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.


Year 243 of the Bynding

The Kingdom of Salles

during harvest

The Creator of Aleyi saw that four large groups had formed from how magic affected its users and gave each group a Crystal that bound their magic together, causing magic's use to affect them as a group, rather than each individual receiving the full effect of using magic.

Each Crystal-kind has since found its own way to limit its Crystal's effect on its kind. The elves' is our bane.


Leaves rustle in the wind; farmers harvest their crops. I'll have been here a year this winter.

I used the few cesses I got from Kitra to convince Runner William to whittle a set of knitting needles for me. I save others' tips, and Lallie and a few others paid me in money or yarn to teach them to knit or embroider. The embroidery is especially popular, since not many common folk do it in Salles. Most of the maids titter over my skill when they think I can't hear them.

Except for Silva, who ignores it. Lallie acts as if my skill with knitting and embroidery should be expected and teases any woman who dares think she can rival me. To hear her describe it, I could knit a bedroll around her, never mind that she's better than me at planning out a lovely design before she even starts a project.

I hold up one embroidered piece of mine that others find particularly appealing and stare at it in the midday sunlight.

It's a picture of my grandmother's throne room. I've never actually seen it, but Mother used to describe it to me, what it looked like before her father took Marsdenfel as a vassalage. I shouldn't have made it, really. Any well-versed scholar might recognize it for what it's supposed to be. Marsdenfel's marble royal halls are the stuff of legend.

I glance towards the fire. It burns brightly on this autumn day, keeping the worst of the cold away from me and the baby in my lap. Princess Claiborne came a bit early, and she's still oversmall. I'm mainly a nanny to watch her and fetch the wet nurse when needed.

There's a knock at the door, and Prince Aidan and his tutor enter for today's lesson. Mister Woad lets the prince carry his own books, to Prince Aidan's glee. "Claiborne's asleep, I trust?"

I carefully get up and lay her in her nearby crib. "Yes." I detour to the fire on my way to the small small table the tutor usurps for lessons. The embroidered cloth readily ignites and burns. I will not risk my life for praise.

"What was that?" The prince watches me with puzzled amusement as I approach the chair he readies for me.

"A wall hanging," I admit, but add, "It had a flaw."

"Couldn't you have fixed it?" He looks disappointed.

"Not without destroying the cloth." I would've had to rip every single thread from that cloth—yes, much easier to burn it. Much easier to burn… Was that what Father had thought of Mother?

The thought paralyzes me. I don't do my mother credit, His Highness has said. Am I then Father's daughter?

"Evonalé!" Prince Aidan snaps his fingers before my face. He grins when I start. "You're daydreaming, again."

I return his smile weakly. Sweat beads on my forehead, for now I am warm, too warm from the burning that comes from shame. I quickly go and open the window.

When I sit back down, the prince eyes me with a puzzled frown. "What was that for?"

"It burns in here." The book falls open to where we left off when I pick it up.

Prince Aidan laughs. He finds me dreadfully amusing. "I wish it did that for me as often as it does you."

I've wondered if I should use my meager wages to buy ginger to hide in every castle nook. But from what I know of Fael Honovi, she would probably retaliate by attacking me, her godchild, at the first chance I gave her. She loathes ginger.

No, it's much better to let people assume I've some strange blood than to get on a faery's bad side—particularly that faery's. Idle curiosity can't hurt me that much. Salles is very nice in that respect; gossip is considered the natives' business, and not something to share with those from other kingdoms. People assume I'm telfin, anyway, since I speak mountaineer without accent. I avoid speaking elvish, so my dialect doesn't betray me as felfin.

Mister Woad enters with his lecture books and pushes his spectacles up his nose. "We'll start with history, today. Nallé?"

I grimace. History's harder than learning to handle horses. The lessons regarding the other Crystal races—elves, dwarves, and faeries—sometimes contradict what I already know, and little of what he teaches us regarding mages matches with what I know of them. I spent my first several years tortured by them.

I suppose not all mages are as cruel as… as Father and Carling and Drake. I'm not that foolish. But cruel mages are more real and more dangerous than the books admit.


The tutor's sharp tone yanks me back from my mind's wandering. History. "Yes, Mister Woad?"

"What did the elves do with their binding Crystal?"

I flinch and ransack my memory for the answer he gave me. My jaw tenses, but at least my loose hair makes it less noticeable. I learned young how to control my tone of voice. "The Crystal's binding power was rebound to a single kingdom, so anything done to it would reflect on that single… group rather than all elves. It was in King… Liathen's day," I add before he can ask, while I remember to pronounce it improperly as Lee-ah-theen' instead of the felvish Lee-ah'-then.

"Aidan: dwarves and faeries."

"The dwarf lords convened, left their heirs in charge, and took their Crystal to dispose of it somehow, without telling anyone what they were planning to do. It's assumed to have worked, since they didn't return.

"Faeries worked together to nudge their Crystal into a dimension that even the strongest of them could barely reach." His Highness's voice is terse.

Prince Aidan gets a bit cross sometimes during lessons. He doesn't like that I, a girl four years his junior, have many of the same lessons he does. He forgets that I've been borrowing some of his schoolbooks at night to study when the mending is light. It's not the most interesting thing to do, but it's a useful excuse for staying up if I can't plea the sewing, and it keeps me up long enough that I don't wake 'til dawn. I don't sleep much in summer. Plants are too lively.

"And humans' Crystal, Nallé?"

I shrug with forced nonchalance. "It got lost somewhere with all the wars over it." Humans, the most populous of the kinds, never reached a majority consensus for what to do with their Crystal. Or, at least, if the leaders reached consensus it had displeased enough of the population to cause a rebellion. Which happened. Multiple times.

There are other peoples, but these four Crystal-kinds are the standard, the largest and most well-known groups. Even gryphons don't have a Crystal, though they're the largest minority. I think.

Mister Woad nods acceptance of our answers. "Each of the four kinds have some shift in their calendars related to their Crystals. Our shift in calendars marks when the Crystals appeared on Aleyi."

Actually, the human calendar is twelve years late, from when the first great leader of the humans united his kind through it, but I close my mouth before Mister Woad thinks I might know something I shouldn't. Like that flaw in the human New Calendar.

Mister Woad now abruptly turns towards me. "Names of the dwarf lords who left?"

"Urish én…" I stop and flush, burning with embarrassment's heat. That wasn't human. And he hasn't taught that, yet.

Mister Woad watches me with the unnervingly nonchalant manner he gets sometimes, as if he doesn't care what I answer. "Urish of?"

"Of…" I can't translate it. "I don't know."

"The dwarves have nine major clans with numerous subclans. In a strict translation, the dwarves are 'of' their subclan and 'from' their clan, but we usually use 'of' to refer to both. We name dwarves with their subclans, except for leaders' families, for whom we substitute the clan name instead of their subclan."

Yikes. I think I prefer the simplicity of én subclan, é clan.

I swallow and glance at Mister Woad and Prince Aidan as Mister Woad continues the lecture. Neither realizes that én is specifically felvish. Thankfully.

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