12. The Vampire and the Zombie

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A sudden gust of wind whistled through the castle green, prompting Tressa's inexplicably long brown tresses to fan out around her head like serpents. Once the wind subsided, her hair fell evenly around her body, covering her face. A cluster of spiders roamed over her hair. At least she always had company. Ashley wondered if Tressa could talk to them. What use is a mountain of spider-infested hair if it can't keep you company? Especially if you're hidden away in a tower for years with no one to converse with but a demented witch.

"Stupid wind!" Tressa pawed her way out of the tangled mass as if subduing an enemy. "It'll take hours to fix. Anyway, just curious. Princess Ashley, are you asking if one of us had you shot?"

"With that attitude, I wouldn't blame her if she thought you were the culprit," Derek said. Was it too soon to adore him?

Tressa pursed her perfect pouty lips. "Eat flies."

Derek rolled his eyes. "Oh, I get it. Because I spent a few swampy years as a frog? You're so clever. Maybe you should get a haircut already and being such a grumpypants!"

Ashley coughed, and an electric shock of pain bolted across her ribs. "Look, none of you has any reason to shoot me. At least not yet," she tried to smile, but couldn't quite feel her lips.

The royals laughed at her joke, even Tressa, and a strange warmth spread through Ashley.

"We ought to get a physician to take a look at her," Sadira said.

"No!" Ashley cried. "I'm fine. Totally good." Herverd, the royal physician/astrology-enthusiast,* adored bloodletting. Some said the man selected his occupation based on a love of sharp objects and blood. Others theorized that he was a vampire, and he used his profession to secure his nutritional needs. Ashley had to admit; the man had unnaturally pale skin.

"All right. No physician," Sadira agreed. "Can you walk? We should get you back to your rooms."

"Uh ..."

At that moment, a gaggle of castle residents streamed from the castle onto the lawn, skirts and capes flapping like wild geese. Ashley supposed it wasn't every day someone shot a princess out of the sky.

Ashley did not know whether their excitement was out of concern or the chance to perhaps see body parts strewn across the grass. Maybe both?

Perhaps it wasn't about her at all, and the onslaught of castle-dwellers occurred due to the unannounced arrival of six royals and their colorful entourages.

Regardless, Ashley did know that being seen by her subjects whilst covered in rainbow and human blood, disheveled and dishonored, wasn't entirely the "I'm totally a real princess" impression she hoped to achieve.

A regiment of castle guards, which included Terrowin, interceded and formed a human barricade, standing side-by-side and shouting: "Order. Order. Stand back."

Even so, two men pushed their way to the front—Borin, the snide seneschal, and Herverd, the blade-happy doctor.

Herverd waved a very sharp, very shiny, brass fleam** in one hand and a copy of Ever After's newspaper—The Manly Times—in the other.

Neither of these men was on her list of Top Ten People I'd Like to See After a Near Death Experience. Borin was a bloody turdbucket, and Herverd, a possible blood-consumer, and if you'll remember, Ashley currently had a medley of blood (both unicorn and human) stuck to her clothes and skin.

"Look," Prince Derek said, pointing at the assembly, "your royal greeting contingent has expanded."

Ashley shook her head. "That's kind of you, Prince Derek, but I planned none of this. I do apologize for the shoddy welcome."

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