For all his comings and goings, Kell was always surprised by how reliable London was. His London. Red London. People came and went, passing by him without a second glance, without knowing everything that had happened to him, oblivious to everything beyond the city’s borders except in corners of taverns and certain stalls in the market where the fragments and gossip on the world’s tides and fractures were traded like baubles. A few glanced at him, peering at his eyes like they almost remembered the odd-eyed prince who’d left after the Dark Fog, but they had no more need for the myth in his black eye. They had one on the throne.
“You’re in my way,” said Lila, her voice blunt with amusement. “You’ll have plenty of time to stare at the city. Especially dressed all up in your finest clothes.”
Kell scowled at her as she bumped past him on the docks, her shoulders square and sure beneath her new dark blue coat. “It isn’t funny.”
“It’s good practice,” she called over her shoulder. “What if you forgot how to be a prince?”
Though he’d given it a good shot over the last three months at sea, Kell had not, in fact, forgotten how to be a prince. And Lila was always the first to remind him. Even now, she sailed into the crowd, disappearing despite his steady gaze on her, whereas her words had caused others to turn toward him, murmuring honorifics in his direction. He was, and wasn’t, their prince, not any more, and he wasn’t quite sure where he fit in Rhy’s Arnes. He was no longer his brother’s guardian, nor was he the king’s Antari . And while Lila always seemed to know who she was, regardless of who she was in relation to others, Kell didn’t. Even now, a thought slipped into his mind wondering if here, he was still Lila’s. If she was still his. If docking here along the red, red river changed everything between them. If he wasn’t hers, and he wasn’t his brother’s, then he was...once he’d thought he’d find power in being his own person.
But it was strange to go through the world, tethered only by hopes and dreams and wants, instead of by needs and duties and obligations.
Strange, but necessary.
Strange, but not as unsettling as it once was.
Lila had once pointed out that it’d taken him most of his life to grow comfortable with being a prince, with being Rhy’s brother and with Rhy’s guardian. That it made sense it’d take him some time to grow comfortable with this life.
He’d frowned at her, puzzled. “But I am trying.”
She’d laughed a little bit at him, smoothing his auburn hair out of his face so she could fix that steady brown eye on his eyes, both blue and black, like a bruise. “You are. It’s not magic, Kell. It isn’t something you have a natural knack for. That doesn’t mean you won’t get it. You didn’t used to pick pockets either.”
“Not well, anyway,” he amended.
She shrugged. “I wouldn’t call what your previous thieving pickpocketing. You relied on magic, not fingers or speed or skill. You’re trying the same thing here. There is no blood magic spell for comfort.”
He’d teased her then, his fingers skating up her bare legs, and asked if she was sure. They hadn’t talked of magic, his frustration at freedom and his place in the world, or the things they’d stolen from each other. Not then, and not for a long while after.
But she was right. There wasn’t any magic for this. There was nothing he could do other than hold the feeling like another pulse behind his own heart and follow the silver threads to where he’d once belonged, and where he wanted to belong if only for this week. Somewhere, on a balcony, he was sure that his brother, or Alucard, had seen the flag of the Spire. Someone was waiting for him.
He pushed his hair out of his face and walked into his city, toward his castle, toward his brother, toward home.