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.


The Shadow took only a week to pass after I broke free of it. Silva's happy enough to see and scold me. "Focus, Evonalé."

I am focusing, but I don't protest Silva's direction. My eyes closed, I feel the magic and mentally reach for it, trying to grasp the wafts of energy I can sense.


The sharp tone makes me jerk and open my eyes. Silva's scowling. "Your aids."

The motions that aid a mage in concentrating. Silva spent months teaching me various ones, dancing, hand movements, drawings, words, faery runes… The only one that doesn't distract me is an odd foot-tapping technique. I don't know where Silva found it. I don't think I want to know.

Losing concentration while working with magic is extremely dangerous. I hardly want to end up a gryphon, myself.

I restart the process, making sure to follow a foot-tapping pattern to anchor me while we test my ability to access my magic. I mentally reach for the wafts of magic and grasp a suddenly-solid rope.

My surprise almost makes me drop it. But I clasp it more firmly, instead, clinging to the silky phantom rope that throbs in my mental grip. I get lightheaded and realize I've forgotten to breathe.

I concentrate on breathing while holding pulsing magic that makes me feel sleepy. I breathe slowly until I feel the tingling get too uncomfortable, then release it all.

My muscles feel like jelly. Silva catches me when my knees buckle. It's hard to open my eyes to look at her.

The prophetess smiles tightly. "This is unfortunate."

That awakens me more than anything. "What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing." Silva sets me down in a chair, since my legs still won't hold me. She goes to the fire and casts another log on it herself rather than calling for a servant, though the fire really doesn't need it.

She stands facing the flames for a minute, then looks at me with quirked lips. "It's what you did right." She turns away again and adds another unnecessary log. "Or rather, how you did it."

I don't understand. What did I do? How else could I have gripped the magic? "What did I—"

"We'll have to start testing spell types to determine what affinity you inherited from your human blood. But I suspect—" She uses a poker to stir up the flames. "It won't be hard." After a pause, she adds, as if realizing she'd forgotten to say, "Not with your ten-second base grasp."

Ten seconds?! I held it that long?

And that was my first time. It will only grow longer with practice.

I stare blankly at the fire that she insists on making bigger than necessary, that she…

Ice creeps through my veins when I realize what we're going to do next. Something that I might actually be able to do. "No."

Lallie would've noticed my chill and commented on a draft. Silva's oddly blank expression doesn't look the least bit surprised or confused. "It's all right if you're a fire mage, Evonalé." She shrugs. "It's not a pleasant skill, with your heritage, but it can be useful for self-defense, at least."

I'm frozen. All I can do is stare. She knows whose child I am!

"Warm yourself."

King Aldrik knows, too; he's even had me taught like the heiress I would have been—assuming I ever came to exist—had Grandfather not bound Queen Yuoleen. He knows Queen Yuoleen named her illicit daughter, my mother, as her heir. That's why he took me in.

"Warm yourself, Evonalé."

They know what Father would do to them if he knew they shielded me, and they protect me, anyway.

"Warm yourself!"

She knows, and she asks this of me?

"No!" I snarl, blood burning, mentally backpedaling until I grasp the magic again. I use it to mentally yank the fire inwards on itself, preventing it from grabbing more needed air, and it suffocates.

Silva watches the fire die and doesn't attempt to stop it. She looks at me, face still blank. "That was interesting," she says pleasantly.

I glare, hardly daring to let myself realize what I've done. I still burn with my shame and anger. I can control fire?!

I am like Father.

Tears fall. "No!" I protest, but I know it's useless. "I'm not. I'm not—" I can't stop myself from sobbing.

Silva doesn't hug me, she doesn't pat me on the back; nothing. She watches me and lets me cry. "To have your natural skill in magic is a burden, Evonalé. And to be a fire mage…" She shakes her head, sighing. "I regret that is the case, but I'm sure the Creator has a reason for it."

By the Power, if I'd known this years ago, I could have stopped the curse… Could have saved Mother!

"Unlikely." I start and stare at Silva. She smiles wanly. "I'm sorry. That time of month."

That time of… "Oh." Any faery or prophet shifts out of phase on a monthly basis, I well know. But evidently Silva's shift in phase isn't physical; instead, her mind shifts into different probabilities, letting her hear thoughts that, under different circumstances, would have been spoken.

But… "I thought you said Hearers go insane."

"We do." Silva's brow furrows, and her jaw tightens. "Some of us faster than others."

Silva has an unavoidable marriage to insanity. I blink back tears. I don't want her to go mad!

"I avoid people, this time of month. It helps. Notably less pull on my mind."

"That's not fair."

Silva's answering laugh surprises me. "Fair? I hardly expected to hear that complaint from you." She chuckles some more. "Fairness doesn't exist, Evonalé, and thank the Power for that. If He were 'fair', none would spend eternity with Him. We're all too ugly."

"But you shouldn't have to go insane."

"Why not?" Silva's frank reply surprises me. "For all we know, future Hearers might have better lives if I can serve well as Prophetess to King Aldrik without having to hide my condition.

"Or maybe my example might help another Hearer who wants to avoid the insanity for as long as possible." She swallows and continues in a forcibly cheery voice, "And Ferrel's a warning for what spells to avoid."

Ferrel? I want to ask, but from Silva's expression, I don't want to do that to her.

She falsely perks up. "An incredibly drunk man attacked Mother one evening when Father was away. Ferrel messed up and cast 'drunken mental', without the 'clarity'. It… permanently indisposed the attacker, but the bad logistics sent Ferrel over the edge. He never recovered." She forces a quick smile. "We were eleven."

'We were eleven'? I look at her blankly, then gasp. She's a twin!

I then catch myself. "Oh." Magically inclined twins have more power than most on Aleyi, each one's magical skill augmenting the other's skills. But if separated, each twin loses more than half of his ability.

I swallow. "He's…" I don't want to do this to her.

"Dead? Possibly. Nirmoh took him to a chapter of the Association for the Magically Creative, and I've not heard of him since."

"Magically… Oh." I remember where I've heard that before. "AMaC."

She nods once. "We lose our sanity easily." Silva's wet eyes and forced tone belie her still staid expression. She's afraid? "Nirmoh's one of the ones who helps keep the loonies from ripping Aleyi to pieces."


"Faed Nirmoh," she corrects me quietly.

A faery. Of course. "Your beau?" The name sounds familiar.

A slight smile appears on Silva's face, then, and her eyes brighten. "You'd like him. He's very… quiet."

My head hurts. "Does he know…" I can't bring myself to finish the question. Silva accepts that.

"About my not-so-little problem? Of course. His line of work helps me, since he can share information that's been learned about Hearers through the centuries. For example, it's highly unlikely that I could kill someone, even without magic, and escape with my sanity. A magical duel would be asking for an early induction into AMaC."

I swallow. She's trying to distract me, but it's not working very well. "Does he know about…?"

"Your family? Probably."

I can't look at Silva. "Who else knows?" I whisper.


That doesn't sound good.

"King Aldrik and I, of course, and Fael Honovi. Father." She pauses. "A few others have likely recognized you or figured it out." Lallie, for example, though I'm not sure why Silva doesn't mention her.

"Aidan?" My voice wavers.

"He… hasn't been told," Silva says carefully. "But I'm sure he's guessed some. And I believe Father told Aunt Trelanna.

"Speaking of my aunt, she still praises your embroidery. She's in need of an extra girl, if you're interested in working for her."

They've known about me all along. I still have trouble comprehending that. They know the danger, know I'm likely why the Shadow came to Salles—that I'm why Queen Mataine and Princess Claiborne died—and have kept me despite it all. And help me. "…I like embroidery."

"We'll work on that, then." Silva smiles. "Magical embroidery; it'll likely be difficult for you, with your fire strength, but you did fight that life-curse like an elf…"

She winks. "Have you never found it strange that non-elves don't try to weave spells into their embroidery? They can't, not without hammering their own personal magic into the thread. Telves avoid it, too, because they connect with animals and generally prefer protecting creatures instead of slaughtering them. Felves pull the magic from plants. Kills the plants, but... Well, I think you understand me."

"Other kinds can't make magic embroidery?" I never knew that.

"I think dwarves theoretically could, if a dwarf mage had interest in such things." Silva's eyes crinkle at the edges. "It'll be hard to learn it," she warns. "I can't do it, myself, and you'll likely be inclined to include fire in the working. Charred fabric doesn't sew well."

I shiver. Magic likes using the caster's strongest skills. Water mages are fortunate, able to drench something while working a spell and therefore not hurt anyone. For fire mages, it's notoriously difficult to work magic without burning something.

I'll fight the urge.

Now Silva pats my shoulder. I realize that if she'd tried to touch me before, she likely would have burned her hand on my skin. I flush.

"Magic isn't a great blessing, Evonalé," the prophetess says quietly. "If you want to stop studying it, I'll understand, but that won't change anything. I can't afford to let you stop. Not if you want to live."

I chill, finally understanding why King Aldrik has insisted I learn magic. Carling already knows where I am, and Father or Drake will one day track down who interests Carling so much in Salles and therefore find me. They will.

"No," I agree. "I'll learn."

What good it will do me, I don't know. They've studied magic for far longer than I have.

But they won't expect me to know magic, much less to be a fire mage like them. That unexpected element might save my life next time I meet them, and it might aid me if—when—I have to flee Aidan.

I hate cold, anyway.

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