Kaidyn is the son of the queen and a trainee officer in the kingdom of Sareen. He is also a Half-Blood—his father is from Iskandir, a neighboring kingdom which has been at war with Sareen for many years. Bitter and angry at the prejudice he faces, Kaidyn meets Sorin, a healer from one of Sareen’s most prominent noble families. As their relationship deepens, the war between Sareen and Iskandir grows worse. Not only will the pair inevitably become involved with the conflict one way or another, but Sorin is also hiding a secret, and time is running out for them both.
Kaidyn was running.
Boots thumping on the uneven cobblestones, he darted around townspeople. He ran past rows of street merchants loudly hawking their wares, a band of children playing games with small colored stones, a pair of squabbling old women.
A hunk of meat was roasting on a spit, its owner trying—and failing—to keep the flies away. A small gang of sharp-eyed boys watched passersby, perhaps on the lookout for a rich pocket to pick, while a group of heavily bearded men threw cards at a rickety table. Nearby, a baby wailed in the arms of a woman who might have been its mother or its sister, attempting in vain to quiet it.
Not a drop of rain had fallen in weeks, and the earth was dry as a bone. Swirling dust and dirt and gods knew what else made Kaidyn want to shield his mouth. All the surrounding sights, smells, and sounds enveloped him, swallowing him up until he was just one of many, vanishing in the swarm of bodies.
Somewhere in front and a little to the right of him, Luck let out an exuberant whoop as though he was running a race instead of running from his superiors. “Lost ‘em, Kai!” he shouted above the din. He slowed around the next corner and Kaidyn caught up to walk alongside him, eventually stopping to lean up against the shade of a twisted door frame. Luck thumped down beside him, grinning. “Told you it would work.”
Kaidyn felt the corners of his mouth tilt upwards in response despite himself. “You did,” he agreed. “Care to tell me how you escaped your own quarters?”
“Maybe I came up with such a good distraction they never even saw me leave.”
Kaidyn raised an eyebrow.
“Or maybe I seduced one of the guards,” Luck continued, batting his eyelashes in an unconvincing display of flirtatiousness. “Hinted at my many charms.”
“Oh, all right. Someone did show off their charms, but it wasn’t me. I called in a favor from a friend. A very well-endowed friend, if you must know.”
“Ah. That makes more sense.” Luck’s particular brand of roguish appeal had always made him popular with women, though this one might have been anything from a passing acquaintance to a lover. He often visited the brothels and was familiar with many of the workers there, men and women both.
“I’ll have you know I happen to be very seductive when I put my mind to it.”
Luck grinned again, pushing unruly curls from his eyes.
Though Kaidyn didn’t say it, he had missed his childhood friend. Now that they were separated by different training schools, it had been several weeks since their last meeting.
As far as Kaidyn was concerned, Luck had been one of the sole joys to result from moving permanently to the capital as a child. The looming threat of war with Iskandir had finally become serious enough for the family to abandon their less grand yet far more private summer palace in the north. By comparison, the capital had seemed overly large and unfriendly. Even his sister, whom Kaidyn had idolized, appeared to grow cold and remote almost overnight.
The other children living in and around the palace were minor relatives and little lords or ladies in their own right. They took cues from their elders and kept their distance from him. Everyone was aware that although Kaidyn was a prince, he was unable to inherit, even had he been the eldest child. Anyone in good standing knew the Half-Blood would never have any significant role in matters of state or the court. His father’s ancestry saw to that.
But Luck had been as different from them as day from night. Tall and lanky, he was a slightly wild boy even then with his head of shorn, tight brown curls and laughing eyes almost exactly the same shade as Kaidyn’s own. If not for his distinctly rough manner of speech, they might even have passed as brothers. Certainly Kaidyn resembled Luck far more than he did Lyrah, who was as small as her mother, but had inherited her late father’s slenderness and sea-green eyes. Kaidyn had been in awe of his new friend, so different from any other he had known and with an unquestionable talent for getting into trouble—and usually for skipping neatly out of it again.
They had been utterly inseparable in their youth. As children they had been thick as thieves and cared nothing for their difference in status. When they were together, Kaidyn, the son of the queen, was equal to Luck, the son of an undercook who worked somewhere in the palace’s vast kitchens.
As the years passed, however, they experienced a growing awareness of who and what they were in the eyes of the court. They made a pact not to care about status and shared a friendly rivalry, fighting over which of them could run quicker, ride faster or fight harder.
As young men on the verge of adulthood, they had for a brief time become lovers in the way many others did who trained or fought away from home. Now, they were closer to brothers again, protective and goading in equal measures, and determined to fight the world together.
Luck was still catching his breath as Kaidyn cast a glance from their makeshift hiding place. He could neither see nor hear any sign of pursuit, though no doubt at least one or two of his instructors were among the crowd somewhere, attempting to track him down like some runaway child. Well, they would be searching a long time. Kaidyn had no intention of returning until much later, long after darkness had fallen and he would not be bothered by anyone.