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Chapter Eleven, Scene Two
“Are you sure you’re all right?” I ask Lionel for what must be the tenth time. “Your leg doesn’t hurt?”
Thankfully, we’re almost to the village. I should have thought about how taxing this first outing would be before I dragged him along.
“I’m fine,” Lionel growls. “Enough with your fussing.”
“Fussing?” I say, mock-offended. “Someone is full of himself. I simply want to make sure you don’t expect me to drag your sorry self back to the meadow if you were to fall over from exhaustion.”
Lionel doesn’t answer. He stares ahead, at the tiny village that’s just coming into view. The boardinghouse’s red roof stands above the trees, along with the woodmaster’s clock tower.
The prince pauses, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he looks nervous.
“Is there a problem?” I ask.
“Do you think…” he trails off, sounding oddly uncertain.
“Do you think anyone will recognize me?”
Lightly, I ask, “Embarrassed to be seen with me?”
Of course he is, but that doesn’t keep the truth from stinging.
“No.” Lionel runs a hand over his short, unruly beard, frowning.
“Oh,” I tease, drawing out the word. “Is it because you’re scruffy?”
He shoots me an impatient look.
“Word travels quickly through small villages,” I say with a sigh. “And we have a fairy population, a gypsy, and a ridiculous number gimlies. I would be surprised if there is a soul in Dragon Ridge who doesn’t know you, at least by name.”
He glances at me, growing even more unsure. “I don’t think—”
“Lionel…are you scared?”
The prince bristles. “Certainly not. But I’m not particularly well-liked, either.”
“No,” I exclaim, pressing a hand to my chest. “With your sparkling personality and dazzling wit? Impossible.”
“It’s fine.” I grasp his arm and attempt to drag him with me. “No one will care that you’re a boar. I don’t even notice anymore. Mostly.”
Lionel doesn’t budge, which means I end up digging my heels into the ground and yanking him for all I’m worth. He stares down at me, unmoving, less than amused.
He might as well be a tree with the way he’s rooted to the ground.
“Come on,” I say, leaning back so I’m tugging him with all my weight. If he shakes me free, I’ll fall on my tail. “It will be fine.”
“What are you attempting?” He narrows his eyes at my hands on his arm. “You don’t actually think there’s enough of you to overpower me, do you?”
“It all comes down to will,” I explain, refusing to give up. “I’m far more stubborn than you, so eventually, I’ll win.”
His laugh takes me by surprise. It’s just a chuckle, deep and low—the kind that confirms that he thinks I’m ridiculous.
I stop pulling and stare up at him. The amusement completely transforms him, just like it did the other day. He’s a different person, one who—for just this one moment—is free.
Oddly, there’s something about it that’s terribly sad. Though Lionel hides behind his trollish manner and layers of impatience and hostility, it suddenly hits me that deep down, he might be a little broken. And whatever is plaguing him isn’t as easily mended as bones and bruises.
“You can wait here,” I say suddenly. “It’s all right if you’re not ready to face people.”
The good humor leaves his lips, and he begins walking once more. “I’m fine.”
I hurry to catch up with him.
“Might I make a suggestion?” I ask. The look he gives me says he’s not open to the idea, but that’s never stopped me before. “If you want people to like you…you could try smiling.”
“People will like me if I walk around grinning like a fool?” he scoffs.
“You can’t just leap in with a grin—you’ll pull a muscle,” I say, hoping to keep the conversation light. “Let’s start with something simple. Like…not scowling?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he deadpans.
As expected, curious eyes latch onto us the moment we enter the village.
“They’re watching us,” Lionel growls under his breath.
“You’re new, you’re roughly the size of an oak tree, and your clothes have been reduced to rags,” I explain. “Of course they’re watching you.”
I wave to several people as we pass, hoping no one stops us for a chat.
“After you’ve been here a few times,” I continue, “they won’t find you nearly as interesting.”
Lionel grunts in answer.
We end up in front of the tailor’s shop. I glance across the street, wondering if Midge has spotted us from her windows. She’ll be put out if I don’t bring Lionel in for an introduction, but I’m not sure he’s ready for premeditated social interaction.
In fact, I’m certain he’s not. She’ll simply have to forgive me.
I walk into the shop, and the tailor’s daughter looks up from her chore of organizing fabric on a shelf near the back. She’s young, only sixteen, with raven hair and bright blue eyes. Her attention immediately falls on Lionel, and her lips part as she lets out a small gasp. A bolt of fabric falls to the floor, landing with a loud thump.
“Hello, Trixie,” I say, hoping to gloss over her reaction to the large, hairy man I just escorted into her shop.
Quickly, she scoops the bolt from the floor and shoves it in with the rest. The fabric catches, but she simply pushes a little harder, wedging it in place. It sticks out an odd angle as she hurries to greet us.
“Good afternoon, Genevieve,” she says, her eyes straying to my companion once more.
“This is Lionel.” I point a thumb at the prince. “He needs…everything.”
“Yes, I can see that—” She stops abruptly, clamping her lips shut for a solid three seconds before she begins again. “We’re happy to help.”
Lionel radiates irritation, and I jab my elbow in his side as soon as Trixie rushes into the upstairs apartment to find her father.
“Be nice,” I hiss.
He snorts and looks away.
Several moments later, the girl returns with Reginald.
The tailor’s hair is just as dark as his daughter’s, and his eyes are the same icy blue—the usual coloring of harpies. He’s as handsome as she is beautiful, but that goes without saying. It’s unfair, perhaps, but it’s in the harpy blood. Like merfolk, they’re all attractive.
Reginald gives us a friendly smile, his measuring tape already in hand, and immediately sets to work. Unlike Trixie, he’s the picture of good manners. As Reginald measures, he asks Lionel questions about cut and color, which Lionel eloquently answers with a variety of grunts.
“I can alter a few things to fit if you’re not particular about the fabric,” the tailor says once he’s finished. “Come back tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Reginald,” I say, reluctantly following Lionel, who’s already walking toward the door. “Goodbye, Trixie.”
Once outside, I match the prince’s pace. “Let’s add a few words to your vocabulary.”
His pace is brisk, and the look he gives me is beyond impatient.
Undaunted, I continue, “Let’s start with hello, goodbye, please, and thank you.”
Lionel stops, giving me a look filled with such disdain, I’m tempted to drop the subject. My teasing triggered a reaction I didn’t expect. I thought he’d shake his head, maybe roll his eyes.
But he’s angry.
“It was a business transaction,” he says sharply, “not a social call. Did you expect me to make small talk about the weather?”
Before I can answer, Lionel continues again. I hurry to keep up with him, flashing apologetic looks to the people we pass.
I wait to push the issue further until we’re out of the village, but as soon as it’s safely behind us, I grab the prince’s arm, making him look at me. “This is why people don’t like you—you don’t even try.”
His eyes flash as he looks back. “We’re not having this discussion.”
He shakes free of my hand and quickens his pace, making me nearly run to keep up.
“What?” he whips back, looking genuinely angry now.
I open my mouth to say something, but I’m too irritated to put my thoughts in order.
The prince leans down, meeting my eyes. “Let me teach you a lesson, Genevieve. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. They want things, demand things. Perhaps people don’t like me, but they respect me.”
“Is it respect or fear?” I say before I can stop myself.
We stare at each other for several long seconds, the tension between us tangible.
“What difference does it make?” he finally says, turning away. “The results are the same.”
I follow him resolutely, fighting the urge to continue the argument. Lionel has made it clear the subject is closed.
And when it comes down to it, who am I to tell a prince how to live his life?