Tales of loathsome tyrants and prophesied saviors aren't nearly so appealing when you are a royal bastard with a prophecy hanging over your head.


"You stupid girl," Silva says as I wake up. I open my eyes to her frown. She pokes my arm, hitting a bad spot, and I gasp at the pain. "Serves you right, trying to kill yourself for fear of a nice young lady knowing who you are. Where else are you going to hide, hm? Somewhere where that sister of yours can scry you?"

I press myself back into the mattress at Silva's snide tone.

"Silva!" Lallie snaps, oddly sharp. She stands beside the open door, pointing at the exit. "Out."

Silva scowls at her friend. "Shut your mouth, Nonsire. Speak again when you can say who your father is—or even your mother would do."

I grimace in sympathy for Lallie, who doesn't even flinch. "Get out, Silva. Find your uncle."

I barely know Silva, but even I can tell that sneer doesn't fit her. "Baseborn—"

Lallie steps forward and slaps Silva across the face. "Silva Feyim! Get back in charge of your forsaken body before I do something we'll both regret!"

Silva blinks and shakes her head as if waking up. She covers the palm print blossoming on her cheek with her hands. "…Lallie?" She sounds bewildered, scared.

"Go find your uncle, Silva," Lallie says gently. "You need him."

Silva stumbles out as if she's groggy or dizzy.

Lallie sighs as she shuts the door behind her friend and usurps my room's stool that Silva just vacated. "Sorry about that. You must've been in the Marshes."

I swallow. "What…"

Lallie sends her eyebrows a fair way up on her forehead. "The Wailing Marshes are nasty, Pickle, and they weren't made any kinder all for His Majesty's father defeating the old emperor there. From the tales, it was a bad business all around."

I process that. "Pickle?"

Lallie's smile and the twinkle in her eye says she hoped I'd notice her choice of endearment. "I like pickles."

Her expression quickly sobers, though, and she scoots closer to my bed. I watch her, wondering if she knows what her friend does. "Sprites and other haints haunt the Marshes—not just haunt, but breed." She pauses and treats herself to a large breath. "The young ones can't do the likes of you and me much harm, but they can ride us to let us carry them to someone like Silva, whose connections between her spirit and body aren't the tightest. Just a touch, and they can wriggle in the gap and…" She glances away from my shiver. "Well, you saw." Lallie shrugs.

I swallow. "What's so special about me?"

"It rode you, dinnit it? Theyn't hard to notice, once you know how. It's the eyes." She waves at her own. "The pupil takes a—an odd sheen, when someone's ensorcelled."

"What kind of sheen?"

Lallie shrugs. "Hard to say, precisely. It's unnatural, whatever 'tis."

I don't look at her, this maid who noticed my magic-induced injuries yesterday. "I can't stay here."

"Nonsense. Where would you go? The streets of Saf to be pimped and raped and murdered? Some kingdom where people have no idea who you are and less reason to protect you when they find out?"

I swallow hard. "Who am I?"

"A king's bastard," Lallie says readily, and I flinch. "Anyone can tell that, with how you cower from the Majesties. There's a betting pool right now on which king. Your actual father's low in the bets, by the way."

"How—" does she know who Father is?!

"Because I joined the betting on King Hastheem, like most did when Lord Elwyn picked him. Others follow his lead."

She probably learned who I am from Silva, anyway. …Who is "King Hastheem?"

"Ruler of Breidentel, last we heard. He's notorious for trying everything at least once and leaving more than his share of brats behind in consequence."

Breidentel. Gaylen told me the reason Queen Yuoleen's realm was denfel and all the others dentel, but I can't remember. "You know elves?"

"Of them, yes. Breidentel used to have lots of business with Salles, but a little over a decade ago they went to seclusion. We've hardly heard from them since." She glances around my sparse room. "A fair number of folk still know an elf when they see one."

I understand her words as a warning and swallow. "I can't go back. They'll kill me. And I can't stay." She just looks at me, waiting for me to finish. "My name's too—too special." Be, my daughter, it means, a plea and an admission of my illegitimacy wrapped into four syllables.

Lallie frowns. "What's so special about Nallé?"

"Nallé?" I repeat, but I get her meaning: as far as anyone here's concerned, my name's Nallé, not Evonalé.

She smiles and stands, pushing a tray I didn't notice closer to the edge of my dresser. Something steams in the mug. "Drink up; rest today. Nobody expects you back in the kitchens until the day after next."


Lallie shrugs and moves the stool back to where it was when she entered. "Lord Elwyn insisted you not return to work until Rayday. His Majesty heeds him about such things."

Lord Elwyn? —That's what Kitra called Silver Embroidery. He has the ear of the king, then. It will do me well to remember that.


  1. :) I did warn you last night :)

    Should there be a comma in "Be, my daughter"?

  2. That one is actually correct. The meaning's a bit different between telling someone to "be my daughter" and telling her to exist.

    Nice try, though! ^_^

    Thanks for taking the time to try.


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