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The age of the castle seeped through the soles of her feet, mocking the youth of her shell.  The timelessness of the ocean beckoned, swaying like a dancer, ancient and out of reach.  Amalthea twisted within her, restless and fast asleep.

The chamber was fit for a princess, and rotted through to the stone.  Half of the king’s Men-at-Arms bustled about, taking down moth-eaten tapestries and hacking apart molding furniture.  It fed the hearth; the fire burned heartily, like a phoenix reborn after having been cold ash for so long.

Molly swept out the dust and cobwebs from every corner.  By the time the room was mostly empty, the other two Men-at-Arms appeared up the stairs, hauling the dismantled wooden frame of a new bed on their old shoulders.  Lír followed after, carrying the bolts, among other bits and pieces.  Between the five of them, the room was soon refurnished.  Still, there was work to be done, for the mattress had no blankets, the bookcase held no books, the table was bare, and the briny air drifted along on its own business towards the heart of the castle.

“I thought the Lady might wish to choose her own tapestries.”  The prince was speaking to Molly, but she could feel his gaze upon her back.  “We have quite a selection in the vault.  Not all of them match, but if she has a preference for color or design....”

“A kind thought, sire.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and another on her hip, as the woman guided her from the balcony towards the stairs.  Since coming to this place, she felt not a person, but a thing to be displayed – a filly in the spring faire; she did not fancy this façade at all, for she was greater than both and not to be led.

Arms draped across his knees, Schmendrick was brooding on the landing.  She felt his hesitation as they passed, and his annoyance as he deigned to follow at a distance of several steps behind.  More so than usual, he was suspicious and scheming of late, and it rolled off of him like the mist.

 

Lír led them down through the castle, through the upper basements, to an ornate door of polished brass.  It glided outward soundlessly, revealing a treasure trove of everything from shoelaces to elaborately panel screens; shelves covered with knickknacks of all kinds; bowls, plates, pots and pans and paintings; and stacks of books and scrolls.

Molly directed her to a wooden frame, where were fine tapestries were draped upon display.  They reminded her of the banners of the hunt, beautiful in the wind and fleeting as the dawn.  The tapestries were still as the stone and the air surrounding them.  She had no preference for one or the other, but Molly saw what she did not; the woman touched the figures in awe.  “Look.”

She touched the fabric where Molly had, tracing the figure of a unicorn.  It was not a unicorn, but she could not fault it for that.

“Take whatever you need.”  Prince Lír’s awe was no less than Molly’s, but it held a different flavor.  Youthful and without the taint of regret.

As Lír and the king’s men collected various articles as were fit for a Lady’s room – among them, bedding, books, and a mirror – Schmendrick surreptitiously slid of no particular pattern, whatever he could get his hands on into his pockets and his sleeves.  When Molly shot him a confounded glare, he merely shrugged – and glared back.

~*~

The vault was useful for many things.  Stationed in the now almost-cozy living chamber – for no matter how many tapestries they hung upon the walls and across the door to the balcony, there was still a draft of cool air that danced tenderly with the warmth of the fire – she watched as Molly draped fabrics across the table, matching colors and sketching outlines in chalk.  Having given up the magician’s cloak, she was now wearing an old tunic from the vault.  The cloth Molly worked with was softer, but she did not see the difference in any of them.

A naked dress form stood in the center of the room.  Something about it called her to it, although she did not wish to listen.  Headless and armless, it stood upon one leg.  When she did approach it, it had no voice.

“That is supposed to be me?”  There was resignation in her tone.  She did not intend it, and in the depths of her, something roused an emotion akin to fear.

Molly said no.  Schmendrick said yes.

“It’s every woman in the history of time,” the wizard clarified, saying nothing.

“I am not a woman,” she reminded him, dour.  He only sighed and changed the subject, placing a pair of shoes on the table.

“I found these.”  They were of fine quality, flat and sky blue, although they were slightly worn in the tips of the toes.  “They don’t match any of the colors, but I don’t think any of the other shoes will fit her.”

Molly paused in her measurements to look them over.  “I can fix that.”

“Really?” Schmendrick asked, rather flat.  “How?”

“We all have our magic tricks, Wizard.”  Molly set the shoes aside, returning to her task at hand.  “Some are more reliable than others.”

Schmendrick rolled his eyes and was silent, watching the fire.  She settled into the chair across the table; studying the needle and the thread in her hands, she looked at Molly, who was setting pins.

“Teach me.”

Before Molly could answer, Schmendrick snapped.  “Bad idea.”

“I wish to do something,” she said.  She could feel time pressing in on all sides.  She wanted a distraction, and could not run.  Creation was preferable to tearing everything around her to pieces in frustration.

“Try reading a book,” Schmendrick suggested, excusing himself rather than meet her eyes.  “It might be good for you to learn about stories, seeing as how you’re in one.”

As soon as he was out the door, a cat wandered in and settled upon the hearth.  Molly tsked after him and shook her head.

“I could teach you embroidery if you like,” the woman offered.  “Sewing clothing is not the providence of a Lady.”

“I am not a Lady.”  The cat wandered close to her leg, then twitched all over, instead wandering away and beneath the table, then claiming Molly’s lap.  Within her chest, Amalthea stirred.

“No,” Molly readily agreed.  “You’re not. You're more.”

~*~

A human dress for a human girl, it was much the same as the cloak and the tunic but in some strange way, it adorned her reflection in the mirror better than either before it had.  Prince Lír had appeared while she studied herself; his reflection merely stammered and blushed until Schmendrick chased him away.

Although she spent most hours watching the sea, while Molly dyed the shoes a rich lilac hue to match the dress and padded them so they might fit, she practiced embroidery.  Something in that act must have offended Schmendrick, for the wizard was staring at her like a hawk watching field mice.

Almalthea scoffed.

Whatever he suspected to know, he knew nothing.