Mirella was suddenly blinded by a bright light. She closed her eyes against it, seeing elongated shapes on the back of her lids. Were those faces she’d seen trapped in bottles? Surely not.
She hunched over the baby’s basket. The top of her head touched the handle and she winced as the pain shot down her neck; nonetheless, she held her position. Wickedness hung in the air and Mirella, having given up her life for lost, was determined to guard the Prince.
Plus, it was easier to be brave with your eyes shut.
Someone (or something) spoke from the direction where the light had first shone, a female voice, rapid and eager. “I heard them whispering, the old crone and the Queen. The Prince is in the basket. I should have said something but no one ever listens.”
“You talk to the point of exhaustion!” A male voice exploded. “Every day, all the time, you never—
” I know what you say. Etta the Gossip, Etta the Eavesdropper–
“Eavesdrop,” a third voice, envious of being left out, interrupted. “Etta would hide in a chimney to hear the fat cackle on the coals!”
Laughter all around and then a chilly voice spoke, “How indelicate. We hate to think about it.”
“Royalty,” Another male voice muttered, then laughed hysterically so that the other bottles (with the possible exception of Etta, groaned). “Ever seen a chicken plucked, a fish gutted, watched a servant slash the neck of a cow?”
“Please,” said the voice, “Not in my presence.”
“Why not?” The male voice was loud, as if appealing to a crowd. “You’re the same as us. You’re no —“
“Enough!” should the angry voice.
“For once I agree,” said the voice named Etta. “We’re scaring the poor dear to death.”
In the silence that followed, Mirella could actually hear her heart beat.
“Young lady, you must lift your head. We’re all friends here.”