The Drunkard King: Changeling teaser

Jory dodged her and watched her skip through the murky evening. “Who is she?” he asked as I stepped up to him.

“Sophia Henson. Captain Sophia Henson,” I corrected, rolling my eyes. “You have probably heard of her. Her father was the late pirate king of Canton, Vincent Henson. Some people call her a queen. Most call her the Pretender.”

Logan cleared his throat as he stepped past. “Be nice, mutt,” he said, and followed Sophia out the door.

Jory watched him go, as well. I doubted his eyebrows could get any higher. “Who is he?

I resisted the urge to rub my head. “My younger half-brother. He’s also the heir to a Southern Kingdom. Let’s go.” I grabbed his hand and towed him from the big house before he could ask any more questions.

We slowed our pace once we stepped onto the street. The rest of the village was clumped around one of the big fire pits at the end of the way; already we could hear them laughing and talking amongst each other.

Jory’s fingers twitched against my palm. “Your half-brother is a prince?” he asked, voice low.

I smiled to myself and pulled him to a stop. I could see him clearly in the dark. “He is. Sorry. My mother is an elf, but my father is Alistair Wymer.”

His eyes bulged. “Alistair Wymer. Your father is Alistair Wymer.”

“Clearly you’ve heard of him,” I said dryly. I tried to continue walking to the fire pit, but he yanked on my hand and pulled me back. “Jory, I’m hungry. Let’s go.”

He shook his head and tightened his grip on my hand. “The boy with you is his son? The crown prince?”

“Logan, yes. But just call him Lola. He loves it.”

“Stop joking, Riane. I’m being serious.”

A well of anger bloomed beneath my breast. I ripped my hand from his and backed away. “And I barely know you, Jory Lovat,” I snapped. “Why should I explain my entire sordid history to you the moment we meet? Yes, my father is Alistair Wymer, and that makes his son, the Crown Prince of Goddamned Nallis my half-brother. You’re talking to a princess,” I hissed. My spirit rolled in anger, threatening to push its way out in uncontrolled rage.

I realized it just before it happened, and pushed it back down in panic. The last thing I needed was to look like an untrained mage in front of these people—to look like a child.

Jory glared at me. With each passing second, I felt the hatred building up in his gaze. “You idolize him.”

It was an accusation.

“Of course I do. He’s my father.”

He snorted and turned away, but I grabbed him with a tendril of psychokinesis and yanked him back. He jerked, startled, and shoved away from me.

“What in the Druid’s name is your problem?” I demanded. He stepped back; I instinctively froze his feet to the ground.

“Are you Gabalic?” he asked, voice cracking.

“That is not the issue right now. You clearly have a problem with my father. I get it, most abominations don’t like monarchs. Or any rulers. But this is ridiculous. What did he do, confiscate your puppy?”

I saw his toes wiggle in his shoes. Short of taking off his shoes and scampering away barefoot, he was stuck. He resigned himself to his fate and huffed. The unruly locks of hair blew up, then resettled comfortably on his forehead. Glaring at me with an intense passion I didn’t expect from him, he said, “My mother had another son. A human son, from her late husband. He was eight years older than me. Harold. He left our house in Shanton when I was nine. He couldn’t stand to look at me, because I was a reminder of everything bad that had happened to her. Harry went to Nallis to become a tradesman. He joined a guild. He learned to smith.”

I blinked once, finally breaking the harsh eye contact between us.

Jory’s jaw clenched and he looked down at his shoes. “Harry didn’t know how to live on his own. His father had died when he was still young, and he was bitter about everything, not just me. He involved himself with bad people. The guild masters forced him to leave.” His voice wavered and weakened. “He was arrested for thievery, breaking and entering, and assault of a royal official. He tried to resist arrest. Who wouldn’t?”

I thought that I wouldn’t if a royal official was trying to arrest me, but wisely kept my mouth shut.

His throat bobbed and he let out a long breath. “I’m sure you know, being his daughter, but King Alistair is a drunk.”

“I know.”

“He was so shitfaced during public court on the day of Harry’s hearing that skinny baron had to keep nudging him to keep him awake. Mother and I could smell the liquor on him from across the hall,” he spat. I flinched and masked my face in a mild mimicry spell so he couldn’t see my embarrassed flush. “He couldn’t decide what to do with Harry; if the crime was terrible enough to have him sentenced to death, or just hard labour. Most of his officials and courtiers wanted to see Harry hang, but the king got this look on his face…” Jory spat on the ground and his face contorted with rage. “He said that there weren’t enough Cyrilles in Kriss, and that most of Mahara Pavanir’s slaves had all died of a plague.”

The anger in my heart deflated. “He sent your brother to Kriss?”

“With a letter that he was to be the emahari—his sister’s—personal slave until she grew tired of him. Then he could be sent to the quarries.”

I whispered an unconscious word that melted the ice around his soles. “Druid… I’m sorry, Jory.” The words were pathetic, but they were all I could offer. His hatred of my father was justified.

He stood in silence for a long beat; then, with a sigh, he shook his head and walked away, leaving me standing alone in the middle of the street.

A sinking feeling in my gut seemed to trap me where I stood. I knew my father was a drunk. I had known it since the day I first met him. But I hadn’t realized how adversely it affected those who needed him most.

Don’t worry, the hairventures will get back on track soon. I’ve just been obscenely busy.

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