The Rebel Prince - By Celine Kiernan


WHEN WYNTER was five, her father dressed her in a little red coat, put her on the back of his horse, and took her on a picnic. Wynter remembered the drowsy movement of the horse beneath her, and leaning back into the warm support of her father as they travelled the forest paths. She remembered his strong arms encompassing her as he held the reins, the scent of wood shavings and resin from his clothes. She remembered the light coming through the foliage, and how it had moved across her hands, which were so small on the big leather pommel of Lorcan’s saddle.

Lorcan’s friend Jonathon had been with them, and his sons, Razi and Alberon. All of them were happy, and laughing, which was something they seemed to do quite often back then. Just two friends and their beloved children out for a jaunt on a warm autumn day, getting the best of the good weather before winter finally tightened its grip. Looking back on it, Wynter knew there must have been some kind of military presence with them, but she had no recollection of soldiers or any kind of guards. Perhaps she was so used to the presence of soldiers around her father’s good friend that she no longer noticed them. She never thought of Jonathon as ‘the King’ back then. She recalled only thinking of him as Jon, that big, golden-headed man, so quick to lose his temper but just as quick to show affection. He had been best friend to her own father, and father to her two best friends, those brothers of her heart: the dark, serious, protective Razi, and the grinningly impulsive, loving Alberon.

Razi had kept trotting on ahead, his brown face all alight at the unexpected freedom of the day. Alberon was for the first time astride his own horse, and Wynter remembered watching with amused envy as he urged the little creature on, attempting to keep pace with his older half-brother. She recalled him calling anxiously across the sun-dappled air, ‘Razi! Razi! Don’t leave me!’ and Razi’s smile as he turned back to wait.

They had stopped at a ford, and the men had stripped to their underthings and run into the shallow water, whooping and splashing and laughing at the cold. Wynter had hopped from foot to foot at the edge of the water, watching as Alberon threw himself into his father’s arms. Jon had flung him high into the sunshine, Albi’s small face luminous with sun-glitter and joy.

She’d felt a warm presence by her side, and she had looked up into Razi’s smiling face.

‘Come on, darling.’ He had offered his hand. ‘It’s only cold for a moment.’ He led her carefully into the stream, her hand held tight in his, then her father had waded over and hoisted them, one under each water-chilled arm, and carried them out into the bright sunshine to teach them how to swim.

Almost eleven years later, Wynter Moorehawke sat on the warm, smooth-pebbled beach of a similar ford and listened to the furtive rustling of the surrounding forest. Half her mind was on the unintelligible conversation of the Merron warriors who sat on the rocks to her right, the other half on the forest shadows and all the lurking possibilities they might contain.

Down by the water’s edge, the now twenty-year-old Razi crouched on his haunches and frowned out across the shallow water. For a blissful moment it seemed as though he might actually relax and sit down, but Wynter knew that he was unlikely to stay still for long. Sure enough, the dark young man almost immediately ran his hands through his hair, sighed in frustration and rose once again to his feet.

Do not start pacing, thought Wynter, but Razi, of course, did just that.

His lanky silhouette stalked out of sight at the corner of her eye, then stalked right back in again just as quickly, and Wynter had to turn her head so that she wouldn’t be driven mad by his ceaseless prowling. Since Embla’s death, a deep and angry river of impatience had run very close to Razi’s surface, and it manifested itself in constant, irritating motion. Wynter felt genuine sympathy for Razi’s loss, but just at that moment, the crunch, crunch, crunch of his footsteps on the pebble shore was grating on her already stretched nerves. She tightened her jaw against the urge to snap at him.

An irritated sigh drifted across from the group of warriors. ‘Tabiyb,’ rumbled Úlfnaor, ‘sit down before I