Matilda stares in awe. “Who is that?”
“That’s Annie,” Nolan answers at his sister’s shoulder. “She’s Sally’s new friend.”
Matilda points to her sister. “No, I meant who is that and what has she done with the real Sally?”
“They must really be getting along,” Nolan notes. “I’ve never seen Sally play this nicely with another kid.”
“I’ve never seen Sally play with another kid,” Matilda adds. “Are we sure Sally isn’t holding her hostage? Should we call the Musketeers?”
“No. Sally asked Mom and Dad if she could invite her over,” Nolan explains. “I think Amara’s friend’s sister introduced them — you know, the pirate girl. What’s her name, Desdemona?”
“Has Sally tried biting her yet?” Matilda asks.
Nolan shakes her head.
As Matilda watches the two girls playing together, what happens next makes her jaw drop to the floor.
“Sally’s letting her hold Count Bunnyescu!” she exclaims. “She never lets anyone hold Bunnyescu! She doesn’t even like letting Mom wash him! Are we sure Annie’s not holding Sally hostage?”
Sally looks over and waves to her siblings, who try to act casual and not like they’ve been raptly spying on their sister.
“Hi, Nolan! Hi, Matilda! Count Bunnyescu say hi, too.” She grins broadly and puts her arm around the pink-haired girl. “This is Annie. She’s my favourite!”
“Hello,” Annie says as she waves timidly, briefly glancing at Matilda and Nolan before immediately looking anywhere else.
“She’s Count Bunnyescu’s favourite, too!” Sally declares.
“I like you, too,” Annie says.
“Oh, and I like Count Bunnyescu, too” Annie adds.
Sally turns back to Nolan and Matilda and her grin grows. “See? Isn’t Annie the best? She’s like the big sister I’ve always wanted!”
“Hey!” Matilda exclaims.
“So,” Nolan says. “It looks like you two are having fun.” He glances down at the papers and pencils surrounding the two girls. “You’re… drawing a castle?”
Sally shakes her head. “No.”
“Actually,” Annie explains. “We’re drawing the plans for a castle. It’s for Count Bunnyescu. Once we’ve got the details finalised, we’re going to try to build it for real.”
“You’re going to build a castle?” Nolan asks.
“Well, not a real one,” Annie says. “It’s just a model. For playing with. You know, like a dollhouse. Except it’s a castle.”
“It’s going to be so cool!” Sally proclaims. “Count Bunnyescu’s going to be so happy!”
“We’re going to build it based on the Castrum Chalkioikos,” Annie continues eagerly. “At first I thought it should be a one-to-one model, but we decided to take a few liberties with the proportions to make it easier to actually play with.”
Matilda and Nolan stare down at the pink-haired girl.
“The what?” Matilda asks.
“Liberties with what?” Nolan asks.
“The Castrum Chalkioikos was one of the official residences of the Emperors of the ancient Elven Empire,” Annie explains without missing a beat. “Much of its material was repurposed for new constructions after the fall of the Empire, but it has been rebuilt and expanded by several recent Lords Mayor of the city.”
“And you just know this sort of thing off the top of your head?” Matilda asks. “Just like that?”
Annie nods. “Oh, yes. My Dad is a Professor at the University. I’ve been helping him for as long as I can remember.”
“You’re right, Sally,” Matilda says. “Annie’s great. Smart, cute, polite! She’s like the little sister I’ve always wanted!”
Sally and Annie, together at last!
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