The minstrels take my father into one of their carts and close it up to hide him from the returning crowds.
While it had been whispered for some time that the king had become a Thrall, it had never been confirmed. Seeing the king in an enchanted sleep right after an attack by the Thrall could push some of the more trigger-happy folk into a riot.
Faith stays with my dad because I have to stay with Rancor. Stupid unicorn is taking his guard duty a little too seriously and won’t even let the parents come and take their kids home. I tell Rancor repeatedly that it’s okay, and please, don’t impale the panicking mom who is only trying to kiss and hug her child.
There’s always one kid whose parents are late. If it was my dad who was supposed to pick me up, I was that kid. I’d be sitting there with a teacher who wanted to go, and my dad would drive up with his phone on speaker, still talking to whomever was more important to him than I was. He’d blame mom, or his assistant, saying that they gave him the wrong time. I’d tell him it was the same time every day. Sometimes he’d say he was sorry, but usually he’d change the subject.
My dad’s an ass and he’ll never be a good father. But Princess Pleasant’s father locked her in a tower. On the neglect-o-meter, my dad barely registers. Plus, he loves me, and I love him, so I guess I’ll take my ass of a father any day. If I’m lucky I’ll get to take him home. If I haven’t ruined his life along with mine, that is.
The last kid goes, but I stay there in the grass. I must be crying because Rancor comes over and licks my face. I hear Torvold approaching. I know it’s him because of the soft clinking of Calx against his chainmail.
He goes to Rancor and drops a bag of apples in front of him. Rancor waits for Torvold to walk away before approaching, but then he digs in. Torvold sits down next to me. I don’t say anything for a while. When he opens his mouth to start talking, I interrupt him.
”Don’t tell me I’m being uncharacteristically quiet,” I say.
“I won’t,” he replies, smiling to himself because he probably was going to say that.
“Don’t tell me I have nothing to fear.”
“I won’t,” he says, like it’s obvious we both have a lot to fear.
“And don’t tell me you’re going to fix everything.”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment. “I won’t.”
He puts an arm around me and I tip my head to the side until it rests on his shoulder.
At some point I must have fallen asleep because I wake at dawn. I’m lying on my side with Torvold curled up behind me.
I have never awoken with a guy pressed up against me before and it’s kind of freaking me out. Not that I don’t like it. I do. Too much, actually. I try to edge away from Torvold without him noticing, so of course he startles awake. His hand goes to Calx.
“Are you alright, Princess?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, embarrassed. He looks amazing horizontal. “We must have fallen asleep.”
He sits up and smiles. “I was going to carry you into the cart, but I…I was comfortable.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “With me asleep on your arm?” I ask, not buying it.
“Quite comfortable,” he insists.
“Oh, it’s lovely. I’ll do it to you tonight so you can see,” he jokes, and then he suddenly isn’t joking anymore. He’s actually grown quite serious. He touches his heart, where he’s hidden my maiden’s circlet. “Princess, I—”
I bolt to my feet. “We must part, Sir Torvold. It would be unseemly for anyone to find us like this,” I say. Then I start charging toward the minstrel cart.
“Wait,” Torvold says, getting up and following me. “I meant no offense by lying next to you,” he yells as he chases me. He catches up to me and takes my arm to stop me. “I would never do anything to besmirch your name, and yet I couldn’t seem to bid you goodnight when I should have.”
“Please, good Sir Knight,” I say shrugging my arm from his grasp, but he continues.
“I find I am at war with myself. I have sworn to protect your virtue, when in truth, I may be the greatest danger to it.” The look he gives me is pure longing. It’s so frigging steamy I almost faint. I actually have to put a hand against his chest so I don’t fall over. He smiles when I touch him, and his voice lowers to a whisper. “We are, as yet, unwed. That is why I must ask you—”
Holy shit balls. Is he going to ask me to marry him?
“I think it would be best if I went to my father now,” I say, stepping away abruptly. “Good morrow, Sir Torvold.”
And I run like hell away from him.
I burst into the cart where my father is stretched out in his enchanted sleep and I see someone I was not expecting.
“What are you doing here?” I ask breathlessly.
“You look flushed,” Mother Maybe replies. “Is the story swoony enough for you yet?”
Torvold enters the cart after me, “Princess, please allow me to finish,” he’s saying. He stops when he sees Mother Maybe sitting next to Faith.
“Yes, do finish, Sir Torvold,” Mother Maybe says pleasantly. “Or is this a private conversation?”
“Your Grace,” Sir Torvold replies, bowing to Mother Maybe. “Your sister Faith said that you would make yourself known to me at your discretion.”
I can’t even stand it.
“You’re a White Witch?” I ask Mother Maybe. “I didn’t know Deception was a Virtue.”
“Princess!” Sir Torvold gasps. “Forgive her, Your Grace. I’ve put her in an ill humor.” He looks down, ashamed. “I fear I have offered her insult.”
Mother Maybe smiles at Torvold like she wants to pinch his cheeks and cook him dinner. “I find that hard to believe.” She waves a hand, dismissing it. “Your princess and I have had dealings before, and I’m afraid she hasn’t fared well where I’m concerned.”
Torvold looks startled as he glances over at me. I cross my arms, refusing to address it.
“I didn’t come here for the Princess,” Mother Maybe continues. “I came here to aid you in the days to come. The Battle at Knob Knoll approaches. Faith and I shall be by your side.”
Torvold kneels. “And I shall strive to be worthy of your aid.”
Mother Maybe shoots me a look over Torvold’s bent head. We both know how this turns out for him. Unless there is no battle.
“Rise Sir Torvold. The White Witches have chosen you as our champion. We will help you draw an army to your banner.”
Torvold rises with an uncertain look on his face. “My quest was not to rally an army, but to find as many White Witches as I could.”
“You have found all of us that are left,” Faith replies.
The silence that follows is deafening.
“Then we must depart as soon as we can,” Torvold says resolutely. He turns to me. “I take my leave, Princess, but I beg an audience with you at a later time to finish our conversation.”
I tip my head down in reluctant assent. Again, he takes my hand and touches the tips of my fingers to the outline of my maiden’s circlet over his heart before quitting the cart.
I plunk down next to my dad.
“What are you going to do, Princess?” Mother Maybe asks.
“Don’t you worry,” I tell her numbly. I can still smell Torvold in my hair, on my dress, in my skin. “It’ll be heroic.”