First up we meet Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, a real life princess of Kildenree—but we're just gonna call her Ani for short. (Don't worry, she's cool with it.)
When she was born, she didn't open her eyes for a few days, but luckily her aunt came to the rescue, rocking her little niece back and forth.
This same aunt went on to teach little Ani how to speak and interact with others. It all seemed pretty harmless to Ani, but for some reason no one liked her aunt hanging around her very much—everyone thought she was a bit coo-coo since she knew how to talk to animals.
Pretty soon, she taught Ani how to talk with the swans and geese too—in the magical world of Kildenree, this is possible, though only for some people.
We learn that people are born with one type of language: (1) people-speaking, (2) animal-speaking, or (3) nature-speaking. Ani's mom (ahem, the queen) and most rulers have the first, but Ani and her aunt have the second. As for the 3rd? That's the rarest language of all because it means people can hear the wind, fire, and trees talking to them.
A girl Ani's age named Selia invites Ani to tea. When the aunt sees this girl, she warns Ani to be careful because Selia has the powerful gift of people-speaking. (Foreshadow, much?)
Ani and her aunt keep hanging out, and one day, the aunt tells Ani to not let anyone else in on their little secret of talking to animals—and then she leaves. Ani isn't really sure what this all means, but when she has a new companion the next day, she misses her aunt.
She tries to speak to her little puppy or the swans, but her new companion doesn't let her and even tattle-tales to her mom about it. Boo.
Let's just say her mom is not a happy camper when she finds out what Ani has been up to. A princess shouldn't talk to animals, apparently, and her mom tells her she's got to put a stop to this madness, or else. Oh—by the way—her aunt died too.
Ani's shocked her mom isn't sadder about her sister's death, and doesn't see what the big deal is with talking to birds. She runs away to the forest and hangs out with the swans.
Talone, Watcher of the East Gate, finds her there, asleep and very cold, among the swans. He takes her back home to the palace, where her mom is worried and annoyed all at the same time.