Chapter 17

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The Art Princess had given the dining hall a wintry theme to encourage the family to savor a warm meal. Murals of white hills and snow-frosted pines drifted across the walls. The morning sun melted through stained glass windows where hedgehogs hibernated beneath a naked forest, and foxes darted desperately after squirrels. Silver lace dripped from the white tablecloth, matching the silver plates that glittered like ice.

Maelyn waited until her sisters had finished breakfast and trickled out of the room.

“Uncle Jarrod, I don’t want to marry Prince Murdel.”

They sat at polar ends of the table, banked by empty chairs, four on either side. Uncle Jarrod ripped a corner off his bread and smiled. “Did I say it would be you?”

Maelyn watched him steadily. “I don’t want to marry Prince Murdel.”

Uncle Jarrod’s jeweled fingers beckoned her forward and Maelyn moved to a chair by his elbow, still warm from Coralina.

“So. You’re ready to give your reason for dismissing the servants,” said Uncle Jarrod.

Maelyn shook her head.

Uncle Jarrod tore another chunk off his bread and chewed it slowly. “Whatever would your father say? His nine little pets living like paupers. How ironic.”

He reached for his wine goblet but Maelyn swung her palm and knocked it over. A murky red puddle shot through the white tablecloth.

Maelyn shoved back her chair and stood up. “Why have you never accepted us?” she shouted. “Whether it pleases you or not, we are the children of your brother. You can’t reverse that!”

Now Uncle Jarrod stood, looming seven disdainful inches over Maelyn’s head. Maelyn returned his glare and refused to look intimidated.

Uncle Jarrod slapped her face.

Maelyn gasped and stumbled backward. Her cheek stung with a prickling flame.

“Don’t tell me what I cannot do,” said Uncle Jarrod in ironclad tones. “Sit down, Princess.”

Maelyn sat, fighting for a defiant expression while tears perched on her eyelids. Uncle Jarrod straightened his goblet and poured the last trickle of wine from a silver pitcher. He sank into his chair and touched his fingertips together. “Does this mean you refuse to go with me tomorrow?”

Maelyn nodded.

“And if I should have you taken by force?”

“You cannot force me to speak the marriage vows,” said Maelyn.

Uncle Jarrod tugged at his salt-and-pepper beard. “Well then, I suppose I must choose one of your more… submissive sisters. What do you call that little one who paints? The one with a gimpy leg?”

Maelyn’s eyes widened. Ivy. Who struggled to walk on a foot twisted since birth, struggled to breathe through feeble lungs, struggled with strange fears that crippled her spirit. Ivy, who painted beauty onto every brick of the castle and loved her home like her own skin….  

“No,” said Maelyn. “Not Ivy.”

Uncle Jarrod swallowed the last of his wine. “Very well – you choose.”

Maelyn flinched. “What?”

“One of you must go. And you know your family best. So tell me, Princess… which of your sisters will you send away?”

A lone tear shivered on Maelyn’s sore cheek. She had tried. Tried to defy him, as Willow had suggested. She lowered her face to the table and cried into the backs of her hands.

Uncle Jarrod patted her hair.

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