Coming September 25th, 2023!
The magic that was gifted to Prince Avery’s family has always been a part of his life. When he was fifteen, that magic marked him as the heir to the throne. Ever since, he’s known that someday that same magic will lead him to his true love and a magical bond that will tie them together.
Avery knows that even magically destined love will still take work and love is always complicated, especially for a royal. He’s prepared for some complications, like his destined bonded being politically challenging or a gender he’s not romantically attracted to. He’s not prepared for poachers, broken magic, and a surly but intriguing cat shifter that threatens to break his heart.
Avery is convinced that the two of them can find their happily ever after, but Kael is hurting and resistant. How can Avery convince Kael to believe in the magic when Kael’s own magic is so broken?
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The Pertinent Background Information
Once upon a time there was a handsome elven prince…
No, no, I’m just joking. I’m not an elven prince.
But I am a prince. And I do belong to a royal line that has some, ah…we’ll call them peculiarities.
You see, it all goes back to an ancestor that actually was an elven prince. He married my great-great-great-etc. grandmother Charlotte. She was human, like the majority of my ancestors. She also happened to be the queen of a very human country called Sollendan.
Various factions were angered by the marriage. Some were angry because an outsider was on the throne. Some were angry because Charlotte was human and her new husband was not. Some were angry…well some weren’t actually angry; they just wanted an excuse to make trouble. Challenges were made. So forth and so on.
He—his name was Jasper by the way—had a few tricks, so everything was fine until after he died of alarmingly old age. His great-great-grandson, Eric, inherited the throne. (Did I mention the alarmingly old age?) Everything stayed fine for a while. Such a long reign, when done well, tends to lead to stability, after all. Unfortunately, the court finally realized that Eric had a bit of magic he’d inherited from dear old grand-da.
Apparently, this was a problem. I’m still not sure why. I mean, one would think this would be a logical conclusion, right?
After a frankly obscene number of assassination attempts against the newly crowned King Eric, the relatives became a little annoyed. I’m rather thankful I wasn’t there. I’ve never seen an angry elf, and I never want to because they are scary, scary folk.
So what did the magical, angry, frightening people do? They cursed us. I mean, they blessed us. And then they sent Eric out into the middle of nowhere to find a dragon lady to fall in love with.
Don’t look at me like that. It’s complicated, alright?
What it comes down to is that every heir since Eric has had a magical, shapeshifting, destined life partner, sort of but not quite a soulmate, if you like, that will show up or be found or some such before the current ruling pair dies.
My ancestors didn’t stop there, though. The magic doesn’t just lead us to the right person; it also gives the ruling couple a magical bond, or tether, which gives the two insight into each other. How much insight is particular to each couple, and everyone is frustratingly vague on even the slightest details. I can respect that because it’s very personal, but I would also like to know more than that my future bonded will probably not be able to hear my thoughts.
The idea is that this partner acts as a sort of built-in bodyguard for the royal couple. It’s much harder to kill someone when their bodyguard is utterly devoted to them and happens to share their bed.
Well, there have been two couples who decided to skip the, ah, romantic part and be platonic life partners, but they still shared a suite and acted as a united pair. If anyone other than the servants knew, they didn’t care. And since any would-be assassins wound up just as dead, the royal family didn’t care either.
The whole arrangement works surprisingly well, honestly.
We’re still magic. We’re still rulers—and competent ones at that. Every once in a while, a purist faction tries to kill us and gets important parts bit off by a pissed off dragon or wolf or griffin or what have you.
The assassination attempts used to happen more frequently, but the shock has rather worn off at this point. That, and there are enough people in the general population with…interesting quirks, we’ll say, handed down from royal indiscretions or through distant familial ties to the throne that we’re all rather over it. Now if people try to kill us, it’s usually politics or money or something much more traditional and mundane.
Every now and then, the royal couple winds up with a younger child that can also shapeshift. It’s not really a problem. Usually, the extended royal family is like Oooo that’s marvelous! Do you think you would like the militia? How about a life of intrigue and spydom? My younger brother is currently trying to convince everyone that a flying cartographer is an excellent idea. Apparently, he doesn’t like violence or intrigue, much to the disappointment of my father’s military advisor who thinks a dragon would be a nice addition to our forces.
But I’m getting sidetracked. Because all of that is fine. It’s good. The family had some issues, so we got this blessing. All done. It’s amazing. I’m the crown prince, and I get to meet some magical creature out of legend who is perfect for me, and I’ll fall in love with them and live happily ever after.
There’s just one potential problem. I am absolutely not interested in the opposite sex. At least…not in the way that one should be interested in one’s spouse. I mean, women are wonderful, but I don’t want to marry one and try to procreate. And that hasn’t happened before. Siblings, cousins, and what not, sure. But not the heir. We’re not really sure how this is going to go.
I broke the news to my parents a while back. They’re a little concerned but fine with it. They can’t make my brother or sister heir because the blessing has already adhered to me. There’s a magical marking, rather resembling a tattoo, that appears during puberty on one of the royal offspring. The mark designates them as the one supposedly most suited to inherit and makes them the heir to the throne. Because you need something else to obsess over when you’re that age, right?
It’s not always the oldest child, either. Sometimes it’s even a niece or nephew. That’s why we’re not really worried about the whole producing heirs issue. My sister is quite excited about having kids and raising a family someday, and my brother has been flirting via letter with a pretty lady librarian a kingdom over for months now, so we’re probably all set there.
Really, we’re just hoping the spell didn’t dictate a member of the opposite sex. It was a while back, and no one wrote down the relevant bit or even composed a song about it. We’re not sure if they went with the soulmate type of phrasing or the person of opposite gender that will complete you type of phrasing, since even the platonic couples were opposite genders.
The theory is that the blessing knows what it’s doing and wouldn’t have stuck itself to me it if wasn’t willing to cough up a male partner. That has to be the theory because if not, this is going to be really unfortunate. Hi. I’m your future husband. You get to be queen, but it’s really only an on-parchment type of relationship. Is that alright? Yeah…no. A world of no.
So here we go. I get to wander off on a tour of the countryside, and the family will all wait and see who I come back with. If I come back with anyone at all. Fun times.
I kicked my heels idly against the large, old bricks of the palace wall, looking up at the sky. It was gorgeous this morning, dusty blue and not a cloud to be seen. Well, one cloud, but it was so wispy I could barely see it and all the way over there. I had decided it didn’t count.
“I’m kind of jealous.”
I looked over at my younger brother, Reed, who was sitting on the wall next to me. It was almost like looking at a slightly broader version of myself; his pale skin, curly brown hair, hazel eyes, and somewhat delicate features matched mine so closely. The freckles that trailed across our noses and cheekbones were darker on him, though, and I was a little taller. Still, it was obvious we were brothers, and when we stood with our Da, it was also obvious we were his sons.
I looked back up at the sky, watching the wispy cloud drift apart. “Why are you jealous?”
“Because you get to wander around the kingdom all summer, and I’m stuck here in the library.”
I snorted. “Well, that’s what you get for being a scholarly type. If you had gone along with the parental life plan, you’d get to come with me.”
Reed snorted. “I did ask them, you know.”
“And I was told that I was the one that argued so vehemently for an apprenticeship under the current master archivist before she retires next year.”
I grinned. “Did you try the but-shouldn’t-a-future-librarian-and-cartographer-see-the-land? argument?”
He laughed so hard he almost fell off the wall. I caught him just before he tumbled, waving off the guard that had already started to lunge in our direction. They didn’t like it when we sat on the ramparts. It made them edgy, even though Reed could shapeshift and fly, and we were perfectly safe even if one of us fell.
“What’s so funny?” I asked him, amused but puzzled.
“I did try that!” he wheezed. “They said I could go with Keira on her betrothal trip!”
“Keira has a betrothal trip? Does Keira know Keira has a betrothal trip?”
“No! And we’re not to tell her, apparently.”
I rubbed my face. “I’m confused.”
“Well, you see, it’s like this.” Reed’s grin was huge. “Keith’s father asked Da for a betrothal. Since Keira has been mooning over Keith for months, and they’ve been writing, and Keith is apparently also mooning, Da has written back and said yes, but…”
“Yes, but what? And when did all this happen?”
“Pretty much yesterday. I just found out this morning when I had breakfast with Mum; you would have, too, if you hadn’t been stuck in a last-minute meeting with Da. And the but is that Keira’s still too young for marriage, parentally approved or not. So in two years, when she turns sixteen, Mum will break the news of the engagement and set up a formal betrothal visit to the neighbors. Until then, Keith’s father is going to casually send him to visit a few times, and they’ll write, and we’re to throw them at each other at every opportunity to see if they stick. If all goes well, the parents will let them get married when she comes of age at eighteen, but until then, neither knows about the pre-arrangement arrangement.”
“Oh, good lord.” I sighed. “Why not just tell them?”
“Avery, she’s a fourteen-year-old girl. A very romantic, currently in love with love fourteen-year-old girl. No one wants to listen to that for two years.”
I glared. “That’s mean.”
He winced. “It’s true, though.”
I sighed. “It’s a little true,” I relented. Keira was enthusiastically romantic. “And we’re not telling him because if she found out he knew and didn’t tell her, that would be the end of that. She may be romantic, but she’s not an idiot. Plus, we don’t want him accidentally manipulating her or something.”
Reed made a little clicking noise and kicked backward at the wall. “Exactly. And this way, they get to develop a relationship naturally, and it’ll be whatever it is without all the pressure of a formal courtship. They can just be themselves, and if they’re lucky, it will be a true love match, not just a political one.”
“Also a good point. You do realize that we’re eventually going to be in deep shit, right? Assuming Keith’s parents agree to all this.”
“Isn’t it?” Reed sighed. “But we’re her just older brothers. It’s Mother and Da that’ll get the real wrath.”
I laughed. “They’ll only have themselves to thank for it.”
“It’s better this way, though.”
“Yes, it is. This way, either party can still back out if it doesn’t work and not have to worry about all the political nonsense.” And if they didn’t back out, we’d have Keira and Keith. That was such an unfortunate pair of names. Honestly.
“Exactly. What about you, though?”
I looked at Reed in confusion. “What about me?”
“What if you find your magic person, and there’s political nonsense?”
“Then we’ll deal with it, I guess.” I stared out over the stretch of fields that bordered this side of the castle, watching horses and cattle graze. “It’s not like I’ll have much choice, is it?”
Reed wrapped his arm around my shoulders and hugged me lightly. “You’re still not alright with that bit, then?”
“Which bit? The bit where I have no choice in the matter or the bit where they might be a woman?”
“No, I’m not alright with that bit. Don’t get me wrong, I want the relationship. I’ve watched Mother and Da my whole life. They’re perfect, and I want that for myself. So much.”
Reed chuckled. “I know. You’re nearly as much of a romantic as Keira.”
I scooped up a handful of pebbles off the wall and threw one at him. “Just…What if it goes wrong because I’m different? Or, I probably only get one chance at this, and what if they don’t want me? Will I just be alone for the rest of my life?” I threw the last several rocks all at once, watching them fall toward the grass below. “What do I do, Reed?”
He sighed and released me, only to lean against me instead. “You go on the trip like the parental figures want. If you find them, you bring them back. We’ll figure it out. Like you said.”
“What if they don’t want to come back with me?” I grumbled. “What if whoever it is has no interest whatsoever in being the royal pet freak?”
“What! You know that’s how half the countryside sees it.”
Reed shrugged. “Eh. More like less than a quarter. They’re just a very vocal bunch. And who cares what they think, anyway? I’ve been reading the family histories, you know. Ever since you got the mark. It’s always worked out in the past. We just have to believe that it will work out for you, too.”
“My brother, the scholar. Ever the practical one of us three.”
He laughed. “Well, someone’s got to be. Heavens help us if we had to rely on your common sense.”
“Hey!” I sighed when he just sat and grinned at me. “Yes, alright. You win. I’ll just take my headstrong, impractical self over to the stables, shall I? It’s almost time to leave. They’ll be looking for me soon.” At least it was a nice day.
We both swung our legs over to the inner side of the wall and hopped down onto the walkway. You could almost hear the sigh of relief the nearby guards let out.
Reed grabbed me in a strong hug. “Travel safe, big brother.”
“Study hard, brat.” I squeezed him hard enough to make him wheeze, then took off for the stables off the main courtyard.