8. The Most Dangerous Room in the Castle

6.8K 643 583

Finally, it made sense. Why ladies must wear yards and yards of rustling silk that flap like the sails of a ship in a brisk wind. It was the same reason goats and sheep wore bells. They're tracking devices, installed to make sure chattel remain where they should be at all times. A warning system for wayward wives.

If not for the bone-chilling dankness of the hallway, Ashley would've preferred her thin chemise to her gown. As the library was the only room in the castle more forbidden to Ashley than Charming's man cave, stealth was essential. Every swoosh of fabric made her heart thump against her chest and her pulse whoosh in her ears.

You may be wondering, dear reader, why the castle library was so taboo. If you're like me, you grew up being encouraged to visit these establishments, with their rows and rows of books—pages worn buttery-smooth by curious fingers.

Well, in Ashley's world, libraries were considered dangerous cesspools of knowledge that could lead delicate ladies' minds astray. Only men were strong enough to possess the truth.

But Ashley had no choice but to risk it if she was to learn to be a proper princess. She had to educate herself. Princess Monthly was a start, but the articles were often superficial and tended to cover topics like "Get Flawless Skin in 7 Days With Lead Paste" or "Rodent Hairs for Lasting Lash Volume,*" not protocol or where to locate the fish fork at a state banquet or how to navigate court politics and appear regal at all times.

She took all the precautions she could, paying Chomperz with additional blood so she'd be her guide, then waiting for her husband and his entourage to be long gone before embarking on her library quest.

She used the time to return to her rooms to change into a respectable gown, coif her hair, and try to interrogate Scarletta. However, the strumpet had not been in the antechamber needlepointing pillows and gossiping with the other ladies. Even after a search by the palace guard, Scarletta couldn't be located. It was as if a full-sized human woman had vanished into the bowels of the castle.

Or perhaps the lady had gone on her own quest. A quest to find Prince Charming and make him hers. Ashley ground her teeth. But then she reminded herself, if Scarletta tried to steal Charming, it wouldn't work. No one, not even a gorgeous redhead, could extinguish the fires of true love.

Ashley tiptoed down the stone corridor in the furthest edges of the castle, past ancient suits of armor with empty eyes and rusted swords, the rasping sound of busy rats emerging from behind the walls.  She caught a whiff of that sharp, hungry, burnt metal Scarletta perfume.

Ashley scratched the new mosquito bite on her forearm. "Is Scarletta nearby?" she buzzed.

Chomperz, zipping through the air two feet from Ashley's nose, paused. "Naw. And yuk. Did I tell you her blood is awful?"

"You did." Though this was a small consolation, it did calm Ashley enough to go on.

"Bzzzzzz," Chomperz said. "Bzzzzz" didn't translate to "sorry I made you give me more of your blood in exchange for leading you to the library." It was the mosquito equivalent of "Shhhhh, we're about to pass old Borin's office."

"I can't help it," Ashley buzzed back. "Stupid dress." She lifted a mound of skirts into her arms, enfolding them like a babe, and tiptoed as they approached the seneschal's open door. Unfortunately, the only route to the library led past his chamber.

"Whinging Week is such a waste of my time," came Borin, the seneschal's voice.

Ashley held her breath. She had to pass her "babysitter's" office without detection.

"Yes, milord," squeaked a mousy-voiced man. Probably a clerk.

"Alas, the people excel at one thing—complaining. We all have problems. Mine is listening to their endless whining about taxes, property lines, food shortages, and gnome invasions. For an entire week!"

Prince Charming Must DieWhere stories live. Discover now