CH. 38.1 — For several months, Jay B. R. Wokky’s cave became the most popular spot in the kingdom. Many girls came to kiss the prince. They came by royal coach. They came in wagons. They came by dogsled. When the snow melted and spring began, they came by horseback and wagon and on foot. All of them were accompanied by guards and servants and much fanfare. Each girl was beautiful. And each girl had her moment to come into the prince’s room, lean down, and kiss him. And then each girl faced the long trek back home without a prince.
At first Janine was relieved. She kept her face hidden behind her mask as she escorted the girls in and out of the prince’s room. They never saw how Janine held her breath as each girl leaned over the prince’s face and planted a kiss on his lips. They never saw her relief or her disgust at their tears or temper tantrums. She played the part of the mostly silent serving girl very well.
One afternoon in late spring, Janine had just swept up the hallway when Fritter bustled in with a new stack of envelopes from the mail box.
Old Mr. Dumfries had been forced to retire, and now the mail arrived promptly every day at three o’clock. Janine sighed. Poor Mr. Dumfries. All he had ever wanted was to bring honor to his family. Now he sat by his fireplace, alone and forgotten.
Raindrops glistened on Fritter’s hat and coat, which he took off and hung on the pegs by the front door. A rumble of thunder sounded from outside.
“A big storm will hit tonight,” Fritter said. “Coming down from the north. Temperatures will drop, and the rain will turn to snow. We’ll get a much needed break.”
Janine looked down at the full dustbin in her hand. “I could use one.”
Janine went in the kitchen and began to wash the mound of dishes. Fritter sat at the kitchen table, opened the letters, and scanned their contents. “How strange. My cousin, Reece, says that he was in the forest northwest of the borders of Saltonia, gathering pine cones, when he came upon three large male pigs. When they saw him, they ran squealing into their burrow, which they’d made under a ruined brick building.”
“No, domesticated. Quite pink.”
“That is odd. I wonder where they came from. And how can they survive in the woods with all those predators?”
“Not to mention all the snow we’ve had this winter.”
Fritter opened the last letter, which was stamped with the royal Nelsonia seal. “There are only two more girls left.”
Janine set the plate in the dish drainer, then glanced at him. “Two more girls in the next convoy?”
“No, I mean two more girls in all of Nelsonia and the neighboring kingdoms who haven’t had a try at kissing the prince.”