A Farewell to Charms
sculpted. I was always me when I took on these forms—meaning I had my own mind, own clumsiness, own free will—but I couldn’t help but feel tougher in this athletic build. I wanted to drop and do fifty push-ups, just to prove I could, although it would not be very ladylike in the stiff pencil skirt and silk suit jacket Vanna wore. Not the everyday wardrobe of a sixteen-year-old.
    Someone called Vanna’s name. I wasn’t sure if I should respond or run, if the caller was Vanna’s friend or foe. Surely she had bodyguards, right? I cleared my throat and let out a feeble “Here?”
    Moments later, a woman burst into the peaceful courtyard. Her graying hair flew out of her bun. She wore a tailored suit similar to mine. “Princess Vanna!” She bowed. She did not look at me as she spoke. “You must stop doing this to us. We are simply trying to do our job, which is protecting you.”
    “Protecting me from what?” I asked.
    She pulled out a walkie-talkie. “This is Janin. The tiger has been spotted. I repeat, the tiger is spotted. Over.”
    My heart skipped a beat for a second, until I realized that I must be the tiger. Hey, you never know what kind of pets these royals keep.
    “Princess Vanna, there is no room in your schedule for disappearing acts. I know that meet and greet was insufferable, but you can’t just flee to the gardens.”
    “Sorry, Janin,” I said.
    “You have approximately fifteen minutes to change into your training clothing and meet your instructor in the gymnasium. And be forewarned—she’s very determined for you to land that back-handspring combination before the documentary film crew comes this evening.”
    I’d found that the best way to learn what was on the princess’s schedule was to pretend that she forgot. The technique usually led to exasperation, but at least I got answers. “Film crew. Um, that’s tonight?”
    “You know it’s tonight! This is the first time cameras have had access inside the palace, the first time the crown jewels have been on full display, the first time our royalty has exposed their daily life.”
    “You mean, their human side,” I said. I’d picked up on this theme in my manual research. In many cultures, royals are still considered to be almost godlike—certainly not like everyday people with everyday problems who just happen to be born into an extraordinary situation.
    Janin pretended she didn’t hear me. “Your younger brother may take that first step, and of course the country will want to see that!”
    “Wait. Rewind. So I have to do a back handspring and the baby just has to walk?” I tried to keep the panic from edging into my voice.
    “Please, Your Highness. Your time is limited.”
    “But, seriously. I’m good at so many other things. Lock picking! Here, give me a bobby pin and about an hour, and I can maybe unlock something.”
    “You chose to do gymnastics yourself. The film crew has already blocked out the space. There is no changing your activity now.”
    She led me away from the fountain, across an arched bridge over a lily-covered pond. As I stumbled ahead in Vanna’s practical-but-not-for-ancient-stone heels, I scrambled to come up with a plan, because how things looked now…I was in royal doo-doo.
    A back handspring. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel. The second I got into that gymnasium, the instructor would figure me out. And then…a film crew? What if they wanted me to do karate, too? Why hadn’t they given me more time to prepare? It would be physically impossible to get out of Vanna’s tight schedule today.
    I stopped walking. Wait. Unless I made it physically possible.
    An injury would mean Vanna would be laid up, then I would be laid up, which would save me from being caught, or sub spotted, if I failed to do a simple somersault. A sub spotting would mean the end of my job, the end of my magical research. My magic would be just another vial on Ye Ol’ Wall of MP.
    I surveyed the landscape. Back near the fountain,

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