Chapter 10

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“I failed you, my lady.”

Maelyn rested her forehead on her fingertips. She had taken breakfast in her library to avoid Uncle Jarrod, but misfortune sought her like a hunter.

“Don’t fret, Willow.” Maelyn sat in a chair by the unlit fireplace. Her feet rested on a padded footstool and she held a plate of warm biscuits in her lap. “The Book Miser is stubborn. And he never liked me.”

“Can’t see why, my lady.” Willow stood by Maelyn’s feet and seemed uncomfortable to be looking down on her. Though she normally didn’t note such things, his pale blue tunic and darker blue cloak effectively set off his golden hair.

Maelyn smiled. “That’s kind of you, Willow. Now, why didn’t the Book Miser want my book?”

Willow grimaced. “He said he never liked The Finicky Fairy. Said the story is too old, folk are tired of it. Said the book itself is too plain, no jewels on the cover or illuminated pages.”

Maelyn sighed. “If I offered one of my finer books, he’d give his rattiest volume in return.” She set her plate aside and rose from her chair. “Still, I’m desperate for something new to read.”

She searched the shelves for something ornate, an attractive cover to entice the miser. She felt Willow watching her. “Do you enjoy books?” she asked to ease the silence.

“I do, my lady,” said Willow. “I notice there are nine chairs in here. Do your sisters use the library often?”

Maelyn pulled The Carnivorous Carriage from a shelf. A creepy tale should suit the miser. And the pages had been edged in gold. “We have The Royal Reading Hour every night after supper. Some of my sisters enjoy it. Not Coralina.”

Willow laughed, startling Maelyn into laughing too. It felt good, lightening her heart.

“I never got along with my sister Maple,” said Willow. “Mother once said if the two of us were kingdoms we would always be at war.”

Maelyn’s brow pinched. “Willow… do you feel you belong to your family even though they took you in? Do you ever think your life isn’t… real?”

Willow looked puzzled, then his face softened with understanding. “My dear lady, of course you are real.”

Maelyn hadn’t expected him to read her so thoroughly. She thrust The Carnivorous Carriage into his hands and hurried for the door. “Try that. See if the Book Miser will take it.”

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