The Reluctant Prince

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Chapter 48

Attania did not accept Jet’s Kingship easily. By the morning after Jet’s news conference, reports of unrest and outright violence had filtered in from all over the country.

“What did you expect?” Merrell asked wryly. He was taking this much too calmly as far as Jet was concerned.

“Not this.” Jet hadn’t even been King a full week. Family, especially those in power, mistrusted Jet’s promises, and non-family were in a state of panic at Jet’s revelations about the true nature of Family. Needless to say, far from working with each other, as Jet had intended, Family and non-family were openly at each other’s throats.

Merrell urged Jet to return to Darcy and solidify his seat of government, but Jet was afraid that once he left Archerstown, as the cluster of factories outside Archer’s Cave came to be called, Family would attack this now-famous outpost of the Sons of Men.

Aylard had complicated matters further by taking Jet at his word. He had followed the news crews to Ballind, eager to tell his side of the story to Attania. It was Aylard’s inflammatory comments about ‘releasing’ Family which set Attania’s two races firmly against each other.

Aylard had a persuasive way of talking that appealed to Family and non-family alike, mostly because he played on their fears: he promised Family what amounted to Heaven, describing their elemental heritage as something they had long been denied. To non-family, he promised Attania itself as their birthright. How could they each not desire what he offered?

Jet needed to get out to the people of Attania and at least set them straight about what Aylard was offering. But he was a kid, even though he had been named King. The people—Family and not—didn’t take him seriously yet, although they knew the King had to have immense power. Jet foresaw countless struggles just to prove himself. He had a small but growing support group among people of his own age on both sides, and it helped that both Archer and Ben, leaders of the Sons of Men, stood behind him as well.

There was no way to ease tensions except by forging ahead. Jet didn’t want to sit back in Darcy, becoming a figurehead while others solved the day to day problems of Attania. That’s how the Family had gotten into the current situation. But he was quickly learning that a King had certain responsibilities that Aylard, for one, did not have. Jet flicked off the news channel where Aylard’s face filled the screen. “Where’s Daniel?” he asked.

Someone ran to fetch Daniel who still spent most of his free time at the flitter factory with Samuel, the foreman. Jet had thoughts of appointing Daniel as his technical liason between Family and non-family, although Macek had the better temperament for it. Right now, however, Jet wanted Daniel for something else entirely. “I need your help.” There was no sense just talking about what he wanted to accomplish. Maybe a little action would get his point across quicker. “I need a storm. A big one.”

Daniel raised his eyebrows. “Any particular place—or right here?”

“Here. Now. You’ll need to be wind and water both. I’ll be the heat that draws you.”

“Oh, that’ll be some storm all right!” Daniel said. “Are you planning on drowning Attania and starting over?”

Grinning, Jet replied, “Not exactly. I thought we’d start spring a little early instead.” If he thawed out the frozen north and used their combined elemental powers to quick start the growing season up here, then maybe the rest of Attania would see what he meant.

“You’d better tell the non-family to take cover, then,” Merrell advised. He’d been listening without comment until now, waiting, Jet guessed, until Jet made a big enough mistake before he stepped in. But Jet had thought it through. He just needed to push the snow away from Archerstown before he melted it. Jet had Ben and Archer organize their men to move everybody out of the caves just in case. Merrell sent his enforcers to Ballind and the surrounding towns, although there were very few this far north. That’s why Jet thought his plan would work.

“Ready?” Jet asked, when everything was in place. They had gathered an audience despite the risk. Merrell waited with Macek and Doll on the hill above the cave entrance. Ricky and Patrick perched on top of Ricky’s truck, shading their eyes with their hands so they could see better.

At Daniel’s nod, they both released their physical bodies. Daniel was wind, relentless and strong. He rose in a tight spiral, drawing the snow up into its center. He avoided the area where everyone watched, although residual winds still buffeted those on the hilltop. Daniel gathered clouds to him as a storm developed over Archerstown. Jet incorporated light into an intense warmth and wove its essence through Daniel’s howling wind. The icy winter wind turned warm with Jet’s touch, and snow melted into rain.

The storm swept over the northlands, and when it was over not a trace of winter remained. A large lake had formed in the frozen northern plain, which was frozen no longer. Green things poked from the warmed earth, a sign of things to come. Ballind had not been spared, either. Warm air coursed through the town at the edge of the north, and fields that had been buried in snow glistened muddy brown. The news crews quickly broadcast scenes of the north’s transformation all over Attania, to Jet’s satisfaction.

On the news, Aylard floundered for explanations as the news reporters bombarded him with questions. Jet finally materialized in a showy flash right in the center of their news conference and rescued Aylard. “We’re Elementals,” he explained. “We control the elements and can manipulate them to Attania’s advantage.”

“Is that why it’s no longer winter?” One of the reporters asked. “Did you do this?”

Jet nodded. “We can do this all over Attania if necessary. In fact,” Jet glanced at Aylard who stood silent beside him now that all the attention was on Jet. “With Aylard First’s help, we plan to make even the blasted lands arable again.”

Aylard’s lips tightened, but he did not respond to Jet’s thinly veiled challenge. The King—the former King—had destroyed Parrion and all the land around it as a warning to non-family not to take Family power lightly. Aylard had gone underground, literally, and the land above remained scorched and barren, with raging storms which scoured the land. The scorched earth should have renewed itself over time, but it never did. Jet was pretty sure that was because of Aylard. It was Aylard’s storms that ravaged the surface, while his Sons of Men schemed in the caves below ground. Aylard hadn’t wanted his little corner of Attania to recover.

The reporters eagerly jumped on Jet’s statement, coming back with questions of their own. How would the King accomplish such a feat? What about the rest of Attania? Could the King show them some of his Elemental powers?

That last one made Jet smile. It was just what he wanted to show the world. “Elementals, such as Aylard First and myself,” he said, “can combine in elemental form. Mr. First is Wind. I’m,” Jet smiled again—this was going out all over Attania and he wanted to drive home the point that he was powerful enough to be King—“everything else. Usually there wouldn’t be much to see, but today I’ll show you elements you can see. If Mr. First will oblige me by becoming a tornado? When two Elementals merge, we commune with each other in a way that ordinary people, even Family, cannot.” Jet said that deliberately, to refute Aylard’s assertions that ‘releasing’ was the only way Family could achieve such communion with the elements. Not all Family would be able to learn to become Elementals, but as long as they knew it was a possibility, maybe not all of them would buy into Aylard’s philosophy.

With the reporters clamoring for a demonstration, Aylard released his physical body and whirled around the gathered news crews, to oohs and ahs at his sudden disappearance. He angled up and far enough away that his mini tornado wouldn’t pull them into itself. Jet grinned and let himself become fire, arrowing up and up until he insinuated himself inside Aylard’s wind tower.

In Elemental form there were no words, just feelings. Aylards: angry, hurt, vengeful. But behind those emotions Jet sensed loss, bewilderment, loneliness. He sent reassurance, acceptance, joy through their combined essences. Merging was joyful, and gradually Aylard’s loneliness eased. They both spiraled down and took human form again, to a chorus of applause from the reporters and cameramen.

Merrell’s motorcade drove up before the second barrage of questions began. He took his place next to his King, making his position clear as Enforcer as he deftly fielded the first question. “King Jet will give another interview in three days time in Saffron. For now, he has other commitments which must be met. Thank you.” With a final nod, Merrell escorted Jet off the makeshift platform that served as the stage for the news crews in Ballind. Aylard trailed behind them, for once seeming just as glad to avoid the cameras.

Merrell ushered them both into his limousine, where Daniel and Macek both waited. “Where’s Doll?” Jet asked, since she wasn’t there.

“She’s in one of the other cars,” Macek said, putting out an arm to stop Jet when he would have gotten out to go to her car. “We need to talk to you.”

Was Merrell going to make his move now? Jet already told him he wasn’t going to appoint a different Enforcer. He frowned. “About what? Did something happen in Saffron?”

Merrell slid in beside Jet. “I want you to go around to all the major cities of Attania, make yourself known, ease the cousins’ worries about what you might do as King.”

Jet relaxed. He was going to do that anyway. “Starting with Saffron in three days?”

“I mean now, Jet. Today, while the newscast you just made is fresh in their minds. The cousins don’t know you, Jet. They know me.”

“I think it would have more impact if I went there my way,” Jet said. “Daniel can go with me.” So far, of all the Family who had learned Jet’s trick, only Daniel could sustain it indefinitely with seemingly no effort. Daniel, who might have wanted to be Enforcer if he couldn’t be King, but now would rather tinker on machines than rule the world.

“No.” Merrell spoke with finality. Jet raised his eyebrows, not surprised that Merrell’s earlier easy acceptance of Jet’s decisions was only temporary. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but up to now Merrell had proved himself not only trustworthy but strangely altruistic. Merrell didn’t seem to crave power, anyway. Jet decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “You are King. You need to be seen as King. Once you’re there, you can go ahead and show you’re an Elemental also, but first you will be King. We will travel from city to city, and the reporters will follow your progress. You can use this progress to promote your ideas. He can come, too, since you already promised he could promote his ideas too.” Merrell nodded at Aylard, who still sat with them in the Enforcer’s limousine.

“Why can’t I sit with Doll?”

It was Merrell’s turn to raise his eyebrows. “Don’t expect Attania to change overnight. The cousins will expect you to take a wife in their cities. You can bring Doll, but as your main wife, so they’ll think they still have a shot at influencing you.”

Forget that. Jet chuckled and turned to smoke. He would come back to Merrell’s car before they hit the first city, but there was no reason he had to stay there the whole time. He oozed into each of the three enforcer cars until he found the one where Doll sat. A moment later Daniel, then Aylard, then Macek did the same thing.

“My father is not happy,” Macek said, but he couldn’t suppress his grin. “Ah—there he is.”

The limo door was yanked open and a very disgruntled Merrell slid in. “You need to teach me that,” he grumbled, folding his arms across his chest. But he didn’t say anything more about Doll not riding in the same car with them.

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