She was right: it was nothing like channeling for another of Sun Host.
Miro had always enjoyed channeling. It was a curiously relaxing sensation, the ebb of aether at someone else's volition, instead of by his own working. True, it was tiring, especially done outside the Etherium. Inside the Sun Etherium, he could recharge almost as quickly as aether was drawn off, while in the Broken Lands the air was too thin to store aether from it. Still, it was a pleasant sort of languor, a well-earned weariness.
But this --
This was a rush like flying, or falling: dizzying, intense, heady. The roar of aether flowed like a river down rapids out of him, and he was tumbling after it, falling into Ardent's marvelous essence. It was stunning, profound in its rightness. Of course she should have the aether. What better repository for power than in such a magnificent soul?
It didn't hurt.
It intoxicated him.
When she stopped, he nearly fell from the bench. Only her hand catching his shoulder kept him upright. She was saying something, but Miro felt drunk or drugged, his eyes too glazed to focus. All of his senses reeled, his limbs enervated. He wanted to fall forward against her, to snuggle into Ardent's beautiful aura and never move again. Reason poked uncomfortable little claws into this plan. This is a bad time and a bad place to disintegrate. Collect yourself. "... sorry?" he managed to say.
She said something else that he almost caught. Apologizing? Whatever did she have to apologize for? That must be wrong. Ah, there, she was asking how he was.
"Wonderful," he told her, sincerely. Reason tried poking him again. "... perhaps not altogether," words, words, what are words? "... sober?" Ardent frowned at him, and that expression sluiced through his stupor like cold water. "I'm sorry. What's the matter?"
"You're too good at channeling to be an ordinary Sun lord. You're High Court," she said, voice flat. "What else haven't you told me?"
Oh, pustulence. He had a script for this. What was he supposed to say? "Did I forget to mention that?" That was not it.
"Uh-huh. Who are you? Is Mirohirokon even your name?"
"It is!" he protested, hurt. "My parents picked it out and everything. Together. They liked each other back then." Reason grappled in vain with his tongue, which did not seem inclined to be caught. Or stopped.
"Your title. My lord."
"'Your highness,'" he supplied helpfully, and gripped the worktable. This is not how the script goes! Reason whimpered.
Ardent glowered at him. "If that's supposed to be flattery, it's not working."
"No no no, it's my title. Prince Mirohirokon of the Sun Host."
"You're a prince."
"Tenthborn of her royal majesty Queen Eletanene. Not as impressive as it sounds. She's got eight other kids she likes better. Um. Probably ten, after the last couple of days." He waved his hand vaguely. "Dad's score drags mine down."
"Your mom keeps score for who her favorite child is?"
"She's not my mom," Miro said, affronted. "She's my mother. And she keeps score. Yes. Ama and Tiqo and I trade places around ninth, tenth and eleventh but Peli's had a lock on last for decades."
"Oh, Peli's really not that bad, it's just -- "
"I meant that your mother does that to you. That's appalling."
"Wait, wait, you're a prince. Your dad's High Court too -- "
"No, no, he's not. Mother divorced him. Forty-six years ago. Ripped him from the High Court. Jinokimijin," he said, and she winced. "You've probably heard of him."
"... Jinokimijin. Is your father."
"Yes." Miro managed not to say anything else. He was starting to feel more sober, although he was still exhausted.
She sat back, removing her hand from his shoulder. "Well. Guess that explains a few things."
No it doesn't, he wanted to say. It doesn't explain anything at all. You don't know my father, or me, or anything about us. He was grateful he'd regained enough self-control not to say it. Let her assume. He shifted to face the cluttered worktable and rested his crossed forearms against it, still light-headed and unequal to the challenge of sitting up unassisted. After a brief internal struggle between dignity and weariness, he laid his face against his arms.
He felt a large hand stroke his hair, then withdraw. "Even if the Sun Queen doesn't care what happens to your dad, you're still High Court, sugar. She can't be willing to have you channel for someone in the Moon Etherium. It'd upset the balance of power.... Is that your plan? To force your queen to send a negotiator for you, and refuse to leave without your dad?"
Miro exhaled, not lifting his head. "That's ... one possibility, yes. Not a strong possibility. I suspect she'd as soon disown me. Which will take a few weeks to get the High Court in order for, and Ama and Ivo will try to talk her out of ... I don't know. I'd prefer to get the phoenix rose away from Fallen."
"If you're right ... yes. There's no real question; Fallen can't be allowed to have it."
"Who would you entrust with it?" Miro asked, because he wanted to know, and because he wanted to forestall her asking him about it again. "The Moon Queen?"
"Well. No. Not really. But that's why you're asking me for help, isn't it? Because you want a barbarian who wouldn't just tell the Moon Queen to take it. You may not want your Queen to have it, but you don't want the Moon Etherium to, either."
She was uncomfortably perceptive. "It ... doesn't seem safe in any fey's hands," he said, quietly.
"No, it doesn't. I want the phoenix freed, Mirohirokon. We get it back, we find a way to make sure it won't be caught again, and then we let it go. Deal?"
He sat up suddenly, and swayed with the motion. "Agreed," he said, too readily for the lie, because he wanted to believe it. "Does that mean you'll help me?"
She smiled at him, wry but gentle. "Yeah. Guess I will. At least as long as you're right about everything you've said. I know you believe it all, sweetie, but that doesn't make it true."
Miro rose to his feet, staggered, and went to one knee before her cloven hooves. "Thank you, my lady -- Ardent -- thank you. Words cannot express my gratitude for your aid."
"What did I just say about those Sun Host courtesies?" Ardent said, with an unconvincing sternness. "Get up, your highness."
"Yes, my lady." He rose, smiling, almost steady on his feet. "Have you any matters to attend to before we may set out?"
She eyed him skeptically. "Yes, I do. Fallen took your father three days ago, you said? You slept since then?"
Ardent's black eyes narrowed. "More than a few hours?"
Miro tried to remember. "... probably?"
"Uh-huh. And how many times have you used aether to push past exhaustion in the last seventy-two hours?"
I am fifty-three, my lady, and perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you. Miro did not say this, given that all available evidence pointed to the contrary. "My lady, it appears I am in need of rest. Would you by chance know of somewhere in Try Again that might afford me a place to sleep?"
Her wide mouth twitched with suppressed laughter. "Sure thing, sugar. C'mon." She stood, and scooped him up effortlessly in one long muscular arm. Miro was fey and even falling-over-tired he could have evaded had he chosen. Instead, however, he bore the indignity with stoicism. Toppling on his face while trying to walk would be at least as embarrassing. She carried him into another room, kicked some clutter out of the way, and laid him on a large and surprisingly soft mattress. She pulled off one of his boots while he removed the other. "You hungry? I'll fix something. Wait here."
"My lady is very kind," Miro said, meekly. "Thank you." As she left the room, he put his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes. I should take off my jacket, he thought, and was asleep before he'd mustered the energy to unfasten a button.
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