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.


"Evonalé." His Majesty's calm voice startles me into dropping my sewing.

"Y—your Majesty?" I daren't look at him. Prince Aidan said his father had suggested he give me the horse, and if Prince Aidan remembers meeting my mother, well… Surely his father does.

His Majesty sits on the edge of the bench. From the corner of my eye, I glimpse his loose silk tunic wafting in the breeze. Cobalt blue is a good color for him. "How is the mending coming?"

I curl my toes in the grass at the odd question. "Well, Your Majesty." I've been mending dresses and aprons and blankets and… everything that other maids did at one time or another before such work was shifted to me. It's all that I can do—all I can do well, rather. Lallie has helped me with the foreign seams I hadn't known, and Princess Kitra liked my creative mending of her blouse enough that she gave me a few cesses for it.

"Silva said I'd find you here." He waits for my response. None. "She says you always bring your sewing out, your feet bare despite the cold, and sit here. If it's raining, you sit on a little stool, with the door open. You like the outdoors."

Breathe! I remind myself when a bit of dizziness hits, chomping my lip so I don't shiver from the cold. The king keeps too close an eye on what I do. That's not good. It wasn't good for Mother when her king paid notice to her, though I'm thankfully too young to worry about it being bad in that way… yet. And surely His Majesty behaves himself, if he killed his own son for not.

"I hear you like to read."

Prince Aidan must've told him that.

After a brief pause, he asks, "You like to learn?"

Do I? I unclench and reclench my toes around the grass, trying to ignore his long look.

"You sew beautifully."

"Thank you, Majesty." I like sewing. I used to help…

"Did your mother teach you?" A shudder takes me against my will. He continues before I can frame a reply. "Never mind. That was unkind of me."

Another shiver. I hate when kings feign civility. Something cruel always follows.

"You have a good eye for aesthetics, for how to make things lovely. You may even have the gift of beauty."

The gift of beauty—the ability to bring out the beauty in others, more common in plain woman than comely ones. Getting myself noticed isn't safe. I swallow and concentrate on containing the internal ice.

"A handmaid with that ability, or even a hint of it, would suit Claiborne."


He smiles gently at my confusion. "The princess," he clarifies. "She may not yet be born, but Her Majesty and I are certain as to her gender."

A faery probably told the Majesties, or a prophet. Some people with faery ancestry can prophesy.

"I hear you don't like the gift I arranged for you."

Rowan. I swallow. "It isn't appropriate, Majesty."

"True." I'm not sure if it makes me feel any better about the gift, if even King Aldrik admits its excessive. "But she's yours, nonetheless. Make sure to spend time at the stables; you'll need to be the one to train her. And to learn how to ride, for that matter."

I lurch up to bob a curtsy and plop back down before I fall. "Thank you, Majesty," I mumble. What does he want from me?

For now, I need to finish the sewing. Just a few more stitches to finish this scarf's seam. It's hard to concentrate, but I manage it despite His Majesty watching me. I fold it up and put it in my basket, ready to pull out an apron—

"Come with me, please."

I grimace with the streak of ice that pierces me at his words, and I obey. Now I'll find what he wants. I swallow back the tears as best I can, but one forms, frozen solid in the corner of my eye. I pry it out with a grimace.

We pass others, other maids, servants, a noble or four, all watching curiously, one lord with the slight contempt I know well. I keep my head down, trying to look at nothing, trying not to trip while almost wishing that I might fall and get hurt again so I can't fulfill His Majesty's whim, whatever it is.

His Majesty positions himself a bit behind me as we go up some steps, ready to catch me if I fall. The strange behavior troubles me and keeps the ice from thawing as I wish it would. If he touched me now, he'd know for certain what I am. He would know what my emotion-based temperature means.

"Eight times seven: fifty-six. Eight times eight: sixty-four. Eight times nine: seventy-two…" Prince Aidan's voice comes from a room we approach as His Highness quotes the multiplication tables. "Eight times twelve…"

Our entrance distracts him into speechlessness, and I quickly add the numbers. Eighty plus sixteen… "Ninety-six?" I guess.

The silence lengthens. All three—His Majesty, His Highness, and His Highness's tutor—stare at me in blank surprise. I flush and swallow, abruptly remembering that Carling wasn't taught math. Human females usually don't learn it.

His Majesty smiles, then. "Eight times twenty-four?"

"Um…" It's a command, so I obey. Eighty plus eighty plus thirty-two. "One hundred…"—sixty plus thirty-two—"ninety-two?" Or, I now realize, I could've just doubled my previous answer. Oh, well.

King Aldrik raises an eyebrow at the tutor, a reedy balding man with glasses, the spindly scholarly man I'd noticed my first day here. "I'll expect you to train her the same you would any noble son."

The tutor opens his mouth and shuts it a few times before managing to say, "But Your Majesty… She is neither a son nor a noble…" I can't help but worry when the king gives the tutor a long look. "Not a son, at least," the tutor corrects.

Alarm spears me. I'm not a noble child!

…But I am of high rank. Sort of. Supposing I ever should've existed in the first place. Which I shouldn't have. Curse Father, I shouldn't have!

His Majesty's expression solidifies into stern politeness. "Evonalé's mind will receive the best training you can give her, or I shall find a replacement of fewer prejudices. Do I make myself clear, Woad?" This brand of kingly behavior, of threats, is more familiar to me.

Mister Woad winces and bows. "My apologies, Aldrik, but I'm not certain that I could train her to maximum efficiency… within the limits." What limits? What did I miss?

"Do as best you can," His Majesty allows with surprising generosity considering his previous demand and Mister Woad's use of the king's given name. "And Silva will assist you."

…Since when did maids help tutors?

Prince Aidan perks up. "But—"

"No," the king interrupts his son's protest.

"You won't let her teach me anything!"

…And what knowledge could Silva have that Prince Aidan covets? Sewing? The thought sparks a threatening giggle, which thaws me. Mostly. Even Geddis sews better than Silva. Lallie tends to sneak things out of Silva's pile before Silva gets a chance to work on them. It's easier than having to fix her mess.

"You aren't Evonalé," His Majesty says simply, tweaking his son's nose. "And you need to learn how to do things properly before learning how to cheat."


"Just one tracking spell?" His Highness's fourteen-year-old voice is excruciatingly annoying when it whines.

Silva knows spells?!

"I doubt she knows any of those," Mister Woad comments.

"She does; she told me so."

King Aldrik considers that. "Bring home your first deer, and I'll let Silva teach you a tracking spell."

"It wasn't my fault the dogs found—"

"Aidan." The king's mild yet firm voice halts his son. "Bring home your first deer, and I'll ask Silva to teach you the tracking spell." Silva being a mage explains a lot; that would give His Majesty cause to stay on good terms with her. Is Lallie one, too?

His Majesty nods at Mister Woad. "Carry on."

Prince Aidan quickly fetches me a chair to sit at the table with him. He grins. "You'll teach me some magic, won't you, Evonalé?"

"She certainly will not," Mister Woad says dryly. "But she will write down her multiplication tables as far as she has memorized on your spare slate."

His Highness finds his spare slate and some chalk to hand me. Mister Woad watches me steadily, waiting for me to start.

I lack a choice, short of defying His Majesty. I start writing.


  1. I must say, I really like the way you wrote the figuring of the multiplication tables here. Rarely do I see a depiction of the way I do it, with the figuring from convenient shortcut points (the multiples of 5 usually).

    I followed the link in your Signature over at R:C, and I've gotta say, you've got me hooked, trying to figure out the rules of this 'verse. I'll save any speculation until I get caught up, but I wanted to say that you are up there with Stormy on my list of favorite web-authors.

  2. Thanks, Wraith! I'm glad you're liking it, and that you found the multiplication table thing interesting instead of boring.

    And thank you, as well, for the compliment. ^_^


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