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The altercation with the dwarf made Ced lose track of the princesses, and he started running again, passing the dwarves and chattering mermaids, out of the forest and right into a group of people and other creatures. There were fences on each side, helping to create a neat line that led to a boxy, multi-story building. Ced couldn’t see the princesses, but he doubted that they were anywhere but in this line with everyone else, so he shrugged and got in line himself. There was a giantess in front of him who was easily twice as tall as he was, and a thin fairy hovering behind. This ball must be amazing, thought Ced, picturing the two of them waltzing together.
“Are you here for the ball?” he asked the fairy behind him, a tall blue figure with unnerving eyes.
“Is that why everyone’s in line?” the fairy answered, tucking his knees under his chin and somersaulting in midair. “I don’t know what’s going on. One minute I’m wandering through the woods, bored as can be, I check out this strange blue flower, turns out there’s a hidden door in the tree next to it. I go through and…” He looked around and shrugged. “Did you find a flower too?”
“No, a book,” Ged answered.
The giantess in front of him turned and beamed at them. “You two must be new! What a delightful time you’re going to have.”
“Excuse me, but where are we? Is there a ball in that building?” Ced asked hopefully, tilting his head straight up to catch her eye.
“Oh, I’m not going to ruin the surprise,” she said, smiling and patting him on the shoulder. She probably felt she was patting him lightly and reassuringly — to Ced it felt like the time his master threw a pair of boots at him. He wondered if she meant that the surprise was good or bad, and if giants had quite the same notions of “good surprises” that humans did.
He couldn’t see anything over or around the giantess in front of him, and he despaired of seeing the princesses again, but as the way on all sides was blocked, there was nothing to do but shuffle along into the building along with everyone else and wait. Finally, the giantess moved along and Ced found himself at the head of the line, facing an elf with a pointy white beard and a business-like air. Ced smiled weakly.
“What do y’do?” the elf said, looking Ced up and down.
“Fine, and you?” said Ced automatically.
“Not how, what! What do you do?” repeated the elf.
“I, er…” ‘Spy’ was the first thing that came to Ced, but he didn’t want to say that. “I’m apprenticed to a cobbler. I make shoes.”
“Shoes?” the elf said, shuffling his papers and studying a checklist. “We’ve got a goodly supply of shoes this year already… Still, if you can work a needle and thread, we can find a place for you. Say! Aelinora,” he called, and a tall elf girl poked her head out from the door just behind him. “Need another pair of hands in there?”
“Yes, please!” She waved Ced over and guided him into the room she had come from, a well-lit room with a low ceiling and dozens of humans, fairies and so on. She gestured to a chair next to a huge pile of stuffed animals — teddy bears, cats, dogs, fishes, dragons, snakes, and quite a few animals Ced had never seen in his life. The elf girl took a threaded needle and a squirrel off of the pile and, kneeling besides the chair, stitched a black button eye on one side of its head. “They’re almost done, you see, they just need eyes. See how you do it?”
Ced saw quite easily how to do it, but why to do it was another question altogether. But he didn’t even have time to formulate the question before needle and squirrel were thrust into his hands and Aelinora was at the other end of the room. Shrugging, he attached the other eye and threw it into a nearby box marked “Finished Toys.”
He had hoped to see demons and ballrooms, but instead he found himself in a stuffed animal assembly line. The Minister of Sorcery, he suspected, would be nonplussed. A pair of dwarves next to him (not the same ones as before, thankfully) were stuffing the toys, and on down the line fantastic beings were cutting, stitching and putting together a whole fuzzy menagerie. He couldn’t see clearly all the way to the end of the room, but he was fairly sure that the orange slippers he saw at the end of the line were the ones he had just delivered to Princess Natalie. If at least one princess was here, that was a pretty good sign that they weren’t off waltzing with demons.
This dress belongs to twenty-one year old Holly, Pieris’ twin sister. While Pieris prefers the sword, Holly excels in hand-to-hand combat, and is more focused and intense than her happy-go-lucky, curious sister. She has more patience, too, and is often absorbed in books describing strategy and tactics used in great battles. Pieris gets along with the other princesses reasonably well, but Holly generally disdains most of them unless they have some use to her. Her favorite color is also white, but she loves daisies. She has the lowest tolerance for frills and puffs.