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Chapter Three – continued
Camille watched Madeline the next morning as the other woman skirted around the main hall. Madeline, roses blooming in her cheeks and eyes averted, had her arms crossed tightly across her middle, almost as though she were trying to sink into her already slender frame, as she hurried across towards the steps down to the kitchens.
She couldn’t stop her eyes from narrowing. There was a chance Madeline really was trying to befriend her sister. There was also the chance Madeline was playing her sister for a fool. Either way, Camille’s spine itched and it set her teeth into a clench as her hands scrubbed the floor harder than necessary.
A soft chuckle made her still and slowly sit up to rest back on her heels. Muriel was careful to keep her expansive skirts from the wet tiles. Camille met her eyes, cool and impassive.
“Camille, dear, the floor isn’t that dirty. You just scrubbed yesterday.” A bright light in her eyes, Muriel brought her fingertips of one hand to her lips and tapped them for a moment. “Take off that ridiculous rag around your head.”
Her facial muscles never moving, Camille slowly lifted one hand and pulled the length of white linen she’d wrapped around her head. It wasn’t that she was hiding her shorn hair, but she didn’t need or want her sister fretting around her.
Muriel nodded, the brightness in her eyes dying. As she’d asked, Camille had cut her curls, ending up with a bob that ended just below her ears. There was still a soft wave left, but her shining curls were gone.
“I trust this is what you had in mind,” Camille said mildly.
Muriel pursed her lips together. “That will do,” she said tightly, her voice forced enough that Camille had to smother the urge to grin.
“If you have nothing else, Muriel, I have a floor to finish,” Camille said coldly.
With a dismissive wave, Muriel turned and swept away, her skirts swishing quietly against the tiles. Camille narrowed her eyes as the woman left, and then twisted the linen back up around her head. With her hair that much shorter, it was the only way she could properly keep it out of her face.
It hadn’t been easy to cut her hair, more so because it was difficult to cut her own hair than it was to see it go. With a twinge of melancholy, she remembered her mother telling her daughters to keep their curls. Camille’s was more voluminous than Abigail’s, but Genevieve had adored both of their locks, had spent countless hours running a soft brush through the tangles every day. She would hum soft songs from her own childhood while brushing their hair.
But she also remembered running around the castle grounds with Andalissa, Duchess of Murant and Adrian’s younger sister. They’d played at being knights, rode horses bareback, and begged the knights to teach them to use a bow and arrow. Andalissa, always the bold one, had tried to wheedle sword fighting lessons out of one knight. It had been amusing to watch him stutter through his refusal, but he’d gotten his way in the end. Short hair would have been wonderful during those carefree days. But, after the Prince had taken Adrian and Andalissa back to Murant Holdings, Camille had given in and kept her curls.
Camille scrubbed at a scuff mark. It hadn’t been there the day before when she’d finished, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Muriel had purposefully scraped a shoe against the floor. She wouldn’t put it past the woman.
Taking a moment to stretch her back, Camille fingered the sea glass hanging around her neck. It was too dangerous to try to talk to her sister; Madeline was probably with her. But it was comforting to know Abigail was easily reachable, and safe.
The sound of slippers drew her attention and she looked up sharply.
Her shoulders relaxed as soon as she saw her sister, but stiffened once again when she caught sight of Madeline lingering behind Abigail’s shoulder and her eyes narrowed at the sight of a cloak draped around her sister and a basket dangling from a wrist.
Slowly, Camille pushed herself to her feet as Abigail approached with a tentative smile. Madeline ghosted after Abigail, her hands clutching at her elbows. Somehow their new stepsister seemed even more nervous than Abigail, but Camille wasn’t interested in putting a wing over her; protecting one sister was enough. Her blood sister, at that.
“Abigail,” Camille said, frowning. “What’s going on?”
“Helene is sending me to the markets,” Abigail said softly, her eyes shifting around the hall nervously. “She needs a few things for tea and supper.”
“Alone?” Camille asked, her eyes flicking to Madeline.
Abigail gave a single quick nod. “Helene said it would do me good. She said it isn’t healthy for me to stay here all the time,” she said with a pointed look at Camille. “She also said it would get me out from under Muriel’s eye for a bit.”
A small smile ghosted over Camille’s lips. “I take it that’s what did it.”
“She isn’t wrong,” Abigail said grudgingly, her eyes shifting to one side, as though she could see Madeline despite the woman doing little more than hovering just behind her. “After all, I can’t be free of her until I marry. Maybe I’ll meet a nice man at the markets.”
“Father would be scandalized if you marry a merchant or common man.”
Abigail shrugged. “Father should be pleased to get me off his hands.” She suddenly glared. “Don’t think I don’t know what all of you used to talk about. All the gentle pokes and prods were anything but gentle.”
“Abigail, we just care about you.”
Her sister waved her off and stepped towards the door. “I’ll be fine, Camille. Madeline, though, has nothing to do. Muriel hired one of Prince James’s former governesses to teach Madeline proper royal etiquette, but she won’t be starting until tomorrow.”
Camille crossed her arms, ignoring the sponge in one hand now streaming water down her skirts. They were cast-offs from some of the former serving girls, dresses that had been lying and collecting dust. Geoffrey had rummaged them up for her so she wouldn’t sully her own gowns, so she didn’t much care how wet and filthy they became; Geoffrey just threw them in the fire when she was done with them. Or so he said he would.
“Muriel has me keeping busy,” Camille said, her eyes narrowing slightly as they lighted on Madeline.
Abigail shrugged and turned her head slightly. “The gardens are quite lovely, Madeline. If you can ride, you should try out Peach. If not, you should ask the stablemaster to teach you. Adrian is quite fond of horses.”
Camille bit back a smile at Madeline’s suddenly nauseous look. She didn’t get the feeling Madeline and horses did well together. Probably especially not after learning the late Countess Olidan had died when thrown from her horse.
“I-I’ll keep busy,” Madeline muttered and quickly turned to flee the hall.
Abigail turned and watched her, bewildered. “Her mother wants her to marry Adrian, and she isn’t adverse to the idea. I’m only trying to help her.”
“Help yourself instead, Gail,” Camille said, turning to return to the floor. “Once Muriel has lost interest in me, she’ll probably come after you.”
Abigail nodded absently and drifted off towards the doors.
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