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.


On this last day of the Feast of the Fathers, the grumbling and gossip among the various castle servants has lessened. It's unusually quiet, today. But perchance it only seems that way; the past five days of drunken festivities have been loud.

I've glimpsed Silva bustling around this week, but rarely. Even Lallie's helping Cook in the kitchens.

Only on the second day did Silva pause before me and add to the basic pleasantries, "What spell did I use on the two drunkards for them to respond to my words?"

Since she said nothing aloud when she cast that spell, I saw nor see no way of knowing what it was. "How can I know?"

Silva smiled wryly, then. "That is your assignment this week. You know I wouldn't handicap myself. Determine what spells I could have used and their effects on me. Deduce from that what spell I used."

Five days of pondering that question when I can, and I'm no closer to the answer than I was from the start.

The current quiet soothes me, though, after the boisterous ruckus of the past week. Claiborne sleeps this afternoon, and I've finished the last batch of mending. I watch the leisurely lurching of the few distant people wandering around the tents.

I take a book from a table, one of Silva's that I'm borrowing. Maybe somewhere in this text on magic will give me the answer to my assignment.

"Your Highness," I say to irritate him when he attempts to sneak up. Annoyance is one of the few things that I've noticed can distract him from his ideas.

"You're still getting a new dress."

"I don't wear dresses," I object as I attempt to continue reading, smoothing my dark grey pinafore with one hand before fingering my blouse's lighter grey cuff.

He huffs. "You can't wear pinafores forever!" he protests. "You're eleven years old—"

"Ten," I softly correct.

"Fine, almost eleven. Geddis is eleven and a maid," he adds before I can protest, "and she wears dresses."

"She's part faery," I gamble, wagering that Geddis is Silva's full sister and not half.

"Geddis is no prophetess," Prince Aidan scoffs. "Silva's the only one who takes after their fath—" He stiffens with a jolt, startling me into looking at him, and he glances around quickly. We're the only ones here.

He moves closer to me. "You didn't hear that," he says quietly, his brown eyes intent as he meets my gaze. "Understand?"

I chill but don't completely freeze. I've never heard tell of Silva's father, not even in gossip. That it's a mistake to mention him makes me think she's someone's bastard. But whose?

I do understand what he means by the question: I'm to ignore the topic. "There was something to hear?" I obediently reply, face blank.

Prince Aidan relaxes a little, but not enough to lose his furrowed brow. He twists to look around, sighs, and goes to the window.

He's silent a minute, then speaks with a calm quiet. "I was still a toddler at the time, but I remember when Lord Elwyn lost his estate. The Council majority found the loss fitting and fought with my father over giving the family place in the castle. A minority would have given Attare Elwyn the money to pay the newly-developed tax that targeted him for a horrific penalty."

He turns towards me and gives a puzzled half-smile. "But… he… refused. Refused to accept the aid that would let his family keep its status."

His smile widens. "Ah, but the estate means little to Lord Elwyn, when he can claim support from the king for what he is. The tax struck him for that, because others were jealous of his great fortune, that he served my father as Prophet and held a title of his own. The tax passed through my father's purview only because the majority required it as part of another law that we needed at the time."

Prince Aidan shrugs, still smiling. "Silva may be required to work harder than suits her blood station now, but she'll get more than its worth upon the return of Elwyn Elf-Friend."

The title makes me jerk, and Silva's book plummets to the floor. Prince Aidan gives me a quick smile that says he had meant to startle me with that statement.

What I don't think he meant was to confuse. I know the title Elf-Friend can only be given by a coalition of the rulers of at least three elfin kingdoms, to someone who has helped them greatly, and such a title does not pass to heirs. What could the former Attare Elwyn have done to earn him that title?

And why won't such a coalition come aid my—

…My mother's people, I mean. Not mine. I'm no masochist, to seek tortuous death in an idiotic attempt to fulfill a prophecy that might've only been a possibility, not a true prophecy.

Anyway, Carling will surely kill me first.

His Highness takes Silva's book from my hands and puts it aside. "Come on," he insists. "You still need a dress. You're tutoring nobility, now. You need to look the part."

"What I have is fine," I insist. If he persists in his foolish coddling, it will at least be over my objections. That, at least, might prevent the precedent from developing too far.

"Fine for working in, yes. They are not fine for feast days and festivals." His tone has gained the sharp tone that means he won't stand for argument. "Come."

I grab an embroidered cloak of mine and obey.

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