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.


"Hey-ho, to our mead we go…"

I edge closer to the grass avenue's far side, avoiding the huge tent of a vivid purple hue that evidently serves as a… place that serves mead, according to those inside.

Prince Aidan gives me a mischievous grin. "Don't worry; they won't get drunk 'til tomorrow."

I don't like not knowing words. Oh, I've heard drunk bandied about on occasion, but with less explanation than hangover, which I only know is unpleasant and comes after having too much spirits.

"This first day, let the mead come slow…"

Even more disconcerting are the dwarves about, prepping things, wandering idly, or hurrying around. Many look too… comfortable to be visitors.

"It's mostly the native dwarves now, but the visitors will be coming throughout the day and night." He smiles at my startled look. "Certain old wards in the castle from Emperor Vance make it… dwarf unfriendly."

"Emperor Vance?"

"Perverse ruler my grandfather conquered—with help, thus my little betrothal issue. Emperor Vance created the Wailing Marshes. Sort of. Any traitor to the emperor would have his closest female kin captured and… abandoned in the marshes with her children's remains as her only food. Or so the tales say."

Other than that sprite who grabbed Silva last year, I've heard tell of the marshes, whispers of magic and haints. I'm glad Lord Elwyn and Princess Kitra found me so quickly, last winter.

Prince Aidan's voice is bland. "Some claim he kept those without children in his harem until they had one, but Mister Woad says his father was too picky in his women for that.

Wait—Mister Woad was Emperor Vance's son?!

"…Enough of that grim topic. Come on!" He tucks my arm under his and drags me towards the strange large tent.

Under the tent, sturdy tables and chairs fill much of the area, and a short stout woman serves drinks. No hair comes out her ears, so I doubt she's a dwarf.

His Highness drags me toward a long tall piece of wooden furniture that doesn't quite seem to be a table. People sit before it on stools, and behind it…


She glances over at my squeak but continues serving a customer, a dwarf like most in here. "Can use the quen," explains her work here.

Finished with whatever she was pouring, she comes to us. "Here for your taste of Father's Feast?" Silva asks His Highness. She smiles widely as she rubs a glass clean. I remember her reaction to the ambrosia just last week and wince.

"Evonalé, too?"

She eyes me critically at Prince Aidan's question. "A few sips, perhaps. The smaller you are, the more alcohol affects you. May be why elves are particularly susceptible."

I jerk back from the bar, but Silva ignores me.

She swiftly goes to serve some customers and returns with two small glasses of mead, glasses of the same type that I see a nearby human drinker using with his beverage—whiskey, I read on the bottle when Silva fills his glass. I think the steward Proctor likes that. His wife Morgana complains loudly to Cook whenever he gets a bottle. Aidan's glass looks as full as the human's yet untouched one, but mine has a quarter the amount.

"Take it in small sips, and keep it in your mouth for a few seconds if you want the best flavor," Silva advises. "Roll it on your tongue."

"I'm… allowed?" I'm a servant, not some nobleman's daughter out with the prince for a bit.

Silva gives me a pointed look to answer my question; would she have given it to me if I weren't? Then she returns from bustling over to help another customer.

I pick up my little glass carefully and eye the dark golden liquid.

Prince Aidan lifts his to his lips, but puts it back down before he sips it. "What kind is this?"

"Top of the house, as suits Your Highness," Silva states with a wry humor, considering her own rank above the Crown Prince until he comes to his throne. Prophets of the King can wield much power.

The nearby human downs his whiskey in one swallow and gestures with his hand, pointing at his glass and nodding at Silva. She refills it while continuing to Prince Aidan, "It's white tea and blackberry, for both of you."

"Giving a maid our top—"

"Robin," Silva says sharply, stabbing the large woman serving tables with a marble-stern look that I've never before seen her use. "Do not insult."

Robin pales with a quick step back. She returns to serving other tables.

The human man with the whiskey laughs. "Who owns this tavern?"

Silva turns her stone-hard look to him. "Robin. Scorn her and meet my wrath, if you so please. But I would not advise it."

"And what of scorning you, dear lovely?"

But Silva is on the other end, serving others who had gestured for her. I don't think she heard the question.

"I wouldn't recommend flirting with her," Prince Aidan replies for the absent Silva. He sips his mead.

I follow suit and am as surprised by the sweet tang as by the following bite on my tongue. A delicate nuance of flavor that I also don't know combines with the sweetness.

"She's engaged."

I choke at Prince Aidan's words. "What?!" Embarrassed heat flares through me when I realize I said that aloud. I start to sweat.

"Hush!" Silva snaps as she takes up the human man's empty small glass instead of filling it. "And you've have enough." Her gaze narrows on him as he starts protesting. "The drunken part of the fest starts tomorrow. Drink then as you like, but I won't have you lose your head before these two scions."

I jerk at her words. "I'm not…" My voice is too weak. I swallow. "I'm not a scion," I protest with much less strength than what I want.

Silva purses her lips. "Of course not." She turns unfocused eyes on two men who stagger in. "No drunks in here, today." Her pleasant voice isn't loud, but it pierces the tent. "But do return tomorrow."

Without acknowledging her words, the men stumble back out, lurching into each other with crazy-sounding laughs.

Robin approaches Silva, still looking after the men. An awed smile lights her face. "Did you—?"

"Yes," she responds tersely, while preparing a drink for another customer. "I am a mage."

"But you didn't focus anything!"

Silva taps her temple and smiles tightly, physically turning the shorter, heftier woman around and giving her a little shove towards the table. "Concentrate, Robin. Concentrate."

Spells can be worked solely by concentration? "That's not what it said in—"

"If it's in a book, it's true, is it?" Silva keenly states as an error of reasoning. Her false smile softens. "No one knows everything, Evonalé, and we always 'know' information that we'll later learn is mistaken if not outright false. It is so with everyone."

I stare at my mead to avoid her look. That explains some things, like why Mister Woad gets some aspects of other kinds right despite the textbooks being so wrong.

A larger sip of mead soothes me, my muscles loosening slightly though I'd never realized they've been tense, have evidently been tense for as long as I can remember.

Perhaps two more sips remain in my glass. I intend to enjoy them.


  1. Just a quick typo:
    "That explains some of things" seems to be an unnecessary "of" there.


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