"…and as the wind fall, the Princess stirs, so early as the dawn breaks." Kadyet smiled peacefully as she threw open the heavy curtains, the morning light sinking into her long black tresses. She turned to face her twin, blue eyes sparkling. "Isn't it a beautiful day, Salheilwen?" she asked peacefully.

"I daresay you won't be of that opinion once you've been through an endless circle of meetings, balls, dances and royal dinners," replied Salheilwen dryly, her delicate mouth wrinkling. "Or have you forgotten that it's our birthday today?"

She sat on a bed in Kadyet's large, lavish room, surrounded by silken sheets and embroidered cushions. The thin, sheer curtains around the bed had been drawn back, so she could see the entire room from where she sat.

Kadyet pouted, and then laughed as she glimpsed her reflection in one of her gold-framed mirrors. "Honestly, I don't know how those boys can stand that expression," she said. "It's more likely to give me nightmares, rather than make me look attractive."

Two maidens, wearing the teal-blue over-robes that indicated that they served the heir to the crown, stepped forward. One held out a sky-blue brocade dressing gown. Kadyet shrugged into it gratefully- the winter morning was cold.

The other maiden held out a veil, the only item of Thalikan clothing that had not changed since the Ancient Times. It was fashioned to look like a knee-length, hooded cloak, made of thin-woven blue silk.

Kadyet frowned. "What is this for?" she asked the maidens. She looks almost as if she expects them to answer, thought Salheilwen, but obviously they wouldn't, and Kadyet knew that. She had had maidens ever since she was born.

The maidens glanced at each other, noticeably worried that their Princess was anything but content.

Kadyet looked at Salheilwen, who shrugged nonchalantly and stood up. "Please?" pleaded Kadyet, clasping her hands before her chest.

Salheilwen smiled slightly, but shook her head, enjoying the knowledge that she was defying the very person that could have her beheaded. I don't suppose I'll get many more of those times, she thought sadly.

"Please?" repeated Kadyet, making puppy-dog eyes at her redheaded sister. "Father's not here to scold you for it this time." When Salheilwen showed no sign of relenting, Kadyet straightened imperiously. "I am the heir of this realm, and you must do your duty to this realm by obeying me," she ordered, pointing a long, perfect finger at her twin. "I'd have grovelled, only I was afraid to ruin my pretty gown," she added, tugging on her clothes.

Salheilwen rolled her eyes, and pulled her own dressing-gown more snugly around her thin frame. It was pale green, the colour of her eyes, just as Kadyet's gown was a perfect imitation of her eyes. Salheilwen's gown was nowhere near as elegant or expensive, but it would have sufficed for a lesser noble, someone less royal that she. It was comfortable; she told herself that was what mattered.

She began to move her hands in complex patterns, hand-signing to the maidens. Why does she have to wear a veil in private? she asked them.

One of the maidens bowed, and began to answer. From her huge, round brown eyes, she looked about the twins' age, but it was hard to tell. Their head-veils shadowed their faces so much, she thought impatiently.

His Most Honoured and Beneficial Majesty of this realm has requested for the Most Beloved Princess Kadyet to greet him on the morn of her fifteenth birthday, replied the girl.

Father, beneficial? thought Salheilwen, her feelings a mixture of annoyance and amusement. Did he ask for me, as well? she signed back, not bothering with the flowery names.

The brown-eyed girl shook her head, and bowed again. He asked only for the Beloved Princess, she signed.

Salheilwen stepped back, blinking tear from her suddenly-watering eyes. She turned and kept walking, her eyes fixed on the door.

"Wait! Where are you going?" called Kadyet as the maidens began to fuss with her hair. "I need you to come back and help me!" she cried impatiently.

Salheilwen's hand was on the doorhandle, but she stopped long enough to relay the King's request, before continuing her journey back to her rooms.

"They forget I'm even a princess now, is that it?" she asked herself bitterly, sitting down hard on the corner of her bed. It was a pretty bed, in a pretty room, but had none of the soft comfortableness of Kadyet's quarters. Tearing off her dressing-gown rebelliously, she wrapped herself in a thick quilt.

Why is it Kadyet gets all the attention? she thought to herself, tracing the pattern of an embroidered bird on the quilt. I'm a princess too, I should get some attention, at least.

She sighed, knowing she was being unreasonable and selfish, and not caring. "Kadyet is the heir," she reminded herself softly. "She deserves maidens and big rooms and prettier clothes. It's her birthright."

But why? asked that annoying voice in her head.

"Because she was born first," said Salheilwen to the voice.

Only because of that? pressed the voice. It seemed to echo through her head, battling with the other thoughts and making a blank, empty space in which to think. Why is it that first-borns are always the heir? If it was not, then you would be. You could have had everything- the clothes, the fame, the wealth, everything. What is a birthright? Nothing more than a word.

Salheilwen jumped up and paced around her room, trying to distract herself from the words that sounded so close to treason. "I don't want to be queen," she said vehemently to no one in particular. She then stopped, and wondered if she was talking to herself or the voice.

"Both, probably," she mutter, resuming her pacing. Her eye caught a flash of silver and brown at the foot of her bed, and she stopped again.

She faced her altar to the Three Spirits- Nakobe, Andelle and Soboem, the three goddesses of Thalika. It was a dark wooden table, with a short, fat candle for each goddess, and a small metal box in front.

She knelt, and picked up the box delicately. It was made of thin silver sheets pulled over a wooden frame, studded and imbedded with tiny jewels that shimmered in the early morning light.

Pray to Soboem, the voice whispered. Ask for the power that is yours by right, and you shall have what you desire.

Salheilwen trembled slightly, and shook her head, setting the box back down again. She knew how risky it was to pray to the goddess- she was a crone, a trickster, the omen of destruction and chaos.

Do it, urged the voice, and the princess obeyed. She pulled a few silver coins out of her pocket, opened the box, and dropped them in.

"Old Mother Wisdom, destroyer of all, I offer to you these coins," Salheilwen murmured, flipping the hinged lid closed. "I ask for nothing in return, but I pray to you this morning." Silently she cursed herself- the best time to pray to Soboem was late at night, for she was nocturnal. The goddess might not take kindly to being woken at near-dawn.

"I ask for you to help me gain the power that would be mine by right, had I been born the older of my twinship," she continued, starting to shake the silver box. The coins rattled around the velvet-lined insides, sending movement waves through her hands.

"I ask for power, not greed," said Salheilwen, not wanting the goddess to be vengeful. "I ask for no one to be harmed, only that I receive what I want most." She set the bow on the altar, and opened in precariously. The coins she had dropped in here gone, replaced by a tiny vial of brown, murky liquid.

Salheilwen stared at it, not understanding, until the voice whispered one word that would tell her what to do.

Murder.