Lily raced down the hall at breakneck speed with Dora hot on her heals. For a fat little step-princess, that girl had legs.
Dora wheezed and swore and shouted angry threats and insults, and was stopped very suddenly when the lacquered slide of a trombone extended out from behind a pillar and pressed gently against her chest.
Jason came into view, holding the blunt instrument, and Lily doubled back to stand behind him, protected in his shadow.
Queen Nita finally caught up, stomping angrily and holding up her skirts, and followed as always by at least three handmaidens.
These weren’t human girls. They had once been, but working for Nita had turned them into trained, beaten, broken-willed husks whose sole purpose for existence was the service of their queen.
Nita insisted on only young, ‘pure’ girls for her handmaidens, and was racking up quite a tally. She needed at least nine just to have three on hand twenty-four hours day, and with an average operational life-span of three to four years, that meant she was almost constantly discarding old ones and taking on new ones. The old ones were apparently being stored in an insane asylum off the coast.
“I should have known you had something to do with this!” Nita snarled. “Really, that servant of yours is completely out of control—and why is she out of uniform?!”
Lily peeked out from behind Jason and grinned, proudly displaying the stolen sour ball in her teeth and causing Dora to screech with anger. Quickly, before Nita could see it, Lily gulped down the candy and did her best to fake being frightened.
“Now, your highness,” Jason replied condescendingly. “Lily here is a royal page, not a servant. She is special, and everyone—even you—must address her appropriately. We have these laws for a reason.”
“We have the uniforms for a reason as well,” Nits snapped. “I don’t know why you and your father insist on keeping that filthy little urchin around. I mean really, she’s been here for some time and she still smells of the streets!”
“Nita, dear, I don’t think you do understand,” Jason replied. “But then, you’re hardly even Bur’Ian, are you? Come along Lily, let’s go see if we can’t think of a way to help dear auntie Nita appreciate you.”
He slung the instrument over his shoulder and walked away with Lily in tow, leaving a fuming Nita standing in the hallway.
“I’m more Bur’Ian than she is!” Nita insisted. “And why have you got a trombone?!”