Miss Ward stepped back and looked me over a moment before opining plaintively, "She looks like a Wyrm..."

"Of course she does!"

Mrs. Burke seethed with frustration, pulling out hair pins and throwing them at the dressing table. She dragged the brush through my hair, snarling, "It may not suit her, but it's the fashion..." as she divided it severely down the middle again.

A quick lunch was next, late and scanty. My dear Miss Goodwin joined me for bites of this and that while Miss Ward mixed colors. Mrs. Burke dabbed them on my face, deeming them too red, too pink, too orange... But at last, the maids studied my face and seemed satisfied.

And then Miss Ward gasped.

"No...!" she exclaimed, staring at me in horror. "Oh, mercy, no! She has a new freckle!"

"For pity's sake..." Mrs. Burke scowled fiercely. "I want none of your flighty antics. Today, of all days..."

Miss Ward looked injured. "There," she said, laying an accusing finger on my cheek.

Mrs. Burke grabbed my jaw and forced it toward the window. She glared at my cheek a moment, as if she could burn away the freckles just with the passion of her disgust. Then she grunted and shook her head.

"We'll start again with the lemon juice tonight, but there's nothing to be done about it now."

I rolled my eyes and let loose a sigh. I had long ago resigned myself to the fact that I was freckled, and that I would continue to be freckled no matter how many lemons I smeared on my face. They might as well wish I would wake up a boy, while they were wishing.

"Such an expression..." Mrs. Burke muttered. "She didn't get this insolent streak from her mother, I can tell you that."

Miss Goodwin had watched this petty drama unfold, silent and with a carefully bland expression. She spoke up now.

"Forgive me if I tread upon your business, Mrs. Burke, but I think perhaps you mistake Miss Shepley. Might she be not insolent, so much as despairing? Imagine if you watched your flaws multiply each summer."

Mrs. Burke smirked. "Oh, I do, Miss Goodwin. I do," she said, making a show of studying her crow's feet in the mirror. She squeezed my shoulder, then turned away, calling to Miss Ward, "Time to put the irons in the fire."

Miss Goodwin and I had some time almost to ourselves while the maids ironed my petticoats.

"I suppose we should begin," she said. She folded her elegant hands in her lap and regarded me with an air of authority. "Good afternoon, Miss Shepley."

"Moon and Stars, Miss Goodwin... A lesson now?"

A smile tugged at her pale lips, but she continued on otherwise unperturbed. "It is Sunday, the fourth day of Bloomsmonth, in the year 526 by the Common Reckoning, the twenty-first year of the Regency and the seventeenth year of Abeyance."

"And my birthday."

"And your sixteenth birthday," she amended. "And to celebrate this day, we shall forego our lesson..."

"Oh, thank..."

"Provided," she said, holding up an admonishing hand, "you can name the sixteen houses of the Baelgast."

I dropped my head to the table, moaning. Mrs. Burke warned me sharply against mussing my hair. I moaned louder in aggravation and flopped against the back of the chair again.

"The houses of the Baelgast..." I sighed. "There's the Kings, of course... Fridric and Fyric. Earl Rodbert, Earl Holbert. Earl Waldemar. And then the Fires and the Flames... Fyrbord, Fyrbrand, Fyrgar, Fyrhelm, Fyr... ric... Fyrwald..." I paused a moment, thinking. I had learned them in alphabetical order, but somehow I'd gone astray. "Fyr... dred, Fyrgar, Fyrhelm... Baelfrid, Bael... Belrad, Belstan, and Baelward. And Ermenhard." I frowned. "Is that right?"

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