I bit my lower lip as he took another tiny step towards me. I fell back a pace and he moved forward again. "Left," he said softly. Together, we stepped to the side and then he began to mince backwards as I clumsily followed him. "Close your eyes," he said, "You're thinking too much." I thought about responding that I wasn't thinking of anything but changed my mind as he gave me a solemn look.
Something about that terribly still, serious look made me shiver deep inside. My cheeks suddenly began to sting and I felt a warmth moving down from my face to across my chest. I dropped my gaze and he chuckled softly. "Close your eyes," he said again, a low, suggestive note creeping into his voice, "Let me guide you, maiden."
I did as he said and his hold upon me tightened. As he stepped to the side, he ever so lightly pushed me to move with him. We moved in what felt like circles and spirals about the floor. I could hear the sound of fabric swishing as others joined us on the floor. As though sensing my sudden burst of anxiety, the Prince said quietly, "None shall dare draw nigh us. You are fearful, maiden. Why?"
"I should not be here," I whispered, the words sticking in my throat even as I spoke them. He made a thoughtful noise. The great bell of the clock tower at the abbey tolled. Panic shot through me. I had to leave. My eyes opened and the Prince frowned slightly as I took an unexpected step backwards. I bumped into another pair of dancers. "I must go," I said.
Kilting up the skirts of the gown, I turned and I ran. I had barely gotten out of the sight of the party goers when I felt something akin to water washing over me. I looked down and discovered that the silver silken gown had reverted back to the plain and worn rags that I was wearing at the start of the evening. I sighed and made my way out of the building. One of the guards noted me and glowered.
"What are you doing here, girl?" he muttered as he took me firmly by the elbow. I put on my best look of contrition. I looked up at him and thought about stating that I was lost. Instead I found the taste of bile at the back of my throat. "Followed your mistress, didn't you?" he grumbled. I nodded. His expression stern, he marched me through the corridors and out the building.
"Find your way home," he said firmly, "If you come back, I'll not be responsible for what happens to you." I nodded and thought about the cabbage and mice. I wondered if someone would note that the gilded carriage that had brought me when I was in my enspelled finery had vanished. A soft rain began to fall and I sighed as I started walking through the town.
After a time, I came back to the house that was both my home and my prison, I was soaked through. I made my way in and to the kitchen. As I sat before the smoored fire, I sighed. It was intoxicating, exhilarating, and terrifying to have a man look at me as he did. So many strange feelings whirled through me as I thought about it. Confused and delighted, I realized that I hadn't paid my stepmother or her brood the least thought for the first time in a very long time. I couldn't help but smile at that.