“Good morning.” Sterling did not look up from his breakfast as his twin walked into the room. “I see the assassins have failed again.”
“As did the poison in your drink,” Jett retorted and took his seat across the long table.
The rest of breakfast was eaten in silence. Sterling had finished first and stalking away from the dining room without so much as a backwards glance at Jett. Jett took his time, idly eating as he waited for the church gongs to signal when he was to go to his lessons. While Sterling completed his sword exercises with the captain of the guard, Jett would be with the sage master until midday, memorizing herbs and spells that would one day aid Jett in securing the throne for himself.
“You have an affinity for fire magic,” Sage Droin had told Jett, just as Captain Fazer had praised Sterling for his swordsmanship oh so long ago. Sterling had smirked at Jett, whom had been absolutely dismal at swordplay, but Jett had returned the favor to his twin when it became obvious Sterling’s tiny mind could not comprehend the beauty of magic. When the pair had been old enough to choose their own education paths, their parents had not been surprised when Sterling chose knighthood and Jett followed the sage path.
At the age of twenty-one, the twins’ educations were almost complete. The pair would need to only breeze through their last tests before being cast out into the world with a simple cast of guards and friends to prove their worth to their country. They would be gone for a year before returning with boastful tales of glory to see who should be the rightful king.
If one of them did not return from his pilgrimage, then it would it be all the easier for the other to claim the throne.
Jett’s test was simple, in his opinion. He performed the first tasks with no problems, conjuring small fireballs on command to engulfing a tree in a controlled flame wall. Even when one of the other sages created a raincloud to douse the flames, Jett’s will was strong enough to keep the fire burning brightly. Once that last leg of the test was complete, Jett extinguished the flames on his own to the polite applause of his mother, his sister, and their ladies-in-waiting.
“There was never a doubt that you would be a sage, Your Highness,” Droin said, bowing to Jett. “You will be proudly announced at tonight’s ball as Osiand’s Sage Prince Jett.”
Jett’s mood was only dampered at the ball that night when he was announced alongside with his brother, the Knight Prince Sterling. It had been a fleeting hope that Sterling would fail his own test and kick him out of the running for heir, but it had been a hope nonetheless. Jett did not allow his disappointment to show as they waved in synchronization to the assembled crowd of nobles and merchants, all invited to the ball to celebrate the princes’ successes. Once the twins had descended down the grand staircase and into the ballroom, they promptly turned away from each other and mingled with others on opposite sides of the room.
The court’s musicians played waltzes and ballads that were perfect for Jett to sweep potential wives onto the dance floor, and he played the charming gentleman for every guest he spoke to. When Jett did catch sight of his brother, it became obvious that Sterling chose to acquaint himself with other knights and captains of the divisions around the country, wishing to have allies with strength and power. Jett shook his head, knowing that it was the other nobles and politicians with their wisdom and cunning that controlled the armies.
“You do not like it, milord?” the woman that he was dancing with asked, and Jett belatedly brought his focus back on the female, missing her question but accidentally answering just the same.
“No, not particularly, I’m afraid.” He smiled down at the brunette, hoping that whatever he declined had not been important. It wouldn’t do for him to admit that he had not paid attention to the question or to backtrack on his decisions.
The brunette returned his smile. “Well, milord,” she said, “would it be bold of me to ask for us to retire to the balcony for a bit of fresh air?”
Jett bowed, his smile curling into a grin. “That’s not bold at all,” he said. “It’s admirable to know a woman who goes after what she wants.”
She played the part of a demure wench well, keeping her shy smile in place while ducking her head gracefully and lightly taking his arm. Jett’s words had been true, yet a bold woman was not the type that he wanted as his queen. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to become allies with the woman. Judging by her golden dress and jewels threaded in her hair, her family was of the wealthier nobles.
“Forgive me, my dear,” Jett said once the pair were on the balcony, “but may I ask who your father is?” Jett knew all the heads of the nobility families and the names of their members, but connecting the names with the heirs’ faces were not in his front mind.
“Duke Rigou of Northwoods, milord,” she said.
Judging by the looks of her age, Jett presumed she was Cerise, the eldest daughter of the duke. “Of course, Lady Cerise,” he said. “How is your father? And the rest of your family?”
She thanked him for caring, which he truly didn’t, and rattled off news regarding the members of the Northwoods house. Jett listened with half of an ear, filing away information for future use if he needed it. The Northwoods were a prominent family with access to plenty of goods that were traded and bought for use for the castle. He would need to keep the Northwoods happy when he was king. He wouldn’t go so far as to marry their daughter to keep them as allies, for he deserved a princess to match his status, but he was sure he could keep the Northwoods on his side with gold.
Jett tore his attention away from Lady Cerise and granted his younger sister with a true smile, silently thanking the gods for sending Pearl to his rescue. Lady Cerise curtsied to the princess, and Pearl returned it politely.
“Forgive me for interrupting,” the princess said with a charming grin, “but I had hoped to steal away my brother for a dance.”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Lady Cerise curtsied once more before returning to the ballroom.
“You are a prayer from the gods,” Jett said, leading his sister back into the ballroom after Cerise had moved out of earshot.
Pearl smirked. “I thought as much. You’re not one to sweet talk a girl for so long. I would have hesitated to interrupt had you been Sterling.”
Jett whirled Pearl into a waltz as the pair reached the dance floor. “Have you graced him with a dance yet?”
She shook her head. “No, not yet. I wanted to dance with you first.”
Jett inclined his head in thanks and was delighted to see Sterling stare at the pair from the sidelines, no doubt seething that the precious princess had chosen Jett to dance with before him.