The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 19

“Daniel?” Jet walked into the rooms Daniel shared with his younger brother Charles. Jet’s younger brother too, he supposed, although it certainly didn’t seem like it.

Daniel’s bedroom door opened up and he came out, yawning. “I thought I heard someone,” he said, pulling on a shirt. “Breakfast?”

Jet smiled sheepishly. Daniel, along with everyone else, had left him alone to sulk. But he’d missed supper. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess you heard I took off.”

“Everybody heard.” Daniel glanced at Jet. “What do you have over Uncle T that he lets you get away with so much?”

“What?” Jet stopped and stared at Daniel. “I—nothing! He gives me a hard time!”

Daniel grinned. “You just think so.”

No, Jet knew so. Merrell antagonized him at every step. The man had his own agenda, and Jet didn’t care as long as it didn’t affect him personally. The trouble was, it did—especially the incident with Ben. If Merrell didn’t tell him where Ben was soon, then Jet had every intention of leaving Arden—and the Family—for good.

“Jet!” Lorra waved to him from her table, but Jet kept walking. This was one of the reasons Jet had waited for Daniel this morning. He was in no mood to talk to Lorra today. It was easier when she hated him.

“Jet!” Mattie pulled at Jet’s pant leg.

“Hey Mattie.” Jet bent down. “What’s up?”

“You came back! Charles said you weren’t coming back!”

Jet glanced at Daniel, who shrugged. “Of course I came back,” he said, reaching over to tousle Mattie’s dark hair. “I’ll see you in class later.” He winked and let a lick of fire dance on his fingertips.

“You know you’re going to get him in trouble if you keep encouraging him,” Daniel said, taking a tray to get his breakfast. “Not that I have a problem with it,” he said quickly when Jet scowled.

“Jet!”

“Everybody is looking for you today,” Daniel commented, his gaze fixing on the far end of the dining room where Merrell walked purposefully towards them. Laughing, Daniel led Mattie to their table, leaving Jet to deal with Merrell on his own.

Muttering under his breath, Jet grabbed a handful of rolls and turned to face this newest interruption. He had a feeling this was all the breakfast he was going to get.

“I want you to escort Queen Sephira home,” Merrell said. Jet looked across the dining room where the Queen sat with some of Merrell’s enforcers and Charles.

“Why me?”

Merrell frowned. “Because you can. I need you to take her unseen.”

Oh. The cloud route. “Your guards can’t do it?”

“No.” Merrell spoke sharply. “I have something I need to do and the Queen has asked to be taken home. You will do this.”

“Fine.” Jet shoved one of the rolls he had taken into his mouth. The dining room had fallen still. Jet had everyone’s attention—again. “Great,” he muttered, swallowing quickly and shoving another roll into his mouth. He was going to get fat since all he ever had time to eat was bread.

“Queen Sephira.” Jet inclined his head. “Are you ready?”

Jet waited while the Queen gathered her belongings and met him on the back lawn. The rest of the cousins, including Charles, had gone to their various classes, which is where Jet should be, too, instead of on this ridiculous errand to ferry a Queen via cloud to her hidden mansion.

She was dressed sensibly in dark slacks and a button-down sweater, with flat shoes that made her look smaller than usual. In her hand she carried a bag packed with, Jet guessed, a few changes of clothing. Jet still didn’t see why she couldn’t just go back to Darcy by car. Even if the King’s mansion was invisible by air, it was all too obvious where it was located, since Merrell had seen fit to surround it with his elite guards.

“Thank you” Queen Sephira said softly, handing Jet her bag. She waited expectantly.

“Uh,” replied Jet intelligently. He pulled a cloud out of the sky. “Get on?”

Queen Sephira gestured for him to go first. Jet realized she might not know how to ride a cloud. He hopped on, using air to balance himself atop the insubstantial cloud, and held out his hand for her. The Queen knew how to use air, at least. She stepped up lightly and then wrapped her arms around Jet’s middle. “I’m ready,” she said into his ear.

Like the last time, Jet used wind to push his cloud across the sky towards Darcy. The forested area surrounded by guards looked deserted, but Jet knew the mansion was down below. He angled the cloud down. “Did something happen?” he asked, as the Queen tightened her grip on his waist. “Is that why Merrell had me take you back this way?”

He didn’t think she would answer him, but she did. He set the cloud gently down in the big inner courtyard which was open to the sky. Queen Sephira quickly shook her head. “Nothing serious,” she replied. “Just the usual. Tom is overcautious. And, I suspect he’s using you as none of the younger ones have developed that particular skill yet.” She looked up at Jet, who still hadn’t jumped down from the cloud. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, not really,” Jet said. He let the cloud go and it basically fell apart, leaving a wet puddle on the courtyard floor. Merrell’s guards were stationed outside the mansion, so it was completely quiet in here. “Are you going to be all right by yourself?” Jet reddened as soon as he said it. How did he know no one else lived here? Queen Sephira probably had all kinds of servants.

The Queen raised an eyebrow. “I’m used to it,” she said with a small smile. “Would you like to stay for a little while? You could keep me company.”

“No, no I have to get back,” Jet said. Why had he let that cloud dissipate?

The Queen’s smile widened. “Well then, thank you, Jet. I’m sure I’ll see you again soon.”

Jet nodded. “Yeah.” He noticed she was standing in a little puddle of her own. “You’re all wet,” he said, thinking she would use fire to dry herself like he would have done if he wasn’t planning on going right back out the same way. But she didn’t. Instead, she began to unbutton her damp sweater. Jet wanted to turn into a cloud himself, but Merrell would probably not approve, so he used air to lift himself as far as the roof of the mansion. From there, he grabbed the first cloud he could find and flew away, followed by the sound of Queen Sephira’s tinkling laughter.

Why had Merrell sent him on this errand? Was it to test him, to see if he would obey orders for a change, or was there some other reason? Daniel was Queen Sephira’s favorite, not him. And besides, she was his father’s wife. For a time, Jet had thought Merrell was interested in the Queen or vice versa, but if that was the case, why would he have sent Jet out here alone with her? Or maybe Jet was reading too much into it.

He let go of the cloud once he cleared the ridiculously obvious forest, letting go of his own essence as he did so, despite Merrell’s repeated warnings not to. Merrell didn’t know everything, and Jet had been doing this his whole life. If Merrell was waiting for Jet to mess up again, Jet was inclined to prove him right.

He drifted into Darcy proper, and took back his form in the shadow of a tall building which turned out to be a school. Jet could see students sitting in rows in various classrooms when he looked through the windows which faced the street. A normal school, then, and not one like Arden. In some ways, a normal school would have been nice—Jet still had a lot to learn that was not related to using the elements. Of course, Jet had seen regular schools in Low City, too. He’d often hovered around them to learn what he could without being seen. The students at this school were all Family, which was to be expected. This was Darcy, after all.

When the noontime bell rang and students began to file down the steps to the street, Jet quickly walked the other way. He’d forgotten he had on his grays. Even in Darcy, the grays meant something, and nobody wanted to be near an enforcer if they didn’t have to be. That included Family. Jet wasn’t an enforcer, but he might as well have been. He had attained a level of proficiency in using the elements that only enforcers were allowed to use—and the populace knew it.

Jet found a clothing store and helped himself to a change of outfits, although he did bundle the grays and take them with him. At least with regular clothes, people didn’t stare at him quite so much. There was a library in Darcy, too. A normal one, not one reserved for the royal Family only. Jet wondered if this one had a secret room like some of the others Macek had told him about. Probably not. This was one of the first places they would have looked. Still, Jet waved his hand over the bookshelves as he passed them, to see if anything other than what was apparent revealed itself. Nothing did.

He pulled out a book on geography and took it to a table so he could read it. Some rebel he was! Jet found himself engrossed in a pictorial of Attania, from the severe mountains in the East to the drought-ridden West, to the rich hilly plains in between. Darcy was here, and Low City was there, and King Roy was probably still over there instead of here taking care of his lonely wife. King Roy was a stranger to Jet, but one Jet would really have liked to get to know. He couldn’t help feeling like the King had run away as soon as he knew for certain that Jet was his son. What did that mean?

“Jet!”

Jet stiffened. Not already. Couldn’t people just leave him alone for a little while? Slowly he turned. His eyes widened. “Doll?”

Doll smiled happily and put her armload of books down on Jet’s table. “What are you doing here? It’s so good to see you!”

“Doll?” Jet came to his feet and took her in a hug, as much to his own surprise as to Doll’s. “I went to your house—your room was empty. I thought something happened to you. What are you doing in Darcy?”

“I’m going to school! Didn’t you ask my parents?” Doll looked at Jet and laughed. “I suppose not. What did you do? Sneak into my room? And then you saw it was empty. Oh, Jet, I’m sorry if I worried you. But after everything that happened, my parents thought it would be better for me to get out of Low City.”

“But Darcy? You picked Darcy yourself? Nobody told you to come here?”

“Not unless you count my father. He’s been after me to come to his alma mater for years. I finally gave in.” Doll sat down across from Jet. “Tell me what you’re doing here.”

Jet laughed. “I’m going to school too,” he told Doll. “Except I skipped my afternoon session to come here.”

“Same old Jet.” Doll chuckled.

“Come back with me. Right now.” Jet said impulsively. Suddenly it was important that Doll see where he lived. He could never bring her to his room in Low City, but now he had a place he could show her.

Doll hesitated. “To your school? Is that all right?” She looked dubiously at the pile of books she had set on the table. “I still have all this work to do.”

“That can wait. I’ll bring you back. Promise.”

Doll smiled. “Okay.”

Outside, Jet took Doll into the shadows. “Hold on,” he said, pulling another cloud from the sky. He might be able to travel unseen, but Doll would be visible unless the cloud hid them both. She squealed when he sent it across the sky on a burst of wind. Jet liked that.

“Where are we going?” Doll yelled into Jet’s ear. “I thought your school was in Darcy.”

“Just outside of it!” Jet shouted back. “We’re almost there.” He landed them in the back close to where he had first taken off with the Queen, and took Doll’s hand, drying her clothes and his with a snap. “Sorry about that—it gets kind of wet,” he apologized.

Doll stared at the brick mansion in awe. “This is your school? It’s big.”

“Yeah, well it’s a house and a school,” Jet explained. “Come on. I’ll bring you to my room.” He led Doll through Arden’s halls to the students’ wing, which was still fairly empty this late in the afternoon because most of the cousins were still at their afternoon sessions. “Here it is.”

Jet opened the door to his suite of rooms.

“You live here? It’s beautiful,” Doll murmured, stepping inside.

Jet kicked the outer door shut with his foot and leaned against it. Doll was here, in his room. She turned around as the door slammed, nearly bumping into Jet. He steadied her, holding her in the circle of his arms. Then he kissed her.


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