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.


I hear my name in others' whispers. I struggle to wake, but my eyelids don't want to open.

Finally, I get them to do my bidding. Why am I in my bed? Why am I not outside, reveling and reviving in the life of the plants around me?

"I thought she looked pallid," I hear Prince Aidan say. "She said she felt fine. I never expected her to collapse."

Collapse? Did I really— "No! It's too early!" I struggle against my rough bedclothes. I should have years yet before—

The prince's hand on my forehead stops me. I can hardly breathe for terror. I feel his fingers move more of my hair over my already-covered ears. My blood freezes. What does he know?

Prince Aidan abruptly withdraws his hand as if stung, blinking dumbly at me.

"Your Highness?" A spindly young peasant woman I recognize as a nurse from the sick wards comes forward. "Are you all right?"

He feels his hand with his other, as if making certain the cold hand's nerves are working properly. He gives me another look, this one horrified. He wipes his hand on his linen trousers. "She's freezing already!"

"Already?" The young woman busily checks my skin. "Elves help us—you're right!"

Freezing already? I stare at the ceiling. Prince Aidan's interruption came too late, then.

The Shadow's found me.

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