“Are you sure you should be in here?” Alexander asked. Corinna groaned and sighed. She looked up from the book she was reading and over at Alexander. The prince was holding Corinna’s magic mirror and staring into it, tilting his head every few moments to get a different angle on whatever he was staring at. The curtains were drawn for the night, but the chandelier was bright and illuminating enough to be its own star. A fire burned and licked fog up the windows.
“I’m honestly getting tired of that question,” Corinna said. She tapped the cover of her book contemplatively and then nodded. “Yes. I feel fine.”
“You can’t blame us all for being worried,” Alexander said. He let out a grunt of a noise that Corinna thought was meant to be the prince clearing his throat. “You’ve been doing a horrible amount of coughing these last few days.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Corinna assured him and looked back at her book.
“You coughed once at both lunch and dinner yesterday, and the day before, and your fit in the snow the day before that. You didn’t cough at all a month ago. Is there something you’re not telling me?” Alexander asked.
The way he said ‘me’ instead of ‘us’ caused Corinna some slight joy. Alexander wasn’t the type to make things personal, but he was specifying himself in the question. Corinna almost wished she was hiding something so she could reward Alexander for the pronoun usage. Sadly, she had nothing. Alexander was right in the fact that Corinna had been coughing more often, but since that day in the snow, she had not coughed up even the slightest amount of blood. It must have been Morgana after all. And coughing wasn’t a secret. Corinna really had no clues to the cause.
“No. It’s probably just a raw throat,” Corinna said. She was tired of needing to defend her body’s automatic actions. “What are you looking at in there? You’ve been doing it for almost an hour.”
“Nothing,” Alexander grunted.
“Now who’s hiding things?” Corinna teased. She held her book up to her face so her eyes were the only things peeking over the top and grinned. “Who is Prince Alexander looking at?”
“No one,” the blonde replied a bit too hastily for Corinna to accept it as true. “I was just checking on my father.”
“Oh?” Corinna lowered her book but was not convinced. She still let her lips tug upward at their own whim. “And how is he?”
“Recovering. Whatever Michael is giving him seems to be working. Today he was back in his throne to meet the people and hear their needs. He didn’t move much, but the color has returned to his features, at least,” Alexander said, setting the mirror down.
Corinna caught sight of a bright blonde figure in the glass before Alexander’s fingers moved off the handle and it returned to being normal glass.
“That’s good,” she said. “I suppose the court won’t be calling on you, though.”
“I suppose not,” Alexander agreed. “That’s alright, though. I’m happy enough here.”
“Hmm. I feel sorry for the people of Paesaggia,” Corinna said. “You would make a wonderful king.”
Alexander sat unmoving for a moment in which the clock on the mantle seemed to stop ticking, and then he snorted. “How would you know what a good king is or that I’d make one? We never discuss politics.”
“I read one of the books in the library,” Corinna said.
“One?” Alexander slapped his knee and a rumble moved in his throat. “I’ve read them all.”
“See? You’ll make a great king. I bet you’ve read every single one of the books in that library.” Corinna closed her book and set it to the side. She smiled, but Alexander’s grin evaporated. He looked as though Corinna had stabbed an old wound, insulted him rather than complimented him.
“I have,” he answered truthfully, “But there is a great difference between reading how to run an economy and a kingdom and actually performing the task. I haven’t met my people since I was fifteen, Corinna. My hopes for their loyalty are not high.”
“Nonsense,” Corinna said, shaking her head. “You are their prince. They will welcome you back with a party so large, you won’t know who to talk to first. All the beautiful girls will be dying to dance with you, and all the nobles will want to get close to you and show their eternal support.”
“Right. They’ll show their support so long as I’m cured of my curse first,” Alexander said. “And the girls will dance with me so long as I don’t have huge bear feet.”
“And you won’t,” Corinna assured. She stood from her couch and walked calmly to Alexander’s. Her fingers found the handle of the mirror and lifted it up to her chest, where she held it like a treasure. “You have someone special in your heart, Alexander, and they will break this curse for you.”
The blonde in the mirror… It could only be two people. Either Alexander had reverted back to looking into mirrors to remember his past glory, or he was checking up on the one he cared for. Corinna didn’t want Alexander to return to his old narcissistic ways, but the idea of Alexander looking in on someone he cared for deeply didn’t feel right either in Corinna’s chest.
She should be happy for Alexander. The prince had mentioned once before that he cared for someone. That person could break Alexander’s curse, could free him from the coat of fur and the loneliness. That person could be everything Alexander needed and wanted. And yet Corinna felt a cold throb deep in her chest. Why did it feel like losing Alexander? Why did it feel like losing someone dear all over again?
Corinna had left her home to come and live in this manor. She had left her friends, her best friend, her uncle, and her mother. She had left them all and come to live in a cage with strangers poking sticks in at her. She had broken her own heart to come here, but a lot changes in five months. Five months ago, Corinna didn’t think she would be friends with the servants. She didn’t know she would have a central role in helping to break a curse or be on friendly terms with a witch. Five months ago, Corinna would have loved for Alexander to return home and let them all leave to go their separate ways.
This was not five months ago. Corinna didn’t want to lose Alexander anymore than her uncle or Alastar. But what was she to do but let Alexander find true love and get his proper life back?