Excerpt: In Despair

Telmé screamed as he swung, anger not remotely mollified by the feel of Korin’s nose breaking beneath his fist. No, he wanted a hell of a lot more than a broken nose for a broken nose. He wanted to break Korin’s entire stupid, smug, smarmy face.

He went for a second swing, screaming again, but it turned into a choked-off yelp when an arm wrapped around his neck and jerked him back against a wall of muscle and leather and wool. A wall he knew far too well. When Prince Hamon relaxed his grip, Telmé pulled free and used his sleeve to staunch the blood pouring from his nose. His eyes were watering and he could barely see and he was going to look like a fucking goblin for days. “I hate you,” he said, balling his other hand into a fist as he glared at Korin.

“Not as much as I hate you.” Korin tried to return the glare even as he struggled against Prince Cateline’s hold. She held him easily, and finally started shaking him until he stilled.

“Enough,” Hamon said, voice calm, quiet, but with enough force to make Telmé go still. He reached out, and Telmé flinched away—and howled in outrage when his ears were clapped hard. That was a method for punishing children! He wasn’t a fucking child! He was almost seventeen. “Contain yourself, Prince Telmé.”

“He—” Telmé snapped his mouth shut as Hamon’s eyes flared as bright as a witchlight.

Hamon grabbed his arm and gave him a shake so hard that Telmé accidentally caught his teeth on his lip and tore it open. Because he hadn’t bled enough thanks to that stupid, good for nothing

He swore as his ears were clapped again. “Pay attention,” Hamon said coldly. “I am tired of your childish behavior. You can come willingly, or I will drag you. Which is it going to be?”

Telmé grunted in defeat and stumbled along as Hamon dragged him off, but could not hold back a muttered, “He started it.”

“I do not care if the Goddesses came down from on high to start the fight.” Hamon stopped and shook him hard again. Telmé could feel bile in the back of his throat. His entire face throbbed and ached, and every word he spoke came out sounding like his throat was stuffed with cotton. “You are a prince by birth and meant to be a Prince of the Blood. You’re old enough to be considered an adult and yet persist in acting like a child. If you continue to act this way, Telmé, you will never be Commander of the Legion. You won’t deserve to be. A good leader does not throw a temper tantrum and start a fight over every little thing. A good leader learns how to handle his problems calmly, using violence only as a last resort. He does not treat the people meant to stand with him so abhorrently. Never mind the man you are hurting on a near-daily basis is both your fiancé and the future High Priest.”

Behind Telmé came a faint but smug laugh. He jerked around, nearly strangling himself when his tunic tangled in Hamon’s grip, and tried to lung for Korin—

“Enough!” Cateline bellowed, her voice ringing out sharp and clear. Korin cringed in her hold, his white hair half-covering his face, but Telmé could still see it was covered in blood. More blood had soaked into his robes, making the blue fabric look black. At least Telmé had landed a good hit before they’d been stopped. That would teach Korin to attack him for no Goddesses damned reason in the middle of the Shadowmarch maze.

Hamon gave Telmé another teeth-rattling shake. “I can see what fool thoughts are going through that head of yours. Have you listened to a word I’ve said? Well, it makes no nevermind. You may not listen to me, but you’ll listen to Tunç after he’s done thrashing you.” He let go of Telmé’s tunic and wrapped a hand around the back of his neck instead, claws biting, and dragged him the rest of the way out of the maze, through the practice yards, and across the bailey to the northeast tower. That seemed excessive. They’d behaved much worse the previous week and hadn’t been locked up for it.

Behind him, Telmé could hear Cateline dragging Korin along: the rattle of her armor and the stumbling-scuff of Korin’s boots, the occasional gasp of pain. Served him right.

When they reached the tower, Hamon dragged him down the stairs to the lowest level of the cells, which were dank and rank and dark. There were eight cells in total, all of them empty and rarely used unless the others were full or the prisoners were considered particularly dangerous. Or when Telmé and Korin had severely misbehaved.

Outside the cell, the one he and Korin were always put in all the way in the back, Hamon brusquely stripped Telmé of weapons and armor, even his surcoat, leaving him in only his quilted undertunic, hose, boots, and cloak. Shoving him into the cell, Hamon repeated the stripping and shoving with Korin, then locked the door.

“Isn’t this excessive?” Normally when they got into a fight, he was dragged off to face Tunç, or his father if Tunç was away from the castle.

Hamon grunted, yellow eyes bright pinpoints of light in the near-black of the dungeon. “Princess Emeresa and her entourage are arriving tomorrow, and the very last thing your family needs is the two of you being your useless, bratty selves.”

“I wouldn’t—”

“Yes, you would!” Hamon bellowed, eyes flaring bright, fangs barred as he snarled. Telmé stumbled back a half-step, nearly falling to the ground. “Time and again, Telmé, you act like a child. You are days away from turning seventeen. You were meant to have undertaken the Blooding months ago. Korin, you should be preparing to take your final tests and undergo the Holy Kiss. Instead you are both down here, locked in a half-rotted cell, because we cannot trust you to behave like adults. So stay here and suffer.”

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