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“Durbe’s gone.” Nasch says when he returns. Merag knows already; she had heard the news. He was off visiting his village again. Now that he was a full knight, it was to expected; he and Mach were wanted in every kingdom, in every court, because their abilities.

“He should return soon.” He continues. “Because Father…”

Father is ill. Merag can hear the servants whispering in the halls, even if the healers are reluctant to speak the truth. There’s not much time left for him, and with no queen to act as regent, Nasch’s time has come. Her brother is to be king.

Where does that leave her, Merag wonders. She is unmarried and very aware of how useless it is for her to be a woman. How cruel it is, that Nasch’s duty to his kingdom is so heavy and hers is so light. Nasch disagrees with her – he says that he relies on her for things – but she doesn’t know if that’s true.

If Durbe were here, he would have distracted her with a book. But he isn’t. He and Nasch are going on ahead, and she is being left behind, to the places where princesses with no husbands and no desire to be ornamental end up. In towers, and lounging about, and gossiping, and being sold to the highest bidder so the kingdom can have more men.

Without a husband, she’ll be a burden on Nasch, though, and it bites at her. Sell herself for her brother? Remain free and depend on him? Run away?

“Merag.” Nasch interrupts her thoughts. “Are you that bothered by Durbe going?”

“You don’t read enough.”

“Hmph.”

“Nasch. Do you think I’ll ever accomplish anything?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…when you dream of the future…what do you think will happen to me?”

“That’s for you to decide.” Nasch says. He doesn’t say anything about her being a wife or mother. He never has; when Merag was younger, and more prone to behaving badly, he’d refuse to scold her. If Merag says right now that she wants to run away and become a goatherd, he’ll support her.

“The Head priestess asked to see you, though. She’s made a prophecy.”

“About me?”

“I don’t know. Go and find out.”

A prophecy. Merag doesn’t always believe in the predictions of the priestesses, but she is intrigued. They know better than to waste Nasch’s time. Perhaps they are going to show her a future where she does something.

Perhaps not. “I’ll go now.” She stands up, looking out longingly at the castle grounds. She can’t return to the past, where these lands were her playground rather then the boundaries of her entire existence. It’s time to find her way.