“Are you sure you don’t want to change?” Jacqueline asked as Odette tightened her ponytail.
Odette simply shook her head as she reached for the handle. “This dress is fine. After all, there’s no one I have to look pretty for.”
“She has spoken,” Jacqueline whispered to herself as she followed behind Odette.
The second floor parlor was small by the rest of the castle’s standards, but still spacious enough to house a long table and a buffet with sparkling juice spilling from the fountain on top. Odette couldn’t disguise her awe as she took in the room – it seemed as if every space had been carefully thought out and decorated with an expert hand. A young man in tails was masterly playing the violin, filling the room with a luscious melody.
The virtuoso winked good-naturedly as Odette took a seat and reached for one of the glasses filled with sparkling juice. It was the perfect segue into luncheon, and she found herself eyeing the many delicacies on the sideboard. It was easy to see how her father was so tempted to dine – it was one thing not to eat the desserts they baked at the bakery, but staying away from this food was a whole other form of willpower.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Odette – I’ve heard much about you,” the musician said once he finished his song. “My name is Skyler, and I’ll be your entertainment for the duration of your stay.”
“So forever,” Odette pointed out.
“I think to think of it as an…extended vacation.”
“A life sentence.”
“A new beginning!”
“A tragic end.”
“I pay you to play, Johnston. Not banter.”
Odette froze as the cloaked man entered the room, eyes narrowed at Skylar.
“I do apologize, Master. Odette, do you have any song preferences?”
“Play something that sounds like you’re at a funeral,” Odette said sharply.
“Ah, you and the Master have the same taste.”
Luncheon was an awkward affair to say the least. As each course flowed, the silence grew until it was practically suffocating the three people in the room. Skyler crooned out some sad songs until Casimir snapped at him, seeing the tears in Odette’s eyes.
As the last course arrived, Casimir cleared his throat. “I suppose we can go over the expectations here.”
Odette merely raised an eyebrow in response.
“As I am the overlord of this castle, everyone addresses me as Master. You are no exception to this. Second, you are not to enter my bedchambers under any circumstances.”
“And I suppose I don’t have the same privacy?”
Casimir’s eyebrows furrowed. “Your chambers are yours alone to have the seclusion you desire. Of course maids and the like might pass through, but you can send them away at your own discretion.”
Odette bristled. “Oh.”
“You’re also forbidden from entering the rooms on the other side of the castle that you use the bridge to get to. Otherwise, you’re free to go where you’d like and do what you want.”
“Can I leave?”
“No.” Casimir blurted out.
Odette pursed her lips. “Can I open the blinds?”
“Can I uncover the mirrors?”
“Oh, but do what you want, huh?” Odette mimicked.
Casimir massaged his temples. “This is my property, and I have tended to it the way I see fit. You’re not here to start an interior design business.”
“I’m not here to wear frilly dresses or mess around with makeup, either!” She fired back.
“And yet you wear the finery anyways.”
“I won’t sit here and be belittled,” Odette huffed. “So if you haven’t any other imposing rules, I-”
“Finally,” Casimir continued, unperturbed. “You are to join me for at least one meal a day. I’ll let you decide which meal that is.”
“What choices!” Odette squealed, throwing both hands up in the air. “Shall we have breakfast? Or lunch? Or, or….dinner? It’s too much freedom, really.”
Casimir rolled his eyes. “And that’s it.”
“Isn’t it though?”
Odette crossed her arms. “I have an issue with the title ‘master’.”
“Please,” Casimir said, sweeping an arm out to the side. “Enlighten me.”
“It’s archaic and demeaning,” Odette exclaimed. “Let alone tiring.”
“Your Highness works as well.”
“Ah, I did notice the crown,” Odette said, gesturing to the silver monstrosity atop his head. “Very inconspicuous.”
“Thank you,” Casimir smiled. “I do try to hide my wealth.”
“Of course, otherwise there would be a violinist playing while we dine on five courses.”
With that, Odette stormed out of the room. She had had enough of the games and the rules, simple as they may be. As she pulled the tight ribbon out of her hair, pushing open her bedroom door with the other, she longed for the simplicity of home. For the struggle of working at a failing bakery and teaching not-always-eager children. For the mayor and his angry protests, for the strange prophecies of Emiliano and Jackie.
Back in the parlor, Skyler chuckled to himself.
“What?” Casimir barked.
“Nothing, Master.” Skyler assured. “It’s just, I think you’ve met your match.”
As night fell, back in town, Aurélie cooed softly.
“Oh, poor thing.”
The form on the bed writhed, trembling from a night terror. Unintelligible words filled the room, each more panicked and frantic than the last.
Suddenly, the person sat up straight and looked around in fear.
“Oh, Elliott – you’re awake!”
Elliott rubbed his eyes and found that his head was pounding, mind foggy.
“Where am I?” He croaked out.
“In my home,” Aurélie answered lightly. “You…had a bit of an episode.”
“What kind of episode?”
“I have some terrible news for you, Elliott.”
“What? What is it? Where is Odette?”
“Well, that’s the thing. You went into a sort of catatonic state after you heard the news, and I’m not sure you’re prepared to hear it again.”
“Where is Odette?” He asked again, more forcefully this time.
Elliott’s eyes widened. “What?”
“She died,” Aurélie shrugged. “We found her body in the schoolroom. When we told you, you went insane. It only ended when you knocked yourself out. You’ve been asleep for days.”
Elliott crumpled over as sobs wracked his body. This couldn’t be right.
“No, no.” Elliott choked out. “There was a beast!”
“Oh, honey,” Aurélie said in an attempt to placate him. “It must have been a dream you were having. Here, have some water.”
Aurélie picked up a glass of water from the table beside her and handed it to Elliott. “Drink up, dear. You’ll feel better in the morning.”