Twice a Prince by Sherwood Smith

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  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

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  Twice a Prince

  Copyright © 2008 by Sherwood Smith

  ISBN: 1-60504-073-8

  Edited by Anne Scott

  Cover by Anne Cain

  All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: July 2008

  Twice a Prince

  Sherwood Smith


  For M. She knows why.

  Chapter One

  “Prince Jehan did what?” King Canardan exclaimed.

  Magister Zhavic, one of the king’s mages, stroked his gray beard, making sure his voice was detached. Disinterested. Academic. “After the academy cadets finished the midsummer games, His Highness Prince Jehan had himself rowed out to his yacht. In the middle of the harbor. He’d had it moved out there earlier. No one knew why.”

  “Probably in hopes of a breeze. If it’s been half as beastly hot in Ellir as it’s been here. Even my son,” he added wryly, “is not too dreamy to overlook this weather.”

  The stars shone in the rain-washed midnight sky over the royal palace in Vadnais, but the palace room was still too warm. Magister Zhavic resisted the temptation to wipe his sleeve over his damp forehead, and got to the important part of his report. “When he heard that the prince had gone out into the harbor for the night, War Commander Randart rowed out with a force into the harbor after him.”

  Canardan sighed, his gaze straying to the pile of papers waiting on his desk. “Randart’s orders are to set sail at dawn, in pursuit of that curst pirate Zathdar. What’s he doing chasing after my son? Did he decide to commandeer Jehan’s yacht? Or maybe he’s taking Jehan out to help catch the pirate?”

  “The war commander did not see fit to inform us. He just left, and was seen rowing back again, without the prince, just before I transferred myself here to report. They might be docking right now. If the threatened storm did not slow them up. He did not have the prince with him. I made certain of that before I left.” He lifted his left hand, on which lay the magical transfer token, bespelled for a trip to the royal palace and back again to Ellir Harbor.

  The king’s attention flicked from the brassy token to the tall, lean, gray-haired man sitting before him. “You have no idea what Randart was after, then?”

  “There is speculation, of course. But the war commander did not inform us directly. All I can tell you is that he ordered his nephew to accompany him.”

  The king regarded the mage with brooding question. Magister Zhavic sat squarely on his chair, his face stiff, gaze diffuse. But Canardan, used to listening for clues, heard the subtle satisfaction emphasizing certain words. Zhavic was gloating. “All right, let’s hear the speculation.”

  “According to Patrol Leader Hathmad, the war commander and his force rowed out to the prince’s yacht to make a search.”

  “A search? For what?” The king leaned forward. “My son’s art collection?” Despite the joke, the king did not smile.

  “They weren’t told, just ordered to search for anomalies. The war commander’s own captain seemed to have private orders, but the others weren’t given those orders.”

  “What did they find on this search?”

  “Nothing. The prince had gone to his yacht to get one of his, ah, female artists to paint a fan for her majesty. The entire force overheard that.”

  Huh! If Randart was still rowing back yet Zhavic had this fresh report, that meant one of those men—probably this patrol leader—was a paid informer to the mages. Canardan was not surprised at that so much as at the fact that Zhavic was in such a hurry to tattle on Randart that he revealed the existence of the spy.

  “Female artist?” Canardan repeated. Could that possibly be the reason behind the search? There was only one missing female of import—Sasharia Zhavalieshin, daughter of Princess Atanial, whom Canardan had closely guarded up in the tower, as a cherished guest.

  But if her daughter, who had been captured by the pirate Zathdar at last report, was at large, and War Commander Randart was searching for her, surely, surely, the war commander would report that to his king. Wouldn’t he?

  “What did this female artist look like?” Canardan asked. “Tall? Frizzy hair? Hawk-nosed?”

  “Small, short red hair, very attractive. Perhaps Colendi. The only other female on board was the cook. She was quite tall. Hathmad didn’t remember her hair, so it must have been unremarkable. She was also drunk, covered with flour and wine, so they couldn’t really see her features.”

  Hathmad was the spy, then. Canardan repeated the name to himself to commit it to memory. He frowned. “I could have sworn last year Jehan treated me to a meal prepared by a Colendi master cook named Kial…Kaer…ah, I don’t remember his name, but in any case this was a man. I can understand that a Colendi master cook might get tired of sitting around on a yacht that sees its owner once or twice a year. Did Hathmad observe the cook working?”

  “Said she prepared an exquisite meal and served it like an experienced steward.”

  “Which the cook has to be, on a yacht that small. Very well, we’ll set aside the fan artist and the cook. Randart certainly seems to have. Go on with the report. Does anyone have any worthwhile speculation on why the war commander had them searching for anomalies on my son’s yacht in the middle of the night?” Canardan rubbed his jaw, wondering if Randart was ruminating on heirs again. Maybe it was time to send Damedran on a long, long journey, to learn diplomacy or observe armies or whatever.

  “Something having to do with the prince having arrested or almost arrested or attempting to arrest, a cutpurse, as near as I can tell. There was very little information to be found out about that. Everyone wanted to talk about the games and those mysterious youths who carried every single prize away from our cadets.”

  “Yes, just what we needed. Another mystery,” Canardan said with heavy irony.

  He turned his gaze back to the papers, but he didn’t see them. Magisters Zhavic and Perran, the king’s mages, both hated the war commander and his brother—a feeling that was mutual. None had any use for the others, which had suited Canardan fine. You don’t want your military leaders and your strongest mages allied.

  The cost was that they spent a lot of time that ought to have been dedicated to his own concerns trying to prove the others false. Canardan knew that Randart was behind recent whispers that the king “should” disinherit Jehan and put his nephew in his place. He blamed himself for speaking aloud in extreme exasperation once, when Jehan had done something particularly fog-headed.

  However, the idea had obviously stuck, and Canardan didn’t like that. Damedran was a military man’s ideal candidate for royal heir: handsome, strong, tough, courageous. But his knowledge of trade, of diplomacy, of all the other aspects of kingship that his father and uncle scorned was even sketchier than Jehan’s.

  What bothered the king were these sporadic secret missions, as though Randart had gotten wind of actual treason. Not that chasing a cutpurse was treason. Neither was chasing a cutpurse any reason to take a handpicked war band out for a ted
ious harbor trip after a long day spent outside in the broiling sun. Nor was it a reason to institute a covert search, his target not a suspected pirate or shady trader, but no one less than the crown prince.

  Canardan rubbed his eyes. His own ambivalence gave him pause. A part of him wanted Jehan to be conniving behind his back. That would mean the boy had his brains after all, and his ambition. Jehan when small had shown a distressing tendency to mimic his mother’s impossible ideals, which was one of the reasons Canardan had sent him west to get some sense knocked into him as well as some training. The other reason had been to protect Jehan somewhat when Canardan had parted with his mother.

  Jehan had had plenty of time to get used to that. He’d returned beautifully trained, obedient, cooperative…but without ambition.

  If Jehan was really conniving, hey, that showed the rudiments of ambition! But why not on his father’s side?

  Canardan scowled at the papers, still not seeing them. Unlike his own monster of a father (until the old man was killed by Canardan’s siblings, who were both far worse) he gave Jehan a free hand. Unlimited money. Rank. Even some responsibility—as long as he followed orders. And Jehan did follow orders…when he remembered them.

  No, Randart had to be inventing shadows to jump at. He’d always had a suspicious nature, which had saved Canardan many times in the past.

  Still. Taking Damedran out to the yacht? That was very odd.

  Canardan returned his attention to Zhavic. “I want someone trusted on the flagship. Reporting every day.”

  Zhavic bowed in his chair. “It shall be done.”

  “Meanwhile, you return to searching for Atanial’s daughter. I can’t do anything until I have her. The old castle with the World Gate is warded, isn’t it?”

  “Perran is there himself, right now. No one can possibly transfer between worlds without our knowing immediately.” Zhavic hesitated, then made a tentative gesture upward, toward the tower above them. “You are content with matters here?”

  “You mean Princess Atanial?” Canardan grinned wryly, thinking, You mean her magical tokens. “Oh, I think so. Carry on.” He twiddled his fingers in dismissal.

  The mage rose, bowed, murmured and transferred by magic, leaving a puff of displaced air to rattle the papers still gripped in Canardan’s hand.

  So exactly where was the missing tall, wild-haired, hawk-nosed daughter of Princess Atanial?

  I left off standing there in Jehan’s arms while we lit up the sky with a supernova kiss.

  At least, that’s what it felt like.

  The thing about sensory firestorms is, there’s that rock of common sense sitting somewhere in the center of all the heat. Or so it is with me. Because when I came up for air, the rock was right there inside me with all its insistent weight, and I gasped, nearly choking on rain, and pushed Jehan away.

  “Sasharia?” he asked.

  Lightning crackled, striking the sea not far away. He held his hands out to me, but when I braced myself to resist, he dropped them to his sides.

  In the glow from the cabin door, his eyes looked black, his expression changing from passion to puzzlement. “What’s wrong?”

  I looked at the fine strands of white hair lying across his brow. Tenderness made the insides of my arms ache to hold him, and my fingers twitched, wanting to smooth back his hair, which (I had discovered) was as soft as a bunny’s fur, only long. I clenched my hands behind my back, wishing the lightning would do me a big favor and strike me now. “I hate Fatal Attraction movies,” I snarled.

  Of course that made no sense to him whatsoever.

  I shook my own wet mop impatiently out of my face, but did not move, despite the lightning and thunder, and the stinging needles of rain. The thunder smash had died away to a distant growl. “I was going to make a joke about sleeping with the enemy and being stupid, but it’s not funny, is it?”

  “Enemy?” He stepped back, his chin jerking up as if I’d slapped him.

  “Oh, Jehan, I didn’t mean that. I mean I did, but not—oh, I don’t know what I mean.” I gave a strangled excuse for a laugh and tried desperately to smooth a horrible moment over with a joke. “So what’s your place in”—my life?—“Great Events? Did some mysterious mage cast a Shadow of Destiny on you when you were little? Or some weird prophesy turn up with your name in it in reference to a Path of Fate?”

  “Fate? Destiny?” he repeated.

  The words had come out in English, and I remembered Mom telling me years ago they didn’t have any such concepts. Nor did they talk about luck, either bad or good. Chance, yes.

  My “joke” was about as funny as mud, but I kept trying to turn the most serious conversation of my life into light banter because if you laugh you can’t get hurt, right? “I mean do you have a life membership in the Villains’ Guild? Now would be the time to zip it from your wallet and get started with the har har har.”

  “Villains?” He looked skyward. “How can you think that, Sasharia? What have I done? What have I not done?”

  Lightning. Thunder. Neither of us moved. We stared at one another, as if anger and passion and desperate questions could reach past locked gazes into skulls and decode the thoughts there. But though people walked in the world who could do that, neither of us had been born with that particular gift. Or curse.

  “Call me Sasha.” I knew it was inane, that I was being the kind of weak female I despise. But I so wanted to hear him say my name. Just once more. Because I was going to stick to my guns, and leave as soon as I could.

  “Sasha.” He said my name on an outgoing breath, which sent shivers all through my nerves. “Why won’t you let me explain the pirate disguise?”

  The rainsquall ended abruptly, a wave of slanting gray diminishing over the sea, leaving us standing under the dripping sails on the wet deck. I fought to keep my voice steady. “You. Are. Your father’s. Son.”

  His eyes closed. Then opened. “Didn’t you listen to anything I’ve told you?”

  “Oh, I listened. Heard everything you said. Which was, mostly, everything I want to hear. Just as your father talked to my mother twenty years ago your time, using every smile, every charm at his command.”

  He gripped the rail with both hands, and looked at me over his shoulder. “You’re never going to trust me, are you? No matter what I do. What I say. Because of who my father is.”

  “Let’s skip right past the fact that you lied to me about who you really are, when we first met. Privateer or pirate, you are attacking your own side. Your lying to Randart I have no problem with. But you’re also lying to your dad. I know you don’t want anybody killed, but for whose good? Here’s the real question: what would you do with your dad if you won some kind of battle against him? Put him on trial for his life, or stab him in the back?”

  “Neither.” Jehan faced the sea and let his breath out slowly. “But you won’t believe me even on that. Will you.” It was a statement, not a question.

  “So how do you propose to take away the kingdom? Last I heard he was decades away from a convenient death of frail old age.”

  “That’s not for me to decide, it’s for Math,” Jehan said. “Don’t you see? I am on your father’s side. I want Prince Mathias back on his throne. I want the kingdom reunited. Everything I do is to keep Randart on the hop, keep my father busy, which will make it all easier when Math does return. If Math returns, then maybe my father will listen to sense. There doesn’t have to be any killing.”

  “Yes there does, because your father has Randart as his right arm. He likes killing,” I retorted. “And your father lets him do it.”

  “That’s why the guises, don’t you see? If I can just hold off Randart while finding Math, maybe, maybe, there is a solution without another Khanerenth bloodbath. But as Jehan, I have no freedom.”

  “A prince with no freedom? Then it must be really tough to be a peon!” I could see how much my words hurt him. Or did he want me to see that? “I’m sorry for my sarcasm. I’m not trying to be a crank. It’s ju
st that everything you say, I hear my mom warning me…and more questions sprout like tentacles in my mind. Like, why didn’t my father tell you where he was going, if he really trusted you?”

  He did not answer, just stared at me, grim in expression, his mouth a white line.

  My righteous anger vanished like the heat in the sudden thunder, leaving me just as unhappy. “Don’t you see, Jehan? I wish I could believe you. I wish I could trust you, because there’s no denying we’ve got some major chemistry going between us.” Chemistry didn’t have a translation any more than peon had. He didn’t seem to need it. “But all I can think of is my mother’s stories about Canary trying to seduce her over to his side. And, well, there we were a few minutes ago—”

  “I follow.” He flung up a hand. Looked out to sea. “You’ve said enough.”

  He lifted the other hand, turned away, and I heard his quick steps crossing the deck and the door to the cabin shut.

  Leaving me standing there in the dark, with about as toxic a Pyrrhic victory as anyone ever…lost. Because I sure did not feel like a winner.

  After a couple thousand years I crossed the deck, which was silent except for the creaking of the wood, the wash and hiss of the restless sea, the distant mutter of thunder. I shut myself into my cabin.

  And sat there, waiting—arguing both sides for when Jehan came back.

  But he didn’t come back.

  The next noise I became aware of was the thump and swish of the boat being lowered. I moved, aching and cold, to the leaded glass window, in time to see him drop down into the boat and raise the single sail, which filled and carried him toward the shore on the making tide.

  Behind me, in the east, dawn smeared, a bleak smudge, against the horizon.

  Chapter Two

  King Canardan was still thinking about Atanial the next morning, when he was supposed to be looking over Randart’s requisitions for the army war game. When an aide announced that Magister Zhavic had just appeared by magic transfer, Canardan decided to use his appearance as an excuse to find her. He was certain he knew where she was.

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