“Circe Maria Augusta! What is the meaning of this?!”
She stubbornly looked down refusing to meet her mother’s furious eyes.
“Your dress! Your hair! Ruined!”
“I slipped.”
It was her 14th birthday – her first “grown-up” birthday – with dozens of guests and a celebration party. At least it was supposed to be, but…

“You look pretty!”
She laughed and spun around again, showing off the delicate silks swirling around her legs. “You think so?”
“I do.” Alastair’s smile became cheeky. “Like a princess or damsel in distress from your fairy-tales.”
She turned to him. “Am not!”
“You do! All silks, and flowers – if enemies had attacked right now, you wouldn’t be able to do anything, just stare, and gasp, and feel helpless till some mighty warrior rescued you!”
“I am not! I can outrun you even in this dress, and I’m far from helpless!”
“Oh really? Then how about,” he paused considering the options, “to the pond and back – and if you win, I’ll take “damsel in distress” back?”
“Deal!”
Without second thought children darted out of the house.

By the time they reached the pond they both were breathing hard and the hem of Circe’s dress and Alastair’s pants were covered in spatters of mud left after the morning rain. He outran her, of course, even if almost barely.
“It’s all this stupid dress!” Annoyed, Circe kicked the nearest grass mound. “If it wasn’t so long… Oh!” The wet ground gave in, she slipped, nearly falling over, but Alastair caught her hand helping her to straighten up.
It suddenly occurred to him that like this – flushed from running and hair wild – she looked prettier than back in the house when she was showing him the dress.
“I won, and you still look like a damsel in distress, but if it makes you feel better,” he added noticing her frown, “as a damsel who thoroughly kicked her offender’s most tender body parts before succumbing to distress and letting her knight save her.”
“My, my, Lord Daragutis, aren’t you a smooth-talker?” laughed the girl, clearly mimicking her mother’s manner of speech.
Her fingers tighten around his a little – or was it just his imagination? – and he felt the blush creeping up his neck.
Circe turned to look at her dress with a sigh. “I’d better get back and clean myself before Mother sees me.”

“You’re staying in your room, young lady! Your guests would have to have a party without you attending!”
“Mother!” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“End of discussion.”

*****
Later that evening he snuck upstairs to the door of her room with a slice of her birthday cake as a peace offering.
“Everyone’s missed you down there, your parents said you were not feeling well and won’t be joining the party.”
“If it wasn’t for your stupid dare, I would’ve been there!” Circe’s voice was muffled by the door, but something told him that the girl was still crying.
“Hey! You could’ve just agreed with me and skip the running to the pond!” He sighed. “Look, I brought you the cake.”
“Just go away, Alastair! I don’t… I really don’t want to see anyone right now.”
“Fine!” He glared at the door before turning and leaving, the plate still in his hands.

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