Anya and the Secrets of Cupola

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The Ball

“RUN!!” shouted Gevin.

Anya stayed on Gevin’s heels. They flew up the dead end path and out onto the main courtyard. Not even trying to hide, he led her all the way across the center of it towards the main gate. Anya assumed they were going home, but instead, he turned towards Taika’s.

She panted, “Why are we going here?”

“Because they won’t look here,” he panted back.

“Why not?”

They took another right and sprinted past a round cob home with a green metal roof. “This is the good side of town. Remember? They’re more trusted.”

Gevin skidded to a stop outside of Taika’s door. Anya almost ran into him. “Good thinking. You’re probably right.”

He nodded and knocked. They waited. Things were awfully quiet. Anya wrung her hands and bounced in place. Gevin looked at her funny. He asked, “You gotta pee or something?”

“Very—” the door opened before she could finish her retort. Gevin pushed Anya past Taika from behind and followed behind her. He then turned and slammed the door, barring it. Anya, no longer panting but still sweating, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the center of the room.

The Wolf’s were gawking up at them from the dinner table. All of them. Mingan’s fork was halfway to his mouth. Ciqala’s gaze darted from his sister to Anya and then Gevin. One of his eyebrows cocked high in amusement, but Anya could tell he was more suspicious than amused. Ms. Wolf’s face, on the other hand, turned stern. Her eyes flitted back and forth between the three of them. Mr. Wolf didn’t act quite so angry, just curious.

Anya smiled sheepishly while Gevin tried to apologize. “Uh, sorry folks. Didn’t mean to interrupt. We … uh … we were on our way to tell—to give Taika something. A note. To give her a note, when bees started chasing us.”

Anya nodded and raised her arms over her head to mimic bees flying around the air.

“And so that’s why we’re all out of breath, and sweaty. And why I slammed the door. Sorry.”

Anya raised her palms and shoulders up in an apologetic shrug.

“Didn’t mean to be rude or frighten anyone.”

Most of the Wolf’s went back to eating, except for Ms. Wolf, who gave her daughter a warning glare.

Taika led them to the back room. “Perhaps it would be best if we talked in here.”

Anya and Gevin both waved at the diners, embarrassed and awkward.

Once they reached the back room, the noise of forks scraping dishes from the other room made Anya feel safer about talking.

Taika asked, “What is going on?”

“Your stupid plan backfired is what’s going on!” Gevin whispered back at her.

Taika sounded concerned. “What happened?”

Anya relayed the story once again.

As soon as she finished, Taika’s eyes widened with excitement. “That proves it! She’s known about the Field and that it’s shrinking this whole time!”

That’s what you get from this? Not that Anya almost got blamed for treason, or that we had to outrun the Queen’s guards?” screamed back Gevin in a hoarse whisper.

“But that’s just it, she wasn’t,” said Taika. “I knew the Queen could never believe a lowly Kitchen Elf could have written that letter.”

“Hey!” shouted Anya in protest.

“Sorry, Anya. I don’t think you’re incapable, but she does.” Taika turned to Gevin. “And Gevin, listening outside the window was your idea, not mine.”

He huffed with indignation and then turned to leave. “Come on, Ahnny. We have a dance lesson tonight anyway.”

She had forgotten to mention her working during Ball week. “Oh. About that.” She sighed. “I can’t go to the Ball.”

“Why not?”

“Both shifts have to work all of Ball week in order to get everything done. I can’t go to the Ball because I’ll be in the kitchen … working.”

“Are you serious? That’s not fair, man!”

“I’m sorry,” said Taika with genuine sympathy. “When did you find out?”

“Today. I overheard two girls talking about it. No one bothered to tell me. Apparently it’s an every year thing.”

“Well that sucks,” said Gevin.

Anya nodded.

“Taika?” Mr. Wolf sounded impatient.

They all three entered the main room again. Taika responded, “I’m sorry, Dad. We’re done now. They were just leaving.”

Anya apologized as well. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wolf. We didn’t mean to interrupt your meal.”

Taika’s dad nodded curtly.

“Yeah, I reckon those bees are gone now, right Ahnny?”

“Rrright.” She waved. “Bye.”

Gevin kept waving with enthusiasm. “Bye.”

Anya nudged him towards the door.

“Enjoy your meal!” he shouted as Anya pushed past him.

She lifted the bar and opened it.

“Thanks for the hospital—”

Anya pushed him through and shut the door behind them.

“Ow! Hey, what’d you do that for?”

“What is the matter with you?” Anya whispered through clenched teeth.

“Just playing along, you know, so they never suspect our cover.”

Anya rolled her eyes and started walking home. He couldn’t be serious! They’d have to blind and stupid not to have seen something was up with the two of them in there.

Gevin caught up. “Oh hey, uh, I’m real sorry about you having to work Ball week. I mean, after taking lessons and getting your mom to alter her dress and all.”

Anya stopped walking and hit her forehead with the heel of her palm. “Ugh. Mom’s dress.”

“You think she’s gonna be upset?”

“Probably. It was the dress she wore to the Ball with Dad. I hope she hasn’t finished already.”

They walked in silence down Taika’s street. When they reached the main road, Anya gasped. She jerked Gevin back by his shirttail. “Guards!”

“Where?”

“On the main street.”

Gevin peeked around the corner of the house. He whispered over his shoulder, “There’s one facing this way. He’s got on his armor and is holding a spear.” After glancing the other way, he shook his head, indicating no one. He straightened his shirt and brushed himself off before whispering, “Just act natural.”

Loud and proud, he bellowed out, “So this shepherd boy comes up to me and starts talking about—” He waved at the guard. “Hey, how ya doing?”

The guard scowled in their direction.

Anya gave a shy wave and nod, then scurried to the other side of the street before the guard could say anything. As soon as Gevin joined her, Anya asked, “Do you think we’re safe?”

Gevin held up a finger, listening. He shrugged. “I guess so. I was hoping they would ignore a couple of kids.”

They continued on their way. When they got to their side of town, and out of earshot of the guards, Gevin said, “I guess there’s no reason to keep dancing, huh?”

She thought he sounded sad. “We can keep dancing if you want to.”

“Nah. I mean, if you’re not going, there’s not much of a point. Is there?”

What was that she felt? Was that disappointment? It was. She was actually disappointed. But why? She didn’t want to dance in front of others. She didn’t want to deal with the whole “Who did you go with” garbage. She was nervous and dreaded every part of it, and yet, she wanted to go. Badly. The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to see its beauty, to taste its food, to hear its music.

But she didn’t dare tell him that. “No. You’re right. There’s no reason to.”

They reached their homes. “See ya Gev.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

She opened the door and found her mother sitting on the bed, working on the ballgown. Her mother looked up from her work and smiled broadly, clearly happy with the prospect of her daughter wearing her old dress to the Ball. Anya smiled back and sat down next to her. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“I have something to tell you.”

Her mother put down her sewing. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“I can’t go to the Ball.”

“Why not?”

Her mother seemed more concerned than sad, which made Anya somewhat relieved. “I have to work instead.”

“I don’t understand.”

“During Ball week, both staffs of the kitchen have to work together. So I’ll be working that whole week.” She shrugged. “I can’t go.”

“Oh Anya.” Her mother put the dress to the side and scooched over to her daughter. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” She gave her a warm hug.

Anya’s voice was muffled by her mother’s shoulder. “I’m sorry too, Mom.”

“Why are you sorry? It’s not your fault.” She reached up and stroked her daughter’s hair.

“Because you spent so much time altering your dress, and I can’t even wear it. Because you got Ms. Lancaster to teach me how to dance, and I’m not going to. And”—She drew back and sighed—“because I lost a week’s pay.”

Her mother’s voice became stern. “Now how did you do that?”

“It was Canis.”

“Again?”

“The Queen got mad at her, so she and Cook told her it was my fault.”

“The Queen?”

She peered up at her mother. “It’s OK. I mean, the Queen doesn’t believe them.”

“Did she tell you that?”

Oops. “Not exactly. We overheard her.”

“We?”

“Yeah, Gevin and I were … talking about how I’m not going to get to go to the Ball, and we overheard her telling some of her guards that there’s no way I could have done it.”

Her mother looked at Anya as though she had just said she could change into a horse at will. “And what is it you ‘haven’t’ done?”

Anya shrugged. “I dunno. She was really mad is all I know. She banned Canis from her Tray Maid position for it. But Cook still docked my pay, I guess to make sure it looks like it was all my fault and all.”

Her mother let out an exasperated sigh. “How much longer are they going to keep doing this to you?”

Anya shrugged.

“The amount of anger that I feel right now…”

“I know.”

“And I can’t do anything about it or…”

“I know that too. Mom, I don’t want you to do anything. I just didn’t want you to wonder where the money went to.”

Her mother pushed Anya’s loose strands behind her ear again. “Thank you for telling me. I’m sorry things are so difficult—”

“Mom!” Anya didn’t want to hear another speech about not being able to make a better life for her and Terrence, so Anya stopped her mother before she could go any further. “It’s fine.”

Her mother stopped, but her eyes glistened. “And as far as everything else goes … don’t worry about it. I’m not mad about the dress, and I’m sure Gevin’s mother will understand about the dance lessons.”

Terrence barged through the door and walked over to the pot of food. He began filling himself a bowl without acknowledging anyone else.

“Hello, Terrence.” Their mother gave him a correcting stare.

Terrence stopped mid-bite. “Oh hey. Sorry. You done with that dress yet?”

Anya and her mother shared a meaningful look. Her mother rose to put away the dress. “Anya’s not going, Terrence. She has to work.”

He continued to slurp his supper. “What happened, Sis? Did they pass a rule, ‘No she-beasts allowed?’”

“Terrence!”

“What? She knows I’m joking.”

Anya got up to fill her mother a bowl of supper. “Were you born that way or did the jerk fairy pay you a visit one night?”

“Anya!”

She shrugged at her mother as if to say, He started it.

Her mother didn’t seem to think that mattered.


It didn’t take long before Cupola calmed down from that ever eventful night-of-the-overturned-chicken-stool. The knights eventually quit looming over the stable hands, and everyone else for that matter. Gevin said he heard them mutter something about royalty having an overactive imagination before they left. Anya quit checking over her shoulder, and she had even come to terms with not being able to attend the Ball, which was just as well, because now that Ball week was here, she didn’t have the time to think about anything but work.

Prepping for the Ball was a frenzy Anya had never seen before. Today was the first day of Ball week, the eighth work day in a row for Anya’s shift, and the stress frazzled the kitchen staff to their cores. Working in the fields, you didn’t see all the ground work that went into the celebration. Oh, you were asked to set aside the best produce for display, maybe pick a few flowers, but this, this was unheard of.

Meats had to be prepared, sugars sculpted in advance, inventories taken; and the special Ball dishes had to be brought in from storage, cleaned, and polished in expectation. Since this was to be done on top of the normal work load, there would be twice as many dishes to clean as usual. Anya couldn’t even imagine the nightmare that would occur when it was all over.

She had been the first to show up, as usual, but someone else soon joined her. On her way out the door to refill some buckets, they nearly careened into one another. The other girl stepped back nonplussed, while Anya jumped and gasped, almost dropping both buckets.

Anya shouted, “You nearly scared me to death!”

The girl simply walked around her and through the doorway. Anya stood there in disbelief of the girl’s rudeness. Ick, I hope I don’t have to work with her much. She finished filling the buckets and turned to go back in, only to find the other girl lighting the stoves, all three of them. Anya froze in her tracks, realizing what this must mean. This new girl was her working partner for the week.

She took a deep breath and let it out, trying to relax. She emptied both buckets into the castle’s water supply, a giant wooden barrel with a ladle in the southwest corner of the kitchen. Then she went over to introduce herself. “Hi. I’m Anya. The other Elf.” The “other Elf’s” eyes were pointed at Anya, but Anya wasn’t real sure how focused they were, or that she could hear her. So Anya kept on trying to have what was inevitably going to be a one-sided conversation. “I’ve never worked a Ball before. Have you?”

The girl walked over to the sink and nervously bit what were once fingernails. To Anya’s relief, the rest of the staff soon arrived one by one, until both shifts filled the kitchen with tumultuous conversation and lively movement. Anya walked over to Basil and told her about her problem. “I’ve tried talking to her, but she won’t say a word. I don’t even know her name yet!”

Basil’s work partner, a young man with straight reddish-brown hair and freckles said, “That’s Bernadette. She don’t talk to no one. And no one talks to her.”

Anya glanced over at her. Bernadette appeared underfed. Her hair had never seen a comb, and stains filled the spaces between the rips in her uniform.

The young man continued, “Don’t mind her. She’s no bother. She’ll do her fair share, don’t you worry about that.” His smile widened his round nose, making him look boyish.

“This is Tommy,” said Basil. “He’s a sweetheart, but don’t you let him go on with you. He’s a trouble maker.” She smiled fully and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow.

Tommy held his hands up in mock defense. “Who? Me? Naw!”

Basil lowered her voice so as not to let anyone outside the threesome hear. “Last year, he put a goldfish in the punch bowl. And the year before that, he added spiders to the pot of sugar used to make the sugar sculptures.”

They both started laughing. Anya stood aghast.

Basil continued, “Chef was so mad, especially when he never noticed it until someone else pointed it out. And then … and then…” Basil started laughing so hard she couldn’t finish.

Tommy finished for her. “Everyone thought he’d done it on purpose, so he left ’em in it! They all said it was the best sculpture they’d ever seen! Thought the punch idea was genius, too.” He blew on his nails and rubbed his shirt with pride for a job well done.

Basil went on, “He never found out who did it all. He took the credit for it of course, but to this day, Chef has sworn to ‘discover the culprit and deal with him accordingly’.” Basil and Tommy bent over clutching their stomachs laughing.

Just then, “Hello. Sweet Basil.” Horace winked at her and then flicked his eyebrow up a couple of times.

Basil wiped a tear from under her eye. “Horace, what do you want?”

“My dear lady, would you be so kind as to join me at my house tonight? I have a special ‘ball’ set up just for the two of us.”

Basil laughed, “No, Horace. I will not.”

Tommy stepped in. “I’d love to come. Do you polka?” He grabbed Horace’s hands and held them over their heads while kicking his legs out.

Horace remained cool. He kept his eyes on Basil while politely removing his hands from Tommy’s grip. “No problem.” Wink! He turned and faced the other way, strutting over to a circle of chatting girls. “LaQuinta, fine babe…”

Anya shuttered over the thought of having to ever run into Horace again. She leaned up against her sink and waited with a silent Bernadette by her side. Finally Cook came in. She poised in the middle of the kitchen, commanding attention. Everyone stood up straight in a perfect line facing the storage rooms.

They all stared straight ahead as Cook paced the kitchen, looking at them and slapping her palm with her favorite wooden spoon, “Now remember troops.” Smack! “Our job is to provide the Cupolians a night of pleasure.” Smack! “A joyous night honoring our monarch and the sacrifices she has made to better our lives.” Smack! “Most of these people only get a meal this good once a year.” She stopped and turned to squarely face the line of servants, letting her spoon stick out the back like a chicken feather as she placed her fists on her hips, “So let’s make them remember it.”

A timid girl Anya recognized as the spit-turner scarcely raised her hand. “But Cook, this is the first year I’m old enough to go. Can’t I go upstairs when we’re finished?”

Cook took in a hefty breath, while the senior members held their heads up in pride. “Kitchen staff will be so busy cooking and serving, that we will not even be able to glimpse the final moments of this yearly celebration.”

Anya could hear the girl starting to cry. “But, Cook, I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life! The Celebration of the Monarch’s Survival is the only time—”

Cook held up her hand. “That’ll do, Rebecca. We all sacrifice ourselves one way or another, and by choosing to work for the Queen’s kitchen, you have chosen this, and many other, sacrifices.”

Chose? Anya doubted anyone here chose this position, especially a first year spit-turner. That job was worse than hers, standing in front of a fire all day in this heat, turning a metal rod over and over. It was miserably hot and horridly boring! Terrified at the thought of these “many other sacrifices,” Anya kept her eyes glued to the cold stone floor and waited.

“Now, you will be pleased to know, that for making this sacrifice, we all get a week’s pay on top of our regular wages.” With this, Anya looked up with more hope. She wouldn’t lose those wages she had lost from the note mishap after all! The senior staff stood even prouder, and Rebecca’s sniffles could be heard dwindling.

“This here’s Chef.” Cook jerked her thumb to her side where stood a tall, thin man with black hair almost to his shoulders. He had a large crooked nose that served as a downward slide for his gaze, and he wore black glasses with small rectangular lenses. He donned a white suit with oversized buttons down the front, and the most ridiculous white hat Anya thought looked like a lopsided mushroom. He never said a word, but his appearance alone indicated she clearly had the easier supervisor.

“He ran Ball week last year, so this year it’s my turn. You will give him the upmost respect.” She looked around expectantly. “Well come on then!” Clap! Clap! “What are you standing around for?” And the day began.

There was no time for self pity as the crew prepared for their busiest week of the year. Anya didn’t even notice it when Canis tried to trip her, threw things in her sink, or yelled at her for spilling a bucket of well water. Neither did anyone else, but Chef was noticing something.

Canis didn’t see his frown as she laughed her obnoxious cackle, trying to show the other shift how important she was. When she had finished acting a fool for, like, the millionth time, she turned and almost careened headfirst into his chest. Her face blushed but didn’t get near as red as Chef’s did while he towered over her, discharging a rant of accusations that could surely be heard at the furthest reaches of the courtyard. He had seen she wasn’t pulling her weight and yelled at her for a solid ten minutes. When he finally did quit yelling, she ducked her head and did her work as remotely as possible.

Anya and Basil both watched as he aimed his complaints towards Cook now, asking how she could possibly tolerate such a lazy worker in her kitchen. Basil and Anya caught each others’ eyes and couldn’t keep from grinning. Anya even thought she saw Cook glance sideways at Canis. Was she considering Chef’s words? Anya could only hope.

Despite a bumpy first couple of days, Anya and Bernadette eventually got a working rhythm down to where they got more done and were less in each others’ ways. Other pairs didn’t fare so well. A few fights even broke out but were quickly settled.

And then the day of the Annual Ball of Cupola finally arrived.

All the workers showed up early and stood at attention, waiting for their cue to begin. The fires were piled with white oak logs, emitting a heat that only intensified the tension in the room. Sweat beads fell freely to the floor and set up residence in clothing. The sink stood spotless, its catch-all underneath, its soapy water in a bucket on the floor. Utensils, bowls, and cutting boards were lined up to perfection and on standby.

Chef stood stoically by his counter next to the range. Cook spoke in a quiet and dignified manner. “It is time. Rebecca, Horace, Tiffany, open the dish pantry and ready the Ball’s dishes for service. Tom, Buford, and Mirabell, retrieve the ingredients and prepare to get busy. This year we are making stuffed goose, crème brulèe, honey-crisp lamb, and winged fish platters for the hors d’oeuvres. The pastries will include popped sugar cubes, sculpted swans, puffed jellies, flavored caramels, and assorted cookies and candies. We will also need several trays of fruits and cheeses on display.”

Tom, Buford, and Mirabell immediately started gathering items needed for the cooking of the selected dishes. They seemed to be reading Cook’s mind as they distributed everything out to those who would chop herbs, veggies, fruits, and various other ingredients. Rebecca, Horace, and Tiffany brought out grand silver trays with intricate carvings and laid them ready to be filled with grapes, cheese cubes, dried fig slices, and countless other delicacies.

Anya ran to her corner, staying out of the way and watching the most captivating display of cooperation. Bernadette stood next to her, invisible, silent, and apparently, very bored. In fear of being yelled at next, those left in line ran to their posts until they were given a task. Tray Maids weaved their way upstairs with the royal breakfasts, squeezing by the butlers who were waiting by the door. It wasn’t long then before the stiff butlers took up the first delicacies, already priming the great room for its presentation. No one else dared to leave the kitchen, even when the heat became so intense that Tommy dunked his entire head into the water barrel.

While she waited, Anya thought about how beautiful the grand hall must be. She had never been there of course, but she imagined it to be glorious. Fantasies filled her head with exquisite dresses and stately men’s attire on the happy guests as they stood around the tables overflowing with food. They would sample everything at least once and eat their fill before drinking fine wine and dancing the night away.

Her mind then wandered to what her friends and family might be doing right now. Gevin was expecting an easy day as all the masters should be getting ready for the evening. Taika would get off early and go home to clean up and dress up in her best clothes. The entire queendom was celebrating, and Anya was missing out terribly.

Dishes soon piled up, drawing her attention away from empty wishes and back to the present situation. The pair of Elves got to work in an awkward silence that quickly became unbearable. Anya was just about to force a conversation when music started overhead. A few of the other workers commenced to step touch side to side at their posts or twirl while toting something across the kitchen floor. Each time the butlers showed up, their faces shined a little redder and their smiles a little bigger. Anya remembered her dancing lessons and found herself swaying a bit as well. Bernadette acted deaf and joyless.

Right when the Anya in her mind was ducking under the Gevin’s arm in a spin, she heard him call out her name. “Anya!” Gevin had snuck into the kitchen and whispered in Anya’s ear causing her to drop her pan loudly into the sink. However, since the kitchen was so full and boisterous at this point anyway, Gevin could have ridden a purple stallion in while playing an accordion, and she doubted anyone would have noticed.

“Here, I thought you might like this.” He showed her a red, five petaled flower from upstairs.

“Dragon’s breath. Thank you.” She smiled. Gevin’s Ball attire fit him well. His hair had been pulled back into a short chieftain’s tail. He was completely clean for once, and he wore his suit with a great deal more confidence than before. She reached her dripping hand up, being careful not to splash him, and laid the flower on the ledge over the sink.

“Gevin, can you tell my mom that I don’t know when I’ll get done and not to wait up for me? I may just sleep here tonight.”

“You won’t even get to come up for a second? Not even one dance?”

Anya shook her head, her hands back at work in the sink. “No, not for any of it.”

Gevin looked upset. “I’m … I’m sorry. Yeah, I’ll tell her. Look, I better go before I get you into trouble.”

She smiled bye, and he turned to leave. She yelled after him, “Hey Gev! You will tell me about it, right?”

He smiled in response, and left. After that, the night dragged on even more slowly.

What felt like the hardest work day in her entire life finally took pause. She heard Cook shout, “It’s over! The cooking is over!”

“You mean we can go home?” someone asked from across the room.

“Of course not, silly boy! It means we can sit a spell and eat the leftovers before we clean up!”

Leftovers! Anya beamed enormously, and almost laughed. She turned to share her glee with Bernadette. Nope, still nothing. Anya quickly rinsed and dried her hands and waited to see what to do next. Basil smiled, hooked her arm around one of Anya’s, and jerked her head toward the rest of the servants. “Come on. Tonight, you get to eat with us.”

Another laugh and smile escaped Anya’s body as, linked with Basil and Tommy, she marched to the dining room.

Inside the servants’ dining room was piled a generous collection of pastries and meats with bottles of mead and wine. Most of the food had already been ravaged, but no one cared. They hadn’t eaten all day and were thrilled for anything, let alone delicacies such as this! They stuffed whole pastry puffs into their mouths, daring others to do the same.

Soon Tommy and Horace had a contest to see who could fit the most into their cheeks at one time. Horace flexed his muscles again, as though they would help him win. Tommy waved his hands inward, trying to procure more applause. The staff divided into their shifts, each shouting cheers for their man and jeering their opponent until Horace’s mouth could hold no more. Tommy won. He had fit twenty-three various pastry puffs into his cavernous jaws. Horace had only reached twenty before spewing what he had enveloped in a cascade of wet dough. Tommy shot his fists into the air and danced around in a jig. Everyone applauded and whooped, except for Cook and Chef who were above such things and spent their time outside.

After a bit more chatting, eating, and passing around bottles, they set about cleaning up the kitchen. Whenever a member of staff finished their duties, they went back into the dining room to eat their fill and frolic with the others. Some even danced outside to the music that they sang or hummed before returning to their homes.

Anya was again the last to get through. Bernadette had completed the rinsing, leaving her with the drying to finish up. The other servants had long finished working. By the time she was done, everyone else had had their fill and left. The food had been abandoned on the table for the night. The others had pillaged it until hardly anything edible remained. There were a few cheese chunks, fish bits, and broken sugar sculpture left, along with plenty of nearly empty bottles. She ate and drank her fill, alone in the dark, curled up on her stack of straw, and went to sleep.

The next morning, she awoke on cue, sore and tired. She swayed a bit back and forth from drowsiness and then forced herself up from her straw with great difficulty. Her routine fire making and water toting began on autopilot. Today marked her fifteenth day in a row, and she was pooped. When she finished all of the usual prep work, she lay back down on her straw and fell deeply asleep.

“Who’s that?”

“I dunno.”

“Oh, she was with us last week. She’s the other Elf.”

“Elf! ELF!” Anya woke up to people staring down at her. As her eyes adjusted, she realized the others had arrived.

“Mmph. Sorry. I fell back asleep.” She got up and walked over to her sink. “I got the water and—”

Bernadette stood at her sink, ready to work.

Anya asked, “What’s going on? Are we working together again?”

The other Elf turned away, ignoring her question. Thankfully, Tommy explained, “Your shift has this week off, remember?”

She turned to face him. “What? I’m confused.”

“We switch shifts after the Ball.”

Anya was still lost.

“Unless you want to work three weeks straight.” His face became concerned.

Too tired to be polite, she turned to leave, muttering to herself, “Why does no one ever tell me anything?”

She stumbled all the way home and collapsed onto her bed until noon.

Still tired and sore, but feeling much more alert, she got out of bed. She fixed herself a porridge breakfast and ate silently. Her ears perked. In the distance she heard the loud sound of cows’ horns being blown in succession.

The tournament. It had begun.
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