Part 40: Midnight Falls

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               “When midnight drew near she saw in the distance a small light, and thought, ah, there I should be saved.” (The Iron Stove, The Grimm Brothers)

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               -Zenobia-

       It was just like a fairy tale: riding into a castle on the horse of my intended. It couldn't have been any more perfect. All of the accusations thrown at me have been forgotten, which I mentioned to Prince Edmund Charming during our trek. The handsome prince ardently apologized for his frightening behavior from earlier, and I forgave him. I forgave him and everyone else involved, even if I'm still confused as to why they thought I was the one to change to children.

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       "I do have one question, Lady Zenobia,"  Prince Charming asked me during the ride to the castle. I was busy trying to imitate the maidens from the pages of my picture books. They would daintily drape their legs on one side of the horse and wrap their arms around the prince as though he were life itself. I did just the same to Prince Charming.

        "You don't have to answer it if you don't want to," the red-faced man assured me. I could see the redness spreading across his neck like a cloth absorbing blood. "I certainly am not owed any explanations after my behavior."

       I nodded against his back. "You may ask me anything that you would like," I urged him.

        The Prince nodded. I watched him rearrange his hands' position on the reins of his horse. "I must admit..." he begins. He speaks slow and apprehensively, like a person using extreme caution. "You surprised me when you said that we were intended for one another. You plan on attending the marriage contest, correct?"

       "Yes."

       Prince Charming nods again. I feel the tension slip from his back like clouds making room for the night sky to display its beauty. He looks over his shoulder to offer me a dazzling grin.

      "Then I pray you do well."

                 ***

       I smile at the memory. The pads of my dirty fingers continue to drum against the table's surface.

        Tap, tap, taptap, tap...Tap, tap.

         "Zenobia?"

        My fingers pause in their rhythmic tapping. I raise my eyes and find Morgana's smiling face in my view. Free of the cloudiness that comes with daydreaming of Prince Charming, my eyes reel in my surroundings. I'm reminded of the fact that I'm in the dining hall of the castle we came to. Glancing around the huge, wooden table helps me to rediscover Tannin, Bassett, Baxter, and Brigham, who are seated on the other side of Morgana.

        I drag my vision to the other side of me, where I find the masked girl still seated in her chair. She's talking to the man in black armor, but I can't hear her because of the mask. I can't pull a thing from her expression, since she's chosen to hide her face with a mask, but it's quite easy to read the energy she's giving off. Fear, resentment, and distrust emanate from this person as clearly as light comes from the sun. She contains so much of it that she's nearly bursting at the seams of her freshly woven skin. I can only guess that her new appearance is the reason she pretended not to know me. I want to talk to her again, to ask her what she is afraid of and to offer my help, but I know that she will not accept. I give my attention back to Morgana.

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