The following day Elle was in endlessly high spirits. She didn’t complain even when the footmen loaded her onto her armchair and carried her to another silent dinner.

“Bernadine is a saint. She is a treasure that deserves to be admired and jealously guarded, isn’t that right, Jock?” Elle said. Since the servants couldn’t reply and Prince Severin never bothered to acknowledge her, Elle had taken to addressing all her inquiries to the fat dog—whom she had taken the liberty of naming.

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Elle continued, “Her hash is heavenly and her cherry jelly is peerless! It is no wonder you weigh twice as much as you ought to, Jock.”

Jock breathed loudly, watching the piece of buttered bread Elle held.

“And the pastries, don’t let me forget the pastries, Jock.”

At the other end of the table Prince Severin sipped his wine.

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“It is beyond me how she manages to secure fresh fruits for every meal,” Elle said before popping a strawberry in her mouth. It was juicy and sweet from the sun of the day. “She even manages to present fruits that are out of season! Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. The chateau is magical, you know.”

Severin made a noise that sounded like “chuff,” his cat whiskers jutting forward with the sound.

Elle froze, her bread halfway to her mouth. Did the cursed prince just emit the cat equivalent of a snort?

Prince Severin nibbled on a grape, ignoring or not noticing Elle’s awe.

Elle looked down at Jock. The dog’s eyes were still glued to her bread. “Did I imagine that?” Elle asked. The dog scooted closer on his well padded butt. Elle shook her head before she spoke at a loud volume again. “You can tell Bernadine cooks only with cow milk. It is superior to goat milk—I have been told so by those with taste.”

Elle paused to sip her tea. “Good food must always been enjoyed to the highest degree,” she said before lunging out of her chair. She almost fell over, but she managed to snatch up her crutches before the manservant who usually kidnapped her crutches could touch them.

Elle rocked back in her chair, holding her crutches with a smile that was considered too big to be pretty. “If we don’t enjoy it, we don’t give proper recognition to all of Bernadine’s work,” she continued, as if she had not just held a wordless scuffle with a servant.

When she looked up Severin was staring at her as he chewed his food. His expressions were difficult to decipher on his feline face, but judging by the quirked right ear and the flat look in his eyes, Elle suspected Severin was measuring her intelligence level and finding it wanting.

“Correct?” she beamed, holding fast to her crutches as a maid tried tugging on them.

Severin furrowed his forehead and returned his attention to his food.

One of the footmen who usually carried Elle stood behind Severin. When he knew Elle was looking at him he clasped his hands together and lifted them shoulder height before shaking them in a gesture of victory.

Elle returned her attention to her meal with a slight grin.

No matter how low Prince Severin held her in esteem, Elle seemed to be gaining popularity in his household.

After experiencing nothing but troubles with her dresses and crutches, Elle knew something had to change.

“Emele I have a confession to make, the clothes you dress me in—while beautiful—are making it impossibly difficult to walk,” Elle said over afternoon tea. She twirled a parasol Emele had lent to her above her head, even though they were indoors.

Emele looked at Elle and shook her head before topping off her cup of tea.

“No, I am not being silly. I cannot fit my torso through the space between my crutches because the skirts are so large. I also live in fear that the already low cut neckline with fall further if a sleeve happens to slide off my shoulder.”

You dress in the height of fashion.

“Perhaps, but I have no desire to shackle myself because the aristocrats think women who resemble cakes are attractive,” Elle said.

Emele ate a cookie and ignored Elle’s plea.

Elle flattened her lips as she thought. If Emele would not change her wardrobe, who could she petition for help?

“Emele,” Elle cautiously started. “I need to speak to His Highness Prince Severin. How would I—,” Elle cut herself off when Emele excitedly clapped her hands.

The ladies maid curtseyed elegantly before sweeping out of the room, a bounce in her step and a smile on her lips.

Elle twirled her parasol as she watched Emele go with growing curiosity. She shrugged at Jock, who was seizing the opportunity to try to crawl his way onto Emele’s abandoned chair, aiming for her forgotten pastry.

There was a crash in the hallway.

Elle twisted to look over her shoulder, but no one entered her room. She was almost finished with her tea when Emele returned, flanked by four footmen with Elle’s usual chair.

The footmen bowed and waited by the chair.

Elle blinked. “What, now? He will see me now?”

Emele nodded eagerly as she plucked the parasol from Elle’s grasp.

“It wasn’t too short of notice?”

Emele shook her head, her smile still wide.

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