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.


Another piece of fabric goes up in flames in my hands. I hiss in frustration, adding it to the bucket of ashes by my side. My hands' discomfort is quickly soothed by the autumn breeze that flows through this castle garden. At least the flames don't burn me.

As a practicing fire mage, now, fire doesn't hurt me easily. It doesn't want to hurt me. I guess that's the one benefit to taking after Father in that way: his normal execution by burning won't work on me. Probably. I think. My charred pinafores attest that my own immunity doesn't get inherited by my clothing, however. Replacing them is eating into my savings.

I pull another scrap from my basket, rethread my needle, and try again to pull the magic from a nearby weed into the image I'm stitching into the fabric. The weed shrivels and dies. The gardeners have laughingly said that I should be moved to work with them; it would make weeding so much easier.

The Runner William sits on a bench a bit away from me, whittling. That is, he was sitting there. I'm startled to notice him standing close to me, watching me work.

"That doesn't hurt you?"

"No." It's uncomfortable, but I don't burn, myself. I wait for him to continue, to finish whatever reason he watches me. He doesn't respond, and I conscientiously return to my embroidery attempts.

I'm on the next piece of fabric when William asks softly, "Are you all right?"

I give him a long sidelong look. Why? "…Yes."

William shuffles his feet. "You just…" He looks away. "You seem… unhappy."

I'm a too-pretty girl with a lethal prophecy looming over her head who only recently learned she's a lot more like her undesired family members than is comfortable. Why would I be 'happy'?

The flames suddenly consume this fabric scrap. I squawk and drop it.

He stomps the fire out for me. I remember that he doesn't know about me, that it's only the royalty and those with faery connections—and maybe the nobility—who know whose child I am. I make myself smile with my "Thanks," though it doesn't last long on my face.

If he doesn't know who and what I am, he'd have no reason to think me a poor prospect, either. Twelve isn't too young for him to notice me as a young lady who catches his interest. Worry spikes me at the way he watches me.

I fumble with my materials, to try again—but I'd rather not continue under William's watchful eye, and this isn't something I can try inside. "I—I'd better go in," I stammer. I can mend. I'm sure someone's found something else in need of fixing since I caught up with the stack this morning.

I pack up my things and head inside. When I'm out of William's line of vision, I run. More space between us is good; let him see some other pretty girl to like instead of me.

Please? I silently ask the Creator of Aleyi, not that I petition Him much. Who am I to ask things of Him?

But this isn't for me; it's for William. He needs someone safe to be fond—

I collide with someone and stumble through a closet door, body ramming into the shelves and ears ringing as things crash to the floor and the door slams shut.

I yelp from the sudden pain in my tailbone when I land hard on my bottom. I stay seated for a minute, catching my breath.

Then I tally the damage: mainly pottery shattered, thankfully, so it's less valuable things. Cuts and scrapes adorn my limbs and face, and my dress will need patching. That's something I can mend, if nothing else is yet in need of it.

I force myself up despite the sharp ache in my tailbone. I grit my teeth and walk to the door.

It's locked. Wonderful.

"Hello?!" I call, banging on the closet door. "The door's locked; could someone let me out, please?"

There's not anyone on the other side that I can hear. I sigh, deciding I might as well clean some of this up while I'm in here. It's not like I'm as blind as a… well, as a human, in the dark.

I take the broom down from the far wall and start sweeping up the mess.

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This web novel is listed in Web Fiction Guide and Muse's Success. (Both are directories of online novels, stories, etc.)