45. Idols and Trophies and Princes, Oh My!

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Back in Druscilla's tent, our heroes had precisely 17 minutes to prepare for the showdown.

Ashley, still barely disguised as Druscilla, had dismissed the ladies-in-waiting to enjoy the fairgrounds. No sense involving them.

Druscilla's tent seemed a lot larger than before, most likely because the corner where the golden Charming trophy stood was now empty. The thing was so huge, it must've taken half an army to lug it to the marquee.

Ashley sat before Druscilla's mirror as her friends poked and prodded her, trying to repair her disguise to fool the crowd and Charming.

Everywhere, the tent was abuzz with activity. And not all of the buzzing came from the vast fly population hovering over the buffet—a table laden with tea sandwiches and pastries intended for Druscilla. But now the royals partook ravenously of the bounty.

"This is delicious," Blanche said. "What is it?"

"It's an apple tart," Sadira said, loading a plate with egg and cress sandwiches.

Ashley's stomach growled.

"Are you joking?" Blanche said.

"Nope. Wow, it's good. I guess I like apples."

Ashley eyed the sandwiches from the chair on the far side of the tent where she was being worked on and sighed.

"Keep your mouth closed," Layyin ordered, brushing more of the pigeon poop makeup onto Ashley's cheek. "Do you want this stuff in your mouth?"

"No," Ashley said. "But I do want a sandwich."

"You'll end up eating poop. You can have food later," Layyin promised. "After Charming is cold and stiff and lying in his grave while worms feast on his eyeballs," her face lit up. "Extra incentive!"

"Gross," Ashley said. "Now, I'm not even hungry."

"You're welcome," Layyin said.

"Hey, Layyin, want a sandwich?" Sadira said.

"Sure."

"Don't you want to know if the bread is gluten-free?" Ashley said.

"Pshaw. I no longer fear gluten."

Tressa picked detritus out of the beehive wig, still balancing on Ashley's head. "Hold still," Tressa commanded.

"MMMshhallll shaaas," Ashley said. She couldn't open her mouth at the moment due to the proximity of Layyin's brush to Ashley's lips, but she'd developed a horrible itch on her scalp.

"I don't care if your scalp itches," Tressa said. "We're almost out of time, and I won't have you going out there looking like bees are nesting in your hair.

How Tressa had understood Ashley's meaning was a miracle. But even more miraculous, as the Princess of Xanthe pinned, teased, and smoothed, the wig turned into something not horrendous. Say whatever you like about Tressa, but she did have a way with hair.

Derek crouched at Ashley's feet, focused on gown-transformation duty. He pinned and snipped the battered pink fabric with pins and a pair of shiny silver professional scissors pilfered from the sewing kit, while surreptitiously snacking on an errant fly that happened to pass near.*

Kai, who had been flagging, took a few minutes to regenerate her thirsty scales in Druscilla's shark-shaped portable tub and was now toweling off.

The gong tolled eight.

Ashley gulped. "Oh, no!"

With each clang, Ashley's heart rate accelerated. If her heart were a horse, it would have easily won the Interkingdom Triple Crown. Her breath came in short bursts; her head spun. She could practically see her heart beating through the tight bodice of the gown. Sweat dripped down her temples. Oh, wait, that was pigeon poop.

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