An Erlauf government worker approached the stand, and Vitore lunged to help him.

As the man bought the remaining armful of flowers, Cinderella started making calculations. She had one field of flowers, but she needed to keep some planted in Aveyron so the seeds could be harvested. They cut a small portion of the flowers that morning, and according to the book Friedrich gave her, Sun Skip flowers could be harvested and sold for two weeks.

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If they raised the price of the flowers…

“Is it enough, Mademoiselle?” Vitore asked, watching Cinderella count on her fingers.

“It’s not,” Cinderella said.

Vitore drooped.

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“But, it’s quite a bit. Depending how high we can raise the price, it could cover a sizable portion of the fine,” Cinderella said.

Vitore smiled. “We will make it, Mademoiselle,” she said.

“I hope so,” Cinderella said.

As Vitore bustled about, collecting the empty buckets, Cinderella tried not to despair. The flowers would take care of a fourth of the fine. It was an incredible amount for a single field, much less a single crop. If Aveyron pulled through this, Cinderella would expand the crops to include a variety of flowers. However, there were few other options of fundraising as the rest of Aveyron’s income was already spoken for between upkeep, servant wages, and regular taxes.

Still, chopping a large chunk off the fine was more than Cinderella imagined. Hope was not lost, yet.

“I’m going to step out for a few minutes,” Cinderella said, untying her apron and stowing it beneath a basket.

Vitore raised her eyebrows.

“Yes, I’m going to call on Friedrich,” Cinderella said.

“You needn’t explain yourself to me, Mademoiselle.”

“I doubt that,” Cinderella dourly said. “I won’t be long. I’m sure even Friedrich must be working this early in the morning,” she said, running a hand through her bright, silky hair.

“Of course, Mademoiselle,” Vitore said.

Cinderella shook her skirts. “I won’t be long.”

“You’ve already said that, Mademoiselle.”

“Good morning, Vitore.”

“Good morning, Mademoiselle.”

Cinderella left the cheeky maid and the market, and marched towards the outskirts of Werra. The closer she got to the regiment’s camp, the more it seemed Cinderella left Trieux for Erlauf. Most government officials and officers made their homes near the army camps, and their families milled up and down the streets during the day. Cinderella could tell their country’s heritage because everything about them was darker—their hair, eyes, even their clothes were dark and boring.

Every once in a while, there would be a splash of gold against the muted Erlauf colors—someone wearing a Sun Skip pinned to his shirt, woven into her hair, or set in the band of his hat.

“Such a different culture,” Cinderella murmured.

When she reached the First Regiment’s camp, the soldiers guarding the gates did nothing to stop her. They saluted her, but their eyes passed over her without care. However, as she passed through the gates, a large square of scarlet red cloth was hoisted up the flag pole with the Erlauf flag and the flag of the First Regiment.

The path Cinderella took was dotted with sedate, orderly soldiers. Like the ones at the gate, they all saluted her. Occasionally one or two of the soldiers smiled at her, but most appeared to move along at a brisk pace.

Cinderella was not fooled.

Up in a watch tower, a soldier cawed like a crow, and at the edge of her vision, she saw more than one soldier sprint to the officer’s lodging—her destination—as if hellhounds were after them.

A soldier “accidentally” let go of his patrol dog. The dog bounded up to Cinderella for a petting before the soldier leisurely collected the animal. Berta also “happened” upon Cinderella and invited her to the kitchens.

“Don’t you want a pasty, or Apple rings? You’re just a small morsel. You need to eat more lest the wind carry you off,” Berta said, planting her meaty fists on her hips.

“After,” Cinderella said. “I need to see Friedrich first.”

“As you wish, Your Grace,” Berta said.

Cinderella was almost to the front door of the officer’s building when a window on the second floor opened.

Friedrich—impossible to miss with his black eye patch, popped out of the window. He sat on the frame before flinging himself off it.

Cinderella held in a shriek, but Friedrich landed with ease. He paused long enough to brush himself off and twitch his Erlauf burgundy jacket into place before speaking. “Cinderella, my Pet, how happy you make me by coming to visit,” Friedrich said, curling an arm around Cinderella’s shoulders.

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