“When I confronted him, he denied that he ever said it,” I say to Glenna as we walk deeper into the snow covered forest, outside the Crystal Palace.

Glenna shakes her head in disappointment, then frowns and asks, “Who is this ‘he’ again?” She picks up a few mushrooms from the base of a large dark brown tree with mostly bare branches. She examines them, nods and puts them into her woven basket.

“Glenna! Weren’t you paying attention?” I ask her, but she just gives me a look as she squats by a large area of overgrown weeds.

“Fine,” I say and lean on the tree’s wide trunk. “I’ll start from the beginning. It all happened in the morning, six hours earlier.”

I woke up, not feeling particularly fresh or rested, but somehow still overslept. With muttered cursing, I quickly dressed and rushed out of my living quarters, taking the stairs two at a time, and barreling into a group of ma’haras at the bottom of the stairs. They were chatting without paying attention, ignoring the fact that they were blocking anyone who tried to exit the stairway.

They yelled and huffed, annoyed with me as usual. Many of them muttering, “She is fifteen now, should know better than that!”

I grinned as I kept dashing down the corridors, dodging the slow going elderly ma’hars only to run into Father.

“Lilla!” he said, holding me by my shoulders to keep me from tackling him. “How many times have I told you not to run through the palace?”

“A few dozen times,” I say quietly and without looking at him. I couldn’t tell him the reason I was running was because I was late for my dreaded and despised etiquette class with the strict and unforgiving Ma’hara Gertrude, who sounded as boring as her name implied it.

Father sighed and released me. “Why don’t you take some time for yourself and do something useful?”

I perked up at the chance to ditch the etiquette class. “I can do that.”
Instead of continuing straight ahead, to the atrium, I detoured to the kitchen.

I rushed around busy servants preparing for lunch, even though breakfast wasn’t even over yet.

At the back, I caught sight of Deidre, busy kneading a large white dough with brown streaks, not paying attention to her surroundings.

I sneaked up behind her and hugged her, earning a surprised yelp. “O’ch me goodness! It be’tter be yo’ Lilla.”

I walked around her, smiling. “Who else?” I stole a few still steaming boomberry tarts from a nearby crystal plate and popped one in my mouth. “Or were you expecting someone?”

Deidre laughed and wiped the back of her hand over her forehead, leaving behind smears of flour. “Yo’ know I wasna’.”

I pointed at the dough. “Do you need some help with that?”

“No’ch. But yo’ can bring in some fresh herbs from the garden.”

“Sure!” I said and took one more tart as I exited out the door leading to her herb garden.

It was a neat square of green tucked in a courtyard created by the whitestone walls with tall windows looking into it.

Inhaling the scent of fresh mint, reminded me of the times I helped Deidre weeding it, or harvesting some of the vegetables while we chatted happily.

It didn’t take long to find the herbs she wanted and took even less time to pick the thin stalks ending in fluffy green leaves when I heard my name being shouted.

I frowned and entered the kitchen, only to find Ma’hara Gertrude shouting at a pale Deidre, “How dare you take the Ma’hana from her assigned time of lesson and direct her to do such lowly work? I will have some words with the Ma’ha, making sure he knows it all your fault chef.”

I dropped the herbs into an empty ball and stepped in front of Deidre, facing Ma’hara Gertrude. “Don’t you dare blame Deidre for this! It was Father who told me I should spend my day doing something fun.”

Ma’hara Gertrude pulled up to her four feet and ten inches height, somehow looking taller than my five-foot-five and said, “Then let us have a conversation with the Ma’ha about your lack of punctuality.”

“Fine,” I said and crossed my arms.

When I didn’t move, she gave me a push by my elbow, “Ma’hana, lead the way.”

I sigh just remembering the embarrassment that followed after. “The worst part is, he denied that he ever said that! That he gave me permission to have a day off!”

Glenna drops the last bit of herb into her basket and straightens. “Is it possible you misunderstood him?”

At my upset glance, she hastily adds, “Not that I am defending your father. Just asking.”

I think back at what he said and realize that Glenna might just be right. “Maybe,” I say and push away from the tree.

When Glenna smiles, I point at her. “That doesn’t mean he has no responsibility in this misunderstanding that nearly cost Deidre’s job.”

“Of course not.” Glenna threads her arm in mine. “Now tell me again the look on Ma’hara Gertrude’s face.”