Caishel survives on the streets of Ardville by dressing as a boy, but she jumps at the chance to become a page in the cloud castle. Sire Ailan offers her the job as he believes her to be male. He soon finds out the truth, but keeps the knowledge to himself. The safest way to protect Caishel is to maintain her disguise. His major problem is can he protect her from himself?
Caishel strutted into the departure hall with a show of bravado. A few feet inside the hall, a hand pulled her to a stop.
"What are you doing here?" A boy dressed as a castle page asked aggressively. "Trying to steal something I bet. Guard!"
Caishel struggled and managed to free herself, but a guard appeared and grabbed her arm.
"What's going on here?"
"This filthy urchin," the page's tone showed he considered Caishel a piece of dirt, "has no right to be here. He's probably trying to get up to the castle so he can steal something."
A crowd gathered, attracted by the commotion.
"Is this true, boy?" The guard demanded.
"I'm going to the castle to be a page." Defiance colored her words.
"A page! You a page! The likes of you don't get hired as pages." The crowd muttered in support of the other boy's words.
"Would someone mind telling me what's going on here?"
Ailan hadn't spoken in a loud voice, but his cool authority cut through the murmuring crowd and an abrupt silence fell as everyone turned to look at him.
"This urchin shouldn't be here, Sire," the guard holding Caishel's arm replied. "We think he's trying to get up to the castle, probably to see what he can steal."
"He says he's going to be a page to a noble." The page sneered. "Of course, it's got to be a lie. None of our nobles would hire a wretch like him."
"Frano, Sire! Page to Sire Moir," the boy replied crisply, but his self-assurance withered under Ailan's scrutiny.
Caishel hid her amazement at the way Ailan gazed silently at the guard. The man shifted uncomfortably until the Sire flicked his hand; the guard released her.
"Thank you. Now if you would be so good as to clear the way, my page and I would like to board the transport."
The crowd instantly moved aside for the Sire. Caishel grinned wickedly at the boy who had spoken, then waggled her fingers at the end of her nose. Frano scowled, anger darkening the youthful features.
"I think the rude gesture was a little unnecessary," Ailan commented quietly as they took their seats on the transport.
"Stuck up preeve! Thinks he better than me. Why shouldn't I show him what I think of him?" Her shoulders hunched, Caishel sank down in her seat, annoyed the Sire had seen her insulting gesture.
"I can think of one good reason," Ailan replied. "Your work hours and free time will be spent with the other pages. It's not a good idea to make him your enemy before you even get to the castle!"
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