Prologue

The cold black walls of the mausoleum seemed to take Amelinda's grief and echo it mockingly, and the floors sent up a chill that clawed at her sandaled feet. It was wrong, all wrong! No one should take their final rest here, least of all her mother, who had been so full of life. The torches cast flickering shadows on the wall, and it hurt Amelinda's heart to think that after they were gone there would be only darkness.

Her father stood beside her, and stared blankly at the small, fat man who was droning on about the afterlife, looking like a lost child. His golden circlet seemed to weigh him down as if it was a brick strapped to his head, and his joyous green eyes had lost their light. Amelinda glanced up at him and, oddly, the sight strengthened her. She straightened her back and lifted her head, waiting for the fat man to finish. If her father's people could not be counted on to do the thing properly, she would have to. She couldn't move her mother's body to somewhere with sun where she would continue to nourish the life around her, but Amelinda would sing her goodbye, and hang the cost.

"Mourn for your dead, but do not worry, for the queen is in a better place. Amen." The man finished with a final cough, and straightened his tunic.

Amelinda had an urge to laugh. These desert people were fools! If only she'd been able to learn the true Song of Farewell before her mother died. She didn't know any elvish mourning-songs either, so she would have to sing The Beggar's Goodbye.

She stepped forward and placed her hands on the crypt, closing her eyes, and began to sing.

Eyes are closed and head is bare

Free of worry, free of care

Love is all you'll ever know

Around her there was a decidedly shocked rustle of skirts, and then a man's sharp intake of breath. She could almost feel them thinking. Who was this girl, with her barbarian customs and magic songs? She kept singing.

Mortals grieve, but let you go

Spirits sing as you come near

Her voice cracked halfway through the line but she pushed on, determined to send the queen off properly.

Journey on, you're finished here.

There was a moment of silence, and then chaos erupted. Amelinda found herself confronted by an angry old noblewoman, who was apparently convinced that Amelinda had invoked the devil.

"Honestly, child," the woman said. "Haven't you any respect for your mother?"

Amelinda looked at her feet, her ears turning red. She had respected her mother, more than anyone else she knew. A teardrop splashed onto her sandals, followed by another. Her hands were shaking, although she didn't know why.

"Princess?" said a different voice. Amelinda whirled, and stared up into the gaunt face of her father's cousin, the King of Rikshas.

"What?" Her voice was sharper than she had meant, but she didn't feel like apologizing. She was irrationally, violently angry.

"My condolences on your mother's death. I assume that was some sort of primitive mourning song?" The king tilted his head slightly, and Amelinda felt like punching him.

"What's it to you?" She was being abominably rude, but she couldn't bring herself to care.

The man's lips thinned, and a forced smile painted itself over his face.

"We all know that losing a loved one is difficult, princess, and this once I will excuse your rudeness. But if you're coming to live at my court, you'll have to learn some manners."

Amelinda's world ended with a solid crunch. She had lost her mother, and now she was losing the only things that had made her decide to continue on. Things like her friends, freedom, the familiar trees that never let her fall. Things like, however reluctant she was to admit it, her father.

"Coming to liveā€¦ with you?" Amelinda said distantly. "Why?"

The man made a face that looked like he needed to use the garderobe but was probably an attempt at an encouraging smile.

"Why? You can't imagine that any eligible princes will want to come to your backwater kingdom! Why, it's tiny. Even if it does border the Spirit Mountains, it has almost no economic value whatsoever! No, Rikshas is much better, much better indeed."

He didn't seem to be talking to her anymore, and he almost certainly wasn't expecting to hear her say, as if discussing the weather:

"Well, treesilk is a major export and the elflock trees that produce it are only found in the Fae Kingdoms and Faenamor, which makes it pretty valuable considering that the Human Realms are usually warring with the Fae. And even if Faenamor is small, it's very culturally diverse."

The older man stared down at her in shock. The noblewoman, who was nearby industriously pretending not to eavesdrop, gaped. There was an odd light in the king's eyes, but when Amelinda looked again, it was gone.

"That's the sort of thing that makes a girl end up an old maid. I sincerely doubt that you know the meaning of half those words," said the king, severely.

She did know, actually. It drove all the people who didn't know her crazy, and it tended to annoy some of her friends, too. The king turned away, finished with the conversation. Amelinda had the distinct feeling that the world was conspiring to make her life horrible.