As Annia fell deep asleep, there was someone at the Palace who was wide-awake.
In frustration, Prince Eros was pacing his bedchamber, pausing a few times to listen beside his door for someone passing by.
The ball had been a success, but Eros still didn’t know whom he wished to wed. His parents had kindly given him that choice to pick whomever he wanted, but he felt it was a waste of time.
He didn’t care who he wed; he had more pressing matters on his hands.
It would perhaps be a bit different if he actually met someone who he liked, but all the girls were dolls that only spoke what their mothers instructed them to.
Actually…now that he thought of it, there had been a girl who hadn’t been artificial. What was her name? He thought for a moment. Bella Athia.
She was the only one who didn’t care that she had tripped, or the impression she was leaving on the Royal family. She looked as if she was actually just there to have a good time.
But he still didn’t know her that well. How was he supposed to pick a girl to marry just by seeing her for the first time, at a ball? He needed to talk to her, see what her values and morals were and her personality. He couldn’t just decide to marry a girl because she was pretty and had a good place in society, like his father expected him to.
He sighed. This was going nowhere. Settling on his first instinct, Eros lied down on his bed and fell asleep.
The next morning, Eros hurried to the throne room to tell his parents his answer of whom he had picked to marry.
He knocked on the door, and heard the familiar, “Enter.”
Opening the heavy wooden door, the prince walked into his father’s court. Session hadn’t begun yet, so he would be able to have a word with his parents.
“Mother, father?” he said.
The queen of the EnchantedKingdomlooked up from her notes. “Phil. Phil. Phil!”
Her husband stopped talking. “Yes Hestia?”
She gestured to her son and the king immediately looked expectantly at Eros.
“I have come to a decision about the ball,” he said, confidently.
“Oh really, son?” said the king. “Go on then. Tell us who the lucky girl is.”
Eros glanced at his mother, before speaking again. “I decided that you can pick the girl who I’m to wed.”
The king looked jolly at this news, while the queen gave her husband a sharp look.
“Eros, this wasn’t the answer we needed,” she said.
The king smiled. “Oh come now, Hestia. If the boy thinks our choice is better, than it must be!”
The queen held her head and appeared annoyed. “That wasn’t the point of this ball, Eros. If we wanted you to marry whom we picked then we wouldn’t have had this ball and your father would have picked one of your cousins.”
Eros shrugged. “That’s fine with me.”
The queen gave her husband a look. “But Eros, this is your wedding and not…Oh Phil, stop looking so gleeful at this news and help me!” she said to her husband.
The king stopped smiling, even though there was still a twinkle in his eyes.
“I know this is my wedding, mother. But I didn’t like any one of those women yesterday,” said Eros, determinedly. “They were all trying so hard to please me and I can’t see myself spending the rest of my life with a woman whom I just met yesterday!”
“If that’s the problem,” said the queen, “then we can arrange for you to meet with the one you pick, on a regular basis at the Palace so you can get to know her better. But Eros, you must pick her. No matter how much your father and I want to,” she said, shooting her husband a look, “we cannot do it for you.”
As a little portly man brought him the list of women who attended the ball, Eros sighed.
“Fine,” he said. He decided that he would pick Bella Athia. At least she would make him laugh.
“Bella Athia,” he said to the man.
The man peered down at his list and quickly scanned the parchment. “There is no one by that name who attended the ball, your Highness.”
“What?” said Eros, clearly frustrated. He grabbed the list from him and looked down at him. Amazingly, there was no one by that name. Either the man had somehow erased it or he was going crazy. He refused to believe the latter.
“Why did you erase her name?” demanded Eros.
“Now Eros,” said his father, “you must not take your anger out on Sir Robin. You must not expect us to believe that a name has disappeared from the list.”
“I danced with her!” said Eros. “I wasn’t imagining it.”
“I’m sure you weren’t Eros,” said his mother, who looked as if she didn’t believe him. “But then why is not her name there?”
Angry and frustrated, Eros jabbed a finger at the list to a name.
The little man looked at the name the prince had picked. “Layla Alexei,” he said.
Eros had no idea who Layla Alexei was, nor did he care. “There, I picked one. Is that all right?”
Knowing she could not go any further with this, his mother nodded. At least he had picked someone instead of demanding to marry this imaginary girl he had invented.
“Send a message to Lady Alexei and her family, that they are to report to the Palace tomorrow at noon,” the king instructed to Sir Robin.
The man nodded and bowed his way out.
“Now Eros,” said his mother, “is there anything you would like to add to the list of qualifications for your special maid?”
“Hestia, Eros is much to busy for that,” said the king, gesturing his son forward and they engaged in conversation.
The queen sighed, and finished up her list alone.
Back at the girl whose name Eros had picked, Annia was hard at work. She had given her stepfamily their breakfast and then had cleaned up after them. She had done the laundering, cleaned up Layla and Edouard’s bedrooms and had prepared lunch.
At around three in the afternoon, there was a knock on the door.
Annia walked up to the front doors to open them, but her stepsister pushed past her and opened them grandly.
“Hello?” she said brusquely.
A small chubby man stood there with a scroll in his hand. “Good afternoon, Madam. I’m from the Palace…”
Adrianne and Edouard were at her side in a flash.
“Yes?” asked Adrianne eagerly.
“The Royal Family wishes an audience with the Alexei family, tomorrow at noon at The Volya Palace,” said the man, in a monotone voice.
Layla flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Whatever for?”
The man peered down his long nose and onto the parchment in front of him. “His royal Highness, prince Eros has picked Lady Layla Alexei as his bride.”
Layla screamed for joy and for once, her mother didn’t scold her.
Annia watched from behind Edouard’s shoulder, as the man rolled his scroll up and left.
As if she was in a trance, Adrianne shut the door. As soon as the door closed, Layla hugged her mother.
“I’m a princess! I’m a princess!” she kept shouting.
Layla was making such a ruckus, but her mother was smiling so broadly she didn’t notice.
Finally though the noise was too much.
“You’re not princess yet, Layla!” said her mother. “And neither will you be if you continue to make such noise.”
Layla frowned. “I was only happy, mother.”
“I know, dear. But we must not count our manors before they are built. This is very good, but it’ll take some careful planning,” she said. “We should go get those gowns I promised you Layla. You need to look stunning for tomorrow.”
Layla agreed and fifteen minutes later they left for the market, only after Annia’s stepmother shouted, “Finish your chores!”
Annia nodded and went on her way. She finished early, so she snuck off to the private library that had a few books. Annia figured they would be gone for a few hours, so she could stay for about an hour.
Picking up her favourite book, Annia started to read. She got so caught up in the story, that she didn’t even hear her stepmother calling her throughout the house.
Scrambling, Annia thrust the book back into its shelf and went through a secret door through the kitchens and into the hall.
“Where have you been?” demanded her stepmother, the moment she spotted Annia.
Luckily, Annia had grabbed a dishpan from the kitchen so she had a good excuse.
Curtsying, she said, “Terribly sorry, Madam. But I was in the back of the manor in the kitchen. I didn’t hear you calling.”
Peering at Annia’s soapy hands with the pan in it, her stepmother still looked suspicious.
“Very well,” she said forcibly. “See that it does not happen again.”
Annia nodded and dropped a curtsy.
“Anyways,” she said, “I have a surprise for you.”
Eyes narrowed, Annia looked at her stepmother disbelievingly.
“Don’t look at me like that, Annia dear,” her stepmother cooed. “You act surprised, as if I never give you anything.”
Before she could say something that would get her in trouble, Annia’s stepmother continued.
“I found this flyer around town and I think it would be perfect for you,” she said, thrusting it into Annia’s hands.
Turning it over, Annia looked at it. ‘SPECIAL MAID FOR THE PRINCE NEEDED’ it said at the top. ‘Must be: between the age of fourteen to eighteen, be of middle class, have four or more years of experience working as a maid. Includes: proper clothing, meals and bedroom. Job: doing the bidding of the prince. Pay will be decided on maid.’
Confused, Annia looked up at her stepmother. This sounded like a dream job, getting proper clothes, money, food and a bedroom, but why would her stepmother want her to have this?
“What do you think?” she asked her, eagerly.
Absently, Annia moved her bangs behind her ear. “Sounds good, Madam.”
Her stepmother smiled. “Wonderful. So what would you think about applying for this post?”
Annia’s big eyes widened. “You want me to work for the prince and get paid?”
She laughed a wicked laugh. “Of course dear. You deserve this.”
Even though this seemed too good to be true, Annia couldn’t help but want it.
“If you’re interested, you must go to the palace at eleven tomorrow,” read her stepmother from the leaflet. “That settles it. You can accompany us as we’re going to the Palace as well.”
“But Madam…?” said Annia, unsure of how to phrase her question. “I’m not of middle class.”
Her stepmother seemed to have overlooked this matter herself. “Hmmm. We shall come up with a cover story for you, don’t fret. We will also need to think of a new name for you.
“If you’re done your chores,” she continued, “then you may have the evening off to ponder about what you shall wear tomorrow, as I want you to look respectful.”
Annia curtsied, unable to believe her luck.
“There’s one price you must pay for me allowing you to do this,” said her stepmother, even though Annia was barely listening. “You must give me daily reports of what the prince says and does, and who the competition is. I want to know how he talks and thinks of Layla.”
Annia nodded eagerly, not knowing what she was agreeing to.
“Very well then,” she said. “You may go.”
Smiling at her stepmother, Annia gave her a hug. She could tell that her stepmother didn’t like it, as she patted her awkwardly on the head, so she pulled away, dropped a quick curtsy and ran up the stairs with a huge smile lighting up her face.
When she got upstairs, she didn’t know what to do with herself. This was because she hadn’t had a free evening before.
The smile was etched onto her face, as she plopped down on her bed. This felt very queer, but she quite liked it.
Annia could not believe her stepmother wanted her to work at the palace! It seemed like a dream come true. She would leave her stepfamily and finally move on!
Of course it came with a price, and that was to spy on the prince, but Annia didn’t care because she was finally free! This also meant that her stepmother loved her and cared about her.
The thought was a strange one, but Annia was so happy to know that her stepmother loved her. She was the only mother she had ever known and always thought she hated her, but now she had suggested she should work at the Palace and get paid, so Annia wasn’t sure her stepmother hated her.
In fact, she was sure that her stepmother cared about her as much as she cared about her. The thought was odd, but she felt reassured to know that her stepmother loved her.
Thinking of the palace, the smile broadened on her face. She knew her new master, and that was the prince. Annia knew he was very nice and not harsh at all, since she had met him twice.
Both times she had thought she would never see him again, but both times she had seen him again and now she was going to try for the position of his assistant.
Even if she didn’t get this position, she would at least know that there was a place at her stepfamily’s home.
Annia did know the prince a little bit now, but she would have to be careful not to let him know who she was, because she was pretending to be a middle class working girl.
The first time he had met her, she appeared rich wearing a green cloak, with her hair covered, with the name Anna. The second time he had seen her, she was a rich maiden wishing to have him fall in love with her while she danced with him at the ball, under the name of Bella Athia.
Annia would have to think of another name that would suit her. She frowned as she leaned back in her bed thinking.
Anna? No, too obvious from the day in the shop. Belle? No, it was too similar to the name she used on the night of the ball.
The smile slowly crawled back onto Annia’s face as she thought of the perfect name.
Athena, her mother’s name. Now that that was done, Annia had to find the perfect gown to wear.
An hour later, Annia sat back down on her bed exhausted. She hadn’t found one single gown that was middle class. She had the one from the ball, but it was much too fancy. The rest of hers were dirty and all maid like.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and fell asleep without finding a dress to wear.
The next day, Annia rose early and for once felt rested, as she had gone to bed early the night before.
She got up and prepared breakfast for her stepfamily.
Layla came in first, with an excited smile on her face.
“I still can’t believe the prince picked me, me to be his wife,” she said.
Her mother sat down next to her. “Don’t get too excited yet, Layla. Annia, did you think of a name for yourself whilst you are at the Palace?”
Annia nodded. “Yes, my mother’s name. Athena.”
Smiling, she gestured Annia to pass her the saltshaker. “Lovely. And what gown did you pick to wear?”
“None,” said Annia, setting Edouard’s plate down as he came in. “None of them are middle class, Madam.”
“Nonsense,” she said, waving her napkin into the air. “You may borrow one of Layla’s old ones.”
Staring at her stepmother in surprise, Annia said, “Really?”
“Why of course,” she said, picking up her fork to eat. “After breakfast and after you have prepared Layla for the Palace, you may pick out an old gown with me.”
Annia curtsied. “Thank you so much, Madam.”
She waved her hand dismissively at Annia and she left to do her chores while the family ate their breakfast.
After breakfast, Annia got Layla ready. Thankfully, the process didn’t take as long as when Layla was getting ready for the ball, so Annia was done in an hour.
Her stepmother led her to a closet and opened it. Inside were several old gowns of Layla’s that were in good condition but not as regal as the ones she wore now.
Fingering the fine fabric, her stepmother picked a cream coloured one and gave it to her.
“Now, you may get ready. See that you take care with your bath,” she said.
Nodding absently, Annia walked off to her room. She took a bath in her small and grimy bathroom and then pulled the gown over. It felt strange and foreign on Annia’s skin, which was used to rough and itchy fabrics and hadn’t felt such exceptional cloth before.
She then combed and braided her hair and she was done.
As she walked down the stairs, she felt strange, but good nonetheless. She joined her stepfamily in the carriage and they were on their way to the palace.
“Now Annia,” said her stepmother as soon as the carriage lurched forward, “your father was Layla’s father’s brother, but he died and left you as a maid to us, as he was very poor when he died even though he was born middle class. Understand?”
Annia repeated the story and her stepmother nodded.
“So, you understand that you must report the doings of the prince directly to me?” she asked.
“Good,” her stepmother said and then she turned her attention to Layla.
Fifteen minutes later, they stepped out of the carriage.
A man stood there waiting for them.
Adrianne straightened her gown and said, “Please let their Majesties know the Alexei family is here early.”
The man nodded and sent the message to a pair of guards.
“Where is the interview being held for the post of the prince’s special maid?” Annia requested the man.
He pointed her to the gardens and Annia made her way there, after saying a hasty goodbye to her stepfamily.
Making her way to the gardens, Annia clutched her hands nervously. She kept playing with her necklace, a bad habit of hers when she was scared and nervous. As she walked on, she admired how the variety of bushes, trees, flowers and plants that adorned the gardens.
Finally, she came through a clearing and saw a woman there with several other young women.
“Are you here for the post of special maid?” asked the woman as she saw Annia come.
Annia nodded, clutching her gown.
“Please sit down,” she said, indicating an empty seat.
She sat down and looked at the woman who seemed to be in charge.
The woman had long auburn hair tied up in a bun at the back of her head, a round face, olive coloured skin and grey-blue eyes. She seemed to be friendly as she smiled and said, “Now that we have gotten rid of some of the too young or too old entrees, I will be able to interview you properly. My name is Diane and I am the queen’s assistant. One by one, I would like you to come over here,” she pointed to a table with two chairs set up around it, “and sit down so that I may question you. How about you first?” She pointed to a tall girl with two braids and she got up.
As soon as the girl went to the table, the other girls started talking amongst one another.
Annia was rather shy so she didn’t say anything until her turn came.
She sat down at the table opposite Lady Diane, and made sure her skirt wasn’t under the chair so that when she got up it would rip.
Diane smiled warmly at her. “What’s your name?”
“Athena,” said Annia quietly.
Thankfully, Diane didn’t ask Annia to repeat. She just wrote it down.
“How old are you?” she asked.
“Almost seventeen years,” said Annia.
“Your family name?” she continued, writing her age down.
Diane looked up, confused. “The Alexei’s are the family that the prince has chosen for his bride, though. You’re supposed to be of middle class not high class.”
“I am of middle class,” said Annia, trying to keep calm and make her story believable. “My father was sir Alexei’s brother and in his will he left me to them. I lived as middle class but my father died very poor, so I work for the Alexei’s.”
“Oh,” she said, writing it all down. As far as Annia could tell, Diane believed her.
She paused for a second and then said, “How long have you been working for them then?”
“All my life,” said Annia truthfully, unaware that slaves were illegal.
Diane’s eyebrow went up. “You get paid, do you?”
A question Annia wasn’t prepared for. She didn’t know that slaves were illegal, but she knew that if she told this woman that she didn’t get paid then her stepfamily would get in trouble. Annia didn’t want her stepmother to get in trouble, when she had rewarded her with this opportunity.
“Yes,” said Annia firmly.
“All right,” she said, writing it all down. “What sorts of things did you do?”
Finally a question she would be able to answer easily.
“All sorts, Lady,” said Annia eagerly, wanting to show her skills. “I cleaned, I mopped, I did the broom. I’m used to working outside in all weather, lifting heavy things…”
Diane interrupted her. “What about taking orders?”
“I’m used to that very much, lady,” said Annia. “My Madam gave me lots of orders as did her daughter and son, and I would follow all of them.”
Diane smiled. “That is good. Anything else?”
Annia told her everything she had done in her life from cooking meat to picking up animal wastes.
“You would not have to do anything so drastic,” Diane said, her eyes twinkling. “All you really have to do is do what the prince tells you and mostly fix his bed and get his clothes ready for him. There are maids of every sort for those types of tasks.”
“Oh,” said Annia.
Diane patted her hand. “You did very well. I think you have the position. I just have to interview one more girl. Usually I would interview your family, but I think it is enough that the king and queen are meeting with them today.”
Annia nodded and smiled and took her place back with the other girls as Diane called the last girl forward.
At the end, Diane stood in front of all the girls and said, “Thank you all for coming here. I have come to a decision that the special maid for the prince will be Athena.”
At first Annia didn’t know whom Diane was talking about, but she saw Diane smiling at her, so she stood up.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me,” said Diane. “You’re a very able and good worker. You’ll do well. The rest of you may leave.”
As soon as the other girls had left, Diane turned to Annia.
“Oh and by the way, you get paid eighteen gobs a day, but you’ll get five hundred and forty at the end of every month,” she said.
Annia’s mouth was open in surprise, but then she closed it quickly, not wanting Diane to have noticed. She may have said she got paid from her stepfamily, but the truth was that she didn’t get paid, and now she was going to get paid- every single day!
Diane smiled and said, “Fariha, come here please,” to a girl who was walking by.
The girl who was walking by the gardens stopped and asked, “Yes Lady?”
“Fariha, this is the prince’s new assistant. Please take her upstairs and show her everything,” Diane said. “Normally I would do this, but I’m a bit busy today.”
“That is no problem,” said Fariha, smiling at Annia kindly.
“Athena, this is Fariha, the princess’s assistant,” said Diane. “I’m sure Fariha will explain everything to you. Oh but you’ll have to go home and get your things first, will you not?”
Shaking her head, Annia said, “I don’t have much, lady. I brought everything with me.” She held up a small bag filled with a few things that she had quickly packed at the last minute.
“That’s fine then,” said Diane. “I’m sure the queen will want to meet with you soon as will the prince, but they are meeting with the Alexei’s right now, so just go along with Fariha.”
Annia nodded and Fariha said, “Please follow me.”
Smiling to herself, Annia thought, wow these Palace maids are very polite. The maids at home yell everything to one another as if they are talking to each other from across a cornfield.
Trying to forget her stepfamily’s home and how miserable she had been, Annia followed Fariha into the Palace. Actually, Annia corrected herself; calling it a Palace would not be doing it justice. This is a Château just out of a fairy tale.
Being so vast, it looked like it touched the sky. There were many tall towers, turrets and large windows. Annia felt that she hadn’t seen even a third of the Palace the day she had come to the Ball.
Annia struggled to follow Fariha past grand halls lined with mirrors, elegant furniture, large ballrooms, exquisite stairways and beautiful paintings.
“TheVolyaPalace, as is it’s proper name,” said Fariha, “has five floors in total.”
Annia’s head turned, imagining herself running up and down the five sets of stairs.
“Go away!” she said, not believing Fariha.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Fariha, looking scandalized.
“I meant…” said Annia, trying to change her words.
Fariha stared at her for a second and then laughed. “I know what you mean. When I first arrived I could not believe it either.”
She led her past many corridors lined with windows galore, paintings of long ago ruling Monarchs as big as her stepmother’s manor, and past balconies that overlooked the gardens.
Fariha explained that some areas on each floor were off limits to the public. She led her past the kitchens and sitting rooms. She led her to the Royal Dining Hall, which was for royal guests, like advisers, other Kings andQueensand relatives of The Family.
There was also a library, but its doors were closed. Fariha finally, finally led her to the last floor, where the bedrooms were.
Fariha showed her the room for ironing garments. They also went to the linen room, where all the bed sheets and comforters were kept.
Fariha started to talk again. “Don’t worry too much because there are so many rooms. Your job won’t be very hard. All you’ll have to do is to tend to the prince’s needs. In other words just do what he tells you.” She laughed.
Annia laughed as well. Fariha was nice, not at all like what she thought Palace maids were supposed to be like.
Fariha led her past the Sovereign’s room and many other bedrooms. Then they went inside to an immense room. The room was painted white with a massive mahogany four-poster bed in the middle of the room. There was a dresser up against one of the walls with a quite large mirror, and an armoire. There were also two French doors, which led to a lush balcony.
Fariha gestured to the room. “This is the prince’s room.” She then went through a door that connected the prince’s room to another bedroom.
Inside was another bedroom but this time it was girl’s room. In the middle was a single canopy bed, which had a pink and white canopy. On one side, in front of the bed was a dresser with a big mirror accompanying it. Pink and white curtains were being blown from the balcony, letting in a gentle summer breeze as the sun poured in. There was also a door, which led to the bathroom.
Finally, much to Annia’s aching feet’s pleasure, they sat down on two armchairs in the corner of the room.
Annia finally got to look at Fariha. She was very pretty and looked about the same age as Annia. Her skin was golden and lightly tanned. Her lips curved into a contented smile, which gave her a very friendly look. Unusual mauve coloured eyes sparkled under long, dark lashes. Night black hair hung down her back. It was as long as Annia’s, except Annia’s was curly and wavy while Fariha’s was straight.
“I’m so happy that you’re going to be staying at the Palace,” said Fariha excitedly. “You don’t know what a bore this place can be.”
“Thank you,” said Annia smiling. “But aren’t the king and queen going to be upset if they heard you say the Palace is a bore?”
Laughing, Fariha waved her hand. “No, of course not. They are not like that. They insist that I can feel however I want about the palace or anything else.”
This idea shocked Annia, who was used to the idea that she didn’t have the right to think what she wanted to.
“Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Fariha Jalal and I am fifteen years old. By the way, how old are you? I know it is not nice manners to ask someone their age, especially when you just met them, but I really want to know and my mother always told me that if you ever want to know something, you should just ask.”
Annia had to laugh at that. Talking to Fariha was just so…refreshing.
In Annia’s world, where her stepmother ruled, Adrianne insisted that if you wanted to ask something, you don’t ask someone. She insisted on this rule especially after her sister had visited and Annia had wondered aloud how aunt Maria had lost so much weight when the last time she had visited (a month ago) she had looked like a pregnant cow and now she looked like a corpse. Annia had been beaten so hard that she still had some of the scars.
Turning her attention back to Fariha, Annia said, “I’m sixteen years old.” Suddenly, Annia placed Fariha. Since she had first met Fariha about ten minutes ago, she kept thinking that she had seen her somewhere and now she knew. At the ball when Annia had gone to get something to eat, there had been a girl watching her. Now she knew that the girl had been Fariha.
“Did you go to the Royal Ball, Fariha?” asked Annia.
“Yes I did,” she said. “But only because their Majesties wanted me to. It was rather boring though, because I didn’t know any of the girl’s there. They are all of high class while I’m of middle.”
Annia nodded, completely understanding what Fariha was saying.
“I don’t have very many friends,” she said.
“Me neither,” admitted Annia.
“Then we can be friends,” said Fariha happily. “I work with the princess a lot and we’re very good friends, but other than that I have no one. There’s the prince, but he is three years my senior.”
“What about your family?” asked Annia.
“Well, I’m a simple farm girl, from the East. I have a mother a father, two older sisters, a younger brother and a younger sister.
“One of the reasons I never had many friends was that I was always so caught up in my family, and always around my sisters. But now that they are married, I get lonely whenever I visit. What about you, what’s your family like?”
Annia hated to lie to this nice girl, so she said, “I really don’t want to say. It’s complicated.”
Fariha smiled. “That is okay. I just felt that you were asking me so many questions and I was talking so much, but I didn’t ask you anything about yourself. Personally, I hate it when I ask people questions and try to talk to them but in the end they just keep talking about themselves and don’t ask me anything about myself. So I didn’t want to be like those people.”
Smiling, Annia said, “That’s so sweet. You’re the nicest friend I have ever had.”
Fariha frowned. “Wait. I thought I was the only friend you ever had.”
She laughed and said, “Do you know, the other maids who work at the Palace are so jealous of us.”
“Why?” asked Annia. “Is it because we get paid?”
“All the other maids get paid as well. But they don’t wear dresses like these. They also don’t get rooms like these. They also have to work very hard to get their pay. But all we have to do is talk to the prince and princess, walk with them, make sure they have company.”
“Wait a second…” said Annia, digesting Fariha’s words. “Whose room is this?”
Annia gasped. “Mine?! How can this be?”
Laughing, Fariha said, “We get rooms like these because we have to be close to the prince and princess.”
Annia stared at the huge room. It was hers? This was all like a dream come true.
“What is the princess like?”
“She is very nice,” said Fariha. “I’m sure you’ll meet her in a little while. By the way, did you meet the prince yet?”
Annia was about to nod, but then remembered this was her first time at the Palace. “No.”
Fariha giggled and Annia said, “What is so funny?”
Continuing to laugh, Fariha said, “Oh nothing. You’ll understand when you see him.”
“Why, what is wrong with him?” asked Annia, confused.
“Nothing is wrong with him!” said Fariha, blushing slightly. “He is perfect.”
Annia raised an eyebrow at Fariha.
“I’m kind of infatuated with him,” said Fariha, giggling. “I’m not the only one though. Several girls are.”
“I know that,” mumbled Annia, but Fariha didn’t hear.
She continued talking. “The girl that the prince has chosen to be his bride is here and they are meeting with her family. Did you see them?”
Annia accidentally snorted. “See them? I work for them!”
Staring at her aghast, Fariha said, “You work for them?”
Annia put her hands over her mouth wishing she could swallow her words.
“Come on, just tell me the truth,” said Fariha, giving her a tentative smile. “We’re friends now, aren’t we? I told you the truth about my family and me being infatuated with the prince. Tell me.”
Annia sighed, hating to lie. “The truth is I’m not of middle class at all. I work for the Alexei’s. Actually they are my family.”
Fariha gasped. “But you are…from first class then.”
“First class, middle class, it’s all the same. I don’t see why one set of people can treat another so unfairly when we’re the same,” she said gloomily.
Fariha stared at Annia for a second. “You know… you’re right. I never thought of it that way.”
Annia smiled faintly. “But no, I’m not of first class. I work for them, but they are actually my stepfamily. My mother died when I was but a day old and my father re-married the woman in the gardens right now. My mother had left me no money so I was poor and my stepmother made me work in my own home.”
“You get paid though, right?” asked Fariha.
She smiled sadly. “I really would like to say yes, but no. I don’t get paid. I do it all in the return that I get to live in the manor.”
“No!” said Fariha, as if saying no would change it. “That’s wrong! You’re not allowed to just employ your family members like that!”
“So why did your stepmother let you come here now?” Fariha asked.
“She wants me to spy on the prince and see what the competition is,” answered Annia. “I’m supposed to send her daily reports.”
Fariha flipped her black hair over her shoulder. “That is so wrong. If the king and queen found out, they will be most cross.”
Annia nodded. “I know, but I have to do it. This is the first time my stepmother has asked me to do something so important and I don’t want to let her down. I love her,” she said in a small voice.
Then Annia told Fariha everything about her. Like when she had actually met the prince and all the names she had used. Fariha listened to Annia throughout and did not interrupt.
At the end, Fariha just stared at Annia for a few minutes in silence. “That is so sad. I can’t believe someone would do that.”
Annia just shrugged, blinking back tears that had formed.
“Forget that for now,” said Fariha, sensing Annia’s emotions. “But I just realised that I don’t even know your name.”
“Athena,” said Annia, “is the name I’m here under. My real name is Annia though. Anastasia Belle Athena.”
“That’s such a pretty name,” complimented Fariha.
“Thanks,” said Annia smiling. “But don’t ever call me Annia, or mention any of what I told you to anyone.”
Fariha nodded. “I promise.”
Annia smiled at her luck at finding a new friend, and the two girls continued to converse.
Down in the gardens, Layla, her ambitious mother and quiet brother were meeting with the royal family.
“First of all, I would like to show my gratitude towards you, for accepting our invitation to the Royal Ball,” said the queen, kindly.
“You’re most welcome,” said Annia’s stepmother. In her mind she thought, there must be a bigger issue, otherwise her Majesty would not just invite us to express her thanks.
“Perhaps, Eros should take Layla on a walk around the gardens,” said the king. “I’m sure she would enjoy that.”
Eros got up and Layla also followed. As soon as they rounded the corner, the queen began to speak again.
“I will be frank with you, my Lady, I am interested in Eros marrying Layla,” stated the queen.
“Oh my!” said Annia’s stepmother, clutching her heart. “This is such an honour, your Majesty.”
The king smiled and said, “We were very pleased with the way Layla presented herself and think she would be fine match for our Eros.”
The queen continued. “I would like Eros to spend time with Layla everyday in order to know her better. Is that all right with you?”
“Yes, it is perfectly all right, your Majesty.”
“Good. I will send a carriage around at ten o’clock everyday to pick you up. Does that suit you, Lady?”
“Of course, your Majesty,” simpered Annia’s stepmother.
“Where is sir Alexei?” wondered the king. “I notice he is not present.”
“My husband is away on business,” said Annia’s stepmother, fluttering her eyelashes. “I’m terribly sorry he is not here to hear this wonderful news. I know if he were here, he would be very pleased.”
“That is good,” said the king, smiling pleasantly. “I just hope he will find out soon.”
“He will,” said Layla’s mother, making a mental note to send a letter to her husband as soon as she got home. “He will.”
Out in the distant gardens, Eros was pointing out flowers and plants.
“This is the bumbleberry bush,” he said pointing to a bush with many purple plump berries growing on it.
Layla stepped closer towards it to get a closer look and tripped on a hedge and fell. Eros caught her before she hit the ground.
“Thank you Highness,” she said, batting her long eyelashes at him.
“You’re welcome,” said the prince, his cheeks reddening slightly.
“The ball was quite wonderful,” complimented Layla.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling. “Pardon me, but I don’t remember you.”
“Oh that is quite all right, Highness. I was the one in the pink gown,” she said pointedly.
“Oh,” said Eros, bemused. There were many girls in pink gowns; she could not possibly imagine that he would remember every single girl and what she wore.
As they neared a raspberry bush, a man was walking by.
He bowed and said, “Would you like some berries, your Highness?”
Eros didn’t want to be rude, so he asked lady Layla, “Would you like some?”
Layla smiled. “No thank you, your Highness. I find berries stain my perfect teeth.” She smiled again to reveal very small, perfect white teeth.
Again Eros was at a loss of what to say. So he took some berries from the man’s outstretched hand and ate them, so he would not have to say anything else.
They made their way back to the gardens and then Layla and her family went on their way. After they were gone, the queen turned to her son.
“What did you think of her Eros?” she asked.
The young prince shrugged.
“You didn’t like her?” questioned his mother.
“No mother,” he said, suppressing a sigh. “It is just that I don’t know her very well.”
“Well obviously not. All you do is spend time with your father’s councillors. You would not know what to say to a young girl anyhow. It does not matter, you’ll be seeing a lot of her so you’ll get to know her better,” said his mother.
The princess, who was sitting beside the king, rolled her eyes. This sounded interesting. Actually this sounded like the discussion her brother and mother had whenever they talked.
She got up and said, “Mother, may I be excused?”
The queen nodded absently and the princess happily got up from her place and made her way up the palace.
As soon as the young princess had left, the queen continued her discussion. “Anyhow, Eros, I have employed you an assistant this morning, so you’ll finally have some company other than those of your father’s councillors and advisors.”
“What is wrong with my councillors and advisors?” questioned the king, affronted.
The queen sighed, as if she had made this point several times to her husband. “The boy is about to be nineteen, Phil. Nineteen, not thirty. He should be enjoying his childhood as much as he can. I have said it before, and I will say it again, you have treated him beyond his years since he was a child and have given him too many responsibilities.”
Eros sighed. “Mother, I don’t need an assistant. I’m perfectly capable of doing things myself.”
“See Hestia, I told you it was a bad idea from the start,” said the king, helping himself to a pastry.
Hestia rolled her eyes. “Anything that Eros does not agree with, you think is bad. If he wanted to go to war right now, you would let him!”
The king glanced at his son. “Of course I would. He is of age, he is responsible…”
But the queen had heard enough. Sighing, she got up and left the table.
Back up in Annia’s bedroom, Fariha and her were having a good time talking and laughing.
There was a knock on the closed door and Fariha said, “Enter.”
The princess entered and smiled at Annia. “Hello. You must be Eros’ new assistant.”
Annia jumped up and bowed. “Your Highness.”
The princess waved her hand and sat down. “Don’t bow or call me ‘your Highness’ or Majesty.”
Annia sat down and she continued. “I’m barely eleven years old and people are always bowing down and calling me all sorts of fancy names. It’s ridiculous.”
Fariha laughed and Annia smiled feebly.
“By the way, my name is Alia,” she said.
“Pleasure to meet you Princess Alia,” said Annia.
Alia made a face and then laughed. “Please don’t call me princess Alia. Just Alia.”
“This is Athena,” said Fariha, pointing at Annia.
“Glad to have you around, Athena,” said Alia. “Maybe now that there are three of us, we will have some fun.”
“Are you saying you don’t have fun with me?” asked Fariha, with mock seriousness.
Alia giggled. “Maybe. Anyways, I’m going to change out of this uncomfortable frock and into something less pompous.”
Annia glanced at Alia. She was a short girl for her age and had light brown hair tied in a small French twist. Her blue green eyes were excited and lively with long lashes framing them. She was wearing a pretty light pink gown that Annia was sure Layla would die to touch, but Annia could see that Alia could not care less about her gown.
Fariha sighed. “Do you need help with that Alia?”
“No. Since you don’t seem to want to assist me, I shall do it on my own,” said Alia, lifting her nose into the air and walking out.
Fariha and Annia laughed and then Fariha said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”
Annia nodded and Fariha left after Alia.
On the other side of the wall, Eros stood in his balcony, drinking in some fresh air before his court session. When he had come into the room, he had seen the door open to his new maid’s room. Fariha and Alia had been there chatting with the girl, but the new maid had her back towards Eros, so he didn’t see her face yet. He had walked past the door without them noticing him.
Now he stood in his balcony, thinking about his to-be-bride.
All was quiet in the other room, until a voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Annia, I’ll be back in a second,” came Fariha’s voice.
“Shhh!” said an unknown voice. “Don’t say my real name so loud!”
“Oops, sorry,” said Fariha and then Eros heard a door close. All was silent again.
Eros stared into the gardens, confused and worried. The new maid didn’t want her real name to be said? Then who was she?
He decided to investigate. He walked over to the door that linked his bedroom to his new maids and knocked lightly on the open door. He knew he was the prince of theEnchantedKingdomand this was his palace, but he still didn’t want to be rude.
The girl turned around to look at Eros. Immediately she curtsied and said, “Your Highness.”
Eros raised his eyebrows suspiciously at this girl. He raised his hand and she stood. Her eyes remained on the ground.
The girl was wearing a second hand dress and looked middle class. She had hair that looked black, but if the sun that was shining on it hadn’t shown that it was truly brown, then he would have thought it to be black.
When she looked up briefly, he saw that her eyes changed colour every few minutes. She was fair, almost pale with big eyes and long lashes. Her eyes were the only things that stood out of her thin and weak face. Her lips and nose seemed small in comparison.
“Your name is Annia then?” the young prince asked.
Annia didn’t know how to respond. In her head, she was cursing herself for letting the prince find out her name so quickly and for foiling her stepmother’s plot.
She nodded slightly, failing to raise her eyes.
“Why did you tell Fariha not to say your name then? Who are you?” he demanded.
“I am a maid, your Highness,” she answered, her voice trembling.
“You didn’t answer my first question. Why did you tell Fariha not use your name? Why did Alia call you Athena?”
Annia racked her brain for something, anything. But nothing came. So she said nothing.
“I’m still waiting for an answer,” said Eros. When Annia remained silent, he said, “I will have to arrest you then.”
Annia gasped. “Please don’t, your Highness. I was merely doing my step…Madam’s bidding. She placed me here so I could see how you like Lady Layla. I only did what she told me, and she told me to change my name, so I did. I’m not spying on you or anything like that. I was just supposed to see how you liked Lady Layla.”
Eros’ brow furrowed. “I will still have to tell the king and queen about your Madam and what she is making you do, because spying, in any shape or form is not tolerated at the Palace.”
Annia begged him, tears forming in her eyes. “Please your Highness, don’t tell their Majesties. My Madam was only doing it for her daughter. It was Lady Layla who was desperate and my Madam loves her so much, so she had to listen to her. But I promise not to pass any information, if your Highness does not tell the king and queen.” Annia had spoken some lies here and there, but she had tried her best to keep her story as real as possible. “I’m so sorry for lying to you, but I only did it because Lady Layla wanted to and Madam loves her so much.”
Eros sighed. “Very well. I will not tell the king and queen, but I will be watching you very closely. Just remember, you’re on thin ice. If I catch you doing anything wrong, you will be arrested.”
Annia nodded and the prince left, shutting the adjoining door behind him.
Gasping for air, she sat back down on the bed. She couldn’t believe how close she was to getting arrested. Annia took in a few deep breaths to slow down her heartbeat, which had started to increase just as the prince had demanded to know her name.
Fariha came in and sat down. “Alia’s getting dressed. Was the prince just here, Annia? I thought I heard his voice.”
Annia nodded and then proceeded to tell Fariha what had happened.
Fariha was quiet until the end, when she was sympathetic.
“I’m so sorry that it happened,” said Fariha. “I should have told you of the prince’s nature.”
Annia was half listening. She hadn’t expected the prince’s nature to be so demanding and forceful. When she had met him in the bookshop and at the ball, he had seemed like a completely different person. Right now, he was so authoritative and quick in detecting any danger to his family, that Annia didn’t know which young man she met was actually the prince.
“The prince is very truthful,” continued Fariha. “He does not tolerate lying in any circumstances, you should be lucky he didn’t tell the king and queen. I think he was just bluffing to scare you though.”
“Scare me?” questioned Annia. “What do you mean?”
Fariha paused for a second and then said, “I will give you an example. Two years ago, there was a man who served under the king’s army. The prince was in training then, so he usually took over the army when his father was busy. There was a chap who was quite poor and begged for some money or job from the prince. The prince got him a job in the army and paid him well, so he could support his family.
“A few weeks later, the chap inherited a large sum of gobs from an uncle that had died, and didn’t need the job anymore, but he still kept it. The prince found out one day and told the king. The king started decreed that the man be thrown into the dungeon or lying to the prince, but then Eros questioned him. The chap answered that he had a younger brother who had gotten married and had used up all the gobs for the wedding. He needed the job so he could support his own family.
“The prince was disappointed in the man, but he let him keep his job. So that just shows you, Annia,” said Fariha, “that he wants everyone to be open and honest with him. He told the chap that even though he was still working in the army, he should have still told him about the inheritance so that no misunderstandings could have happened with the king.”
Annia was in awe. “He was still very nice about it. I mean, he could have just listened to his father and have thrown the man in jail, but instead he listened to the man to hear his side of the story. He is very fair.”
Fariha smiled. “Yes he is. That is one of the many qualities that will make him such a good king. I should have told you this before though. He also gets very mad easily. Once he had find out that the man had lied to him, he was extremely mad and upset, but he calmed down within five seconds and regained his reason. They say he is quick to anger, but also quick to forgive. His quick anger is his only flaw, but he is very sweet about it later. So do not worry, he will come around soon.”
Annia nodded. “I sure hope so. I am also surprised he didn’t report me. I thought his quick anger would have made him throw me in the dungeon.”
Fariha laughed. “Maybe, but he does not completely lose his head when he gets angry. He gave you a chance, just like he gives everyone. He wants things to be fair for everyone.”
Alia came back in, in a simpler gown from before. “Who are you talking about? Eros, I’m sure.”
Fariha laughed. “How did you know?”
Alia smiled and said, “Never mind. Let’s head down to the gardens for lunch.”
Fariha and Annia got off the bed and Annia followed the pair downstairs.
Making their way down to the gardens, the three talked happily. They walked to the where the king and queen were sitting.
Annia curtsied deeply, while Alia and Fariha sat down.
“That is Eros’ assistant,” introduced Alia. “Her name is Athena.”
“Athena?” questioned the queen.
Catching the prince’s stern eye, Annia took a deep breath. “No, your Majesty. It is actually Annia.”
Alia looked confused and so Annia explained. “Lady Diane heard me say Athena and I was too shy to correct her. Lady Diane told Fariha that my name was Athena and she told Alia that name, but it’s wrong.”
“Sorry then. This is Annia,” said Alia, smiling. “This is Eros’ new assistant, Annia.”
Annia smiled as Fariha and Alia smiled at her, but immediately stopped when she saw the prince frowning at her.
The queen smiled at her and said, “Please stand, Annia. And no more bowing, please. Your knees will hurt from seeing me so many times a day.”
Annia smiled warmly at the queen. This was the closest she had ever been to the Royal Family. At the ball, she had seen them and speculated as to how they actually were and now here she was talking to them!
“Thank you your Majesty,” said Annia, bowing.
“Ah-ah-ah,” warned the queen, still smiling.
“Oops, I forgot,” said Annia rising again.
“The no bowing rule counts for me as well,” said the king.
Annia nodded and said, “Your Majesty.” Her left knee began to bend when she remembered the no bowing rule. In the end, she just lost her balance and fell over.
The king, queen, Fariha and Alia all laughed at her. Annia smiled a little weakly, still scared at what she was doing and what could happen if she messed up.
“Well it seems you’re here a little bit early, Annia,” said the king, after the laughter had ceased.
Smiling, the queen said, “We were expecting you tomorrow after you got your things from home today.”
“Yes, Lady Diane told me, your Majesty,” said Annia. “But as I have very little things, I decided to just stay today. I hope that is all right.”
The queen nodded. “Of course it is. Madam Alexei told me how you worked for her and so that is enough proof we need. But your official work does not start until tomorrow, so why do you not relax today and start tomorrow?”
Annia was speechless. “That’s all right, your Majesty. I can start today.”
The king waved his hand. “Nonsense. You can enjoy yourself today and familiarize yourself with the palace and then tomorrow, you can officially start.”
“As you wish,” said Annia meekly, unable to believe her luck.
The queen smiled at her and said, “Now if you’ll please join us for lunch?”
“Oh mother, what if Fariha, Annia and I had our own table for today?” pleaded Alia.
The queen looked at her husband, smiling. “All right.”
“Finally!” said Alia, leading them to a table right beside the king and queens. “You don’t know how boring it is to sit with mother and father when Eros is there. All they ever talk about is how much work Eros does and how much he shouldn’t. It is the same, all the time.”
Annia smiled at how affectionately Alia could talk about her family and secretly longed for the same. On the other hand, she could not believe she had status now that she could sit and eat at the same table as the king and queen.
Contented, Annia put some food on her plate and listened to the conversation between her two new friends.
After lunch, Annia, Fariha and Ali started to walk around the Palace while the king; queen and prince went off to do their respective duties.
Alia showed Annia around the palace, to a few places Fariha had missed. Annia was quiet most of the time, listening to Alia and Fariha talk, and laughing at their jokes.
The king and queen were very busy and were late for dinner, so Alia, Fariha and Annia ate dinner on Alia’s balcony.
Annia was tired from all the excitement she had had, so right after dinner, she felt asleep on her new and comfortable bed.
The next morning, she woke up rested and refreshed. The sun had barely gotten up, and there was Annia ready to start the day.
She was so used to her old habits and ways that she had forgotten to ask Fariha what time she was to awaken Eros.
Annia didn’t care though. She was excited about starting her new job and felt at ease just lying there in her new room listening to the birds chirp and watching the sun glow up her dark room.
When she heard enough clangs on the clock tower to estimate that she was neither too early nor too late (eight o’clock), she got up. She showered and then looked for a new gown to wear.
Annia had slept in the gown she had worn yesterday, but now it was all wrinkled from being slept in.
The ad had said that clothes were provided, but Annia didn’t know when she would get them and she had forgotten to ask the queen about this.
She decided to ask Fariha for a spare dress so she opened the door quietly and started to tiptoe out into the hall when she noticed a large package on the ground. She picked it up, feeling that she had lifted much heavier objects and plunked it down on her bed.
Opening it, Annia gasped. Inside were fifty brand new gowns. Thirty everyday ones and twenty fancier ones. The gowns were not as fancy like the princess or queen’s, but they were not as simple as the one her stepmother had given her. They were all exquisite with new and latest designs and patterns. Among the gowns were also two nightgowns, a comb, undergarments and matching jewellery to be worn with each gown. Annia was amazed as she looked at everything.
There was a groan from the next room (the prince’s) so Annia quickly grabbed some hangers from her bureau and put the gowns away. She then put the jewellery, comb and undergarments in their places and then grabbed a new gown and pulled it over.
Combing her wet hair, she tied it back into a simple ponytail and knocked on the prince’s door that connected her room to his.
“Come in,” said the prince’s voice.
Annia opened the door and almost froze, feeling the colour rush to her cheeks.
There was the prince, sitting on his bed, wearing red and white pyjama trousers and nothing else.
Even though Annia had lived with two men, her father and her stepbrother, for all her life, she had never seen them without their tops off.
Annia was still frozen to her spot, feeling the colour rush to her cheeks. She felt the best thing to do a time like this was to curtsy.
“Your Highness,” she said.
He waved his hand and she stood up.
“I’d like you to go and press my clothes for me.” He thrust a pair of trousers, a shirt and a cape at her.
She curtsied again. “Of course, Eros.”
Eros raised an eyebrow at her and Annia felt like slapping herself. She had forgotten she hadn’t met him before at the ball or the bookshop when he had told her to call him by his name.
She gulped. “I mean, your Highness. I’m sorry.” She bowed herself out of the room and closed the door and sighed.
Why had the ad not stated, ‘Must be able to see the prince with his shirt off comfortably’? Annia cursed whoever made the ad. That was a vital part of the job, just as important as being able to press his clothes and make his bed.
Then she remembered the conversation she had heard between Madam Rose and the other woman. His old assistant had been older, like a second mother to him, so of course she would have to do such things.
Now that she thought about it, Annia remembered a tinge of red on the prince’s cheeks as well. Annia’s cheeks reddened once more as she followed Fariha’s instructions to get to the pressing room.
She pressed the prince’s clothes and then walked back to his room. She knocked on the external door to his bedroom.
“Enter,” came his voice.
Annia entered, dropping a curtsy. “Your clothes, your Highness,” she said.
Thankfully, the prince had put on his shirt now, with its buttons opened. But Annia was happy, because it was better than before.
He took the clothes from her, surveying her with his green eyes. The girl was just standing there, waiting for further instructions. “Anything else, your Highness?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes, I need my crown please.”
Annia curtsied again and left the room. Walking back to her room slowly, Annia was deep in thought.
She didn’t know when the prince would start to trust her, but she was hoping that day would arrive soon. She was dreadfully afraid and nervous every time she was around the prince, because of the way he looked at her suspiciously.
When back in her room, Annia could not remember Fariha telling her where to get the crowns. She didn’t want to bother the prince now, so she decided to ask Fariha.
She knocked on Fariha’s door and waited a few minutes. When there was no answer, she decided to try Alia’s room.
Alia’s bedroom door was open and Fariha was brushing her hair while she sat on a stool in front of a mirror.
“Good morning, Fariha, Alia,” said Annia.
Alia turned and smiled at her.
Annia explained. “I was wondering where I would get the prince’s crown.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Fariha, putting down the brush. “I have to get Alia’s tiara as well.”
Annia followed Fariha to the crown room where she led Annia to a room with two guards standing outside.
“Password?” one of the guards asked.
Fariha thought for a second and then said, “Metamorphosis.”
One of the guards was looking at Annia suspiciously so Fariha said, “This is Annia, the prince’s new assistant.”
The guards nodded and let them in.
“By the way, the password changes every week,” said Fariha to Annia, once they were inside. “It is so no one can figure it out.”
“It’s such a hard password,” said Annia. “How am I going to keep up?”
“Don’t worry,” said Fariha, smiling. “You get a notice whenever it changes, so you know. Anyways, these are the family crowns.”
Looking around the room, Annia saw that the room was small and a guard was positioned near the window. There was a large dresser, which had a series of crowns and tiaras set upon it.
Right above the dresser were the words: Praesumo delecto! Praesumo somnio! Praesumo volo! Annia had seen this motto in many places around the kingdom.
“Here Annia,” said Fariha, handing her a gold crown.
Annia took it, but her eyes stayed on the rest of the crowns.
Fariha noticed Annia looking, so she said, “Would you like to see the others?”
When Annia nodded, Fariha said, “The one in your hand is the one Eros usually wears.
“This one is for Royal balls and galas,” she said pointing to the crown Eros had worn at the ball, gold with a pattern of rubies and emeralds.
“This one is for when he turns king,” said Fariha, pointing at one with more detail and jewels. It was a gold crown encrusted with rubies to sapphires and emeralds to diamonds.
“These are for Alia,” she said pointing to silver tiaras with diamonds glittering.
“Wow,” said Annia, leaning in for a closer look. “It is beautiful.”
Fariha nodded. “Alia cannot wait until she can wear it. She sneaks in here, always trying to try it on and play with it, but the queen does not let her. Last time, she broke one and the king had to have another one made.”
Annia laughed and then pointed to a set of crowns on the other side of the table. “Who are those for?”
“The king and queen,” said Fariha.
Nodding, Annia peered at all of them. Then she noticed one more tiara by itself on a platform.
Fariha saw her looking and smiled with glee.
“That one,” said Fariha, pointing to the crown, “is for the future queen. The queen says, whomever Eros chooses, shall be his bride. Whether she is a duchess or a maid.”
Annia nodded absently, not really listening to Fariha. Her eyes were focused on the tiara.
It was a silver tiara and it was so detailed that even the tiniest flower was perfect. On the top was a lavender coloured gem, accompanying it were light blue sapphires, light pink stones and diamonds. The design was breathtaking with waves of sapphires and pink stones ending in small flowers with diamonds for centres and lavender stones for petals. It was so perfect that there were no mistakes.
As they left, Annia said, “That was beautiful. What do you think?”
There was silence so Annia glanced at Fariha to see her staring at the crown dreamily. She nudged her and said, “Fariha. Fariha! Kingdom to Fariha!”
Fariha’s eyes focused again and said, “Don’t you dare tell anyone!”
Annia smiled. “Of course I will.”
Fariha started to smile, thinking she had heard Annia agree not to tell, and then her words dawned on her.
“Annia!” she yelled.
Annia laughed and said, “I won’t tell, don’t worry.”
Looking as if she didn’t believe her, Fariha said, “You better not. Otherwise I shall have to tell the king and queen about your real position.”
Annia smiled. “All right. You don’t tell, and then neither will I.” She struck out her hand and Fariha shook it.
“Deal?” Annia asked.
Smiling mischievously, Fariha said, “Deal.”