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.


I recover the ability to move about after about a week of convelescence. Walking is slow, awkward, and painful, but it's doable. I'm young enough to still heal quickly.

My back has even stopped pulling wrongly, which speaks well for Healer Ygraine's ability that she even noticed that magically-induced injury, much less was able to heal it. I doubt Lallie said anything.

Stairs. The bucket is heavy in my grip, and the soapy water steams. How am I to get this up without losing it or the scrub brush? The brush latches to the bucket's handle and clanks as I move; it's pinching my fingers.

I lug myself up slowly, careful not to spill too much water nor to fall, again. I silently plead with Fael Honovi to not let Silva find me. She won't like my being up today—nor will Healer Ygraine—but I won't be cast out for not working. Prince Aidan hadn't been joking about his schoolroom floor needing scrubbing: I've overheard some of the maids were arguing over who would finally perform the task, and when. It must be horrid.

Horrid is fine. A horrid floor means a lot of work for me, which is good. Work I can do means I might get to stay.

If I can get everything up these stairs, first. At least stairs aren't alive and can't hurt you on purpose. That is an improvement over animals.

A cough wracks my chest, startling me. I stumble forward, slipping and catching myself on the stairs. Pain arches up my arm.

But to catch myself, I have to release the bucket, and it tumbles down the stairs, clanging loudly enough on its way down that I feel as if half the castle must've heard it as my head rings with pain from its lingering hypersensitivity. The hot sudsy water is all over, dripping from the stone walls, flowing down the mortar grooves and the stairs.

My lip bleeds from my biting it. I won't cry. I won't—not if whipped, not even if they cast me out.

A few of the maids reach me and see the mess. Their croons of "you poor dear" hardly make me feel better. I feel hap—helpless, but hapless works, too.

Silva shows up with an armload of towels, promptly dispersing them amongst the other maids for them to clean up and silently refusing to hand one to me. Water soon drips from the now-dripping towels. Why did I try to carry that bucket up the stairs? I know I'm clumsy. I should have asked one of the Runner boys to help me.

Lallie's underdress today looks like she soaked it in strawberry syrup to dye it. She studies the mess and hands another armload of towels off to Silva. "Well," she says. "At least the stairs are clean."

With my uselessness proved yet again, it's a small comfort.

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