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.


"Good evening," I say politely to Prince Aidan when it becomes obvious that he's not about to interrupt my knitting needles' clacking.

My sweater is working up well, promising to be about as warm as it'll be ugly. Even the pretty diamond-patterned fabric I'm making thanks to the double seed stitch doesn't change the sweater's ultimate lack of appeal. Perhaps I should have paid the more for a nicer yarn.

Prince Aidan stands awkwardly. He shifts again where he stands, a bit away from me but still near the fire, and replies, "Evening."

He's usually not this reticent. Perhaps the nobleman's accusation earlier this morning has made him rethink how he treats me. The silence resumes 'til I near the end of a row.

"I think I'm going to vomit."

I don't glance at him. "There's a bucket behind the door." He's not really sick. He's just mocking my knitting. Or more accurately, the sweater I'm making.

"That color is disgusting."

I end the row. "It was cheap. And it's warm." I pause before bothering to start the next row of stitches, recognizing from Prince Aidan's sidestep towards the fire while watching me that he's about to continue speaking.

"Might I show you something?"

That question concerns me. What might he want to show that he, the prince, must ask? I try to frame a response.

In the time it takes me to think, he evidently decides to not care what I answer. He takes my right hand while taking away my knitting from the other. He has the decency to put it carefully in the basket so it doesn't drop any stitches, which can easily ruin a project in very little time.

"Oh, come along!" He yanks on my hand, gently but still strongly enough to pull me up. Then he grins and takes off running, making me stumble along behind. I wince at the long-suffering looks other servants give the eightteen-year-old prince as he drags me behind him.

At least he slows up the stairs. I still trip on the top one, though, and split my lip on the stone floor in my fall. I blink back tears as it stings and my left wrist hurts sharply from having to catch myself.

"Proctor!" he calls. "Some ice for the lady!"

Lady? I'm not liking this. I try to pull my right hand away, but he keeps a vice-like grip on it, still grinning a mile wide. Does he have no one but me to tease?

He shoves me into a room. "Put that on, and don't come out until you do!" he warns.

I sigh at the too-familiar jest. He's learned something from the nobleman's earlier abuse of my reputation, surely? His teasing doesn't help.

…Unless he'd rather I be thought his mistress?

The thought makes me shudder. I don't let myself think through the implications of that, and I turn my attention to obeying his command.

The dress he referenced hangs atop a mannequin. It's a familiar-seeming foreign style, but I don't look too hard at it as I change into it. It doesn't fit quite right. I fold my dress and put it neatly on the back of the single chair in the room.

As I leave, I catch a glimpse of myself in the stand-up mirror behind the door. I freeze. Am I really—do I really look that… regal?

I've known for as long as I could remember that my parents were royalty. I've never suspected that someone might guess my parentage at the sight of me.

I'm still frozen when Prince Aidan appraises me. "It's perfect! Doesn't fit right yet, but you should fill out on your sixteenth birthday—am I wrong?"

I only stare at him.

"You need something for my Scoreyear ball. You'll pretend to be a faery godmother."

"A faery?" Is he mad?!

"You know a lot of foreign lore. Everyone will love it. Here's the ice for your lip."

I use it, mind racing about how to get out of this predicament… "But I have no faery blood. True faeries might take offense."

He frowns at me. "You have a faery godmother, Evonalé. They wouldn't take offense at you. "

The prince is right. And he probably got the idea to begin with simply because some of the more superstitious castle servants still think I am one, at least in part. But still…

"Why a faery? Pardon me, Your Highness, but I'm but a housemaiden, and not even a part-faery one at that. Let one of Elwyn's daughters—let Geddis—play faery."

Prince Aidan eyes me thoughtfully. "…That would be more appropriate, perhaps." He shrugs, smiling a bit. "I still like my idea, more."

"I believe His Majesty and his Prophetess would prefer mine."

His smile widens a little. "True." His brown eyes twinkle as he eyes me. "It is a nice dress, though, isn't it?"

Now I look at it—it and its crisp wrinkleless fabric of pale blue, beaded with sapphire at the hems. High-necked and modestly cut, the fabric covers most of my hands' small backs. The flowing skirt and its train somehow lack air resistance when I take a step.

"This is a faery dress!" I gasp. I'm not sure I believe it, though; so I clap—twice briskly, and it magically reshapes for a perfect fit at that standard command. "Yie!"

The prince grins. "Your faery godmother told you about that, too?"

"Yes, Your Highness." I bow my head to hide my blush as heat flares through me. I mustn't call attention to myself like that! And 'yie', again! How many non-elves say that? Yie!

He waves at the door to the room I'd found this in. "Well, go change. You need to start planning what you'll wear, though."

"I have two years, Your Highness."

Prince Aidan pointedly ignores my intentional reminder of his station that unfortunately also acts as a tease. "And, since you refuse my suggestion, you'll doubtless want to make your own gown." His face is straight as he makes his order. "A gown with a bodice—you're too old for pinafores."

I prefer my pinafores. I keep my eyes on the floor and curtsy. "I understand."

He heads away, and I turn towards the changing room.

"Oh, and housemaiden." I look over my shoulder at him. "Feel free to play with the style. Telven garb would become you." He nods and strides off.

Telven? A shiver travels my body. Even if I knew what telven garb was, I think not. It's too risky, and with Grehafen allied to Salles, my family will be at that ball.

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