The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 15

Jet filled up the bathtub and soaked in the hot water, closing his eyes as he let his mind wander. Seeing the royal burial ground had been sobering, as Merrell meant it to be. Jet wondered how many of the others had any idea the royal Family were targets.

He yelped as his big toe accidentally hit the middle lever, sending a shower of hot water down on him. Oh, this was better. Technology could do many of the same things he could do using the elements. No wonder the non-family resented them. Jet let his body assume the shape and consistency of the water around him. They couldn’t do that, though. Neither could the rest of the Family.

He reassumed his shape as he stood, fiddling with the levers to turn the shower of water back off. He pulled up the stopper to let the rest slowly drain out of the tub. Jet wasn’t sure why Merrell had shared information on the Family’s vulnerability with him. Was it to make him feel sorry for them? Because he didn’t.

Tomorrow he was supposed to go with Merrell to a town a few hours outside of Darcy. There had been a rash of crimes in the town and the local Family had requested Enforcer intervention. Jet wasn’t looking forward to going. Was he supposed to watch while they punished some non-family person for breaking the law? What would that prove? That Family were stronger than non-family and there was nothing the non-family could do about it? Jet already knew that.

He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around himself before going out into the main room. Merrell had also told him he would be moving to the student wing next week. Jet guessed his period of probation was over. More likely, Merrell figured he was less likely to use his elemental powers indiscriminately if there were others about. Merrell didn’t know Jet very well. Jet had never promised to obey Merrell’s stupid rules—just to learn them. He would decide for himself which ones he wanted to follow. Moving to the student wing was not a bad idea. Jet was bored by himself. Compared to Low City, Arden and even Darcy were too quiet. He switched on the television.

Jet paid more attention than usual to the news. ‘Continuing unrest in the east.’ Isn’t that what King Roy had said about why he hadn’t been around much when Roddy was a baby? So the problem was on-going. Back in Low City, Jet hadn’t watched much television, only what he happened to catch while he was at Ben’s shop. Ben usually kept his TV on sports channels, except when he wanted to see the weather.

Where was this ‘East’ in relation to Darcy or Low City? Aside from the general direction, Jet had no idea how close or far away the troubles were. Jet decided to find Macek. Merrell had said to ask, and Jet had nothing better to do at the moment.

He hesitated, then slipped the key card into his pocket.

Jet found the student’s wing without too much trouble just by following the noise. It was set up like the King and Queen’s courtyard with a central area surrounded on all sides by individual rooms. This central area didn’t open to the outside, however, although it was brightly lit to imitate daylight.

Several children played on swings or rode bicycles in the middle of the open area. Jet spotted Tommy Merrell along with William Graves and another slightly older boy whom Jet didn’t recognize. Lorra was there, too, in shorts and a sleeveless top. She stopped swinging and smoothed her clothes when she saw Jet.

“Tommy, where’s your brother—where’s Macek?” Jet corrected himself, remembering that Tommy probably had more than just the one brother.

Tommy pointed to one of the doorways and Jet started to move in that direction when Lorra detached herself from the group and approached him. “I’ll show you,” she said, tossing her bangs out of her eyes. “Billy, you stay right there with Louis. I’ll be right back!”

Jet glanced at Lorra, who seemed to have forgiven him for his behavior the other night. “Your brother?”

“They both are.” Lorra smiled. Yes, definitely forgiven. “Come on, I’ll show you Macek’s suite. We live right next door.”

Nobody closed their doors in the student’s wing, apparently. Lorra walked right in to Macek’s room—or rooms, rather; he had a separate sitting room and two sleeping rooms. Macek looked up from his small desk in the sitting room, annoyed at being disturbed. When he saw Lorra, he smiled warmly until he noticed who had come in behind her. “What are you doing here, Jet?”

“Looking for you.” Jet didn’t wait to be asked. He sat down on the comfortable sofa, which was much nicer than the utilitarian furniture he had in his own room. He hoped he would get something this nice when he was moved to the student’s wing. Leaning back, he stretched his arms along the top of the sofa and grinned at Macek. “I want to go to the Family library. Your father said to ask you.”

“Now? It’s late.” Macek snapped, slamming the book he was writing in shut. “Ask me another day.”

Lorra sat down next to Jet, who moved his arm and frowned at her. Macek frowned, too. “The library?” she repeated, pretending not to notice their reactions. “Can I come, too?”

“No, you can’t come,” Macek said. “Only those of us who wear the grays are allowed. You know that.” He glared at Jet as he said it.

Lorra pouted. “Fine. I’ll walk Jet back to his room then, if you’re not going to take him to the library tonight. Come on, Jet. I’ll show you my room on the way.”

Both Macek and Jet said, “No!” They exchanged looks.

“I’ll take you to the library,” Macek said grudgingly. “Lorra, you’d better leave now. The boys are getting restless. Keep Tommy with you until I get back.”

Jet realized the student rooms were set up as small family units. Macek and his brother Tommy. Lorra, William and Louis. He didn’t doubt that Daniel had a room with Charles. The others must be similarly divided. Where would they put him, then? He wasn’t close to any of these half-siblings. He wasn’t close to anybody.

“Why is it so important you have to go to the library now?” Macek wanted to know once they were alone.

“Why didn’t you want Lorra to walk me back to my room?” Jet asked perceptively. He hadn’t wanted her to either, but he was interested in hearing Macek’s reasons.

“Here it is.” Macek stopped abruptly. They had turned down a wing Jet had never visited before, then climbed up a flight of stairs to the next level, passing several similar doors before Macek stopped at this one. “It locks from the outside, so just make sure you shut the door when you leave.” He waved his hand and light sprang up from the floor to bathe the small room in a soft white glow. Jet was impressed. They actually used elemental skills for lighting. He supposed it made sense, as this was a restricted library dealing with elemental matters.

Jet paused at the doorway. “Macek? Thanks. I can’t sleep most nights, so I thought I’d try to learn a little more about the Family. You know—to fit in? I’ll be on time tomorrow morning, don’t worry.”

Macek nodded. “If you have any questions, you can ask me.” He turned and pulled the door closed behind him.

Jet gazed around the room, which was set up in similar fashion to the one in Doll’s library back in Low City. One long table surrounded by shelves of books. This room had no high window, so the only light was the one Macek had activated. Jet studied the floor to see how they had done it. Not bad. Jet made his own table lamp out of shadow and light so he could see the books better. There was no pattern to them that Jet could decipher, same as in Low City, so Jet pulled a few books randomly off the shelves and sat down with them. He should have asked Macek how to find books on the history and geography of Attania, but he didn’t really want to advertise how little he actually knew.

At least the time passed quickly. Jet blinked as a faint bell rang. “Oh, shit!” he said, jumping up. He left the books lying on the table and ran out the door, remembering to slam it shut behind him. He briefly considered transforming to wind but gave that up as a bad idea. Too many people were about at this hour. He’d completely missed breakfast! At least he was still dressed in his grays. Jet dashed through the halls to Macek’s practice room before the second bell rang.

“Hi, Jet.” Lorra waited just outside the entrance to the practice room. “I didn’t see you at breakfast this morning.”

Jet stopped, completely confused. Lorra wasn’t in this group, so why was she here? William Gray popped his head around the door, his face red with embarrassment or rage. Lorra provoked that reaction in a lot of men. “Lorra, you said you’d go as soon as the teacher got here!”

Jet looked around. Macek was walking down the hallway. He skirted around Lorra and went inside the practice room, taking William with him. He wasn’t late. That was good. Jet heard Macek talking quietly with Lorra. Daniel came in, glancing behind him and grinning like he knew something. He took his place behind Jet in line. “Lorra’s in rare form today,” Daniel commented. “She’s got Macek all in a twist.”

“What do you mean?”

Daniel smirked. “He likes her—or didn’t you know?”

“No, I—“ Jet had suspected something like that, but he hadn’t been sure. “But she’s his cousin!”

At that, Daniel laughed out loud. The younger boys turned to stare at him. He lowered his voice. “Of course she’s his cousin. Who else would someone with his level of elemental power be interested in? She likes you, you know.”

“Who? Lorra?” Jet felt vaguely uncomfortable. At first, when they all believed Jet was some stranger, Lorra hated him. Then suddenly she had done an about-face, even after it was apparent that Jet was most likely one of King Roy’s sons and therefore a cousin in fact. That had yet to be determined beyond a shadow of a doubt, although Merrell believed it, so it probably was true.

“Yes, Lorra,” Daniel mocked. “Haven’t you noticed she’s been throwing herself at you ever since you worked weather at the picnic that day? She’s after the cousin with the most power, obviously. Macek must be beside himself.”

Jet grimaced. He might have liked her if she was not a cousin, but that wasn’t how it worked around here, according to Daniel. “Why isn’t she after you, then?” he asked. Daniel was always bragging about how powerful he was with the elements.

“She knows I’m not interested,” Daniel whispered, lowering his voice even more. “I’m already involved with someone else. Shh! Quiet! Macek’s coming in.”

The session was uneventful except for the end, when Macek pulled Jet aside to ask him how he had made out in the library. “I’ve got some questions,” Jet admitted, wanting to ask Macek about the Family history books.

“What did you learn?” Macek persisted. The other children and Daniel were practicing sending fire arcs back and forth to each other so nobody was paying attention. Jet sighed. He had learned something new last night. Looking down, Jet made the floor glow with light like the floor in the library. Using his hand as a guide, he raised the light to the level of his knees, then again to his waist. The other boys stopped what they were doing to watch. He could make it go all the way to the ceiling, a room made of softly glowing light, but he didn’t want to blind the other kids. Pushing his hand down, he lowered the light until it shone evenly to a depth of about a foot above the floor.

“That’s amazing!” William, Lorra’s little brother said. Mattie reached down to touch the light, startled when his hand went right through it. Charles just stared.

“Which book did you find that in?” Macek asked eagerly. “Will you show me?”

Jet reddened. “I didn’t exactly find it in a book. I—uh—I looked at the way it worked and copied it.”

Macek shook his head. “That’s not possible. No one can just look at an elemental working and automatically know how to do it.”

“It wasn’t automatic,” Jet said. “I had to really look at it.”

“Fine. So you looked at it. Next time I unlock the library for you, you can show me exactly how you figured it out.”

So Jet was supposed to wait for Macek to unlock the door every time he wanted to visit the library? He didn’t think so. “Sure,” he said out loud.

Jet knew what the topic of conversation was going to be at lunch today. He was almost looking forward to his trip with Merrell.

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