15. The Power of Pants

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Not wanting to show off her pigeon-conversational skills in front of her new royal pals, Ashley peered over her shoulder, confirming she was alone. All good. She opened a window, and the little bird abandoned the statue, flew inside, and landed on the stack of towels.

Still in her bathing suit, wrapped in a towel, Ashley knelt beside Domino, her bare knees pressing into the tile floor. "Domino, you're safe. Are you all right? What happened? I was so worried."

"Terrible times," Domino chirped. "Captured."

"Someone abducted you?" Ashley remembered Blanche's quip about hiring Domino away. "Was it Princess Blanche?"

"Don't know. Princesses all the same to me. I'm a pigeon. Hard to tell. We're different species."

"My hair is blonde," Ashley twirled a curl, demonstrating the concept of hair to Domino. "Blanche has dark hair. Like a raven," she said, hoping Domino might understand a bird metaphor.

"It was dark," Domino said, lifting one orange leg and then another, bobbing her head as she turned away from Ashley.

Ashley pressed her lips together. "Are you keeping something from me?"

"Course not. Look," she held up one leg, then the other. "See? They're empty."

"I don't mean a note. I mean, why are you avoiding eye contact?"

"I made all the deliveries, didn't I? Time for sleep now," Domino said.

"Wait," Ashley called, but Domino had flown the coop. So to speak.

Every muscle in Ashley's body whined, "the bedroom is too far. Let's sleep right here on the comfy Italian tile." But she forced herself to stand, knees aching, and put on her now-crumpled gown. Princesses don't sleep on the floor—even princesses who no longer had a reason to worry about being a proper princess.

Out in the hall, Valeria sat inside a profusion of skirts, snoring. "Your Highness." She stumbled up and curtseyed, unable to curtail a yawn.

"You waited for me?" Ashley said, also yawning.

"Yes, Princess. I worried you might not find your way back without me. I mean, I don't mean to imply that you have a bad sense of direction or anything. But it seemed ..."

"It's okay, Valeria. You speak the truth. I do have a terrible sense of direction. And I probably would've spent the night wandering the halls of the castle, like an exhausted, hollow-eyed ghost. A ghost who might've had too much chardonnay. I mean, if ghosts could drink, which they can't."

"Aye, they can, Princess."

"Really? I've never met a ghost."

"One lives behind the walls of Cornell Castle. And I think it steals wine from the royal cellars. Bottles go missing. The stewards are blamed, but I think it's the ghost."

"Interesting. Is that the cause of the scuffling and scritching behind the walls when it seems like no one's around?"

"'Tis."

"And all this time I thought it was rats."

"There are plenty of those too."

"Do you know whose ghost it is?"

Valeria glanced around the empty hall. "May I approach?"

"Of course."

Valeria leaned in, smelling of roses. "Some people say it's a queen from long ago when the castle was new. And that her husband ..."

"What?" Ashley held Valeria's shoulders, trying to force the words out through sheer will.

"Her husband ... he ... he murdered her. And ever since, she's been stuck wandering behind the walls, searching for him."

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