Cinderella tried to smooth the uneven lumps in her weaving. “Yes, it is,” she firmly said.

“They won’t see it that way. As far as assassins are concerned, keeping them from their target is as good as throwing your lot in with their target. I am a soldier, but you are undefended. I worry about you,” the Colonel said, leaning close enough to Cinderella so he could slide his hand under her chin.

“I thank you for your concern, but I assure it is not necessary,” Cinderella said, inching away from the Colonel.

The Colonel grinned and returned to basket weaving.

Several moments later, the curtain dividing the back of the tent from the front stand was thrown aside.

“Cinderella I heard about—” Marie cut herself off with a gasp. She stared at Cinderella and the Colonel, who were both sitting on the ground, surrounded by baskets. “Oh my,” she said, snapping a fan open to fan herself.

Cinderella considered standing to introduce the Colonel before deciding it would give him too much worth. “Marie, I present to you Colonel Friedrich of the First Regiment in the Dragon Army. Colonel Friedrich, this is Madame Marie Raffin, my dearest friend and long-time companion,” Cinderella said, frowning when she realized the Colonel’s basket was more even and round than hers.

The Colonel stood and set his basket aside to remove his army hat and give Marie a sweeping bow. “The pleasure is all mine,” he said before taking his spot on the ground again.

“Thank you,” Marie said, uncertain.

“Madame Raffin, your husband is a merchant, is he not?” the Colonel asked, taking Cinderella’s basket from her and passing her his.

Cinderella accepted the exchange and started weaving willow branches into his neater basket as the Colonel set about fixing hers.

“He is. His name is Armel Raffin.”

“I have heard good things of your wares. How is business?” the Colonel asked.

“Well enough,” Marie said, brushing her fan through the air.

“I’ve been trying to convince Cinderella she needs to plant flowers,” the Colonel said.

“Why?” Marie cautiously asked, as if the Colonel were a rabid bear.

“Citizens of Erlauf are enthusiastic about nature, but we are especially amorous of flowers. One could make a fine profit on flowers in this area as it is an untapped market,” the Colonel said, his eyebrows furrowing as he studied the basket pattern.

“It’s the wrong season,” Cinderella said.

“For spring flowers, yes. However, if you planted summer flowers now you would have enough time for them to grow, I should think,” the Colonel said. “Do you want me to visit Aveyron to point out proper places to grow flowers? I’ve been reading up on the subject.”

“No, thank you, sir,” Cinderella said.

“Friedrich,” the Colonel countered.

“Marie, what brought you to Aveyron’s stand?” Cinderella asked, ignoring the Colonel’s wriggling eyebrows.

“The usual. Werra gossip and such,” Marie said.

When it was obvious the Colonel’s gaze was attached to his basket weaving, Marie flapped her fan and bugged her eyes at Cinderella before jabbing her fan at the Colonel.

Cinderella shrugged and shook her head.

“The weather has been quite nice, hasn’t it?” Marie hastily said when the Colonel glanced up.

“It has. I hope it is just as pleasant in Loire,” Cinderella said.

“Why?” the Colonel blinked.

“For the royal wedding,” Marie said. “Prince Severin has married a merchant’s daughter.”

“Prince Severin? The cursed prince?” the Colonel said.

“Yes. His bride broke the curse, I gather,” Cinderella said. “I imagine their wedding was lovely.”

“Yes, if not slightly unusual,” Marie said.

“What do you mean?” the Colonel asked.

“It is abnormal for a nobleman, much less royalty, in Loire to marry below their station,” Marie said.

“You don’t approve of the union?” the Colonel said.

“I cannot fault the Prince or his lady love, or I would be a hypocrite. However, even I must admit it seems…unusual for the Prince of such a grand country to introduce merchant blood to the line,” Marie said.

The Colonel shrugged. “I forgot, you Trieux folk always modeled yourselves after Loire. It always seemed to me they put on airs. Besides, isn’t Prince Severin illegitimate? For all we know his wife’s blood could be better than his.”

“Friedrich!” Cinderella gasped.

The Colonel smiled in delight, softening the stark black of his eye patch. “Yes?”

Cinderella was aware of her slip-up, but she was still aghast at his terrible manners. “You may have forgotten but Marie and I are still ladies!”

“Do not worry about it. I will forgive you,” the Colonel soothed.

“You are being indecent,” Cinderella said, bending a willow branch in her anger.

“Very well, then. Strike the second part of my argument and allow me to amend it with this: isn’t marrying the peasant class vogue right now? King Henrik of Arcainia just married a commoner not four weeks ago, or so,” the Colonel said.