Chapter Six

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~6~

Just after dawn, Quay Eldani squatted beneath the vaulted ceiling of his solar and stuffed an old leather backpack with clothing that did not belong to him.

Miniature paintings by great Eldanian masters hung from the walls, alive in swirls of color and thick-textured paint. Doors to his richly apportioned apartments stood ajar to his right and his left. The entrance to his balcony was open, and through it, he saw dark reds, oranges, and purples splashed across the bottom of a thickening band of cloud to the west.

The clothing at his fingertips was drab, thick, woolen. Felt coarse against his skin compared to the silk and cotton to which he was used.

Next to Quay, a red-haired, freckle-faced five-year-old stood and watched him pack.

“You can help, if you want,” Quay said, and little Colin Galeni, wearing the green doublet of his house, knelt on the tiled floor and started stuffing white shirts and brown trousers into the pack. Two short swords in worn, frayed sheaths lay next to the clothes. So did a wooden case full of maps and a purse stuffed with coins.

“Did the washerwomen ask you why you needed the clothes?” Quay asked.

Colin nodded.

“And what did you tell them?”

The boy did not look up from his task. His eyes gleamed green in the low, gray light. “That I wanted to play slum man.”

“And what will you say if they ask for them back?”

“I lost them.”

Quay smiled and tousled his cousin’s hair. “Good man,” he said, and Colin beamed.

Quay sat back and let his cousin stuff the clothes into the pack. His stomach was unsettled. Had been since he’d woken up that morning.

He was the Prince of Eldan, and he had seen the dragon in his dreams.

He rubbed his chest and grimaced. Not just seen it, felt it—a darkness that had sat on his heart and smothered him until he had woken gasping for air.

“Quay?”

The prince looked down to find Colin sitting cross-legged on the floor, the clothes forgotten.

“Why are you leaving?”

Quay rubbed his cousin’s head again. “Who told you I was leaving?”

“I’m not stupid.”

The prince smiled and stood. “Come here,” he said. He walked to a stone table in the center of the solar, upon which lay a charcoal-on-vellum drawing of two dragons eating one another’s tails. Quay lifted Colin up by the armpits and set him on a chair.

“You see those?” the prince asked.

Colin nodded.

“They’re called the heart dragons, and last night they were broken.”

“Who broke them?” Colin had fixed his eyes on the dragons. He did that, sometimes, when he saw something new.

“Necromancers.” Or so Aegelden Elpioni tells us.

“Why?”

Quay shrugged. “They’re crazy, or they think they can control the dragon and use it for something.”

Colin frowned. “My father says the dragon isn’t real.”

Quay rolled up the drawing and slipped it into the map case near the pack.

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