The tap of the cobbler’s hammer on the bottom of the shoe barely resumed before a mousy-looking woman scurried across the market. “Lady Lacreux, whatever will you do?” the mousy woman wailed.

“About what?” Cinderella said, checking on the potatoes Vitore had dropped.

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“About the officer. You’ve caught his eye, mark my words. He’s going to try and seduce you,” the woman said, wringing her hands.

“The Erlauf devil,” added the milkmaid in the stall next door.

“He can try all he wants. I will ignore him,” Cinderella said, placing the potato basket on the counter.

The mousy woman tisked. “But he’s with the Army.”

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“I fail to see what that has to do with my refusal.”

“The queen has a soft spot for her army lads,” the tanner’s wife said, joining the mousy woman. “She may let him yank you before her with the complaint that you have scorned him.”

“Just so,” the mousy woman emphatically nodded.

“Mademoiselle,” Vitore said, hunching with distress.

“It will be fine, Vitore,” Cinderella said before turning to her growing audience. “All the man does is buy carrots from me. He has given me no reason to think he sees more to the exchange than obtaining vegetables.”

“Oh, but he asked for your name.”

“And you cannot miss the way he eyes you—like you was a wee rabbit and he a fox.”

“You best watch your step with him, Lady Lacreux,” the potter across the way called as he wrapped a clay pot for a customer. “No telling what he might try.”

“He makes it plain he comes here for you,” the sharp-mouthed milkmaid said, feeding her goats some hay. “He enters the market and heads for you, as if you’re the only person here.”

“Aye,” said a woman selling candles. “The rest of us is plain as dirt. You, Lady Lacreux, you’re why ‘e comes ‘ere.”

The public reckoning warmed Cinderella. Most of the after effects of the war with Erlauf were negative, but not all things were bad. Previously no commoner would have spoken to Cinderella. The change probably had something to do with seeing her work side-by-side with her servants, but their concern softened Cinderella even if their worries were aggravating.

“I will be careful,” Cinderella said to the expectant crowd.

“Good,” the mousy woman said. “We want none of their kind messing with our nobles!”

“Couldn’t you stay away a few days?” the ropemaker, a friend of the milkmaid, asked.

“What a grand idea,” Vitore said.

“No,” Cinderella said, wiping her hands on her apron. “He hasn’t done anything yet to make me worried.”

“He brushed your hand as if he was caressing your cheek,” Vitore muttered.

“If he makes any further insinuations, I will avoid the market,” Cinderella said.

The mousy-looking woman planted her hands on her hips. “If you’ll excuse me for speaking so, Lady Lacreux, if that foreign devil looked at one of my daughters the way he looks at you with that eye of his, I would pack her up and send her to her aunt in the country before the day was over.”

“Perhaps,” Cinderella said.

“But?” the tanner’s wife asked.

“But I do have the protection of Aveyron, and my title. They don’t mean as much as they used to, but it should be enough. Furthermore, I have made many allowances, but I will not let Erlauf keep me from conducting business,” Cinderella said, sticking her chin out. She paid her taxes and upheld the law like a good conquered noble, but she would not let this feckless officer affect her any further!

The commoners exchanged glances. “Pride of nobility,” the milkmaid offered.

“Foolish thing,” the ropemaker said, shaking his head.

“I thank you for your concern. Should the situation grow dire, I will not hesitate to take action,” Cinderella said.

“Nobles, think they’re above the worldly desires of others,” the tanner’s wife said, shaking her head in disgust.

Cinderella had to choke back the laughter. There was truth to their words—Cinderella would have to be stupid to miss the wolfish way the officer looked at her. But they were forgetting—those from Erlauf hated the citizens of Trieux just as much as the citizens of Trieux hated them. Why would the officer want anything to do with a high-ranking noble whose heritage, country, and inheritance was something he hated?

It was dusk when Cinderella started home. The market stall had been packed up earlier in the afternoon, but Cinderella had stayed behind in Werra for…reasons. Not that it mattered—she failed in the goal she meant to accomplish.

The walk from Werra improved her flagging spirits. The dirt roads were peppered with people taking their goods home and walking with their pack animals and flocks. The countryside was painted hues of orange and crimson from the setting sun, and the birds still sang.

It was beautiful, and it required no work on Cinderella’s part to enjoy it. She treasured the quiet moments when she didn’t have to worry about her future or taxes.

A farmer on a cart pulled by two mules doffed his cap to her as he passed by, his wagon laden with bags of grain.

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