‘No. By all means, no.’
‘But it could be the safest thing for her right now!’
Flora leaned back against the cold granite of the sink. She was tired. Adalberht had chosen the laundry room as their assembly point, because no food was stored nearby and it would not be likely to have any mousetraps.
‘Had you ever noticed how many gaps there are in the walls and doors? It is quite surprising, considering that we are in a palace. Not that I'm complaining. It suits us just fine.’
‘Flora, please, don't change the subject.’
‘Well, what would you prefer her to do? Of course, I don't trust my mother in the least either! But are there any other options?’
‘She could refuse.’
Adalberht knew his partner was right. But he was also sure that Herta would be getting into something which would later be hard to get out of.
‘She can simply fail in her attempt.’
Flora could not help smiling in her head at that crazy idea.
‘Oh, my. And that is soooo likely to happen. Can you please tell me why on Earth would Kasimir be immune to those charms which won you over from the moment you saw her?’
Adalberht did not know what to say to that. He had not been expecting that remark at all. Finally, he chose the easiest path: to make her equally uncomfortable.
‘Are you jealous?’
For a couple of seconds, the brownish-gray mouse twitched her small muzzle.
‘No. I certainly am not. Whereas you are totally head over heels, although you refuse to admit it.’
‘That... That is irrelevant. Herta is our friend. Our friend. She has helped us. And now, we should help her. Besides, no matter how charming a person is, one can always pretend, if you really want someone to dislike you.’
‘That's true. But what do you think my mother's reaction will be if Kasimir doesn't like Herta? Do you really think she will just resign herself and accept it?’
‘I guess not.’ Pause. ‘But what is really her intention?’
‘I think she wants to get him married to consolidate him as the prince in the eyes of the king. Married to a woman she can manipulate as she pleases.’
‘And why Herta?’
‘Because she has no family, except three semi-relatives who treat her awfully and are desperate to get rid of her? Not to mention that those three women are related to my mother. I think she was just handy.’
‘I want to talk to her,’ Adalberht resolved.
But before he could, he had to wait with Flora in the duchess's room until the latter took the tray with food a servant had just brought to the girl. That did not take very long, because, as she had previously informed her, she did not wish to be bothered with her anymore until the following day.
Flora was right: This old palace, although very well preserved and notably beautiful, had a lot of chinks through which a pair of nosy mice could sneak in. They soon found themselves in the presence of Herta, who was happy to see them.
‘We have decided,’ Adalberht wrote, ‘that the best thing you can do is to, politely, try not to be very nice to Kasimir.’
Flora, looking over what would have been his shoulder, was astonished. She was about to grab the pen to write that that was not what they had agreed on, when Herta spoke:
‘I have decided something else.’
Both mice paid attention. She had sounded firmly resolved.
‘I will take advantage of the crowded ball to run away. The duchess will keep watch on me, I know, but I'm sure that, among so many people I will find the right moment to escape without her noticing immediately. It's the safest thing to do. Otherwise I will be trapped and it will be much more difficult for me to get out. I've seen what the duchess is capable of,’ she added, pointing at them, ‘and I really doubt she wants to make me part of her family –especially as a princess. She must have already planned to get rid of me sooner or later. I should leave now that I have a chance.’
With her speech, Herta won Adalberht and Flora's admiration. The former's, with her clear ideas about what she wanted and her bravery, the latter's with how quickly she had realized her mother's intentions.
Neither of them wrote anything on the sheet of paper right away.
‘Where will you go?’ Flora finally asked.
‘South. I'll try to become someone's servant there. I may be accepted at some house.’