The winter air was particularly chilly that night, prompting the twelve-year-old maiden to wrap the three meagre layers of clothing tightly against her body. As she breathed in shaky bits, smoky mist emerged from her lips. She walked on, trying to make out her way towards her quarters in the darkness; she was used to it, though. Maids had absolutely no privileges within the palace grounds, and they were disallowed from even using a candle to guide their way through the night. The maiden could only hope that she wouldn't collapse from the cold too fast.

"Argh!" she grimaced and cursed as she tripped on a twig on the floor that had been invisible in the dark. "Stupid, stupid!"

"Need a hand?" a voice spoke, it's owner stretching a hand out. He carried a lantern! The glowing light of the candle inside the lantern framed his face - he couldn't have been more than fourteen years of age even though his features were much like those of a sculpture's model. The maiden's face burned when she realised he was none other than a member of the royal family.

She avoided looking into his eyes. "The maid is not worthy of Your Highness's help," she stood up, then remembered the court etiquette, and bowed. "But she would thank you for your kind offer."

"Eh, my pleasure," the boy shrugged. "And your loss."

Now that she was on her feet, the maiden could see who he was. Dark blue robes, a feathered hat, messy brown hair hiding beneath it - the King's third son! Flustered at the sight of such a high-ranking member of the royal family standing before her, for she only served mistresses up till then, she bowed even more. "The m... maiden apologises for... for inconveniencing the Third Prince. If you may allow, I shall make my leave now."

"You bet you did," the prince muttered underneath his breath.

The maiden raised an eyebrow, deeply offended. He was the one who had offered to help her up! "Pardon me?"

Realising she had heard him, the prince shook his head, suppressing a smile. "Nothing," he said, before walking away. The glowing bulb of the candle grew smaller and smaller as he distanced himself away from the maiden hesitantly, as if the thought of even speaking to a maid repelled him.

Now the maiden was left alone in the darkness, to make her own way back to her quarters.