Chapter no 57

A Darker Shade of Magic

“Come in.”

Kell had never been so glad to hear his brother’s voice. He opened the door and stepped into Rhy’s room, trying not to picture the way it had been when he last left it, the prince’s blood streaked across the floor.

It had been three days since that night, and all signs of the chaos had since been erased. The balcony had been repaired, the blood polished out of the inlaid wood, the furniture and fabrics made new.

Now Rhy lay propped up in his bed. There were circles under his eyes, but he looked more bored than ill, and that was progress. The healers had fixed him up as best they could (they’d fixed Kell and Lila, too), but the prince wasn’t mending as quickly as he should have been. Kell knew why, of course. Rhy hadn’t simply been wounded, as they had been told. He’d been dead.

Two attendants stood at a table nearby, and a guard sat in a chair beside the door, and all three watched Kell as he entered. Part of Rhy’s dark mood came from the fact that the guard was neither Parrish nor Gen. Both had been found dead—one by sword, and the other by the black fever, as it was quickly named, that had raged through the city—a fact that troubled Rhy as much as his own condition.

The attendants and the guard watched Kell with new caution as he approached the prince’s bed.

“They will not let me up, the bastards,” grumbled Rhy, glaring at them. “If I cannot leave,” he said to them, “then be so kind as to leave yourselves.” The weight of loss and guilt, paired with the nuisance of injury and confinement, had put Rhy in a foul humor. “By all means,” he added as his servants rose, “stand guard outside. Make me feel like more of a prisoner than I already do.”

When they were gone, Rhy sighed and slumped back against the pillows. “They mean only to help,” said Kell.

“Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad,” he said, “if they were prettier to look at.” But the boyish jab rang strangely hollow. His eyes found Kell’s, and his look darkened. “Tell me everything,” he said. “But start with this.” He touched the

place over his heart, where he wore a scar that matched Kell’s own. “What foolish thing have you done, my brother?”

Kell looked down at the rich red linens on the bed and pulled aside his collar to show the mirroring scar. “I did only what you would have done, if you were me.”

Rhy frowned. “I love you, Kell, but I had no interest in matching tattoos.” Kell smiled sadly. “You were dying, Rhy. I saved your life.”

He couldn’t bring himself to tell Rhy the whole truth: that the stone hadn’t only saved his life but had restored it.

“How?” demanded the prince. “At what cost?” “One I paid,” said Kell. “And would pay again.” “Answer me without circles!”

“I bound your life to mine,” said Kell, “As long as I live, so shall you.”

Rhy’s eyes widened. “You did what?” he whispered, horrified. “I should get out of this bed and wring your neck.”

“I wouldn’t,” advised Kell. “Your pain is mine and mine is yours.”

Rhy’s hands curled into fists. “How could you?” he said, and Kell worried that the prince was bitter about being tethered to him. Instead, Rhy said, “How could you carry that weight?”

“It is as it is, Rhy. It cannot be undone. So please, be grateful, and be done with it.”

“How can I be done with it?” scorned Rhy, already slipping back into a more playful tone. “It is carved into my chest.”

“Lovers like men with scars,” said Kell, cracking a smile. “Or so I’ve heard.”

Rhy sighed and tipped his head back, and the two fell into silence. At first, it was an easy quiet, but then it began to thicken, and just when Kell was about to break it, Rhy beat him to the act.

“What have I done?” he whispered, amber eyes cast up against the gossamer ceiling. “What have I done, Kell?” He rolled his head so he could see his brother. “Holland brought me that necklace. He said it was a gift, and I believed him. Said it was from this London, and I believed him.”

“You made a mistake, Rhy. Everybody makes them. Even royal princes.

I’ve made many. It’s only fair that you make one.”

“I should have known better. I did know better,” he added, his voice cracking.

He tried to sit up, and winced. Kell urged him back down. “Why did you take it?” he asked when the prince was settled.

For once, Rhy would not meet his gaze. “Holland said it would bring me strength.”

Kell’s brow furrowed. “You are already strong.”

“Not like you. That is, I know I’ll never be like you. But I have no gift for magic, and it makes me feel weak. One day I’m going to be king. I wanted to be a strong king.”

“Magic does not make people strong, Rhy. Trust me. And you have something better. You have the people’s love.”

“It’s easy to be loved. I want to be respected, and I thought …” Rhy’s voice was barely a whisper. “I took the necklace. All that matters is that I took it.” Tears began to escape, running into his black curls. “And I could have ruined everything. I could have lost the crown before I ever wore it. I could have doomed my city to war or chaos or collapse.”

“What sons our parents have,” said Kell gently. “Between the two of us, we’ll tear the whole world down.”

Rhy let out a stifled sound between a laugh and a sob. “Will they ever forgive us?”

Kell mustered a smile. “I am no longer in chains. That speaks to progress.”

The king and queen had sent word across the city, by guard and scrying board alike, that Kell was innocent of all charges. But the eyes in the street still hung on him, wariness and fear and suspicion woven through the reverence. Maybe when Rhy was well again and could speak to his people directly, they would believe he was all right and that Kell had had no hand in the darkness that had fallen over the palace that night. Maybe, but Kell doubted it would ever be as simple as it had been before.

“I meant to tell you,” said Rhy. “Tieren came to visit. He brought some—”

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Before either Rhy or Kell could answer, Lila stormed into the room. She was still wearing her new coat— patches sewn over the spots where it had been torn by bullet and blade and stone—but she’d been bathed at least, and a gold clasp held the hair out of her eyes. She still looked a bit like a starved bird, but she was clean and fed and mended.

“I don’t like the way the guards are looking at me,” she said before glancing up and seeing the prince’s gold eyes on her. “I’m sorry,” she added. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Then what did you mean to do?” challenged Kell.

Rhy held up his hand. “You are surely not an intrusion,” he said, pushing himself up in the bed. “Though I fear you’ve met me rather out of my usual state of grace. Do you have a name?”

“Delilah Bard,” she said. “We’ve met before. And you looked worse.”

Rhy laughed silently. “I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.” Rhy broke into his perfect smile.

“I like this one,” he said to Kell. “Can I borrow her?”

“You can try,” said Lila, raising a brow. “But you’ll be a prince without his fingers.”

Kell grimaced, but Rhy only laughed. The laughter quickly dissolved into wincing, and Kell reached out to steady his brother, even as the pain echoed in his own chest.

“Save your flirting for when you’re well,” he said. Kell pushed to his feet and began to usher Lila out.

“Will I see more of you, Delilah Bard?” called the prince. “Perhaps our paths will cross again.”

Rhy’s smile went crooked. “If I have any say in it, they will.”

Kell rolled his eyes but thought he caught Lila actually blushing as he guided her out and shut the door, leaving the prince to rest.

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