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.


Though Prince Aidan sprawls on an armchair, the only sound comes from my knitting.


The fire is out. I shiver from a draft. Aidan doesn't seem to notice. He doesn't seem to notice anything, right now, not even his awry brown locks or royal garb, or the steaming teapot awaiting pouring. It unnerves me. I almost like when he stares at me better.


My needles' clacking pauses as I take a moment to smooth out the fabric. The soft white nightgown already takes shape. Since that ugly sweater incident, I've bothered to pay the more for the nicer yarns. "With the work I managed today, this might be done by the end of the week," I comment, wanting the silence to end.

Instead of replying, he starts stealing glances at me. It discomfits me even more. I squirm in my chair. Minutes pass.

Suddenly, he stirs in his seat. "Carling is obscene."

I nod, focusing intensely on my knitting, on the white yarn and oaken needles, struggling to keep my hands from shaking. She's keen and cruel, too.

His sigh sounds frustrated. I turn towards him. He looks frustrated, too.

He abruptly gets up, stance tense with anger. He stiffly walks to the window, sticking his head out into the fresh air.

"What are gryphons, anyway?"

My jerk yanks the fabric, causing the stitch I drop to unravel down several rows. "Your Highness?"

It doesn't distract him. "You heard me."

I swallow hard. "Th—" My voice squeaks. "They enforce Father's rule, Highness." His look orders me to continue. "Th… they can siphon someone's life…"

"What of the fire curse? Can they set that, too?"

I cough. "N—no, Highness." My shrill voice hurts my own ears. "But they can activate it if you've been cursed—"

He shifts and interrupts with "Is Carling a hussy?"

I blink. Why does he ask that? The queries concerning gryphons are strange enough. "Your Highness?"

This time, he shoots me an irritated glance at the attempt to distract him. "Is my fiancée like her father and brother?"

I gulp. "Not that I'm aware of, Highness."

Aidan frowns. He returns to his former position; his broad hand grips the back of my chair. I hunch forward over my knitting so his hand won't touch my back, watching him sidelong.

"She always was too keen on her magery to show interest in much else," I add, I hope helpfully. Aidan shouldn't be so upset over this. "She spends much of her time in the forbidden hallway."


I nod. "Only the family can enter it. We think it's for learning about magecraft, the Bynd…"

"The Bynd?" comes the sharp response.

Now that I've riveted his attention, I regret it. Cold rushes to my face. "I… It…" My throat sticks. "…No matter, Your Highness."

I quiver under that brown stare.

He glances away, for once accepting my intentional tease. "So the hall holds their power?"

I don't answer, because I don't know.

He peruses me for several stitches, returns to slouch in his chair. Silence reigns for several more minutes while I carefully recover the dropped stitch. The silence isn't nearly as discomfiting as I found it earlier, since I now know it's better than whatever questions he's considering.

I hear Aidan slowly straighten in his chair. He leans towards the dead fireplace. "Have you ever thought about what you would like to happen, rather than merely what you don't want to happen?" He absentmindedly gets up sets about restarting the fire.

Yet another odd question. "What do you mean?"

"What…" He sighs, looking around the pale grey marble room. It chills easily, but Father probably figured that we wouldn't mind that. The prince takes the poker and stokes the teeny flame the kindling brings forth. "What are your dreams?"

I'm confused. "At night?" He knows what I am; doesn't he know elves don't have them?

He shakes his head. "For the future."

The question puzzles me, even now that I understand it. "…I don't believe I've thought about it."

Aidan nods slowly, unperturbed even by my attempt to tease him as he stares into the steadily-growing fire he crouches before. "I thought not."

"What does that mean?" I accidentally wonder aloud.

He doesn't move. "You're too worried about what's about to happen to consider what you want." Aidan shrugs. "Comes with your… inordinate fear, I guess."


"Inordinate." His head turns so he can give me a sharp look—I almost think he looks hurt. "You know I'm not like Drake. You also know that Silva and I are here to help you. Why can't you trust us, trust the Creator, that you can survive this?"

I laugh. I can't help it.

But the laugh ringing off the marble surrounding us reminds me of other laughs I've heard, here, of Carling and Drake and Father…

I swallow self-consciously and focus on forming the twin rib-pattern bodice. What am I on, again? An eyeing of the fabric tells me to do another knit stitch before purling three for the row's end.

Clickety-click-click! My work resumes.

I steal a glance at him. Aidan's eyes are closed, his finely-chiseled face drawn. My knitting drops. Could my distrust hurt him?

My body chills at the thought. Of course it hurts him, even if I dare not consciously consider why.

Oh, why lie? He's often reasonable; maybe a direct explanation will help him get over his foolish fondness for me. I set my knitting aside. "In case you haven't noticed, we're surrounded by three, well-trained lethal mages with their magical guards, and I'm supposed to somehow cause their power over Marsdenfel to topple. I'm not even certain how the magic worked to give them that control to begin with.

"Add that whatever magic gives them that control almost certainly doesn't apply to me," I add, referencing my illegitimacy but for some reason remembering Liathen in my dreams, "and my likelihood of surviving drops from 'improbable' to 'miraculous'."

"The Creator can work miracles."

I ignore that overly hopeful point. The Creator can, certainly. He actually does very rarely.

"Anyone who tries to manipulate the Bynd, the spell commanding the elves' Crystal, without being of the proper family, dies. It's part of the spell."

He gives me a frowning look. "You are of the proper family."

I'd laugh if the memories my prior laughing had brought weren't quite so clear in my mind. "I'm a child of the court, Aidan! The only thing I'm 'proper' for is being a courtesan.

"Besides," I continue, before he can insist, again, that my illicit heritage means nothing, "Carling is far from stupid. Drake and Father may be convinced that I can't be elfin, but she already knows your father took me in. We're going to slip sometime, and she will notice. And that won't bode well for either of us."

I pick my knitting back up and eye my place in the fabric. "I'll do what I can to see you spared, but by the Creator, don't seek to save me. I'm not worth saving." I hear him breathe in sharply at my frankness, but I ignore it and focus on my knitting. Knit three, purl—

"Why don't we try it?"

I actually manage to stick myself with my knitting needle from my jerk at his unexpected and inexplicable question. My "Ow!?" is not the 'What?' I hoped to ask, but he answers it, anyway.

"The blood test. See how you would respond." He pours a bit of still-hot water from the unused teapot and finds a sewing needle in my bag. Without asking, he takes my small hand, examining the fingers closely before pricking one. I flinch, staring at him blankly.

"Forgive me." He squeezes my fingertip slightly over the glass. A drop of my blood falls in.

It dips from the momentum of its fall—then floats.

I shiver from the room's chill as the wind outside shifts enough to catch a crack, causing a draft. He puts another log on the fire and finds a quilt to give me. He insists on tucking it around me, though I glare. He's a bit old to be so foolish.

When he persists in his attentions, I make myself freeze as if he frightens me. Aidan notices my stiffening almost immediately and lets go. His cheek twitches.

"Stay here. I'll direct that you're not to be bothered. Get some sleep, if you can."

And, hurt by what he assumes is fear, he leaves.

I think over our past conversation and pale. Did I really call him Aidan'?

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