Yes. Anne is definitely a child. When it’s brought up that they aren’t an adult until they’re 25, it’s because they live such a long time they’re the equivalent of teenagers until they hit 25. – Tiff
The stench of a swamp invaded Anne’s room. She woke to Antoine coming in late, reeking of unspeakably foul things. Margery had waited up for him to return, like she had waited for Anne. Except in Antoine’s case, it was more worry for what he was up to with Alexis. They were hunting.
Anne rose, dragging her feet to the door. She opened it a crack, peeking through as her brother whispered to their mother. Margery’s face was drawn tight, layered in wrinkles. She pinched her nose with one hand, gesturing to the shower with the other.
Why did her brother smell like he had taken a bath in a sewer and the lake at the same time? “Ew,” gasped Anne as Antoine lifted his wings, sending an even more noxious wave of malodor her way.
He scowled, looking over his shoulder, pouting. “I got stepped on by a bobcat, okay?”
“In the toilet?” Anne smirked. He couldn’t be serious. Where did he run into a bobcat? They weren’t hunting a bobcat, were they?
“Ask Kaiden,” muttered Antoine, turning away and trudging to the shower.
“Anne, be a dear and get his nightclothes.” Margery turned to her with a sigh. “He’s fine. I do hope the smell washes out, or we’re going to have to burn those garments.”
Stepped on by a bobcat? Anne mused about her brother, who thankfully appeared unscathed. She went to his room and gathered his things, and took them to their mother. Antoine was still showering, in silence. The smell had begun to dissipate but was still strong near the bathing room.
Anne retreated to her room after a final goodnight to her mother. Camille was still asleep in the second bed, snoring softly and giggling. Whatever she was dreaming about had to be good. Anne settled into her bed and closed her eyes, but sleep didn’t come easily. She tossed and turned, her comfortable bed unusually hard. There was no getting comfortable, and she ended up sprawled on her back in frustration, glaring at the ceiling.
If she fell asleep, she wasn’t aware of it, only seeing the hewn wood planks above her bed. Anne moaned and, after a time, got up. She was far too awake to fall asleep, and trying had given her a headache. Camille was still sleeping, and Anne envied her. Unlike Anne, Camille was out within seconds of lying down and, once down, was out until morning.
Anne got up, making no effort to be quiet as she pulled on a light yellow dress tunic that went to her knees. Camille could sleep through the loudest storms without stirring. Getting past her mother and the guards was another story. She pushed the door open slowly and was met by darkness. The lights were out, except for a single amber light on the dining table.
What was a good excuse to go walking? She was heading to the kitchens since that was the floor Kaiden’s room was on. Judging by the smell of baking bread on the air, they were up early. They did have a few hundred mouths to feed. Morning couldn’t be far away.
Four guards stood in the hallway. All four turned to look at Anne as she opened the door and stepped into the hall. “Good morning, princess.” They bowed as one.
“Where are you going?” inquired the highest-ranking guard, Kris. “Your mother gave instructions that one of us is to escort you at all times.”
“Down to the kitchens,” replied Anne with a yawn, “for a snack. You’re welcome to join me, but I’ll be right back.”
“We have orders.” Kris nodded to another guard. “Tobias, escort the princess to the kitchens and back.”
Anne stifled a groan. She was not a child and did not need a babysitter. Gritting her teeth, she walked past the guards and through the hall quickly on bare feet. Tobias followed at a respectful distance. Good. Marianne intended to give him the slip when they reached the kitchen.
There were multiple doors and lifts in and out of the kitchen, as well as a massive flight balcony. She could be out and around to Kaiden’s room in less than a minute. Maybe he was waiting for her. He might have left the door open on purpose so that she could slip inside. The thought was exciting. She had never done such a thing.
Anne walked into the kitchen where multiple Naiads were hard at work baking bread and preparing eggs and other foods for breakfast. Tobias stopped outside the door.
“Hungry, princess?” asked one of the Naiads cheerfully, holding out a basket of fresh muffins. She was an old, round Naiad that Anne knew well from previous visits and had called Nana since she was a small child.
“Thank you, Nana,” said Anne with a giggle. She took a muffin and bit into it. “Blueberry, mmm, perfect.” She lowered her voice and whispered, “Where’s the quickest way out?”
“Balcony, dearie,” whispered Nana. “What are you up to?”
“Oh, just want to take a quick flight.”
“Stay clear of the topside. They’re skinning a bobcat.”
Anne cringed and glanced over her shoulder. She took a bite of her muffin and walked through the kitchen, talking to the kitchen staff in passing. When she reached the short hallway that led to the balcony, she lifted her wings and flapped but ducked behind a curtain instead of taking to the air.
Tobias ran by and leaped off the balcony into the darkness, shouting for her. Anne tucked her wings in and waited, hidden behind the curtain. He returned a few minutes later, his feet hitting the floor hard as he ran through the kitchen looking for her. Anne wasted no time slipping off the balcony and skimming around the outside of the castle.
The sky held a faint light to the east, puffy clouds catching the first rays of sunrise. There were Naiads, but they knew her by her wings and paid her no mind, guards or not. Anne giggled, landing on Kaiden’s flight balcony. The Naiads in the pond ignored her, going about their business.
The cool morning air was exhilarating, flowing briskly over her wings as she shivered and tiptoed to his door. They had been pulled closed, but a bit of the white balcony curtains on the other side was visible in the middle. Anne shivered, her heart racing as she put her hand on one side of the door.
This was it. She would finally see his face, because there was no way he slept with a mask on. Anne pushed the curtain aside and found the part in it. She squeezed through the opening and stood on the other side, panting with giddy excitement. It was dark; the amber lights shielded, so they only gave off a faint glow.
Kaiden laid out on his bed on his stomach, his form barely discernible, because he didn’t have any wings. Anne stared, squinting in the darkness. The lack of light had to be playing tricks on her eyes. Kaiden had wings, long, slender wings. Where were they? She walked to the foot of his bed, eyes fixed on his back. Kaiden stirred, a pointed ear twitching toward her, and he slowly opened an eye.
“What are you doing in here?” he shouted, far louder than necessary. Anne stepped back as he grabbed a pillow with one hand, holding it against his face. He rolled, his other hand going for the sheet he had been laying on, and it twisted around his body. Kaiden struggled with the sheet and tumbled off the opposite side of his bed, his legs tangled in fabric as he tried to tug it further over himself.
“Give up,” said Anne with a giggle, standing with her hands on her hips. “Show me your face.”
“Do you mind?” growled Kaiden, his voice muffled by the pillow. “I’m naked!”
“Where are your wings?” Anne hopped onto his bed, sauntering across the mattress, her wings high.
“They fold.” Kaiden stopped struggling, sitting on the floor with the sheet twisted around his torso and legs. He held the pillow firmly to his face with both hands, his head turned toward her. “Now, kindly get out of my room and let me sleep before someone catches you.”
“You didn’t leave the doors open for me?”
“Why would I do that?”
Anne frowned and stepped off the bed, landing in front of him. She grabbed for the pillow and Kaiden scooted back, kicking his legs against the base of the bed.
“Anne, no!” Kaiden began shouting, clutching the pillow to his face as his back hit the wall. He unfolded his wings, attempting to get to his feet, but the sheet was wound too tightly around his legs. She grabbed onto the pillow and tugged hard, determined to see him, whether he wanted him to or not.
His whole thing with hiding his face was incredibly stupid. In all honesty, Anne didn’t care what he looked like; she wanted to see his face because he was so intent on keeping it from her. The cloth ripped as Kaiden’s curved nails dug into the fabric.
“Let me see!” Anne screamed in frustration as feathers exploded into the air around them.
“No!” Kaiden clutched the remaining cloth over him, and Anne stared. Once again, she had gone too far. His entire body shook as he drew his legs up close and hunched over. There was a faint rattle as his wings hit the wall behind him, quivering.
“I’m…” Anne stepped back, a hand to her mouth in shock at what she had done. She hadn’t expected Kaiden to react like this, as though she had struck somewhere vulnerable. “Sorry.”
“Princess!” The balcony doors flew open, and three of her guards, including Kris and Tobias, charged into the room, their swords raised. They fanned out, allowing more light inside, and Anne purposely turned away. “Are you hurt?”
“No!” she yelled, stomping a barefoot onto the floor hard enough it stung. “Get out!” The guards stared at the scene, fixated on her and Kaiden standing in a pile of feathers.
The guards snapped upright and moved away from the door. Margery came through the balcony doors, the rest of their guards behind her and Alexis trailing them with Naiads.
“What is going on in here?” Margery scowled, taking in the sight. Her face slid into a neutral expression, and she sighed. “Everyone, out. You found her. Anne, return to our rooms. This is not behavior suitable for a princess, sneaking off into a man’s room.”
Anne nodded and didn’t look at Kaiden. She ran toward her mother as the guards began backing away. They still had their swords drawn, and Anne could only imagine how mortified Kaiden was. She couldn’t add to the situation any further by looking at him. Instead, she had to leave so everyone else would go with her—she hoped.
Margery turned in silence after Anne, motioning for the guards to follow. Anne glanced over her shoulder at her mother and winced, taking to the air. She was in serious trouble. Margery’s eyes blazed, her lips pressed into a thin line, a muscle twitching at the corner of her mouth.
It was better not to say anything when her mother was angry. Speaking, trying to explain or apologize, would only make the situation worse. Margery sent the guards to their posts when they arrived at their room and silently walked into Anne’s room.
“Good morning, ma’am,” greeted Camille, her usual smile on her face as she stepped out from behind the changing screen in a velvety green dress.
“Good morning, Camille.” Margery smiled pleasantly, motioning to the door with a stiff hand. “I need to speak with Anne alone.”
Camille’s eyes widened, fixing on Anne’s face for a moment before hurrying out of the room. She said nothing, grimacing at Anne in passing.
“Close the door, Anne.”
She was in for it, a grand chewing out that she more than deserved. Anne closed the door quietly, as if closing it loud would set off a fire. She turned to her mother, dropping her hands over the front of her tunic and lowering her head. Standing up to mother was not an option. Anne was stubborn and could be defiant to just about anyone in her family, but Mom, Dad, and Grandfather had long instilled that she respect their words—or else.
“Anne.” Margery’s voice was far less angry than she expected. It was worse than anger. Mom was disappointed. “I don’t understand why you did that. I told you he’s shy, and you snuck into his room?”
The words stung. What had she been thinking? “I only wanted to see him without the mask on. That’s all.”
“You have got to learn to control yourself.” Margery pinched the bridge of her nose, then slid her hand up, rubbing her temples. “Between you and your brother, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the two of you. You are no longer children. Anne, you can not act like a child and expect your behavior to be ignored.”
“I know,” said Anne, lifting her head, tears pooling at her eyes. “I know I messed up. I just thought…if I saw his face, he would stop talking about how we couldn’t be together because of how he looks.” The tears came, uncontrolled and flowing down her cheeks despite efforts to stop them. “I don’t want him to go!”
“Yes, well, you just insulted him, and not only that, you embarrassed me in front of our hosts,” snapped Margery. She crossed the room and laid her hands on Anne’s shoulders, shaking her once, then pulling her close. “We should pack up and leave this morning after what you did.”
Anne laid her head against her mother’s shoulder, sobbing. “I didn’t mean to! I can be better!”
“At this point, you may have upset Kaiden so much he’s going to leave anyway.” Margery’s tone turned more soothing as she hugged Anne. “I know you can’t help it sometimes, but you have got to control yourself. Get cleaned up and dressed. I’ll see if I can talk Kaiden into staying for the rest of the day and night. It’s the last day. I hope you haven’t ruined everything we tried to set in motion. Anne, Alexis and I wanted this to work out for both of you.”
“But he doesn’t want me,” mumbled Anne, unable to stop crying. “He doesn’t come after me like the others.”
“Of course not.” Margery leaned back, holding Anne at arm’s length. She pinched her chin in her fingers, forcing her head up to look at her. “Because he’s a gentleman, and he cares about you, even if he doesn’t love you…yet. But we know he will. You two are perfect for each other, and I wish we could give you the time he wants, but we will have to make him see that’s not possible.”
“Why can’t we wait?” Anne sniffled, rubbing her eyes. “Grandfather’s fine. It’s just a few years.”
“We don’t always get to choose our timing, Anne, for anything in life.” Margery hugged her, this time with more warmth. “There are other good men out there, sweetie. I know you don’t mean to be overwhelming, but you do need to work on controlling your impulses, or you will scare them all away, even the ones you want.”
Anne nodded, still choking back the remaining tears. She had messed up. Again. She hadn’t meant any harm and was starting another day hoping she hadn’t made Kaiden leave. It might be the last day she would get to spend with him if things did not go the way her mother wanted.