Islana stared at her best friend, and the Prince who made her blush so very much, and wondered what in the world she was going to do. Eiran was sending her some sort of message with his eyes, but what in heavens he was trying to tell her, she had no clue.

"Islandria. I've, uh," Prince Ashanen wouldn't meet her eyes, "I've come to inquire if you would perhaps like to prolong your stay at the palace." He rubbed his booted foot in the pebbles on the walk, and waited with his eyes downcast. Now what am I to do? Islana looked once more to Eiran, flicking a stray strand of dark red hair off her forehead. If she stayed, how would she maintain her ruse? But then again, how could she say no to her mayhap future sovereign, and her crush. Besides, then he would want to see her off, in her glorious Princessy mode of transport and her masquerade would be over. Eiran might land in trouble. And it would be all her fault.

"Well, I suppose I could stay for a little while longer." She looked down at her hands as she spoke, only daring to glance up after she finished her sentence. Ash and Eiran both gazed at her with matching expressions of amazement—though she doubted they were for quite the same reason. Well, what's done is done. Blushing slightly, Islana took a small step forward, and smiled tentatively at Ashanen. She hoped she wasn't making a huge mistake, for huge mistakes involving the royal family might end in beheading. Ash took her arm with a broad grin, and they began walking back into the palace. Islana turned her head back to Eiran, and raised one eyebrow. He shook his head, but flashed her a smile that said, "Hey, I'll help as much as I can." But—there was a but in that smile. Islana knew that for the most part now, she was on her own. Too bad her heart seemed to have taken control of her head. And it didn't seem as though it would be letting go anytime soon.

"Um, Ashanen, where are we going?" She looked into his eyes, and felt something soft and warm settle in her chest. That feeling dissipated entirely with his next words, and an icy panic took its place.

"To see my parents, of course."

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Are you serious?" Cadis looked at the girl, and bit her bottom lip in an attempt to keep herself from hysterical laughter. Even so, a few chuckles slipped out, and she couldn't contain the merriment shining from her eyes. "You want to take my clothes, and bathe me?" The maid nodded, her face blank and serious, if not a bit puzzled. "Do I look that young? To be dressed, bathed, and next I suppose you'll want to spoon feed me my supper." Cadis shook her head, and started pushing the maid to the door.

"But, miss…"

"Look. If I need something, or want something fetched, I'll ring for you. Otherwise, stay out of my hair." Cadis scowled at the girl, though she was still laughing inside; she didn't need some prim and proper little miss hanging about her every moment while she tried to infiltrate the secrets of the kingdom's magic.

When she'd been shown back inside, a servant had shown her up to this room, and told that she would be visited soon. Cadis was sure that she most empathically did not wish to be visited soon. Unfortunately, at that very moment, a knock came upon the door.

"Yes?" she called, believing the maid to returned with some other fool purpose.

"Duchess Debyrnion." It was not the maid. It was worse. Cadis flung open the door, and shouted,

"You made me look like a fool!" She jabbed her finger at his chest, and then dragged him into the room. "You are the most incompetent Prince I have ever seen. Rescuing people when they have no need of it, making yourself a nuisance at every turn…"

"That is not fair." Ander looked down at her, a fact that she hated. Why, oh, why, wasn't I born tall? He tugged his shirt from her grasp, and stepped back. "Um, maybe I should come back another time? Or, of course, if you really want to go home…"

And then it dawned on Cadis. She felt her cheeks heating up, and moved closer again so she could snarl,

"It wasn't about me, or my estate at all, was it? No…I'm here because of you!" She glared at him, and then whirled about and began talking to herself. "Of course they wouldn't talk about that after a ball. What am I, a fool? It seems so, or I wouldn't be in this mess."

Ander watched with caution as the petit redhead paced about the room, continuing to mutter to herself, and shoot him extremely irritated looks.

"Look, really," he began, but she cut him off.

"No, you look. I'm staying. However, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I'm staying to talk to your father about my estate, yes—the one you trampled all over when saving me." Her tone was distinctly biting. "Therefore, I do not want to speak to you, spend time with you, or even look at you anymore than I possibly have to. That said, could you get out of my room. Please." At the sickeningly sweet note of her please, Ander deemed it best to leave. Quickly. He remembered her elbows as rather pointy.

"Good night, Duchess." And he ducked out, but definitely, he decided, not in defeat. No, of course not.