Chapter 3

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I wake up when sunlight hits my face. I freeze in panic, my eyes darting everywhere, not recognizing where I am. Why am I not in my bedroom in Prenner, but in a strange, cold-stoned room, on the floor?
Then I remember everything, feel the stickiness of my face from the tears, and dutifully get to my feet, as much as I would like to collapse on the floor and sob. My mother raised me to be a lady. My father raised me to be an anchor, a sturdy, reliable figure.
Guess who's teachings stuck?
A second later, there's a knock on the door. Matty's timing is impeccable.
"Enter." I call, suddenly feeling a rush of authority. In Prenner, I hadn't had a servant. My mother had... and she'd treated them horribly.
"Morning, Miss! It's a lovely day!" She grins a huge smile that lights up her round, rosy cheeked face, framed by short bobbing black hair. I know that would become the face that is my only comfort in this strange new world.
"Is it?" I murmur, stretching and feeling my shoulders pop. The king's bed is empty, thankfully, and has already been made neatly, and I can guess it had not been by him.
"Indeed!" She calls out something unintelligible to the door, and next second I'm being bombarded with faces, people whirring me around and wrapping me with measuring strings.
"What-" I begin, startled out of my wits.
"First we have to get your measurements, my lady!" Matty says excitedly, as they spin me around and draw strings around my waist.
"My lady, we're going to have to ask you to remove your corset to measure your waist." A man with a pointed goatee and waxed mustache, whom I assume to be the tailor, says.
"I'm not wearing a corset..." I mumble, still disoriented.
He blinks in surprise, but goes back to wrapping my neck with a string. I feel invaded.
"You- you have... wider shoulders, than I expected..." He mutters concernedly, and I make a face behind his back. Matty giggles.
"How long will this take?" I groan as the woman wraps my thigh with another string. She raises her eyebrows at the surprising width, but doesn't comment. A lifetime of riding horses bareback can give you thick legs, okay?
"Nearly done..." The tailor mutters, shoving the string under my armpit.
"What must I do today?" I distract myself by looking over to Matty, who's watching the proceedings curiously.
"Well... For the next few days we are to celebrate you and the prince's union, so actually... nothing."
I groan. Great, just when I needed something to take my mind off things.
"Enjoy it while it lasts." Matty assures me knowingly, and now I feel even more unsettled.
"Where... where is the prince?" I ask reluctantly. I need to know where not to go.
"Probably training. He left unusually early, though." She eyes me, probably wondering why I refuse to call him by his name.
I do not love him. I do not know him. As far as I'm concerned, he's not my husband.
"Done." The tailor's assistant finishes measuring my, er, bust (I'm thankful it's her that does that part), and she jots down a few more notes on a scroll of parchment. The tailor holds up the scroll, frowning.
"How old did you say you were?" He says slowly.
"Fourteen..." I say unsurely. He raises an eyebrow. "Nearly fifteen." I shrug.
He nods, but now I feel unsettled. Why would they need to know that? Was something wrong with me?
"I'll begin right away. I should have your wardrobe ready in a few days, my lady." He bows, and he and his assistant exit.
I take a deep breath. That was unexpected.
Matty picks my corset up from behind the dressing screen, and walks over to me. I blink at her.
"Your corset, my lady. You must dress." She says uncertainly.
"No corset." I shake my head. Her eyes widen, but she obediently puts it away into the wardrobe.
"What dress, my lady?" She holds open the left door and lets me look at the few dresses that hang for now.
"No dress."
She raises an eyebrow concernedly.
"Trousers would be nice though..." I grin at the look on her face as her jaw drops.
"M-my lady, that- no, I do not believe you can do that-"
"Trousers, Matty." I command, and she bites her lip, but opens up the right door and shuffles through the prince's clothes.
"You really should not be doing this, I should not be doing this." She murmurs under her breath, and I laugh lightly.
"See if he has a cap, too." I add.
"My lady, what are you going to do-?"
"I want to see the kingdom." I say matter-of-factly.
"Why can't you just wear a dress, though?"
"I'm a boy today, Matty. That's all you need to know." I say firmly so she'll stop pestering me. She pulls out a pair of trousers and a tunic, shaking her head.
"You're a very strange princess, my lady." She says. Then we both laugh.
"Just Hollie will be fine. No more of this my lady crap." I roll my shoulders, wondering just where I should go first. I realize what an opportunity this might be. Who says I have to be a normal princess?
"As you wish, m-Hollie." She giggles as she says my name.
I pull on a pair of the prince's trousers, not even wanting to think of how much trouble I could get in for wearing men's clothes. They're far too long, so I roll them up about three times.
"Jeez, he must be tall." I frown, breaking back into my usual manner of speaking, the way I talked openly at Prenner, forgetting my mother's proper etiquette. I can be a lady... for one day, minimum. Matty looks at me in surprise.
"Not really," She says thoughtfully. "In fact, compared to the other knights, I would say he's quite average... You haven't noticed?"
"Uh...no." I haven't exactly got a good look at him standing, have I? Perhaps at the wedding... but I wasn't exactly looking then, was I? Besides, anyone is tall next to me. "What... what does he look like?"
"My lady!" Matty gasps in shock. I raise an eyebrow expectantly. She sighs, and reluctantly corrects herself. "Hollie..."
"Right."
"You want- you want me to describe him to you?" She says in a hushed voice, like someone might hear.
"Go right ahead." I wave her on. I pull on a blue tunic, but one look in the mirror tells me I'm going to need something underneath to even out my torso. Maybe that was why the tailor was surprised by my age. I look at Matty. "Well, go on."
"He-" Matty bites her lip nervously, as I continue to eye her. She sighs, and watches the floor as she speaks, embarrassed. "He is... blond...."
"Yes?"
"And... he has... blue eyes...."
"Yes?"
"He is, um, very... very athletic... my lady." I glance at her, and she's blushing violently.
"Is that all you have?"
"And he..." She eyes me nervously, and I blink.
"Well?"
"And he is... rather handsome." She admits ashamedly. I raise an eyebrow, but make no comment. I saw the prince last night, and handsome wasn't the word that came to mind. More like... angry. Just, angry.
"Oh, and how old is he anyways?" I frown. Digging around in the drawer, I find a roll of cloth, like some would use to bandage a wound, and wrap it tight around my torso. It's much better than a corset, because it doesn't press at my waist.
"The prince... he is sixteen, I believe. Soon to be seventeen." She corrects herself.
I nod, and slide the tunic back on. Much better. As long as I don't puff out my chest, I could pass for a boy. Luckily the tunic falls to nearly my knees... quite a bit too big for me, but at least it hides my figure. A girl could never get the sort of information a boy could.
I recall what Matty had said yesterday about the king's knighthood, and frown.
"I thought you had to be twenty-one to be a knight."
"You do."
"But you just said the prince isn't yet seventeen."
"They made an exception." She explains. I turn to her, my eyebrow raised.
"For what?"
"Apparently he has much skill with the sword." She cannot speak without giggling slightly.
"I'll be the judge of that." I grin devilishly, back to my wold self almost, as a plan formulates in my mind, and I tuck my thick hair into a course cap. There. One smooth-faced, strangely feminine, young boy. "Where did you say he was training?"

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