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.


When I finally gain the courage to obey Prince Aidan's command, the dances have begun. He acknowledges me with a nod as he sweeps by, Carling, of all women, in his arms!

I gasp. Drake, Carling… He knows what they are! Does he know the woman he dances with nearly destroyed Salles by the Shadow?

"Prince Aidan is a fine young man, don't you agree?"

I nearly faint at Father's low voice, but I cannot afford for him to notice me. I am an adult, now, and liable to curses. I turn—and find Father addressing me! Yie!

"Of course," I murmur politely, speaking softly enough that I sound in control of my voice. I am terrified. Prince Aidan must've known he would be here, too, and probably that I look too much like Mother for my own good. Why else would he have given me a mask?

Father stands with his arms crossed, the same heavy crown on his head that I remember being thrown at Mother, one evening. He doesn't even hide the Bynd he wears around his neck. That necklace, made of the magically infusible metal naril, his father stole from Queen Yuoleen. It gives him undisputed and magically-enforced authority over the elves of her kingdom. The orange tunic he wears melds well with the grey-orange glow of the Bynd.

His auburn beard and pate are well trimmed, and he lacks the mustache I remember. "He will be my son-in-law by Midsummer's Eve of next year. I am looking forward to the union of our families."

Aidan's betrothed is Carling?!

I freeze blank-minded for a long moment before a perplexed glance from him snaps me back into thinking, and thinking quickly. His comment demands a response.

Oh, yie! What would a princess answer? …What would… Carling… say? "Of course you are. It is always gratifying when children keep to their parents' promises."

Yie! That's too much like Mother!

I glance around, spotting gryphons by each of Prince Aidan's guards. I pretend not to see them, though. My mask might be fooling Father but it will not fool them. …Will it?

I know so little of mage spells and their keepers. I shan't risk it. But I tentatively grip the magical threads around me in case I need a quick fire.

Father is watching me, amused. "You've heard the rumors. They're wrong. My daughter's handmaid Endellion took her own life, casting herself into a bonfire when I refused to take her, my half-sister, as mistress."

"Liar!" How dare

Yie! What have I done?!

Everyone is frozen, even me. I can barely breathe, watching Father, eyes wide beneath my mask.

Father looks startled. His lips curl up as if he's not sure to laugh or be angry. I sense the Bynd pull towards me, preferring me a blood heir over him, the owner by coercing an heir. I can't let him notice it! I must speak!

But my tongue freezes within my mouth—Yie!

"My lady, I've asked you to please keep your godmother's declarations to yourself." Prince Aidan grabs my arm and guides me away. I stumble, the gown's seemingly delicate fabric straining at my shoulder. "I know she's loud, but—

The little door closes, and we're back in the servant hall. He removes my mask and wipes my tears from my cheeks. I try to turn my face away, but he doesn't let me.

"They're not that bad people, really, housemaiden."

I gape at him. Can he really believe those lies? My blood freezes, again… I freeze.

He grins at me. "Just power-hungry."

I restore my mask. "Hungry for more than power, Your Highness," I say quietly.

The prince frowns. "What do you mean?" He turns and comes after me as I head down the hall, but he doesn't stop me. "—I'm serious. I want to know."

My knees give out as I break into sobs. He catches me, letting me cry against him. I cannot pull myself away, though I try. Feebly. I feel him shiver to touch me. My tears leave rivulets of ice behind.

"Why—why Carling?"

His sigh rumbles in his chest. "Her grandfather helped mine conquer Salles. Carling won't hurt you. You're under my jurisdiction, not hers."

"No, she'll only call the Shadow again!"

He stiffens. "…That was her work?"

"And when that doesn't work, again, she'll curse me!" I retort, a little stronger—strong enough to sob on my own legs with my back against the wall, anyway.

"Curse you?!"

But I continue quickly on, not stopping to answer him, my voice's pitch rising. "And then Drake will come to visit one day and—and—" I choke "—me, like Father did his half-sister and—"


I keep babbling. "—And then when I don't let him curse my daughter, he'll put the fire on me like Father did Mother—"


"—and beat my baby until she runs away—"

"Evonalé!" He shakes me—then crushes me against his chest. "No one will harm you," he murmurs in my ear.

Terror takes over. I slap him. He stagers back and releases me. " 'No one will harm you'?!" I shriek. "You're the one who wants me for your mistress!"

Prince Aidan looks as if I've… I don't know. Told him I'm having his child? "…I what?!"

"You don't want anyone else to have me, and you—" My shoulder shivers. I wave at the silver mermaid gown. "Treat me like I'm yours!"

"But you—you're my friend!"

The frustration in his voice stops me from fleeing. I don't look at him.

"I'm trying to take care of you, Evonalé. I remember the little girl my dogs found when they should have been after a deer." I hear him approach. I jump when his hand brushes my side. "I remember the first time I saw you grimace from… nothing. And then, those scars… Who tortured you?"

I turn myself away from his hand. "I—I don't know what you're talking about." How did he learn of those?

"Ygrain told me," he says quietly. "Silva had to help her when you fell over the chicken fence; she couldn't determine what was wrong. Your injuries weren't natural. Only magical torture could cause scar tissue to form that way. Who hurt you?"

"They all did." I'm not fool enough to believe him when he says he doesn't want me. "Carling, mostly," I admit to be honest. "They're all fire mages. They took control of the Crystal-elves in my grandmother's day," because of my grandmother's naïveté. I speak stonily, and my eyes on him well suit my tone of voice.

"Do you know why?"

I turn away, arms crossed. I don't reply.

"Housemaid—" He catches himself. "Evonalé, please. If you know… I want to help."

An ant crawls out of a crack in the floor. I watch it scurry across the stone. "You cannot help my people."


"You cannot help—is that not clear?" I interrupt before he can convince me otherwise.

Prince Aidan watches me few seconds and nods slowly. "It is clear, Your Highness."

I chill further at his words. "I'm no princess."

He sighs and returns my mask to me. "Of course not." He looks up the hall towards the ballroom. "Now if you'll come, our dance is waiting."

"I can't dance."

"Then we'll have refreshments together. If you avoid them now, it'll only make them more suspicious."

I scowl at him, though he cannot see it for my mask. Slow-footed to show him my displeasure, I obey.

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