Princess of Frost - Mila Young
I let my fingers trail along a burnt orange vase with dark images of a half-bull, half-man chasing a maiden. The poor thing stares over her shoulder at him with huge eyes. Damn. I’d be the same if some beast chased me intending to mount me. That part is obvious in the way the artist skilfully added the minotaur’s erection. I snort a laugh that someone thought this image is in any way seductive. Or maybe that wasn’t the intention, but to remind females of their place.
“Licia,” Veren hisses a whisper behind me, stealing my thoughts.
I flinch and turn around. The head maid of the Midnight Court glares at me, standing several feet away, hands gripping her wide hips. With dark hair pulled back into a bun, she’s my height at five-foot-six, but scares the hell out of me with that stare. She’s in her early fifties, but never stops running around to ensure everything gets done on time, and that includes whipping me into line.
“Get away from that vase at once,” she snaps, her whisper practically a growl. “You break anything, and the prince will make you pay it off with your life. I’ve told you this before, so act your age.”
My stomach tightens whenever she compares me to a child. I may be the youngest in her staff at twenty, but I’m not a baby. Quickly, I march over to her, kicking myself for letting her catch me. She has the eyes of a hawk and an uncanny ability to track me down every time I take a moment’s rest from cleaning the dishes or delivering meals to the guards.
“Sorry.” I bow my head.
Veren sighs heavily like she might say something caring. That she’s worried about me getting in trouble. But she never does. No one expresses happy sentiments. I live in a glass world where no one else experiences positive emotions, so instead, I swallow those desperate feelings to have someone just say a nice word back as it will never happen.
I can’t be different.
Can’t draw attention.
Can't let anyone know my heart beats with forbidden feelings.
Whispered legends speak of a time when love spilled from everyone's lips, but that was before I was born. Now, we live in a place where death comes for everyone before their time. Where there’s only absolute fear, where affection is a thing of the past. But I push those thoughts away, not wanting to think of such things. They drag me under, trying to drown me in sorrow if I let them into my thoughts.
Veren nudges me down the hall and back toward the kitchen. “The sink’s full and waiting for you. Hurry now.”
I glance over my shoulder and offer her a nod, then I stride down the hall. She may growl like a bear, but she’s always looked out for me since I started working at the castle a year ago. She doesn't show it, but I can tell she cares in her own way.
The castle kitchen is enormous and bustles with maids and cooks. It’s stiflingly hot in here. One side there are the fire-lit ovens and stoves, in the middle are rows of tables, and to the right are stone sinks that drain into a hole in the floor.
"Watch it," Kainee hisses, just another maid in her black, buttoned-up dress and black apron shoving a food trolley past me, inches from knocking into me. She storms out of the room. Other maids like her, with hair styled into a bun, porcelain skin, and scowls rush around without bumping into each other. Every strand of theirs is in place, while my curls get in my way. These maids carry hatred in their eyes. I’ve heard their jealousy when they gossip about each other, and I never want to be like them.
I make my way to the sink where plates are piled high, where maids are stacking more for me to clean. Of course they are. Wasting no time, I start cleaning before I'm screamed at. I place the dirty plates to the side, plug up the sink, and fill it with cold water from the bucket at my feet. Then I grab the rag and soap and start scrubbing.
I don't know how much time passes when the head chef barks at me, “Licia.”
I jerk around, startled at how close he’s standing to me. He's a thin man, my height, but he has large hands. My neighbor always told me that a man with large hands has a big heart. But