renny!”
Renny had tears in his eyes and hacked from laughing so hard. “You think I actually know what you had in there?” he wheezed between chortles.
“It was a dagger,” said Corian. “You can see the shape it left behind.”
“It was,” I said, “and you need to give it back.”
“I didn’t take it!” she said.
I shot a glare at Renny.
“Don’t look at me! This is hilarious.”
I freed myself from Corian and stared at the empty chest on the floor, my fists clenched.
“Maybe it was your brother,” said Corian.
“No, there’s no way,” I said. “He couldn’t have known it was here. He couldn’t have known I even had something here to look for.”
“With all the bragging you did to Jemier, did you really think Varin wouldn’t find out?” Renny wiped tears from his eyes. “Varin finds out everything eventually. Solin, you can be so naïve sometimes.”
“Stop it, Renny!” said Corian. She hit him in the arm. “He’s your prince, and you’d better act like it!”
“I am acting like it!” he said, rubbing where her fist had landed. “Someone needs to tell him when he does thoughtless things so that he doesn’t do them again.”
I growled. “I don’t need either of you! If you aren’t going to help me find Jemier’s gift, then just leave.”
“I’ll look for a dagger on the gift table,” said Corian. “Maybe someone wanted to give it to him first.”
“Yeah, I’ll help you with that,” said Renny, still nursing his arm.
I shook my head. “No! Help me look here. Help me look in Varin’s room.”
“No offense, Solin, but your brother will literally stab us if we break into his bedchamber,” Renny said.
“Not if we get the dagger back.”
Corian shook her head and grabbed Renny by the arm. “No, I’m sorry, Solin. Renny’s right. For the wrong reasons. We can’t break into the crown prince’s room. We’re going back to the party to look for it. Maybe Eleric’s still there, and he can help. He knows daggers—”
“Just go,” I said, masking my tears. “Leave now.”
Renny crossed his arms. “That’s what you get for waiting this long to—”
“Fine,” said Corian. She grumbled and dragged Renny away with her.
I tore my bedchamber to pieces, knowing every passing moment brought me closer to the gift ceremony. I wished for the ability to lift furniture without accidentally smashing it against something, and wondered what spellwork would make this search go quicker, but it only stirred my anger and impatience whenever I wanted to use such a power. I cleaned myself up and returned to the party long after all the gifts had been given and well into the drunken hour of singing adults, who no longer cared that it was a party for a young person.
I found Jemier clustered with Corian, Renny, and Eleric in a room filled with other youths of nobility and enough alcohol to put the adults in the other room to shame. Eleric flirted with two young women, one of whom tried her hardest to seat herself in his lap while the other pet his shoulder with manicured hands. Jemier didn’t notice me until Renny loudly announced my arrival.
“Prince Solin,” said Jemier, his voice flat and eyes narrowed. “I’m very pleased you’ve finally decided to come back to us this evening.”
“Have you been drinking?” I asked him quietly. Behind him, Corian shook her head.
“No,” he said. “But maybe I should. I hear it helps you forget all kinds of betrayals.”
“Jemier, please let me talk to you.”
His voice grew louder. “If you want me to talk to you, then you’ll have to order me, Prince Solin.”
The eyes of the room turned our way.
“That’s absurd; why would I do that?”
“Because you’re a liar, and your cruelty knows no bounds!”
“Jemier,” said Eleric, “maybe you could talk to him about this later? It’s just a gift.” Jemier grunted and ignored the request, choosing to glare at me instead.
Liar. Did he truly think I was lying? Hadn’t Renny or Corian explained what had happened? “I had something for you, Jemier. It went missing. I’ll find it, I swear—”
“I don’t care what you had for me, Solin! You weren’t even there! I should’ve known you wouldn’t be given how often you hide behind that magick of yours. How often you embarrass us with it. You’re a disgraceful snake, Solin.”
Any eyes that weren’t on us before were on us now.
“Jemier, you’re making a big deal out of—”
Louder than before, he said, “I told everyone here that you would be presenting me with a gift so grand that no one could top it. I presented you in front of my father, in front of everyone, and instead heard silence! You weren’t even in the room! Do you know what it’s like to hear whispers crack through a moment so humiliating?”
I grimaced. “You announced me?”
“To the whole room,” said Renny. “It was pretty bad.”
Corian hit him. “You’re not helping.”
Jemier shook his head at me. “You’re a laughingstock, Solin. Don’t make me one too.” He stormed away from us, and with it came whispers that returned to the normal din of a Wraithstone party. The flirtatious youths vying for Eleric’s attention slipped away as well, and Eleric chased after them.
Corian sighed at Renny. “Go make sure he doesn’t drink himself to death?”
Renny groaned. “Yes ma’am.” He slapped me on the shoulder on his way. “Tough break, Solin.”
Corian looked at me. “I couldn’t find it here.”
“Yet you didn’t exactly explain what actually happened to him?”
She huffed. “It’s not my job to take care of his feelings. Or yours!” She pushed past me, hitting my shoulder with her own on her way out.
I masked and headed for home where I waited for my parents to return outside of their bedchamber, but they came home far too late for me to confront them. I was woken by Auleia, one of my attendants, who whispered to me the hour and guided my sleepy form back to bed.
Of course, the next morning, my parents were indisposed, cursed by the Wraithstone sickness that seemed to follow all attendees of raucous Wraithstone parties. Something entirely different afflicted me: betrayal. Varin had stolen Jemier’s dagger, and now my friendship with Jemier was as fragile as my brother’s ego. To go from being Jemier’s beloved friend, his drathos, to a “laughingstock” and a “liar” whose “cruelty knows no bounds” devastated me.
I refused to allow Auleia and the others to pick up after my mess. I tidied up, using the time to reflect on the previous night and to concoct a plan that would urge the answer out of Varin. My mind wandered to my books, volumes upon volumes of knowledge on the magickal arts, but I could not concentrate enough to learn anything. All I could think of was Jemier, and my mind brought my feet to House Wraithstone’s manor.
The manor stood as quiet as ever, and where light was wanted, open windows aired out the stench of alcohol and all it could do. Like many of nobility, Jemier was afflicted with the illness but remained mobile in his darkened bedchamber. The curtains remained shut tight, and few low-light candles were lit.
“What is it?” Jemier said. He gulped water, grimacing as each healthy portion went down.
“It was not my intent to embarrass you,” I said.
“Intent doesn’t matter now, does it?” He groaned and rubbed his temples.
“You shouldn’t drink so heavily. Not at our age or any age.”
I drew nearer and caught the purpling of bruises on his eye. “What happened?”
“To your eye?”
He hid the mark poorly behind a lock of bedraggled hair. I caught more bruises on his knuckles. “I needed to hit something.”
“It looks like it hit back.”
“It’s nothing, Solin. Leave it. Why would you care, anyway?”
“Because you are my drathos, Jemier. Please, one mistake with a mere gift can’t be why you’re this upset—”
“You should leave,” he said. “Before my father sees you.”
“Why would he care?”
He swallowed. “I’m not to see…friends right now. Not after I destroyed the…” He gestured to somewhere outside the room. “And then it fell and…” He gestured to his eye. “Just go.”
“Did you get into a fight?”
“Was it my brother?”
“No. Leave it, Solin, and leave here too.”
I stared at him, breathing heavily through my nostrils. Pungent menthol hung in the air. “I could order you to tell me.”
“But you won’t.”
After a moment, I nodded. “But I won’t.”
He glared at the water as though daring it to come up again if he took another much-needed gulp.
“I’ll leave now,” I said.
I masked, hiding the sunken feeling of my chest. I ran back to the palace, passing Varin, who seemed to have recovered from his hangover and now beat a training dummy in the yard. I clenched my fists, feeling hot tears roll off my jaw, and ignored the urge to set him on fire. Better for him that I had no such power. I barreled into the palace, hoping to cause the loudest clamor that had ever been caused in Drakon history, and dropped my mask, only to be called for a late-afternoon breakfast.
My parents looked much more themselves than they had earlier that day, and as they ate, albeit in dainty, somewhat forced bites, I darted my eyes between them. Who was best to broach the dagger subject with?
“How are your studies coming, young Solin?” said my father.
“They are coming along well.” While my table manners appeared as polite as ever for his benefit, behind a mask I stabbed at my food.
My mother, Risayne, glared at me. I mustn’t forget the magickal inclinations of House Omayu. I reduced the occurrences of food stabbing and joined the conversation more fully.
“Of course they’re coming along well,” said Varin, who stabbed his food on a good day despite all table manners expected of future kings. “He doesn’t have any friends, so all he can do is read those stupid books.”
“I have friends, you—”
“Solin, don’t give in to your brother’s baiting.”
Yes, because I was in the wrong. Clearly. “He stole my gift for Jemier.”
Varin snarled at me. “What?! How dare you, you dainty little abomination!”
My chest leapt.
“Varin!” snapped my mother.
“What? It’s true. He’ll be crawling into men’s laps in no time. In fact, I’m not sure he isn’t already doing it. He’s the perfect age for it—”
Varin held a hand to his face while my mother held her hand up in warning, daring him to speak that way again. My father had paused midcut to watch the two of them in their showdown. Risayne of House Omayu held the power in the room, and all of us knew it.
“You will apologize to your brother, and you will mean it. And if you can’t bring yourself to understand why you’ll mean it, then I will send your service staff and attendants away for a while and watch as you struggle to clean the shit off your own toilet.”
I snickered and received the motherly glare of doom for it.
“You’re not out of the woods either, Solin. You accused your brother of something he did not do.”
“How could you possibly know?” I said. “He always does these things to me, and now Jemier hates me.”
“She knows because I took it,” said Karrdil.
“Father?” I gaped at him. “Why would you take that from me? I’ve done nothing wrong!”
“You did plenty wrong,” he said. “You gave another child a weapon—”
“We’re not children anymore, and we’re already training to fight—”
“And you squandered years’ worth of savings on something petty and frivolous. How will the Senate or the people you represent feel about you spending their money that way?”
“It wasn’t their money, Father; it was mine!”
“Given to you by the grace of the king!” His voice boomed off the walls of the dining hall. “Not all children under our watch are fortunate enough to receive allowances for studies well done.”
I shook my head. “It wasn’t for play, Father. It had a historical significance to him, an emotional significance—!”
“I told you. An abomination,” muttered Varin.
Karrdil stood, and Varin quieted. Although Risayne was the master of magick in our family, Karrdil had a formidable strength and some magickal powers of his own. I did not doubt he would unleash them upon Varin. I wanted him to.
“Both of you will retire to your rooms until you are instructed otherwise.”
“I will take Solin,” said Risayne, standing. “Come, my son.”
Masking was of no use with her, but it spared me from Varin’s future jeers about the natural response to upsetting events.
When we were safely in my room, Mother’s face softened, and she sat on my bed, patting it for me to take a seat beside her. Once there, she took my hand.
“Do not listen to Varin.”
All I’d held within during our disgraceful mealtime came out. Everything from my argument with Jemier joined the deluge. She held me, smoothing my hair beneath her calming hand.
“He’s right,” I murmured between sobs. “He’s right, Mother.”
“You are not an abomination.”
I shook my head. “No, you’re wrong. I am. I can feel it. I am broken.”
“Am I broken?” she asked. “Is Quezhané?”
Quezhané, a second mother to me, Risayne’s spouse-in-secret. Quezhané, who had taught me more magick than I could have ever dreamed of. Quezhané, the reason my mother could detect my illusory magicks. “No, you’re not broken.”
“You may find that you’re more like me than you realize. Able to love without boundary. And that’s okay, Solin. The Daerlyvian Federation says it is so.”
“But Drakons do not.”
“Drakons will learn under your guidance. But for now, try not to hold anger toward your father. He means well.”
“Intent doesn’t matter,” I repeated.
“Perhaps not, but in the future, you may be more forgiving. As will Jemier. He will come around to you. He will understand what happened. You will not lose your friend.”
I relaxed and stared at the wall of my bedchamber. “He hurt himself last night.”
“Did he now?”
“So he says.”
She sighed, and my head lifted at the sound of her breath. “This place is a mess, my love.”
“I tried cleaning it.”
“You can do better. Start with…there. Those books.” She kissed my head. “I must see to your brother. He needs to unlearn certain words.”
As she stood, I clutched her sleeve. “Please don’t tell him.”
“He doesn’t know, and he won’t know. He will never know who we really are, Solin. I promise.”
I nodded and glanced at the books she referenced. Volumes on unusual magicks, ones that could grant the student use over the unseen. We shared a flicker of a smile, and she left.