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I doubt that anything the prince does will surprise me, but who am to question my mentor? Perhaps when I am a full sorceress, I will understand how to give cryptic messages and confuse apprentices.
I follow Aurora’s advice that night and follow him after the girl again says she doesn’t love him. I let him wander aimlessly, following invisibly and silently, as he prowls through the dark hallways. He’s angry, kicking furniture and slamming doors. I don’t know what it is Aurora thinks I’ll see, but she seems to believe that His Royal Highness, the Prince of Tantrums is experiencing some emotion other than anger. I don’t believe it.
The prince stalks the corridors for hours on end. Finally, as dawn approaches, there is a change. He stops walking and crumples to the floor. I slowly approach, trying to see what he’s doing. His shoulders have begun shaking and he pounds the ground weakly with his fist.
By the great magic, he’s crying.
I’m shocked. This arrogant, self-assured, confident prince has been reduced to a weeping mess. A sense of pity stirs my heart. I can’t believe it. Does he have have emotions after all?
I hurry around the corner and make myself visible. Then I approach Heinrik.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say cautiously. “Is there anything I can do?”
He doesn’t bother to look up. “Not unless you’re a witch too,” he says with a dry laugh.
“A witch cursed me. She says I have to find true love in order to break it. I don’t know anything about love. You’ve seen me with the girl; I lose my temper whenever I speak with her. I don’t know how to act!” He looks at me imploringly. “Will you help me?”
“I know you probably think I’m just some spoiled prince who gets anything I want. And it’s true, I suppose. But I don’t know how to talk to people without ordering them around. Please, help me,” he whispers. I can see how much the request pains him.
“Well,” I say hesitantly, “I’m sure your men know more about wooing a young lady than I do, but it might help to get to know her. Do you even know her name?”
“No,” the prince says, thunderstruck. “I didn’t think of that. What is her name?”
“Ingrid,” I tell him. He whispers her name under his breath, probably committing it to memory. “If there’s nothing else…?”
“No, that will be all.” I turn to leave. “Thank you…Marta?”
I smile and nod, glad he remembers my assumed name. After he leaves, I poke my head out the nearest window and whistle sharply. In a few moments, Lars walks up.
“He’s ready for advice,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
“He doesn’t know how to ask for it, but he needs the two of you. I’d guess you are the closest things he has to friends. Leave him be for now, but find him tonight. He may only need someone to talk to or he may want advice. Just be there for him.”
“Why the sudden change of heart? You sound almost sympathetic.”
I glare at him, but he knows by now I don’t use magic recklessly. “He’s finally starting to care about someone other than himself. He asked me what her name is.”
The day passes quickly. Ingrid no longer seems to dread her encounters with the prince, which is some small progress, I suppose. Ingrid enters the large hall and I leave, watching with magic as I always do. Hopefully, Lars and Karl were able to speak with him and advise him. And maybe, just maybe, he listened to whatever it was they said.
“Are you happy here, Ingrid?” The girl and I are both shocked that the prince has strayed from his habitual question.
“I suppose so, Your Highness,” she says cautiously.
“I’ve been thinking about the circumstances around your arrival. I realize you didn’t really have a choice about coming.”
“I am happy to serve the monarchy, Sire.” Her reply sounds forced, rehearsed.
Heinrik smiles tiredly. “I’ve made a decision. If you would like, you may return to your family tomorrow. You are welcome to stay if you wish, but I won’t keep you against your will. You don’t have to decide right now, and if you say and change your mind later, you may go. You are free to leave whenever you choose.” He turns his back to her, and after a moment of hesitation, she leaves. I meet her in the hallway.
“What’s the matter, child? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
The girl blinks, dazed. “He-he told me I could go home, if I wanted.”
“And do you?”
“I don’t know. I like it here, I think,” she stutters. “But I don’t know if I can stay. He asks me every night if I love him. What if I can only stay if I tell him I love him? What if he’s trying to trick me?”
“I don’t think it’s a trick, dear. I’m sure he just wants you to be happy.”
“But I don’t know what would make me happy! I miss my family, of course, but….”
“But you’ve gotten used to living in a castle,” I finish. “I can understand that. You have a good life here. You get along well with Bear.”
“What do I do?” She looks at me imploringly. “How do I choose?”
I’m torn. Ingrid and Heinrik have made progress, small as it is. I doubt he would seek out another woman if she leaves. I don’t want her to leave, but it isn’t right to keep here against her will.
“Maybe you could ask to visit your family before you decide,” I say slowly. The more I think about it, the better the idea seems. If I’ve learned anything about this girl in the time she’s spent here, it’s that she loves the life of luxury she’s been exposed to. I almost never hear her talk about her family, so I don’t think she misses them as much as she thinks she does right now. “Go see them for a week and then decide whether or not to return.”
My words calm her. “That’s a wonderful idea! I’ll have a clear head and be able to think more clearly.” Ingrid stops, unsure of herself. “Should I tell him now?”
“No,” I say. “It would be better to wait until tomorrow. Think about it and make sure it’s what you want.”
Ingrid nods and wanders off to bed. I return to the prince.
“Did she tell you what I offered?” he asks in a low voice.
“Yes. I must say, I was surprised.”
“I spoke with Lars and Karl,” he admits. “They suggested I consider her point of view. I tore her from her family and I haven’t exactly been kind. Do you think she’ll leave?”
I hesitate. “I don’t think it’s my place to say, Sire. She asked me for advice, but I don’t know what she is going to do.” Heinrik seems to shrink at my words. I can’t help but offer him some hope. “She hasn’t made up her mind yet, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s likely she’ll stay.”
I leave before he can question me. I don’t know if he’ll like the idea of her leaving to visit her family. I doubt he would trust her to return. A strange sensation comes over me and it takes me a few moments to figure out what it is.
For the first time since I cast the curse, I actually feel regret. I stop walking, utterly shocked. I rush to my room and grab my communication book, frantic to hear from Aurora.