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Jozsef was a loyal servant. The decision to follow Princess Jo and see what she was up to wasn’t an easy one. She was, after all, the daughter of his mistress. But Jozsef had pledged loyalty to the queen, not to her daughter.
Presently, he stood behind one of the pillars, quietly watching as the princess in the Thysia’s outfit carried a bundle of some clothes inside his room. Jozsef was a smart man. He knew she was going to help him escape. The real question was- should he tell Queen Auttaminen or catch both of them red-handed, present them to her and be a hero? The second option seemed to call out to him. And the smartest of men yield to temptation once in a while.
Meanwhile, Jo locked the door and heaved a sigh of relief. She changed into the maidservant’s clothes before presenting Ivaan with his pair. Jo had thoughtfully brought along a black headscarf from the supply closet to cover her conspicuous strawberry-blond hair. She put on the purple-and-black dress and was about to knock on the bathroom door when Ivaan yelled, as if on cue- “Hello! I’ve been sitting on this dang toilet since the last decade. Would you hurry up, your majesty?”
Jo could not help a chuckle. Just then, an idea struck her. Despite the gravity of their current situation, it was impossible to let it go. Covering her eyes with her hand, she kicked the bathroom door open. The screams that followed would have seemed inhuman had she not known better.
“Go away! Get out, you shameless piece of schist- get out now!” he yelled, pushing her out.
Jo erupted in a fit of laughter. “Chill it, Thysia. Can’t you see I have my eyes covered?”
“Go away! It’s- it’s… improper!”
“So you’re gonna teach me what’s proper? Please, Ivaan, I’m a princess. I’m the epitome of appropriateness.”
“You’re not a princess. My pet rat could be a princess, but not you. And he’s male, for the record.”
“Getting snarky, are we? In that case, I’ll just take my hand off…” Jo said, spreading her fingers just the tiniest bit so she could get a look at Ivaan’s priceless expression.
“No, no!” he started, pressing his hand on top of Jo’s. “No peeking.”
“So you promise not to be rude to me?”
“Yes- yes, I promise, Princess Jo.”
“That’s better,” said Jo, handing him the manservant’s clothes.
Ivaan pulled them on as quickly as he could. The fact that he was a sacrifice had already stressed him out- the last thing he wanted was to have a reason to be embarrassed. “Okay, I’m done. You can look now.”
Jo removed her hand from her eyes. Although she would never admit it out loud, Ivaan actually looked good in that outfit. She voiced her thoughts with a sarcastic remark.
“Looks like you were born to be a servant.”
“Ha-ha. Very funny. Can we start with the escaping part now?”
Jo walked towards the window and looked out of it once again. “It’s eleven forty. The lights in the corridors are put out at midnight.”
“What should we do with my clothes? Hide them somewhere?”
“Flushing them down the toilet would be a better idea.”
“I’d have preferred burning them, but that would attract attention. I guess we don’t have a better option.”
“But this is my favourite hoodie,” Ivaan said, frowning.
He looked so innocent and childish that Jo almost said he could take his clothes. But her rational side took over before she could do that. “What do you value more, pea-brain? Your life or this stupid hoodie of yours?”
It wasn’t as if Ivaan hadn’t considered that question. He had a nostalgic attachment to that hoodie. “Yeah, you’re right. I should leave my clothes.”
Shaking her head, Jo took his clothes to the bathroom. But then it struck her that they wouldn’t go down the toilet. She merely stuffed them in the cupboard beside the mirror as far behind and out of sight as she could.
Ivaan told her about his life on Earth in the remaining twenty minutes to midnight, and Jo told him about hers in Vasiona. Hearing about his world made her want to visit it.
Finally, the strip of golden light coming from under the door got dimmer and dimmer until no light came through, signalling midnight. Jo bid him follow her and peeked through the door. Sure, the guards were still about, but the darkness gave them an added cover.
Not from Jozsef, though. He followed them, quiet as an ant. Wherever they went, they’d have to pass the queen’s bedroom. He planned to catch them outside her sleeping quarters.
Ivaan was following Jo on tiptoe when his hand accidentally knocked over a tall vase kept against a wall, shattering it with a loud crash. All the guards immediately became alert.
“Who was that?”
“Show yourself, coward! Come out and fight,” yelled an over-enthusiastic guard.
“Turn on the lanterns! Let us see who the intruder is.”
Jo mentally facepalmed. Before the first light could be turned on, she pulled Ivaan into the first hiding-spot she could find- the narrow space amongst a pillar, a knight statue and a wall.
Ivaan would’ve been embarrassed had his heart not been thumping violently and his mind preoccupied with the fear of getting caught. He was sandwiched between the knight statue and Jo, his hands pressed to the wall for support. He was looking sideways at the drama that was unfolding, with Jo’s rapid breathing evaporating the beads of perspiration on his neck.
The guards looked around for the longest time before turning the lights off again. Even Jozsef’s sharp eyes couldn’t spot the princess and the thysia. He mentally cursed himself. He was going to have to follow them more closely from now on.