On her other side Julien shook with the laughter he struggled to mask.
Marcus grinned and asked Julien across Cinderella. “You’ll tell your sister about the fireworks she missed tonight?”
“I don’t think she would forgive me if I didn’t,” Julien said.
“She’ll be upset she missed a good showing,” Marcus said, his voice loaded with satisfaction before he turned all of his attention to his food.
“I think someone is sweet on your sister,” Cinderella whispered to Julien.
“She’s twelve,” Julien said.
“And he’s barely fourteen,” Cinderella said.
Julien made a pained face. “I hope we won’t have to visit them often. They will be titled terrors with no sense of etiquette.”
“Come now; it won’t be that bad.”
“Yes, it will. My sister has taken to tree-climbing—heaven help her if Father finds out.”
“And your mother?”
“Turns a blind eye. Secretly I think she wants to encourage her,” Julien sighed.
“Think of it this way: they will be a matched pair.”
“Wild hoodlums, the both of them,” Julien said.
Cinderella laughed, aware Lady Feautre watched her with great anger.
The following day, Cinderella still boiled with anger at some of her fellow Trieux nobles. She went to the market with Vitore, but her sour mood scared off three customers before Vitore sent her out back behind the tent to restock baskets with produce.
When potatoes persisted in rolling out of a misshaped basket—one she had made—Cinderella lost her temper and threw the empty basket.
It rolled a few paces before falling at a pair of Erlauf army boots. “Why is it that the past few times I have seen you, you are in the process of an emotional outburst?”
Cinderella sighed. “Hello, Friedrich.”
Friedrich snatched the basket up before joining Cinderella with her produce. “It is too hot for such anger. What is wrong?” He asked as he briefly removed his hat from his head to wave it in front of his face.
Cinderella’s shoulders slumped. “It is nothing.”
Friedrich replaced his hat. “I doubt that.”
“It is only…It’s just…”
“Last night I dined with the remaining Trieux nobles, and…they talked about us.”
Friedrich handed the basket back to Cinderella. “So you want me to stop hanging about you, I take it?”
“What? No! I’m just so angry at what they implied,” Cinderella said, the basket creaking ominously in her hands as she clenched it.
“What did they imply?”
“That you are a dishonorable knave who hangs about me and salivates like an animal.”
“Did they say nothing of you?”
“Oh, well, they said my conduct was reprehensible. But what makes me so angry is that they would say such judgmental, ill-mannered things when they don’t even know you!”
Friedrich slid out of his Erlauf burgundy army jacket. “I’m from Erlauf. They don’t have to know me to judge me. Or so they would think.”
“But how could they dare to say such, such foolish lies about you and imply that I am morally ruined for speaking to you?” Cinderella spat.
Friedrich did not respond and looked out at the bustling back street.
“…Have your friends said the same sort of things about me to you?” Cinderella asked.
“Hm? Not quite. They know I wouldn’t madly throw myself at just any girl,” he said, brushing the fringe of Cinderella’s bangs.
“They don’t think less of you for befriending a Trieux lady?”
“I don’t think so. They tease me a bit, mostly because they haven’t seen you yet,” he said.
“Why would there be such a stark difference between our treatment? One would think you would have it worse.”
“Because you’re from Erlauf! You took over Trieux. Wouldn’t they look down on you for this?”
“Now that’s prejudice if I ever heard it,” Friedrich said.
“What do you mean?” Cinderella asked.
“It hasn’t escaped me that in spite of our close relationship,” Friedrich said, attempting to lean forward and kiss Cinderella on the forehead. She nudged him away before he could get too close. “You seem rather intent on making Erlauf the villain of the story.”
“That’s because you are,” Cinderella said.
“It is true! Erlauf invaded Trieux. Erlauf slaughtered the noble class. Those of us from Trieux are stuck in a quagmire of taxes imposed by your Erlauf Queen!”
“But, Darling, you’re overlooking one thing.”
“Why did Erlauf invade in the first place?”
Cinderella looked away, but Friedrich was not about to let the subject drop.
“I know you know the reason, Cinderella. Everyone does. Please tell me: why did evil Erlauf invade?”
Cinderella muttered under her breath.
“I didn’t hear that.”
“Why do I have to say it?”
Friedrich’s piercing eye settled on Cinderella with an unusual amount of weight. “Because it is very important to me that we have an understanding on this matter. Why did Erlauf invade?”