Cinderella stood in the field of flowers, her bare feet wet from the morning dew, and watched beautiful flowers of gold and sunshine yellow sway in the breeze. Because of their circular shape and the way they swayed, the Sun Skip flowers looked like tiny suns bounding across the field.
The wind tugged at Cinderella’s apron and skirts, and she clamped her chin-length hair to head with her hands as she looked at her gorgeous crop. “I don’t know if they’re going to sell, but they are beautiful,” she said, her gray eyes softening as she inhaled the sweet fragrance.
“It is as you say, Mademoiselle,” Gilbert said.
Two months ago, Friedrich had first given her the flower seeds. Now, near the last month of summer, it was time to test his words. “Cut enough to fill a dozen buckets. We’ll take some to the market today,” Cinderella said.
“I will inform the men, Mademoiselle,” Gilbert said.
“Thank you,” Cinderella said, turning from the field. “There is something I must do. It will take but a minute,” Cinderella said.
“Of course, Mademoiselle,” Gilbert bowed.
Cinderella picked up a wooden bucket, filled it at the kitchen well, and grabbed a ladle before she returned to the flower field. As she walked the perimeter, she watched the servants cut the flowers with great care before arranging them in buckets of water.
“They look striking in the crimson, morning sunlight,” Cinderella said as she stopped by a copse of trees and held out the bucket.
Ivo—one of Friedrich’s men—bowed as he stepped out from behind the tree. “My apologies, Mademoiselle. I did not mean to be intrusive,” he said, taking the bucket.
“You weren’t. It is merely that I know better. One of you is always skulking in my shadow. Or is it more than one today?” Cinderella asked.
“The Colonel has forbidden me from mentioning your three-man guard,” Ivo said before he sipped water from the ladle.
“Three of them? Goodness, my criminal skills are rusting. I only saw you,” Cinderella sighed. “Where are the others?”
“The barn roof and the bushes by the kitchens.”
“I see,” Cinderella said. “I am going to the market as usual. Would you like a ride in the wagon?”
Ivo shook his head. “Thank you for the offer, but we will catch an assailant off guard if he doesn’t see us with you.”
Cinderella squinted up at the grizzled soldier. “It’s been months since Friedrich was attacked. Isn’t the danger over by now?”
“Not as long as the Colonel courts you, Mademoiselle.”
Cinderella sighed. “Sometimes I wonder if your charming Colonel is more trouble than he is worth.”
“It will delight him to hear that you called him charming.”
Cinderella snorted and felt for the chain of her dragon necklace. “Perhaps. Could you signal to your comrades to come out of hiding for a moment? I would like to see you all watered before we leave for the market. It is to be a hot day, and you all make me uncomfortable with your long sleeves and armor.”
“As you wish, Mademoiselle,” Ivo said, holding up a small mirror. He flashed it several times, making sunlight bounce across the land.
Cinderella saw a soldier slide off the cow barn roof, and another slip out of the bushes Cinderella stood by when filling the bucket.
“Thank you, Ivo,” Cinderella said, taking the bucket back. “You are a saint of patience. I don’t know how you stand these boring guard duties.”
“What?” Cinderella asked.
“The Colonel doesn’t force us to guard you. We sign up for the duty.”
Cinderella tilted her head. “If you will excuse my bluntness: why?”
Ivo shifted, making his weapons clack and his armor creak.
Cinderella flattened her lips. “I will wait until Gustav is on duty and ask him. He will tell me.”
Ivo rolled his eyes, more in disgust over his young associate than Cinderella’s craftiness. “As you wish, Mademoiselle,” he said.
Cinderella grinned and started to walk away. “Carry on, Ivo.”
Cinderella watched Vitore sell an armload of the Sun Skip flowers to a well-to-do Erlauf woman. After the lady passed over the right amount of change, she took her flowers and walked through the market—the flowers marking her with a halo of gold.
“Vitore, how many flowers have we sold?” Cinderella whispered.
“All but one bucket, Mademoiselle,” Vitore whispered back.
“The market opened an hour ago!”
Vitore crossed herself. “Mercy on Aveyron, I never thought flowers would outsell hotcakes.”
“Most of the customers are from Erlauf,” Cinderella said.
“All the customers, except for Madame Marie,” Vitore said.
“This is a strange phenomenon. I thought Friedrich exaggerated the Erlauf love of nature, but perhaps he didn’t. I wonder if we could charge more per flower…”
“Blessings be said over your Colonel. I will never call him a rake or rogue again,” Vitore said looking to the sky with clasped hands.
Cinderella grinned at the maid, but the gossip’s face was creased in seriousness. “Don’t tell him that,” Cinderella said. “He’ll be insufferable with smugness for a week.”