Two princes. A desperate duel. A perilous legacy.
How can a man not know his brother? Prince Daire of Caldermor and his heir, Prince Warrick, were raised apart. Daire’s showy. Warrick’s stuffy. All they have in common is a shared secret duty—Daire creates elan, mysterious golden beans that assure their family wealth and power; Warrick bears witness. Then Daire discovers that elan-making ravages his body. Internally he’s hurt beyond remedy, but if he modifies the time-honored elan ritual he can save Warrick from suffering his fate.
Warrick knows transforming elan is a privilege. He doesn’t believe it’s dangerous. To prevent Daire from debasing their treasured heritage he claims the throne and battle is joined. The arena: an elan-making duel. The loser’s forfeit: exile.
Daire wants Warrick beside him, not banished, but he’ll need insight and guile to win the duel without losing his brother—or breaking the ancient Legacy that protects Caldermor.
A Desperate Challenge
How could a man be a stranger to his brother? Daire Edevald, crown prince of Caldermor, reproached himself for the thousandth time.
Too late, Daire realized he’d treated Warrick as a stopgap: a body to perform the heir’s duties until Daire had sons, then to be discarded and forgotten. Now Daire’s dreams were dust. Everything he’d worked for would be lost unless he could make common cause with Warrick, and he had no idea whether his sibling was actively hostile or merely indifferent.
He hadn’t even noticed his heir was avoiding him.
True, Warrick made himself easy to overlook. Daire’s court reflected his tastes—gorgeous clothes, high art, beautiful music, and skilled pursuits. Warrick wore drab coats buttoned high up his stiff neck like a man thrice his twenty-one years. He cut the curls out of his hair and slicked it close to his scalp. He spent his days skulking in the family archive. The only time Daire saw him was when they performed the Edevald dynasty’s most secret and crucial task—making elan, the priceless golden beans with near-miraculous healing powers that were the cornerstone of Caldermor’s wealth and power.
That shared duty was unavoidable. The Transformation ceremony took place every month. Daire had inherited the throne seven years ago. Thus, on eighty-four occasions, he and Warrick had worked alone together in the great stone coliseum attached to the palace.
As elan steward and alter, they fulfilled roles that had been performed in an unbroken chain for five hundred years. That link to the Edevald Legacy should have put a smile on Warrick’s scholarly face, but Daire couldn’t remember a single instance.
He tried for one now, flashing a friendly grin at his brother as they stood side by side in the empty coliseum. Warrick stared back, grim as a gravestone. Every mote of his face and body was frozen in dour rebuff.
Daire broadened his smile. Warrick looked away.
How had they come to this? With hindsight, it was painfully obvious.
When Daire inherited at nineteen, he was willow green, rocked by his father’s death and dependent on his mother’s guidance. Warrick—a dutiful fourteen-year-old—was placed in the household of their mother’s ally, Enar Grandhomme, commander of the guard. After that, Daire had seen little of the boy, which was considered entirely normal.
Two years later had come the elan-bean blight that threatened House Edevald’s very survival. Then their mother’s attempt to seize the throne from Daire. He’d fixed the blight and faced down Princess Irmine. Replaced her lackeys and blocked her efforts to scheme her way out of close custody. The struggle had raised ugly questions about energy sickness, the illness that had plagued their family since records began. For another five years, Daire had attacked that, submitting his person to examination by every renowned healer he could find.
He’d believed he could find a cure. He’d expected to marry and have sons to rule after him. Now all depended on Warrick, and the family’s future would be left in his hands.
Daire had to secure that future. Starting now.
“Should we begin?” Warrick’s gaze tracked across the stone floor to the coliseum’s center, drawn inexorably to the crowning glory of Caldermor. The Source—a disk of clear orange gemstone, flat and smooth, easily big enough for a man to stand on.
“A moment.” Daire held up a hand to delay Warrick, then let it fall to frame the Calderstar in his navel. Daire was shirtless beneath his short scarlet jacket, preferring the feel of cool air on the heated skin around the dark orange jewel. Warrick wore its twin, buried beneath his stifling gray garb. “Have you noticed any changes to your Star lately, Warrick? Does it pain you in any way?”
“Of course not.” Warrick sounded almost insulted. “Why do you ask?”
Gods be thanked. Making elan would be the death of Daire, but it hadn’t hurt Warrick. Yet. It was the answer Daire had expected, but a relief nonetheless.
“I’ll explain later.” So much to tell the younger man, but first, a goodwill gesture. “Let’s get to work.”
“Finally,” Warrick growled softly. He crossed to the stone niche where the alter’s porringer was stored and stared at the unfamiliar woolen bag sitting there. “What’s that?”
“A gift. For you.” Daire had prepared his speech with the utmost care, crafting his arguments as meticulously as he’d designed the precious heirloom. “From this day I’d like us to work as one. Not only to meet our sworn elan obligations but to secure the future of House Edevald. This gift marks my intent.”
Warrick’s eyes narrowed. He made no attempt to take it.
Daire moved to stand beside him, reached in, and picked up the padded pouch. For himself, he’d have ordered cloth of argent, embroidered with gold and embellished with brilliant orange stargarnets. Instead, he’d chosen combed goat wool, dyed dull gray. He’d had the weaver use gleamflax cross threads to make it shimmer though, and the silk ties were gold. The perfect middle ground between his own love of magnificence and Warrick’s lackluster restraint.
The two-handled bowl inside the bag was a fraction larger than his cupped hands. It was smooth and cool to the touch, made of finest shellfire, bone-strong yet almost translucent. When filled with golden elan nuggets, it would glow.
He offered it to Warrick.
“What is it?” Warrick’s tone hovered between cautious and suspicious.
“A new elan porringer.” Daire tilted it invitingly so that its luster caught the light. “I designed it for you.”
As crown prince, it was Daire’s duty to make elan. As alter, Warrick was sworn to bear witness. But Warrick was also required to make a symbolic quantity of elan—one porringer full—to prove he would be a capable elan steward in the event of Daire’s death.
Warrick frowned. “Why do I need a new porringer? We’ve used the clay-fired one for more than two hundred years.”
“And before that there was a wooden one. We thrive by blending tradition and change.” Daire gripped the new bowl by the handles and lowered it until it was level with his belly. He planted his feet and tucked his elbows in tight, echoing the stance Warrick would use when he pushed vitality from his Star to the elan beans he’d scooped up. “Today is a new chapter in our history. This porringer will serve as a testimonial. Future Edevalds will use it and remember us.”
“Change.” Warrick raised his hand to his throat and massaged his gullet as though he had a stone stuck there.
“Is part of our patrimony.” Daire turned the bowl so Warrick could read the inscription. Daire’s initials were written in gold above one handle, Warrick’s above the other. Linking them, running around the rim of the porringer, was the Edevald family axiom: The Price of Privilege Is Duty.
“You put our names on it.” Warrick choked out the words.
“We share a bond. Caldermor needs the Edevalds to fulfill the Legacy even if they don’t know it. And we’re the only Edevalds here…” He lifted the porringer again and offered it to Warrick.
The silence in the coliseum stretched like a winding-sheet.
The porringer felt suddenly slippery in Daire’s grasp. He tightened his hold.
“I want the clay-fired one back,” Warrick blurted.
Daire had known it was a possibility, had prepared for rejection. The trick was to learn from Warrick’s response and use that knowledge to perfect his next move. And if necessary, the one after that. The Star in his middle flashed with sudden searing heat and then settled again, like a slumbering lynxhound by a warm hearth.
Take it back and you lose the battle. Force him to accept it and he loses. No, Daire’s best recourse was to use the gift to make Warrick spill his guts, to discover what poison festered there.
Daire set the porringer gently on the ground between them. It was flawless. “What’s wrong with it?”
His brother compressed his lips so tightly they almost disappeared.
“As elan steward I could order you to use this.” Daire’s tone was friendly, but his words offered no respite. “Tell me why I should not, Alter.”
Warrick’s head snapped up. “Don’t speak to me like that. And don’t call me that.”
“It’s what you are.” Daire put one hand on his Calderstar. Pointed the other at Warrick’s matching jewel. “Alter: one of two. It’s an honorific and an honor.”
Warrick shook his head. “Not when the other is you.”