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I approach the girl and smile. “Hello, dear. My name is Marta. Welcome.”
“I’m Ingrid,” she whispers. She’s certainly striking. Unlike most people in Skara, who have blond hair and blue eyes, Ingrid’s hair is dark brown, nearly black and her eyes are brown. Her eyes are empty, though that might be due to suddenly being ripped from her previous life. The poor girl looks like she could burst into tears at any given moment. I take her arm and Karl gives me a confused look before dropping her bag and going outside, presumably to find Lars.
I lead Ingrid to the room I’ve chosen for her and set her bag next to her bed.
“This is where you’ll be staying. I think you’ll be quite comfortable here. If you need anything at all, just ask me.” Ingrid sits lifelessly in front of the mirror. I think furiously, trying to come up with a way to make her feel even a little better. “You know, legend has it this hunting lodge is magical. My mother worked here before me and she told me about rooms that would appear and disappear without warning, musical instruments that could play themselves, and sometimes even fairies roaming the halls. She always said that if you could catch a fairy, it could tell you anything you wanted. But it would only answer one question. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in these halls, hoping to catch a fairy to tell me who my true love would be.”
“Did you ever find one?” Ingrid asks. Her eyes have brightened a little. She’s obviously intrigued by my story. I’m almost convinced it’s true. I didn’t realize I was so good at this.
“No, sadly. That’s why I never married,” I say with a wry smile. She laughs a little, giving me a slight smile. “Now, what would you like for dinner? I can make anything you like.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Very well. Do you want me to show you around?”
“No, I think I’ll stay here. I’m very tired. I just want to sleep.”
“Very well dear. Ring the bell on the table if you need anything. I’ll see you in the morning.” I leave, but stop outside the door. I can hear the poor child’s sobs through the thick wooden door. I walk away, allowing her privacy to grieve. I walk around idly until the sun sets. As soon as it’s dark, the prince finds me.
“Has the girl arrived?” he asks.
“Where is she?”
“Her room. She was quite upset when she arrived.”
“Bring her to me,” he demands.
“She’s probably asleep.”
“I don’t care. Bring her to me!” Has no one ever denied the royal pain before?
I hesitate. She won’t want to leave her room, I’m nearly certain of that.
“Go!” he yells. Dragon’s teeth, he’s impatient.
I hurry down the hall to Ingrid’s room. I knock gently on her door. “Ingrid? It’s Marta. May I come in?”
I hear a muffled voice, which I think says yes. I slowly open the door. Ingrid has moved from the chair to her bed, her face stained with tears. I sit next to her and stroke her hair.
“Did Karl tell you why you are here?”
She sniffles. “Not really. He just said that Prince Heinrik wanted me or one of my sisters to come here. Is it really the prince? My sisters thought it was some sort of scheme.”
“Yes, the prince is really here. In fact, he would like to speak with you. Will you come?”
“He’s the prince. Do I have a choice?” Her voice is slightly bitter. Good for her. A little opposition will be good for His Royal Stuffiness.
We walk through the long, lonely halls until we reach the room I met the prince in yesterday. Ingrid hesitates and I give her a quick smile of encouragement.
The prince glares at me as we enter. “You may go do…whatever it is you do.”
What I’d like to do is hex his mouth shut. Instead, I simply roll my eyes as I leave. I stop outside the door, casting a spell to let me see and hear the two inside.
“Do you know who I am?” The prince sounds rather full of himself. I think he’s trying to look pleasant and agreeable, but he simply looks pained.
“You are Prince Heinrik.”
“I am. If I were to ask you to marry me, what would you say?”
“What would you want me to say?”
The prince frowns. He’s rather good at that look, though if he isn’t careful, his handsome face will soon have permanent wrinkles. One can only hope. “It doesn’t matter what I want you to say. What do you want to say?”
“I-I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re asking.”
The wrinkles deepen. I could plant flowers in those ruts. “Have you ever been in love?”
“Well, you must love me.”
That seems to be the final straw for the girl. I had thought she was timid, but it appears she has some spirit in her. Her back straightens and her eyes light up with the first flashes of emotion I’ve seen since she got here. “I beg your pardon? You may be the prince, but you have no right to tell me how to feel. Do you know anything about love? Do you even know my name?” He shakes his head, momentarily speechless. If only he would stay quiet. “Well no wonder you have to resort to kidnapping innocent girls. No respectable woman would consider loving you.” She turns and begins to storm out when the prince regains use of his tongue.
“How dare you! I am your prince. You speak of rights? You have no right to speak to your future king in such a way. I could have you executed. You are nothing compared to me. Nothing! But you will kiss my boots and be grateful for the chance by the time I am done with you. Woman!”
It takes me a moment to realize he is calling for me. I swing open the doors. Ingrid still stands with her back to the prince, her face white and her eyes filled with tears.
“She will not eat until I see signs of regret for her rude and unacceptable behavior. Give her no luxuries, no new clothing, only a little water. Take away any possessions she brought from home. Allow no communication with anyone.” He smiles cruelly. “We will see how long it takes her to realize her true feelings.”
I hurry the girl back to her room. “Poor child,” I croon, holding her in my arms. I rub her back as she begins to sob again. “I will bring you food, only you must not tell the prince. It will be our little secret. And as long as he doesn’t see you in the nice gowns in your wardrobe, you can wear them during the day. He’s only around after the sun sets. While the sun shines, you may do whatever you please. I won’t let him starve you.”
Ingrid nods and I cast a quick sleeping spell on her. Goodness knows the girl needs to rest after the day she’s had.