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 smell tea. It smells bitter and medicinal and like someone's been in the linashor I've passed to Ygraine. I turn my head away from whoever's offering it.

"Stop the self-pity and drink it!" Lallie's voice snaps.

I turn and focus on her in my surprise. Her cherrywood eyes are more dark than bright as she glares. I'm not sure if her cap-sleeved dress and laced-up boots are burgundy or her usual black, in this light. "…Lallie?"

Lallie sits perched on stool by my bed, hands folded in her lap and ankles crossed. "No, I'm Silva, come to intentionally expose myself to that cursed parasite that would gladly latch on and kill me. Drink the tea, you foolish girl, before the Shadow kills you."

"It needs to." I can be honest with her.

"Do it?" Lallie's still, too still as she watches me. She should be cheerful and teasing and prodding me out of bed to drink the tea.

I close my eyes. "I'm sorry," I whisper. Her dress is burgundy.

"Not your fault my Peyton killed himself to save me!" she snaps back. She stops abruptly and takes a long deep breath. "Sorry." Silence lasts for a few moments. "He dinnit do the best job."

"Are you…?" I look at the tea beside her on the small table by my bed.

"Still infected? No." Her smile's bitter. "No. I'm perfectly fine. Recovered, healthy, young, with a good figure." She swallows. "Many a woman would consider herself blessed to be in my position. I'm even a widow, so I can do all sorts of improper things without anyone nagging me about chaperones."

I cringe. I'd met her husband once. He was a nice cobbler with a bit of something other than human in him. He'd smiled and joined in when Lallie called me 'pickle'.

Lallie's tone darkens. "Now drink that forsaken tea, Evonalé Yunan, before I dump it down your throat."

She can't be serious. "I'm who it's trying to kill," I confess.

"So let it try, and fail, and give that witch sister of yours a tsunami of magical whiplash."

Lallie's scowl is harsh; she loved her husband dearly. "I'm sorry."

"Stop. Saying. Sorry." Her voice is far too violent for her to be so still. Goosebumps form on my arms as my body chills. "Drink the tea, Your Highness."

What?! "I'm not a princess!"

"Name someone else who can inherit Marsdenfel."

Mother's dead. "I don't know" of anyone else who's descended from Queen Yuoleen.

"Well?" Lallie lifts the tea from the table and offers it to me. "That leaves you next in line when your father dies, Princess."

"I'm baseborn."

"So was your mother. So's Elwyn Elv'Shutor. So am I, probably. I can't speak for their spouses, but my Peyton wouldn't have minded were my father a scoundrel and my mother a whore."

"You're common." I don't intend that meanly, but Lallie's eyes narrow at me as if I did.

"You of all people know that's unlikely."

Noble girls tend to leave the evidences of their indescretions on orphanages' doorsteps, but evidently that's not what Lallie's referring to. What information do I possibly have about her that others don't?

As I stare blankly at her glare, I remember what I know about her that she hides from others. "You're…" an earth mage. I shake my head. "But how is that proof that you're not common?"

"I'm immune to poison, even ones designed to target mages. Not resistant—immune. That alone means I'm likely montai. And they chose rulers by how much magic they could control."

Montai? "…Those are the people that used to be here, between the Nidar River and Marsdenfel?" And Emperor Vance's water mage family had slaughtered them and built the palace on the bit of montai lands that hadn't become a haunted marsh from the fighting.

If Lallie's a montai, many of the haints in the Marshes were her ancestors. I wince.

I remember another rumor about montai, that the Creator destroyed it because so many of its people chose to become shifter abominations. "Oh. You're part shifter, too."

"You have your family trying to kill you. Imagine that multiplied across everyone who's worried about shifters and earth magic and heritages that belong dead."

"No wonder you keep a low profile."

She smiles tightly, then hands me the tea. "Drink, Evonalé. And if you think I'm joking about the threat to force it down your throat, I can outmuscle a human man. An elfin girl don't hold a candle to that."

I stare at the mug. "You really think it'll work out better for me to live?"

Lallie shrugs. "I'm no prophetess." Her expression is a shadow of her former cheerful nonchalance. "But I'm not letting you demean everyone who's died by dying with them."

…I'm not sure that makes sense, but a dizzy spell hits as I try to figure that out.

"Drink, Evonalé Yunan. Now."

I do.

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