“No. Not even close. However, there is one closer to you who can do such a thing,” Angelique said before turning in Elise’s direction. “Elise can—good heavens! What happened to you, princess?” Angelique said, daintily covering her mouth.
Elise was too tired to care, or she would have blushed. As it was fall, all the ponds and rivers they rode past were too frigid to bathe in, so Elise still wore her grey dress—which was now more of an ash black color—and smelled like and resembled a chimney sweep.
“I was almost burned at the stake. You were saying?” Elise asked.
“No, no. This is unacceptable. We must get you properly cleaned up and fed. I would have thought your brothers would see to that,” Angelique said, wagging a finger of displeasure at Elise’s brothers.
“It isn’t their fault,” Elise said.
“It is,” Steffen said.
“We were, perhaps, overzealous in our desire to leave Verglas,” Mikk said.
“You noticed that just now?” Angelique said. “However, you are in good luck. It just so happens that a companion of mine has set up camp nearby. We make seek refuge in his house and draw up plans for your stepmother,” she said before climbing up the leg of her odd mount. “This way, if you would.”
Elise—mounted on her own horse—followed her brothers and the enchantress. Brida rode at her side, keeping her from lagging behind.
Several times Angelique sent glittering balls of light to scout ahead. When they came back a third time, the enchantress led them straight to a makeshift camp that reminded Elise of her temporary shelter by the pond.
There was a sorry-looking tent that was stretched to its limits and looked as if it would collapse at any moment. The fire was out. There was no firewood in sight, and tethered next to the tent was an ornery donkey.
Angelique opened the tent, which was just as ratty inside as it was outside. “He’s not home, but he will not mind if we use his hot water and salon,” Angelique said, letting the cloth covering fall back in place before she traced a symbol in the air.
“I beg your pardon, Lady Enchantress, but what salon do you refer to?” Gerhart asked.
Erick shook his head. “Just wait,” he instructed.
Elise, just as confused as Gerhart, was surprised when Angelique pulled back the tent flap a second time. This time the tent opened into a large parlor roughly the size of Elise’s room back in Castle Brandis. It was well lit and warmed by a roaring fire in a marble fireplace. There was a pile of cushions, two padded, strange-looking sofas, and a small, short table covered by a silver tea set.
“Please, enter,” Angelique said.
“Thank you, Lady Enchantress,” Steffen said, bowing before he led the way inside.
Elise craned her head to look at the exterior of the tent. No, her eyes were not deceiving her. Even though the inside of the tent opened into a large room, there was nothing outside but the measly tent.
“The owner of this tent is particularly skilled at enchanting, building, and producing material goods. He made the tent, which is similar to a large safe in that it is the doorway to different parts of his home,” Angelique said when Elise and Gerhart were the only ones left outside.
Elise and Gerhart exchanged looks before they entered together, embraced by the sudden warmth of the room.
“Princes, and friend,” Angelique added, glancing at Brida. “Please seat yourselves. I will be back momentarily with tea and refreshments. Elise, if you would follow me,” Angelique said, picking up the tea tray before she disappeared through a door at the far side of the room.
On the other side of the door was the most lavish bathroom Elise had seen. There was a fireplace that had an iron grid built above the fire coals. This grid was laden with rocks, which the flickering flames licked as they burned the coals.
The floor was tile, and on the far side of the room was a large tub. Next to it was a rope—which Angelique pulled—and part of the ceiling collapsed down, filling the tub with water.
“It’s lukewarm, but I’m sure you’ll want it hot,” Angelique said, testing the water before she used a set of tongs to remove several stones off the grid. She dropped them one by one into the tub, making hissing steam whenever a rock hit the surface of the water. Angelique tested the water again. “Perfect. You can bathe as long as you like. Here are towels and something for you to wear, and here are some oils if you cannot get the smoke smell out of your hair,” the enchantress said, setting a fluffy towel on a wooden chair before indicating to several small bottles placed on a stand next to the tub.
“There is no need to hurry. I’m certain your brothers are starving. I will see them fed. You may join us when you wish,” Angelique said, pulling a velvet curtain around the tub for Elise’s privacy.
“Your friend won’t mind this?” Elise asked.