Teress didn’t spare much regret for the menagerie of men she’d left still sleeping, back in her bedroom-turned-prison-chamber of the last three years. Oh, she felt sympathetic to them – who knew how their curse would be lifted, if the kiss of a princess had been clearly inadequate – but she was not going to spend the first day of her freedom at the risk of her newfound consciousness. For whatever reason, the young man that rode before her had been able to wake her after heaven knew how long, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of falling asleep again. The stolen horse trotted dutifully with her hands at its reins, while Ghoul’s rightful owner lay slumped over his neck. Teress had to ride with her arms around the prince’s waist – at least she supposed he was also of royal birth – to ensure that he wouldn’t fall off the leather saddle.
As Teress rode towards the nearest town, several questions flitted through her mind. Firstly, who was this male sitting practically in her lap? She searched carefully through his clothes, though her fingers fumbled clumsily because of the fast pace of their ride, and she eventually found a label sewn onto the lining of his cape. “Prince Cassis,” she read, tracing her fingers over the (seemingly) lovingly stitched curlicue letters. Prince Cassis. She couldn’t truthfully say that she’d heard of him before; his kingdom must be further out from Okrey’s borders than others. Teress’ second question involved her recent state of Cursed, and this man’s involvement in her absolution, but the technicalities and ramifications to this train of thought were too difficult to even ponder yet, and needless to say she didn’t answer this one. Teress’ third question was simpler: who had cast the spell that blighted her?
The town they rode into turned out to be one she recognized. Sleepy Mill – inwardly she winced from the name – was a small population of people all centered around their sole source of income, which was the famous Sleepy Mill on the hill. Teress had visited with the friendly populace many times in her childhood, but apparently the years in between had changed her, because there was no outcry of “The princess! The princess!” She was as good as a stranger here. Deciding it was just as well, Teress prodded the dark-haired Ghoul to approach a rather large pot-bellied innkeeper, who stood in front of the door to his respectable-looking establishment. “Excuse me,” she asked politely. “Could I rent a room?” He took one look at her situation – beautiful, but somewhat grimy with dust, and with a familiar young man in tow – and smiled, replying “Sure, but yer going to have to bed with him. I ain’t got the room for two.” Teress blushed to the roots of her hair at the implication in his tone, but the innkeeper was convinced he was doing a pair of honeymooners a favour. “Fine,” she said.
After she’d settled Ghoul comfortably down in the stables – she’d learned his name, too, from a similar label sewn onto his blanket – and after she’d made the bed, piling the duvet into a distinct wall along the middle of the sheet – Cassis was asleep at the moment, but who knew when he might wake up, perhaps he was just exhausted – only then did Teress start to think upon the next day. Considering that she now had a bulky baggage to carry around with her wherever she chose to go, she couldn’t hope to travel without attracting undue attention, unless she had a plan. If Prince Cassis didn’t rouse then her top priority should be to wake him. Awake, she could pay him to pretend to be her escort, or else she could purchase his horse off him and go along on her own merry way; to travel alone wouldn’t be decorous, but it was necessary that she possessed an easy means of transportation. So who could she ask about Cassis’ condition? The solution came to Teress that she’d have to pay a visit to the Witch of Slumber.