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.


"So…" Silva asks, a gentleness softening the sharp tone of her curiosity. "What's this I hear about us taking a detour south?"

I give her a blank look while I knit on my nightgown. Grehafen is northwest. From Dwaline-Het, due north and south are only more of the Dwaline Mountains; Salles is southeast. Southwest is the Redskin Plain, named such due to the 'skin' of red earth that covers it, and for the reddish color of its famous horses.

She reads my silence correctly as cluelessness. "Charla congratulated me on Prince Aidan having promised to help the most notorious hermit around. He evidently relishes making people miss their appointments."

I flinch. That doesn't sound good. "South as in back to Salles or south as in the Redskin Plains?"

Silva pauses. "South as in 'nearing Breidentel'." That name sounds familiar. She explains, "Small kingdom on some of the uppermost Dwalines."

Elves. I stiffen. That's why I recognized it: it's an elvish construction.

…Actually, isn't that the kingdom whose royal bastard gossip purports me to be?

"From what I've heard of him, the hermit himself might even be elfin, at least in part—"

"He isn't," interrupts Aidan as he enters. "Some kobolds stole some naril he had; he's not as young or limber as he used to be, so he needs a bit of help getting it back."

He pauses. Silva watches him with an odd expression on her face. "Honestly, by the looks of him, I'm not sure he ever was limber, but that's irrelevant. If he's part anything other than dwarf, it's part giant."

A minority kind that grows unusually large. But… "Kobolds?"

Aidan nods sharply. "Yep."

I give him a long, blank stare. He doesn't get it. Of course he doesn't—I've forgotten the veil I'm wearing. "What's a kobold?"

Silva chuckles, suddenly more relaxed than she's been since my state as Aidan's presumed mistress started. "Little nimble creatures that like shiny things for their nests. Often take valuables. Some people even train the critters as thieves."

"So they're animals."

Aidan pauses. "Yes." He swallows noisily, and when I look at him I notice that he's just barely restraining himself from laughing at me.

I just look at him over my knitting.

"Why are we helping him?" Silva asks.

Again, a pause; then he shrugs and goes to a nearby table and pours himself some rakshi from the carafe there into one of the provided cups. "He needs it."

Silva frowns. "I'll rephrase that: what is he going to give that's going to help you against King Darnell and his legitimate heirs?"

I stare at her, thankful for the veil and its ability to hide that I'm staring. Unfortunately, Aidan loses his composure at that. He gapes. "Y… I thought you thought… I mean…"

"I did so think, up until, oh, two minutes ago." She glances between us. "You converse far too easily."

My fault. "Yie."

"And you may want to watch your elvish interjections."

Sound sticks in my throat. I swallow and nod.

"He says fire mages can burn spells, including curses," Aidan blurts. "When I said I knew a fire mage, he said he'd be willing to teach my friend if I did him a favor. Per popular gossip, he's disinclined to admit to others what he does for those who help him."

Silva's look at him is mild. "I heard that he likes making people miss appointments."

Aidan shrugs. "That, too, but that should help. A standard lack of eagerness for the wedding, to be expected in a situation like mine."

"Will he provide separate rooms for the two of you?"

He chokes on a gulp of mead. "If it comes to that, she's bunking with you."

Silva grins, looking happier than she has in awhile. "No argument here."

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