"Ouch!" Princess Lysandra threw down her embroidery and sucked at her finger. "I hate sewing!" she said crossly. "My needle is always pricking me."
Princess Gabriella, Lysandra's older sister, looked up from her own stitching and frowned. "Practice makes perfect."
"But sewing's not something I want to be perfect at," Lysandra grumbled. "Why can't I learn to use a sword, like Cousin Owen?" Her cousin had begun fencing lessons a year ago when he turned ten, the same age Lysandra was now.
Brushing back her golden locks, Gabriella sighed. "You know the reason. Princesses have no need for swords."
"And no need for husbands either, right?" Lysandra said, slyly changing the subject.
Gabriella blushed. "That's not true. I'd marry in a minute if the right prince came along."
"What was wrong with the last one?"
"Prince Hubert?" Gabriella sniffed. "He had the table manners of a pig. He rooted around in his food and mixed his peas with his mashed potatoes. He chewed with his mouth open and picked his teeth with his knife."
"So what's wrong with that?" Most of the men in the kingdom chewed with their mouths open and picked their teeth with their knives. And as for mixing peas in mashed potatoes, Lysandra thought they tasted better that way.
"'Good manners reveal a fine mind; bad manners, a poor one,'" recited Gabriella.
That saying, Lysandra knew, came from Gabriella's favorite book: Courtly Manners and Duties. Gabriella had studied the book so much the binding was falling apart.
Lysandra picked up her sewing again. "What about Prince Lowell?" It had been three years since he'd visited the castle, but Lysandra still remembered his elegant mustache.
"His table manners were perfect," Gabriella said with a sigh, "but he sang like a crow and couldn't dance three steps without tripping over his feet or, worse, mine."
Lysandra struggled to untangle her thread. She could live without dancing if she could learn to use a sword. Gabriella was just too picky. She'd come close to marrying once, but that was years ago, when Lysandra was only a baby. Though she wondered what had happened to break off that engagement, she never asked. Gabriella was touchy about her love life. It seemed no man would ever be perfect enough to suit her. And at twenty-five she was almost too old to wed; most princesses were married by the age of sixteen.
Lysandra stabbed at her embroidery, piercing her finger again. "A plague upon this needle!" she yelled.
Gabriella lifted a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "Princesses do not swear."
Lysandra pressed her lips together to keep from saying worse. Once she'd read about a princess who pricked her finger on a spindle and fell asleep for a hundred years. That didn't sound so bad—especially if it meant a hundred years without sewing.
To Lysandra's relief, the trumpets blew, announcing the beginning of the midday rest period. With a small yawn, Gabriella set down her embroidery and rose from her red velvet chair. "Come along," she said to Lysandra. "Time for our naps."
After leaving the Sewing Chamber, the two princesses made their way down a short corridor to the bedchamber they shared. Lysandra would've preferred a separate room, but Gabriella liked having company. That's what she said, anyway. What Gabriella really liked, Lysandra suspected, was having someone around to nag. Nevertheless, to spare Gabriella's feelings, Lysandra kept on rooming with her.
When they reached their room, a chambermaid was waiting to help the two princesses out of their gowns. Before climbing into bed, Lysandra checked to make sure the magic purse she always wore around her neck was still there. A gift from her father, King Sheldon II, the purse refilled with gold coins whenever it was empty. Though Lysandra was careful to keep the purse safe, anybody stealing it would get a nasty surprise. When it was opened by anyone except Lysandra, swarms of bees flew out and pursued the thief.
Truthfully, however, Lysandra never had much use for her purse. Most of the things she was allowed to spend money on—gowns and sweets, for example—weren't things she cared all that much about. Well, she enjoyed sweets, but she could only eat so many of them before she made herself sick . . . or got a toothache.
But there was one thing she enjoyed spending her coins on. Lysandra glanced across the room toward Gabriella. Her soft snores signaled that she was asleep. Good.
Reaching under her pillow, Lysandra pulled out a book. It had been worth all the gold coins she'd spent on it. An adventure story, the book was about a prince who was on a quest to find a magical herb to cure his sick father. Along the way the prince battled an ogre with eight heads, slew three dragons, and outwitted an evil sorcerer.
Lysandra wished she could have adventures like that. It was frustrating to only be able to read about them. And even that had to be done in secret. Princesses weren't supposed to read adventure stories—just poetry and romances, and the etiquette books that Gabriella favored.
After she finished her chapter, Lysandra closed her book and hid it under her pillow again. She threw off her sheets and slipped out of bed. Then she wrapped herself in a brown woolen cloak, pulling up the hood to hide her wavy blond hair. Then, tiptoeing so as not to wake Gabriella, Lysandra escaped their room.