Chapter 9

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Arialain gasped and jerked away from the man. Maelyn recognized him now. Tofer, son of a merchant in Merridell. Barely seventeen years, and nearly as short as Arialain. He regarded Maelyn with calm amusement, as though enjoying her discomfort.

Maelyn’s fury found no words. She rushed forward and seized Arialain’s arm. “Home! Now!” She tugged Arialain up the trail without a backward look at Tofer. Arialain sobbed immediately. “M-Mae, please don’t-”

“Not a word!” Maelyn snapped. “Have you forgotten everything Mother wanted of us? The son of a merchant!”

“I don’t care!” Arialain cried. She looked back for Tofer but darkness and thick trees hid the path below them. “We’re not… we’re not princesses, not really!”

Maelyn dropped Arialain’s arm in shock. She faced her squarely. “Is that what you believe? Truly? That we’re not real?”

Arialain shrugged, wiping away her tears. “When Mother and Father lived, it was real. To them we were princesses. But they’re gone now and… and no one believes it anymore.”

Maelyn’s heart went cold. “How do you know? Who’s saying that?”

Arialain shrugged again. “Tofer says… some people think we are living a lie. That we’re… imposters… and not princesses.”

The mention of Tofer heated Maelyn’s blood again. “Whether you believe it or not, whether they believe it or not, we are princesses.” She gripped Arialain’s arm and pulled her up the jagged path again. “I won’t let you throw that away – not on a merchant’s son.”

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