A defiant prince of Faerie fights to retake his homeland and uphold the ideals for which his father was executed. The Storm Prince, by M. L. John, coming soon!
Beriani Quintinar, the youngest son of Faerie’s High king, is brilliant, beautiful, and spoiled as only a prince of the Sidhe can be. He has committed an unforgivable sin—he has fallen in love with the half-human daughter of a traitor. When ogres conquer Avalon and execute his father, he must convince the treacherous Queen of Summer to give him troops enough to win back his homeland. But if he makes it home, what kind of king can he be when he has already committed treason?
Word Count: 50000
Pages to Print: 165
Karen was sick, very sick. Just below her breast was a gash deep enough to flay her skin from the wet, red muscle below it. Pus and blood had dried in a striated crust on the surface of the make-shift bandage, and when Beri pinned her hands in one of his own to peel the fabric away, she struggled against him and cried out.
Red lines of infection, spiky and multiple as the limbs of a spider, radiated toward her heart. The wound needed stitches. The girl had not bled to death, though it had been a near thing. Beriani Quintinar had allowed himself to believe the worst was over and she would pull through until this very moment. He swallowed alarm as she turned her face away from him, the tendon in her neck standing out. Good. He hoped she was too ill to have noticed the dismay in his expression.
It took all of his High Court conditioning to keep his voice calm. “This is abscessed. You need a healer, and now.” Goddess, they were in the middle of nowhere, days away from civilization. “Just . . . just stay here. I will find one.”
Her head whipped about, dark eyes wide and wild. Curls stuck in sweating clumps to her forehead. Her lips were colorless as the belly of a dead fish.
“What? No! You can’t leave me! What if the Ogres find me? What am I supposed to do?”
Beri shook his head. “Karen. I have to get help. You are in no shape to travel any farther. You have to stay here.”
“No.” The wounded girl pushed herself up onto her elbows. A spurt of cloudy blood gushed from her side where the scab had ripped loose. Beri pushed against her shoulder to keep her still. Through clenched teeth she said, “I’ll go with you.”
“How can you?” Taking a shaky breath, he added, “You are pale and sweating. Mother. I have done this with my idiocy. I never should have let you come.”
Karen’s eyes flashed. “Yeah, you’re a real jackass. I forced you to bring me along and then I threw myself between you and an archer. This is all your fault.”
Beri glared at her and she glared back. She was right; of course she was right. No one let Karen MacGregor do anything, even when one happened to be the eldest surviving member of the royal Quintinar house. Sighing, he tucked one of her damp curls behind her ear.
“I will offer you a compromise,” Beri suggested. “I will stay here until you fall asleep. Then I will erect a defensive circle and go for a healer. Will that do?”
She blinked. “What if something happens to you?”
Beri considered his answer carefully, his desire to keep her calm warring with his need to keep her safe. “Your chances are as small if I stay as if I am unable to come back. You cannot ask me to watch you die when I can help you. There is nothing so cruel in you.”
She chewed the corner of her bottom lip, then nodded. Her gaze was haunted with fear. “You’ll stay until I fall asleep?”
Beri pulled her against his side and she rested her head against his heart. She was as hot as a sun and trembled endlessly. She must have spent the entire night worsening in order to be this sick at dawn. He had asked her to tell him if the wound started to hurt again, but he had known even as he said it he could not stop infection if it happened. His magic was not in healing. She must have seen through him. She always did.
Karen’s ragged breathing slowed and evened. He dropped a kiss onto the top of her hair and managed to extricate his arm from under her. She didn’t wake.
He cast the circle as he had promised; he even attempted to disguise their makeshift camp—though he had little talent for Glamourie. He turned his fear into violence and sang a song of lightning before he left her. Perhaps this delicate half-human beauty would die of her wounds, but she would not be accosted by anything from outside his defenses.
Beri stumbled as he walked away from her and his vision blurred. He paused only long enough to shake the fog from his brain and rub his eyes clear. He didn’t have much left now. He needed to find help, and quickly.
On all sides of him, the Enchanted Forest stretched as far as his eyes could see, emerald green and changeless. Birds sang above his head and shafts of sunlight struggled through the thick leaves to pierce the wooded gloom. Finding help would be easiest accomplished with magic, but it had been days since he’d eaten a proper meal and the protective circle had exhausted him. Mage exhaustion lurked in the weight of his limbs.
Beri had no idea where he might go to find help. Even if he found a healer in this lush wasteland, it was unlikely she might be induced to use her skills on his companion. Karen was half-Fey. Her very birth had been an act of treason. He started walking anyway.
Beri was a wizard; he had spent the entirety of his childhood studying meteomancy and was therefore not much given to superstition, but as he walked he prayed. Mother of Us All, let me find some village with a kindly populace or a clever hedge witch. Please do not let Karen die.
I have only now grown courage enough to love her.
But either the Goddess did not hear or She did not care, because Beri wandered on and on and no miracle appeared. His belly grew empty, but he had no time to see to its demands. He had become increasingly used to hunger since fleeing Avalon. He ignored it.
In the distance, a faint sound increased to a dull, steady roar. Beri paused, then altered his direction. It sounded like water, perhaps a strong river. Water Fey often had healing magic. Perhaps he could convince one of them to come back to camp with him.
Cynical, he thought, Having a Quintinar owe you a favor is no small prize.
Through the trees water shone, coin-silver, in the sunlight. As he approached, Beri realized he had miscalculated: he had not found a river. At his feet lay the edge of a tall, white cliff, and below him was a lake so huge it stretched past the range of his vision. White waves crashed against the rocks at the cliff base, and around these the sinuous, scaly tails of mermaids flicked plumes of water into the air.
Beri thought, Where there are mermaids, there are Nixies to eat them, and shuddered. No. There would be no healers in those viciously populated waters. He turned away from the cliff’s edge and moved back inland.
This aimless wandering was not helping. He did not want to wear out his slim energies, but the girl he loved was going to die if he did not think of a better way. Perhaps . . . perhaps he would just open his senses a little and let the weather flow into him. Reading air currents was something he could do with minimal effort. Closing his eyes to aid his concentration, Beri breathed in the magic hovering in the air around him. Power filled his head and chest like the smell of distant rain.
Above him and to the East, that evening’s pending storm was a knot of potential at the edge of his senses. He felt the moisture in the clouds, the sharp snap of electricity as energy built. There, too, hidden in the condensing raindrops was the salt tang of grief, sharp enough to sting. He knew the storms were for his father. Until someone took the High Crown, Thael Quintinar’s rampaging magic would be free to disrupt the natural patterns of everyday life in Faerie. Or perhaps the Goddess missed him as Beri did and these storms were how she wept.
Focus, fool, he told himself. He dropped his attention into the forest canopy above his head. Birds and rodents altered the patterns of the wind currents as air splashed against them; a swarm of pixies generated their own cloud of magical potential. The barometric pressure dipped between the ancient, sleeping trees. Soon, it would be raining. The small animals that dwelt in the branches moved to and fro as they prepared to take cover.
Hot air rose. His awareness rode the currents of cool air toward the ground. The disturbances in the air were larger here. The lake breathed mist into the waiting sky as its top layer evaporated. He turned his attention away from it; a body of water was too much input and would not help his search. He was looking for something living. Particles of air forced themselves against a bear’s shape, then splashed back against him as the creature shook itself. A rabbit expelled its last puff of breath and began to cool as a fox buried its snout into entrails hot enough to release vapor. No. He needed something sentient. A healer.
Closer than he expected, almost close enough to hear a shout, something walked on two legs. Beri’s attention snapped to it and his focus narrowed. The person felt large, almost as large as the bear. A troll, then, or a rock sprite? He hummed a breeze just strong enough to kiss the person’s face. The moving currents outlined a pair of long tusks like those of a boar extruding from the creature’s bottom lip.
Beri recoiled. Ogres, he thought. They were closer now than they had been since Karen was wounded. In the back of his memory, the Wizard Gen whispered, Focus, young prince. Was it one Ogre or many? The answer could mean life or death. His consciousness eddied against a second warm body, then a third, then a group around a cook fire. A troop, then. A troop close enough to hit with a well-thrown rock.
Another mind brushed his thoughts like a caressing hand. Meteomancer, it greeted.
Beri’s eyes flew open and he ran.
Behind him, a voice shouted in Ogre. Branches broke and foliage crashed. Beri swerved around a tree and jumped over a fallen log. He had magic enough to defend against the number of Ogres that chased him, but that voice in his head was wizard-strong. That much magic meant other Fey. After the strain of living in the forest for nearly two weeks, he was not up to a full-on wizard’s duel. Who were they? Avalon was not at war with other Fey! Still, he heard the musical voices of trained magic users mingling with the harsh tones of shouting Ogres. Perhaps Avalon had not been at war with them, but they certainly wanted him now.
He had to get back to Karen; those wizards might be strong enough to break the circle in which he had left her. He shouted down his wards as he drew into sight of his camp and dove into the tent he had made them from leaves and a purple string.
He shook her awake, hard. With one hand she rubbed her face. “I’m up, I’m up.”
“Good,” Beri whispered as Karen opened her eyes. “We have to run.”
Her sleepiness and confusion turned to fear all in an instant. “What is it?”
“Keep your voice down,” Beri hissed. “Ogres. They know where we are.”
“Oh, no,” Karen whispered back. “How did they find us?”
“There are Fey with them,” Beri told her. “They could have tracked us with a hair, or a drop of blood. Their methodology is endless.”
Karen shot him a look of wide-eyed fear and pushed past him to peer through the tent flaps. Then she turned back, gasping. “Sidhe. There are Sidhe hunting us. What are we going to do?”
They were already within her line of sight, then. “Run.”
He dragged her out of the tent. He reined himself in as much as he could bear. She was too sick to run, and she was not full Sidhe. Even the pace he kept taxed her; her breathing rasped in the air behind him.
“What are we going to do?” Karen panted.
“I do not know,” Beri said. His brain buffeted itself against the inside of his skull as he tried to think and run. “They will wear you out long before we wear them out. We have to think of a way to lose them, and quickly.”
“We’ve got to stop,” Karen gasped. “I’m bleeding.”
“If we stop, they will have us in seconds,” Beri said, though his steps faltered. Goddess, he was killing her. “We have to find a way to hide from them.”
“The blood will leave a trail, like before,” Karen observed.
“You may be right about that,” Beri said. “Wait! I have an idea!”
It was raining, he realized for the first time, and darkness had fallen. He had been too panicked to notice. The smell of salt water rode the evening air. If the lake’s energy had disrupted his concentration, it would do the same thing to the wizards who hunted them. He sent his magic spinning between the pounding raindrops to locate the lake’s direction and hauled her toward it.
The lake wasn’t far. In the darkness the water was black and the tidal foam was white against it. The stones below rose above the water, pale as jagged teeth.
Grimly, Beri said, “It’s the Lake of Dark Dreams. We climb down here.”
“Oh, I get it,” Karen panted and held her hand over her wound. Blood, black in the moonlight, soaked her shirt and her fingers. “They can’t get our scent over the water. Good idea.”
“Right. And the waves will break their tracking magic.” Whatever Karen said, this was a terrible idea. But it was the only one he had. He considered her wound. “The only problem is the Nixies.”
“Why are they a problem?” Karen asked.
“Well, they are more like sentient sharks than people. If you encounter any, be very, very polite to them. They are fierce, but they always appreciate good manners. For the Mother’s sake, whatever you do, do not thank them.” He hoped it would help.
“And how did you say we’re going to get down there?”
Beri patted his pockets, looking for his string. Meteomancer or not, even first-year magic students could use sympathetic magic to turn a piece of yarn into a rope. A smart wizard’s kit always included a pitch pipe, a match, and one string. Behind them, a group of Daoine Sidhe glowed silver against the darkness. There were more of them than he had feared. “We will have to climb. Did you see where I left that string?”
Karen asked, “The purple one? You left it back at camp.”
“Mother’s Hair, that was the only string I had. Damn. We shall have to jump.”
With a hiss and a thud, an arrow stuck in Beri’s side. Karen screamed even as the force of the bolt propelled him over the side of the cliff.