The outing had been planned on a whim; an afternoon lesson up in the hills, away from the smoke and stink of the city. Antoni hauled himself over the ledge and caught his breath—Saint Mary, he had grown soft—then reached down and instructed the child below to hold fast. When Bartolome’s small hand grasped his, Antoni swung him up onto the rocks by his side.
Prince Bartolome landed on his knees with an Oof before scrambling to his feet. He was seven, tall for his age, dark hair pulled back in a queue. The boy looked around with an expectant air, but as he surveyed the area—a flat hilltop covered entirely in black rock, barren of even a single bush or shrub—his anticipation quickly turned to bewilderment.
“But, my lord Antoni . . . there’s nothing here.”
“No?” Antoni rose, wincing as the muscles in his back twitched in protest. “What is that on your feet?”
Bartolome wore a loose white shirt and trousers that fell just past his knees. Attire far less formal than his nurse, the lady Esma, would have liked, but Antoni had insisted on comfort for this outing. Strapped to the prince’s dusty feet were open leather sandals, the kind the fishermen wore. And around their outer edges, black pebbles had stuck fast.
Frowning, Bartolome attempted to shake off the stones, lifting one foot, then the other. They did not budge. More loose pebbles rose from the ground, as if coaxed by a sorcerer’s magic, and flew toward the sandals. The child stumbled backward with rising panic, shaking his feet wildly, and soon after fell onto his backside with a yelp.
“Stop.” Antoni crouched before the boy. Careful not to laugh. Mindful of a young prince’s dignity. “They’re only magnets. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Magnets?” Bartolome bent one leg for closer inspection, bringing his foot an inch from his face.
Antoni could not remember a time when he’d been that limber. “Look.” He scooped the pebbles away from one sandal, holding the stones in a closed fist. When he opened his palm, the rocks flung themselves once again at the prince’s foot. Bartolome laughed, then glanced in puzzlement at Antoni’s boots, which the stones had left alone.
“Your shoes were cobbled with nails,” Antoni explained, tapping the bottom of the sandal, where the iron nail heads could be seen. He held up a rock the size of a pea. “This is called a leading stone. It’s an explorer’s greatest treasure. We use them to build—”
“Compasses! Is that why we’re here? To build compasses? But that’s grand!”
Antoni smiled, with amusement and some regret. Such enthusiasm. Such a curious mind. Bartolome would make a fine king someday, but for him, St. John del Mar’s Royal Navigator, it was a pity and a shame. A good apprentice was hard to come by.
The thought came to him unbidden, unwelcome: Jonas would have turned thirteen this year.
Carefully, Antoni pushed the memories back toward the far recesses of his heart. Every day came easier. Today, he would think of only the living.
He said to Bartolome, “We’ll build one when we join the others. But first”—he handed the boy an empty sack pulled from his belt—“let’s gather some stones. The small ones only, as many as you can carry.”
A picnic had been arranged on a meadow at the bottom of the hill. Spread across the grass was a colorful assortment of blankets—reds, golds, oranges—giving the space a festive air. A lemon grove bordered the meadow on three sides, a far more welcoming sight than Javelin Forest, which loomed just beyond the bright green leaves and fragrant fruit. Smoke floated high over a pig turning on a spit while nearby, soldiers in pale green and silver congregated around a game table. The air was filled with laughter and cursing and the tumble of dice across wood. Summer had come to del Mar at last, after a long and stormy spring.
Antoni and Bartolome made their way down the hill with a sackful of stones. Neither was surprised to find five-year-old Teodor being scolded by his nurse. Lady Esma wore a dress as blue as the afternoon sky. She was young, her black hair hidden beneath a butterfly wimple, hands planted firmly on her hips. “I won’t have your lady mother see you in an intoxicated state,” she was saying. “There will be no wine for you.”
Teodor slunk toward his elder brother and Antoni. Esma rolled her eyes heavenward.
Amused, Antoni tossed the sack onto a blanket. “Troubles?” he asked.
“Never.” Esma inspected Bartolome with a critical eye. “And how was your adventure? You’ve brought the dirt with you, I see.” She reached out with a handkerchief to wipe a smudge from his nose.
Bartolome dodged the cloth, exclaiming, “We found magnets, Lady! Look.” He held out a handful for her scrutiny. Rough and unpolished, glinting dully in the sun. Teodor poked his head close before drawing away, unimpressed, but Esma was suitably admiring. “And Lord Antoni is going to show me how to make a compass!”
“Is that why we’re here?” She glanced over at Antoni, holding his waterskin high over his mouth only to discover there was not a drop left to drink. She laughed. “Stop, Antoni. That is pitiful. I’ll find a cup for you, too. Cider for everyone.”
“Thank you, Esma.”
With one last warning look aimed at Teodor, she strolled off, calling for a servant.
Teodor made sure his nurse was well out of earshot before he kicked at the grass. “I hate cider,” he grumbled. “Why shouldn’t I drink the wine? It’s only grapes, after all.”
“Because it will stop your growth.” Antoni repeated the lie told to del Marian children for a thousand years. “And we can’t have a prince who is only three feet tall.”
Offended, Teodor glared up at Antoni. “I’m already taller than three feet.”
“Oh, yes?” Affectionately, Antoni tousled the boy’s hair. “Never mind, then. Plenty of time for wine when you’re older.”
Always so impatient, this one. “Later.”
Bartolome eyed his brother with disfavor. He pointed toward the edge of the meadow. “Master Ruy is tending the horses. Go and be useful.”
One injustice after another. It was too much for the king’s second son. “I will not!” Teodor cried. “You can&rsquo...