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.


After a few more days, my cold clears up enough for me to clean Prince Aidan's schoolroom.

'Elves, like dwarves, have keener eyesight than humans and prefer the dark from their generations of hiding from humans in caves.'

I stare at the page, stunned by the writer's stupidity. Hide from humans? Both kinds have keener eyesight because we didn't like torches, and magic has an inverse cost. The spells we cast for light made us less able to see in that light and more able to see in the dark. Now, after generations, bright light hurts the eyes of elves and dwarves alike. Neither of us would do well in a desert.

I'm surprised to find such an inaccurate book in the Crown Prince's schoolroom. Does he actually believe this nonsense?

I sit to continue reading.

'Dwarves, though a rare sight, may be seen, and faeries encountered. Ware from those kinds is not so unheard-of that it cannot be found by those with the purse to pay for it.

'The most mysterious form of all are the elves' —Actually, anything that isn't a Crystal-kind would be inherently more rare than the rarest of the Crystal-kinds, because the Crystals make each group stay the same race—'whose wares are difficult to find, and much more so to own. They live in small independent kingdoms, without reliance on each other or the other kinds.'

That last bit sounds wrong, but it must be true, else Father would have control of all elves. …There are more elves than Father has bound, surely?

My lip bleeds from biting it, but I'm able to keep myself from freezing too much. Oh, I hope there are more of us!

—Them. More of them. I can't let myself even think like that, not unless I want to slip and say it.

Read. That should distract me.

'Dwarves, by contrast, live in large familial clans in caverns, rarely coming to the surface of Aleyi'—


I gasp, dropping the book in my haste to shut it to return it to the shelf. Prince Aidan's voice reminds me of circumstances—I stumble back and tip over the bucket of hot suds, somehow catching it and me before we both completely topple.

At least this is the floor I intended to wash.

Determined to ignore the grit cutting into my skin, I drop to my knees and start scrubbing.

The water's blackening already! Yie! What am I to do, call for William every ten minutes to help me get another bucket up the stairs?

The water's still flowing. I glance at its trail.

The book!

I lunge to get it away from the water; slip; slide into the also-lunging Prince Aidan.

Pain explodes in my forehead, complementing the dagger of pain in the back of my head, reminded that it should probably still feel worse than a throb. I think the yelp was me.

Did he also fall?

When my vision clears, I see Prince Aidan rubbing his head with one hand and holding the book with the other. Dropping his hand from his head, he flips the pages with interest. "You read?"

I taste blood, blood as cold as the rest of me from fear. He saw me, so I can't lie; and what sort of foundling can read? "A little, Your Highness."

His scowl and sharp look freeze me. He scans a few pages as he flips through. "A little, you say?"

The book is advanced for someone who only reads 'a little.'

I bite my lip at my error. I don't respond, and I dare hope my punishment or whatever is to come won't be too bad. Maids shouldn't read.

Prince Aidan's hand slows in rubbing his head, drops, and he fingers the book. His glance is wry as he closes the book and returns it to the shelf. "How old are you?"

"Ten, Highness." As of solstice. I bite my lip harder at his look, which scolds me for using his title, and taste blood.

"And you read fluent mountaineer."

His silence wants an answer. "I suppose so, Highness." Mother had taught me to read mountaineer and recognize some elvish by the first time Drake struck me with a poker. I think I was four.

He laughed. "Mother will love this."

I cringe, yanked back to now by Prince Aidan's words. No, she won't. Your mother disdains me, Prince, though your father might share your laugh about it.

Father would flog me if he knew I could read. He's killed others for the same offense. He'd avoid killing me, though; he liked sullying the line of Queen Yuoleen by Mother and therefore me. And he can't kill me, not yet—not if he wants Drake to be able to inherit the Bynd. Drake's older than I am, born before Father inherited the Bynd by siring me on Mother, and therefore the magic doesn't consider him one of the family.

Father's knowledge of how to enslave Grandmother's kingdom came from books. I think they must have been written in a human language; that would explain why Father forbade us to learn to read, and why my half-siblings thought faery script little more than pretty designs. At least I can interpret a few of the faerie glyphs.

I shiver and hastily rebury memories of Father and Drake and Carling. I don't need to remember their sadistic play, not now.

Not ever, really. But I'm not stupid enough to wish they'll stay buried indefinitely. Only fools wish for impossibilities. Even Mother never dared wish Father would leave her be.

A shudder shakes me. Stop thinking about that!

"Evonalé!" The sharp tone and the pain it ignites gratefully grab my attention, though not enough of it to stop my shivering. "Do you like to read?" Prince Aidan asks, his tone suggesting it's a repeated question.

Fear freezes me once again. Why does he ask that? What does he want to know?

"Elves! Can't you relax?"

I jerk. Elves?! What kind of exclamation is that?

"Elves," he mutters again, unwittingly confirming that I hadn't heard him wrongly. Yie!

"You're as paranoid about questions as Mari is about her hair."

Paranoid? Again, I meet a word I don't know, this time with a name. "…Mari?"

"That's right. You haven't met her." He frowned as he turned a thoughtful eye on me. "I think she'll like you very much. Marigold, an essere's daughter. About my age, but empty-headed enough to want to marry up."

"You want to marry down?" escapes me before I can think better of it. Prince Aidan certainly isn't empty-headed, and if he thinks such of those who want to marry up…

He shrugs. "I don't have to think about it. Some betrothal that was supposed to apply to Father failed when the king didn't sire a daughter, so it applies to me with the granddaughter."

Such a longstanding betrothal would be hard to break, even if His Highness wanted to. "Do you like her?"

Another shrug. "At least I'm not wishing for the dowagers who'd be willing to expand my wealth."

Father married down on purpose, but that was to keep in control, to stay the tyrant he was with the mistress of his choosing. A mistress of better blood than he!

On the mother's side, at least. Their father…

My face flames; tears blind me, and I can't stop shaking. I hate him; them! I hate Father!

I can't breathe. I fight to gasp while I shake, turning my tears into sobs. Control yourself!

"Evonalé?!" Prince Aidan hesitates before he actually manages to touch my shoulders. It's the most princely I've seen him act.

If I don't control myself, they'll cast me out. With effort I force myself to calm, if barely. Trembling's better than shaking. "Y—your Highness?"

He glances at the mess of water on the floor, then turns his glance out the door. "You're disobeying Ygraine right now, aren't you?"

Healer Ygraine is the healthiest old woman I've ever met. She doesn't limp or shuffle at all, and she's at least threescore years old.

"You should go back to bed."

"I need to work."

"You need to get better." Someone passes the door. Prince Aidan frowns and dodges out. "Proctor! Proctor!"

The steward, Proctor, enters and bows. "Your Highness?"

Prince Aidan rolls his eyes. "Please see Evonalé back to her room and make sure she stays there until Ygraine releases her."

Proctor doesn't move. "The girl does need to earn her keep, Your Highness."

Prince Aidan scowls. "I'll worry about what she does or doesn't need!" He grabs my arm and shoves me towards Proctor. "And what she needs is to get better before she can 'earn her keep'!" Though a subadult, he is the prince, and for once he's actually using the power that comes with that.

For me. Why? Why me? I don't like this.

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