The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 10

“Daniel,” Merrell warned.

“I know. I know. I’m sorry, Uncle T. It won’t happen again.” Daniel fidgeted as he stood before Merrell’s desk, acting like a chastised ten-year-old which was not at all how he had acted last night. Jet wondered what he was up to.

“You’re right. You won’t,” Merrell said. “Shadow and light, was it? Then for the next week you will return to the beginner class with Macek and re-learn what you’re supposed to already know. And you!” Merrell jabbed his finger at Jet. “You’re already in the beginner’s group. What am I supposed to do with you?”

Daniel’s face fell at his uncle’s pronouncement though he wisely didn’t say anything. Merrell was still concentrating on Jet, who had to ask, “What was so wrong about what we did?”

Merrell came to his feet, shadow gathering naturally about him to add height and authority. Do as I say, not as I do, Jet couldn’t help thinking. “That’s the problem!” Merrell thundered. “You don’t even know!”

“But—“

Daniel kicked Jet’s foot. A signal to shut up. Jet bit back what he had been about to say.

“Both of you—no classes today. I don’t want you exposing the other cousins to your reckless behavior. Daniel, you will tell Jet what the problem is before we meet again after dinner. Go on, get out of here before I change my mind.”

“Can we get breakfast first?” Daniel asked hopefully.

“No. I don’t want Jet in the family wing either. Go to Jet’s room until I call for you.”

Daniel pulled Jet after him when Jet would have argued. “Come on,” Daniel urged. “He’s the Enforcer. Do you have any idea how miserable he can make our lives?”

Jet could guess. “Not really,” he said sullenly, but he followed Daniel back to his own room, which was beginning to feel more and more like a prison.

You’re the problem Uncle T was called to take care of in Low City, aren’t you?” Daniel suddenly realized. He lay back on Jet’s bed, leaving Jet standing uncertainly in the middle of the room. “Instead of killing you, he brought you here for training. He really does think you’re a cousin!”

Jet scowled and took the straight-backed chair near the desk. “He didn’t bring me—I asked.” Daniel’s knowing smile irritated Jet. “I didn’t have to come here. I wanted to.”

Daniel laughed out loud at that. “Oh, really? And what do you think would have happened if you had refused? My uncle is the Enforcer.” He chuckled. “Didn’t have to,” he repeated.

Jet gritted his teeth. “What’s an Enforcer, anyway?” He’d heard the term several times now, and figured it must be some kind of policing unit for the Family.

Not an Enforcer—Thomas Merrell is the Enforcer. The King’s own brother. Next to King Roy, he is the strongest elemental user in Attania. You don’t talk back to him. You don’t question him. Uncle T and his forces are the only ones among us who have no restrictions on the use of their abilities. Not even the King can say that.”

“Why? We’ve got them. Why not use them? I thought that was what this school was all about.”

Daniel sat up. He pulled a flattened candy bar from his pocket and began eating it. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” He licked his fingers, then made a fist, gathering water out of the air. He rubbed his hands together briskly to get rid of the last bit of stickiness on his fingers. Grinning at Jet’s confusion, Daniel said, “Oh, come on. You don’t think we really obey all those rules, do you? We got caught this time, that’s all. Uncle T doesn’t expect us to never use our abilities. Just not blatantly. We are, after all, the royals of the Family.”

Not me, Jet thought to himself. But Daniel had deliberately shown him he could use at least three elements: light, shadow, and now water. “Do all the royals use more than one element?”

“As far as we’ve been told, only the royals can,” Daniel replied. “That leaves the big question of you. How many elements can you use?”

Jet shrugged. “A few. Maybe what you’ve been told is wrong.”

“And maybe you are a cousin,” Daniel said. “Uncle T wants me to explain to you what the problem is with us using our natural abilities with the elements for our own ends.”

“Which is?” Jet shoved Daniel’s feet off his bed and sat down next to him.

“Because we might like it too much,” Daniel replied smugly. “It would be too easy to just take what we want whenever we felt like it. There’s no guarantee that just because someone is Family, they’re going to have built-in morals. That’s why only the Enforcers use their elemental abilities in public. They are chosen because they do have a well-developed sense of morals. They are the absolute law and no one questions it. The rest of us?” Daniel shrugged. “We dabble in private—or hope we don’t get caught!” He grinned, and Jet returned his grin a little uneasily.

Jet used his abilities to take what he wanted whenever he felt like it. Up until now, he hadn’t considered himself a bad person. “I don’t get it,” Jet admitted. “Why have this school at all then? Why teach us to use our gifts in the first place?”

“Control, friend. Control. We are the royals. Our abilities run strong in us. Some day one of us will become King, and another of us might become the new Enforcer. We need to learn to control our elements so we can control Attania.”

“What happens to all the rest?” Jet asked. There were seventeen cousins, eighteen if he counted himself. “The ones who don’t become King or Enforcer?”

“You really don’t know much about the Family, do you?” Daniel asked. “The others will be given positions of power in many of the big cities around the country, but not in Darcy. That’s for the new royal family. Now,” he slid back so he could look Jet in the eye. “Tell me about you. What was it like growing up in Low City? Do you really not know who your father is? I wonder if it could have been Uncle T. It would explain why he brought you back to Arden instead of just getting rid of you.”

Merrell might be his father? Jet wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “Why do I have to be one of you?” he asked. He hopped off the bed and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Daniel gave him a lot to think about, not all of it what he wanted to hear.

He turned on the shower, stripped and stepped inside. Lorra had said he smelled. Jet didn’t think so, but he scrubbed his body using the small soap on the shelf. He scrubbed his hair, too, conscious of how short it now was compared to other members of the Family. It would grow soon enough. Too bad. He liked it short, the way Doll had cut it for him.

Eventually Jet had to get out of the shower. He could hear Daniel moving about in the outer room. Wrapping a towel around himself, he opened the door, releasing a cloud of steam. He rummaged through his suitcase, finding another outfit Ben had lent him and slipping it on. Daniel looked over his shoulder. “That’s all you brought?”

“I have pajamas too. They are for sleeping.” Jet held them up. He hadn’t done much sleeping since he had come here. Maybe tonight he’d get a chance to wear the pajamas.

Daniel fought a smile. “I see. Well, what do you want to do for the rest of the day? I think we did enough talking about the Family for a while. Let’s do something fun.”

Jet wasn’t sure what Daniel meant by fun, but he was glad their serious talk was over. “Do you know how to play caps?” he asked, pulling a handful of beer bottle caps out of his pocket. “Sit on the floor. I’ll show you.”

They had to make do with a couple of overturned glasses from the bathroom, but once Daniel got the hang of it, they spent the rest of the day taking turns knocking each other’s beer caps off their resting place atop the glasses. “It’s more fun with actual beer,” Jet said, grinning at Daniel’s shock. “Now you know what we do in Low City.”

Late in the afternoon Jet’s stomach growled. Merrell had left them in Jet’s room through breakfast and lunch. At least he had water from the bathroom tap, which Daniel flatly refused to drink. The old Jet would have gone to find himself something to eat. He wasn’t sure if it was Daniel’s presence that stopped him, or Merrell’s expectation that they stay in the room until called. Jet hoped it was because he didn’t want to reveal his hidden talents in front of Daniel, and not the other reason.

Finally, at five o’clock, one of Merrell’s men came to the door with two covered plates of food. “Be ready in one hour,” he said before he left.

Jet was ready this morning. He wolfed down the luke-warm food and waited impatiently for their guide to return.

Merrell himself came to get them at six o’clock. “Cloak yourselves in shadow,” he instructed, doing the same. With a lifted eyebrow, Jet gathered shadow around himself and followed Merrell and Daniel through the hallways right past the noisy dining room. Nobody noticed them.

Merrell led them to a small office, pausing at the door. He let his shadows fade, and the two boys released their shadow cloaks also. Jet glanced at Daniel, who looked as lost as he felt. Why all the secrecy? Didn’t they get in trouble for this very thing? Unless this was supposed to be part of some lesson. Jet was beginning to hate these kinds of lessons.

“Daniel, you can go. But be sure to report to the beginner’s group tomorrow morning. Do not mention any of this to the other cousins.” Merrell opened the office door and nodded for Jet to precede him through.

Daniel’s face was a mixture of relief and disappointment. He gave a resigned shrug and headed back towards the dining room.

Merrell closed the door firmly behind them. “Sit down.”

The only places to sit were a narrow metal stool, which Merrell had already appropriated, and a small, high bed with a thin mattress covered with paper. Jet sat sideways on the bed, which crinkled when he moved.

Someone turned on an overhead light, flooding the room in harsh white light. Turning, Jet saw a man dressed in white and another one of Merrell’s guards. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Hold out your arm,” Merrell said as the man in the white suit came closer. Merrell’s guard grabbed Jet’s arm and stretched it out. Jet, fighting his instinct to dissolve his body to escape this new threat, jerked his arm back instead. The lights flickered.

“Stop it! No one’s going to hurt you,” Merrell grunted, pulling back Jet’s arm. “The doctor is just going to take a little blood.”

“Blood? What for?”

“It will tell us exactly who you are. Now hold still.”

“Why?” But Jet held still while the doctor pricked his arm with a thin needle and drew out vial after tiny vial of his blood.

“There’s someone who wants to meet you.”

It was over in a matter of seconds, and Jet rubbed the sticky bandage on his arm as he waited for Merrell to explain.

“We should know next week.” The doctor gathered up his equipment, including the vials of Jet’s blood. Merrell’s guard walked him out.

“Now what?”

The door opened and closed one more time, but to the naked eye, nobody was there. Jet, however, waited expectantly for the shadow-user to reveal himself.

A tall, gaunt man vaguely resembling Merell showed himself moments later. He stared at Jet without speaking long enough for Jet to feel uncomfortable. A slow smile creased the older man’s features. “Roderick?”

Merrell cleared his throat. “We won’t know for sure for at least another week, Roy. Jet, meet King Roy Estee of Attania. Roy, this is Jet.”

King Roy smiled widely. “Hello, Jet.”


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