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.


It took me nearly a month to free all the gryphons with all the attempts and recovery naps I needed, so I'm looking forward to this. Aidan's quiet as he escorts me out into one of the gardens.

I've missed the plants. And in the center of this garden, a familiar dark mare snorts. "Rowan!"

I hear him chuckle as Rowan nuzzles me. I pat her. "Who's escaped her pen again?" I hope she gets to come with me when I leave. I'm afraid to ask.

The prince watches me. "Do you like it here, Majesty?"

"Evonalé," I correct him. "Of course I do." Rowan sniffs me. "Sorry, girl; I didn't know you were looking for me. I don't have any sugar for you."

She snorts and turns away, pretending to scorn me. I know she's only pretending, because she stops if I get upset from it.

"Would you like to stay?"

I smile regretfully and stroke Rowan's hide. "I cannot impose." I've caused the deaths of more than enough people in his kingdom.

For some reason, my response makes him hesitate. I turn to look at him.

He considers a moment, then steps forward. "That's… not what I meant, Evonalé." He takes my hand. "I mean…" He sighs. "Promise not to try to burn me?"

I blink. This does not bode well, but "Of course!"

"You are your father's daughter, you know, in the legal sense."

"If you ignore every criteria regulating legitimacy that exists."

He shrugs again. "Treaty didn't exactly specify."

Then I realize what he's talking about, and I gape at him for several seconds before shutting my jaw. "I'm not marrying you!"

Aidan laughs nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. "Ah, well, you see—"

I'm chuckling, now, and not exactly pleasantly. "No, no, no, no, no," I insist over him. "No."

He sighs. "A treaty by betrothal isn't something you can exactly get out of."

"Sure it is. Mutual consent. Halfway there, already. All you have to do is agree with me."

Aidan's looking at the trees around this garden. "My father would also have to grant his consent."

Rowan sticks her nose into my neck. A stableboy clears his throat. I let him take Rowan. Not sure why she was out here, anyway. "I'll come give you a ride later, girl."

I wait until the stableboy's out of earshot. "Your father's reasonable. He'd side with me."

Aidan snorts. "Not likely."

"He'd rather not lose his only son and heir to… assassination, coups, civil war—"

He laughs. "Civil—"

"That does tend to follow from a child of the court gaining a throne, Aidan." He had the same history lessons I did.

He remembers the cases I'm referring to, tapping his fingers against his thigh as he studies one tree's blossom's. "You mean when the child of the court causes a coup himself or assassinates her lover. This isn't the same kind of situation." He reaches up and plucks a flower. "Your mother?" he adds as an example.

"She never ruled, and elfin kingdoms don't function the same way."

Aidan shrugs, twirling the blossom between his fingers. "That your mother inherited her mother's fiancé makes that fact obvious."

I had liked the Gaylen—when he wasn't making vague prophecies about me, that is—so I don't appreciate how wrong he makes the man's choice of wife sound. "I'm sure they had a good reason for it."

Another shrug. "It's not that hard to figure out. If Queen Yuoleen had married, your mother would have been disinherited. He probably originally agreed to the idea out of a sense of pity or duty."

He offers the flower to me, but I ignore it. "He couldn't have loved her?"

His eyes widen. "Well, I hope he didn't, when she was a baby."

Only then does the age disparity between King Liathen II's parents strike me. I have to think, hard, to come up with a suitable response: "Oh."

Aidan laughs. He eventually settles down and eyes me. "Treaty still says you're marrying me, though."

I pull off my shawl to ball up and throw at him. "I'm not getting you killed!"

That statement startles him. Good. Let him realize that he risks his own life by insisting the treaty stand. I recover my shawl, put it back on, and head back inside.

It's a few seconds before he follows me. "Perhaps you'll change your mind after Silva's wedding."

I give him a long look.

He shrugs. "I know, you're not the sentimental type, but a man can hope, can't he?"

"A man can seek another wife," I reply. "If you're that eager to marry someone with few worthy prospects, what about Geddis? She's my age, has a prophetess for a sister—"

Aidan's expression and laugh say he can't believe I just suggested that. "I'm not marrying her! That's just…" He shakes his head. "Not my cousin. No."

I stare. "Your cousin?"

He cocks his head as he looks at me. "Elwyn Elf-friend is my uncle, born to King Jarvis by his mistress, Lady Fae."

I frown, trying to figure this out. "And Silva's older than you are… but your father's older."

He pauses. "No, which is much of why so many nobles hate him. For two sons, the older illegitimate and the younger legitimate, to get along as my father and uncle do is unusual enough to be considered unnatural, almost… uncouth."

He studies me curiously. "You've lived here all this time without suspecting it? There is something to be said for the discretion of servants over nobles, that's for certain."

Aidan sees my sullen look, grins, and offers a much-flourished courtly bow. "Your Majesty."

I glare.

"What? You mean you haven't been quietly thinking how lovely 'Queen Evonalé' sounds and how marvelous it will be to see the all those formerly-spitting nobles cower by your boots?"

"Queens don't generally wear boots."

His amused glance contains a hint of irritation. "Wouldn't you love to make Marigold do your mending, for once?"

I shudder. "Elves, no! She'd completely destroy it." He's giving me an odd look. "What?"

Aidan smiles slightly and kisses the back of my hand, sending shivers up my arm. "Nothing," he says mildly, "but Her Majesty is still recovering from her recent ordeal and could use her rest."

Refusing to harbor further distraction or protest, he tucks my arm under his and returns me to my rooms.

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