Part 44: Morgana's Preparation

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"It happened, however, that the King appointed a festival which was to last three days, and to which all the beautiful young girls in the country were invited, in order that his son might choose himself a bride." (Cinderella, Brothers Grimm)

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-Morgana-

We tried to keep up with Zenobia, but she lost us almost immediately after a few turns into a number of dark alleys.

Tannin, Brigham, Bassett, Baxter and I stumbled around in the darkness, searching for her, but we came up empty-handed. It was almost as if she vanished into the shadows, leaving not a trace of herself behind.

We exit the alleys and come out to the streets which are still bustling with the lively citizens of the royal city. I wring my hands together with worry.

"What should we do?" I ask no one in particular. "We can't just leave her behind. She could get hurt by someone."

Tannin's face looks equally as worried. "There's not much we can do. Besides," he adjusts the quiver slung over his shoulder, "as much as I hate leaving a girl alone, something tells me that Zenobia will be fine on her own. She'll find us when she wants to see us again."

Brigham nods in agreement. "She's a strange, elusive one. All gorgeous women are." The deceptively angelic-looking blonde's words are wizened, like a man of eighty years instead of perhaps fourteen.

Tannin cracks a wry grin in the younger boy's direction. "And what would you know about women, Brigham? The last time I checked, you were only thirteen."

The tension and worry slips away from our group as we all share in laughter. The boys begin a round of teasing, giving me a moment alone to think.

I gnaw at my lower lip and pray for the best for my friend. Tannin's right; Zenobia does have the tendency to mysteriously appear and disappear from our lives. I just hope she won't go too far.

Perhaps she's angry with me. After all, Prince Charming did little to hide his friendliness towards me. I hadn't minded, but it was uncomfortable while Zenobia was right there. She obviously has feelings for him, too, and I don't want her to end up hating me when this is all over. It's really only a matter of time before she discovers that we're both to participate in the marriage contest. I gag even thinking of what look might contort over her round face when she finds out. Just the thought of seeing her cerise eyes fill with the sting of betrayal makes me want to give up all notions of entering the contest.

No, I can't allow myself to think about that. Prince Charming is my dream as well and I can't give up on him, no matter what. He's the one thing that can save me from my curse, from the Witch, and from myself. I'll finally be free of the constant worrying and guilt that makes me want to yank my hair out in clumps and screech at the sky. Nightmares will forever be vanquished, fear blotted out, hope restored. The castle will be my refuge. The Witch won't be able to get to me because I'll be protected. Everything will be alright after I marry Prince Charming, I know it. It will be painful, breaking Zenobia's heart, but I have to enter the contest.

There's a light tap on my forehead. My eyes look up and I see Tannin smirking down at me. The rusty pad of his index finger is still lightly pressed against the skin of my forehead. He bows his head forward slightly, causing a few red curls to spill over his eyes.

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