The town was loud and noisy, a sure sign that it was market day. The shape-shifter sighed. How was she going to get to the palace in this crowd? She stood in her doorway and brushed a black curl behind her ear.
“It’s now or never, Helena.” With those words to herself, Helena stood straight and began making her way through the crowd. People were everywhere, yelling, talking, bartering, and pushing. Helena hated the crowded confines of the lower city. It was for this particular reason she was happy her sister-in-law had used her influence as the queen’s lady-in-waiting to get Helena a job as a lady-in-waiting for the princess. Helena looked up at the towering spires that could be seen all over the kingdom. Someone ran into her.
Helena looked up at the man that had run into her. The indigo eyes, the ivory skin, the shock of chocolate hair that covered his right eye. She knew this man. Helena had seen him before on her visits to her sister-in-law. It was the prince! The prince saw the recognition in Helena’s purple eyes and put his hand over her mouth.
He lifted his finger to his lips. “Don’t say anything.”
Helena took the prince’s hand away from her mouth. “What are you doing here, your…”
“Don’t say it! I come out disguised in the city so I can escape the palace. You’ll understand when you work there.”
Helena was about to say something when the prince held out his hand. “I’ll walk you to the palace.”
Helena grabbed the prince’s hand. How do you say “no” to a prince? She followed the prince as he skillfully wove his way through the crowded city streets. Finally, they reached the tall iron gates that led to the palace courtyard. Helena brushed off her light green skirt and looked up at the prince.
“Thank you for the escort, your highness.”
The prince smiled. “I wasn’t done yet. I intend to give you the royal entrance.”
Helena smiled and looked down. “Thank you, sir.”
A black leather gloved hand gently lifted Helena’s chin. “Call me Christophe. But only when we’re alone.”
Helena’s heart leapt in her chest. “Then you must call me Helena.”
“Helena. Are you ready to go meet my sister?”
Helena nodded. “Yes, y…Christophe.”
Christophe smiled. He pulled his hood back, revealing a scar that started on his forehead, twisting down his face and ending on the left side of his mouth, twisting his lips up in a perpetual smirk.
He held his arm out. “Helena?”
She smiled and put her hand on his arm. “Christophe.”
Arm in arm, they walked through the lush courtyard. Trees of every kind imaginable were placed all over, shading walkways, admiring reflections in fountains and ponds. Helena’s eyes grew large as she tried to take it all in. the scents of all the flowers and fruits were intoxicating and almost overwhelming.
Christophe looked at Helena and smiled. “How are you enjoying your first walk through the palace courtyard?”
Helena blushed and smiled. “I like it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
Christophe looked ahead. “My father will be glad to hear you say that. He wants his entire palace to be like something that’s never been seen before.”
“He’s doing a wonderful job.”
Christophe smiled. “Be sure to tell him that, Helena. He’ll be glad to hear it.”
The lush gardens of the courtyard gave way to the smooth, grey stone of the palace. With a great flourish, Christophe pulled the tie of his cloak and swung it around his body. The cloak landed on the ground, a black heap of fabric against the stone floor. A small human girl ran up and grabbed the cloak. She was so small and seemed to be eaten by the giant folds of fabric. Helena smiled as the girl rushed past.
She turned and looked at Christophe. “Do any of the servants…”
Christophe shook his head. “They are all human and think they serve humans.”
Helena tilted her head. “But they do.”
Christophe smiled. “They think they serve living humans, not the living dead.”
“What is the excuse whenever one of them goes missing?”
Christophe held out his hand. “This is an old castle and humans are dreadfully superstitious. They’d rather blame a spoon’s disappearance on a specter that doesn’t exist than blame their own incompetency.”
Helena nodded and took Christophe’s hand.
“Off to meet my sister?”
Helena nodded, ready to meet her new mistress.