When I returned to the bedroom, Elva was missing from the bed. I nearly screamed, were it not for both of maids, who quickly approached me.
“W–where’s Elva?” I asked them, panic quaking my voice.
“You caused a right commotion, running around,” the talkative maid said. “It was enough to catch the
attention of Prince Nicholas.”
Nicholas? “He’s still at the banquet…?”
I remembered looking back at him as I was leaving. He’d been smiling at an eager girl desperate for his
“The banquet is still occurring,” the maid said. “He must have excused himself early.”
Why would he do such a thing? Surely he hadn’t overheard what Susie said about Elva? Even if he had, he w
wouldn’t have cared… would he?
“Prince Nicholas.came in here,” the quieter maid said. “He felt Elva’s fever, and then carried her out of
this room himself.”
My mind was a spiral of fear and worries. I struggled to think straight. I only knew that wherever Elval
was, I had to be near her.
Nicholas wouldn’t make her leave the palace, would he? She was just a little girl.
No. No, as much as he’d changed from three years ago, he wouldn’t hurt Elva. I was certain of that. Especially when I thought of how gently he had held her when she ran to him at the mixer in the parlor.
But where would he take her?
He was a prince. Nowhere in the palace was off–limits to him. Where would I even begin looking?
couldn’t go to his room. That was a grave offense. Nathan had made clear that it could cost me my
eded to be strong for Elva. I needed to be alive.
the bedroom, trying to think I wanted to scream in frustration.
As someone knacked on the door, I glanced, and a guard
d, who had told me they’d been ordened
He seemed much less troubled now, looking fully at me. “Miss Piper, you are to go to the royal infirmary.
Come with me. I’ll show you the way.”
I quickly went the guard. Sensing my urgency, he maintained a fast pace as he led me through the back hallways of the palace, through places Nathan had not included on his tour.
Visiting off–limit places was surely allowed if I’d been summoned, right? I didn’t have time to worry. I’d
risk beheading if it brought me to Elva.
The royal infirmary had a few beds and a wall of bookcases. Several tables were covered in chemistry
equipment and microscopes.
Elva was in one of the beds, with an older woman doctor leaning over her. Nicholas was nearby, fa
enough back to give them space but close enough to be watchful.
1 rushed to Elva’s side at once. She was still sleeping. I touched her cheek She was warm, but not as hot
“Her fever has subsided,” the doctor said.
A half–sob, half–sigh of relief shook my whole body, I cried as I held Elva’s hand. I made sure her
blankets were tucked in securely around her.
Then, after a while, I could speak again.
“I don’t understand. The other doctors said. They said…” I couldn’t vocalize the horrible words they’d spewed. I dared not voice them here, for fear this doctor might agree with them.
“1 know what they said.” The doctor’s brow lowered, angry. “And they are wrong. Though Elva’s condition is tricky, we should not and will not give up on her.”
She leaned closer to me. “I am Prince Nicholas’s personal physician. Ask for me directly if she has another need. I will add regular check–ups of her to my routine.”
Thank you, I said to her, then looked at Nicholas. He leaned against the bookcase, arms crossed over his chest.