What is a woman’s life worth?
Daire Edevald, heir apparent to the principality of Caldermor, knows his duty. He must make elan, mysterious golden bean-shaped curatives that bring the Edevald family wealth and power. Then he must relinquish the precious pulses to Princess Irmine, his formidable mother, to fund Caldermor’s governance.
But when Daire discovers that the stable-master’s wife is gravely ill after gathering swamp truffles for a royal feast, he feels obliged to help. Twelve pulses of elan would cure her. Daire has made thousands, but he owns none—and Princess Irmine won’t waste a single pulse to save a hireling.
The maidservant’s survival becomes a critical test of Daire’s fast-approaching sovereignty. If he wants to change the principles that drive the Edevalds’ elan use, he must start now. Even if he has to challenge his fierce mother, his dying father, and most dangerous of all, the shadowy immortal guardian of Caldermor.
Daire crossed to Lightning and scratched the stallion’s favorite spots around his neck and ears, thinking hard. The answer, when it came, was embarrassingly obvious.
He gave Lightning a final pat and stepped away from his mount. “You said bloodsucker fever can’t be cured, but elan can cure even sharp fever. Surely it can help the body overcome bloodsucker poison.”
“Oh, elan. Elan cures everything.” The stablemaster dismissed Daire’s brilliant insight with a wave of his stubby hand. “Elan’s for people like you. Royalty. Aristocrats. Not for the likes of Vi.”
“Violet got sick hunting truffles for people like me.” Daire waved his own arm in the direction of the palace on the hill and the great houses that surrounded it. “If a few pulses will save her life, why wouldn’t we use them?”
Fisher turned around to stare at Daire, though he kept his arm around Dawn’s neck. He didn’t say a word, just made a kind of soft clicking noise with his tongue. He had a whole vocabulary of noises he used in the stables. This one usually meant one of his four-footed charges had done something unexpected.
“A pulse of elan is worth a year’s wages to a retainer. Two years to serving folk like us.” Fisher spelled it out as though he realized Daire had no idea what his servants were paid. “I couldn’t guess how many pulses it would take to cure Vi. More than a few. Maybe as many as a dozen.”
“A few, a dozen… Our dynasty is built on elan.” Daire spoke as much to himself as to Fisher. “What kind of rulers have we become if we can’t spare the price of a woman’s life?”
Fisher’s eyes opened so wide he looked as though he’d been throttled. His mouth seemed to be gasping for air too.
“I’ll have to speak to my mother.” Daire wondered what she’d say. She wouldn’t be pleased, but she was fair. Violet’s hurts were their fault. If he explained how the problem had come about, surely she should agree it was their duty to help.
Fisher finally found his voice. “Vi is worth the world to me. But Her Highness may not agree.”
Fisher’s misgivings were likely well grounded. Daire grimaced. “My mother bears a heavy load and makes hard choices every day. I hope she will grant me a favor. If not…” Well, they were about to top up the royal reserves with another month’s worth of pulses. And elan matters were the prerogative of the Edevald men, not the crown princess.