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.


The next morning comprises of the princess wailing.

"Princess Claiborne!" I insist. Since the Crown Prince is the primary heir to the throne, calling another heir 'highness' would be inappropriate unless I wanted to deliberately insult Aidan. I'd rather not be on the receiving end of his… palm.

Avoiding titles of obeisance also happens to make the princess more apt to listen to me for instructions like 'Stay away from the fire!' Perhaps it's improper, but I wouldn't know much of that. Drake and Carling are both older than me, so I never saw how servants handled their infancy.

Considering Father, I daresay anyone who failed to protect them was tossed to the gryphons. And that my half-siblings if not our father disposed of any who attempted to reign them in.

Not knowing propriety seems to be a good thing here, at any rate. King Aldrik approves—I think he means it when he smiles—and Prince Aidan tonguelashes me when I don't do this. And Princess Claiborne obeys me.

More or less. Some days are better than others.

Keep a calm tone. I rub her back as I rock her. "Talk nice, princess." She hiccups and starts wailing anew against the nap that threatens to take her whether she wants it or not.

I sigh. "Princess," I warn half-heartedly, noticing Fatmah in the doorway. Claiborne's nurse, here to relieve me of the princess while I go to my lessons. I hand off the tired screaming baby to Fatmah and head out.

Prince Aidan meets me at the schoolroom's doorway, offering a slight bow and arm. "May I escort Miss Evonalé to her seat?"

So he's in a mocking mood, today. I curtsy. "No, thank you, Your Highness," I reply and scurry past him to sit down before he can grab my arm, anyway. I hide a smile at his irritated scowl. He hates when I use formality, making it just payment for his teasing.

Mister Woad enters as Prince Aidan returns to his seat. The tutor breathes as hard as if he's run through the stairwells.

Odd; he doesn't run. Running isn't acceptable behavior for someone of his station. Mister Woad is nobility by birth, son of the emperor who ruled Salles before Prince Aidan's grandfather conquered it. That makes Mister Woad brother to the late queen mother, and therefore His Highness's great-uncle. Despite his birth, Mister Woad had aided invading would-be king Jarvis with information that he could not have gotten otherwise. Some keep watch to this day, expecting some curse to grip him for his betrayal of his father.

"Are you all right, Mister Woad?"

He coughs a little. "A minor chest complaint," he explains with an unusual slight wheeze. "It'll pass." Mister Woad waits for Prince Aidan to be seated, then says, "Today, we'll begin with math."

Even his breathing trouble doesn't hide his voice's waver. Most believe girls needn't know math. As a rule, Mister Woad agrees, I think, but King Aldrik's insistence that I be taught as well as a son keeps him from acting on that preference.

I barely listen to the lesson, my mind wandering over… things. Carling's tried to kill me a few times. I wonder how she'll attempt it now.

I've been told that I'll overthrow my Father's line, but what does anyone know? I can't be the only line from the prophesied ancestress. I'm baseborn.

Gaylen knew things, though… I may not like what he prophesied about me, but he still was the Prophet of the Queen for Queen Yuoleen. He even foresaw his own death, which I have always thought downright cruel. Father had his uncle set the Shadow on him. First, he slept a little longer than usual; then, his breath wheezed—

Wheezing. Carling likes magic-controlled illnesses. My eyes snap into focus on Mister Woad. "Have you been sleeping more than you used to?" I demand.

Mister Woad frowns and cleans his spectacles, displeased with my interruption. "The old often do, miss. Now, back to the lesson—"

"No!" I rush to the door. "Iyacona—"

I stop. Iyacona is the elf-nurse in Father's household. I whirl about, biting my lip. I walk slowly back towards him, forcing myself to remain calmly factual, that he will listen to me. "Do go see Ygrain, sir. You're ill." I look again at Mister Woad's eyes, now recognizing the greyish tint—the shadows—in the eyes. I'm right. "It's the Shadow."

Both of them stare at me… as if they've never before heard of the Shadow! What have I brought on this kingdom? Carling should be trying to kill me!

"The Shadow…" whispers Mister Woad, brow furrowed. "You've seen it, before?"

So they have heard tell of it; they've just never encountered the illness. I nod firmly, as my eyes dart around, expecting a gryphon to leap from the shadows at me—to attack me, to rip me to shreds with its claws. If Carling controls the Shadow, she should be strong enough to steal some of Father's gryphons.

"We've never had any cases of it here, before," Prince Aidan says uncertainly. "Are you sure you're sure?"

"Yes." There is no mistaking the eyes. A cold knot settles in my stomach.

And from that single case, the outbreak begins.

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