As Sarah bathed, the maids chatted back and forth about what they should pull out of the closet for Sarah to wear. The elder was insisting that she wear some of their clothing while the younger one wanted to clothe Sarah in the Princess’s attire. Sarah dunked her head to scrub her scalp, when she surfaced Princess Allmarah spoke to her.
“You said you prefer pants?”
“I do,” Sarah nodded, “I grew up in them, but people seem to think it’s a bit peculiar around here.”
The Princess turned to her maids with a smirk and began whispering to them. Sarah paid them no heed and proceeded to scrub her body. As she was going for her back, the Princess took the sponge.
As she scrubbed the young woman leaned forward and whispered, “My father would not have sent you here alone.”
“He didn’t,” Sarah whispered back, “Phoenix, Sparrow and Griffon Troops are all here...”
Princess Allmarah interrupted her with a chirrup, sounding much like Sparrow calling to her men. Without thinking, Sarah answered it as best as she’d learned how. Glancing behind her, she caught sight of a fleeting smile on the girl’s face. By the time Sarah had finished washing herself, a skirt, shirt and sleeveless jacket had been laid out upon the bed.
“The jacket might not be big enough to accommodate the shirt you have,” Princess Allmarah whispered as she handed Sarah the towel, “but those,” she pointed to the skirt, “are pants. Sparrow helped me make it for my journeys into the Areni Plains, where riding side saddle is a laughable offence.” She smiled ever so slightly. “If you keep your steps dainty, no one will know they are pants. I have fooled just about all of the Vervellean court, though Lady Abigail caught me running in them once.”
“How improper,” Sarah grinned as she did her best Lady Abigail hand flourish.
The younger maid quickly clapped her hand over her mouth as she nearly squealed. Princess Allmarah’s smile reached her eyes and Sarah knew she’d gained her trust at last.
“Well let’s not have her catch cold,” the elder maid finally spoke, her voice low. “Which shirt are you wearing?”
Sarah tried the willow cloth shirt first, but being more of a man’s cut, it was too bulky to fit under the jacket. Of course being busty wasn’t helping either. Still Sarah did not want to lose her connection with Jason, despite his insistence that they would be close enough to not need it. She stared for a long moment at the other shirt, trussed up with barely mobile arms.
Okay Jay, she thought gently, for she thought he was sleeping, I’m going for the ability to move, versus ability to communicate with you, since you say we should be close enough to not need the Willow Cloth. Just get us out soon, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to last before my tongue gets me in trouble.
“Let’s try the other shirt,” Sarah whispered.
In no time at all the maids had switched her shirts and redone the jacket. Sarah paced the room, testing out what stride lengths would work. Apparently, if she did anything more than a stroll, the split would show. So, Sarah practiced while she waited, nervous knots tying up her stomach. A knock stopped her in the middle of pacing. As one they all turned towards the door.
“Come in,” she stated with more confidence than she felt.
The door was unbolted and James stepped in. He blinked and then bowed. “Good evening, Your Highness and Ladies. I hope that you fare well.”
“As well as to be expected,” Princess Allmarah spoke with disdain, reminding Sarah once more of Prince Theodoso.
“I hope that you shall find your welfare improved soon.” He rose from his bow and turned to Sarah. “Goodwoman Smith, General Wholawski awaits your company for supper.”
“I don’t suppose you could tell him I changed my mind?” Sarah asked, sorely wishing she could talk to Jay right now.
“I do not think that would be wise.” James’s eyebrows rose the slightest bit.
“Right, well let’s get this over with then shall we?”
Trying not to take long strides Sarah passed James. He quickly bowed and said good night to the Princess and her Ladies and followed her. She noted that he did not re-bolt the door, but rather strode up to her and caught her arm. Slightly annoyed, Sarah turned to face him.
James leaned in close and whispered to her. “The General believes Phoenix died under the Willow Tree at the Trials. I suggest you play along with that for your safety.”
Sarah tried to pull her arm from his grip, but he only re-adjusted his hold.
“I am escorting you,” James stated.
“I’m fully capable of walking on my own, thank you.”
Sarah jerked her arm again and this time he let go.
Smiling ever so slightly James moved before her. “Then let me guide you to the Great Hall in which General Jackobus Wholawski awaits your presence.”