The room is white and gold and has a tall, arched ceiling: It is fit for a princess in every way, and the airiest of possible cages despite the fact that all of its windows are high along the bell of the roof, pale-paneled skylights featuring stained glass murals.
When Natalia lets herself in—for the hidden princess must have visitors or her clamor to sneak out of her birdcage chamber will only grow stronger, and for her own sake this cannot yet be—Alessandra is lying across the great white bed with a look of mingled worry and ennui.
She strides forward with great purpose, kneels, and announces herself, then asks: “If I may, my lady—what is the matter?”
Alessandra props herself up on the mattress, a porcelain doll draped in long golden hair and lacy white nightgown. “I don’t understand something that happened when I went out the other day, and no one will really explain it to me.”
“If it is within my power, I will gladly do what I can to help you.”
She swings her legs to let them dangle over the edge of the bed and sits up.
“There was a girl who was selling wildflowers—” she begins, her eyes intent, and Natalia wonders immediately if she’s going to be regretting this.
“—And the knights said that she got so angry because I bought her nights, but I really don’t understand what that means and no one will explain it to me, will you please tell me what I did? Natalia?”
“Princess,” Natalia begins, and Alessandra slips off the edge of the bed and is padding right up to her, face upturned and entirely dominated by her wide green eyes.
“It’s not appropriate for me to say such things,” she says, and steps back. Alessandra chases her that step, rests her hands on Natalia’s arms and stares up at her, and she realizes that just past the fine line of the princess’ chin, she can see the neckline of that white nightgown gaping and the space between the only heir to the throne’s slight breasts.
“I want to know,” Alessandra insists, and Natalia knows that this is the kind of stubborn that there is no remedy for and the outline of the young girl’s thin chest is burned into her brain like perdition and that there will be no turning back from this, and her heart slams staccato against her ribs.
(she will leave the princess bare and flushed and staring vacantly on the bed, a brittle husk with the ability to think entirely burned out by explosion after explosion of sensation; she will leave with the taste of unripe girl in her mouth and a kind of dull horror because what has she allowed herself to do; she will let various imaginings of every kind of ruin rampage through her mind until the next day, when Alessandra will smile at her slow and secret from across the room, not an ounce of condemnation in her eyes)
(and afterward they will never speak of this again)