Here is the fourth chapter. I hope you enjoy this extended preview into my new series the Kin of Kings. If you missed the first three chapters and my introduction to this new novel, please read chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3.
Whoever it was seemed to be out of breath. “Alabell, I’m so glad you’re still here!” He stopped to suck in air. “That potion was worth far too much money. You shouldn’t have given it to me!” He took her hand, sending a chill up her arm. Then he dumped a handful of coins into her palm. “Here. Take the extra.”
Bastial hell, it was Basen…yet a completely different version of him. His dark hair was short now, strands of it loosely falling across his forehead. The whiskers were shaved from the sharp planes of his cheeks and chin. His chest was fitted by a clean shirt with a button open at its top, giving sight to the same lean muscle that traveled across his shoulders and down his arms, one of which was clasped around an extra shirt.
It took her a moment to realize just how many coins he’d passed into her hand. “You barely spent any,” she complained.
“I wouldn’t even have taken the potion if I’d known how much that odd substance was worth! What in god’s world was it? Even with your note, it took some charm to convince the apothecary that I hadn’t stolen it.” He playfully raised an eyebrow.
God’s world…a Tenred expression. “It’s a caregelow potion, Basen. The caregelow flower is extremely rare, but that will change in a few years because we’ve begun to harvest it at the Academy. I’m sure you’ll hear much about it from other chemists once you’re there.”
“I wouldn’t have had the chance if it wasn’t for you. I wish there was more I could do to thank you.”
They held each other’s gazes for a moment. “There is,” she said and took his hand. “You can spend the rest of it.” She put the coins into his coarse palm and closed his fingers around them. “The clothes you bring to the Academy are more important than you might realize. There’s hardly ever time to leave to buy more. You should spend all of that on an assortment of clothes.”
“I couldn’t possibly take all this money.”
But it truly wasn’t that much. She didn’t want to insult him by saying so, though. “If I bring it back to the castle, they’ll just tell me to keep it, and I have no use for it.” Because her family already had more money than she’d ever need.
He curled his fingers around the coins. “Then I’ll give the extra to my father after a few more purchases.”
“Henry Hiller, right?”
He nodded. “I figured you’d overheard my surname.” Basen folded his arms, sharpening the ridges of his muscles. “So you know my story, but I don’t know yours. Alabell…”
A smile grew upon his lips. “Like King Kerr?”
“Yes, and like King Hiller.”
The smile was gone. “Except I never once interacted with my uncle. Do you with yours?”
“Yes, but he’s my great-uncle.”
“I thought he seemed too old to be your uncle.”
Noticing the setting sun behind him, Alabell realized she’d been out here too long. “I must be leaving if I have any hope of returning to the capital before dark. I still need to return this cart and eat supper.”
“Yes, and I have things to buy.” He gleefully shook his fistful of money. “And a father to return to. Perhaps the coin will keep him from yelling when he finds out I sold his sword for a wand and joined as a mage instead of a warrior.” His eyebrows lifted. “Unless you would like some company while returning your cart and eating supper?”
She was hoping he would ask. “But what about your father? Will he be worried?”
“If he’s breathing, he’s worried. But he’d understand that I owe you.” Basen took over pushing her cart, his burned hand glistening from the ointment. “But that’s only if he believes me when I tell him you gave me an expensive potion to sell.”
“Not a very trusting man?”
“Not since his brother exiled us. So you seem young for a graduate of the Academy.” He leaned toward her and softened his tone. “Let’s ignore that clumsy subject change.”
“I started a year early.”
“That’s why I seem young for a graduate. I had just turned sixteen when I was accepted. I suppose you’re not used to people ignoring such a clumsy subject change as well as I did?”
“I certainly am not. So that makes you nineteen?”
She nodded, but as she did, she realized she couldn’t ignore her curiosity about his exile after all. Where was his mother now? Where was his aunt? Had he ever known his brother—the young man whose death might’ve started the war?
“Do you not wish to speak about the exile?”
He fell silent for a moment. “How about a deal? I’ll answer one question about that if you answer three of mine about the Academy.”
“That doesn’t seem like a fair agreement.”
“Ah, but it is. My questions will be easy to answer. Yours will not.”
“And why would you presume this?”
“Your eyes.” His gaze bore into her, stealing her breath. “They tell me you’ll find a clever way to ask one question that requires a long answer.” He offered his uninjured hand. “Deal?”
She shook and let go before it became a temptation not to. “I need time to think, though. So you go first.”
“Gladly. What is to happen at the Academy tomorrow?”
“You’ll visit the housing administrator who’ll take your acceptance scroll and pair you with a roommate. Most campus houses are built with two bedrooms, but some have four. As a first year, it’s likely you’ll be paired with someone older in a two-bedroom house. You have the day to unpack, get to know your neighbors, and walk around the school. One day isn’t enough time for all of that because the Academy is four square miles, but you’ll learn where everything is by the end of the year.”
“Because I’m hoping for the same thoroughness from you. Is your next question ready?”
“Yes. What can I expect from the first few days as a mage?”
“The first week is evaluation week for warriors and mages. You’ll be split into groups and compete against your fellow mages. Every group has its own instructor, who’ll teach the same lessons and issue the same tests. By the end of the week, you’ll be put into a group in which you’ll remain for the rest of the year. Group One will be filled with the most skilled of your kind, with a more difficult regimen to better fit the talents of the students.”
Judging by the twist of his mouth, he seemed disappointed by her answer. “I didn’t realize I would have to prove myself more than I already have.”
“Everyone at the Academy will end up as an ‘elite’ of their class when their three years are up, no matter which group they’re placed in. Well, not everyone. There are always many psychics who haven’t improved since entering the Academy, even after three years. I don’t know what happens to them, just that they aren’t considered an elite like the rest of us who graduate.”
“I’m not going to give myself a chance to start wondering about psychics right now, not with only one question left.”
“Good choice. They are the most difficult to understand of the four classes. What is your last question?”
“Have you ever heard of a spell involving a ring of fire within a cluster of bastial energy, yet the fire would not light the energy?”
She didn’t know nearly as much about magic as mages, but for a chemist she was quite knowledgeable. She thought for a moment.
“I have not,” she admitted. “It’s my understanding that even a small amount of fire should catch all of the bastial energy because lit BE feeds on itself. You can’t burn part of a cluster of energy without the rest also burning.”
“I have the same understanding.” He sighed. “The wand seller near the training center sold me a wand without sartious pellets. I tried to grab hold of the sartious energy that wasn’t there, and it felt like I grabbed some other form of energy I’d never felt before. It seemed to burn within the bastial energy I’d gathered at the tip of my wand, but whatever it was disappeared too quickly for me to be sure of what I’d seen.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that.” She figured his eyes were playing tricks. He probably hadn’t eaten or drank enough water. “Did you return the wand to the seller?”
“I had plans to do more than just return it, at least share a few choice words. But as I arrived, I saw him comforting one of the women from the training center who looked to be his daughter. She didn’t get accepted and appeared to be crying about it. He clearly wanted to give her an advantage by preventing me from casting a fireball.”
“And that stopped you from entering the shop?”
“I didn’t see the need to make their day any worse.”
“I don’t care what his intentions were! I would’ve gone straight in there and demanded…” Alabell stopped herself as she noticed Basen’s surprised look. “Malicious behavior like that doesn’t sit well with me.”
“I can see that.” His look was gentle and curious, giving her the chance to go on if she wanted.
She didn’t. “Anyway, are you ready for my question?”
“I will answer as thoroughly as I can.”
“Which of the rumors about your family are true?”
“Ah…I knew…” He chuckled and shook his finger at her. “I knew you would be clever.” He pursed his lips in thought. “The rumor that my brother was actually my half-brother is true. He was born from an affair between my mother and the late king of Tenred, as many know by now. My parents were young when they had Lexand, and he was only sixteen when he was killed at sea by soldiers from Kyrro. I was born the year after. I always figured my existence was to fill the void his death created in my parents’ hearts. But my father and I didn’t find out the truth about Lexand until recently. It was the same day we were exiled: Tegry Hiller announced that the king of Kyrro was dead and that Lexand Hiller had been his son, not his nephew. Then Tegry took my mother as his new wife, exiling his barren wife along with me and my father out of fear that we would turn against him. Tegry must’ve known we would flee to Kyrro, which he figured he was soon going to conquer. Then, if we survived the incursion, we would be forced to live out in the wild. I’m assuming he expected us to starve eventually if the Krepps didn’t eat us first. My father and I were too enraged and shocked to feel much else at the time. Worry came later, when we realized we were in Kyrro with few possessions. Soon we were forced to sell about everything we had just to eat.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s almost amusing that people believe we could still be loyal to my uncle. Almost. But in actuality, it’s infuriating.”
“I’m so sorry.” She wondered what became of his aunt and his mother, but Alabell suppressed her curiosity to keep to her agreement of one question. “I can see Tegry Hiller shares nothing in common with you except for his surname.”
Basen showed her a faint smile.
Their conversation shifted to lighter subjects. He asked Alabell what it was like to work in Kyrro’s castle. As she told him of her complex duties and the thrill of learning to be the head healer, he compared it to his own experience growing up in Tenred’s castle, which was vastly different in some aspects yet similar in others, such as his thrill of learning magic from the army’s best mage.
Basen was full of stories, telling them with unwavering wit and charm. Beneath it all was a hearty undertone of flirtation that seemed to come out naturally. There was no doubt in Alabell’s mind that he’d stolen the hearts of many young women. But she couldn’t decipher if any of them had ever found a way into his.
By the time they sat down to dine at a tavern, she found herself wishing she had more time with him. She’d never met anyone from Tenred and had regarded them as the enemy because Kyrro had recently gone to war against them. Yet she felt just as comfortable in Basen’s company as she did among her old friends. There was one clear difference, however, a pressure in her chest that had been building in the last few hours. Basen seemed to be enjoying her company, but she couldn’t tell if he felt the same spark in his heart that she did, like an ember yearning for a flame.
It was unfortunate that she had to wear her inelegant healer robes. It had been too long since she’d felt this way, and she couldn’t let this be the last time they met.
“Would you like to visit the castle when evaluation week is over?” she asked him nervously when they came to the end of their meal. “I can give you a tour and you can compare it to your castle, which I would enjoy hearing more about.”
Her offer was more forward then she would’ve liked, but she needed to find an inn before dark and didn’t have time to be subtle.
“I couldn’t think of anything better,” he said with a smile. “What time should I arrive?”
“Sometime before noon would be ideal. The afternoons and evenings tend to be busier for me.”
“Then I’ll be there as early as I can make the trek from the Academy.”
“Good.” She stood to leave, as did he.
“Thank you again for all your help,” he said. “I’ll be in your debt for a long time, but if you think of a way I can repay you sooner, please let me know.” There was his flirtation again, a wry smile to match his hinting tone.
“That’s for you to figure out,” she flirted right back, then left with a grin that she wore all the way to the inn.