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.


Year 250 of the Bynding

The Kingdom of Salles

the elven new year

Once you have been affected by magic, any children born to you can inherit that effect. This is true for effects both good and bad.

Curse magic is terrible, needing only vaguely defined victims to harm. If curse magic worked like the rest of magic, that harm, too, would be inheritable.

Fortunately, but for the ninth day after their birth, children are immune to curses.


I often find new clothing, now, draped over my stool when I return to my room for the night. Usually it's something practical, like a chemise or an apron; occasionally it's a blouse or skirt. Once I found a set of trousers. Aidan said I'd find them easier to run in than a skirt. Somehow, I doubt many others would appreciate the joke.

Sometimes, the gift is a simply elegant gown worthy of a rich noblewoman; another jest I'm sure others wouldn't like. He never speaks of these, but I know they're from him. I can smell his mild cologne in the fabric. They're always modestly cut, of human style, but I don't wear them or let myself think too much about what he means by them.

I'll be dead soon enough. As spring turns to summer, Prince Aidan will bring his wife home from Grehafen.

Carling will kill me, preferably before she tosses me to our brother's mercy, but she has too much self-control to make me think she'd settle for that. Maybe she'll coax Aidan into abusing me, instead, since we've grown up together. She'd find that amusing. A few months, that's all I have left.

I can do nothing. Faed Nirmoh was right—fleeing would invoke greater harm than I've already brought to Salles.

I'm beyond sick of others dying because of me; I'm weary to the point of numbness. I'm not sure that's a good thing. From the frowns I've received from Faed Nirmoh the few times I've seen him in the past few months, I think he'd agree with that assessment.

Not having a say in anything comes with being a lowly maidservant. I am controlled by those with power, with influence—not with spells, perhaps, but through the power of my masters' arms.

Aidan has made this truth most obvious. He does not hurt me, true, but he can force me to obey him. He dragged me somewhere I didn't want to go and had me change garments in his presence. He could have watched, had he wanted.

Even the many gardens about the castle can no longer soothe me, make me comfortable. I work the sewing, as I have for years, preparing for the wedding.

Sometimes William sits nearby with his whittling, but more often Aidan watches me as he does now. I don't know why. He doesn't speak to me in here. He only watches my work.

He seems disappointed as he watches me embroider he and his betrothed's names into a bedsheet. Why? Did he expect me to be a lovesick fool and hide my own there, too?

Even if he does somehow bear the hope that Carling will die young, leaving him to marry a woman of his own choosing, he will not always wait. When he grows decrepit and dies, the she-mage will be merely greying. If Carling lets him live that long.

And by the time Aidan has reached the natural end of his life, I'll have been long dead, myself.

In finishing the bedsheet, I slip and prick my finger. Immediately the prince takes my hand and presses the hurt finger, stopping any bleeding. He suppresses a quiver at my now-normal chill.

He cups my hands in his as he faces me. "Housemaid," he gently begins, then shakes his head. "No… EvonalĂ©." Regret fills his mien. "My father… will speak with you."

Nothing more comes from his lips, though I wait for it. Am I to be dismissed from Salles before the wedding? I pick up my sewing, put it away, and take my leave.

King Aldrik cares little for finery or freshening for his presence, even when it is ostensibly to show respect. I proceed to him directly from my mending.

My entrance, quiet and unobtrusive as it is with me letting myself in to stand by the door, nonetheless interrupts the debate over the glass taxes between King Aldrik and Marigold's father. I curtsy, head bowed at the nobleman's glare. "My apologies, Your Majesty. I'll wait outside."

"No," says the king before I can do as I suggested. "Carraway, leave us." The nobleman's sense of having been insulted doesn't keep him from getting up from his chair and obeying, though he does nudge some books off a bookcase as he passes me. I pick them up and put them back.

Once we're alone in this room, His Majesty seated at a desk that happens to carry in weight as much paper as it does books, silence reigns for a long minute. The fire sputters, half dying due to some servant's poor laying of the wood. Air cannot flow among the logs, so the fire smothers before it can even light properly.

His Majesty notices where I look. "Bit chilly in here, isn't it? Please, come. Sit down and see what you might do to help with the fire."

Magically, I don't need him to specify, and I obey. The purple of magically-fueled fire shifts to orange as it forces the logs to light.

One of the kitchen maids—Geddis, actually—stands by the door with a tray. His Majesty signals her in to pour us tea, and Geddis likewise hands us each a little plate with some bite-size sandwiches on them.

"Thank you, Geddis."

Her smile quickly falls with a nervous glance at His Majesty. The tray shakes a little in her hands, and she draws a deep breath. "Anything else, Your Majesty?"

"That will be all. Please inform Proctor that we're not to be disturbed."

Geddis bobs but doesn't curtsy with her full arms. "Yes, Your Majesty."

She leaves, and King Aldrik sips his tea. He pauses, and motions to me. "Please, eat."

"It's unbefitting my station, Your Majesty," I say quietly. I'm not hungry.

He gives me a long look, then looks around, a bit sad. "Eighteen years ago this summer, your mother sat there." He eats a minisandwich as I process that. "I was supposed to marry her, you know."

That, I hadn't thought of. But if King Aldrik had originally been betrothed to Grandfather's daughter… My mother was his only daughter.

"But her father lied to mine, told him no daughter existed. So I married Maitane." His voice softened. "She was a fine woman, in her own right."

Courtesy demands I express my own sympathies. "She was."

"Evonalé, you realize that I know precisely who and what you are. You are no titleless foundling; if you had been I would have left you in a reputable orphanage, but I would not have taken you under my personal care. You are a princess."

I shake my head. "No…"

"Your mother was heiress to Queen Yuoleen. You were her only child that anyone knows of."

"Who never should have existed, Your Majesty."

"It makes no difference."

I'd like to see him try to convince his council of that. "My father was my uncle!"

"It makes no difference—not to the spells bound to your family!"

After that firm declaration, King Aldrik calmly eats another minisandwich. "You are the child of Queen Yuoleen's heiress; her crown is yours by birthright, and reinforced by prophecy."

A prophecy that's more likely to result in my death than this royal bastard's miraculous ascent to a throne, but I don't correct him. He doesn't want to hear it.

"You will retrieve your crown."

I smile politely. Whether I play along now or sullenly refuse to let him believe his silly fantasy, I'll be just as dead in a year. I can afford to indulge him this much. I take a sip of tea.

"You must go with my son to Grehafen."

I choke. By the Creator, not Drake! Creator-that-is, don't put me near Drake!

"I trust you will aid my son in offering them every discourtesy."

It's several still-panicked moments before I process "Discourtesy?"

His Majesty's stern visage refuses to offer any hope of negotiation or alleviation of these demands. "I daresay you know your father and his scions well enough to judge what would cause serious affront."

For the first time since Prince Aidan's Scoreyear ball, unwanted tears threaten to fall. Mother called them that: your father and his scions. The tear freezes painfully in my eye from my temperature.

He gets up and goes to one budding plant beside one of the many bookcases in this, his library. He plucks one blossom, sniffs and fingers it. His back remains towards me.

"You'll share that knowledge with Aidan. I'm sure some clever way to hide you will come up between the two of you, while preferably making Carling loathe him. The marriage can only be broken by mutual consent."

Then he turns back my way. "This betrothal must be dissolved."

There's only one answer I can give to that. "…I understand, Your Majesty."

And, perhaps unfortunately, I do. Carling isn't a safe wife to own.

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