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.


Black. White. Grey. I half-recognize the empty hallway despite the haze and lack and color that harm my view. Etchwork decorates the walls. It's far more tastefully expensive than anything Father had in Grehafen, yet the elaborate work itself doesn't match anything in Salles.

Though I feel like I know this place, it's not in a good way. The icy cold of terror holds me in her claws, and I'm not sure that she shouldn't.

I look both ways down the hallway. I can't see far thanks to the fog, but I don't hear anyone, either. Silence greets me but for my abnormally loud breathing and heartbeat that resound in my ears.

It's as I realize what I hear that I notice the faint thump-thump! of another heartbeat beneath my own. Or am I that infant heartbeat?

A moan awakens me, and I realize that the sound is also me.

Parts of me feel burned, others frozen. Yie! The itching! Even the unnerving strangeness of the dream must be dismissed with how bad this is.

"It's all right, miss," I hear one of Ygraine's nurses say. "You'll be all right."

"I know I'm all right!" I snap, pulling myself up. I see her nasty peat-filled poultices on my scrapes and cast them off. I can't stand peat. Nor could Mother, actually.

She tries to stop me, but I don't let her. I show her the blistering rash from under one of her poultices, and she covers her mouth with her hands. She blinks back tears. "Oh! Forgive me! I didn't know!"

"Most don't!" I tell her through gritted teeth as I get the last of them off. That I'm allergic to peat isn't something I like advertising. I limp to my washbasin and rinse of the reacting parts of my skin off.

I glimpse myself in the mirror.

My face has changed already. In the mirror I see that the nurse still cries into her hands for hurting me, for triggering my allergy. I risk a look at my ear.

I comb my hair back over it with my fingers. It's not as bad as it could be, but it's enough. I will never be able to pass as a human with my hair up. Never.

"You can leave," I say briskly, trying not to let my voice crack. My complexion is as clear as ever, curse it. Curse it and my body's characteristic sixteen-year-old shift. Will the whispers reach Father? "I can manage myself."

The well-meaning nurse nods sadly and leaves, still teary-eyed. "I'm so sorry, miss—I—"

"Didn't know, I know," I interrupt. "Go on. They're only rashes."

Once she leaves I sit on my bed and stare at them, wondering if I know any spells that will help. Peat rashes, yie! I've forgotten how bad they are!

…Or are they worse now that I am sixteen?

I don't want the answer to that. I examine my form in the mirror, fear clamping my chest. Drake would be elated to find me.

I am a young woman.

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