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.


Year 245 of the Bynding

The Kingdom of Salles

Late Autumn,

after Harvest

Some say the Shadow is an illness, no different than others that might attack a populace. Some say it is a curse directly from the Creator Himself.

In truth it is no plague; it is no curse. A group of faeries created this gruesome parasitic cousin to linashor and omurk. They created it to kill by destroying a victim's magic.

And kill it did: them.


The other servants think I'm part faery! I must be faery, they say, why else would I be granted linashor when its guardians refuse others' requests for it?

I bite my tongue. In these two years, the Shadow has decimated entire villages in Salles, striking the once-wealthy kingdom hard as trade has dropped, except for the dwarf allies. No dwarf has caught the plague.

The too-little babe Princess Claiborne was among the first to go. She and Mister Woad both refused to drink tea of any kind. But when King Aldrik likewise fell prey to the Shadow, he accepted the linashor tea I offered him. He survived his illness. And thus the rumors started.

It has been two years since the Shadow began—a fitting amount of time, considering it can take a year for the magical parasite to progress in a bearer. The magical illness presumably does the bidding of whoever controls it, but a powerful hand must constantly guide it for that to work. If legend can be trusted, it killed its own creators.

Father's use of the Shadow has always been pointed, limited to a carefully-selected few to keep the duration, the progression, the passing of it all under his direct control. The Shadow as it's hit Salles…

I wonder how Carling lost control. She's usually better about recognizing and heeding her limits.

With my charge and my tutor gone, I often find myself wandering the sick wards with my meager offerings of what little linashor I've been able to harvest at equinox and solstice.

Ygraine tried to quarantine me like she did Silva—faeries are particularly susceptible to the Shadow; because they created it, Mother had guessed—but I think King Aldrik overrode the healer, because she's stopped trying. The parasite isn't hard to cure if you have the means to fight it.

Many mornings, as the sun rises, I face the northwest and curse the man who found the Shadow and dragged it from its long-forgotten crypt I curse him and his get. By that, I curse myself.

And I'm the target, I know. I'm the one the magical parasite seeks. I can feel it, sometimes, drawing at my strength if I'm away from plants. It's Silva's lessons that have made me notice; I can feel magic now, feel the elf in me that pulls on plants. It seems to strengthen as I age, but I suspect that's an illusion from my growing awareness of it.

May the Power bind Carling! If she wanted to kill me with the Shadow, couldn't she have at least done it properly? Father or Drake have surely noticed this.

She commanded the parasite to seek me before she released it; she neglected to give it boundaries. It snatches everyone it can as it seeks to kill me, and I… I can fight it.

Should I?

Perhaps it would be better not to, I think as I sit on a windowsill for some fresh air. If I let it catch me, its goal, it should stop killing anyone else. Perhaps, for Queen Yuoleen's kingdom to be freed, I, the last in a line born of her guilt, must die.

"Take me, then!" I whisper into the wind, aware of the magic that seeks me. It wants me, not the others it's catching and murdering instead. "If I must go—"

"Go where?" Prince Aidan interrupts my thoughts, surprising me for once. "Are you sure you're feeling all right, housemaiden?"

A maiden of King Aldrik's house—not quite a servant, but not quite a ward, either. Even His Highness seems confused about what exactly that makes me.

I pull more hair over my ears. "I'm fine, Your Highness." He governs Saf, now; he has from his ascension to manhood at his sixteenth birthday. I myself work with the women in the sick wards, but only because the other children refuse to put up with my clumsiness or my ornery faery godmother. I have a few months before I'll rate as even a subadult, at thirteen. The divergence is comforting.

The prince still looks a little pale from his own bout with the plague, but otherwise he seems fine. "Why do you always do that?"

"Do what?" I'd rather pursue this line of questioning than admit I asked the plague to kill me.

"Wear your hair like that. Wouldn't you be more comfortable with it out of the way? I know that friend of Silva's could braid it so it still hid your ears, if you're that worried about them."

Lallie. I haven't seen her for a good year, now. I hope she lives. "I prefer it loose," even if it implies that I'm loose of morals, as well. Father forced me to tie back my hair so others could see my ears and know my place in his household, but that brings back memories I prefer avoiding.

"Why not?"

He knows this. "Mother always told me—"

"But why?" He laughs. "Why so mysterious, so quiet, so…"

"So what?" I ask sharply, sounding angry, but honestly more afraid than anything else. Don't say 'So elfin.' I'm not an elf!

Prince Aidan shrugs and drops the topic. He comes closer to me and squints out the window… Trying to see what I'm looking at, perhaps. "…It would be pretty if you put it up, you know."

I study him sidelong. Such comments remind me of Mother, of her abuse.

I force myself to turn away. Most kingdoms' nobility scorn royal heirs who marry outside their class, insisting that only legitimate nobility can properly raise legitimate nobility. A prince could bed all the girls in his castle, and most noblemen wouldn't notice or care, but Creator forbid he honestly marry her!

Aidan has often demonstrated his contempt of even such socially acceptable philandering. He cannot want me, not for marriage. I don't—no one told him of my blood tie to Queen Yuoleen, surely?

But then, every so often an unconventional monarch, often male, breaks the rules and weds a commoner, to the detriment of his kingdom and status. And Prince Aidan is unconventional, that's certain.

And betrothed, I remind myself. I almost smile, but it doesn't make it to my face. Since he can't marry me, his fondness will likely lead the way I don't wish to go. People change their minds about their beliefs. Aidan might change his—or his protest of womanizing now might be a cover for his ready-made plans. Elves help me!

"Yie!" I cry, covering my face and physically fleeing from the thought. What am I thinking? Elves help me? I am elfin!

Aidan starts, twirling after me. "Housemaiden! Wait!"

I ignore him, my still-clumsy feet carrying me down the hall. I don't hit anything, though. I've learned to use my hearing to help that.

Outside! Life! I'm suffocating in this stone!

No comments:

Post a Comment

This web novel is listed in Web Fiction Guide and Muse's Success. (Both are directories of online novels, stories, etc.)