And then, someone’s teacup rattles into their saucer and the broken-off conversations begin again.
From across the lawn, the king catches my eye.
“Do excuse me.” I back away from the duchess, cutting her off in mid-sentence, leaving her arranging her face into neutrality as she curtseys.
I reach the french doors at the same time as the king.
He holds out a hand to me. “It’s happened, hasn’t it? That was it?”
“I think so.” He snaps his fingers and a footman materialises in front of us. “The princess must be found. I want everyone on it, right away.”
The footman bows his assent and scurries off.
Around us, on the lawn, the guests mingle and chat and the maids circulate with their trays of tiny meringues and confections.
The king reaches for my hand. “You were right. We should have locked her up all day today and had the party tomorrow.”
There’s no answer to that. I could have insisted, I suppose. Fate is fate, I know, but it’s difficult to see how she could have pricked her finger on a spindle if she’d stayed in her room for twenty-four hours. But the princess was determined to have her party on the day itself. And the king went to a lot of trouble to destroy all the spindles in the land. It should have been fine.
“It’s always possible that we’re mistaken,” the king says, hopefully. “We’ve been worrying so much about the curse that we’re making something out of nothing.”
I meet his eyes. He knows and I know that this is the real thing.
A shriek over by the food-laden table makes the two of us start. Our little niece is crawling out from under the long white cloth and nearby one of the older guests is attempting to make light of her overreaction.
I beckon to the girl, but she hesitates. I smile to show she’s not in trouble.
“We’re playing hide and seek,” she explains, looking back over her shoulder at the shocked guest who is whispering to her neighbour. “But everyone’s taking so long to find me and it’s boring under that table.”
“Hide and seek? All of you?”
She nods. “Yes, it was the princess’s idea. She said she knew a place where no one would ever think to find her… But hide and seek’s a stupid game. If no one finds you, you’re just sitting there on your own in the dark for ages and then you have to give up. I’m not playing any more.”
I kneel beside her and smooth down her messy hair. “Do you have any idea where the princess might have gone?”
“Oh yes,” she says. “I told her about the place myself. It’s this little tower, right at the end of the aunts’ corridor. There’s an old lady lives there, I suppose she’s another aunt. She’s always busy, busy making these big masses of wool into thread. It’s the coolest thing to watch.”
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