Gagging, she took the foul-tasting cloth from her mouth, and dropped it to the floor. Her fumbling hands told her there was no way to open the door from the inside. She stamped her foot and called out in a shrill little voice that the woman would be sorry for daring to lay hands on her in such a manner, but no one replied. She hammered on the rough inside of the door with her hands until her wrists ached, and she slumped to the stone floor, angry at herself for the sobs that she was choking back. Princesses did not cry. Nurse had been very strict about that. Excess emotion was unbecoming in young ladies, and unforgivable in royalty. What nurse would think about her behaviour this morning didn't bear thinking about. She gave a whimper. Her stomach hurt and her head felt funny. She wished she had some food. She'd give anything to have her breakfast in front of her right now. Even cold porridge seemed appealing, although given the way she was feeling now, her manners might not be all that nurse would wish of a princess.
'I am Princess Irena Marie Imaldi...' That horrible woman had laughed at her. Said she told lies. Books-Mistress had told her that lies were untruths used by bad people -saying something WAS when it was NOT. But she was the princess, everyone told her so, from the minute she got up to when she put her head on her pillow at night. And Books-Mistress had shown her the long scroll with the name of Imaldi being passed down from years past, her name last of all. She WAS an Imaldi, even more than she was Irena or Marie. After her last birthday, Books-Mistress had made her memorise the order for the naming ceremony, and she knew that before anything else, she had been named for the Imaldi family, and only then for her father's mother, and her mother's mother. She couldn't imagine being anything but Princess Irena Marie Imaldi. It was only people like Etta that had just one name. Irena. She whispered it to herself, hearing her own name as if for the first time. Could she imagine herself as Irena? The thought scared her.
There was a scraping sound, and the door opened. While she was blinking in the sudden light, a man stepped in, reached over her head to take something off a high-up shelf, and went out. He left the door open. The Princess slowly pulled herself to her feet using the shelves for support. She moved her legs gingerly, stiff and sore from sitting so long on the cold stone floor. When she cried out, no one came running to see what the matter was. She hobbled out into the room.
There was no sign of the woman, and the princess was glad of this. A tray of rolls sat on the table, but something about them looked strange. They were paler than normal rolls, and did not shine stickily as normal rolls should. She bent her head over them. They smelt funny too, almost sour. She wrinkled her nose, but her stomach rumbled again and she tried to pick one up. The roll gave way under her prying fingers and she pulled her hand back in disappointment.
As she raised her head, she saw that the man had not left, but was standing at the other side of the room, mixing something that she could not see. She drew back to a space in-between the wall and a free-standing cupboard, and slid to a crouching position on the floor. He had his back to her, but turned around and walked towards the table, holding a small bowl in his hands. At first the princess tried to breath as quietly as she could, but soon became aware that the man could neither see nor hear her. He was using a small, flat brush to transfer the contents of the bowl to the tops of the pale rolls. The princess noticed the dimpled, dirty marks where she had tried to pick one up. She brought her hands forward and looked at them as she had that morning, lying in bed. They looked just the same as ever - much dirtier than normal, but they were there, they could bang on doors and pick things up, and she could see them...so why couldn't this man?
The room seemed to swim around her, and she took a few deep breaths to stop the sick feeling rising from her stomach. The woman had seen her too, but not at first. Or had she? The princess thought back. What had the woman called her? 'Little thief'... but before that she had said something else. Pot-boy.
She didn't know what a pot-boy was, but she was sure she didn't look like one. She was a girl for a start. Perhaps...perhaps the woman hadn't seen her before she ducked under the table. The woman had...grabbed hold of her...and then didn't let go until she had pushed her into the cupboard. What if...people could only see and hear her if they had hold of her at the same time? Or, she supposed, if she had hold of them.
She looked at the man, and carefully pushed herself to her feet, grabbing hold of the cupboard to steady herself as a ringing sound filled her ears. Once it had gone away, she walked around the table until she stood next to the man. She hesitated - this time, the funny feeling in her stomach had nothing to do with hunger. If she was wrong, then the man wouldn't see her, and she'd be in just the same situation as she was now; if she was right, then everything could go back to normal. She reached out to touch his arm. Half-way there, she stopped, and drew her hand back, thinking. The woman hadn't believed her, so why should this man be any different? She needed to find someone who would believe her. She needed to find Etta.