The wind whipped through his blond hair as he rode, whooping into the sunlight. He’d done it. He’d finally escaped. His father’s guards were none the wiser, thanks in part to Sebastian’s stall tactics, and Jace was free.
His stallion-aptly named Nix in a nod to his jet black color-galloped as if the demons of hell were chasing him, his hooves digging into the soft grass with ease. They rode for over an hour, the sky stretching before them, vast and radiantly blue as the wind caressed his skin with a gentle sigh.
Jace tugged gently on the reigns as they approached the shore, patting Nix’s mane gently. As the stallion slowed to a walk, Jace swung himself up and off, letting the reins fall as he sank into the sand. He grinned as he bent to tug off his boots, the slight pinching of his toes immediately ceasing as the leather gave up it’s hold. He sighed, squishing his toes through the cool sand, remembering the long summer days when his mother had brought him to that very beach as a child.
And that was the crux of things wasn’t it. He missed his mother. Since her death four years ago, he’d been nothing but a disappointment to his father. His father-the man who wanted him to grow up, to change, to find a wife, to start sowing his seed and making little brats.
Nope. Jace had no interest in that life. He unclasped the riding cloak from his neck, tossing it carelessly onto the saddle Nix still wore. He unbuckled the complicated array of fastenings on his vest, struggling slightly since this was usually Sebastian’s job. Finally he got the damned thing off, tossing it with the same disdain he’d shown his cloak. The light linen shirt he wore didn’t bother him. It was loose and unrestrictive-everything his life was not.
He threw himself onto the sand, nestling in like a babe to its mother’s breast, his eyes closing against the brightness of the midday sun. His mind drifted, wondering if his father knew he was gone yet. Surely someone would have discovered his absence by now. And yet, as he lounged in the heat of the sun, he couldn’t bring himself to care about the consequences. His father would go ballistic, he knew. He’d probably tighten the metaphorical noose around his neck even more-in fact he’d probably pick out a bride and marry him off within a fortnight.
But again, Jace couldn’t bring himself to care. His gut twisted in a manic way, his heart beating double time for a moment as he stretched out. He would not go calmly into this good night-he would not just blindly obey orders. He knew he had to take a stand, no matter how futile it may be.
A sharp snort sounded from behind him and he heard Nix’s hooves stomp dangerously close to his head. Without opening his eyes, he waved his hand lazily.
“Go eat some grass, Nix. We’ll go back soon, I promise. Then you can fuck the mares all you like.” He smirked, reveling in his foul language. His father would have a stroke if he’d heard the word ‘fuck’ fall from his precious son’s mouth. But Sebastian had delighted in corrupting Jace in any way possible. Therefore he was fluent in the language of filth, both sexual and foul alike, a trait that amused the servants to no end.
A shadow fell across him, cooling his skin instantly in the absence of the sun’s warmth. His eyes squinted open, his pupils still too dilated to see much more than an indistinct blob of black above him. A hoarse shout left his throat as he realized the shadow was a silhouette, though from his position on the ground, much bigger than anyone he’d ever encountered before.
And he heard a quiet, malicious chuckle as something swung around, bashing him into the darkness of unconsciousness.
x . x . x . x . x
He groaned, his head aching and his stomach revolting at the pitching of whatever surface he was on. His hand groped at his side, his fingers traveling over the rough wood as a splinter lodged in the pad of his thumb.
He hissed in a breath, cracking his eyes open cautiously. As his thoughts began to clear, his nose twitched as the stench of wherever he was filtered into his nose. Holy hell! By the Angel, where the fuck was he?!?
He sat up, half expecting to be tied down or for someone to jump at him-but he was utterly alone. And the table he was sprawled on turned out to be stationary. It was the room that was pitching and rocking, almost as if-he was…but no. He couldn’t be on a ship!
A sudden earth shattering crash sounded from above. The accompanying jolt sent him flying into the wall, sliding down to land in a disoriented heap. He gasped as a sharp whizzing sound cut through his confusion, his golden eyes widening as a knife imbedded itself into the wood next to his head. His head whipped around as he took in the dim room, his eyes flicking quickly over it’s contents. A kitchen. They’d put him in the kitchen? But-
Without warning, Jace flew back into the table’s edge as the ship pitched violently. He struggled to stand, weaving as if he were drunk. The door burst open, revealing a small man whose eyes were wide with terror. Ignoring Jace completely, he flew past, shouldering an old barrel out of the way as he climbed into an apparently empty cupboard, pulling the rotting door shut behind him.
Jace wrinkled his nose, confusion setting up shop in his mind as he tripped out of the room. He stumbled over various knotted boards as he clawed his way down the narrow hall. Dim light streamed down from an open hatch just ahead; the steps looked eerily steep as his vision swam once again-probably due to the concussion he’d suffered. The muffled chaos from above did nothing to deter him on his path, despite the fact that his head pounded harder as the sounds became louder.
His fingers ached as they gripped at the boards of the steps. His bare feet stung as they shuffled on the rough wood. As soon as he’d gotten a foot onto the bottom step he felt a hand roughly grab the back of his tunic, hauling him through the small hatch and tossing him onto the deck. His head slammed onto the boards, his vision dimming as his limbs flopped lifelessly at his sides.
“Oi! What have I told you about damaging the goods?!”
The distinctly posh accent filtered through Jace’s brain as he laid on deck, not bothering to open his eyes or move.
“Jeez, what happened to this one?” A pause followed, punctuated by restless shifting. He had no idea how many men were on board or what all the hubbub had been about. “You! Tell me. What happened to him? Get a little too mouthy at port?”
Jace heard a sharp cry from above, the sick squelching sound of a sword running through flesh breaking through his apathy. His eyes flew open, the fading light of day burning his retinas as he struggled to sit up.
“Calm down, mate. Just calm down.” A strong arm settled behind his back, hoisting him to his feet. Jace stumbled and would’ve fallen if not for the man holding him up. His eyes blearily took in the stranger.
He couldn’t have been more than a year older than Jace, but his skin was a deep bronze while his hair was dark as pitch. His blue eyes glimmered like the sea, though they held an emotion Jace couldn’t immediately identify.
“What’s your name?” He turned to the man who spoke, rearing back slightly at the…dazzling was the only word Jace could think of…spectacle before him.
“Jace. My name is Jace.” He gathered himself, pushing roughly at the man still holding him. “And I demand you release me!”
He glanced at the group gathered around him. The ones standing were chuckling at the very least, some outright guffawing-while the ones kneeling had nothing but terror painted on their faces.
“Do you know where you are, son?” The sparkling man gestured around him.
Jace glanced around quickly, pulling his eyes back to his captor’s once again. “No. And I don’t care. I demand that you return me to my father’s castle this instant.”
The man’s eyes, small and slightly upturned in the corners, narrowed thoughtfully as he paced, his fingers grazing against the man who’d helped Jace stand.
“And who might your father be? Some wealthy noble from the English countryside perhaps?” The men standing laughed.
A sharp scream echoed from the deck above and Jace whipped his head that way. He saw nothing but the sunset bleeding into the sky beyond, though he could only imagine the horrors going on up there.
“Oh Magnus.” A silhouette blocked out the light, sauntering down the steps carelessly. Jace’s eyes widened as he took in the-woman?-before him. She wiped the blade of a dagger carelessly with a dirty cloth, leaving a trail of crimson behind before tossing the rag to the deck. She bore a startling resemblance to the man beside him-they had to be siblings. She was tall, her black hair streaming behind her. Her black eyes glittered mischievously as she lifted the long skirts around her legs, hauling herself up onto a barrel nearby. She smirked as she tossed the dagger up into the air, catching it nimby as Jace watched with wide eyes. “Don’t you recognize him?”
Jace’s face flamed as the attention all returned to him, his cheeks heating to uncomfortable levels, though he refused to fidget.
“Come on, men. Kill the rogues and bring the boy.” The woman hopped down, gesturing carelessly as she strutted away, tucking the dagger into her skirts. “We’ve never had a prince on board The Institute before.”