“Have you ever heard the tale of Princess Snow?”
Eirian did not look up, but nervously wiggled her toes on the stone ground below. Lady Kovar sat at her desk, gentle eyes taking in the sight of Eirian. She stood with her head down, chewing on her lower lip. She wore a cloth of green wrapped around her middle, and her hair had grown longer and formed clumps at the ends.
“Princess Snow was a great beauty, of pale skin and white hair.” Lady Kovar continued, “She was sent to marry the Dark Prince, and after the wedding – she disappeared. The Dark Prince renounced his title, disinheriting himself and his future sons. Princess Snow however – was descendant of a line of royal blood, and any children she might have had could still make a claim to the throne.
“Her disappearance was never investigated, as the family of her new husband had the power to overstep the rules.” She stood up, moving toward Eirian. Her fingers clasped Eirian’s face and made the girl look up at her, she smiled down at Eirian. “You, dear girl, are going to find out the truth.”
She let Eirian go, and walked back to her desk, shuffling through paper. Eirian stood with stale tears in her eyes. There were bugs in her ears – crawling and digging into her brain, wriggling around inside her skull but neither her fingers nor any object could make them stop. Lady Kovar had put them there, telling her that the bugs would make her listen and behave. When she was grown, the bugs will have matured as well – and Eirian would never have a worry again. She had already started to forget things – her mother’s face, her sister’s voice – even the image of her best friend Owen had begun to fade.
Owen was now a hireling – working outside in the cold, digging up the garden at the command of the Lady Kovar. He would call out to her on occasion – smiling and waving cheerily. Eirian would wave back, but she always wore a look of confusion. Her memories were clouded, and always appeared very far away. Her nights were spent in and out of sleep, suffering severe headaches and a strange tingling throughout her body. And on the day of every full moon, a tall man would come and examine her. He would take notes on her progress, charting out how much she had grown in height and weight. He would search her naked body all over for any signs of illness, and he would peer into her ears in case any of the bugs were trying to escape.
The Lady Kovar was good to her, always guarding her nearby. Eirian had been shocked one day to awake and find that her hostess was no longer pregnant – that she had given birth during the night and sent the baby away. She had told Eirian that the child was payment for the castle they lived in, and all the servants who worked there. As far as anyone knew, she was one of those servants. For the first time in her life she had to look after herself – wash herself and dress herself, and all menial tasks she had never learned to do for herself. One of the other servants was called Kacye and had seen her struggling in the beginning, and aided her. Eirian had later learned that she had bugs put in her ears too.
“The Dark Prince,” Lady Kovar said, startling Eirian. “Was called Lorcan Draki, the elder brother of the current overseer of Iridia” She had sat down again, and summoned Eirian closer with a wave of her hand. “Right now he works as a handler for the slaves, and he appears without a family. But if there is a chance that his wife lived – and birthed children, I need to know.” She said. “In a few years, I will send you to live with the Draki family. Your task will be to uncover the truth about the Princess Snow. Can you do that for me?”
Eirian nodded, “In their castle?”
Lady Kovar smiled, “Yes, in their castle. There must be some trace of the princess – something she left behind, anything that could lead us to her – and to her children.”
Nodding again, Eirian was hesitant to speak her thoughts. “What – why …I mean …” Lady Kovar raised an eyebrow at her, “How is it that you think that she might have had any children at all?”
“You’re a smart girl Eirian, my grandfather was smart too. He mused that the princess was in fact hidden away – as a precaution. So that if the royal line were to ever come to an end, royal cousins would exist somewhere – ready to step in” Lady Kovar stood abruptly. “Back then legitimate children were considered an asset, and at that time bastard heirs were popping up all over the kingdom. King Conri’s grandmother – Queen Rayne, was a proud woman. She of all people despised the very thought of one of her husband’s bastards ever taking the throne.” Eirian flinched inwardly at the sound of her father’s name, it sounded unfamiliar to her but still invoked feelings of dislike. Lady Kovar continued “Curious how time changes things, now that a bastard is heir to the king – of course, not the bastard he thinks.”
She laughed then, a sweet and gentle sound – only Eirian could hear the menace in her laugh.