Summary: King Edouard, his bodyguard and lover, the royal wizard Kieran, and Edouard's wife, Queen Celli, have formed a happy family with their three children, Antonio, Lida and Vincent. Now twelve years old, the triplets reflect their parents' intelligence and have thrived under their parents' affectionate upbringing. But Vincent and his siblings are hiding a terrible secret which threatens to destroy the royal family's comfortable life in this sequel to The Wizard of Bright Isle, The Royal Wizard and The Queen of White Shores.
Chapter 1: Forbidden Powers
It was a dream. Vincent could always tell when he was dreaming because the sunlight was too bright. His dreams were always washed nearly white by the light. But the water of White Lake was still deep blue, lapping against the sides of his small boat. Vincent loved to sail, so that part of the dream was normal. But the complete lack of other boats on the lake was not. In fact, he could see nothing but water in every direction. His heart thumped loudly in his chest. With the sky washed white and no landmarks, he had no idea which way led back to White Shores. Fear rose inside him. Vincent was unaccustomed to being completely alone. Born third in a set of triplets, he had grown up with the constant companionship of his brother and sister. Only recently, since they had turned twelve, had he started venturing out on his own, mainly to go sailing. But he never sailed out of sight of land. But now he was completely alone; cut off from everyone by the endless expanse of White Lake. His fear turned to panic and the brilliant sunlight started to fade, growing steadily grayer until he was in utter darkness.
"Vincent! Wake up!"
That urgent whisper was not part of the dream and it jolted Vincent out of his night terror. He sat up sharply, clutching his blanket to his chest. His dark hair was plastered to his face by perspiration. He could feel the droplets running down his face and chest.
His brother Antonio, whom everyone tended to call Antony, was sitting on the edge of his bed. He clasped Vincent's hands. "Are you all right? You cried out in your sleep." Antony hesitated. "And your hands were glowing."
Vincent stared down at his hands in horrified panic, but they looked normal.
"It stopped when you woke up," Antony said. "What were you dreaming about?"
"I was in a boat on the lake," Vincent whispered, "but I couldn't see the shore or any other boats. I was all alone." He heard the fear in his voice when he spoke those last words. "What do you think it meant?" Vincent was afraid to ask the question, but he asked anyway. Their stepfather, Kieran, had prophetic dreams and Vincent took after him in many ways. He frequently had dreams that were either clairvoyant or prophetic, but only Antony and their sister Lida knew that.
Antony tapped the tip of one finger against his lips. It was a habit that cropped up whenever he was deep in thought. "I'm not sure."
Vincent looked down at his hands, turning the palms up. "Do you think it has something to do with…" he paused and swallowed, "with my power?"
"Probably." Antony clasped his shoulder. "But that's still our secret. No one needs to know."
"I can't be a wizard, Antony!" Vincent whispered miserably. "If anyone finds out…"
"No one will find out," Antony said firmly. "Lida and I agreed that we won't tell anyone. Don't worry. No one is going to separate us. We were born together and we will always be together. I promise." He hugged Vincent tightly and Vincent hugged back, comforted by the familiar warmth of his brother's body. He was glad the two of them were still sharing a room. Lida had been moved to her own room a few months ago when she started bleeding and was declared too old to be sharing with her brothers. They had all wept themselves to sleep for days afterward, but Lida had always been the strongest of them. Vincent suspected he would still be crying himself to sleep if he had been the one forced to move out. "Go back to sleep," Antony said, smoothing Vincent's hair away from his face. "I'll sit with you until you're asleep."
"Thank you." Vincent lay back down, curled up on his side, and pulled the blanket back up over his shoulder. He didn't want to go to sleep, but he was tired. Resisting the seductive pull of the power flowing beneath his skin took effort and he was always worn out. But he had to hold it in, because if anyone ever saw his hands glowing, it would be all over. He couldn't be both a wizard and a prince. The kingdom wouldn't allow it.
"Pay attention, Vincent!"
The sharp rap of the wooden pointer on the desk in front of him made Vincent jump and his head snapped around. Their tutor, Lord Hirima, stood directly in front of Vincent's desk, his face pulled down in an angry scowl. Vincent had been caught day-dreaming again, staring out the window at the fluffy white clouds drifting by. Vincent could make the clouds move if he wanted. He had not told Antony or Lida that, but he suspected they knew. They always seemed to know everything about him. He dropped his eyes, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Lord Hirima," he muttered.
"And well you should be," Hirima snapped. Hirima was a compactly built man. Had Vincent been standing, even at twelve he would have almost topped Hirima in height. But Hirima's short stature completely belied the ferocity of his temper when he thought his royal students were not performing at the level they should be. Of the three of them, Vincent was the poorest student. It was not that he was less intelligent than his brother and sister, although Vincent doubted he would ever match the quickness of Lida's wit, but the constant state of exhaustion that had become a part of his life left him with little energy or enthusiasm for study. He was managing to keep up with the others, just barely, but the disparity was becoming greater as he got older and the surge of magical power within him became stronger. Hirima rapped his pointer against the palm of his other hand. "You are disappointing me, Prince Vincent. You are no less skilled than your siblings, so I expect you to apply yourself with equal vigor." He glared at Vincent from beneath bushy white brows that reminded Vincent of the clouds that had drawn his attention. Hirima's piercing blue eyes only made it worse by reminding Vincent of the sky.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I'll do better."
"See that you do." Hirima went back to the front of the classroom and resumed his lesson.
Vincent forced himself to pay attention. School was the only chore the royal children were obligated to perform. Six days a week, they spent four hours each morning and two hours each afternoon in lessons with Lord Hirima. After that, Antony and Vincent spent two more hours studying swordsmanship and Lida was relegated to the parlor where she learned the maidenly arts of embroidery and music. The three of them would then spend whatever free time they had left riding, sailing or having archery lessons. The seventh day was a free day on which they could do whatever they wanted. In general, they had a lot of freedom, so Vincent felt guilty when Hirima had to reprimand him. He really did need to do better.
When Hirima dismissed them for the day, Vincent remained at his desk with his head in his hands. As soon as their tutor was gone, Antony and Lida crowded close to him.
"You look tired, Vincent," Lida said worriedly. "Did you have another nightmare last night?"
"Yes." Vincent nodded wearily. "It's exhausting." He looked toward the door. Hirima had left it open, but no one was in sight. With a sense almost of relief, he let go and allowed the light to stream through his skin and pour off his hands. Mostly translucent, the liquid light was shot through with streaks of angry red.
Lida trailed a finger through the light. They had learned early on that his light produced no heat. "The red isn't good," she said. "It only turns red when you're sick or upset."
"I know." Vincent stared unhappily at the shimmering pool that was forming around their feet. "It's just so hard keeping it in all the time. I'm afraid I'm going to slip up and then what will happen?" He looked up at the others, feeling the tears forming in his eyes. "They'll send me away. Father will disown me!"
"He won't disown you!" Antony replied fiercely. "You're our brother and nothing will change that." He clasped Vincent's left hand and Lida clasped his right, nodding vehement agreement with her brother's statement.
Vincent clung to them. Holding onto his siblings was the only thing that could soothe the aching fear in his chest. Being thrust out of the family, being alone, was the one thing he truly feared. He wasn't afraid of magic or of being a wizard. He was afraid of what it would mean to admit that he was one. With an effort, he pulled the magic back into himself and banished the pool of light.
Lida leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I wish I could go with you to sword practice. I hate embroidery! I always prick my fingers." Vincent and Antony laughed. Lida's constant complaints about the feminine pursuits she had to do, and from which her brothers were spared, was a private joke. "Don't laugh! I'd like to see you do it without sticking yourselves with the needle!"
Antony held up his hands, still laughing. "No thanks! I'd rather get my knuckles bruised with a practice sword."
"Me, too!" Vincent stood up and put his textbooks away. "We'd better get going. Master Leron doesn't like to be kept waiting and we will for sure get our knuckles rapped if we're late."
Lida made a face. "So that means more pricked fingers for me. Should we go riding afterward?"
"Yes!" Antony agreed instantly. "We can ask Kieran to go with us."
"All right. I'll go ask him instead of going to my embroidery lesson with Lady Memsy," Lida said wickedly and scurried out.
"Naughty!" Antony shouted after her. They left the classroom at a more leisurely pace and went down to the courtyard. Around the palace to the right from the courtyard, beyond the stables and carriage houses, was the practice area where the palace guards trained. An open field filled with sand and gravel, the practice yard usually had a few handfuls of men in it practicing their weaponry. This was where Antony and Vincent met with Leron, a skilled master of the sword who, in their opinion, had no sense of humor at all. He was already in the yard going through a series of strikes and lunges, his sword a nearly invisible blur. He flowed to a stop when they appeared.
"Good afternoon, your highnesses. Get your vests and practice swords. Let's not waste time."
Wasting time was the one thing Leron wouldn't tolerate. He would admonish them for missing a strike or a block, but he would launch into a furious ten minute lecture if they were late or he decided they were playing rather than training. The pair of them hurried to the sheds erected along one side of the yard and retrieved padded leather vests and wooden practice swords. Hurrying back to Leron, they helped each other buckle the vests in place and then stood at attention.
Leron inspected them briefly before raising his own sword. "Today, we will practice avoiding, rather than blocking, a direct thrust to the belly. Swift feet can save your life as readily as a swift sword. Observe. Prince Antony, thrust toward my belly."
And so the practice began. It was a long two hours and they were drenched in perspiration when it was over. Although it was past midsummer, it was not yet fall and the days were still hot. Even with the sun sinking toward the horizon, the evening breeze had not yet begun to flow in off the lake. That was the only thing that made the nights bearable during the summer. The onshore flows from the lake cooled the sweltering daytime temperatures. Putting their swords and vests away, the boys dipped their heads in one of the horse troughs to cool off. Their mother, Queen Celli, always told them not to because it was undignified, but all the guards did it after training. It was the best way to cool off quickly. Nevertheless, they hurried back to their rooms to bathe properly and get dressed for dinner. A hard afternoon of training always left them ravenous.
Lida came in while they were still in their bath. "You better hurry. I heard they're serving grilled tomatoes with dinner tonight. Father and Kieran will eat them all."
"I thought you weren't supposed to watch us bathe!" Antony teased.
Lida wrinkled her nose. "As if there was something I haven't seen before!" she snorted. She leaned against the wall by the door. "Anyway, Kieran says we can go riding after dinner. Father has an evening meeting tonight and Mother was planning to attend as well. Since Lord Moretz will be there, Kieran says he doesn't need to be."
Their stepfather, Kieran, was the family's bodyguard. His primary duty was to guard King Edouard, their father, but he considered Queen Celli and the royal children to be his responsibility as well. However, given that he was the most powerful wizard in the kingdom, he didn't need to be near his charges to guard them. The three of them had been protected by magic since birth. Antony and Lida were not aware of the spells, but Vincent could feel them. At first, he had not understood what that featherlike sensation tickling at his awareness was, but now that his power had started to blossom, he understood that what he was feeling was the presence of magic resting on his skin. The spells were like gossamer, but Vincent sensed the incredible strength in them. Although he felt an instinctive desire to break free of those silken threads, he knew he did not have the strength. Kieran's power was beyond anything Vincent would ever be able to achieve.
"Quit dawdling, Vincent!" Lida demanded, breaking him out of his reverie. "I'm hungry!"
"Sorry!" Vincent quickly finished rinsing his hair and clambered out of his tub. A waiting servant draped a towel around him, casting a faintly admonishing glance toward Lida, who stood there calmly watching her naked brothers being toweled dry. Vincent couldn't help chuckling to himself. Barely five months before, the three of them had bathed together in the same room and no one had thought anything of it. But once he and Antony were dressed and more or less presentable, the triplets dashed out of the room and ran to the dining room they shared with their parents, tumbling through the door like wild dogs, all legs and appetite.
"Children!" Celli exclaimed. "Where are your manners?"
The three skidded sheepishly to a halt. "Sorry, Mother!" they exclaimed in chorus.
"We're hungry!" Lida added.
"The boys I can understand," Celli said, regarding her daughter archly, "but I can't imagine how skipping your embroidery class brought on such an appetite."
Lida blushed bright pink. "Who told you?"
Celli folded her arms under her breasts and lifted an eyebrow. "Who do you think? Did you expect Memsy to just overlook your absence? Of course she told me! She was concerned about shirking her duty to the Crown. You should have considered that before you ran off without giving her even a flimsy excuse."
"Well, I wanted to ask Stepfather about going riding after dinner," Lida said, managing to sound contrite. Vincent and Antony exchanged a quick look, suppressing amused smiles. The excuse was definitely flimsy.
"Call me Kieran," Kieran said from behind them. "And your mother is right. You could have asked me about going riding at dinner." He tapped Lida on the nose with his finger. "Embroidery is an appropriate pursuit for a well-bred young lady."
Lida made a face. "I'd rather paint."
"Painting is also an excellent pursuit for a well-bred young lady," Kieran said with a warm chuckle, "and I believe Memsy is also an accomplished artist. Why don't you ask her tomorrow when you apologize for skipping today's lesson?"
Lida heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Oh, very well! But if she agrees to teach me to paint, can I give up embroidery? I hate pricking my fingers!"
Kieran grinned at Celli and the queen rolled her eyes. "You are quite a trial, young lady," she said. "I will consider it, but that's all."
"Thank you!" Lida hugged Kieran around the waist.
Edouard came in with Moretz on his heels. "What's this? Handing out hugs without waiting for me?" He held out his arms and all three children ran to hug him. He kissed each of them on the top of the head. "This is always my favorite part of the day!" He disentangled himself and went to kiss Celli on the cheek. Then he took Kieran's hand. "I hear they made grilled tomatoes."
"They did," Kieran assured him, "and I didn't even ask this time."
They moved to the table and took their seats, and the attendants began serving the meal. Ever since the three of them had gotten old enough to move out of the nursery in their mother's suite, the royal family had taken their meals together. Sometimes, one of their parents would not be able to attend, but at least one of them was always there to eat with the children. On special occasions, they ate in the banquet hall with dozens of guests, but even then, the six of them would sit together. Edouard had never excluded them, even when they were small. It was this closeness that they shared that Vincent feared to lose should his magic be discovered. He feared becoming an outcast from the family he loved above all else.
After dinner, Edouard, Celli and Moretz left to attend the council meeting and Kieran escorted the children to the courtyard. Four saddled horses were waiting for them. The children had ridden ponies when they were younger, but now that they were starting to get closer to their adult height, they were given horses. Lida still needed assistance to mount her horse since her mother insisted she wear a skirt and ride side-saddle like a proper lady, but Antony and Vincent could mount their horses without help. When they were mounted, Kieran led the way through the city and out into the countryside for their ride. It was twilight and there was always a sort of magical quality to the lingering light at that time of day. They galloped along the coast highway, passing laborers returning home from work at the fine manor houses along the coast and the carriages of nobles heading out for the evening. After a short way, they turned off the highway and took a smaller road that wound through the rolling foothills north of the city. If they stayed on that road long enough, it would lead them to the vast forest east of White Shores that stretched far to the north and south, blanketing the mountains. Vincent always wondered what it would be like to explore that forest. Madrin lived there; magical creatures whose lives were intertwined with the royal family. Vincent owed his life to a madrin. The creature had given Kieran the power to heal and it was through that power that Vincent's life had been saved at birth. He had always wanted to meet one of the creatures, but they had become more reclusive in recent years. Even Colwyn, a wizard well known for his advocacy regarding madrin, had not seen one in over three years.
Trotting along the road as darkness fell, Kieran created several balls of witch light to float along above them. He did it effortlessly, willing the balls of light to life on the palm of his hand and tossing them into the air. Vincent watched with a pounding heart. He could see how Kieran created the light. It was different from the light that pulsed under Vincent's skin and poured off of his hands. Witch light had less substance than the light Vincent made, but he understood how to turn his natural light into witch light balls that could be released into the air.
It was completely dark by the time they started back. Kieran's light balls did not shed a lot of light; they mostly made it easier to see the road and watch for stones that might turn a horse's ankle. It also allowed them to see the stars, which was part of the reason why they liked to go riding at night.
"It's so clear tonight!" Lida exclaimed happily. "You can even see the Lady's Veil." She pointed up at the stars above them, which formed a constellation called The Seated Lady. The grouping of stars resembled a woman in a flowing gown seated in a chair and on clear nights, a second grouping of stars swimming in a shimmering flow of dust could be seen near the woman's head.
"It's beautiful," Kieran murmured, also looking up.
They were all looking up when Lida's horse suddenly shied, jumping to the side and half-rearing in panic. Lida cried out as the unexpected movement caused her to slip partway out of her saddle, leaving her dangling by her left knee. She managed to tangle both hands into her horse's mane to keep from falling, but she could not right herself. "Kieran!"
The guttural growl of some large animal sent all four horses into a panic. Cursing angrily, Kieran threw himself off his horse. He landed awkwardly and rolled over on one shoulder before springing to his feet, facing in the direction of the unseen threat.
Fighting to get his horse under control and terrified by what might be happening to Lida, Vincent forgot about restraining his power. Pulling hard on the reins to keep his horse from breaking into panicked flight, silver light flowed out of his hands in a sudden torrent, spilling in all directions in a shimmering cascade. The effect it had was both comical and profound. The silver light brilliantly illuminated the menacing form of a big speckled cat nearly as large as Kieran. A night hunter, the cat's big green eyes reflected the silver light in stunned surprise for a moment before it bounded away into the darkness. At the same time, all four horses froze in place, their heads thrown up and their eyes rolling at the sight of what probably looked like water to them flowing around their ankles.
Kieran slowly turned around to stare at Vincent.
Vincent stared back, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. There was no mistaking the source of the magical light. It was still running off his hands, flowing over his knees and splashing into the rippling pool that was slowly spreading across the road and into the tall grass on either side.
Kieran walked toward him calmly and took Vincent's right hand between his. "How long has this been going on?" he asked quietly. He studied Vincent's face, waiting for an answer. Vincent's light was running over his hands, but Kieran didn't seem to notice.
"Uh…" Vincent squirmed in his saddle, not sure what to say. "It started about a year ago," he finally admitted in a small voice. Unconsciously, his eyes flicked to his siblings and Kieran followed his gaze. Antony had urged his horse close to Lida's in order to help her back into her saddle. The pair returned Kieran's gaze with round eyes.
"I suppose you two have known all along?" Brother and sister nodded quickly, guilty expressions covering their faces. Kieran turned back to Vincent. "You should have told me," he said. "You should have started training as soon as your power began manifesting."
"But I can't be a wizard!" Vincent blurted out. Tears sprang into his eyes. "I'll have to leave the palace! I can't be a prince and a wizard! That's what everyone will say! I'll cause trouble for Father!"
"Vincent!" Kieran interrupted. He squeezed Vincent's hand. "We already knew."
Vincent's mouth fell open, but no words came out.
"What?!" Antony exclaimed. "You knew? How?"
Kieran released Vincent's hand and stepped away, facing all three children. "We've always known. There was a prophecy that one of you boys would be a wizard. Your mother's family has a test that can detect a wizard's power in a toddler as young as one year. You were all tested then and that's when we knew." He caught Vincent's eyes in a stern gaze. "We were waiting for you to manifest before we decided what to do. Hiding it from us was probably not the best thing to do."
"But…" Vincent struggled to understand. "But why didn't you tell me?! Why didn't you tell me I was going to become a wizard?"
Kieran sighed. "Because we didn't want you to grow up feeling you were different from your brother and sister. We love you all equally and you being a wizard won't change that." He looked around at the expanding pool of light. "Can you banish it?"
Vincent nodded and focused his concentration on the light. There was a lot of it and it took more effort than normal to make it disappear, but he was able to do so. At the same time, he stopped the flow of light spilling off his hands.
Kieran stepped back over and touched his hands. "Does it require effort to hold it in?"
Vincent nodded again. "Yes. If I don't hold it in, my hands glow. If it's been a long time, light leaks off and makes puddles. It's tiring."
"I understand." Kieran smiled softly. "Magic accumulates and needs to be used, especially in young wizards like you."
"Will I be sent away?" Vincent did not want to ask the question, because he dreaded the answer, but he absolutely had to know. His whole future was at stake.
"That is for your father and mother to decide," Kieran said. He beckoned to his horse and the animal walked over to him. Kieran patted its nose before mounting. "You must tell them everything. There cannot be deception within the family. Even unpleasant truths must be faced." He nudged his horse to a walk and the children did the same.
Kieran said nothing else on the long ride back. When they reached the coast road, Vincent stared across the water. Bright Isle could not be seen from White Shores, but he could imagine the dark bulk of the island resting on the water; the glimmer of lights from the windows of Lands End and the Wizards Hall shining like the stars. He had been to Bright Isle before, but the thought of being sent there alone terrified him. He wanted to stay in White Shores.
Servants met them in the courtyard as usual, holding the horses' heads while they dismounted. Back inside the palace, Kieran led them without hesitation to Edouard's office. Only Edouard and Celli's personal guards were in the antechamber and Kieran acknowledged them with a slight nod as they passed through. He knocked on the inner door and opened it immediately. Edouard and Celli were alone, leaning over documents on Edouard's desk.
"Back already?" Edouard began and then stopped when he saw Kieran's face. "What happened?"
"We ran into a leopard," Kieran replied. Celli's face went pale.
"On the coast road?" Edouard demanded.
"No, we were about five miles inland on the road to Greaves."
Edouard rubbed his chin. "That's pretty open country, but still an odd place to find a leopard. I'll send trackers out to look for it in the morning. I'm surprised that none of the farmers around there have reported it."
"I was, too," Kieran said.
Edouard studied his face. "There's something else."
"Vincent is manifesting."
Celli put a hand over her mouth and her eyes went from Kieran to Edouard before coming to rest on Vincent, but she didn't speak.
Edouard straightened up and folded his arms. "I see. Show me."
Hesitantly, Vincent raised his hands and let the light leak out. The glow was unmistakable and he flushed with shame.
Edouard regarded him silently for several seconds before shifting his eyes to Kieran. "I take it that what you saw was more dramatic."
"Even this would have been enough," Kieran answered, "but, yes, what happened on the road was a little more stunning."
"What shall we do?" Celli asked. Her voice didn't shake, but Vincent thought she sounded frightened. He wondered if she was afraid of him.
"We don't have much choice," Kieran replied. He regarded Celli sadly. "The rules of the Wizards Hall are clear. I witnessed someone demonstrating wizard powers. By my oath, I must take him to the Hall for testing. Judging by what I saw, they're sure to keep him in the Hall for training."
"But he's so young!" Celli exclaimed. Abruptly, she ran to Vincent and enclosed him in her arms protectively. "What if I don't want him taken to the Hall?"
Kieran put his arm around her waist and wrapped the other around Vincent's shoulders. "We don't have any choice, Celli. We cannot insist that everyone else follow these rules and then not follow them ourselves. I am a royal wizard. I have to take Vincent to the Wizards Hall now that I've seen his power."
Tears spilled out of Celli's eyes and she rested her cheek on Vincent's head. "It's too soon!" she whispered. "We knew it would happen one day, but it's too soon! We're not ready!"
Edouard drew a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "Kieran's right, Celli. I don't like it, either, but I have to abide by the rules of this kingdom as much as anyone. Vincent must go to the Wizards Hall."