I watch months pass. Soon, winter is gone and our pelts are off.
We have never seen the King. We eat in our rooms, Cecily offers to get food from the larder every time. I often see her chatting with a black-haired, brooding boy in robes, who doesn't respond frequently.
The King provides us with all our necessities through servants and maids. He sends us messages by his courtiers.
Today, a young, hawk-eyed, blond maid called Marie brings us new dresses for summer, sent by the King.
"Adelina," she coos, and I scowl at being addressed by my first name. "Oh, don't give me that look. Fine! Addy. Now, be a dear girl and try this on. It's beautiful, isn't it? Finely made."
The lace dress she holds out is short, just right for my size. It has sophisticated style, long, satin sleeves, a lace belt around the waist and grey silk opening below the waist like an umbrella that makes it ripple like water.
I don't like it. "It's terrible."
"Addy!" Cecily cries. "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! How can you not -"
"Addy's right, it's terrible," Audric says, bluntly.
His eyes are on his stunted sword. He hates having to fight with a smaller sword. He'd grudgingly told us what had happened in the field the first day he'd practiced. He hasn't told us who the girl was, though.
I like how Beau and that anonymous girl he talked to on the field that day were nice to him. I wish I could beat up that Prince who didn't treat him the same way.
"Well, it's all she has for now," Marie says, sternly. "Audric, why don't you try on your new robes?"
"So? That's only the sleeves."
"And, it's green. Like a leaf."
"Green is a bright color, dearie."
"I look short, but I'm not an elf." he remarks. Alys giggles behind her hand and I snigger, but Cecily blushes, embarrassed.
"He doesn't mean to be rude, Marie," she says, apologetically, much to my annoyance. "My brother tends to be a little... ignorantly insolent... at times."
"You are insolent." Audric retorts.
"Be quiet, Audric!" Cecily snaps.
"Well, Alys, how do you like yours?" Marie says, to change the subject. She hands Alys some graceful thing, with frill and lace, finest velvet and satin of the finest royal-blue and red.
Alys smiles politely and mumbles a thank you. Alys is always very polite.
Cecily is polite, too, but only to important people. She can be very mean to those beneath her.
Marie holds out the last dress to Cecily. My older sister smiles in anticipation, but her face falls, when she sees a baggy, black thing.
"I hope you like it, dear." Marie says, her lips forming a smirk.
Cecily forces a pained smile. "I do."
Audric stifles his laughter. I smirk in spite of myself. Alys gives Cecily a sympathetic frown.
My oldest sister can be so naive sometimes. Even I know Cecily is not as good as she tries - or pretends - to be.
Marie knows that, too. She gathers her pile of dresses up and begins to leave, when she turns over her shoulder and calls out to me: "Addy, would you try to get that muck off your skirt?"
She shakes her head, grumbling about untidy people and leaves.
Cecily turns on me. "Addy, can you be any more reckless?" she demands. "You're making a fool of yourself in the royal castle. The King would hear about this!"
"Quit nagging her, Ceci," Audric snaps. "If anyone's making a fool of herself, it's you."
"You can't even hold a sword!"
My brother flinches. "Well, you can stop being fake-nice. Nobody likes you."
"Stop, both of you!" Alys cries. She sighs. "Addy, go and get yourself cleaned up."
Cecily gives an irritated Audric a triumphant smirk.
"Let her be," my brother says. "Let the King see that we're not here to please him. We're not here to serve him."
"Not us, maybe, but you are," Cecily points out. "You're training to fight for him, Audric, did you notice?"
Audric wrinkles his nose, giving her a look of pure disgust. "I am not going to fight for the King, Cec," he denies. "Never. I am training to fight for the King's people."
"Same difference," she grunts.
"Addy," Alys speaks up, to stop the quarrel. "Go and get yourself cleaned up anyway. Not for Marie or anything. But, because it's unhygienic." She smiles.
I relent and depart from the room alone. I see Beau standing in the terrace, juggling a ball in his hands to amuse himself. His sword hangs from his belt. He doesn't notice me until I walk up to him.
He turns, startled. "Addy."
"Alys said to get this cleaned up," I say, jerking my chin at my dirty skirt.
Beau's eyes brighten at the mention of my sister. "All right," he says. "There's a well outside. C'mere, I'll show you." He leads me outside the castle through a different exit than the ones I've seen.
I follow him to the well surrounded by freshly-mown grass and reach for the bucket. Beau watches, amused, as I try to knot it to the rope. He doesn't attempt to help me, as if he's trying to see whether I will be able to tie it myself.
"Can't?" he finally asks.
"Can," I reply, and try again. I push the edge of the rope and ring it around the bucket. This time, I make a knot successfully.
"Nice," Beau compliments. "You're a quick learner, Addy."
"Thank you," I say, happily. It feels good to be praised genuinely. "You're different from other people, you know. Even my brother likes you, now."
Beau frowns, confused. "Where did that come from?"
"I mean, I don't feel like an immature child with you," I reply. "There's only one person who doesn't always underestimate me and that's Audric. I'm eleven, but I can mange myself very well, thank you very much."
Beau grins. "Alys underestimates you too, huh?"
He makes everything about Alys. "Do you like her?"
"I like all of you," he says. "Except, maybe, Cecily."
I laugh. "She's very annoying," I agree, looking into the well and letting my bucket slip inside. "But, Alys isn't. She's a nice person. You should talk to her, you know. Make her like you."
He's silent for a while, which makes me wonder if he's listening to me. I let the bucket slide down and rotate my head to see him grinning at me.
"Look at you," he proclaims. "Eleven-year-old playing match-maker. Who calls you an immature child?"
I smile sheepishly. "Even though Audric wouldn't like it much," I comment, "he doesn't have to interfere in her personal life. I'm just suggesting...."
"This is wrong." Beau declares, surprised. "You do not talk like an eleven-year-old."
"I'm a smart person," I muse. Then, I glance at my small arms, with the sensitive skin blistered by having been rubbed against the well's bricks. "But, I would like to be stronger. And... taller."
I pull up my bucket with a little difficulty. And spilling a bit, I grab it with both hands, tightly and turn to Beau.
"See?" I say. "I can hold this. But, it's very heavy. I think I could hold a sword."
"Hold a sword, eh?" Beau enquires, lightly. "Are you trying to get me to offer you training?" He raises an eyebrow, his expression critical.
I brighten. "Could you?" I ask, setting the bucket on the ground. "You trained Audric the first few days. But, now he has his trainers. They wouldn't let me train with him, though. They'd make fun of me. I've tried asking them. Beau, oh, please, please -"
"I can't," he protests. "Alys won't like it."
"She won't know," I promise, tears reaching my eyes. I remember asking Audric's trainers for letting me fight. They had laughed at me, mortified me in front of so many people. "Please, Beau, please!"
"Don't - don't cry, Addy," Beau warns me. "At least, not loudly. I'm going to get killed."
"Then , train me," I insist. "Privately. I won't tell anyone."
"I'm sorry, Addy," he apologizes. "But, I'm not supposed to -"
"You weren't supposed to train Audric, either," I point out. "But, you did - and just to get my sister to like you."
Beau's high cheekbones tinge pink. "Fine. I'll train you. You'll need a smaller sword like Audric's though."
"When can we start?" I ask, eagerly.
Beau frowns. "Not today."