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.


"What? Not tempted?" Drake laughs with perverted amusement. I writhe, fighting to free myself from the grip he has on my arm. It hurts awfully; bruises form.

In the colorless haze of the dream, I can only tell that the figure chained to the wall has been a prisoner for a long time. The quiet voice is male. "Hardly."

"When did you last see a woman, Liathen? Don't tell me you don't find her at all appealing."

"I am reminded of my mother."

I shiver, recognizing the tone of Drake's laugh. The pain will start soon.

A bit of fire breaks off from the torch on the wall, white in this bleak monochromatic cell. It slowly moves towards me. I should move away, I know, but I feel myself falling forward, towards it—

Falling backward wakes me up.

As my mind catches up with me, I feel Aidan catch me. "Evonalé?! Are you all right?!" I shake my head to clear it. That dream was a bit stranger than usual. I've had vague images of that prisoner before, that was the first time I'd heard his name. Liathen. Like King Liathen, forefather to Queen Yuoleen.

Then I realize I'm in Prince Aidan's arms, and I fling myself away. My forehead hits the bedpost; I yelp.

After a few seconds of white light, my eyes focus on Aidan. He looks aghast, half-risen to come to my aid. "I'm sorry—forgive me—I—"

"You didn't tell Silva?!" I blurt, hotly furious at what I know the Prophetess will now think of him. "Did you not tell your father, either?!"

"Father did know; he's the one who gave me permission and means to do this to begin with. Fael Honovi respects him… as much as she respects anyone. Who isn't faery. Or as old as she is."

"And Silva?!"

"Faed Nirmoh said not to tell her, that it would work better if we didn't."

I growl. "As if she's not going to try to break me out of here."

He hesitates. "Right." His discomfort soars. "Which is why Father advises we go on a bit of a sabbatical…"

Alone together, I know he's not saying. "And you'd rather risk an angry prophetess after you."

Another pause. "Yes."

"Because you don't want Fael Honovi to kill you." I almost regret my harsh tone when he flushes, but only almost. It's good for him.

He clears his throat. "You… believe that's all. That hinders me. Your godmother's protection?"

I bite my lip. No, I don't, but he can't afford to like me, not like this. But I know what killing his fondness for me can cost me.

What does it matter? Let me have reason to fear him. It won't matter for long.

"What other reason can you have?" I finally reply.

"A little respect for a woman I care—"

Enough of this! "You shouldn't care!" I snarl. "You can't afford it! I—"

"What, because you have some prophecy hanging over your head, I can't—"

"I'm a bastard, Aidan!" I snap in exasperation. "Born on the wrong side of the bedsheets? With an uncle as my father!"

"I know," he replies coldly. "You think you're the only family with cause for shame in the closet? That doesn't matter, what your father did, what your grandmother did. Those aren't your actions."

I poke him in the chest. "Crown prince," I remind him. "Who will rule if you don't?"

"And there's a little betrothal looming over my own head." Though sour, he doesn't block his voice from being wry.

I hide my relief that at his apparent comprehension. He can't afford to care for me, not unless he wants to die. "I don't want to hear any nonsense about you 'caring' for me, again. Understand?"

"It's not…" He frowns, brow furrows as he avoids my gaze. Prince Aidan nods in resignation. "I understand, Your Highness." His lips quirk at my glare.

"And I'm not a princess."

He draws a quick breath and slowly releases it. "Of course not." He goes to the far corner, away from the broken window and the chiffonier, and pulls up two short stools I hadn't previously noticed. There's no way to leave from that side of the room. He graciously offers one stool to me.

My hands and feet remember to start throbbing and stinging from the bruises and cuts. "Thank you."

He's gone for only few minutes before he returns with a large bowl of steaming water and a towel. He sets them down on the floor by my stool. "For your feet. I sent to Ygrain for a plantain poultice."

That herb actually helps me, unlike peat. "Thanks." I watch him cautiously as he takes a seat, himself. I recognize the politely nonchalant court face he wears, and I pay attention for hints of his true emotions beneath it. He's hiding them unusually well, today.

The water feels so good, soothing as it helps work the glass out of my feet. I sigh heavily and relax. "Thank you," I say again.

He shrugs, still watching me. Then he looks away and rolls his shoulders in a stretch. "So, did you have something else to scold me about, or should we discuss where to take this foolhardy plan from here?"

I start, jostling the bowl as my temperature also rises. I hadn't realized I was scolding him, scolding my own prince! "Your Highness—"

"Don't apologize," he interrupts, weary. "You didn't like Silva's ignorance. That was at her fiancĂ©'s insistence. She also has to come to Grehafen, and…" He pauses, obviously unsure if I should know this or not. "Being a Hearer makes her more susceptible to having others hear her mind, unfortunately."

I stiffen. I hadn't even thought that perhaps Father or Drake or Carling might be able to access others' thoughts. Of the threesome, Drake's least likely to have studied it; and I'd bet more than a quen that Carling has the ability. "Is it believed…?"

He shrugged. "It's a possibility."

I shiver. "But what of us?" Wait… I stare at him in remembrance of his inexplicable magic-based trick, earlier. "What was that… shield that you had earlier, blocking Silva and me from…?"

Prince Aidan smiles. "I thought you'd never ask."

I blush and look away as he starts to unbutton his shirt. "Highness…"

"Just the collar," he says in quiet reassurance. I look back up to see him duck his head and pull a chain from around his neck. He shows it to me, draping it across his palm.

Something about the chain… feels… strange, like when I was in the Wailing Marshes. There's magic in this metal. "Naril?"

He nods sharply. Only that rare metal can have magic fused into it. Few have the skill to metalwork naril, and very few of those aren't dwarves.

"It's a shielding charm. An advanced mage can work around one, but if they don't know you're wearing it…"

The shield would bring me that much more time to defend myself before one of them killed me. But… "Me?" What of him?

"You're the one with the probably lethal prophesy dangling over your skull."

I give him a long look. He keeps his court mask. He knows I'll likely die, and he still fosters his fondness for me? Has love made him foolish?

—No, don't think that. He doesn't love me. He can't.

"You're the prince helping this whelp fulfill that prophecy," I quietly remind him.

"Who is well-allied enough that they have a vested interest in keeping him alive, at least until he brings his… wife… home." He says wife as if the concept disgusts him. Carling likely does.

In a swift movement, he takes the chain and drops it over my head to land around my neck. I gasp at the initial contact, startled by the buzzing sensation that steadily diminishes as it adapts to my own grounding in the magic surrounding me.

I try to avoid heating from Prince Aidan's too-close contact. One of his hands rests on my shoulder while the other brushes my cheek. He drops his hands when I flinch away, and he touches the chain on my breastbone, instead.

"This will only shield from magic aimed towards you, not at you," he warns. "And even then—"

"They can work around it, once they know it's there." It will not block nothing that specifically calls me by name. Once they recognize me, I'll be on my own entirely. "I understand."

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