When the king finishes eating, he leaves the dining room without saying anything to us. The musicians leave soon after, clearly disappointed. I guess the king just likes having them there, in case he decides to break into song.
A servant comes in, whispers something to
and leads the prince away. Before he leaves, Ferguson
stops in the doorway, turns, and gives an elaborate bow, directed at us. Mostly
Faith. “Until tonight, your highnesses.” And he leaves.
I’m tempted to follow him. I can’t believe he ignored me that whole time. And why was he falling all over Faith? But none of the other princesses make a move to leave and I don’t want to draw attention to myself. It always ends badly.
The room is empty except for us six girls. The tension dissipates and everyone sinks a little into their chairs. The twins actually start laughing. Faith rolls her eyes. “Oh, that’s enough,” she snaps, but she’s also smiling.
Charity leans forward to grin at the oldest sister. “Guess it’s time to make more pillows.”
Chastity snickers. “Like he needs any more. His castle’s probably overrun with them.”
I give her my best confused look. Chastity’s eyebrows lift in disbelief. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten Faith’s infamous pillows!”
Part of me wants to pretend. Of course I remember the pillows. Who could forget the pillows? But curiosity wins this one. I shake my head apologetically.
“Oh, Ivy!” Charity cries. But I can tell she’s eager to tell the story. “Remember when
came last summer?”
I nod. I’m not about to flaunt my ignorance.
“He claimed to be madly in love with Faith.”
Chastity clasps her hands next to her cheek and flutters her eyelashes. “He meant madly in love with the kingdom. How romantic!”
Charity continues. “He kept up the act for an annoyingly long time, didn’t he? Anyway, Faith of course wouldn’t have anything to do with him, but the poor sap didn’t understand simple English.”
Faith smiles softly and tilts her head at a slight angle. “I was sure a solid, monosyllabic ‘no’ would work, but poor Prince Ferguson is severely stupid.”
I think I like these girls.
“Anyway,” says Charity, “Faith, being the brilliant princess she is, asked all the seamstresses in the kingdom to make pillows for the prince as a parting gift.”
Chastity starts laughing. I’m guessing these weren’t ordinary pillows.
“Each one had the word ‘no’ embroidered on it.”
Chastity tries to talk between giggles. “There were—hundreds!”
Charity nods matter-of-factly. “Two whole carriages were assigned the task of delivering the princely gift.”
She sighs and looks up at the ceiling. “I would have given anything to have seen his face when they arrived.”
Faith stands from the table, clearly pleased by the retelling of her tale. “Come, ladies. Let’s prepare ourselves for tonight.”
We all stand and follow her out in the same order we were seated—oldest to youngest. Ahead of me, Felicity seems a bit unsure of something. “What about the prince?”
Faith waves a hand from the front of the line. “I’ll take care of everything.”
Behind me, one of the twins says, “We probably don’t have to do anything. I doubt he’d notice if we just left as usual.”
Faith nods in agreement. “But I’m not taking any chances. Father sent Prince Ferguson for a reason. I doubt the prince is acting without help. And I won’t marry that dolt.”
She leads us down a few corridors. I do my best to memorize the route, but I can’t make my brain focus. There are just too many questions and I can’t ask any of them without looking out of place. These girls think I’m one of them, that I’ve been with them the whole time. If this fairy tale is anything like the last one, I’ll be much better off if they keep on thinking that until the story is over. The pixie wants me to cause trouble. He probably put me in a particularly mysterious tale just so I’d mess up and ask the wrong questions.
I’m not playing that game. Not this time.
The décor around us is incredibly pink and lacy. And familiar. I feel like such an idiot. We’re going right back to where I started, through the hallway of lace and flowers. I’m hopeless.
Up ahead, Faith sighs. “I just hope you all appreciate that I’m staying behind.”
One of the twins groans, then whispers, “As the oldest, she should be the first to elope.”
The other twin giggles, but Faith doesn’t notice. “As the oldest,” she says, “I should be the first to elope.”
Faith leads us into the room with twelve doors—the common room, I’m assuming—and to the far corner. She open the door that leads to the indoor garden and waits in the doorway for each of us to file through. Faith gives each of us a weary smile. “But I want to make sure each of you makes it safely through. That’s what older sisters are for.”
I lean against a marble statue for support. Elope? That must be why the princesses are sneaking off. But all of us? I’m pretty sure I’m not looking to get married any time soon. And Mercy’s way too young.
I turn to find where she’s run off to. I’m suddenly alone on the tile walkway. Each princess has gone to a separate flower bed. Faith’s is full of white roses. Felicity’s has a variety of spring bulbs. The twins both have bright yellow daisies in their flower beds, and Mercy stands in the midst of some intricately-twisted vines of jasmine. Going by age, and how we were seated at dinner, I assume my flower bed is the one between Felicity and Charity. The one with a small pool and water lilies. I try pretending like I know where I’m going and stand next to the smooth stones surrounding my pond.
And we just stand there. The birds flutter around trees, the butterflies dance, and five other girls are standing there, smiling at each other. I wait. Is this how we’re going to elope? What are we doing here?
Then the statue of the girl with the bird on her hand moves. I blink, and at first I think I’m starting to lose my balance, but the statue really is moving. She rotates, her mouth open in silent song and her white marble dress flowing around her delicate ankles. A clicking sound comes from all around us, like we’re inside a giant clock. As the statue turns, the walls behind each princess move. A dozen panels, one at each flower bed, slide away, revealing twelve alcoves. More like walk-in closets, actually.
As soon as the ticking stops, the five princesses hurry into their closets and I’m alone in the garden, wondering what the heck just happened.
There’s a closet open behind me. I doubt there’s anything in there that would interest me. But I can’t resist looking. My feet pull me in.
One side of the closet has a vanity. A cute little ivory-colored bureau with cherubs carved into the sides, a large mirror, and several bottles lined up against the back. Behind the mirror, the wall is plastered with images of large-eyed bunnies and smiling fauns playing with unicorns in an over-the-top mural. It’s nauseating. I turn away before it can have an effect on me.
The other wall is lined with ballgowns—pink and frilly, blue and lacy, purple with beads, red with flouncy sleeves. Yuck. And of course, equally ornate shoes to match, none of which look comfortable. Do they really expect me to wear something from here?
I peek back out into the garden. The princesses are already getting dressed, like five year olds trying on their mother’s clothes. Really? We’re playing dress-up? I think I’ll pass.
Then the girls bounce out of their closets to model their outfits. One of the twins pokes her head in and beams at me. “Come on! Pick a dress and let’s see.”
She disappears and I let out a long breath. The closet of dresses looms in front of me like a sinister rainbow. I’m probably not going to get away with wearing my jeans tonight, am I?
I sift through the layers of fabric. There has to be something decent in here. Eventually, I find a cream-colored dress with cap sleeves and lace only around the bodice. I shimmy into it and pick the most ordinary-looking shoes I can find—black with a short heel and a simple beaded design around the toe. At least there aren’t any cameras in the castle. Although, knowing that pixie…
I ignore the bottles on the vanity and step out into the garden. The princesses ooh and aah over each other, and even compliment my outfit, but they’re not as thrilled about my choice as they are with Faith’s dress. It looks like it’s made entirely of pink pearls. Yikes.
Then comes the perfume. Each girl comes out with a different bottle. All at once, as if triggered by some hellish starter gun, they start spraying each other. It’s the weirdest water fight I’ve ever seen. They chase each other and splash drops of overly sweet-smelling liquid on each other. My mouth drops open as I watch in horror, but that’s a mistake. The sweet-smelling clouds turn bitter on my tongue and I gag.
The laughing and screaming suddenly become the least of my problems. The smells of flowers and fruit and who knows what else attack me all at once. I can’t breathe. The fumes sting my eyes and thicken the air. I have to get out.
No one notices as I run for my life. I’m out of the garden just in time. The air in the common room is delightfully breathable. What I just witnessed in there was scarier than any horror movie. No one should ever have to go through that.
I sink into the pink satin cushions of the super-long couch while I catch my breath. But I don’t get a very long break before the double doors at the front of the room open. And in walks Prince Ferguson, eager to be noticed. Then he sees it’s only me. His shoulders deflate. “Oh.”
I smile. “Nice to see you, too.”
Normally, I’d run from him as fast as I ran from the perfume-fight. But I want answers. I point at him. “You. Sit.”
Prince Ferguson seems a bit shocked that I would talk to him like that. I don’t care. I’m not about to put on a show just for him. He sits on the couch, as far from me as possible. Just how I like it.
“What’s going on?” I ask. “Why are you here?”
He stares blankly for a minute. I raise my eyebrows. I’m willing to wait for his brain cells to warm up.
“I’m here to marry one of your sisters.”
I narrow my eyes. “I mean why are you in this fairy tale? You’re supposed to be in Beauty and the Beast.”
I consider what I just said. Maybe that’s not true. I mean, it’s not like he got the girl or anything in that tale. Still, I wait for his answer.
“Fairy tale? Beauty?”
eyes widen. “I remember you! You were Beauty’s plain servant girl!”
I project death at the idiot in front of me.
"Er, well, obviously you’re not a servant girl. Or plain, Princess Ivy. I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you. Obviously your disguise was effective.”
My words seethe through clenched teeth. “I wasn’t wearing a disguise.”
Oh please don’t tell anyone how I acted at that castle. I wasn’t myself. After Faith rejected me, I needed to find someone to marry.”
The door to the garden opens behind me.
throws his attention to the incoming girls like their a lifesaver in the stormy
sea. But I’m done talking to him. He’s obviously the same idiot I once knew and
he has no idea what’s going on. It’s the one thing we have in common.
A hurricane of colorful dresses whip past me, surrounding Prince Ferguson in clouds of silk and perfume. The prince doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he looks like he won the lottery. Five princesses giggle and flirt with him like he’s suddenly the last living man in the kingdom. I wouldn’t care either way.
Long white fingers grasp the prince’s arms. A hundred questions—about his journey, his kingdom, his latest hunt—bombard him so fast, the prince has to choose which ones to answer. Of course, he always answers Faith’s questions. Not very intelligently, but I give him props for being able to pick out her voice from all the chatter.
I stay on my end of the couch and watch the chaos. At first, it’s entertaining to see them all act like such idiots. But something doesn’t feel right. Weren’t they bashing
and laughing at him an hour ago? Now they’re throwing themselves at him and
offering him a goblet of wine and swooning over his lackluster stories.
“My dear princesses,” chortles the prince. “We do have all evening. Please, one at a time.”
Faith giggles, which really doesn’t match her voice. It’s too high-pitched.
Charity bats her eyelashes at
“Isn’t your sword heavy? I can’t imagine carrying it around all the time.”
The prince’s words slur a bit and I have to hide a smile. I guess he’s had a little too much wine.
Mercy gazes up at him with wide eyes, which really accents her girlishness. “You must be very brave, then.”
nods again. “Of course, one must…” He leans back into the couch. “One must
do…what one must…do…”