The Firebird Prince

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Arkan

This was not worth it.

Arkan touched his neck lightly; there was a slight scar there, already mostly healed. He remembered Kellan holding him at knifepoint, the rage that had been in his eyes--Arkan had been genuinely afraid for a second--of Kellan, and of what Kellan might have done to him.

Then he remembered his own words, the red haze he had been in, sparked by his mother’s words. Looking back, he wondered how he could have said all that. Wishing Kellan dead instead of Rahim? Arkan wouldn’t never, ever think like that.

Even though he was sorry, Arkan found himself unable to get up and go to Kellan--but he hadn’t been at breakfast. Early meetings, Asa had said, and that was perfectly reasonable.

But even with Arkan actively seeking him out, he didn’t see Kellan until after sunset. He was passing in the hall, and Arkan hurried from his room, calling, “Kellan!”

Kellan turned, his face inscrutable. “Arkan.”

Arkan fidgeted, then stilled himself and swallowed. “Kellan, I--”

Kellan spoke before he could complete his sentence. “I’m sorry.”

Arkan blinked. “What?”

Kellan was avoiding Arkan’s gaze, his fidgeting hands giving away his unease. “I’m sorry,” he said again, louder. “About what--what happened back there. I wasn’t...in my right mind.” Kellan shook his head. “But that’s not an excuse. The things you said, they--I knew they were true, but I didn’t want to believe it, and I lashed out. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said, or done what I did.”

A weight left Arkan’s shoulders. “Me neither, Kellan. I’m sorry, too.”

Kellan nodded, and for a moment they stood awkwardly, before Arkan said, “You coming for dinner?”

Kellan shook his head and said, “I’m not hungry. I have work to do anyway.”

Arkan studied him, worried. “Is something wrong?”

Kellan smiled. “Not at all. Asa and Zara are both fine, and everything’s been relatively quiet around Karam. This is the best things are gonna get.”

“Right,” Arkan said. “Well, okay. I’ll see you later?”

Kellan nodded and turned away, but then Arkan asked before he could stop himself, “Kellan?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know who kidnapped the girls?”

Kellan hesitated for a second, his eyes troubled, but then said, “I’m afraid not. We’re still trying to find out.”

It seemed like he was being honest, and Arkan nodded, watching as he disappeared into his room. Then he grimaced, before heading off the dining room.

As he entered, Alina and Fariq both looked at him--the latter looked around him as if searching for Kellan, and his eyes darkened. “Will Kellan not come?” he asked, and Asa frowned.

“He says he’s not hungry,” Arkan said, and Asa sighed.

“He wasn’t at lunch either,” she said. “What’s up with him?”

“I think he’s just busy,” Arkan said. “He seemed alright.”

Zara raised her eyebrows, and Arkan realised how stupid his statement had been. He shrugged. “There’s no reason to be upset.”

“Well,” Alina said, “if that boy is intent on creating needless drama, let him. He is likely upset over nothing.”

Arkan knew the statement was wrong--and everyone else did too--but no-one had the nerve to speak up. They spent the rest of the dinner in silence, before Arkan suddenly said, “Not to bring up bad memories, but about your kidnapping--who did it?”

He had to make sure Kellan had been honest with him.

The sisters both shrugged. “Don’t know,” Zara said. “Why? Kellan is on it.”

Arkan nodded, satisfied. “Just curious.”

He saw Fariq give the girls a suspicious glance, but abstained from commenting on it. Who knew what went through the man’s brain.

Zara waved her fork. “You know, Kellan--”

Alina held up a hand. “Can we please refrain from talking about him?”

Asa shot her a look. “Why?”

Alina smiled, but there wa no warmth in it. “I suppose you have not heard what happened while you were gone?”

“What happened?” Zara asked cautiously, and Asa stared intently at Alina.

His mother smiled at him. “Why don’t you tell your sisters, Arkan?”

Arkan swallowed, staying silent, but his mother’s expectant eyes remained on him, and he gave in. “We had a fight,” he said quickly, eager to get it over with. “Me and Kellan, I mean. I punched him, and said some mean things and he--” He faltered, unsure if he should continue.

“Your dear brother,” Alina picked up, and Arkan tensed, “held a knife to my son’s throat, and threatened to kill him.”

For a moment, there was silence, then Fariq set down his fork and said to Arkan, in a slightly cold voice, “What did you say to him?”

Arkan opened his mouth to reply, but Alina waved her hand. “That does not matter,” she said. “What matters is that Kellan crossed limits.”

Fariq, to everyone’s surprise, ignored her. ”What did you say to Kellan?”

Arkan swallowed. “I...I thought Kellan had made me duke just to earn my favour. And then--” Arkan’s voice caught; he could not speak further. But he forced himself to say, “I called him jealous, for not having a mother while I did, and that he destroyed instead of saving, and that I wished him dead instead of Rahim.” The words were rushed and quiet, and Arkan half-hoped they hadn’t understood. But then he risked a glance upwards and flinched at the thunder in Fariq’s face; there was no doubt he had heard.

“I didn’t mean it,” he said desperately. “I didn’t--”

“What you said, Arkan,” Alina said quietly, “was the truth, and it was right.”

Arkan curled his hands into his shirt. No, he wanted to say. It was wrong. You were wrong.

But he could not.

“Arkan--” Zara began, shocked.

“I swear to God,” Arkan cried, his nails digging into legs. “I didn’t mean it, and I apologized, and he apologized--”

“You did what?” Alina asked, her voice barely controlled rage.

Arkan swallowed. “It...it wasn’t right, Mother.”

Alina regarded him with eyes that were pure ice. “My room, Arkan. I would like to talk to you.”

Arkan’s heart started to pound with apprehension, and he closed his eyes. What had he gotten himself into?

Alina swept out of the room, and after a beat, Asa said quietly, “You did the right thing, Arkan.”

Arkan nodded half-heartedly. What is it going to cost me, though?

“Whatever she says,” Zara said, “we’re on your side, Arkan.”

Arkan nodded again, wishing that was all it was: verbal. But the truth was something he would take to his grave. If he did not, he was fairly sure Alina would murder him with her bare hands. Slowly, he got to his feet, then looked at Fariq. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“If my King forgives you, my Prince, then so do I.”

Arkan smiled, immensely grateful. Then he made his way to Alina’s room, his heart an intense song in his ears--his mother was going to kill him. God, let it be quick.

He was only half-joking.

But then he stopped, suddenly determined not to be scared. It was--it was too much, being afraid of his mother, and if she was wrong, she was wrong. Regardless of who she was, or what she might do to him. Ruining himself for her was not worth it.

And having his mother’s favour was not worth losing Kellan’s.

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