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.


Ygrain brews the linashor into tea to give to Silva. She adds a bit of basil and limeroot. I don't ask why, and she doesn't offer a reason. "Go alert His Majesty of his prophetess's condition."

I stare at her for a long moment before what she said sinks in. Silva's a prophetess? So that's what Lallie meant about Silva being close to a full faery. That isn't good. Prophets are notoriously unstable. Even Gaylen would get… odd… sometimes.

And that's why she reminds me of Gaylen.

Finding King Aldrik, though, is difficult when a fair number of the nobles and upper servantry refuse to speak to me. I find Marigold resting in a common room and wonder how she avoids getting fat. She wrinkles her nose at the sight of me. "Go away."

"I have a message for His Majesty," I say first, before anyone ignores my request for "Do you know where he is?"

"Do I look like a prophetess?" Marigold snaps.

I bite my tongue against admitting no, she looks like a dunce who enjoys sitting around heeding palace gossip all day. "Have you seen him?"

"Hold your tongue and mind your own business," Head Matron Morgana condescends to say to me. "Your message can await His Majesty's leisure."

"It's urgent."

Her smile pretends to humor me. "I'm sure."

"It's from Ygrain."

Morgana's expression betrays her incredulity. "Ygrain's perfectly capable of sending a Runner when there's an urgent message."

"There wasn't one available!" I snap and flinch. That won't help. I take a deep breath. "It's about Silva."

"Finally come with child, has she?" Morgana murmurs in too loud a voice for any listener to not accidentally hear it.

"No, Morgana." I slip past an entering noble girl and hurry back to the kitchens before the head matron can have me stopped. Cook works today, and so does Geddis. I find them alone in a dessert kitchen. "Have you seen His Majesty? I need to tell him about Silva."

I wince at the blank looks given me by Cook and Geddis. They already dislike me. The news I'm about to give them won't help. "She's in the scullery—er, was. Ygrain might've moved her. But she drank some ambrosia."

Cook draws a sharp breath. Geddis squeaks and drops the tray she holds, spoiling a batch of cookies.

After a few deep breaths, Cook returns her attention to her baking. "His Majesty is hosting performers in the ballroom this afternoon, I believe. Let him know I'll call AMaC."

AMaC? I nod anyway and scurry off. The ballroom has the group that Cook described—yie!

I duck against the outside of the doorway when I see Father. Holy Creator, help! Are Carling and Drake here, too? I look for them and press against the stone wall.

One Runner my age, William, comes and slows as he nears me, before entering the ballroom. "Evonalé? You have a message?"

I swallow before whispering, "I need to speak with His Majesty."

William nods. "I'll alert him." He continues before I realize he used my full name. How does he know it?

Will Father hear him use it?

I gasp at the thought and scurry away from the ballroom, needing to put as much distance between me and Father as possible. I yelp when somebody grabs my shoulder. "Nallé," King Aldrik says, kindly not acknowledging my fear. "You needed me?"

"Silva's drunk ambrosia," I blurt. "Ygrain's giving her some linashor tea, but—" The words die in my throat at the mild surprise in His Majesty's mien when linashor entered my sentence. I flush. "Linashor only works on active magic. I don't know what works on passive magical poisons."

"A powerful earth mage," King Aldrik says drily, "assuming you can find one who hasn't already been assassinated. Yes?"

That 'yes' is for William, who bows to "Your Majesty," and inclines his head towards "Evonalé."

King Aldrik stops William there with a raised hand before he can say more. "What did you call Nallé?"

William frowns. "Evonalé, sire. Isn't that her name?"

"Where did you hear that?"

"Esseress Marigold of Sourwood said Nallé was shortened from Evonalé just this morning, when Princess Carling of Grehafen mentioned that her bastard cousin Evonalé had fled a year ago and she hoped the girl was all right."

King Aldrik grips my arm firmly before I can flee at those words. "Marigold told Carling." I shiver at the ice in His Majesty's voice. "How would she know that?"

I cringe when he asks me that. "I didn't tell her," I squeak. I'm not that stupid.

"William, fetch Aidan, and ask Kitra to occupy Carling. Where's Silva?"

He's addressing me, again. "I don't know if Ygrain moved her, but she was in the scullery."

King Aldrik drags me along by the arm with a long-strided lope. I have to trot to keep up with him. I wouldn't have the breath to protest or ask questions If I wanted to. We reach the scullery faster than I would've thought possible.

"Your tea worked," Ygrain says directly to me when we enter. "She'll be all right. Lallie doesn't think she drank much of it." Lallie smiles weakly, rubbing her temple.

"What about her?" I blurt. I flush when they look at me. "Lallie." Lallie flinches before she relaxes and shrugs. "You drank more of it than she did!" And my headache's been gone for awhile, I realize suddenly.

"I'm not mostly faery," she retorts and dodges the hand Ygrain aims for her forehead. "I'll be fine. Creator as my witness. It's just a headache."

"But you didn't taste—" the honey. The words freeze on my tongue at the exasperated look Lallie gives me. "…A—anything unusual?" I amend.

"I dunno. I was thirsty. Not paying much attention to the quality of the water, then."

King Aldrik and Ygrain both give us bland looks, but they accept the odd conversation between we young folk with aplomb. Ygrain finishes packing her things back up. His Majesty studies Lallie. "Even so, you should probably be evaluated, to be safe. AMaC will have to come anyway for Silva. I'll ask them to send someone who's rated for pure humans, too."

AMaC? I remember: "Cook said she'd call them."

His Majesty nods. "Excellent."

"…What is AMaC?" I squeak.

"The Association for the Magically Creative," he says as he leaves. Ygrain follows him. Both ignore my bewildered expression.

Lallie sighs. "The faery loony bin." She stretches, bones popping faintly. "With how many crazies they have, AMaC alone employs probably a good third of the faery workforce. Some think as much as half." She crouches by Silva and picks her up in a calf's carry with a grunt.

I stare at the sight of a woman carrying another half again her size. "I can fetch a manservant."

She smiles tightly beneath the strain and shakes her head sharply. "Move," she gasps, and I get out of the doorway. "Come?"

She walks down the hall more quickly than I would've expected her to be able to from her red face. A few servants stare as we past, but more snigger. I overhear some quips about Lallie only being fit for scullery work, but more about Nonsire's dwarf sire that her harlot of a mother was so ashamed to admit to bedding that she put the baby on an orphanage steps and fled. Some are worse. My own face is red before we make it to Silva's suite in the servants' wing. The suite larger and better than mine, but…

"Shouldn't a King's Prophetess have better provisions?"

Lallie sets Silva on her bed and drops to the floor, panting for breath. "I… hate… doing that," she gasps, when she's regained a bit of air.

I wince. With how others responded to her demonstration of something odd in her ancestry, I don't blame her. "You don't look dwarven." She hasn't a trace of the female ear-hair, and she isn't nearly stocky enough.

"I'm not." Lallie shakes her head. "Oh, I dunno who my parents were, but I'm definitely not dwarven. Silva thinks I might have a bit of shifter in me."

My breath freezes in my lungs at that. Shifter? "Shifters are sterile," I say in a small voice. Using magic to transform yourself into something else would doubtless be a lot more popular if it didn't cause sterility and more than a few health issues.

She shrugs. "That's what I thought, too. Lord Elwyn says the faeries have a few cases on record when the Creator granted fertility to a shifter, but the children never inherit the shifting. They're just a bit… strange."

"Like able to carry someone half again their weight through kitchens, up stairs, and down several halls into a room?"

"Sil's a bit heavier than that, Pickle." She puts her head between her knees. "I hate doing that."

"Why didn't you fetch help?"

"Because nobody else can put up with her in their head when she goes loopy. Her filter's terrible."

I stare.

Lallie grins wearily. "How's your arm?"

"You healed me," I whisper. Lallie healed my magic-induced scars. Not Ygrain.

She shakes her head. "Nonsense. I's juz a shop girl. How…" She rolls her head to face the doorway. "Hello, faed. I'd stand to curtsy, but I'd likely topple and spit all over your fine coat."

The man's aristocratic features wrinkle together as he frowns at Lallie. He glints in the bit of sunlight coming from Silva's window—from his black hair, to his white headband and shirt—even his pale tan skin, and vivid green trousers and coat and eyes. I think the only thing about him that doesn't glint are his scuffed black boots. "You are the friend who also drank the ambrosia?"

Lallie waves her hand. "Eh, I's fine."

The man ignores her protests and my presence as he places the back of two fingers to Lallie's temple. "I'm Faed Nirmoh. Your name, Miss?

"Lallie Nonsire, my lord," she replies briskly, languid disorientation abruptly gone as she recoils from the man's touch. He doesn't press the issue.

I curtsy because he's a faed—a male faery. Faed Nirmoh notices me, then. "No need to curtsy to me, princess."

Heat flares through me. "I'm not a princess."

His eyes flicker to something behind me, as if someone's there. "I see."

Fael Honovi. I bite my lip. "I don't know why she attends me," which is true. I'll never inherit. By-blows don't inherit—Mother excepted, but Queen Yuoleen ensured Mother would be accepted.

He shrugs and turns to Silva. "Fael Honovi does as she pleases." Faed Nirmoh touches Silva's temple with the back of two fingers. He frowns. "How did she get here?"

"Fael Honovi?"

He shakes his head. "Silva Feyim."

I blink at Silva's still body. "Um…"

"I carried her," Lallie interrupts, arms crossed as she studies Faed Nirmoh. I'm not sure if she's not liking what she sees or if she's just leery of faeries in general.

Faed Nirmoh's expression reveals his reconsideration of what Lallie is. "Air mage?"

Lallie's thin smile doesn't answer that one way or the other. I cringe and wonder why she's so eager to get on a faery's bad side.

Faed Nirmoh, though, returns the smile and nods sharply. "I see. Well. Miss Lallie, Miss Nallé, if you would. A damp cloth, please. Your friend's filters need some work." That's kinder than Lallie had put it, though I'm still not quite sure what 'filters' are. I go to fetch the cloth.

Geddis launches herself at me when I enter the main throughway headed towards the laundry. "How is she??!!"

I cringe at her screech. "The—the AMaC person's with her now, I think. He wanted me to get a damp cloth."

Geddis stumbles over herself to get me one. "Will she be okay?"

Her puffy face and red eyes prove the question's sincerity. I swallow and speak quietly. "Ygrain thinks so. Some tea she tried helped—" meaning somebody had been guiding the ambrosia's effects "—and Lallie drank more than Silva, and she's fine already." I hope.

I hurry back to Silva's room, a bit surprised that Geddis doesn't follow me. Faed Nirmoh takes the cloth from me and puts it on Silva's forehead. He avoids looking at Lallie, which makes me wonder what's passed between them while I've been out.

"How old is she?"

I wait for Lallie to supply her friend's age, but she ignores the question and leaves the room. I swallow and guess, "Eighteen?"

He nods acceptance of my answer. "You may go."

I hesitate. "Don't you need a chaperone?"

His expression's closed as his grass green eyes study me. "Send her sister in."

Geddis still waits at the end of the hall. She eagerly scurries to her sister's room when I ask her to chaperone her sister with the faery. She trips on the edge of one chipped stone in the walkway.

I freeze mid-wince when I turn back to return to my room. Carling watches me with her own pale green gaze, expression thoughtful as she absentmindedly tugs on a sleeve that comes just shy of fitting properly. "Hello, Evonalé."

Surely she hears me swallow. "…Carling," I squeak.

My half-sister sniffs, not wrinkling her nose in disgust, but quickly as if to clear her nose. She gives me a companionable smile. "Cold season coming in."

That confirms that she set the ambrosia for Silva. She only speaks to me civilly when she wants something. "What were you thinking?" I ask. She's ambitious, not stupid. She won't hurt me with the faery up the hall.

The smile drops from her face. "The king will do much for his cook's daughter."

"She's his…" I let that trail off, flinching when I realize what it sounds like, but it's better for Carling to think Silva the king's lover than his prophetess. Particularly when I suspect the reason she checked was to figure out what she could get away with against me.

She nods acceptance. "I'm still going to kill you."

My mouth goes dry. "Before Drake forces a kid on me, I hope."

Carling grins, actually showing her teeth. "That's the plan."

"If you can't have the Bynd, he can't?" She would have to have a child with someone directly in line to inherit the Bynd to be able to access it. Unfortunately for her, the only eligible male is Father.

"Something like that," she agrees. Her eyes flicker to the hall behind me. "Pity you didn't drink it, yourself. You could have stumbled out a window."

I ignore that threat, since there's nothing else I can do with it other than admit that I did drink it and am perfectly fine despite it. "Are you going to tell Father?" that I'm here.

She tugs her sleeves again with a frown, and my stomach twinges in sympathy for the poor fool who messed up her overdress's wide sleeves. "Tell my father what, Nallé?" she asks mildly, and leaves with the sedate glide deemed proper for ladies.

I release the breath I hadn't even realized I was holding. That's a relief.

Yes, Carling still hates me for what I can inherit, and yes, she's still going to try to kill me, but she won't tell Father or Drake. Silva will be fine, and Carling will have a care to avoid revealing my location to Father.

Both of those give me great comfort.

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