I let the curtain drop back across the mirror.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, with all the dignity I could muster. I was always a little afraid of Gregor, who had been in the royal service since the time of my grandmother, the Old Queen—though he must have been a young man in those days, when my mother herself was only a child.

Even now, though silver had frosted the jet-black of his hair and his pointed beard, he bowed with the grace of an ambassador at one of my mother's receptions. "I do the queen's will, Your Highness. And her will is that no one shall enter her chamber while she is away."

He stretched out a hand and I went to him, stepping over the low sill of the window and out onto the lawn. My mother was a kind enough woman, when the cares of state let her remember that she had a daughter at all, but no one in the kingdom would let her commands go by unheeded.

"I will be queen one day," I said when I was safely out of the window and walking with Gregor toward the palace nursery. "Why should I not go where I will? Is it the mirror?"

I thought I saw Gregor's lips smile slightly above his black-and-silver beard. "You're a clever child, Highness."

I smiled at my lucky guess and dared to ask another question. "Why does a curtain hang across my mother's mirror?"

"That was the Old Queen's looking-glass," said Gregor. "It was the Old Queen herself who put the curtain there."

Curiosity stirred in me. All my life I had heard tales of the Old Queen, who had ruled palace and kingdom alike with a strong hand, but of all the servants and courtiers in the palace, no one remained from those days save Gregor alone.

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