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.


His Highness scowls at me while taking my arm to help me down the stairs. "Come along! We haven't much time!"

Time for what? I follow him past the dog pens where his bitch Plun greets him. He absentmindedly croons at her as we pass. We pass the main stables, around a pasture, and into a smaller stable. The horse was on the ground in his stall before we arrived, so it isn't my godmother—

There's a wet foal beside the horse. She, then. A mare. She's beautiful, though, utterly black.

"We missed it," Prince Aidan gripes, though quietly. He knows not to disturb the resting mare.

"Not by long, Your Highness," the stableman replies softly. "Not long enough to miss the bonding."

"I've seen horses born before." I would hide in the stables, sometimes, but not often enough for Father or Drake or Carling to realize it. Horses adapt to my godmother better than most animals, for whatever reason.

The mother and foal rouse themselves, the foal clambering to its feet to suckle.

"There's a good baby," His Highness croons. The mare flicks her ear his way but doesn't react when he quietly opens the stall. "Evonalé."

My godmother might show up and aggravate the pair. "Oh, no, I—"

His bland stare reminds me that I'm nobody to refuse. I flush and obey. He takes me by the shoulder to make sure I don't trip. He's even patient about it.

Once I'm crouched and unlikely to topple myself or anything else, he takes a cloth from the stableman and hums as he gently rubs the foal dry. The foal fast accepts the handling. "A filly."

She shares her mother's black mane and tail, but her coat's shiny brown. "She's beautiful." Father's mares wouldn't dare ignore Drake if he tried entering their stall.

"A classic champagne," the stableman says. "Nicely done, Your Highness."

"Thank you."

When does Prince Aidan have time for his lessons or duties, in between caring for his animals and harassing me? "You picked the breed pair?"

He shakes his head. "Poor Shada here belonged to… someone who saw her docility as a detriment. Fortunately, I inherited her before her old owner beat the sweet temper out of her. Took most of a year to get her over the timidity, but she's better-natured than my Hind, even—my gelding. She'll let anyone ride her that I ask. Not a good mount for new riders, though. She likes improvising."

"Many fortunate happenings came from that particular inheritance, Your Highness," the stableman says gruffly.

Prince Aidan stiffens. The mare Shada shifts her weight.

"Your brother?" Both the stableman and His Highness stare at me, which answers my question. I swallow back the chill at this reminder that Lallie said nobody speaks of him. "Sorry."

His Highness hums and rubs Shada's nose. "We don't speak of Henrik. I'm Crown Prince, now." He glances at the stableman. "Go. I'll see to Shada tonight."

The stableman obeys his prince. I stand carefully and quietly open the gate.

"You like the filly, Evonalé? You called her beautiful."

"She is." I move slowly so I don't accidentally knock anything over and disturb the filly or her dam. "Her coat glistens."

"Little girl needs a name, doesn't she?" he croons to the filly, and I eye her.

"Rowan?" Her coat reminds me of rowan wood.

"Rowan," he repeats. "That's a good name. Rowan. You like that, girl?" Prince Aidan grins at me. "You're better at naming animals than I was. My first pet was a black cur. I called him Night." Less overused than Blackie. "You'll be a good girl for your lady, won't you, Rowan? Like your dam is?"

"She's to be your mother's?"

Prince Aidan snorts. "She's yours, Evonalé."

What?! I recoil back and trip through the gate. Shada snorts but doesn't panic.

His Highness sighs heavily. He helps me out of the barn so I don't fall again. "Giving yourself another head injury won't make her any less yours. I have the papers ready and everything, just waiting for her coloring and name."

"You can't give me a horse!"

"Why not? She's mine to give."

I know what it bodes when a man gives such a costly gift to a lowborn woman. I swallow hard. I have six years yet before that can happen to me, but it's still inapprpriate. "Your father won't like it!"

Prince Aidan blinks. "It was my father's idea." He pats Shada. That mare trusts him an impressive amount. "Give you a horse, get you to join me on riding lessons, hand you a way to make a fast exit if you need it."

My flesh crawls as it chills. "…What?!" I squeak.

"You know I met Queen Endellion? I was little—perhaps four—but I remember thinking she looked more of a queen in her rags and dirt than most others I'd seen in their full splendor."

Father let Mother come here?

"You do not do her credit." He re-enters the barn before I can splutter a reply.

How in creation does he know whose daughter I am?!

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