“I would like to spend the day with you.”
Cinderella twisted her fingers together. “I am afraid I must respectfully decline, sir.”
“Oh?” the Colonel said, his voice weighted with his displeasure.
“Yes, I have…prior engagements,” Cinderella said.
“Then tomorrow?” the Colonel said, tapping his fingers on the rough wood of a beam that supported Aveyron’s stand.
Cinderella almost winced. He was going to be persistent, was he? Perhaps it was better to bore him into giving up. “I may be able to accompany you today if…”
“If my time was properly compensated,” Cinderella said.
The Colonel went very still. His eye was neither friendly nor amused as he studied Cinderella. She could almost feel the power and danger radiating from him as he asked, “You want to be a paid woman then?”
As a proper lady, Cinderella didn’t know exactly what kind of work the colonel referred to, but she knew it was a kind of work no lady would do. Cinderella’s anger burst past the walls of decorum. “WHAT?” she shrieked, stepping back from the Colonel.
“You were the one who said it,” the Colonel said, his stance once again relaxed and liquid.
“I said compensated. I work in Werra in the afternoon, and I cannot afford to miss the pay! I meant as long as you expected me to trail behind you, I had better get a pay equal to my job—or I will never be able to accompany you,” Cinderella said, the words rushing from her mouth before she was aware she thought them. When she realized what she said, she almost clamped her hands to her mouth, but settled for stiffly awaiting the Colonel’s anger.
To Cinderella’s surprise, the man seemed amused. “You work? Why?” he said, his familiar smirk flashing on his lips.
“Why not? Have you something to say about working for a living?” Cinderella said, pointedly staring at the medals pinned to the Colonel’s uniform.
“No, nothing at all,” the Colonel said, chuckling with a maddening confidence. “I would be happy to pay you for your missed wages. I shall return in an hour then to pick you up.”
“Are you so sure you can cover my pay?” Cinderella asked.
“I assume it isn’t more than a handful or two of copper coins?”
“A day’s work is one silver coin,” Cinderella said, giving herself an outrageous raise.
The one-eyed Colonel shrugged. “Hardly more than spare change. In one hour, then,” he said before setting off.
Cinderella angrily gawked at his back as he left the market. A silver coin was spare change? “Filthy-rich dandy,” Cinderella scoffed, angrily stuffing carrots back into the basket.
“Mademoiselle?” the ropemaker ventured.
“What?” Cinderella hissed.
It rankled her that an army officer could treat such a sum like it was nothing when Cinderella—a duchess—clambered for every copper coin she could get.
The ropemaker winced. “Are you well?”
“I’m fine,” Cinderella said, calming as the officer slinked out of sight. “Just…irritated.”
The ropemaker hesitated. “Are you going to be alright?”
The anger left Cinderella like a cloud on a windy day. “I think so,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “He doesn’t seem…terrible.”
“None of them do, until they reveal their true colors, Mademoiselle,” the ropemaker said.
“I know,” Cinderella said. “But he’s a Colonel. I dare not offend him; the risk isn’t worth it. I can only try to bore him in hopes that he will move on.”
“Here lie the remains of the Sanct Pavilion, which saw the signing of the Griford Agreement. The Griford Agreement, as you may recall, was the third piece of the Glitter Accords, the articles that gave jurisdiction over magical matters to the Veneno Conclave,” Cinderella said, indicating to a pile of rock and rubble. “Trieux, Erlauf, Kozlovka, and Loire were the first countries to agree to the Glitter Accords.”
“Hey,” the Colonel said.
Cinderella ignored him and pointed the white flap of cloth she fixed on the end of a thin, whip-like willow branch to a beautiful but abandoned stone building. “Next door is the historic Lutenau. Most recently, it was used as the capital offices for Trieux nobles when conducting governmental business. It was built over two hundred years ago, however, as a summer home for an Erlauf lord who was madly in love with a Trieux princess.”