Prince's Master - Alessandra Hazard


“It’s too early, you dimwit! We can’t kill the brats yet!”

Later, Prince Warrehn would be grateful that he’d decided to answer the call of nature behind that bush and not any of the others.

But that would be later.

Now the boy stood frozen, not daring to breathe as his own bodyguards argued about the best time to kill Warrehn and his little brother.

One of the bodyguards was insisting that they should do it now while they were near the Kavalchi Mountains and communicators didn’t work. Another bodyguard argued that waiting until dark would be better.

But it was when the third one spoke that Warrehn’s blood went cold. “The sooner we do it, the sooner Her Excellency pays us.”

Her Excellency.

There were several people that title could refer to, but it wasn’t difficult to guess who the bodyguard was talking about: Aunt Dalatteya. Warrehn didn’t want to believe it, but—

But his aunt did have the most to gain if something were to happen to him and Eri: her own son would inherit the throne.

Trying to suppress his shock, anger, and betrayal—now wasn’t the time—Warrehn carefully moved away from the bushes, toward the malfunctioning aircraft where he had left his baby brother. Distantly, he wondered whether the aircraft was actually malfunctioning. It was quite convenient that the transport broke in the middle of nowhere, forcing their bodyguards to make an emergency landing in the Revialli Forest. But even if the aircraft was in working condition, it would be of no use to him. It could only be used by a certified pilot; its anti-theft system would never allow a ten-year-old to fly it, crown prince or not.

“We’re going to play a game, Eri,” Warrehn whispered, lifting his three-year-old brother out of the aircraft. “You’ll need to be very quiet, all right? We’re going to run, and we don’t want them to catch us.”

Eri grinned, his violet eyes wide with excitement, and allowed Warrehn to gather him into his arms without making a fuss. Thank heaven for small mercies.

Glancing back warily toward the bushes, Warrehn hugged his baby brother close to his chest and ran.

He’d never run this fast in his life.

He didn’t know how long he ran. He didn’t even notice when the forest floor began to slope upward as he neared the mountain. His lungs hurt, his ribs ached, and the toddler in his arms seemed to become heavier with every moment. Sharp branches scratched his face and his arms, tearing skin and leaving bruises, gnarled tree roots tripped him, and his eyes stung with sweat and angry tears, but Warrehn kept running. Sometimes he thought he could hear the sounds of pursuit close behind. Leaves rustled and twigs snapped, but that could be animals going about their business. Warrehn could only hope.

But before long, Eri started complaining, and then he was crying.

“Shhh. Please, please, don’t cry,” Warrehn whispered hoarsely, desperation clawing in his chest like a trapped beast. The sounds of their pursuers seemed closer now, but he couldn’t even hide, because Eri wouldn’t stop crying.

That was when he heard it: a sound coming from another direction. It sounded like… an aircar?

Warrehn ran toward the sound.

And there it was, a small aircar passing just over the clearing.

Warrehn waved frantically, trying to attract the attention of the pilot. For a moment, he thought it was all in vain, but then the aircar turned back and started landing in the clearing.

It was the longest moment of Warrehn’s life. The bittersweet part was, he knew that even if the aircar landed before his bodyguards caught up to them, it wouldn’t save him. That model of aircar was meant for one person; there would be no place for a tall ten-year-old. Even if he managed to convince the pilot to lend him the aircar, he wouldn’t be able to fly it: he didn’t have a license and the car wouldn’t allow him to pilot it without one.

But the pilot could take Eri. At least his brother would escape. He would be alive. Warrehn hated the thought of entrusting his brother to a stranger, but it was his only chance. Their only chance. Without the crying toddler in his arms, Warrehn would have a better chance of losing his pursuers in the forest, and then he could come back for Eri.

He ran toward the aircar before it even fully landed. As the door opened, Warrehn kissed the crying toddler on the forehead, whispering, “I’ll come back for you,” before shoving Eri into the arms of the pilot—a young