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Still invisible, I use my magic to conjure wings. I fly along the two horses, listening to the two men.
“Where are we going, Your Higness?”
“My hunting lodge. No one will disturb us there. When Karl arrives with the girl, you two will stay out of sight. I don’t want her distracted. Do you understand me, Lars?”
“Yes Sire. But who will cook and clean?”
The prince pauses. Obviously he hadn’t thought of such things, the spoiled brat. Spells and curses, the poor girl will be living with a cursed moron. How will she survive?
“When we get there, go hire a woman from the closest village. Make sure she knows to keep our presence a secret.”
That’s my way in! I can pose as a housekeeper, use magic to do the chores, and keep an eye on them all. Perhaps I can even befriend the girl and advise her.
As we near the hunting lodge, I fly toward the village. I set down on the outskirts and drop my invisibility spell, staggering slightly as I feel the toll it took. Taking a few deep breaths, I gather the remnants of my magic to cast a permanent disguise on myself. It will use less energy, but I will remain in whatever form I choose until I cast the counterspell. I make myself old, but not as old as before. I aim for matronly and comforting. I wait for a while, trying to look like I belong. Finally, Lars comes into view. He stops when he sees me.
“Excuse me, ma’am, do you know of any women looking for employment? I am looking for a housekeeper.”
“I have been looking for such a position for some time.”
He breathes a sigh of relief. “Good. You must come at once. Your employer is…eccentric. You will only see him when the sun is down. You will look cook and clean, as well as look after a young lady who will be arriving in the next few days. I and another man will patrol the grounds.”
“Why must you patrol? Is it unsafe?”
“Not exactly. There is a…creature, your employer’s pet,” Lars stumbles over the words, “that roams freely during the day. We patrol to make sure it doesn’t leave the grounds and scare anyone.”
So he’s worried about how safe the beast is. I bite my tongue to keep from telling him that it’s harmless, despite its appearance.
At Lars’ insistence, I gather my belongings and we set out immediately. I walk beside his horse. It’s a long walk, made harder by the lack of light. By the time we arrive, the moon has set. The hunting lodge is small as far as royal buildings go, but it’s still large. Three stories high and containing nearly 20 rooms, I’d wager. I’m ushered into a large, empty hall. A fire burns in the fireplace on the far wall. Next to the fireplace stands the prince.
“What is your name?” he asks, back still to me.
“Marta, Your Highness.” I have to force myself to be respectful, even bowing, though he can’t see me.
“Your duties will consist primarily of caring for the girl who will soon arrive. Has Lars told you about the beast?” he asks through gritted teeth.
“He said you have an unusual pet.”
The prince glares at Lars, who grins apologetically. “It roams freely during the day. Try to avoid it. If you feel at all threatened, call Lars or Karl.” He finally turns to me. “I doubt you will be needed for more than a few days. Try not to bother the girl too much. If you need anything, talk to Lars. He will show you to your quarters.”
He waves his hand, obviously dismissing me. Before I can leave, or give in to the temptation to make something fall on his head, a ray of sunlight breaks through the curtains and lands on his hand. The hand turns hairy and deformed, growing claws. The rest of the prince’s body follows suit. The beast stands there for a moment before ambling off.