Excerpt: The Errant Prince

The cottage didn’t look like it played home to a runaway prince, Myron would give it that. It was small, for one—if it were larger than a single room on the inside, he’d be surprised. It was also rundown, seeming to sag at every corner. It was in sore need of a fresh coat of paint and was overgrown with vines that, upon further consideration, could very well be the only thing holding it together.

He couldn’t tell if anyone was home. There were curtains in the windows, suggesting someone lived there, but he was too far away to tell if they looked as worn and abandoned as the rest of the cottage. There also wasn’t any sign of movement inside the cottage, and it wasn’t yet dark enough to require any light. No smoke climbed from the crumbling chimney, but it was warm enough a fire wasn’t strictly necessary.

Myron meandered up the dirt-trod path towards the house, pausing about a dozen paces from the front door. The faint whisper of magic teased along his skin, a hint of a spell that was just out of reach. There would be no reason to spell an abandoned cottage, and it felt like new magic, fresh and clean and bright.

Deciding caution was the better option, Myron removed his sword belt and sat down on the path. He wasn’t the first wizard sent after Prince Tamsen, after all, and he wasn’t a proper wizard in any sense of the word. He set his sword down next to him, within easy reach, and shut his eyes. Breathing in slowly, he felt out the magic again, drawing it in and searching out its essence. He wasn’t good for much magically, but he’d been around spells his entire life, and it wasn’t hard to tell that the spell was new, as he’d thought. It was also deceptive—a glamour spell, likely.

Prince Tamsen was a wizard, and Myron’s information about the prince’s whereabouts came from a good source. He was more sure than ever that he’d found Tamsen’s hideaway, which left the question of how to approach. He wasn’t the first to find Tamsen. He didn’t want to end up like his predecessors: returning to the king empty-handed, with no idea where Tamsen had headed off to hide next.

Myron opened his eyes, blinking a few times against the sunlight. Best to find out what exactly he wasn’t supposed to see first. Drawing together a small handful of dirt, Myron carefully infused magic into it using one of the few spells he’d bothered to learn. He shaped and transformed the dirt until it held together in the shape of a tiny, blue bird. It hopped in front of him on the path, chirping softly as it regarded him with a tilted head.

Without a word or gesture, Myron directed the bird to fly past the spell, toward the house. It chirped in acknowledgement, fluttering its wings briefly before taking off. Myron let his eyes unfocus, pushing a bit more magic into the bird so he could see what it saw. The bird’s sight was dim, but it could see color and distinguish shapes pretty well.

The glamour spell wasn’t a barrier; the bird construct flew past it without a hitch. The cottage wasn’t much different past the glamour, and Myron almost thought he’d been mistaken, that the bird hadn’t flown past it or that he’d mistaken what the spell was. The cottage was still in sore need of a coat of paint and it still sagged, but the vines crawling its sides were much neater. There was an actual, tidy garden sprawling in front of the cottage, continuing around the side of the building, and a fire was burning inside, sending dark blue smoke swirling up into the sky.

Someone was moving around inside, and Myron directed the bird to land on a windowsill. He peered inside, curious. Prince Tamsen was unmistakable, even through the bird’s limited eyes. He was dressed in worn, old-fashioned clothes that had been patched a time or two, but his bright red-orange hair gave him away immediately.

He didn’t seem alarmed, or even aware that Myron was nearby. He was reading in front of the fire, which burned a dark, smoldering blue, much like the dark blue smoke it gave off. Myron had been correct: the cottage was one large room, though he hadn’t anticipated the books—hundreds of them—and more spell components than Myron had seen in a single place since he’d last visited Olair’s shop in the capital.

Myron’s captain had made it seem like Tamsen was a mediocre wizard at best… Tamsen shut his book suddenly, and Myron almost believed he could hear the snap of it. The bird shuffled back a few steps as Tamsen stood and dropped the book without any care upon the mantle. He turned toward the window—and just like that, Myron’s connection with his bird disappeared. Blinking, he stared at the glamour. He hadn’t seen Tamsen make any sort of motion that he was casting, so Tamsen was definitely better than mediocre.

Climbing to his feet, Myron picked up his sword and reaffixed the belt around his hips. There was no point in stealth considering Tamsen had discovered his bird. Walking up the path, Myron paused once he was past the glamour, shivering at the touch of its magic scraping along his skin. The cottage was brighter, something he hadn’t noted through the bird’s eyes.

Tamsen was waiting for him, arms crossed and a scowl on his face as he leaned against the doorway of his cottage. The little bird Myron had created was perched upon his shoulder, ruffling its feathers and still very much animated. That surprised Myron—he’d thought Tamsen had dismantled his spell, not… whatever he’d done.

“How did you steal it?” Myron asked, pausing just shy of the steps up to the front door where Tamsen stood. He wouldn’t go further without an invitation.

Whatever Tamsen had expected, that apparently hadn’t been it. His scowl softened into a deep frown as he stared at Myron. “Spying is rude.”

“I’m aware, your Highness, but I thought it better to know what I was getting myself into than charge through a glamour spell nilly-willy,” Myron said, dipping a slight bow.

“You can take yourself off again. Whatever my brother wants, he can get it elsewhere,” Tamsen said, lifting his hand. The bird hopped off his shoulder and down onto Tamsen’s fingers, and Myron watched as it flew back over to him. He lifted his own hand, startled at the slight jolt of magic when the bird landed and Tamsen’s magic left it, leaving only his own.

“You overrode it with your own magic?” Myron asked, curious despite himself. He’d never heard of such a thing past overriding a spell in order to break it. The bird ruffled its feathers at him, tilting its head up at Myron like he was something entirely unusual.

“Yes. Go away,” Tamsen said, then stepped back into the cottage. He shut the door firmly. A second later, the curtains on all the windows snapped shut simultaneously.

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