Sophia exhaled, “Well the dress certainly worked on him, and I recognise him, he was frequently on duty when I was taking classes. I’m not sure I want to spend the next however long hearing people lament over ‘poor Lady Sophia’. I sound like an invalid.”
“Sophie, you’ve always been popular with the castle staff, and the townspeople too, of course they’re going to miss you. Especially with the contrast provided by Miss Violetta. She’s not nasty, but she’s thoughtless, inconsiderate and clueless. It’s fraying a lot of nerves.”
“Oh dear. I’m hoping more and more that this dress makes me as backgroundish as possible. This could get horribly awkward.”
“Only one way to find out.”
Breakfast done, they collected the belongings, retrieved the horses, promised the innkeeper that next time they’d book ahead for mice, and set off for the castle.
They made a couple of detours along the way for what Sophia called test stops, visiting shops she’d been used to frequent and either buying sewing supplies or placing an order ‘for her mistress’. No one recognised her.
Sophia was torn between delight and dismay.
When Connor hadn’t noticed any change that morning, she’d wondered if it was going to work. It was working almost too well. She’d just spent ten minutes discussing embroidery with the seamstress who’d made most of her clothes since she was twelve without a single glimmer of recognition.
As they ambled up the hill to the castle, Sophia wondered aloud whether anyone would see through the enchantment. Connor wanted to reassure her, but his own doubts, having witnessed the earlier conversations, kept him from offering what could be false assurances.
And so it proved. Over the following few days, only two people recognised Sophia. Her closest childhood friend, Pearl, and Stephen’s brother Prince Michael.
He came upon the pair of them, thankfully alone, as they sat in shock at Stephen’s complete lack of recognition of his former betrothed.
The younger prince ambled over, having spotted Connor, then sputtered to a halt a foot or so away.
“Sophia!?! What on earth are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that?”
It took a while before either could answer. Sophia explained, while Connor muttered darkly.
“Alright, so you’re here to collect information on possible brides for the Overlord. I can see why you would want to be disguised and I’m impressed the Overcourt has that kind of magic available to lend to its agents.” (They’d decided very early on to keep Lost Island out of any discussions)
He sat, “So now can you tell me why my brother’s future head of the military is planning his death and dismemberment.”
Sophia gave a slightly hiccuping laugh, “He was just here, with Lady Violetta, because she wanted to be measured for a dress. He didn’t recognise me.”
Michael fell off his chair, “You’re joking. No you’re not. Oh what an idiot. Can we swap and just make you King instead. I mean, I know you’re a girl so we might have to call it Queen but really, I think it’s a much better idea.”
Connor spoke up, “It gets worse. They were here because Miss Frilly wanted a dress. Never mind they’re only for single women, she wanted one, so Stephen came along to arrange it.”
“I can’t say ‘you’re joking’ again but ‘you’re joking’.”
Connor grinned grimly, “He changed his tune rather fast when the sweetly helpful seamstress pointed out that any lady in one of these dresses would be considered unclaimed and therefore open to being courted by the Overlord and any of his entourage. Violetta still couldn’t understand the problem so he’s now dragged her off promising her a much nicer dress that won’t look like all the others.”
Michael went on his knees before Sophia, “Please we need you to come back.”
He sat back, “On second thoughts, no we don’t because my parents are now saying that if Stephen isn’t going to marry you, then I should and then you could be right there all the time as a support to Violetta. You need to get out of here as quickly as possible before they see you.”
Sophia sighed, “Don’t worry, Connor presented me to your parents as the Overlord’s errand girl on the day we arrived. They didn’t even blink.”
Michael looked confused, “But they adore you.”
Connor explained, “My theory is that the only people who recognise Sophie are the people who are in the habit of looking a bit deeper and who care about her as Sophie, not as the future queen of Lillia.”
Sophia gave a weak smile, “It’ll be much easier when we move on to the other kingdoms and I’m not having to deal with people who supposedly know me.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow. I’ve done all the measuring I need to do and I already know who’s promised where and who’s not official and who is, so you don’t need to worry, I’ve kept your interests properly protected.”
Conner looked up, “Eh?”
“Michael decided who he was going to marry when he was five. He just hasn’t mentioned it to her yet as he doesn’t want her to have the same sort of pressure as me.”
“You might want to mention it soon then, there’s only so far the Overlord’s dress codes will go. Who is it?”
Sophia answered before Michael could, “It’s none of your business but she’s lovely and completely appropriate and all those sorts of things. Although I do agree with Connor, you might want to give her the choice of the colours in her ball gown.”
Michael whistled, impressed, ‘You’re colour coding the available ones?”
“Not just available, but also the interested ones, the suitable ones and the ‘don’t go there for pity’s sake’ ones.”
Sophia poked Connor in the ribs, “Be nice.”
“I am, and I think Michael should be nice to his lady love and give her the choice.”
The prince was bright red by this stage and Sophia took pity on him, “You don’t have to do it right now, but I will need to know before we leave Lillia. We’ll be at my parent’s house for a few days after here, so if I don’t hear from you, I’ll assumed she’s freely available.”
Michael choked, then stood determinedly, “I’ll tell you before you leave the castle tomorrow.”
As Michael left the room, Acron, who’d been quietly sitting at their feet, watching goings-on with interest, looked up at Connor.
“Well you could do a lot worse. He’s intelligent, observant, considerate and athletic. If I didn’t like him so much I’d probably hate him.”
Sophia looked at him.
“Sorry, Acron was asking whether Michael was potentially a good model on which to start building his human form.”
Sophia looked at the wolf in front of them, “Connor’s right, he’s a very good model. Just don’t make your version too alike in appearance as people notice that sort of thing and it may lead to uncomfortable questions and more attention than we want.”