“Ameryn! Oh, Ameryn, look!”
Ameryn stood back from adjusting the princess’ hem just in time to avoid a face-full of skirt. Aileen had flung herself into a twirl, her arms and legs lost in a blur of glimmering purple fabric.
“It’s so beautiful! Oh, Ameryn, I can’t wait!”
“Well, you’ll just have to,” Ameryn said, stepping close enough to the whirling purple dervish to grab the princess’s shoulders. “Your hair isn’t anywhere near ready. Over here, come on.” She steered the girl over to the dressing table, where the curling irons were sitting on a metal tray, fresh from the fire. They were still glowing a dull orange, but Ameryn reached out to test their temperature. She held her finger to one of them for a second or two. She felt the heat—hot enough to singe the hide off of a centaur—but, as usual, felt no pain. At least, not too much.
“Still too hot,” she said calmly and reached for the brush, which she tried to aim at the bouncing head of auburn hair. “Will you stop fidgeting?”
“I can’t!” Aileen gasped, her rose lips parted into an effervescent smile. “My 16th celebration—I can’t believe it’s finally here!”
Ameryn smiled and she combed her fingers through the princess’s hair, pulling it up this way and that, trying to figure out how to arrange it best. She wasn’t clever with hair, but Aileen’s hair was full and curly enough that no matter how one dressed it, it looked phenomenal.
She could hardly believe that this night had arrived, herself. These last ten years had flown too fast. It seemed only yesterday that she had been rescued from Sucraam and brought to live here. Aileen was only six, then. Ameryn was seven at the time, but had been through enough to render her much, much older—inside.
“Do you think he’s down there? In the ballroom?” Aileen said anxiously, her white fingers fiddling with a hairpin.
Ameryn frowned as she reached out to test the curlers again. “Who, dear?”
“You know,” Aileen said, looking up at Ameryn’s eyes reflected in the mirror. “Him.”
“Ah,” Ameryn replied. “Well, who knows? He might be.”
Aileen sighed, then laughed at herself, grinning at her glowing reflection in the mirror. Her joy was contagious; Ameryn could not help but smile and laugh as well. But she focused her attention on gently wrapping the princess’s hair around the hot iron rods, careful to avoid looking at her own reflection in the mirror. No dark thoughts would cloud this night. This night, off all nights, should be joyful, she told herself. For Aileen’s sake.