The next day, Cecilia received an unexpected note. Her sister Wilhelmina wished to see her at the royal palace to discuss an important matter.
She was soon ready and she set off ─alone, this time─, willing to satisfy the duchess and her own curiosity.
However, it was so annoying not to have enough servants so as not to have to drive the calash herself.
‘I have sent for you,’ she said, with that tone of superiority in her voice that so infuriated her sister, ‘because I believe we can collaborate to find the prince a nice partner for the ball. One who can eventually become a suitable wife.’
Cecilia was surprised. It was strange to find that Wilhelmina had not taken care of that yet. Was she starting to lose her faculties?
‘Don't look at me like that. My plans have changed. And, therefore, the options I had in mind are no longer appropriate.’
‘How have they changed?’
The duchess paced up and down the room showing off her slender figure.
‘Well... Let's just say that my son does not need a good wife... on a long-term basis, anymore.’
Cecilia knew that sparkle in Wilhelmina's eyes too well.
‘Does this mean that you are not at the palace only as His Highness's mother?’
‘For now. But the outlook is promising. The king is available ─more than he has been in a long time─, and so am I. It is a propitious moment to raise my expectations.’
When have you not been available? Cecilia thought.
‘Even if it is detrimental to Kasimir?’
‘Detrimental? What more could he wish for? I have taken him to the highest position and there he will remain. What is wrong with wanting the same for myself?’
Even if Cecilia had not shared her point of view, the duchess could sometimes intimidate her to the point of almost feeling... fear. She wasn't aware, but she was suspicious of what she might be capable of. She carefully avoided any hint of regret or challenge in her next words.
‘So you need someone whom, when the time comes, you can easily get rid of,’ she summarized.
‘Exactly. Someone without a family to protest or inquire too much. And I need her right away. Otherwise, I'm afraid my son will become infatuated with some random girl, which will make things harder later. This ball can either work in my favor or against me. It all depends on my preparing it in plenty of time.’
Cecilia became thoughtful.
‘Well?’ asked Wilhelmina after a couple of minutes.
‘I can't really think of anyone.’ Her aim was to marry her daughters well, which, being such close relatives, was not possible in this case. The rest of marriageable maids had never been something to give much thought to.
‘Do you not know any girls you could influence who are minimally appealing so as to make Kasimir fall for them? I would be taking care of her looks first, so the raw material doesn’t need to be that spectacular.’
A girl she could influence? Yes. Actually, she did know one.
‘There might be someone you could use. That is, if you really, really polish her up. She's...’
‘It doesn't matter who she is. I trust you to find me someone who, when the time comes, will not give me any trouble. I will dress and prepare her properly. Bring her to me as soon as possible. The ball is so soon. We have very little time.’
Meanwhile, Herta was sure that everything that had happened the night before had just been a dream. The mice were nowhere to be seen.... Nonetheless, there was no trace of her shawl either. It was not until mid-morning that she had time to look around the kitchen without the cook being present.
Cecilia had gone out, so she took advantage of this situation also to provide herself with some sheets of paper from her bedroom —the only place in the house where there were any.
Then, she went and removed all the traps. She hid them well so that the cook wouldn't notice —right away, at least. Finally, she went to take a look at the hole through which she had, several times, seen them come and go.
But she didn't see them this time. Nevertheless, she put the paper and a piece of charcoal she had picked from the fireplace in the hole. If they did exist and wanted to communicate with her again, at least they would have the means to do it at hand.
It wasn't long before the same brown mouse brought a piece of paper near her feet. The cook had not come back yet. He waited only until she had picked it up, and then he ran back to his hideout.
This time the note was longer and, despite the rudimentary handwriting, she could tell that it had been written by someone else. This handwriting was more... masculine, maybe?