Chapter 26

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“It was a month after Father’s death,” said Maelyn. “I couldn’t sleep so I read a book through the night. Just before dawn, I heard rustling outside my window - thought it might be a bear. But when I looked out… I saw them! Our maids, our guards, our ladies-in-waiting - all of them! Carrying satchels and trunks, rushing into the forest like runaway thieves.” Her face pinched as memory revived the pain of that morning. “I didn’t have to ask why. Father was gone. They would no longer serve us, the ‘false princesses.’ ”

“I don’t believe it,” Coralina snapped. “Joc wouldn’t have abandoned us. Or Tessie. Or Nira! They’ve been with us since we were babies!”

Maelyn shook her head. “I saw them!” She watched the weight of betrayal seep into Coralina’s eyes. “So I did the only thing I could think of. As the last one entered the forest, I whispered, ‘I dismiss you, all of you, as traitors to the crown. You are no longer worthy to serve the nine princesses of Runa Realm. I banish you from this kingdom for the remainder of your lives.” She shut her eyes before tears could escape. “And then I told everyone I had dismissed the servants myself. I couldn’t bear anyone to know….”

Coralina drew a shaky breath. “Well,” she said, her voice a note too high, “we have to prove them wrong, don’t we? Did they think we’d perish without them? That we can’t take care of ourselves?”

Maelyn rubbed her nose. “But none of you seem to enjoy caring for yourselves.”

Coralina smirked. “Because we didn’t know why.” She took hold of Maelyn’s shoulders. “Very well. So a bunch of cloddy peasants thought they could destroy us. Us! The nine princesses who survived a horrible plague when the whole world was dying! We can do anything!”

Maelyn laughed. “If you’re behind me, Coco, I know we can.”

Coralina arched her eyebrows. “Well, not too far behind. I am second eldest.” She grinned.

The door creaked open and Arialain peaked inside the throne room. “Pardon me, Maelyn.” Her face still held the glum defeat it had since Maelyn’s return. “Someone is here to see you.”

“Willow?” Maelyn asked quickly. Coralina gave her a curious look.

Arialain shook her head. “The Book Miser.”

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