The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 25

King Roy grabbed Jet’s arm as he started to leave. “What was that back there?”

“What was what?” It was too much to hope that Jet’s last trick had gone unnoticed. Merrell had warned him not to show anyone else his unusual abilities, but what else was he supposed to do? He couldn’t just let the kid die.

Except he could. Merrell wanted him to. If Jet had done nothing, the boy would certainly have died. But that was not who Jet was. He sighed. “You mean this?” He let just his hands go incorporeal. It looked eerie, even to him.

Merrell and Daniel had gone ahead, Merrell to secure a deeper prison for their unwilling guests in the basements beneath the compound, and Daniel to see about moving the fliers somewhere more suitable so that they could be thoroughly examined.

King Roy had grown still at Jet’s display. He swallowed, then croaked out, “Yes, that.”

Jet let his physical hands return.

“How?” the King asked. “It isn’t possible.”

“How do I do it? I just do,” Jet answered uncomfortably. “Maybe I’m not your son after all. I don’t know.”

King Roy stared at him. “Follow me,” he said curtly, turning away. Jet got a sinking feeling in his stomach. He had hit a nerve, obviously. Was he more right than he knew? Could the blood test have been wrong?

They paused outside another door, which led to a staircase. Jet followed the King down the stairs until they came to an underground level. Was this where Merrell had taken the prisoners? Jet didn’t think so. It looked too well-kept. There was a vast library at the end of the corridor. King Roy led him through it until they came to another door, barred with shadow. “This is the hidden library my father discovered,” King Roy told Jet as they entered the second room. “I come here when I need to think. Roderick, there is no mistake. You are my son. What else are you?”

King Roy sank into an upholstered chair and placed his hands on the arms, leaning slightly forward to look at Jet expectantly. The chair was for reading, but it could have been a throne. The King had regained some of his color.

Jet shrugged. “Merrell told me not to tell you. He didn’t want to make you upset.”

The King chuckled wearily. “My brother tries to protect me. I am the face of the Family in Attania. The benevolent ruler. You must have realized by now that Thomas runs this land behind the scenes.”

Yes, Jet had figured that much out. His father the King was too soft, too busy making his presence known across Attania. Too busy making babies. It made him old before his time. “I thought you were the most powerful elemental-user in Attania,” he said.

“I am.” The King said it matter-of-factly, not proudly. “I can control the weather—wind, water, fire, lightning. I could destroy this land with a snap of my fingers.”

“But you wouldn’t.” Jet spoke softly.

“But I wouldn’t. Come, tell me about yourself. I’m not as fragile as Thomas would have you believe. I won’t break.” The King smiled bleakly. “There’s not a lot to do for a King who is mainly a figurehead. Because I’m not expected to do much else than work the occasional weather when it suits Thomas’s purposes—and the Kingdom’s—I’ve had a lot of time to pursue knowledge. I spend quite a bit of it down here reading these texts.” He glanced significantly at Jet. “More time than Thomas has.”

The King walked over to the bookshelf and took down a book, returning to his chair. He didn’t open the book. “Those boys you captured call themselves Sons of Men. It’s an old term; I didn’t think anybody still remembered it. Do you know what their kind once called us? Elementals. Not elemental-users, as we call ourselves, but Elementals—the embodiment of the elements. Now, are you going to show me what else Merrell wanted to keep hidden from me?”

Elementals. That would explain a lot. Jet laughed to himself, startling King Roy. He let himself go completely incorporeal and circled the small library as a soft wind, then he spread himself thin as shadow, plunging the space into complete darkness, and came back as a pillar of fire and advanced inexorably on his father, the King. As he had done with Doll, with the children, he moved his body of fire through the substance that was his father’s earthly body, feeling as he did so the core that was his father’s true being. When he passed through and once again took on his own physical shape, the King sat stunned.

“You—,“ King Roy attempted to speak and couldn’t.

“Elemental. That’s a good word for it. Is that what I am?”

King Roy’s eyes were too wide for his face. Jet began to regret he’d shown the King that last trick. Merrell may have been right, after all. “I—I don’t know,” the King whispered. “I think—yes.” He clutched the book he had taken as if it were a lifeline, then thrust it out towards Jet. “You should read this.”

“What is it?” Cautiously, Jet took the book his father offered him and thumbed it open. It was yet another history of the Family, but unlike the public one which he had ‘borrowed’ from Doll’s library, this one described the origin of the Family in precise detail couched in archaic phrases and rife with symbolism. If it was symbolic. “It says here we once were the elements,” Jet noted. It was hard to wade through the language the text was written in, but there were pictures, too, fanciful pictures of idealized wind with human features, of fire that walked the land.

“I didn’t believe it.” The King put his hands over his face and rubbed his eyes. Jet wondered if it was so he wouldn’t have to look at Jet. “I thought it was an allegory, something to explain our abilities and where they came from. I didn’t think it was true.”

“Can I borrow this?” Jet held up the book. He couldn’t read it all now. The prisoners and Merrell were waiting. Merrell was not going to be happy, but what else was new?

King Roy nodded distractedly, still lost in his own thoughts. “If you are an Elemental, then what are we? You are my own flesh and blood.” The King laughed hoarsely. “At times.”

Jet frowned. “You felt it, didn’t you, when I passed through you? Whatever I am, you have it in you too.”

That notion frightened King Roy even more than knowing Jet was an Elemental. He whitened, and swayed in his seat. If he had been standing, he would have fallen. “What are we all, then? What are we all?”

Jet had no answer. It had been a question he’d asked himself all his life, and recently thought he’d found the answer when he finally accepted he was one of the Family. He shrugged.

He left King Roy in the smaller library and made his way through the larger one and up the stairs. Merrell met him by the ruined courtyard, eyeing him suspiciously though he asked no questions about the book Jet kept tucked under his arm.

Merrell showed him where the prisoners were being kept. Reg curled up on a small cot, his back to the single door, but the simple fact that he could turn like that told Jet he was healing. The other one, Ricky, hung suspended by chains of shadow above his own cot. He glared defiantly at Jet, who sighed in exasperation and dissolved the chains. Ricky slid down to the bed and continued to glare at Jet.

“Do what you can with them,” Merrell said before he left them. “You have a week. Then we try it my way.”

A week to get through to these non-family kids that he was not the evil creature they thought he was—he was something else altogether. These non-family boys would probably not take that news any better than the Family had. Sighing again, Jet sat cross-legged on the floor. “I don’t get it,” he started by saying. “I just only found out I was this Prince Roderick, and already there’s people out there trying to kill me? What did I do?”

“It’s what you are!” Ricky spat. “You’re not real people, any of you! This is our world, and we will rid you of it soon, just watch!”

Jet had his doubts that Attania was any more theirs than his. The wind answered him when he called. He was the wind when he wanted to be. He could be the earth beneath their feet, too. He smiled. “Why?” he asked.

Reg rolled over carefully, favoring his left side. “Don’t talk to him, Ricard. It’s what he wants.”

“Of course it’s what I want!” Annoyed, Jet faced Reg. “How can we hope to fix things if we don’t talk about them?”

“There’s nothing to fix! You shouldn’t be allowed to exist! You think you rule us? You are all just imitations of real people. You are all exactly the same—you even look the same!”

“Ricard.” Reg warned in a low voice.

Jet had never thought of it that way. The Family did bear a strong resemblance to each other, with coal black hair and pale, almost white skin. Only their eyes differed, blue like the sky, black like shadow, green as the sea. Could Ricky be on to something there? “What do you mean—imitations?”

But Ricky had realized he’d said too much. He clamped his jaw shut and stared stubbornly at the ceiling. Jet looked at Reg. “Is it because you think we are Elementals?” he asked, taking a chance.

“We won’t talk,” Reg said softly. “We are Sons of Men. You are—something else. That’s all I will say. You can kill us but you can’t make us talk.”

“Why not?” Frustrated, Jet shot to his feet, startling both non-human boys into flinching back. “I won’t kill you, but the Enforcer probably will.”

At this point, it was looking more and more likely. Jet figured he had nothing to lose. He let go of his physical essence and slid out of the locked room as shadow. It was satisfying to hear the gasps of shock on the other side of the door.

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