Sweetness Bled and BrindledRelease Date: 12 October 2021
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Jewel has spent his entire life making himself as small and invisible as possible. His healing magic is rare, powerful and dangerous. If he could, he’d spend his days caring for wounded animals or those unable to afford a physician. His older brother, the crown prince, has a far different use in mind for Jewel’s powers, however. He would much rather Jewel use his magic to extract information from captures spies, or simply torment whoever Henry chooses.
Briar is here to rob the royal treasury. The youngest prince was little more than a mark, but she’s grown fond of Jewel’s gentle nature. She doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she’s nowhere near as good as he believes.
When tragedy strikes and Henry makes his move, Jewel will finally have to face his brother, or lose himself forever.
Tags: This book contains warnings for:
- Implication of young animal euthanasia
- Discussions of support animal murder and animal cruelty
- Close family member death
- Threats of physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Torture (implied and otherwise)
- Implied (threat of) rape
- (Threat of) setting people on fire
- Multiple counts of murder
- Threat of blowing up buildings and people in it
CN: Includes references to animal deaths and emotional abuse.
Jewel had every intention of staying in bed all day and avoiding the rest of the world, but there was a kitchen help who’d got too close to the fire, a gardener who’d been pushed — and it had to have been pushed — into the roses, and the queen mother who probably just wanted him to read to her.
At least it was near enough lunch now that his siblings were out hunting. He picked his clothes carefully, uncertain what he wanted, and opened the door to Mattie’s cage. The squirrel snuffed at his hand, then ran up his arm and curled up on his head. He hated locking animals up, even if only in the night and while he was in the room. He was never leaving them trapped in one when he wasn’t even there again. Never again. Some nights he still had nightmares.
He wasn’t a violent person, but if he’d caught Henry alone that day… With an effort, Jewel unclenched his fists, let the tension inside his arms dissipate as he reached up one of them to stroke Mattie’s head. Muscle-memory meant he succeeded because he wasn’t near a mirror and he just needed… The squirrel took his fingers into their little paws and nudged their nose against the thumb.
Perhaps he’d start with the kennels and the stables. Whenever people went out hunting, there were inevitably hurt animals before and after. He took the servants’ routes and found, unsurprisingly, that they’d had to hide River. And her newborn pups.
Jewel closed his eyes and took a deep breath before entering the empty storage shed the servants had moved the dog into. Someone had been kind enough to clean, though the tang of blood still stung his nostrils. River bared her teeth at him, ears pressed far back, and he had to wonder if the servants hadn’t so much hid the new mother from his siblings as risked themselves to get her away.
He stayed in the door frame and knelt, holding out a hand, though even Mattie wisely stayed on his head, bushy tail drooping against the back of his skull. He tried to control the tremble in his arms, hide the wobble in his voice as he muttered soothing words to the dog. She only calmed gradually and he inched forward until he could look at her.
The shed was dark and the careful shuffle was its own blessing, even if it meant he had to stay longer and force himself to keep his breath from coming in ragged gulps. His panic would set River off again. Would set the whole litter off. They were safe here, all of them.
Eventually River let her head drop and Jewel looked her over. She didn’t look hurt. He ran his hands over the dog’s body, not surprised at the snap when he reached her paws. It was just a warning bite, so he didn’t mind. Some damage not even a healer’s magic could fix. It didn’t stop him trying, now that he was here, but the leg itself was fine.
River was fine, and he let out a sigh of relief, before turning to the puppies crawling around her. Most of them were as white as she was. The runt was a brindle and he wanted, so badly, to scoop it up and take it far, far, far away.
He had one option. He’d done it before. Sometimes there wasn’t anything to be done except offer ease and oblivion. It was easier than he felt it should be. But the pup was healthy, just small, and might surprise everyone, and it wasn’t Stripey. He let the pup suckle on his finger for a moment longer, pushing some more strength into it, and helped it find one of its mother’s teats.
Task done, he all but fled the shed, leaning against the nearest wall outside and pressing a hand against his sternum. He should’ve asked Briar to take him away.
Briar wouldn’t be standing beside a shed, trying desperately to get air into her lungs while the world spun about her because she was afraid. Nothing at all had happened and he stood there, shaking like a leaf and praying that no one would see him, no one would notice.
When Jewel’s breath was merely shaky and he could at least move without anyone expecting him to keel over, he went in search of the kitchen help. The burns weren’t bad. Honestly, only needed a bit of salve and time, but the bustle of the kitchen steadied him. And the cooks forced food on him, telling him he needed to take care of himself.
The gardener too wasn’t difficult to heal. There wasn’t much Jewel could do about wounded pride and others had long since picked out the thorns and cleaned the cuts. All he could do was speed up the healing, which he did. He slipped away as soon as he could. The man was new, and he’d tried to thank Jewel.
He did his best to dodge people on his way to the queen mother, but he was pulled into healing others several times more. Once, it was a young maid who’d lost a tooth in an apple. Jewel eased the pain a little, but mostly he distracted the child with a trick his old tutor had taught him. It wasn’t special. Just sleight-of-hand, but the little girl was delighted, and was still clutching the penny he’d pulled from behind her ear tightly when he left her.
The queen mother, it turned out, didn’t want him to read to her. She had the beginnings of a cough and a sore throat. Jewel asked the servants to bring her some honeyed tisane. He stroked her throat, startled by how much older she seemed, and teased the cough out. He could no more help easing her than he could breathing.
“You look sad, my boy,” his grandmother rasped. It startled him, not because she spoke to him — she always did; always asked how he was doing — but because her voice sounded so laboured. It shouldn’t. Mattie stirred on his head and jumped onto the bed. The queen mother chuckled, and coughed.
Jewel didn’t understand. He knew. He couldn’t lie to himself. A frail hand squeezed his. “Don’t be sad, my little sunflower. Be bold and brave and strong, like I know you can be.”
He wasn’t. He was weak and timid and cowardly. And he proved it by running from the queen mother’s room to the one place he knew no one ever came. Up, up, up he ran to the old wizard’s tower. Through the door, slam it shut, stir up so much dust you sneeze.
The darkness didn’t bother Jewel. Far better it was dark than that the window shutters were open and someone remembered the haunted tower was there. This was his spot, and though the books crumbled at a touch and he didn’t have the heart to brush away any of the cobwebs or disturb the place any more than necessary, he could breathe here.
Here, Jewel could cry and cry he did. Let anyone who might, somehow, hear through the thick stones and distance, think the tower was haunted. Here, he could grieve. Could scream and stomp and shout and curse the world and no one would —
He’d left Mattie.
The queen mother liked the squirrel. She’d never let anything happen to them. It was fine. It would be fine. It would.
She was dying. It wouldn’t. Jewel flew down the stairs as fast as his feet could carry him, ignored everyone calling to him, threw out a few ‘sorry’s when he’d had to dodge servants going about their work.
He knew before he’d even got to the door. He knew where death was. He hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye because he’d run off like the craven coward he was. He hadn’t even granted her his company, or eased her suffering. If he’d been braver. If he’d been faster. If he’d been sooner. If he’d put the queen mother above all else that day…
Jewel stood just inches from his grandmother’s bed, forlorn and bereft. They’d already removed her body. Mattie wasn’t anywhere to be seen. He tried not to startle when a hand fell on his shoulder. “Old bat finally went, did she?”
Jewel supposed he should be glad it was Haven instead of Henry. He didn’t turn to face his brother, didn’t shake the hand off either. He kept his eyes on the empty bed, already being stripped of everything valuable like the queen mother had never mattered at all.
“Henry’s having a wake tonight,” Haven continued, squeezing Jewel’s shoulder lightly. Henry knew awfully quickly. “He wants you there. I suggest you come this time. He’s in a mood.”
The worst part was knowing that Haven was trying to be kind, and there was genuine sympathy in his older brother’s voice. Ice, he was ice. Cold and hard and untouchable.
For a moment, Jewel believed that his brother wouldn’t answer, that this had been the cruelty. It wasn’t, of course. It never was. “The wizard tower.”
Jewel wanted to throw up.
“I’m sorry,” Haven muttered and, unexpectedly, swung Jewel to look at him. Jewel let him. “Your squirrel’s gone.”
Tears pricked at the corners of Jewel’s eyes and he just about managed to hold them back. “Be strong, baby brother,” Haven said. But the thumbs brushing past his eyes said more than Haven’s words ever could.
“What happened?” Jewel asked, cursing the way his magic didn’t work on himself, not how he wanted it to, and pushing his hurt deep down instead, past the ice and the rock and the steel.
“I know you don’t believe it, but that squirrel w— is vicious.” A part of Jewel, small and aching, appreciated the attempt to lie. “I came here to ask grandmother if she wanted to look after River’s pups. You know how much she loved dogs. I thought it’d cheer her up, and here would be a better place for River to nurse them anyway.”
Jewel was quiet. Even if he’d had anything to say, he wouldn’t have been able to talk. “When I got here, it was going for a servant. Just. It was vicious, sparkle. No other word for it.” Jewel let his brother pull him close, let the hug happen because anything else would shatter him. Haven hadn’t called him ‘sparkle’ in years. “I tried to get it away, but it wouldn’t stop. And, well, she stabbed it. With a hair pin. It was going for her eyes, sparkle.”
Mattie would never. Jewel pushed Haven away. “Liar.”
He couldn’t look at the sympathy in his brother’s green eyes. “Be there tonight, Jewel. Please.”
It was the plea that did it. It was the plea that sent Jewel running down the training yard and grabbed a staff, even though the thought of hitting someone made him sick to his stomach. Straw men weren’t people. Wooden dummies weren’t people. By the time someone dared approach him, he was covered in sweat and aching all over. He could’ve pushed the pain away, eased the exercise with magic, but he turned the fire in his muscles into a shield against the world. Or tried to. It probably worked. People left him alone, after that.
He skipped dinner. Didn’t so much as drink a glass of water. It was a bad idea, but he knew Henry. Better his stomach was empty. Better the pain blaze bright and burn away the worst of what’d come.