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.


Someone shakes me.

My eyes snap open. A pretty redhead leans over the bed I lay on.


I sit up. I gasp, hastily quitting His Highness's sleeping chamber. Jenna follows me. "Nallé!"

I rub my face, trying to remember how I'd gotten in Prince Aidan's bed. I fell asleep by the fire, my knitting in my lap. I have a vague impression of His Highness entering…

Ah. He must've moved me.

My face burns. That must've been why he'd directed that I not be bothered. Others would've assumed I was sleeping in because we'd…

Jenna grabs my arm from behind. "Nallé!"

I start, remembering that's my name. "Yes?"

She's tense and glaring at me a little, but she releases me and curtsies slightly in respect to the guest, me. "I thought you'd want breakfast."

I blink, surprised that she would bother. Then I remember that most of the visitors to Grehafen are kingdoms under Father's rule, and therefore visitors that are peers to Jenna in her position as mistress to the Crown Prince are few and far between.

After what has probably been too long a pause to be fully polite, I copy her slight curtsy. "I'm honored by your attentions, Lady Jenna."

Jenna snorts, confirming my suspicion that she isn't well-bred—or if she is, she isn't fond of etiquette. "I'm no lady, and I never was one." She studies me. "I think you are, though."

The freezing sensation travels through me. My tongue sticks in my throat. Reminding myself what she and Drake probably did last night promptly relieves that problem. "Oh?" I step towards the door, inclining my head for her to go first. "What makes you think that?"

"You're a child of the court, aren't you?"

Ah, so she's a smart one, too. If she's smart enough to hide it, Drake might even bother to marry her if he gets peeved enough at Father. He'll kill her eventually, either way. I nod graciously. "So I've been told," I murmur as we traverse the halls towards the kitchens.

"Have you been with Prince Aidan long?"

I intentionally misinterpret her question so I can answer "Years. You?"

Jenna laughs and feigns innocence. "Oh, I've never been with Prince Aidan."

"Prince Drake, then."

She shrugs. "Awhile," she answers vaguely, and I get the impression that Jenna herself can't remember. It wouldn't be unlike Carling to find an intelligent lowborn woman to strike her brother's fancy for spying purposes, I realize. I tentatively reach into the magic around me to see.

My stomach lurches as I identify traces of memory-and-loyalty affecting magic use, some of it delicate and precise enough that only Carling could have worked it. A noticeable chunk is brutishly done with Drake's overly rough style, sickening me further. I doubt she was willing when Drake first took her. Nowhere do I glimpse anything that I can identify as Father's.

I withdraw my magic cautiously so I don't brush against anyone else's tendrils and leave my own traces in the magic. But I pay for my magical concentration with my physical—I slip on some water that I've neglected to notice.

Jenna catches me, but despite her extra head of height over me, I nearly topple her over. "P—pardon," I sputter, caught off-guard.

The woman catches herself before anything rash escapes her lips. She frowns and carefully says, "It was nothing." Rather than resume walking towards the kitchen, though, she stops beside the forbidden hallway that I try not to think about. An orange glow encircles the entrance, just like it did when I was small.

I entered it once, as a child, making it down a few feet before Father caught me. It was a month before I could walk, again.

This corridor is still empty for the time being. I itch to continue, not wanting to be found here.

"They've changed me, haven't they?"

I jerk, startled by Jenna's blurt. "I, I—" I stop, and collect myself so I can speak clearly. "How would I know? I never knew you, before…"

Her bland expression makes me stop. Jenna glances around; the hall is still empty. She steps closer to me and says quietly, "You were surprised to be in his bed." So I'm not who or what I pretend to be, she omits. "My memory may be garbled, but there's nothing wrong with me, otherwise." She furrows her brow and frowns. "I hope."

I swallow, reigning in fear's ice enough to ask, "What do they say happened?"

"That I caught a brain fever," Jenna says frankly, "but I'd remember having that. I can't say how I know that, but I should remember having it if that's what's wrong with me." She pauses. "I think I was an herbalist."

I nod slowly, shuffling back so I can lean against the wall beside the forbidden hall. An herbalist with the habit of tasting the herbs she worked with probably also ate linashor, which would explain why the alteration spells have failed enough for Jenna to realize they're there without Drake or Carling noticing her knowledge.

This could be a trap, but something inclines me to believe her. Something…

The realization hits me abruptly, stopping me midbreath. Carling would never think to pretend that one of her spells were slipping. She's far too proud.

Drake's not nearly duplicitous enough for it, either. And when Father wants to trap someone, he does it himself, not through his children's toys. They have likely changed in the years since I've known them, but I doubt that significantly.

I reach into the folds of my skirt, into a little pouch where I'd hidden my personal safeguard against my family: linashor. I give her a strand. "It's nasty raw," I tell her softly, "but it'll keep any of them from pulling information from your mind for now."

Jenna takes it, looks at it, looks at me, and looks down the forbidden hallway. "Drake's there, now." She sticks the whole bit of linashor in her mouth, stumbling and grabbing the wall for support at the taste. "Ick." She swallows a few times and wipes her mouth. "I'll distract him. You go do what you need to."

I pause, at first in surprise but then eyeing the odd glow around the entrance. "I don't—"

"They aren't fools," she snaps. "Wait for them to realize you and Prince Aidan have lied to them if you like, but you'll not get a better chance to do what you came here for than I'm giving you now."

"…Why am I here?" I ask weakly.

Jenna scowls. "To find just cause to free Prince Aidan from his betrothal. And as someone who lives here, I can swear to you that your search will find nothing except down that hall." She turns about and strides down the forbidden hall before I can respond, much less protest.

I gulp. Most of me wants to flee back to my rooms, to find Aidan and Silva and ask them for help. But most of me also recognizes that by the time I collected them, this opportunity would be passed, and if I fail here, I'd rather not kill the two of them, too.

Carling will kill Aidan, I remind myself. I must try to save him.

And Silva. I stiffen, realizing what I've been trying to keep myself from noticing. This castle isn't faery-friendly, to keep out Fael Honovi. Silva risks her tenuous sanity by being here, as well as her life.

I force myself to take the first step, directly into the ring. Fire-based magic flares to life around me, but it doesn't even attempt to burn me, letting me through.

I'm part of the family. Just like Jenna, who has shared her body with Drake, is part of the family.

It's slow going, ensuring that I make very little sound without letting myself fall. I'm most careful in passing the doorway behind which I hear Drake and Jenna making noises that I really don't want to think about.

Several yards in, the light vanishes except for a faint glimmer of a nearby torch fastened to the wall. I stumble, gasping as I recognize the odd hazy vision from the nightmares I've had since my sixteenth birthday.

If this haze is true, what does that say for the man in my dreams, Liathen?

I remember the nightmare with Drake's attempt to shove me into a torch's flame, and I decide I'd rather have that advantage, myself. I stand still for a few seconds, hear nothing, then reach up for the torch. I remove my veil and wrap it around the handle, and I release the torch from its perch with more caution than speed. Thus armed with my own external supply of light and fire, I resume my travel.

Soon, I glimpse on the left a short adjacent tunnel with a door at the end. I turn for a better view and notice a line of runes encircle the tunnel a few paces ahead. The runes look strange, translated, transformed into a language I do not know nor recognize.

Crossing lines of magic I cannot read could cause anything: death, poisoning, raising of an alarm, nothing. I shouldn't…

But it's hardly less foolhardy than anything else I've done so far, today. That hall may be where I need to go. The Bynd might be there.

I lift my torch to examine the runes more closely, but they are still unrecognizable. My arm shakes, the torch sputters, and I reach my left hand towards the runes.

Nothing happens to my fingers. I edge forward and offer my wrist.


I step swiftly through the rune circle.

Through the runes. Nothing happens. Why would Father make useless runes? Why would anyone?

The door.

I still hear nothing; I'm still alone down here. Carefully, I unlatch the door and slowly open it, wincing as it creaks.

An oddly frail male of Aidan's age leans against the wall in long chains. Oddly frail, for his frame is similar to my mostly-human one, and he seems unusually well-fed for a prisoner.

He looks up only slightly, as if the torchlight is too bright for him to adapt to directly. I'm reminded of my own mild sensitivity to light.

"Who are you?"

After a minute, he squints directly at me. His puzzlement shifts into a glare. "Who am—" A cough interrupts his hoarse question, as if he's not used to often speaking or having enough water to keep his throat moist. "Who are you? Only Grehafen's royal blood can pass the runes."

Is the Crystal, is the Bynd behind similar magic? Is that why I must be the one to free it?

I jerk my torch up as I shiver from the fear-induced cold. A swallow wets my dry mouth a little. "I'm Evonalé Yunan," I manage to say. Something about his narrow features strikes me as familiar.

"Be my daughter," he murmurs, glancing away before his eyes lock on my face and he studies me. Their intense grey by torchlight reminds me of Gaylen's vibrant blue.

The man from my dreams.

After a good minute of his examination, he quietly states, "I am Liathen the Second, son of Gaylen and…" he pauses. "His wife."

"Gaylen had a wife?" Who would give the son a king's name? Did Queen Yuoleen give her crown to her prophet Gaylen?

Liathen smiles slightly, intense eyes glancing towards the door before returning to me. He moves his arms, chains clanking. "I don't suppose you have the key?"

"No…" But I do know that unlocking spell that Faed Nirmoh taught me. Might it work?

No, not might. It will work. I concentrate, thinking only of the chains unlocking themselves, falling from the wrists of Liathen to the floor to free him as I draw the runes Faed Nirmoh taught me to summon the magic and focus it at the chains.

A stray thought jerks me as the chains slip to the floor. "But the runes! How can you leave?"

Liathen offers a slight rueful smile. "We share a mother," he said quietly.


In my shock, I dimly realize he has taken my torch and held the door open for me. I recoil when he gently touches my shoulder.

"Come," he says, still with the quiet that suits the prince he is—with faery blood, no less!

My mother's legitimate son leads the way out.

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