Celestial Waters

Prologue

The King of the Stellar Isles and his son, the Crown Prince Luciano, were engaged in conversation with Lord Liviana. The King was draped in shimmering translucent silks adorned with tiny beads forming intricate patterns, crowned in gold and silver and abalone. He was seated at his throne, which was carved in low relief with scenes of rulers from Stellar history and carefully embedded with tiny panes of stained glass. Prince Luciano stood at attention on his right.

“I must go. I have a meeting with Prince Eligio,” Lord Liviana said with a smile.

The King did not smile back. “I see. You are dismissed.”

They bowed deeply, then turned and strode from the room.

“Your brother is spending his time on frivolous courtships with the likes of them instead of preparing for his departure.” The King scoffed.

Prince Luciano looked at his father. “He is leaving." He said it flatly, with only the barest hint of a questioning inflection.

“I gave him a new task in an effort to build his skillset. Heavens only know how narrow it is now. Needless to say, he balked at the prospect.”

Luciano frowned. “What task?”

“It hardly matters. A Solar emissary came in to beg for aid regarding alleged rising tides.” The King waved a dismissive hand. “Some chicken chase.”

“What makes you think he can do anything about that? If you don’t think it is legitimate, why send anyone at all?” This baffled Luciano.

The King rose and turned to him, snarling, “If you dislike it, you can go assist him. He will be setting sail with that lunatic in a few days.”

His father’s anger stoked Luciano’s own, and he had to fight to keep his voice from growing more harsh than was decent. “For how long?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t much care.”

Luciano stared at the King in mute fury. “I have an appointment.” He finally bit off the words before turning and stalking out of the room. The King did not move or deign to say a word.

Any number of stressors could build in Luciano’s mind, but he would still always arrive precisely on time to a scheduled meeting. His duty came first. This is why he paused only to check in an ornate hallway mirror that he remained presentable before finding his way out of the palace. He exited through a door that led immediately to a series of arches, all draped overhead with shimmering, translucent fabric and tied with beads, fruit trees and flowering shrubbery surrounding the walkway.

There they stood in the courtyard, their back to him, casually reaching up to pluck a fruit from a tree and examine it. Their hair fell in curls that shone gold in the evening light. Luciano stormed in their direction, and Val turned to face him, frowning. "Did something happen?"

Luciano shook his head bitterly. “My father.”

Val raised the fruit in their gloved hand. “Are you supposed to bite right into this?” Luciano nodded and watched intensely as they sank their teeth into its flesh. They swallowed and gestured with a finger that he follow them a little further into the courtyard. “Come, sit down. Relax.” They had found a low wall built from a dark stone that sparkled in the light with flecks of crystal -- the same stone that made up the cliff sides of the isles -- which they now settled on. Luciano remained standing and crossed his arms. “Now, tell me,” Val went on, “What did he do?” They teased the story from him in bits and pieces, listening with concern only just brushing over the surface of their calm as he answered their questions.

“He was simply angry with Eligio and decided to use this expedition to punish him,” Luciano concluded. Speaking on it had stoked the flames of his anger and tempered his voice to a hard edge.

But Val’s manner remained easy in a way that was soothing. “What kind of expedition is it?” They asked, taking the last bites of their fruit and tossing the inedible remnants away.

“I don’t know. It may have something to do with the tide levels. My father called it a ‘chicken chase’. Something to keep Eligio out of the palace for a while and waste his time.”

Val gave him a strange glance. Their eyes were a shade that always struck him, blue as the Sea. “I’m going to have to go soon myself,” they reminded him after a moment. Luciano let out a breath that carried the weight of his upset, and they softly hushed him. “I know. You have a lot of weight on your shoulders. Which is why I can’t leave you here in good conscience. I’m going to worry about you.”

“We each have our obligations. Yours to your captain, and mine to my kingdom.”

“I think you’re sacrificing too much. You stay here and do his bidding, and he’ll keep thinking he can control both of you. Because he’s doing exactly that.” They shook their head and rose, circling him in long, slow steps. “It’s going to get worse,” they said. “Especially after pulling that with Eligio.”

Luciano fell silent, deep in thought. Val stopped in front of him again and tilted their head, letting a smile tug at their lips. “Come on,” they said. “Let’s go down to the docks for a bit. The walk will clear your mind.”