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.


"You've never been in Saf?"

Prince Aidan's tone suggests an order's about to follow my "No," I've not been to the capital. Marigold sprawls languidly in her usual lounge chair, evidently exhausted from the excruciatingly strenuous embroidery introduction I've given her for the fifth time since Father and Carling left Salles two days ago.

Since I'm putting my embroidery tools away in my bag, I hear rather than see Prince Aidan approach until his boots are in front of my face. "Never?" he presses. "In the past year?" I glance up to see him frown. "Where do you get your knitting things, then?"

"Others bring them back for me." I have little wish to go into the city a short ways from here. A shudder makes me drop my scissors. I've heard too many stories about the dangers of city streets.

Once Father's gryphons brought back the remains of a young man after they'd been through with him, a traitor or some such person. I'd been whipped for letting the… pieces… splatter my dress. I've not worn linen since.

I have little wish to know any more of how cruel others can be. Life here, in Salles' castle, provides all the danger of exposure that I could wish. Royalty, nobility, servants I understand. I even understand my half-sister, who'd rather kill me than let Father find me.

Prince Aidan has said nothing as I've finished reorganizing my bag. I hop down from my chair and grab the bag.

"You must have some savings," he says finally. "You don't own much."

How much I save of my cess a week is none of his business. Anyone can sew. To receive a bed, bath, meals, schooling, and a stipend in exchange for work anyone could do—mending things and minding a baby—is generous. When you add my filly, Rowan, it's obscenely so.

A heavy sigh from Prince Aidan grabs my attention. "Fine." He brushes imagined dust from his thin beer brown tunic. "Let's go to town."

I'm expected to watch Princess Claiborne in a few stone. "Your Highness—"

"Now," he orders with a grin, but a glint to his brown eyes say he means it no less. "It's the first day of the Feast of the Fathers!"

I've not heard of this. I swallow. "I'm supposed to watch the princess soon."

"Your shift can wait. Fathers' Feast won't." Prince Aidan leads me out. "The Feast of the Mothers and Feast of the Fathers alternate every two and a half years," he says. "Fathers' Feast comes in autumn, near the harvest, and Mothers' is in the spring, near the planting."

"The first and last days of this Feast are the only ones girls should see," he continues. "At least, that's what Silva says, though she doesn't include herself in that. I've heard one good Fathers' Feast rakshi can make a strong man reel!" Prince Aidan frowns. "Father won't let me try my first rakshi 'til after I'm of age… and then I'll have to wait two more years for the Feast."

In my confusion, I ignore the rest of his prattle and look forward through the open gate towards where I know the city of Saf lies. The inflamed swell of the land hides it, but instead of the usual reassuring browns and greens, vibrant splashes of other colors interrupt the scene atop the hill.

I blink. The colors—banners and what must be tents, I see now, in the process of being erected—are still standing and increasing. Florid colors, clashing in a gaudy mess only culturally preferred by "Dwarves?"

Prince Aidan laughs. "Of course! Who did you think…" He frowns at me. "That's right. You haven't seen the city. I guess you don't have reason to know."

To know what?

His frown transforms into a grin with an ease I know bodes discomfort for me. "Come on; you can use a new dress."

Don't freeze! I order myself as I follow his command. Prince Aidan's fourteen to my ten; he wouldn't think that of me, not yet.

Nonetheless, his desire to buy me a dress sets a precedent I don't like. It would be improper enough by itself, but together with his inordinate concern for me it might mature into something I won't like, if it continues.

I won't let it.

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