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 quiet footsteps enter, the boots ringing peculiarly like only Prince Aidan's do thanks to something he does to his soles. I clutch my stiff brown sheets to my neck to cover my chemise. Me in my underclothes is not a memory I'd like the prince to have.

"Why did you run, housemaid?" He stands in the doorway connecting my bedchambers to the dead princess's suite. "What do you think you hide beneath that hair?"

"Go away!" I glare at him. I'm only twelve, after all. I needn't fear any indecency from him. Not yet, anyway. Not for four more years.

Elves aren't women until sixteen. My heart skips a beat at the reminder. I don't want to turn sixteen!

My fear must show on my face, for the prince looks worried and takes a step forward. "Are you—"

"Get out!" I grab something—my brush, I think—from the small table beside my bed. I wave it in what I hope is a threatening way. Why is he in my room? "Leave!"

Prince Aidan looks surprised at my ferocity. I'm surprised, myself. I would never dare do this to Drake. I know he isn't Drake, but…

Confusion follows his surprise, then his face crimsons. "I didn't mean—" He clears his throat. "That is, I'm not here to… I have no intention of…"

"I don't care!" I sound more like the child I am, now—which is good. Remind the prince of my youth.

"Whatever is the matter, housemaiden? You aren't to fever yet, are you?"

For my reply, I let my hairbrush fly at his forehead.

He ducks and catches it. "For being ill, you have a good aim!"

I get out of bed, wrapping my sheets around me as I do so. My chemise may cover as much as my pinafore, but I won't risk sending his thoughts that way. "I'm not ill, anymore!"

And I'm not. The tea tasted worse than it smelled, but it worked, breaking the Shadow's active magic so it could no longer ravage my body, and snapping the magic Carling guided to have the Shadow attack me.

It should lessen in Salles overall, now that it lacks a specific target to draw it here. I hope. Surely Carling didn't lose control of it completely. She's many things, but I've never seen her incompetent.

Prince Aidan scowls at me, pointing at me with my own brush. "You're deathly pale. Thin, too—well, thinner than usual. Are you sure you don't want something to eat?"

I cross my arms, moving to the window. I brace myself against the snapping wind, promising a winter storm come a few weeks early. "I'm not hungry." Not for food, though in a way, I do hunger, craving plant life. A lack of plants can kill a full felf; I'm not sure why I'm so drained by it, myself. I'm more human than elfin.

"Father's been worried about you."

I do not acknowledge him, leaning into the wind, now; breathing deeply to catch the fresh scent of impending rain and the magic-felt tang of hibernating plants…

He comes beside me, squinting, again. Why is he so interested in what I see? "…Would you like to take a walk outside?"

"I would." I keep my arms crossed, not hiding my childish displeasure. Let him think me a child.

He leaves my chamber for me to don a pinafore and shrug on a robe. He then returns and takes my arm, gently guiding me out into the hall, using caution on the stairs, unlike his usual teasing. My nurse sees us, looks alarmed, but does nothing. She will not cross the prince.

In the courtyard, I pull myself away, walking slowly to the bushes I like sitting in. I reach an arm out—a trembling arm—and grip a branch, pulling myself into the bushes' hard embrace. I lean my head against one woody stem, feeling the comfort of the plants' slow soothing hum of their essence, wanting to fall asleep right here…

"I thought you wanted to take a walk," a puzzled voice intrudes on my haven.

Prince Aidan. I've forgotten him already! Yie! Where are my wits?

I peer out of my enclave. "I'd rather remain here, if you don't mind, Your Highness."

Why does he look at me like that? It makes my heart stutter. I know I'll be a subadult in a few months, but I'm still a child.

After a few seconds, which take forever to pass, he leaves me.

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