Updated: Feb 11
There are people who can speak to an audience of hundreds with full confidence… there are those who panic and freeze… and then there are those who just flat pass out. When I finally made it up onto the hilltop stage, with the full population of Teoinyr staring up at me in expectation, I seriously worried I was about to become one of the latter.
Kurrum’s amplified voice echoed against the backdrop of palace and mountains as he faced the massive crowd from the stage. “The royal council is pleased to present the true heir of our late king Veilar, may he rest in peace, the new and rightful king of Teionyr and thereupon also the High King of Upper Fae—Cathal-Reigar, son of Veilar!” He swung his arm wide, gesturing for me to take center stage as he hurried off the stairs on the opposite side.
Thankfully, Kaizyn had joined me yet again, at my request, and his steady hand landed on my shoulder. “Breathe, Jordan. You’ll be okay. Our people want to know you—the real you. Don’t overthink it. Just say what’s on your heart.”
In his other hand, tucked out of sight behind his cloak, I knew he held a golden crown etched with intricate vines—the king’s crown—ready to present it to me when I completed my speech. It had been his idea that he present the crown to me rather than the council, to communicate solidarity to our people, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.
I loosely held the glowing stone Kurrum had given me, not wanting to activate it too soon, and forced my steps toward the center of the stage.
I drew a deep breath as I truly took in the Teonyrian people for the first time.
They were… ordinary. All ages, all shapes and sizes, just like I would’ve found at a crowd back home, and even though their garb was different, their faces looked human. They weren’t actually human…they were Fae. But then, as it turned out, so was I. But what I found, in that moment, was that they weren’t some scary, foreign obstacle to face like my fear had tried to shape them. They were people. My father’s people. Kaizyn and Callan’s people. My people. People with wives and husbands and children and families, with jobs and roles in their community; with dreams and goals and causes for which they cared deeply—all waiting with expressions of wary hope to see what kind of ruler fate had delivered them.
And in that moment, I knew exactly what I needed to say.
I clutched the stone, and my voice echoed out over the people.
“I was not raised to be a king. I never knew I was royalty. But I wasn’t quite a normal teenager, either. While my friends were playing games after school, I was training to defend myself. To protect others. To observe my surroundings. To work closely with a team.” I glanced at my parents and the others, standing off to the side of the stage, and my eyes caught on Reina. “To always have my partners’ backs.” I looked back at the crowd. “I was raised to be a LeyGuard—to put honor and duty first. To be a warrior, smart and skilled. To protect my town, even when it didn’t know it needed protecting. To help and serve my people, even when I did it without thanks. Even when I did it in secret. I am still learning how to be a king. I am eager to learn. I am eager to grow… But I know the person I was taught to be—and that is what I can offer you now, fully and without reservation.”
I glanced at Kaizyn, and he gave me a reassuring smile and nod, so I kept going. “I was taught to serve with honor—I will serve you the same. I was taught to value life—and I will value yours, no matter your station or role. I was taught to defend the weak, to stand up to those who would cause harm, and to never back down from what’s right—and I promise, I will do the same for Teionyr, no matter what villains or evils we might face. But please…” A nervous laugh escaped me. “Feel free to call me King Jordan. I am honored to be Cathal-Reigar, son of Veilar, but I wish never to forget my roots. Though my blood may be royal, in my heart I am still an awkward, ordinary teenager trying to figure out how to tell a girl I like her while fighting secret Void monsters on the weekend.”
A wave of low chuckles went up from the crowd.
From my peripheral, I saw Kaizyn draw the crown out of his cloak.
“I am still learning our ways, our customs,” I continued, “but I care about your concerns, and I vow to defend you and your lives. I have the support of the heir-prince, to help me. I have a wise council to advise me. I have strong allies among the Earthside LeyGuards, who have an honorable history of protecting and serving our people, and who wish to continue that legacy. I have a powerful sear-bound dragon, Sorcha, who has vowed to use her magic and strength to defend our kingdom. And I have you—my people—whose cares and concerns I genuinely wish to hear, any time you may choose to voice them. I will always strive to do what is right and honorable, and to put first the needs of my people. I can’t promise I will be the king my father was, at least not right away… But I will be your king as fully and wholeheartedly and selflessly as I can. That much, I can promise you.” I released my grip on the stone, and the last echoes of my words sank into the silence of the watchful crowd.
Kaizyn stepped forward, casting me a wide smile. “Long live the true king of Teionyr!” he shouted.
“Long live the true king of Teionyr!” the roaring crowd echoed as he placed the crown on my head.
And just like that, I was officially king.
King-of-mine, Sorcha’s voice drifted into the bond. Is it time, yet? I grow weary of hiding behind the palace.
I returned Kaizyn’s smile, then turned back to face my people. “So… who wants to meet a dragon?”
It was dark by the time the post-coronation celebration ended and our small group plodded back up the halls toward the royal suites, but my heart was buoyant with relief. The people had welcomed Sorcha with a sense of awe rather than fear, Kurrum and the rest of the council had been pleased with my speech, and after personally greeting what must’ve been hundreds of families as they milled about the stalls of mouthwatering food at the outdoor festival the council had set up in the market of Teoinyr, I felt fairly confident that my people didn’t objectively hate my existence. And apparently, Teionyrian food was delicious. I did not know what the dish was called that Kaizyn and Callan had brought me when I finally sat down in a private tent at the corner of the marketplace to eat, but it resembled a pot-roast with vegetables. My mouth had been watering at the smell before I even took the first bite, and it even came with a steaming kettle of spiced tea with its own little cup, and a huge mug of cool, crisp water on the side. All in all, the day had gone far better than I’d imagined it might… but I was definitely ready for a good night’s sleep.
As we reached our hallway, Kurrum directed Reina and her parents to the guest chambers he had set up for them, then showed my parents to theirs. Kaizyn already had chambers in the royal wing, and Callan’s usual suite was adjacent to Kaizyn’s, since he had been the prince’s personal guard. And Champ, of course, would be staying with me.
“The palace staff are rapidly working to build Sorcha a massive barn on the hill beyond the palace,” Kurrum told me, “so she will have a weather-safe place to rest should she wish for one.”
I gave him a smile. “Thank you, Kurrum, but please tell them there is no rush. Sorcha insists she is perfectly comfortable sleeping up in the cliffs behind the palace while they work on her new lodgings.”
Kurrum nodded. “Thank you. I will let them know, Your Highness.”
I fought back a yawn as I turned to face the others as we reached our rows of doors. “Thank you all so much,” I said. “For everything.”
My mom pulled me into a hug. “We’re so proud of you.”
She and my dad both gave me teary smiles. “Okay, stop,” I laughed. “Now you’re going to make me cry.”
“We really are proud of you, son,” Dad said, ruffling my hair.
I smiled back at them. “Thanks.” I fought back another yawn. “I’m going to call Ayla—and then I’m going to bed. It’s been a long day.”
They smiled at me, then bade me goodnight and headed toward their room.
Reina stopped outside of her door, her parents already heading inside. “You were awesome today—but we knew you would be.” She gave me a weak smile. “Goodnight, Jordan.” She turned and went inside.
“Goodnight!” I called to her back, but she was already shutting the door.
I tried not to read too much into that.
“She just needs sleep, I’m sure,” Callan said, drifting up next to me.
Champ danced nervously at my side as Kaizyn and Vyrthil approached, too—Champ still wasn’t sure what to make of the fire-cat.
Kaizyn smiled at me. “Father would have been proud of you today, Jordan.” His eyes were sincere. “You will be a great king.”
I drew a shaky breath. “I will do my best to be.”
He smiled again. “I know. Goodnight, brother.”
I held his gaze as his words sank in, and felt myself smile back. “Goodnight, Kaizyn.”
He and Callan headed to their rooms, and I stumbled back to mine, seriously debating whether I had enough energy left to call Ayla—but I knew she’d be wondering how things had gone. I at least wanted to make a quick call, to hear her voice and tell her goodnight.
Champ flopped down on the fluffy rug the attendants had laid out for him—right next to a towering basket of treats and toys and the bowl of water and home-cooked dog food the palace chef had prepared for him after consulting me on his dietary needs—while I dragged myself to the changing room.
I kicked off my boots, then crossed to fetch the stone from my hanging clothes…
The clothes weren’t there.