After fourteen years, Eleanor Brice Desmarais knew the passageways of Eclatant Palace like she knew the patterns of her own thoughts. She took turns and stairs and ducked low-hanging tapestries without pausing; an unusually tall, unusually blonde woman, with unusually straight carriage. The servants were accustomed to the sight of Eleanor rushing about the castle. They bowed and asked for her blessing, for they’d long since overcome their fear of her mismatched eyes. Eleanor had twice vanquished the most feared magician in the history of the kingdom of Cartheigh. Her eyes— one robin’s egg blue, one reddish-brown— could not possibly be as unlucky as everyone once thought.
Eleanor lifted the skirts of her ivory gown as she climbed the last staircase on the way to King Casper Desmarais’s receiving room. White dress against white skin and the marble steps made her all but invisible until a flash of crimson besmirched the colorless tableau. A red parrot dropped from the chandelier onto her head, a jaunty kite let loose from a high wind. She tapped his scaly feet. “You’ll ruin my coiffure, Chou.”
“I’ve never liked you in braids, anyway.” Chou Chou flapped about on her head. His wings were like a matched set of elegant feathered fans—the sort the older ladies carried to chapel on hot summer days.
“Thank you for the breeze. It is warm for LowAutumn.”
“Don’t bore me with talk of the weather. I want to know why His Majesty wants to see you.”
“If you couldn’t find out, no one can. We’ll know soon enough.”
Chou left Eleanor’s head as they approached the Fire-iron door to the receiving room. She picked a stray red feather from her hair and shook out her skirts. Chou landed on a suit of armor. “I shall stand guard, my lady.” He tucked his beak under his wing and promptly went to sleep.
Eleanor’s nerves did a jig in her stomach as she waited before the door. Colors swirled under its silvery surface, barely perceptible, like a whispered riddle. She panicked whenever the king formally requested her presence. The same refrain rang through her head, an overused chorus in a bad opera.
He knows. He knows. He knows.
For over four years the secret had held, but she could not be sure of its safety. She never knew when, or how, King Casper would discover that Prince Gregory’s wife, the mother of his grandchildren, had conducted a decade-long affair with his son’s dearest friend.
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