Coriane tasted bile at the back of her mouth. She focused on the flame in the bottle, if only to avoid Tiberias’s gaze. As she watched, the heat cracked the glass, but it did not shatter. “Yes,” she said hoarsely. “It feels like nothing.”
“Well, you’re a singer, aren’t you?” His voice was suddenly harsh as his flame, a sharp, sickly yellow behind green glass. “Give her a taste of her own medicine.”
“I couldn’t possibly. I don’t have the skill. And besides, there are laws. We don’t use ability against our own, outside the proper channels—”
This time, his laugh was hollow. “And is Elara Merandus following that law? She hits you, you hit her back, Coriane. That’s the way of my kingdom.”
“It isn’t your kingdom yet,” she heard herself mutter.
But Tiberias didn’t mind. In fact, he grinned darkly.
“I suspected you had a spine, Coriane Jacos. Somewhere in there.”
No spine. Anger hissed inside her, but she could never give it voice. He was the prince, the future king. And she was no one at all, a limp excuse for a Silver daughter of a High House. Instead of standing up straight, as she wished to do, she bent into one more curtsy.
“Your Highness,” she said, dropping her eyes to his booted feet.
He did not move, did not close the distance between them as a hero in her books would. Tiberias Calore stood back and let her go alone, returning to a den of wolves with no shield but her own heart.
After some distance, she heard the bottle shatter, spitting glass across the magnolia trees.
A strange prince, an even stranger night, she wrote later. I don’t know if I ever want to see him again. But he seemed lonely too. Should we not be lonely together?
At least Jessamine was too drunk to scold me for running off.
Life at court was neither better nor worse than life on the estate.
The governorship came with greater incomes, but not nearly enough to elevate House Jacos beyond much more than the basic amenities. Coriane still did not have her own maid, nor did she want one, though Jessamine continued to crow about needing help of her own. At least the Archeon town house was easier to maintain, rather than the Aderonack estate now shuttered in the wake of the family’s transplant to the capital.
I miss it, somehow, Coriane wrote. The dust, the tangled gardens, the emptiness and the silence. So many corners that were my own, far from Father and Jessamine and even Julian. Most of all she mourned the loss of the garage and outbuildings. The family had not owned a working transport in years, let alone employed a driver, but the remnants remained. There was the hulking skeleton of the private transport, a six-seater, its engine transplanted to the floor like an organ. Busted water heaters, old furnaces cannibalized for parts, not to mention odds and ends from their long-gone gardening staff, littered the various sheds and holdings. I leave behind unfinished puzzles, pieces never put back together. It feels wasteful. Not of the objects, but myself. So much time spent stripping wire or counting screws. For what? For knowledge I will never use? Knowledge that is cursed, inferior, stupid, to everyone else? What have I done with myself for fifteen years? A great construct of nothing. I suppose I miss the old house because it was with me in my emptiness, in my silence. I thought I hated the estate, but I think I hate the capital more.
Lord Jacos refused his son’s request, of course. His heir would not go to Delphie to translate crumbling records and archive petty artifacts. “No point in it,” he said. Just as he saw no point in most of what Coriane did, and regularly voiced that opinion.
Both children were gutted, feeling their escape snatched away. Even Jessamine noticed their downturn in emotion, though she said nothing to either. But Coriane knew their old cousin went easy on her in their first months at court, or rather, she was hard on the drink. For as much as Jessamine talked of Archeon and Summerton, she didn’t seem to like either very much, if her gin consumption was any indication.
More often than not, Coriane could slip away during Jessamine’s daily “nap.” She walked the city many times in hopes of finding a place she enjoyed, somewhere to anchor her in the newly tossing sea of her life.
She found no such place—instead she found a person.
He asked her to call him Tibe after a few weeks. A family nickname, used among the royals and a precious few friends. “All right, then,” Coriane said, agreeing to his request. “Saying ‘Your Highness’ was getting to be a bit of a pain.”
They first met by chance, on the massive bridge that spanned the Capital River, connecting both sides of Archeon. A marvelous structure of twisted steel and trussed iron, supporting three levels of roadway, plazas, and commercial squares. Coriane was not so dazzled by silk shops or the stylish eateries jutting out over the water, but more interested in the bridge itself, its construction. She tried to fathom how many tons of metal were beneath her feet, her mind a flurry of equations. At first, she didn’t notice the Sentinels walking toward her, nor the prince they followed. He was clearheaded this time, without a bottle in hand, and she thought he would pass her by.