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.


A week later, I glance again at my slate to make sure I read my assignment properly, so I don't waste any paper or ink. Silva insists on written explanation of why mages should avoid using magic to heal or hurt others.

The first is common sense: healing someone else harms or kills the caster, unless the caster happens to be an earth mage who's attempting to return the patient to his natural state.

Using magic to hurt others actually strengthens the mage, but at risk of getting addicted to the rush of magic. Some good mages, forced to war to protect their loved ones, have committed suicide or handed themselves to enemies for execution rather than let the addiction control them.

Now, to write all that down with sufficient specific examples. I sigh and prepare my quill—


I wince at Prince Aidan's interruption. Fatmah will need me to watch the princess in a few minutes, and I need to finish this before then. I've spent much of the last several months learning about human magic and how its four affinities affect human mages. Silva has hinted that I might start spellcasting tests, soon, to learn what kind of mage I am.

Humans have four affinities: water, fire, air, and earth. Earth mages tend to have a bit of dwarf in the ancestery; air mages, faery; and water mages, elf. Or so's the theory. Silva says her father's never found anything to verify it, but he's never found anything that directly contradicts it, either. With my human blood, I likely have an elemental affinity along with the plant-based elf one that I already use.

Prince Aidan pokes in the doorway, his face glowing with exertion behind his grin. I've not seen much of him lately, with several earls visiting with their children. His Highness has needed to occupy them.

He grabs my hand, prying my quill from my grip as he yanks me out the door. "Come along; quickly, now! Before they get here."



I twist my arm loose from his grip and follow, slowing his rapid pace on the stairs despite his impatience. He scowls and drags me swiftly into one of the hallways that I avoid on my own. I'm not nobility.

"Lallie!" When the prince calls her, Lallie peeks her head out from a closet. Prince Aidan asks me, "You like blue, right?" At my nod, he pushes me towards Lallie. "Four minutes."

Lallie sighs but acquiesces, shutting the door to leave him in the hall. "Not paid enough to put up with this," she mutters.

She goes to the closet and pulls out a nice blueberry blue dress—not noble pomp, but nicer than what I've had so far—and hands it to me. "You better change. He'll order you directly if you don't."

She's right. The prince's odd whims aren't many, but he likes enforcing them. I change swiftly.

"Who will watch princess Claiborne?"

"Fatmah will find someone, don't you worry." Lallie quickly braids my hair somewhat, just enough to guide it from my face, without revealing my ears. "Probably me, putting me late getting home to make Pey dinner, besides," she mutters, but I don't think she meant for me to hear her complaint.

"Thank you."

She tugs the braid straight. "You'll be a pretty little lady, Nallé."

I stiffen and chill, though I manage to avoid actual ice. I don't want to be pretty. Pretty wards of rich men have struggles enough, but to be the prince's choice of a playmate? Adults play, too, though the meaning of the word changes with puberty.

No. His Majesty would not allow—not allow that. I am safe while he reigns, so long as Father or Drake don't find me. I will sooner flee than be a man's mistress and continue my father's baseborn line.

And where, exactly, would I be able to flee?

Prince Aidan returns as promptly as promised, and I feel out of place in my new dress, the simple sort of fancy that Silva and other maids tend to wear on feast days. I usually just make sure my pinafore's clean. At least the bright blue's a tad faded. A hand-me-down from someone's sister, maybe. Probably.

"All right. This way."

His grip is firm enough that I'm not sure if I could wrench free if needed. I hate that—that and how much attention he pays me. We stop.

Prince Aidan inclines his head towards a doorway. "If you please?"

Please…? "Enter?" A noble daughter of about the prince's age lounges in a padded chair staring at I don't know what. Nothing, evidently.

"No, I want you to stand here like a dolt all day for the nobles to stare at." His tone is distinctly irritated. He eyes me, then calls, "Lallie! Do you—"

Lallie swiftly comes our way with a bundle in her arms. She bobs a bit with a straight face. "I live to serve the whims of Your Magnificence."

I blink at her sarcasm. He rolls his eyes and shoves me through the doorway. "Marigold, this is Evonalé."

Marigold studies me with a languid look that seeks a reason I'd be worth introducing to her and fails to find it. "She's just a servant."

I study her small cattish features and golden blond curls. Have I met her, before?

Prince Aidan stiffens, expression cross. "Evonalé, please instruct this young brat how to embroider."

That almost rouses Marigold. "I am no whelp!" she declares with an indignant haughtiness. The glass beadwork on her sleeves catches the firelight. Oh, the essere's daughter whose mother scolded her for aggrivating Silva my first day here.

The prince's studiously blank expression I recognize as mimicked from his father. "Nor is Evonalé."

He doesn't know that. People assume I'm that telfin king's bastard, but nobody's ever asked me.

Prince Aidan turns back a bit and nods at Lallie, then nods towards Marigold. Lallie follows his direction and untangles her bundle. "You will—"

"I'm occupied." Marigold returns to her lazy empty stare.

He glowers. "You will learn embroidery from Evonalé."

"A lady need not trouble her hands with work—"


We stare at Prince Aidan. I've known him to get frustrated, but…?

I can't make myself move. Lallie somehow manages to slip out without attracting Aidan's notice.

"Can you not hear yourself?!" he demands. "You want to marry up, above your station, and you downright refuse to learn anything that could help you get a good husband. And refusing a direct order from your prince?" His glare doesn't seem to affect Marigold, who looks still aghast at being struck. "If you want to marry into another kingdom, you had better learn to hold your tongue!"

His scowl turns concerned. "Now, you'll do as I say, and learn embroidery from Evonalé, or I'll—I'll tell all the other princes you're a whore!"

We both gasp. "You wouldn't!"

Prince Aidan still glowers. "What has your tutor taught you?"

Marigold stares at him, bewildered. "Tutor? I'm a woman."

"Girl!" he corrects sharply. He grabs me and yanks me forward. His grip is stronger than he likely realizes; this will bruise.

"Evonalé reads two Crystal languages, quotes Aleyi's history, does her squares, and can do what else is 'proper' for a girl!" Prince Aidan pauses. "Well, if you ignore cooking. And dusting."

He releases me abruptly; my ankle twists as I stumble. I bite my lip and blink back the few tears. I don't want to know what my prince's reaction would be if he saw them, if he just slapped a girl of presumably better blood than mine.

Presumably. I flush at the reminder.

"If you protest one more time—"

"A lady need not—"

Is she stupid?!

"Creator bind you!" he snarls.

I cringe at his curse. "Your Highness—" Yie! What have I done?

He whirles to glare at me as I burn from shame. I falter and mumble my apology.

"Aidan!" The king's voice arrives before the man himself does. He's probably been working with his horse, considering the linen of his tan tunic and coffee brown trousers. He still wears a garnet-studded gold circlet as a crown. His Majesty turns to me. "Instruct Marigold in embroidery." He glances at Marigold. "Who will accept the lessons."

Marigold opens her mouth as if to protest again, but she proves that she owns a morsel of sense by shutting it. I find the embroidery supplies Lallie left and edge over to a chair near Marigold with them.

The king's stern gaze returns to his son. "Come."

Prince Aidan sullenly follows his father out.

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