'Ladies!  Put down your... '

“Ladies! Put down your… what sort of princess is it today?” Estrid demanded.

“A Hungarian Princess,” Astrid announced. “And the King of the Moors.”

“Isn’t he called a sultan or something?” Estrid asked.

“He is called Friedrich,” Astrid corrected.

“King Friedrich of the Moors?” Estrid asked of Sophie, snickering.

Sophie smiled her slow smile. Astrid was beginning to suspect that she was not being taken seriously.

'Ladies!  Put down your... '

“And Princess Anna-​​Maria-​​Sophia-​​Adiva-​​Brovawa of Hungary,” she huffed. “She is trying to convert him.”

“Through her love?” Estrid crooned.

“No, through plain logic!” Sophie said. “Princess Anna-​​Maria-​​Sophia-​​Adiva-​​Dobrawa has made some unanswerable arguments.”

Brovawa,” Astrid growled.

“Such as?” Estrid prompted airily.

“Such as,” Sophie explained, “if one is a Christian, one may have a pair of lace gloves to wear to Mass.”

“He doesn’t care about that!” Astrid protested, blushing angrily. “He’s a man. The Princess was only saying…

'He doesn't care about that.'

“Well, you’ve convinced me!” Estrid laughed. “So, come on, now, honey – get Shem to chaperon and put them down.”

“She’s not done converting him yet! He might go to Hell!”

“But converting heathens is hard!” Estrid wailed and stomped her feet in a fine imitation of little Eadric. “Let’s go shopping!”

'Let's go shopping!'

Astrid gasped, “Shopping!” but Sophie cut short her glee with a moan. 

“Oh, no!

“Oh, what?” Estrid cried.

“Oh – ” Sophie laid a finger alongside her nose and inhaled loudly and stuffily through the other nostril.

“Oh, yuck!” Astrid grimaced.

“Oh, that!” Estrid sighed.

“I haven’t been able to do that in four days,” Sophie said warningly, “and I am not about to go out into the cold and start all over again.”

'I haven't been able to do that in four days.'

“It’s fresh air! That’s what it’s for! Tell her, honey!”

Astrid did not dare openly dispute the nature of the atmosphere with Sophie, but she sidled closer to Estrid in mute agreement.

She sidled closer to Estrid in mute agreement.

“And when is the last time this poor child has had any of your the cold?” Estrid demanded. “She’s been shut up in here for four days with your sick air, haven’t you, honey?”

Astrid nodded eagerly.

“She’s going to run out of countries with princesses if this keeps up much longer! She’ll have to start playing duchesses!”

“You’re not feeling ill, are you, sweetie?” Sophie asked worriedly.

'You're not feeling ill, are you, sweetie?'

Astrid panicked: she could not guess whether she was more likely to be allowed to go out if she were sick or well.

“Of course she is feeling ill!” Estrid gasped. “She’s a Norsewoman! She needs frequent and liberal applications of snow to keep her cheeks fat and pink! Only look at how pale and wasted she is!”

'Only look at how pale and wasted she is!'

“I think she’s supposed to be that color,” Sophie pouted. “Stein is.”

“Stein does not get enough snow either!

Sophie tossed back her tangled curls and sighed. “Do you want to go shopping, sweetie?” she asked wearily.

Oh, Astrid did not want to be asked! What if Sophie did not want to go shopping because she had no money to spend?

In Norway, Astrid’s Mama and sisters had oftentimes feigned illness to avoid admitting they could not afford a new dress for a party. In Norway, Astrid herself had already invented a pat set of excuses to offer when her friends invited her to go to market to buy a toy or a bag of candy. But she was beginning to believe that matters were a little different in Lothere.

“Just to look?” she asked meekly.

'Just to look?'

“Oh, I believe I shall touch if I can manage it!” Estrid hooted.

“But not to buy anything,” Astrid reassured Sophie.

“Won’t you simply take her?” Sophie sighed. “She’s the best-​​behaved girl I ever saw.”

No!” Estrid moaned. “Don’t do this to me, Soph! Brede never lets me go anywhere, and for once he’s bound to be gone all day looking for those girls!”

“Ach, that too!” Sophie muttered. “Is it even safe?”

“Of course it’s safe! There are armed men all over the place today. Come on, Soph! There’s a new shop in Matildasweg that you simply have to see!”

'There's a new shop in Matildasweg that you simply have to see!'

Matildasweg! Astrid knew that the street had been named for the late Duchess, but she had little use for duchesses herself, and in her heart she had secretly renamed it Princess-​​Street. No finer name could there be for a street, and no finer street had she ever seen, with its row of fancy shops selling fancy wares.

She had never felt more like a real princess than the afternoon when she had visited it with Sophie and been allowed to try on a real ring with a real ruby. Perhaps such a boon would be granted her again.

She had never felt more like a princess.

Sophie turned away to blow her nose. “If it’s not selling handkerchiefs,” she grumbled, “I’m not interested.”

“Sophie, trust me!” Estrid pleaded. “You will not be disappointed.”

“What are they selling?” Sophie muttered.

“That’s a surprise! But it is not the surprise!” Estrid giggled.

'But it is not the surprise!'

“Oh, no, I do not like the sound of this!” Sophie cried.

“Oh, rot, Sophie! You are the most boring woman alive ever since you got married again! Stein isn’t even on this island! In the old days you would have been leading the way!”

'In that case I definitely do not like the sound of this.'

“In that case I definitely do not like the sound of this,” Sophie mumbled to herself.

“Come, Sophie!” Estrid pleaded breathlessly.

She wrapped her arms around Astrid and squeezed her.

She wrapped her arms around Astrid and squeezed her.

Look at this tragic face,” she whispered. “She needs fresh air and snow!”

Sophie snorted and sniffled and sighed in exasperation, but she lifted her hems and stared dubiously down at her gown in what looked hearteningly like an attempt to decide whether she ought to change before going out.

“And what you need, Lady Estrid,” she muttered, “is to be bent over somebody’s knee and spanked.”

“That’s fine with me!” Estrid laughed. “But if we find someone willing to do it, just remember you said that and don’t you dare try to go first!”

'Don't you dare try to go first!'