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 feel someone lift me, carrying me slowly from the hall and… outside? The sharp wind is refreshingly cold. The fresh scent of the soon-to-come rain clears my head. My eyes snap open as Prince Aidan sets me gently on a bench.

What was he doing, carrying me? How long have I been asleep? From what I can judge of the sun, it's been hours.

"Are you better, housemaiden?"

I begin to answer; yawn instead. I swallow and politely reply, "Some, Your Highness."

For once, my use of his title doesn't annoy him. He looks too relieved to care. "Are all gryphons that…" Aidan searches for a word. "Revolting?"

"As far as I know," I reply. I remember the hand that appeared on the corpse, and I shiver. What was that? It was as if…

As if at death, the man reverted to his natural body. As if Father had created the grotesque normal form and forced his gryphon to hold that body. As if a gryphon might look no different from anyone else—might be no different from anyone else—until one day, he has the misfortune of meeting a mage who has mastered the particular spell that binds him. He—or even a long-forgotten ancestor—miscast a spell with enough power that whoever can control that miscast spell can control anyone bound to it, too.

Prince Aidan nods, still watching me with a frown. He looks away, then stiffens back into a proper noble demeanor. "I'm glad you're awake. Perhaps you could help me with something."

He pulls out the scroll the trader had been previously showing he and his father and unfurls it a little bit. He hesitates, turning a little red in the cheeks. "I wasn't exactly paying attention when Elwyn was translating this. Could you help me read it?"

"Me?" I laugh. "How could I…" I remember my incident with the gryphon. And he had heard me say 'yie' the other day, like the strange man.

Wait—"Elwyn?!" That was why the trader had looked familiar.

Prince Aidan nods. "That was Elwyn Elv'shutor." He looks down. "He came to visit. He doesn't often get to see his family, and never for long."

Why is he avoiding my gaze as he says this, as if it's my fault? How could it relate to me? Lord—er, former Lord—Elwyn has had these trips since before they knew me! I remember Prince Aidan's request. "How can I help you read the scroll?"

Prince Aidan shrugs. "You have a faery godmother. You obviously know something of the other kinds."

The link surprises me. I have never considered using that. Fael Honovi is unorthodox. I can say she's taken me for visits to foreign places, or taught me elf history, or any number of the things I truthfully learned from—

"May I see?" He shows me the scroll. I manage to limit my reaction to a cheek twitch. That script… Mother… burning—and ashes in my hair. I blink back tears.

"Handmaiden?" the prince asks gently.

I pretend to have something in my eye. "It's nothing," I say quickly. "Just some pollen."

Pollen? In winter? To distract him from further questioning, I shake my head. "I know enough to tell you this is felvish." And written by Mother. "But I can't read it."

Mother was too busy teaching me other things that would keep me alive to risk teaching me one more thing that would cost my life if Father learned of it. He allowed elvish to be spoken but never written. I've never before regretted that I couldn't read my mother's primary tongue. I clench my hands into fists so I don't snatch the scroll from His Highness's hands.

Prince Aidan looks disappointed. "Can you read any of the other kinds' languages?"

"A few faery glyphs. I can mostly recognize the scripts." And speak a little dwarven and fluent felvish, but I'm not about to tell the prince that.


Foolish of me to fabricate that pollen, to give him reason to scrutinize me as closely as he does.

After a moment's silence, he continues. "I've seen your embroidery work. You have excellent taste. You have the gift of beauty, housemaiden."

I flush. Have I given myself away? Bearers of the gift of beauty are rarely comely themselves, unless they're elfin. Some sort of odd effect from vain mages of other kinds would use magic to keep themselves from gaining weight.

I self-consciously put more hair over my ears.

Prince Aidan doesn't comment on it, for once. He draws a breath. "I miss Mother."

I miss Mother, too.

"And I wish my sister could have lived. She would've enjoyed my Subyear ball, in a few years."

Salles, in good humor, celebrates the eighteenth birthday as 'Subyear,' making fun of those kingdoms who have that age as the age of majority. Salles offers submajority at thirteen, with adult status granted at sixteen if the child has been responsible with his submajority. If the courts prove he hasn't, parents can legally keep a child as a minor 'til his scoreyear.

To accommodate the prince, I consider the now impossible concept of his sister attending his Subyear ball. "Five… would… would have been young for that, Highness."

"You were younger than that when you first learned to read." I don't reply, and he quickly continues. "But you're right—that is a bit young. Perhaps seven?" He turns to me.

"I would have thought twelve more appropriate, Your Highness."

The prince shakes his head, still unusually unperturbed by my obeisance as he continues with the hypothesizing made morbid by its impossibility. "That would be too late. Seven. My Scoreyear ball. You'll have to be there to honor the memory of both women." He briskly wipes his hands on his tunic and leaves.

Too late for what? I wonder. Then I don't care what he meant when I realize: by the time Aidan is twenty, I will have reached sixteen.

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.)