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.


After an hour in Aidan's old schoolroom thinking of ways to offend my offensive family, Aidan speaks up. "You really think Drake will try to take advantage of you?"

I yelp as my needle plunges into my hand from my jerk. "Now it speaks."

Aidan ignores my sour tone. "But you're his sister."

Pressing the needle wound firmly with one hand, I turn from where I sit near the fire with the sewing and give my prince a long look. His expression is confused and disgusted at the idea. "I know," I remind him.

"You don't really think he'd…" Aidan swallows uncomfortably. "His own sister?"

"Half sister," I correct, releasing the pressure. My hand still hurts. Maybe I should use duller needles. "And yes."

"But you're siblings. It would be like me… Claiborne… Ulgh."

I sigh crossly. "It would amuse him," I say loudly, fumbling as I try to return to my sewing. My hand hurts too much. I fling the cloth from me with a huff. "It's like a family tradition, all right?" Yes, I really wanted to admit my incestuous birth aloud to Prince Aidan, to the man who I've been told would have me for a wife if he could. As if I'll even live to marry.

"Tradi…" Aidan's confusion fades into pale disgust. The white tint of his skin turns almost green. "Because your father… your mother. His… sister." He nods. "Right."

"Half sister." I don't point out the futility of this effort to plan if he's taken this long to realize the importance of it. "That didn't sound like an idea."

Aidan springs to his feet and paces madly. "Look—it's not—I'm—" He takes a few swift turns around the room before he turns on me. "I do have one , but you'll… lose it, go off, positively hate it." He continues pacing. "I just wish I could think of something elseSomething would have to irritate Carling enough to want to call this wedding off."

I think of this kingdom's wealth, size, strength, and allies. It's an advantageous match for her. "No, probably not."

I don't think Aidan means to be as threatening as he looks when he whirls on me at that statement. "No?! Nothing?!"

He comes closer, eyes wildly moving around as he thinks. "I guess you're right. I could bring my own bastard son and his mother with me, and that accursed witch wouldn't care."

I blink. "You have a son?"

"No!" Aidan snaps and abruptly moves away, again. "So. We're left with keeping you alive. Huh. A way that you couldn't be noticed—Makish take them, I can't think of anything else! What—"

He actually notices my lingering wide-eyed shock at his curse. Few dare name the gatekeeper of the etherworld so lightly. It's dangerous. As in, worse than offending a faery, dangerous. The Creator has been known to let that head daemon have his way with those who treat the high things lightly.

Aidan's jaw works as if trying to rid the mouth of a bitter taste. Small wonder, after what he just said. "What?!" he demands.

I glance at my sewing and quickly decide against trying to get more work done as we brainstorm how I'm to travel to Grehafen. I roll it up to put away. "What have you thought of?"

He huffs and shakes his head sharply, resuming his furious pacing. "You won't like it."

"What is it?" For once, I'm the one pressing for an answer. It's almost amusing.

His sigh is frustrated as he comes to me, grabbing my hands. I'm still, unresponsive from my surprise. He massages my hands for a few seconds but seems to realize that isn't helping and drops them. "Drake saw you as a serving girl. Nallé."

I wait for him to continue. He doesn't. "…And?"

"We're to show them every discourtesy." He stops again.


"You could…" Prince Aidan clears his throat. "You could go veiled. —Drake's horrible with face—"

He catches me as I fall off my chair. I bite my lip, ashamed of my tears as I rock in the reflexive ball I've curled into. I swallow hard, instinctually panicked at the thought of going veiled.


"I know," I manage to whisper between my sobs.

"You can't let them recognize you. This way, they'll avoid even looking—"

"I know!" I choke out. Just when I thought my reputation couldn't be sullied any worse. I fight panic's ice. "But… but you won't…?"

"Of course not!" Aidan looks aghast and insulted that I'd even suggest that he'd make the veil a truth. "It'll just be for show."

I try to believe him. I do. A whimper escapes me, anyway.

He wraps his arms around me and strokes my hair. He murmurs in my ear. "Calm down. Please, we need to think through what they'll think of this—"

"They'll think what anyone with half a brain would! Yie, even Marigold knows a veil denotes a master's mistress!" My voice doesn't snap as I wish it would; my throat's too tight. I barely squeeze out the words.

"No!" He makes me look him in the eye. "Not here!" His brown eyes blaze with—with something I can't—won't—read. He holds me fast for a long moment before pulling me close, putting his chin on my head and rocking the still balled-up me. "I wouldn't do that to you, your reputation."

"You've d—done an awful lot to me," I tell him sourly, loathing the persistent fear that makes me stutter. "And my reputation can't get much worse."

He stills. I listen to his heartbeat and wish I could make mine settle like I hear his do. "You don't really want to do that."

"Do we have much choice?" I ask. "Is it normal for a betrothed prince to pick a mistress while on the way to his wedding?"

Even I know it's noticeably suspicious. And that's how things would appear, if I conveniently started wearing a veil while accompanying him to Grehafen for the wedding.

I shiver as Aidan's fingers toy with my hair. "Your Highness…" My attempt at a light tone falls flat.

He abruptly drops me and moves away; I land on the stone floor with my hands and knees. I bite back the squeak and stare at the floor for several seconds before I turn to look at Aidan.

The prince looks ashamed and appalled, but also frustrated and angry. "Forgive me!" he says, likely more harshly than he intends.

I sit up slowly. There's another reason he doesn't like his idea, I realize, another reason he would rather implement it for as little time as possible. "You…" I can barely get the words out. "You… fear…" His flinch tells me I'm right. "Your resolve?"

He peruses me with his brown eyes. There's a long pause before he responds quietly. "I'm a man, Evonalé. And you are no eyesore." I heat at the compliment. "Any man…" He turns his eyes away. "Extended close quarters, contact, pretending to be… that way…" He shakes his head. "It's a temptation, Evonalé."

My skin crawls as fear's ice streaks through me. I swallow. "If it helps, Your Highness…" He reluctantly looks at me. I shrug stiffly and try to keep the tone a light tease. "Fael Honovi would probably kill you if you tried."

It takes him a moment to process that. Then Prince Aidan breaks into a self-contained bout of chuckling that graduates into laughter. I manage to relax and smile some at the sound.

But the tension returns when he comes back over to me, takes me by either shoulder, and has me stand up. "Thank you, Evonalé." His warm tone shouldn't surprise me, but it does. And then—

He spears my cheek with gentle kiss. "I—"

I hastily shake my head; I can't stop what he thinks, but he mustn't confess that.

He understands. "…I should go."

My mouth is dry as I close my eyes. I can't pretend anymore that he isn't fond of me, that Faed Nirmoh was right in what he said of the prince. My death will not be easy for him.

I hear him leave.

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