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Bill glanced at his mother, then back at the package in his hand. How did he get here, to the front of the castle? Wasn’t he in his cold bedroom a moment ago? He had been plotting how to run away.
“Hush, Louise,” his father’s nasly voice rebuked. Now Bill, as I was saying, you’re not a kid anymore. No more pampering for you.”
Bill fought the urge to laugh. Since when did denying your child meals and whipping him count as pampering?
The king continued, “First new duty: The whelps of Ferngold are whining for help. Their magic plant’s sick, they say, and our sorcerer’s the only one who knows how to save it. You’re taking the antidote for us. Diplomatic relations’ll teach you some manners.”
Maybe on the way, he could escape. “Can I take my sister with me?” he asked, still staring a the bag in his hand.
“W…what sister?” his parents asked.
“Oh.” Where had that come from? Of course, he was an only child. “I don’t have a sister,” he said. “Sorry, my mind is being odd today.”
Even more odd was the lack of rebuke that followed his mental slip.
In the days leading up to his journey, Bill spent hours trying to devise a plan of escape. When could he slip away from the army of soldiers who would accompany him? Where would he go? He sat on a rough wooden stool and stared into an empty fireplace. Why were there so many fireplaces in this palace if none of them were ever lit?
Sadly, the cold hearth provided no inspiration.
“It’s time to go,” his mother barked behind him. “You should put some shoes on.”
“I was born in the dirt and live among the ashes,” he replied automatically. “What need have I for shoes?”
“What are you talking about?” the queen yelled, cuffing him over the ear.
“I…I don’t know.” He shook his head, feeling like cobwebs were keeping him from an important understanding. “I must have heard the saying somewhere.”
“Well, get your shoes on,” she swore at him. “Your father will not be happy with you.”
Knowledge of impending punishment had little effect on him anymore. At the leisurely pace he desired, Bill trudged to his room to put on his shoes that pinched his toes and gave him blisters.
Discarded in the corner of the room lay his filthy tunic from days before. Something about it unsettled him to no end. Where had that small, bloody handprint come from? His parents said he had walked into the forest in his sleep and been accosted by evil ruffians—but no one he had ever seen had a hand that small.
Something about looking at it made a lump grow in his throat.
“Where is that boy!” his father’s voice thundered through the echoey corridors.
Bill cursed under his breath and yanked his boots on. If nothing else, the trip to Ferngold would get him away from his parents. How he hated being under their harsh words and heavy hands! Surely family was supposed to be more than this.
“Bill! Get your lazy self out here this instant!” his father hollered.
With a deep sigh, Bill went.
Thanks for reading! Look for Chapter 14 on Friday.