The Firebird Prince

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“You’re up early,” Fariq remarked.

Kellan turned and gave him a cheery wave, barely keeping himself from jumping at the sudden voice. “Beautiful sunrise, isn’t it?” he asked, staring at the sky. He was sitting on the roof, legs dangling off the edge, soaking in the scenery for one last time before he left.

He subtly moved his hand to hide the diamonds in his lap. Since yesterday, he’d been unable to keep his eyes off them for even a second, lest one of them went dark without him knowing.

As a result, he had barely slept.

“Enjoying it for one last time?” Fariq asked.

Kellan laughed, looking down at his legs. “Yeah. I’m going to miss all of this. This is my home. I’ve spent more of my life here than in the palace.” He laughed again. “That sounds weird.”

“I do hope you don’t forget everything in a week,” Fariq said. “Don’t embarrass me, alright?”

“I won’t,” Kellan promised. “When’s my carriage arriving?”

“There’s still time,” Fariq said, then tapped him on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s have breakfast.”

Kellan pushed himself up, slipping the diamonds into his pocket. “It better be good,” he warned jokingly. “You don’t want me to leave with a memory of my last breakfast being a bad one. It’ll come back to haunt you.”

Fariq grunted, “I think I’ve spoiled you, Prince Kellan.”

Kellan snorted. “Don’t worry about that. All you’ve spoiled is my fun.”

He took his seat at the table, scrunching his nose at the broth in front. “Really? Broth? I’m severely disappointed.”

“Just spoiling your fun,” Fariq said, completely serious, and Kellan rolled his eyes.

“You’re funny,” he said and took a spoonful of broth. Instantly, a thousand flavours flooded his mouth. Kellan’s eyebrows rose, and he took another spoonful. “This is delicious!”

Fariq grunted, but beyond that, said nothing. Kellan finished the broth in silence, then leaned back leisurely. Fariq squinted at him with a suspicious look.

“Did you not sleep, Prince Kellan?” he asked, ever the observer.

Kellan made an easy smile spread across his face. “I told you,” he said. “I’m in love. Couldn’t stop thinking about those beautiful swords.”

Fariq gave him a shake of his head, to which Kellan grinned widely.

“I’m not gonna get them for you if that’s what you’re hoping.”

“Oh, no,” Kellan drawled. “Why give money when I can get them for free?” He ruffled his hair in a way he knew made him look even more handsome (how did he know? Well, maybe he’d spent a while in front of the mirror, looking at himself. Maybe). “Who can resist my charm? I can get whatever I want with it. Besides, any vendor should be honoured the Crown Prince of Karam approves of his products.” He waved his spoon at Fariq. “You’ll see.”

In reality, there were no swords he had seen in town, and all he wanted right now was to make sure his family was alright and then have a good nap.

“Are all your things packed?” Fariq asked instead of replying.

“Everything’s done,” Kellan said. I’m ready to go home.

“Good,” Fariq said, “because your carriage is here.”

Kellan sat up straight. “Really? Where--?” He shot up as he heard the sound of hooves, just outside the window. Without even saying goodbye, he ran to his room, snatched up his bag, and ran out of the house just as the carriage pulled to a stop.

“Prince Kellan!” the driver greeted jovially, smiling brightly. After a moment, Kella realised it was Abbas, his mother’s guard before she had died.

“Abbas,” he said delightedly. “It’s no nice to see you!”

Abbas looked slightly surprised at being recognized, but his smile grew because of it. But Kellan was paying him no more attention; he was too much in a hurry to get inside the carriage, to greet whoever had come. In front of the door, he took a deep breath, suddenly nervous, which was ridiculous.

He opened the door.

There was only one person in the carriage, which was slightly disappointing. All of a sudden, the air grew awkward.

“Kellan,” Arkan greeted, not smiling. Kellan almost blenched at his cold tone, trying to ignore the disappointment weighing on his heart. Of everyone, he had wanted to be met by Arkan the least.

“Arkan,” Kellan said, pulling back his grin at the last second. “How are you? My,” he added, giving Arkan a once-over, ”you’ve grown.”

Arkan really had changed; before, he’d been a scrawny, quiet kid who didn’t seem like much. Now he had grown into himself; he had the high cheekbones and the sharp nose of his mother, and the look on his face was superior disdain, faint but there in the curl of his lips. He sat straight, his posture that of a true prince, and the crown on his head looked like it belonged.

“I see you haven’t,” Arkan said dryly.

Kellan grinned, “Where’s the fun in that?” he said, dumping his bag on the seat. Arkan eyed it in mild distaste. Kellan sat down, waving Fariq goodbye from the window.

Fariq watched him for a second (probably preserving to memory his unforgettable face), inclined his head, and then, he smiled.

Kellan almost burst out laughing. After ten years and not a single smile, here he was offering one, just as Kellan was about to leave. He smiled back, then the carriage pulled away.

He turned back to Arkan. “So how’s everyone? Mother?”

Arkan raised an eyebrow. Man, he had changed. “Your mother’s dead.”

Kellan almost flinched but managed to keep smiling and said with an easy laugh, “Ah, yes. I must have forgotten. How’s the Queen?”

“She’s fine,” Arkan said shortly. Jerk, Kellan thought in disgust. Power and riches have gotten to his head. Apparently, Arkan had gotten used to being the only prince for ten years.

“And Father?”

“He’s fine too,” Arkan said, as if annoyed. “Everyone’s fine.”

Kellan wanted to punch him, but he kept smiling. “That’s good,” he said. “Has anything changed much?”

Arkan gave him a look as if he thought Kellan was stupid. He probably did. “Of course it’s changed,” he said as if it was obvious. “You’ve been gone for ten years. A lot happens in that time.”

“Of course, of course,” Kellan said charmingly, though inside he now really wanted to punch him. “I hope Zara hasn’t declared herself the Queen of Food yet,” he joked, trying to lighten to tension.

Arkan frowned at him. “Of course she hasn’t.”

Kellan laughed. “Thank God. Is Asa still the same?”

“She’s worse,” Arkan said, and he did not sound like he was joking.

Not quite sure what to say that Kellan resorted to smiling. Arkan looked away, staring out of the window as if he was content with ignoring Kellan completely. Well, Kellan wasn’t going to let him.

“I see you’ve gotten a crown,” he said.

Arkan bristled. “Of course I have a crown,” he snapped. “I am a prince.”

Kellan forced out a laugh. “Okay, okay. Calm down. You look like an angry cat.”

“I am not a cat,” Arkan said irritably.

“I never said that,” Kellan pointed out, grinning despite himself.

Arkan glared at him, then resumed his gazing outside. “I had hoped you would return changed for the better,” he muttered. “That certainly backfired.”

“Come now,” Kellan said in mock offence. “Don’t pretend you don’t enjoy my sparkling personality.”

Arkan ignored him. Kellan glared at him, then rolled his eyes. Let him be that way. It didn’t matter. Zara and Asa would be so happy to see him, not to mention Father. He wasn’t going to let Arkan’s contempt get him down.

I’m going home.

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