He fidgeted while the other approached him under cover of the storm and considered calling off their plans. Only the threat of blackmail had carried him this far. No, he decided with a bitter glance at the other man. Better to continue. He’d lose everything if he quit now.
The castle wall hid their meeting from prying eyes while magic cloaked any attempt to overhear the conversation. It was imperative they not be seen together.
Old-fashioned cobblestones darkened with the rain that fell. The rivulets would soon become small streams, but neither one of them took notice. Their cloaks remained dry, as did the space surrounding them. One of the benefits of commanding magic.
“We must coerce her to act. She is the one.”
“But she’s so young.” A flash of lightning made the shadows jump. The jeweled handle of the knife at his hip illuminated briefly, its dragon handle seemed to quiver in the changing light before his hand dropped over it, covering it from view.
“She’s been well-trained. It is her duty and her destiny. He is contained for now, but only she has the power to destroy him. If she dies as well…” The man shrugged and then laughed. “Then so be it.”
Skyla fell on her back, the swift blow of the tonfa club catching her off guard. She quickly jumped to her feet before she lost the slim advantage she’d managed to maintain. Her blonde hair hung in damp ringlets, making her wish she’d worn it pulled back. At least he hadn’t yanked on it yet.
A kick to the abdomen sent her attacker flying backwards. He stood back up with a dangerous smile on his face, only a slight wince to indicate she’d done any damage.
“Is that all you’ve got?” He sought to antagonize her with words, but Skyla knew better than to let her emotions dictate her actions. She ran up the wall, backflipping into a better position.
“I felt that.” Her instructor, Malla’kean, pushed a lock of dark hair out of his face that had escaped the thong and gave her a gimlet eye.
“What?” Skyla feigned innocence but he wasn’t fooled.
“Princess, you have to be able to defend yourself without using magic.”
“Why? What good is my magic if I can’t use it to give me a boost?” She knew she sounded petulant but she couldn’t help it.
“You might be placed in a situation where your magic is nulled.” He sighed and crossed his arms over a muscled chest that belied his advancing years, not looking a day over thirty-five.
“You’re turning me into a warrior woman,” she complained. “I’m never going to be sent out to defend the Kingdom.”
“Perhaps not. On the other hand, if you were killed, my reputation as a trainer would suffer. You wouldn’t want that, would you?” The corner of his mouth slid up and she laughed.
“Far be it from me to sully your reputation.” She swung a leg out and caught his ankles, using magic to bring him down. “But if it works, I’ll use it.”
Malla’kean picked himself up off the floor and wagged a finger at her. “Warrior women are sexy, you know. I’m sure that—what’s his name, Trae’more?—would agree.”
Skyla blushed. She hadn’t known that anyone noticed her interest in Trae. Even Trae himself hadn’t so much as given her more than a glance. Malla’kean must have read her thoughts.
“He thinks you’re unobtainable. Maybe you should let him know you’re available.”
“I couldn’t. My father…”
As if summoned, Prince Ther’cha’eab entered the room. “Skylather’cha’eab, if you’re done here I’d like a word with you.”
Skyla winced. Only her father used her full name, insisting on decorum at all times. She hated the formality almost as much as she hated her name. Following him out of the training room, they walked down the hallway of the castle, coming to stand at a window overlooking the valley.
The rolling hills beyond their cliff side perch were green and fertile, only one reason why the Kingdom flourished and prospered. Skyla loved the land, but shuddered to think of the imminence of her having to rule over it. She just wasn’t ready. What if she made a mistake?
Her father spoke, bringing her back to the matter at hand.
“I’m afraid with all this unsettled weather, our plans for your coming-out party may be in jeopardy.” He glanced over at her with a faint smile. “Not that you wouldn’t mind.”
“No, I’m looking forward to it. Really.” Skyla managed to choke down her nausea over the whole event. It actually was a ‘look for a suitable husband’ party, something she’d rather avoid for a long while.
It wasn’t that she was anti-marriage, but the thought of an arranged union for political purposes turned her stomach. Other people married for love and chose their own partners. She’d learned at an early age that her fate would be different. She would never be allowed to marry someone like Trae, who had no political power in his family.
Her father patted her hand and returned his gaze to the swollen clouds outside, their leaden underbellies ready to split open once more.
“Then perhaps you wouldn’t mind clearing some of this out?” He turned to face her, his eyes silently pleading for her cooperation.
Skyla hesitated. As the heir-apparent of the Elemental Kingdom, she had a certain power over the elements—a power that had led to her mother’s death. She shut off that avenue of thought.
“Mother always told me to be circumspect in changing the weather patterns.” Skyla spoke slowly, refusing to meet her father’s eyes in case she found disappointment lurking there. “She said we had a responsibility to respect the elements and too much tampering could cause the humans hardship.”
“Of course, of course. I didn’t mean anything drastic. Just a bit of a nudge to make sure your party isn’t ruined.” He gave her an awkward hug. “I’ll leave you now to think on it.”
Skyla watched him walk away, his proud bearing evident in his walk. It must annoy him, she thought, that he had no control over the elements even though he was a powerful mage.
I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.
The muttered words inside her head made her laugh. “I wondered if you were listening, Izzy. Don’t be too hard on him, dear. He means well.”
Hmpf. If you say so. A small dust devil popped into view in front of her, hovering about a foot off the floor. The whirlwind bobbed slightly and changed to a tiny firestorm.
“It’s a good thing only I can hear you, or you’d have been banished from the Kingdom long ago.”
Nonsense. Your Queen Mother created me and charged me with keeping watch over you. Nobody can undo that.
Skyla blew him a kiss. “And you’ve never failed me. Now, I need to go shower and change before dinner. Go get into trouble elsewhere.”
Are we going to Kat’s house tonight?
“I haven’t decided yet.” Some friends were having a get-together tonight but she wasn’t sure if she should go…although, maybe Trae would be there. “Possibly. Now scoot.”
Izzy spun away as a water funnel, spraying her in the face. I’m not the one who gets into trouble…rang in her head as Skyla wiped the drops away with an undignified giggle.
He was the only one who got into trouble. Mischief didn’t fit into her carefully orchestrated life. She’d never have the freedom her friends had, although she didn’t have their troubles, either. Maybe it balanced out for the good. Skyla sighed. No one would ever give her the chance to find out, that was for sure. She turned and headed towards her bedroom; she still had a schedule to keep.