:Chapter 7: Hope:

I scrubbed at a cup and rinsed it off with warm water. I handed it over to Anne, a fellow kitchen maid who was a few years older than I, who dried it with a rag. I reached for the next dish and sighed, noticing the piles of plates and cups that were still in need for a washing. It was a wonder how a family of three went through so many dishes in a day.

"I still cannot believe the news about the king," Anne spoke, focusing on her job. "Did you see the Queen sobbing up on the balcony this morning?"

A memorial service was held for King Charmont this morning. I'd never seen so many people before in my life. I seemed as though most, if not all, of Kyrria attended.

"And the princes!" Anne continued, not giving me a chance to answer, though I wasn't in the mood to talk anyway. "It's not often we get to catch a glimpse of them with all these dishes we have to wash. Prince Evan is the more handsome of the two, don't you think?"

I saw her glance over at me from the corner of my eye. I didn't respond. Usually I enjoyed Anne's gossip, but right now I just wanted her stop talking.

"Well, I guess Prince Jack-" I glowered at the mention of his name "-is quite alright too, a little young for my taste but. . . would you hurry it up a bit, Hope? I've got nothing to dry."

"Sorry," I mumbled under my breath as I handed her a clean dish.

She sighed dreamily. "What a beautiful plate," she said, admiring the glistening china. "It reminds me of my wedding."

My ears perked up. "You're married?" I asked, startled. She's never mentioned it before.

"Well, no," she replied with a giggle, tucking a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear. "But I have it all planned out and everything."

I couldn't help but chuckle. I, like every other girl, had my dream wedding figured out in my head for as long as I could remember. It would be at the palace and the whole kingdom was to attend, and every fairy in the world would be there and I have pearls woven in my hair and would be wearing the most beautiful gown in the world with flowing sleeves, and I'd stand at the top of the grand staircase and slide down the banister-

"How lovely it would be to marry a prince," Anne said hopefully, breaking me out of my little daydream fantasy.

I rolled my eyes, though she didn't notice. "Well, if you ask me," I started, handing her another dish. "I doubt any of them would ever give us a second glance. They're just a bunch of spoiled children who don't even know the meaning of kind."

Anne gasped. "Hope, how could you say such a vile thing!" She gave me a playful scowl. "Anyway, how would you know? It's not like you've met any of them."

Oh, how little she knew.

"Don't you know that Queen Ella was a kitchen maid before the King married her?"

I remember Jack had mentioned that to me once or twice, but he was probably just made it up to make me feel better. He was good at faking things. "That's just a rumor," I replied. "Just an old story some hopeful kitchen maid like us made up to entertain herself."

Anne sighed heavily, then glanced at me. "You're hopeless."

After finishing with the washing and eating a bit of the leftover stew for supper, I decided to go outside for a bit of fresh air. By now the sun had gone down and the chill of autumn filled the air. I headed towards an oak tree and took a seat on the soft bed of leaves on the ground, with my back leaning against the tree's large trunk. I examined my hands for a few moments, wrinkled from the hours spend washing dishes, when I heard voices, which wasn't too unusual.

There were the voices of two men. I recognized one of them, though I couldn't pinpoint who it was.

"I applaud your work, your highness," said the deeper of the two voices. Your highness! I came out here often, through the backdoor of the kitchen, and I've never spotted any member of the royal family out here at this hour.

"I can't take all the credit, Sir Nicks," said the other voice, the one I recognized. I peered around to see the owner of the voices, but it was too dark to see anyone clearly. They didn't sound too close, but I knew they weren't especially far away either.

Your highness, I thought to myself. That definitely wasn't Jack's voice. . . so that could only mean that one of the men speaking was Evan.

Not wanting to eavesdrop, I slowly rose to my feet, which still ached even after the wounds started to heal. I was careful not to make any noise as I tiptoed towards the kitchen door, but the next thing I heard made me freeze.

"The ogre did most of the work."