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From the moment Cindra is born, misshapen and ill-formed in face and body, her beautiful mother hides her away, allowing the world to see only her other three perfect children. Cindra, raised by an aged nurse and assigned humble duties in the kitchen, receives little affection and plenty of abuse from both her mother and sisters. Starved for beauty, she longs most of all for love.
Prince Rupert, newly returned from an education outside the kingdom and forced to take over duties as king, sees the beauty of Cindra’s spirit. In her sister-in-law’s garden, he courts her with rare flowers and nearly makes her forget her mother’s hate. But when war tears them apart, will Cindra have the courage to stand on her own? And when faced with the challenge of leading Rupert’s subjects through a siege, will the strength of her compassion be enough to sustain a kingdom?
Page Count: 214
Word Count: 49318
Mother looked at me and screeched like a fire siren going off at midnight. I think she cried my father’s name but cannot be sure.
I dropped the tray. It fell hard with a clatter that echoed through the room. The remaining tarts—still a generous load—flew everywhere, spewing their jam fillings as they went—on the carpet, on my shoes, on the Queen’s skirt, and all over the Prince’s sapphire blue legs.
Everything froze. The music paused; everyone stopped talking. Into the resultant silence someone laughed in horror and said, “Oh, my God!”
Mother’s face seized in a rictus; she leered at me. For an instant I could see nothing else. Not my father, not Bethessa—who, I’m pretty sure, had laughed—not even the mess that surrounded me like the fallout from an explosion.
Just her anger. Her horror. Her disgust.
Then the moment’s paralysis broke. Mother reached out quick as a wasp and slapped me. The blow took me on the cheek, and its force turned my head. Instant tears flooded my eyes.
“Stupid girl!” She drew back her hand to strike again. Two things happened before she could: Father cried, “Erikka—it was my fault!” And the Prince stepped between me and my mother and seized her wrist.
“Please, Madame, do not. It was but an accident.”
No rebuke colored his tone. He sounded exceedingly polite. But I knew my mother took it as a rebuke, and a public one. Her face stained with ugly red, and she transferred her glare from me to the Prince.
Even at that moment, that terrible, terrible moment, I knew she would never forgive me for this.
Eyes downcast and now kneeling on the carpet, I tried desperately to make it right. I gathered up what I could, but the tarts crumbled in my fingers, and the fillings merely spread—on the Queen’s hem, her delicate slippers. All over the Prince’s boots. My efforts only made things worse.
But the music resumed playing, and people started up talking and laughing. The world had, apparently, not ended.
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