Chapter 18: The Wizard Prince
Sitting in the garden on the same bench under the arbor where he had sat with Lida, Vincent simply could not let go of Antony's hand. As close as he was with both his siblings, he could not deny that being the same sex as his brother added a special dimension to their relationship. "How is everyone?" he asked. "I wish I could see Father."
"Father misses you; as do we all," Antony said. "But that was amazing what you did in there just now! You've come a long way since when your hands would glow at night when you were dreaming."
"Yeah." Vincent ducked his head. "But it gets me in trouble more often than it earns me praise."
"Well, I think it's fantastic!" Antony declared emphatically. "I can't even imagine being able to do something like that. But did you think it was that wizard who was responsible when you set the trap?"
"No," Vincent shook his head. "I thought it was another student. A lot of the ninth years are still pretty upset about the rumor that Father was going to cut royal wizard stipends. Some of them even asked me about it and didn't really believe me when I said I didn't know anything. I figured one of them put the spell in my room to find out whatever they thought I must know."
"That's stupid!" Antony snorted. "Father would never discuss something like that with you. I'm not sure he would even tell me, yet. And when did they imagine he would have let you in on such a secret? You haven't been home and he hasn't been to Bright Isle. Do they think he would write about important kingdom business in a letter?"
Vincent couldn't help laughing at Antony's indignation. "You'd be surprised! One thing I've learned since coming here is that very few people actually understand how the kingdom is run, including most of the noble-born kids. They don't have any idea how much work Father does."
"Maybe they should add field trips to the curriculum," Antony grumbled. "Make the senior students spend a day at court watching meetings or something. They probably think being royalty is all glamour and wealth."
"We do lead pretty comfortable lives," Vincent pointed out.
"When we're young, maybe." Antony made a face. "I have a lot of duties now. Father makes me attend his regular council meeting every week and I've started studying accounting with Lady Hasemill. I thought sword training in summer was bad! I'd rather suffer a sunburn than spend an hour doing bookkeeping with Hasemill!"
Vincent laughed out loud. "Now I don't feel so bad about my studies!"
"You're keeping up in academics, I hope."
"Of course, but I don't need to know how to run a kingdom. I think your lessons have probably outstripped mine by now."
Antony chewed his lip. "Do people still question you about being a prince?"
"Not as much," Vincent responded. "Some people will never forget, I suspect, but it hasn't been as bad lately. I think the students have just gotten too busy to worry about it and the royal wizards, well..." he trailed off, remembering the furious loathing on Ulima's face. "I think," he continued after a moment, "when rumors about the hearing today get around, and they will, that everyone will go out of their way to avoid doing anything confrontational where a student is concerned, especially me. Now that there's a precedent, no one will want to risk getting exiled off Bright Isle."
"I suppose that's a good thing, although it sounds like rumors spread faster here than they do at court."
"You have no idea." Vincent rolled his eyes. "But anyway, how did you convince Father to let you come over?"
"I didn't. It was Stepfather's idea." Antony winked. "He used me as his excuse for being present during the hearing. He suspected they would try to keep him out otherwise."
"Well, I'm glad he did," Vincent said fervently. "I've really missed you." He squeezed Antony's hand. "I hope you don't have to leave right away."
"Father did say we should come right back..." Antony began.
"But we can wait until after lunch," Kieran finished for him. He strolled up the path toward them with an affectionate smile on his face. "Asita wants to spend a little time with her girls and I promised we would not leave without her."
"Oh, good!" Vincent grinned at Antony. "You can eat with me and my classmates. They were so excited when Lida had lunch with us when she visited. If you dine with us, too, they'll talk about it for weeks. Some of my classmates are common-born, so meeting royalty is a big deal for them. They'll be especially excited to meet the crown prince."
Antony shook his head with a laugh. "But they spend every day with you!"
"But I'm just another wizard-trainee," Vincent said. "They've gotten used to me. The rest of you are something special."
"Special, eh?" Antony shook his head. "Now I have expectations to live up to. I hope no one's disappointed." But he was grinning as he spoke and Vincent laughed.
"You're a prince through and through, big brother," Vincent said. "You're just what everyone expects."
"That's good to know, I guess. Am I allowed to wander around the Hall?"
"Sure." Vincent stood up and pulled Antony to his feet. "We can't go in any of the classrooms, but we can see everything else." He took the most direct path back to the nearest Hall entrance. Inside, they wandered up and down the corridors past classrooms, laboratories and instructors' offices. They strolled through parlors, courtyards and other open spaces, including peeking into the dining hall. Kieran trailed along behind them the whole time, but he didn't speak while the two boys chattered away. Vincent was glad for his presence. It kept anyone from accosting them. He finished the tour in his own room, proudly showing his brother the small space that he finally thought of as home.
"You have a nice view," Antony said, looking out the window.
"It's nicer now," Vincent said, gazing out the window beside him. "I mean, the gardens look prettier in summer, but it gets really hot when the sun is setting. This time of year, the sun doesn't shine right in so it's a little more pleasant."
"That makes sense."
Antony turned to survey the room. "I like it. I think it's good that every student has a private room. Studying wizardry is probably stressful enough without having to deal with a roommate."
Vincent nodded. "That's true, although I was lonely at first. I was used to living with you."
"But you have friends now."
"It's not the same as being with you and Lida." But even as he said it, Vincent realized it was no longer completely true. Being with Geran felt comfortable in the same way as being with his siblings. He shrugged. "Life is just a lot different for me now."
Antony lifted his eyebrows. "Better?"
Vincent wrinkled his nose. "Just different." The chimes announcing lunch sounded and Vincent automatically started for the door. "It's time for lunch. Hungry?"
"Yes!" Antony fell into step with him and they returned to the dining hall.
As they approached the table were Vincent's classmates were just starting to take their seats, Jessri thumped Clancy on the arm and pointed at them. "You see! I told you Prince Antonio was here!" She nervously smoothed her tunic and stood up straighter. Clancy did the same, his eyes going wide as he regarded the approaching princes.
Kieran touched Vincent on the shoulder. "I'm going to sit with Donata and Tank. We have some catching up to do."
"All right." Vincent suppressed the faint misgiving that promptly flared up. He was quite certain that what Kieran wanted to catch up about had to do with him. But he pushed the thought away as he faced his friends. "My brother Antony will be joining us for lunch today."
A chorus of "Good afternoon, your highness!" was the response.
Jessri bobbed her head. "When I heard you were at the Hall, your highness, I was really hoping we'd have the chance to meet you. Vincent has been so kind to introduce us to his family. It's really an honor."
Antony gave her his most charming smile. "I am honored to meet future servants of the kingdom," he replied. "Vincent has told us how hard you work to improve your skills. I am impressed by your dedication."
Jessri flushed. "Thank you, your highness!"
"I think you must be Jessri," Antony continued, his smile widening. "You're exactly as Lida described you."
"Her highness talked about me?!" Jessri squeaked. "I mean, yes, that's me!"
The other students broke out laughing and Antony joined them. "Lida told me all about her visit," he said. "I was jealous that she got to meet Vincent's new friends. So I'm glad that it's finally my turn to meet everyone." He inclined his head. "How do you do? I am Prince Antonio Mailar. But please call me Antony." Since he had introduced himself formally, Vincent's classmates did the same. Once the introductions were finished, Antony waved them toward the table. "Please take your seats. I think I might be as hungry as you, today. It's been a long morning." He sat in the middle of one of the benches and Vincent sat opposite him.
As the other students got settled, Clancy leaned toward Antony. "I don't suppose you can tell us what was going on? There are rumors flying all over the place about a hearing or something and that Vincent was involved." His eyes flicked to Vincent. "It seems unfair that everything is always happening to him." There were nods and murmurs of agreement around the table.
"Well…" Antony rubbed his chin. "They didn't say I couldn't talk about it. I was only there to observe, so I don't know all the background. But essentially, a senior wizard was caught using magic against Vincent and they exiled him."
"Exiled?!" Clancy goggled. "You mean they kicked him off the island?!"
Clancy exchanged shocked looks with the other students before turning to Vincent. "What did he do?"
Vincent hesitated. "He was spying on me," he finally admitted. "He said it was because he thought I was a rogue and should be watched."
"That's not right!" Jessri burst out. "You're not a rogue! You're just gifted! When are people going to get that through their thick heads?! They need to just leave you alone and let you study. How else are you going to learn to use your powers for the good of the kingdom?"
Antony's smile was radiant. "Thank you, Jessri. Your attitude is precisely what I hope will become the prevalent sentiment at the Wizards Hall. Not just for my brother's sake," he added with a wink. "But for every young wizard who is brought here to train, regardless of his or her background and breeding."
"An excellent thought, your highness," an older voice broke in and every student at the table popped to his or her feet. Lord Estan stood at the end of their table with a pale-faced youth beside him. "And with that in mind, allow me to introduce your new classmate, Marco Hillston. He was just brought in from a town up on the north shore of the lake. Marco, these are the students from Class 1A." Estan's eyes skimmed over the group. "Clancy, Marco will be in your academic class, so take him in hand, will you?"
"Very good." And Estan marched off, leaving Marco standing forlornly at the end of the table with his eyes cast down.
The student closest to him, a girl named Elise with long blond braids, touched his arm and scooched over. "Sit here, Marco." Biting his lip, the boy sat down. His eyes flicked around the table, resting briefly on Antony before dropping back down. Elise put a plate and utensils in front of him. "Just help yourself. No one stands on ceremony here. Where are you from?"
Marco looked up. "Hom's Bay. It's a fishing village." He spoke with a lilting inflection that reflected his common-born heritage.
"What got you caught up by the wizards?" Clancy asked. He was seated across from Marco and, when Marco did not start helping himself to the food, put a spoonful of leek and onion pie on Marco's plate.
Marco blinked at the food. "Um… I… uh…"
Clancy grinned disarmingly. "Don't be embarrassed. Same thing happened to all of us. We manifest some weird power and next thing you know, some royal wizard is whisking us off to Bright Isle."
Marco swallowed. "I melted the ice," he mumbled.
"That doesn't sound like much," Malby said scornfully. Marco flinched.
"Be nice, Malby!" Elise snapped. She patted Marco's hand. "Ignore him. Was it a lot of ice?"
"Yeah," he whispered. "It was kind of the whole bay."
"Really?!" Elise grinned. "That must have surprised a few people."
"Yeah." Marco ducked his head again and wiped a hand across his eyes. It looked like he was in tears.
Elise's grin faded and she put an arm around his shoulders. "Hey, don't cry! It's not that bad."
"My da called me a monster!" Marco whispered in a shaking voice. "My mum wouldn't look at me. They shut me in the cellar until the local wizard could come and get me." He sniffed and a tear slid down his cheek. "I didn't mean to do it, but the bay usually doesn't freeze. All the boats were locked in and folks were worried about the hulls getting crushed. I don't know how I did it! It just happened."
"So how did they know it was you?" Malby questioned. His tone was openly skeptical.
"The melt started at my feet and spread out from me." More tears spilled from Marco's eyes.
"Melting a whole bay takes a lot of power," Clancy remarked. He picked up Marco's fork and held it out to him. "Eat your dinner, Marco, and forget what your da said. You're a wizard, not a monster, just like us."
Marco looked up and met Clancy's eyes. Then he looked down the table at the others. "I thought the wizards would condition me so I wouldn't be dangerous."
Clancy shook his head. "Nope. You'll get trained to use your powers. And if you're good enough, you'll become a royal wizard and serve the king." Then he grinned and pointed at Antony. "Or this fellow here, who is our future king."
Marco's mouth dropped open. "K…k…king?" he stammered.
Antony nodded. "Crown Prince Antonio Mailar, Wizard-Trainee Marco. Welcome to the Wizards Hall."
"Uh… uh… Thank you, your highness!" Marco rasped out. He snatched his fork out of Clancy's hand and started shoveling pie into his mouth, his eyes fixed on his plate.
Jessri leaned toward Antony. "This is going to be a memorable first day for our new classmate," she chuckled.
"Indeed. But hopefully it will inspire him to embrace his power." Antony smiled warmly at Vincent. "As I see it, royal wizards are the lifeblood of our kingdom."
Antony leaned on the railing and stared down at the water. After his third long sigh, Kieran put a hand on his shoulder. "Already missing him?"
"Yes." Antony heaved another sigh. "It seems like things are going better for him. So there's pretty much no chance that he'll get to come home."
Kieran squeezed his shoulder. "There was never any chance, Antony. From the moment I first saw Vincent's power manifest, I knew he belonged in the Hall. He is too powerful to not be trained. That is the mistake the Hall's ancient predecessors made with Atarkan, and while no one speaks of it now, that is the real reason behind Gavilan's decision to see me trained and Estan's determination to see your brother trained. A wizard who is brought up learning to respect and understand the inherent dangers in the power he wields is far less likely to become a danger to the kingdom."
"I suppose." After a moment, the young prince went on. "I suppose I can also never select him as my Royal Wizard."
"It would probably not be wise," Kieran chuckled. "However, there are a number of really excellent young prospects at the Hall. Take that young woman Jessri. Vincent confided to me that she has a passion for farseeing. That could be a very useful skill in a Royal Wizard. The important thing for you to remember is that Vincent will always be at your side, once he graduates, as I am always at Edouard's. He does not need to be your Royal Wizard to place his skills at your command."
Antony brightened. "That's true. I guess I'll just have to put up with only getting to see him maybe once or twice a year. Or," and he grinned mischievously at Kieran, "more often when he's an upperclassman, like when you used to visit Father."
Kieran shook his head and smiled. "You should not be listening to old gossip."
"How else am I to understand the relationships between people?"
"I can see that you're going to make an excellent politician," Kieran replied. He put his arm around Antony's shoulder. "But as I see it, saying that you are growing up to be just like your father is the highest compliment."
Antony grinned. "Thank you, Stepfather!"
Kieran returned his grin and tousled the boy's hair. Antony already looked a lot like his father and had the same sharp intellect. It promised well for the future. Looking ahead at the sprawling city of White Shores, Kieran could feel the tug of the bond connecting him with Edouard. They had fought many battles to bring prosperity and stability to the kingdom, and in all likelihood, there would be more. But at some point, those battles would become Antony's to fight, and Kieran had every confidence that the young prince, with Vincent and Lida beside him, would be equal to the task.
"I wish I could have met your brother," Geran said a little wistfully. Seated on the edge of Vincent's bed, he rolled a ball of purple witch light between his hands. "You don't look exactly alike."
"Doctor Olgin says we're not identical twins." No one ever questioned that Lida only resembled her brothers, since she was a girl, but the question of why he and Antony weren't identical regularly came up. "Mother used a fertility spell to conceive us. Doctor Olgin says that's why. Because she ended up conceiving multiple times." He added the last part as an afterthought, but stopped when Geran suddenly blushed bright red. Vincent laughed ruefully. "I guess it is a little embarrassing to talk about something like that."
"Just a little," Geran muttered. He tossed the witch light at Vincent, who was sitting across from him on his desk chair.
Vincent caught the light and it immediately expanded in size, shifting in hue to a soft lavender. He bounced it on his hands. "Maybe we can go to court for a visit at the end of the school year. Stepfather told me that lots of the noble-born kids, especially the ones whose families live nearby, would get permission to go home during the break."
Geran shook his head. "Oh, I don't think I could do that! I'd feel even more like a bumpkin."
"I keep telling you; your manners are fine." Vincent tossed the witch light up to the ceiling and it hung there, casting soft shadows in the corners. "Besides, nobles are much too snobbish to notice common people, if they can avoid it. And if we stay in the family wing, you wouldn't see many people anyway."
"Me, at court." Geran slowly shook his head. "My folks would never believe it." He held up his hand and let bubbles of light sparkle along his fingers. "I really never am going back to the farm."
"No, you're not." Vincent's eyes lost focus for a moment. "But even though I can go back home after I finish my training, it won't be the same. I'll be a wizard and everyone will treat me differently from when I was just a prince."
Geran chuckled. "Just a prince? A lot of people would be happy just being a prince."
"I know." Vincent smiled. "I was. But things change."
"Yes, they do." Geran stood up. "It's getting late. I'd better head back to my room. Will you have free time tomorrow? I want to practice illusions again."
"Yeah, I'm free after academics."
"All right. Let's meet in the rear courtyard. It's going to be raining again tomorrow."
"That's a very useful talent, you know, forecasting the weather." Vincent grinned as he spoke, knowing what Geran's response would be.
"Yeah, so long as no one thinks I'm causing it! See you tomorrow." He waved as he walked out, his answering grin warming his face.
Vincent remained in his chair, thinking about everything that had happened that day. Oddly enough, the trial wasn't his most vivid memory, although the furious hatred on Ulima's face still haunted him. What he remembered most was the look of uncertain relief on the new boy Marco's face when he was told that he would not be conditioned. Vincent understood exactly what Marco had been feeling, because he had felt it himself. Until arriving in the Wizards Hall, Vincent had not believed that it was his right to wield magic. But now he understood that magic was part of his nature; an essential component of his very being. Without it, he would not be who he was. And who he was could never be changed, no matter what anyone else said or wanted.
He was the Wizard Prince.