Chapter 23: Grown-up Problems

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Rob and Zev waited in one of Cynda's many dressing rooms while Wilhelm conferred with the Princess Blanche. Rob studied this princess through the half-closed door of the adjoining antechamber; even from the next room he could see Blanche's über-pale skin hanging from her high cheekbones. Blanche's jet-black hair stood out against her pallor, highlighting how unhealthy she appeared.

No wonder Cynda had convinced herself that she's next in line for the throne, Rob thought. This poor woman looks like she's wasting away.

In the meantime, Zev occupied himself by poking through Cynda's wardrobe chests. "Holy Imelda Marcos! I had no idea Cyn had so many fucking shoes. She does have pretty sweet feet, though."

"Will you leave those alone?" Rob said.

"Dude, I'm not hurting anything," Zev said, but he closed the chest. "So. This quest thing doesn't sound so hard."

"Were you listening to Wilhelm? These dwarves have been missing forever, and nobody's heard a peep. How do you expect to find them when everyone else has failed?"

"I'll figure out something. Hey, you want to check out some more of Cyn's shoes before the librarian guy comes back?"

"Not particularly, no."

"Dude, I was just asking."

Rob worried he'd made a mistake bringing Zev to see Wilhelm. His cousin wasn't taking the quest at all seriously, and by tomorrow he'd probably be fixated on some other shiny object. If Blanche would permit Rob to examine her, he'd drop some hints about Zev proving less than reliable. Rob hated to think of a deathly-ill princess pinning any hopes on his magpie of a cousin.

Wilhelm returned, closing the door to the antechamber behind him. "Princess Blanche isn't feeling well enough to receive us today, but the young prince's willingness to seek out her friends has warmed her heart."

"Young prince?" Zev said. "Oh, right, me! This prince thing's going to take some getting used to. Hey, library dude, no worries about the sick lady. If you'll fill us in on the deets, we'll get busy finding those seven dwarves of hers."

"You get busy," Rob said, frustration seeping into his voice. He didn't understand how Zev could be so oblivious to other people's feelings, so completely disconnected from what was really going on in the world. "I'm going to see if there's anything I can do for Blanche."

* * *

Later that evening, Rob swung by the Dancing Shoes, where he found Zev's hands tightly wrapped around those of a visibly distraught Greta. He was surprised how quickly the two had come together as a couple. Rob loved his cousin, but Greta must be seeing something in him that Rob couldn't.

"You really can't tell me how long you'll be gone on this quest?" Greta said. "Or even where you're going? Zev, this smacks of a fool's errand."

"Listen, hot stuff, it's what's gotta be. I'm a prince now, with princely responsibilities. I'll be back as soon as I find those seven dwarves, you know that."

"And what of the dangers?"

"Will you let me go if I promise to be careful?"

"Would you stay if I refused?"

"Probably not, babe."

Greta spotted Rob listening in. "You," she said, pointing an accusatory finger. "You talked him into this."

"I did no such thing," Rob said. "I was just trying to help—"

"Get him killed," she finished. "But why should you worry? The good doctor has a sword-wielding spinster to keep him safe."

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