Ophelia stared fixedly at her daughter.
"Your father." She seemed uncomfortable.
"My father," said Elenia defiantly. "You said I was too young to know about him five years ago. Surely you can tell me now."
"It's irrelevant. All that matters is you're safe, and those horrible maggots haven't been able to do anything to you."
"The maggots aren't horrible, they haven't harmed me at all."
"You heard me. They've treated me rightly for my status -"
"So plucking you out of the very place that you're supposed to be safest -"
"They needed to pass on a message, Mother. They never would have been able to, the stringent cloaks on comms in this place, if they hadn't brought me to them."
"Very well - you tell me about the maggots and I'll tell you about your father," said Ophelia curtly. "And while we're at it, Tyraanus should probably be here to -"
"You bring him in here and I won't talk," said Elenia tersely. "I don't trust him."
Ophelia looked gobsmacked.
"What on earth don't you trust him about?"
"Do you want me to tell you?"
"Of course I do, but the king has a right to know -"
"I have magic, Mother."
Shock and understanding suddenly blazed in Ophelia's face.
"That is why the maggots wanted to rendezvous with me. They were extending the hand of friendship, and protection from the Compliance Teams."
"Protection? You're the Princess! The very heir to the throne! You're the last person in the world who'd need extra protection!"
"You don't understand, do you? I may be Tyraanus' stepdaughter, but does that matter enough to not have me hanged for maggotry? Does he love me enough that he'd pardon my gift? And when word got out, he'd be destroyed!"
"But Tyraanus would never harm either of us!"
"And what were you saying, five years ago, when you first met him? Tyraanus would never harm anyone. And only three years ago it was he that introduced all the violent measures against the maggots."
"They were out of control, they were getting too big for their boots -"
"They want a life just as much as we do! I've been with them, and I've seen the type of conditions they've been forced to live in! All they want is a place in society, where they can use their various gifts to benefit us all instead of thwart us with. The only way they get enough food is by stealing, and they have nowhere else to go. And if they're caught, they're hanged, or fried, or chopped slowly into bits and boiled. I don't think Tyraanus' zero tolerance policy is going to look me over."
Ophelia was lost for words.
"Where are they? Where do they live? Do they squat in Accommodation?"
"Don't take me for an idiot, Mother. I'm not speaking. The maggots deserve sanctuary where they are, without your Royal guards diving into their last hiding place."
"But if I speak to Tyraanus I'm sure he'd relent -"
"Are you? I don't want to be here when you find out."
Ophelia fell silent again.
"The only reason I'm here, Mother, is to tell you I'm safe, and to talk to Tyraanus about me. I'm perfectly safe amongst the maggots - safer, probably, than I am here. I've got a PI number here. Hoot me on that and tell me what he says. And give him an ultimatum - if he decides magic isn't such a bad thing and to give maggots a chance, I'll come back. If he doesn't and he wants me dead, I'm staying with the maggots forever, and fighting until I die."
Elenia was surprised to find herself on her feet and stalking towards the door. Ophelia was still seated, staring at the slip of paper Elenia had given her.
"But wait, poppit! Don't you want to know about your father?" she called desperately.
"Don't call me poppit, I'm not four years old," snapped Elenia, without breaking her stride. "And if my father's anything like Tyraanus then I don't want to know anything about him."
And she slammed the door on her mother for the last time as a princess. She knew what side she was fighting for, and until Tyraanus accepted the maggots, she would never stop.