A woman fled screaming into the hall. The guardsman watched her go placidly, then lumbered to his feet and knocked at the door.
There was no answer. After a moment, the guardsman entered.
Princess Judith lay sprawled on her bed, face buried in her pillows. Around her, her dolls were returning to formation, neatly moving out of the guardsman's path. A few wooden soldiers were carting away what appeared to be a charred veil, and one of her paper birds was missing from its phalanx. After a moment, he located it, lying sodden in the wash basin, scorched black.
He wasn't allowed to touch the princess's bed of course, but he shut the door and sat to its side, sighing as he took the weight off his feet.
"That was your new governess, wasn't it?"
The princess was silent.
"That's three this month. That's impressive. Not easy to leave a job of royal patronage."
"I hate her," the princess said.
"What makes you say that?"
She raised her head from the pillows and glowered balefully at him. "She said a devil must've impregnated my mother while she slept to have me. That I had a rotten core and had caused nothing but grief, but that she would have none of it, for she was herself a baroness and had been told she could slap me if she wanted."
"What a ghastly woman," the guardsman said. (He couldn't directly speak ill of the royal family, but baronesses were fair game.) "What did you do?"
"I flew one of my birds into the fire and sent it at her face, set her veil aflame."
The guardsman smothered a laugh behind his hand.
"Don't laugh. I was aiming for her hair."
"Well done. I expect we won't be hearing from her again. And good show, dousing your bird in the basin."
The princess let her head fall into the pillows again. "It was not a good show. I'll be forbid supper again, and next they'll send someone even worse."
"Oh, come now. I'll fetch you something from the kitchen tonight, the head cook adores me. As for the governess, I'm sure you'll have a good turn someday. Besides," he added, "you'll still have me."
She was silent, then turned her head to look at him. Her eyes were red. "I'm a beastly little girl, aren't I?" She said.
"No, never say that. Why, you're a lovely girl."
"I tried to set a baroness's hair on fire, and I'd only known her a day."
"Ach, sounds like if I'd known her a day, I would've tried to set her afire myself. You're not a beastly girl; she's a beastly woman. I've been your guard since you could barely walk, and you've never set your toys on me."
"You're nice, though."
"That's kind words from you. But no, you're not beastly."
"Then why does everyone say I am, or act like I am?"
"Oh, it's because they hear from the bloody holy books that being a witch is a sin and forget that so's something they are, one way or another. It's just easier to tell a witch from an adulterer is all, so they forget."
The princess sniffed. "When I'm queen, I'll make it the law for no one to call witches beastly, unless they steal sheep or poison wells, and if they do, they'll be hanged."
"There, you see? Not so bad being royalty."
And the princess smiled.