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.


Silva awakens with a restrained moan, which wakes me up. She stretches a little, hampered by the confines of the carriage, though she has more space than we do, since she has a full side to herself. In my grogginess, it's not hard to pretend I don't see her keen examination of me by early morning light.

My teeth chatter, aggravating my headache. Making myself cold while traveling through a mountain pass probably wasn't one of my better ideas.

"Good morning," she says finally.

I look at her dully. She shivers from the cold and continues with the depressingly cheery front, reaching over me to mock-punch Aidan in the upper arm. "Morning, Highness. Let's enjoy the sunrise while stretching the kinks from our backs!" She reaches for the rope to alert the driver that we desire his attention.

"No," Aidan says softly.

Silva narrows her eyes at him. "Aidan…" she warns.

He lazily meets her gaze. "If you wanted space, you should have taken your own coach." He shifts and wraps his arm around mine; I flinch at his unexpected touch. "We'll enter Dwaline-Het within a few hours. We'll spend the rest of the day and the night there."

I flinch again. Dwarves. And I never have been able to remember which of the Dwarfdoms is which, even to know which ones are on rock and which are in it. I'm a bit better acclimated to climate extremes than a normal human—or even dwarf—thanks to elves' tendency to live in wastelands. A dwarf might notice that. They're used to living between where humans prefer and where only elves can thrive.

My chattering teeth bite my tongue, reminding me that I'm too cold. Maybe I could make myself sick; that would keep anyone from thinking that I can handle the cold a little overwell.

But in less than a week, I'll need all my faculties in my family's presence. I should warm myself.

I know enough about dwarves to know that using magic is a bad idea. Even dwarf sages are uncommonly skilled at detecting the residual traces magic leaves after use. That Aidan's new mistress can use fire magic is not a rumor I want to reach Father. Or Carling.

That leaves the natural methods for warming myself up. It'll be a few hours before we reach a fire, and I'm cold enough that waiting would be unwise. That leaves embarrassment as means for making my temperature rise naturally.

Embarrassment. I'm stuck in a carriage across from my magic tutor and beside my prince. What could I…

Oh. I start to warm even from the idea, but thankfully I'm cold enough not to blush easily. I bite my lip, hoping Aidan won't notice as I eye him sidelong. I'm a good enough seamstress to guess how he has to be shaped for his clothing to fit as it does—I've mended it enough to know it well. And I made those trousers.

I abruptly gulp down a squeak and flush, extremely warm, body shaking and teeth chattering thanks to the abrupt temperature change. The others give me odd looks; Aidan even reaches for my forehead. I jerk away from his hand, eyes shut against the too-vivid imagination I didn't realize I had.

Considering how Aidan must look beneath the clothing I've made and mended for him wasn't such a bright idea. Men of Salles don't wear undergarments.

[***NEW POST***]

"Rakshi, Mistress?" asks the dwarf-maid who's serving us breakfast.

I shake my head. I'm having millet enough in the porridge and bread to want to try it fermented.

That King Aldrik gets along well with dwarves and their candor doesn't surprise me. What does is that the other nobles of Salles do well enough that the Dwaline Dwarfdoms and Salles have long had a good relationship. And part of dwarves' candor is calling people as they are—or in my particular case at present, presumed to be.

Those presumptions also mean that I'm to be treated fairly and well, but if I speak while Aidan's talking, I'm to be ignored. Or so the precedent from earlier this morning suggests.

I don't quite understand all the nuances, but evidently that the concept behind the terms mistress and its dwarven equivalent don't quite connect. That Aidan and I have been assigned different rooms lends to that impression.

A small young serving maid, slightly less stocky than most and her skimpy ear hair neatly braided and tied with ribbons not nearly as garish as most dwarves prefer, refills my glass with water. I decide to try to use some of the very limited dwarven that I can read. "What is mistress?" I ask quietly, no doubt slaughtering the pronunciation.

She's startled at my addressing her, startled still more by my undoubtedly horrid attempt to speak her language, and stares at me for a few seconds before bursting into a smile. "The mistress is the lord's personal… maid," she explains and quickly refills Aidan's glass of water, too.

"Thank you." That much, at least, I've been able to pick up in properly-pronounced dwarven this morning.

I watch the young maid, unusually small-framed and tall for a dwarf though still stocky, as she fills everyone's water. She moves with an odd awkwardness, too; not clumsy, but she concentrates as she moves.

She smiles often and offers cheery comments, heedless of the differences in class between her and those she serves. Charla, I hear her called. I'm a surprised that I understood enough dwarven to understand her answer.

But then I recall her answer, and I chill. Her reply hadn't been in dwarven. She'd spoken elvish.

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