(she paints her lips for him, bright red like the blood he will spill)

She found him once in the library, reading through old books that talk of the dead, of the spirit, of the soul and its trip to the Peaceful Realms. He turned to see her and looked straight through her until he saw her for her face, lively eyes and corn-silk hair and delicate nose, admired by several men at Court and some women too, and he said her name, whispered Ilane like it was one of his words to spell creatures greater than herself.

She was ensnared anyways.

(curls her hair and ties it back, binding it tightly like the spells he will use)

The prince is just a boy-child and she is enamoured of her own power, dancing with the sons of duchys and earldoms, those not of little fiefs on the coast with a multitude of fields and not much else to see, batting tinted-black eyelashes and letting glimpses of ankles show, smooth pale skin and pastel dresses.

She is what he is supposed to want.

(pats her cheeks and watches as color flushes into corpse-pale skin)

He is bitter, she learns, of his chubby-cheeked cousin who stole his throne, of lost love from his aunt and uncle, of his place being overtaken by a mere child of no consequence other than the fact the it was this baby who managed to live. If only the prince had been a girl, he whispers to her, curling his voice around the words sibilantly, if only the prince had been stillborn he would see things differently.

She is a fool, and she listens to him.

(she looks at herself in the mirror and sees a lady look back)

He takes her to bed, gentler than she might have thought he would be, touching all the distinct parts of her, caressing even her too-small bosom and too-wide hips, even though everything about her is too-too. He tells her he doesn't mind, spins more pretty lies about how she could be with him forever, how she could swear him her fealty, how she could be queen. He strokes his hand through her hair, pins her hands down above her head, and she arches up to kiss him, to devour every taste she can get of those cool lips.

He is a master, and she is seduced.

(she does not know this creature in the mirror)

Ilane, he says, and she replies Roger in a high breathy voice, the type she had sworn she would never use, the type only silly girls tried out on silly boys, and he is not silly, he is one of those people who will never be.

When the time comes, she will not swear to him. By then she will recognize the sick feeling of his darkness. It curls in her belly, slithers its way around her organs and twists up into her throat to choke her and while she is not Gifted, she can recognize how she is under his spell, even if it is only the spell of his hands and skin and scratchy beard against her cheeks and chest.

(she tells him this: I am bethrothed to a man, you may have heard of him: he is not the Queenscove heir, no, he is from a fief up north, Mindelan, as I recall?

He will strike her and push her away. It takes most of her powder to cover up the bruise.)

She is the first follower he will ever fail to keep. And while it is from him she will learn how to be clever, it is from herself that she will learn to be strong.