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.


That same afternoon, I enter the kitchen and bury a cough in my arm. Cook isn't working today, so Silva carefully bundles up a pack of refreshment for Prince Aidan and sends me off to what she calls "the little courtyard hidden in a garden maze north of the dog kennels." I watch her blankly and ask how I'm supposed to find my way through the maze.

Silva frowns and adds another two waterskins to the load. "You'll figure it out." She hands me both a shawl and the pack. Those last two skins are for me, I presume. She nods and waves me off. "Go on."

"But—" this will take awhile.

Her bland look back says Really? "Scat, Nallé."

I shoulder the bag, wincing when my back twinges. Why is Silva intentionally trying to get me out of the way for the day? "I can work," I insist to the older lady who looks like she's Cook's cover.

The woman just glances at Silva and shakes her head, unwilling to countermand the younger woman. What is Silva?! Nobody wants to contradict her, she freely wanders the noble quarters, the king concerns himself with her well-being, and…

Actually, paired with Lallie's insistance that Silva is not a royal bastard, I think I just answered that one for myself.

I shiver at His Majesty's evident preference for teenage girls and wander off to find my way through a maze in a part of the castle grounds that I've not even seen, much less navigated. I start at the stables, and from there follow the yips north to the dog kennels. I recognize the motley-colored Plun, who perks up when I pass the kennels, headed towards her master. She paws at the gate and whines, wagging her tail when I look at her.

I know the moment Fael Honovi joins me in whatever metaphysical realm she inhabits, because Plun lurches back, ears flat and neck fur on end, and growls. I sigh and continue towards the tall hedges ahead of me. Not only is it a maze, but the growth is even thick enough that I can't see through it despite the thinning that comes in winter.

After ducking inside and around a bend, I frown at all the plants. Silva said there was a courtyard in the middle, so it should be free of the bushes. And Lallie's already said everyone assumes I'm an elf king's bastard. Might as well use what little elf blood I have.

I reach out and brush one of the bushes with my fingertips. My skin tingles with the plants' life, dull and sedentary in the middle of winter, and I instinctually know where all the intertwined plants sit. I pause just long enough to get my bearings in what I sense, and aim for the empty square I sense in the middle.

And people think elves foolish for planting their gardens gradually over several years and generations. I wouldn't have been able to do this if these bushes weren't the same age.

Clattering comes from the courtyard in the center of the maze. I increase my pace until I'm beside the courtyard entrance, then stop. Someone in the courtyard grunts with pain. I peek around the corner.

Prince Aidan rolls to his feet and attacks Princess Kitra from behind with his wooden sword and dagger. She blocks the sword with her dagger, and his dagger with her elbow on his wrist, leaving her sword against his neck. Both freeze.

I shudder at the violence and scurry over to the stone bench to pull out the water and refreshments for them from the pack.

"Getting better," Princess Kitra compliments him. "Need more practice."

He crouches by me and swipes a handful of dried apple while he shrugs at Kitra's words. "Father's been busy."

"Practice with the boys."

Prince Aidan shakes his head. "I'm not good enough for that, yet."

I use my trembling hands to flatten my skirt, which draws the prince's attention. He scowls. "You aren't supposed to be working today."

"I—" need to earn my keep.

"Go back to your room."

But… "Highness—"

He sighs and shoves the palmful of dried apple in his mouth. He quickly chews and swallows. "Wait a stone, would you?" he asks Kitra. "I'll be back." He grabs my arm as he leaves the small courtyard by the opposite side. He abruptly stops and sticks his head back around the corner. "You see my betrothed, please waylay her. I'll see her at lunch."

Princess Kitra gives him an incredulous look but shrugs acquiescence.

Prince Aidan hurries out the maze, pulling me along and hardly slowing when I stumble. He shoves me into a dead end behind him as we almost collide with someone. I land hard on my side, skirt and blouse and shawl all in the wrong places. I quickly rearrange everything to hide my skin.

"Aidan! What a surprise." I hear Drake give Prince Aidan a friendly slap.

Fear chills my bones. Prince Aidan knows him? Is friends with—

"Drake," Prince Aidan replies politely to my half-brother's greeting. "My apologies, but now is not a good time. Can I meet you at lunch?"

From his laugh, I know my half-brother grins as he replies, "Oh, of course! Forgive me for bothering you—I didn't realize you'd already found the beauty between a woman's thighs. I could show you some pointers, to get the most out of the wench."

"Perhaps another time."

I shudder. Drake leaves, and Prince Aidan turns back to look at me. "Next time someone tells you not to work for a few days, heed them!" he snaps.

I gulp at the anger in his tone and shiver from cold.

At the maze exit, he steps out first and looks around. "Wrap your face with your shawl."

We share a long glare. Doing that would imply that he'd taken my virtue or at least sullied it. I'm not a woman yet. "Deviant."

"I'm certainly about to be thought one. Now put that accursed shawl over your face before Carling decides to come find out what interested her brother."

With another shudder, I wrap the shawl around my shoulders, neck, and chin, bowing my head so my loose hair hides the rest of it. I look cold and unwell, not like I'm on my way to becoming a woman of ill repute.

His sour look appreciates my quick thinking even as it's irritated. "That works, I suppose." He quickly tugs on my pinafore sleeve, straightening it. I step back and flush, heat flaring through my body. He scowls and straightens his own sleeves and collar. "Come along."

I do, and he moves quickly again, but he actually slows when I trip. One noble youth whistles as we pass by. Prince Aidan doesn't like that. "The girl needs Ygraine, Hickory. Keep your mind out of the gutter!"

We make it back to the kitchens with minimal mishap on my part. Prince Aidan releases me and immediately grabs a sack and ducks back out. I stand near the doorway of the small kitchen where he left me. Silva works alone on what looks like bread.

Silva pauses. "Through the maze already?"

I tug one bit of hair that's near my ear. She slams her forehead with one palm. "Felfin! Of course. Forgot about that."

Prince Aidan returns, the sack now bulging. He hands it to me. "What part of 'Evonalé must stay in her room today' did you miss, Silva?"

Silva stares blankly at him. "But she would've been fine, lost in the maze—"

"But she wasn't lost in the maze, and Drake nearly saw her." He snatches a freshly-baked loaf off the cooling rack and adds it to the sack. "Stay in your room today and tomorrow."

"And just what is she supposed to do there?"

Prince Aidan whirls on Silva. "How in creation am I supposed to know how she can amuse herself?! Read? Weave? Play with one of the cats?"

I clench my jaw against admitting that I actually can read. Maids shouldn't be literate. "I can sew," escapes my lips, instead. Heat pulses through me at the startled stares Prince Aidan and Silva both give me.

"You sew?"

I'm not sure if I should be wary or appreciative of the pair's surprise and the prince's foolish question. "Yes." Carling had me make her things after her hips rounded out and she wanted belt pouches designed to carry her spell reagents. The maid refused to make such improper things for Carling, so my half-sister killed the woman and conscripted me. I was seven.

Prince Aidan nods acceptance of my yes. "All right. Send what's-her-face with a basket of mending for Evonalé to amuse herself with—"

"Nallé," Silva corrects.

I shiver at the prince's dark look, and I'm not the target. Silva ignores it.

"Her name is Evonalé," Prince Aidan says softly. "Call her Nallé if you like, but I won't. She already is her mother's daughter."

I blink at him. Nallé does mean 'Be my daughter', but that's not something I would've expected the prince to know, much less be bothered by. "Vle—" I gulp the rest before I kill myself with my felven accent when I'm supposed to be telfin.

Prince Aidan takes my arm by the elbow. "I'll get her to her room."

Silva frowns. "You should probably get your father to—"

"What?!" he snaps. "Escort Evonalé to her room? As if that wouldn't get noticed. 'Where's His Majesty?' 'Oh, escorting some king's throwaway brat who showed up on our doorstep.'"

They share a long glare that I'm glad to not be in the middle of. Silva tosses up her hands. "Fine. Take her—but don't come crying to me if you walk into one of those mages."

Prince Aidan's returning expression is too close to a sneer to be a smile, but he tries. The attempt at politeness despite his obvious frustration puts goosebumps on my arms. What is Silva's place in this kingdom? Even Queen Yuoleen's prophet, Gaylen, never forced polite deference to Father. Mother restrained her own temper more after Father killed him.

Prince Aidan pulls me by the elbow with a jerk that threatens my grip on the sack. "Come along!" he snaps.

Silva's expression goes vacant, and her eyes refocus sharply as she gasps. "Quickly," she encourages me.

I still frown at her, but I do lift my feet as Prince Aidan drags me away. What little I know of human magic comes from watching my parents and half-siblings. I fear I shouldn't be as confused by the behavior of Prince Aidan and Silva as I am.

And then, Silva's episodes remind me of Gaylen. Why does a kitchen maid remind me of a prophet?


  1. Ok, I feel mean talking about typos in my first comment! But did you mean to put "Why do is Silva intentionally trying to get me out of the way"? Anyway, you already know I'm really enjoying the story, right?

  2. Mean? Why? I asked for it.

    Besides, anybody who bothers to find typos has to be enjoying something about the story, or else they wouldn't bother.

    Thanks for that catch!

    Scylax tally: 1/7


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