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Fire and Shadow: Chapter 3 Part 1

by Starhunter


Coron loved the way the ocean always looked so black in the evening; every sunset it was as if the sun was fleeing from some oncoming creature that swallowed the light after it. He looked down as the waves foamed and crashed against the rocks below, before slipping back into the sea again. It was always so much quieter here past the seawall, with the city safely contained within it behind his back. It was easier to think where the sounds of the sea washed away everything else.

Coron looked down at his hands for the thousandth time, turning them over and examining them carefully, as if he’d never seen them before. Fire… with nothing but his own two hands and his thoughts he’d made fire. There really was such a thing as magic, he thought, but the thought was heavy and he pushed it back. He’d done magic… and Mother had shown him how. She was a witch, just like everyone said, and he’d already started to follow her.

“I won’t,” Coron whispered fiercely to himself. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!”

Witchling. That’s what the other children always called him, laughingly. Prince Witchling, with witch-white Northern hair. Coron fingered a lock, brining it down in front of his face so he could see it. It wasn’t fair- he couldn’t help his hair being that color. With a sigh, he dropped down into a sitting position, his boots crunching against the damp sand at the base of the wall. He really was a witchling, after all- no matter what Duma said. And now that he’d started, who knew what came next? Coron pondered the question glumly.

He might not be able to hide it forever- what if it just popped out sometimes? What if he accidentally cast a spell, or turned someone into something? And what, Coron wondered even more despondently, what would the King say? And Duma, or Diamar?

“Coron!”

Coron straightened up, feeling the tears in his eyes instantly retreat into the lump in his throat. He turned his head toward the gate farther down the wall and saw Duma loping towards him, long cloak flapping and brown hair flopping. He couldn’t let Duma see- or know he was upset. He coughed, trying to clear his throat and push back the choking feeling as his brother approached.

“Coron, there you are- why are you always hiding? You’re always in the last place I look, too,” Duma said, smiling at the joke. He stood next to where Coron was sitting and panted a little as he wiped the sand off his breeches. Coron ducked his head and didn’t answer. He folded his hands on his knees and fiddled with his fingers, as though preoccupied.

Duma sighed. “Come on, now, Cor- don’t just sit there like a dunce.”

“I’m not a dunce,” Coron muttered back, crossing his arms. Duma sighed and rolled his eyes.

“You know I didn’t mean it. Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. For this morning, at the sword practice.” He crouched down and pushed Coron’s shoulder back gently so he could see his face. “I just… I don’t know. I should have said something to Father, and I didn’t. I’m sorry.”

Coron bit his lip and shrugged, but Duma shook his head again.

“No, come on, don’t be like that. It’s my fault and I’m sorry. And I want to give you something to make up for it. Just a moment.” Duma took a step back, and Coron looked up, curious. His brother reached underneath his cloak, and Coron heard the smooth sound of metal on metal. With a flourish, Duma drew a sword out from under his cloak and held it in the air for a moment before lowering the point to the sand.

“Here,” he said, turning the hilt towards Coron. “This is for you.”

Coron’s mouth fell open and he looked up at his brother in surprise. His face was genuine, and Coron’s eyes fell to the sword hilt in front of him. Every Zanni prince had received a sword of his own- except him, of course. Tentatively, he reached out and fingered the cold metal of the sword. Then, taking a deep breath like one about to dive into a cold lake, he grasped it and pulled it toward him.

It was heavier than he expected, and it pulled him slightly forward as it fell to the sand. Duma quickly stepped sideways to avoid the point as it fell from his hands.

“Careful!” he cautioned, laughing a little. “I know it’s too big for you- it’s a man’s sword, really- but you’ll grow into it.”

Coron stood up and examined the sword. Even with its point stuck in the sand, it was almost as long as he was tall. The hilt was curved slightly and decorated with the design of a curling snake. Coron squinted at it, admiring the intricacies of the design. Each scale was marked out, and some in different colors, imitating the pattern of a snake’s back. At the end of the hilt, the snake curled into a spiral, with its head at the very center. Its mouth was open, at the design had been set in place so that it looked as though the snake held the pommel stone between its teeth. The stone was a bright sea blue and seemed to shine in the waning sunlight.

“It’s very old,” Duma said, breaking the silence. “I think it’s from before we even arrived here, but I’m not sure. It’s from the treasury, anyway. An old Ri’kian design. And pure hennam, too, the way they used to make them.”

Coron marveled; hennam was the most expensive metal on the island, perhaps worth even more than gold. It could only be found in the mountains to the North, and the Ri’Kian clans sold it very dearly. Very few nobles could even afford it, so they had become a mark of prestige and royalty. Both Leos and Duma had gotten their own hennam swords before he was even born, but he never had. He hadn’t asked why- sometimes it was better not to know the answer.

He looked up at his brother, his face solemn. “Duma, I …” his voice trailed off and he bit his lip. He couldn’t think of the words to say. Suddenly he leaned forward and embraced Duma for a moment, then stepped back again. “Thanks. Thank you.”

Duma smiled at him and nodded. “Now you’ll have something to practice with.” He glanced sideways at the sword again, its tip still embedded in the sand. “Once you lift it, anyway.” He unfastened the scabbard from his belt and removed it from the sand, wiping its blade before slid it into the metal sheath. He handed it to Coron, and then helped him strap it onto his back.

Coron fingered the old leather of the belt as he cinched it into place. The scabbard pulled it tightly and awkwardly against his back and shoulders, but when he reached back his fingers could feel the cold metal of the hilt and the smoothness of the pommel stone. Its coldness was so unlike the heat of the magic he’d felt with Iulia- it was solid, and real, and Zanni. Maybe it could help him, protect him against his magic blood. Perhaps… even though he looked Northern, if he tried harder to be Zanni, he’d become one of them at last. The sword felt like proof, heavy and obvious on his back. He gave Duma a rare smile.

“Now, will you come back? Maybe we can see what there is to eat in the kitchens, since you missed the feast,” Duma asked, gesturing towards the gate farther down the wall. Coron nodded in answer, and then followed as Duma began walking back across the sand towards the gate.

As they walked the city towards the Palace, Coron reached back every few moments to touch the hilt, his fingers attracted like a magnet to the sword’s cool metal. The lingering sense of magic seemed to dissolve as he touched it, taking with it Iulia’s words and accusations. He was Zanni- nothing else. He would show them, one way or another. He would make them see.

[*Just wondering how this sounds... this is the last bit I'm writing with Coron as a child. I'm wondering if anyone could help me with Duma too... he's fourteen, and although he's pretty mature I'm having trouble making him sound that way. Any advice?

Also, I hate names with apostrophes in them, but how did Ri'Kian go over for you? thanks everybody!]


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— Francis Bacon