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.


My stomach growls.

I jerk, awakened by the sound. The jerk topples me from the upside-down bucket I sit on, and I fall into one of the closet shelves. Again. The toppled bucket adds to the clamor.

I hear footsteps come toward this closet. I lurch for the door and drop to the ground, squeaking from the pain that knifes my tailbone. Blinking back tears, I pull myself to the door.

Before I can resume my pathetic pleas for release from this accidental cell, I hear an unfamiliar male voice say, "Silva, fetch the keys, would you? There's someone in here."

Footsteps leave, a few minutes pass, footsteps approach, keys jingle, and I eagerly clamber out the door as it opens. "Thank you," I say, meaning that one. I've missed at least dinner, and some of my cuts throb with threatened infection.

Silva stares at me, speechless. I heat from embarrassment at my probably horrid appearance.

The man wears a plain brown tunic and trousers, with a leather belt, boots, and headband. The headband barely keeps his ear-length black hair from his bright green eyes, and overall, his clothing's nothing fancy. Nonetheless, he seems… shiny. But that sounds silly. He stares at me in obvious confusion. I've seen eyes like that. Have I met him, before?

"How did you…" And then he shakes his head, evidently thinking better of asking how I ended up stuck in the closet. He turns to Silva, nodding a little towards me. "Does that… kind of thing… happen often with her?"

My temperature keeps rising.

Silva turns her still-widened eyes on the man. She chuckles nervously. "Not that… dramatic." Her smile vanishes. "Usually."


The chill of worry quickly overwhelms the heat of embarrassment to bring my body to a more normal temperature. I'm not sure if Silva's afraid or anxious, but I've never before seen her either.

The man then surprises me when he strokes Silva's cheek with his thumb and draws her close. "He'll be all right," he says gently. "Your father has practice dealing with petulant courts."

"But—" Silva sighs, suddenly looking more exhausted than anything else. "I miss him."

He takes her hand and kisses the back of it, then rubs it with his thumb. "I know."

I think that was the official unwelcome. I move slowly only because I'm quieter that way and less likely to trigger another me-centered mishap.


Okay, so Silva still wants my company. I turn back towards Silva and her—er, friend. Isn't she engaged? "Yes?"

She looks from the hallway to me. "How'd you end up in the only servant storage closet in the least-traversed part of the castle?"

"I… ran into someone?" I try to ignore the man's rising eyebrows. "It happened so fast, I—"

The man bursts into laughter. Silva smacks his arm. "Nirmoh!"

Nirmoh? I've heard that nam—

My eyes bug out when I realize where I've heard it. "Faed Nirmoh?" I squeak. A faery? The man who I'm speaking with is a faery?!

Silva looks to Faed Nirmoh for how to respond to that. He ignores it, looking instead into the closet. He shuts the door firmly. "You don't know an unlocking spell, do you?"

A faery just spoke to me?! "…No."

"I can't do them." Silva's voice is quiet.

What? "Why not?"

"Unlocking spells are complicated. You have to both… loosen the fasten and yet simultaneously keep the mechanism secure to an equal degree to avoid personal side effects." Faed Nirmoh's smile is kind. "The magical dichotomy can trigger insanity in high-risk cases."

And Silva's beyond a high-risk case—she will go mad, eventually. "Oh." But then… "So faeries have to be careful with it, too?"

Pleased surprise flashes on his face. "Yes." He sends a lovingly appraising glance Silva's way. "Silva said you were quick-minded."

"At least there's something quick about me," I mutter. I may run quickly, but that does little good when you invariably stumble or fall at some point while running.

Faed Nirmoh laughs, and even Silva chuckles. I manage to smile a little.

"Would you like to learn to unlock?" he asks, abruptly serious.

I'm not stupid. I know that's dangerous, that every time I cast such a difficult spell, even in practice, I'll risk overreaching my abilities. Casting a spell too powerful for you to control is very bad for your health. "What kind of magic is it?"

"Earth or metal. Dwarves tend to isolate more specifically the item they're unlocking. Some master felfin mages can cause a wooden latch to return to life long enough to obey them… if they have another plant at hand with enough vitality to power the spell."

I'm nowhere near a master mage. And I have a feeling that King Aldrik wouldn't appreciate my burning of doors in the practice.

But it would be foolhardy to refuse the faery's offer. "All right." I would rather avoid getting stuck in another closet.

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