“And up here,” said Addie, leading Viv up the creaky staircase as the two girls giggled. “Is the attic. Hardly anybody ever comes up here anymore, so I like to rearrange the boxes and crates into little sets for plays. I only ever get to perform them for dust bunnies, and sometimes Reggie, but it’s still fun. Have to find some way to entertain myself in this castle.”
“You have siblings, and they all live here,” said Viv, watching as Addie pulled open the door to the attic. The white paint that was sure to have once been pristine was now peeling, exposing rotting wood and black knotholes. The hinges squealed in protest, as though Addie had just woken them from their nap. “Can’t you amuse yourself with them?”
“Celeste is too young to play with, and mother insists Jerald spend practically every waking moment learning about trade and warfare and kingdom management. She’s obsessed with the idea that Jerald will one day be king,” said Addie. As she walked across the hardwood floors, the clack of her high-heeled slippers echoed loudly in the enormous room. It was easily the size of the castle’s ballroom, the ceiling seeming impossibly high. Most of the space was empty, and one very large window on the left wall bathed the entire room in white light. Viv imagined the room was very unpleasant to be in at night. “I can hardly pin down Reggie for a few hours. He likes spending time with me, but I think Mother has him convinced that he shouldn’t.”
“Why not?” asked Viv, following Addie to the centre of the room.
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Addie with a scoff. “One reason or another. Something completely ridiculous, of that I’m sure. Maybe she told him a young lady needs to spend time with young ladies rather than rambunctious boys. Don’t get me wrong, our friend Molly is a very nice young woman to spend time with, but I prefer Reggie by a longshot.”
Viv nodded knowingly. She was guilty of preferring Victor’s company over that of her brother, so she had at least a mild understanding. It had been a week and a half since Reggie had returned home from the hunting lodge. He and Valentine were only meant to be gone for a week, but they’d ended up being gone for three. Coramund seemed to miss Valentine, but she cared nothing for Reggie’s absence. One night, at dinner, she’d even joked that perhaps the dogs had mistaken Reggie for a deer and torn him apart. Viv was only aware that Reggie had returned because Addie could confirm it. Viv herself hadn’t seen him since the welcome. She was a little bit hurt that Reggie hadn’t bothered to seek her out upon his return, but her only solution was to pay him back in kind. If he wanted to see her, then he would have to put in the effort.
While Reggie was away, Addie had taken an immediate liking to Viv. Viv may have been three years older than Addie, but they clicked almost instantly. Addie had made it her personal mission to show Viv the entire castle. Every part of it, from the lowest floor of the dungeon to the roof of the tallest turret. Viv wondered why Reggie hadn’t seen her yet, but Addie’s constant cheerful chatter was a welcome distraction. That and conversations with Crazy Crumbly Connie, an odd old woman who was imprisoned in the dungeons many years ago. Most people forgot that she’d even been imprisoned. Whatever her crime was, her time in the dungeon had mellowed her. She was very willing to speak to the princesses about all sorts of issues, though her brain had been a little muddled by decades in a dungeon. The attic was the last room in the castle that Viv hadn’t seen.
“If you’d like, I could ask Papa to come up here to watch us perform plays,” offered Viv. She ran a hand over one of Addie’s makeshift sets. It seemed to be a boat, made of trunks, crates, and even thick old books all stacked on top of each other. A sewing mannequin stood on top of one particularly large trunk, clearly meant to be a mast. Albeit a strange mast, with a blanket tied to it as a stained, threadbare sail. “Papa loves it when I perform plays for him. Usually, it was just me, but Victor joined in whenever he had a spare hour or two. Terrance and I used to perform them together as well, but only when we were very young. An extra cast member is always an exciting change of pace for him.”
“My thoughts exactly. I would invite Jerald to play with me, but he’s always so busy. Even when he isn’t, I’m mostly afraid he’ll ruin the sets, said Addie. She picked up a large floppy hat that was resting on a crate nearby. She ran a finger over the large phoenix feather protruding from the ribbon around the brim before placing it on her head. Viv could hardly see Addie’s face, but she kept talking. “He doesn’t quite understand how to follow directions yet. Well, directions from me. We all know better than to defy Mother’s directions.”