AN: Just a one-shot I thought of after reading the ogre scene, a "deleted scene" of Ella riding with Sir Stephan.
Disclaimer: I, unfortunately, do not own any of this. The first few paragraphs are direct quotes from the book.
I turned the conversation away from me and back to Char.
"He's smart and he's steady, the prince is," Sir Stephan continued. "Too steady, maybe. Too serious, maybe. He laughs when there's something to laugh at, and he doesn't play enough. He's been with the king's councilors too much." Sir Stephan was quiet for a rare moment. "He laughed more in a morning with you than in two weeks with us. He should frolic with the young folks more, but they're on their best behavior with a prince." He turned his head. "Except for you, little lady."
I was alarmed. "Did I behave badly?"
"You acted natural. Not like a courtier."
Manners Mistress would consider me an utter failure. I smiled.
We rode on, and my mind went back to the morning with Char. "She's the lass I told you about, the one who speaks Gnomic." We had only seen each other a couple of times before I left for finishing school a few months ago. Did he think so much of me as to tell his friends about me? Or did he just casually mention me as a maid he met who dropped dishes and mimicked parrots? "Did Char - the prince - what did he…did he mention me to you?"
"Oh yes, my lady." was Sir Stephan's reply.
"What did he say about me?"
Sir Stephan took a minute before responding. When he did speak, I felt that his tone was very calculated, as if he were trying very hard to pick his words. "He told us that of all his acquaintances at home, you were the only one who didn't treat him like a prince. I think he values that even more than he admitted to us." I smiled, but my mind stuck on the word acquaintance. I had never wondered if Char considered us to be friends; I had just assumed we were. During our morning at the royal menagerie, the day before I left for finishing school, Char and I had had a perfectly pleasant time together. He had laughed at my jokes. He was easy to talk to. But then I remembered the ogres' hut, me walking towards the ogres with zhulpH, and my lie that the ogres had bewitched me with their eyes. Did he know I was lying? What had he thought about me after that? I realized now that that was the last time I had seen him, and that must have been what he thought of whenever he thought of me. My smile faded.
When I didn't say anything, Sir Stephan continued. "He told us that you had gone to finishing school, and he was worried that when you returned you would be identical to every other proper maiden in court." I wasn't sure what to think of that. He had laughed with me easily enough this morning when I told him about how much I disliked finishing school, but was he still disappointed that I could no longer break a whole set of dishes? Or was it more than my clumsiness? Did he think that I was now above mimicking parrots? Was he disappointed because he thought I was no longer myself? That couldn't be true. I hung on to what Sir Stephan said earlier. "He laughed more in a morning with you than in two weeks with us." Finishing school hadn't ruined me. I hadn't let it.
I realized that I still hadn't said anything to Sir Stephan, but my mind was in such disarray that all I could say was a quiet, "Oh."
Sensing my disappointment, Sir Stephan said, "He said that he had never met anyone like you." Before I could analyze that, he added, "He meant it in a good way, lass. If I were you, I wouldn't spend too much time worrying what the prince thought about you. It was clear to me that he valued your friendship."
There it was the word I wanted to hear. Without realizing it, I whispered it to myself, smiling. Friendship.
Sir Stephan didn't say anything, but I knew he heard me. I blushed for a moment, and then concluded that I didn't have anything to blush about. I might not break dishes anymore, but I still mimicked parrots, and I was still me. And it seemed like that was enough for Char.