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The days speed by, now that we can look forward to Ingrid’s return. Before I know it, the rest of the week has passed and Ingrid walks through the front doors. I hug her, startling both of us with my enthusiasm. The beast must have smelled or heard her and he comes barreling into the front hall. I’m afraid he will crush her, but he skids to a stop before running into her. Ingrid laughs and throws her arms around him. The two head off to entertain themselves for the day. I set about my daily chores. Out of sheer boredom, I’ve begun to do some of the work without magic. I’m actually beginning to enjoy it.

Dragon’s teeth, I hope this curse is broken soon.

The sun sets and, for the first time, Ingrid is waiting for Heinrik in the dark, empty hall. He smiles at her warmly. He’s a handsome man, but the smile brings a warmth to his face that makes him seem more welcoming.

“Welcome back, Ingrid. I hope you enjoyed your visit home.”

“I did. Thank you, Your Highness.”

An awkward silence settles over the room.

“Did you need something?” Heinrik asks.

“You usually ask me to come here. I thought I’d save Marta the walk,” Ingrid says.

“Oh. I actually wasn’t going to send for you tonight. I thought you might be tired from your journey.”

Another uncomfortable silence.

“Do you have any siblings?” Heinrik suddenly breaks the quiet.

“Yes, I have four older sisters and an older brother. I didn’t see my brother when I was home, though. He married and moved away from home a few years ago.”

“How did your father decide to send you to me?”

“My oldest sister is betrothed and my other sisters all have suitors. No one knew how long you wanted a companion and I was the only one with nothing to lose if I were to be gone for a long time.”

He nods thoughtfully.

“You have a younger brother, don’t you?” Ingrid asks.

“Yes, I do. I’m not very close to him because there is such a large difference in our ages. Also, as heir to the throne, I have many duties and responsibilities that keep me busy, and he has his studies.”

“I’m not very close to any of my siblings either.”

I smile and leave the two as they begin to have their first real conversation.

I write to Aurora to tell her of the progress the two have made. I’m hopeful that they might soon become friends. And maybe more.

My prediction turns out to be true. I no longer have to fetch Ingrid for her nightly visits and she stays longer than the few minutes she used to. In fact, a week after she returns, Heinrik summons me shortly after midnight to help Ingrid back to her room as she was unable to stay awake any longer.

The next morning, I’m forced to maneuver around Bear to get to Ingrid’s door with her breakfast tray. Ever since her return, he has been sleeping in the hallway outside her room, waiting for her to emerge in the mornings. He grunts impatiently at me when I don’t let him in.

Ingrid has just woken up and is quite happy. “Good morning, Marta!”

“Good morning child. You were up quite late last night. Were you enjoying your conversation?”

“Oh yes! Prince Heinrik was telling me about some of the places he’s traveled. Other than here, I’ve never been anywhere but home. I think it would be wonderful to see the world,” she says with dreamy eyes.

“Perhaps you shall, someday. Now, up you get! That Bear of yours will break down the door if he doesn’t see you soon.”

“Very well.”

She gets up and, after dressing, opens the door to greet a relieved Bear. She absentmindedly pats him on the head as she walks down the hallway, not bothering to see if he follows. He lumbers after.

I’m sweeping the library when I hear a thundering roar, followed closely by screaming. I run through the house, remembering only as I arrive that I have magic.

I’m so out of practice that magic isn’t a natural response anymore.

I find a furious Bear outside Ingrid’s room. I cast a spell that sends Bear to an isolated room and seal the door. Karl and Lars run around the corner, but I wave them away.

“The beast is locked away,” I tell them. “I don’t know what’s happened yet, but I can hear the girl crying.”

They nod and disappear around the corner, but I doubt they go far. I knock on Ingrid’s door.

“Ingrid, are you well?”

“Marta? Is that you?”

“Yes dear. I heard a scream. Was that you? May I come in?”

“Yes.”

I push the door open and gasp in horror. Ingrid’s room has been torn apart. She’s huddled on her bed, bleeding. I rush over to her.

“Ingrid, what happened?”

“I’m not sure,” she sniffled. “I was tired, so I came back here to take a nap. Bear wouldn’t leave me alone, he pushed in after me. I tried to close the door, but he got angry. He hit me. I screamed, and I think it scared him. I managed to get the door shut.”

I examine her closely. She’s only got one cut, but it’s on her face and fairly deep. It just misses her eye and runs the length of her cheek. “This isn’t good. I need to go get something to clean you up. I also need to let Karl and Lars know to watch Bear, so he doesn’t come after you again. I’ll only be gone a minute or two.”

Ingrid nods in understanding and I leave. I pause outside the door, happy to hear the lock click into place behind me. I conjure clean cloths and a healing salve, infused with enough magic to take the sting out of the cut. I can’t fully heal her without giving away my magic, but I can do my best to alleviate the pain.

I knock on the door and Ingrid lets me back in. I wash her face off and apply the salve. She won’t let me bandage the cut because it covers too much of her face. It astounds me that she can be concerned with her looks when her beloved pet has attacked her, but to my surprise I find it more endearing than annoying. She finally settles down to take her nap and I go looking for Bear.

I unseal the door and enter the room where I trapped him. He lifts his head, gazing at me with sad eyes. I think he understands that he hurt Ingrid. I think he may even be sorry.

“Careful, Heinrik, your human side is showing,” I mutter as I pet Bear’s head. I have rarely been alone with Bear and I take the opportunity to study him closely. He’s changed since I first cursed him. He’s lost the ferocity that made him so terrifying. If I were to encounter him in the woods now, I’d assume he was a normal bear.

I wonder if the reflection spell is adapting, changing as Heinrik does. I can see a softening in his personality and it’s showing in Bear.

“Well, my boy, you aren’t going to be seeing Ingrid for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if she avoided you for the next few days either. I can’t imagine what possessed you to do such a thing. You could have killed her!”

Bear grunts in what I assume is agreement.

“Exactly! In case you haven’t noticed, you are at least twice her size. You need to be be careful around her.” I tap him on the nose rather forcefully, casting a spell that will alert me if he tries to get violent again. It should stop any attack he makes on her as well.

I should have thought to do that the moment Ingrid arrived.

Ingrid stays locked in her room until well after the sun sets. For the first time, Heinrik seeks her out. He knocks quietly on her door. I watch, as usual, curious about how he’ll react.

“Come in,” Ingrid calls when he knocks.

“What happened?” Heinrik asks when he sees her injured face. He hurries to her side and hovers, unsure what to do.

“Bear got angry with me today. It’s not as bad as it looks,” she reassures him.

He tries to hide the look of pain that crosses his face, and Ingrid doesn’t seem to notice. I think Heinrik is happy he can’t remember his time as the beast for once. He cautiously sits next to Ingrid, inspecting the cut.

“It might leave a slight scar, but it will heal quickly,” he tells her. He takes her hand, a new look in his eyes.

Could he be falling in love with her?

I freeze as a realization washes over me.

By the great magic, I have no idea how this curse is supposed to be broken.

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