Disclaimer: Alas, Fablehaven belongs to Brandon Mull. I'm just borrowing the characters.

~oOo~

Seth was no stranger to rude awakenings. But the thing about rude awakenings is that, while you may get used to them, they don't get any less annoying. So when his sleep was brought to an abrupt end by shrieks and giggles that morning, it was with great annoyance that he went to see what the fuss was about. He made his way downstairs and found his step sisters bouncing with delight, laughing shrilly all the while.

"What's the party for?" Seth asked, only half caring. The steps' happiness and his were often mutually exclusive, which meant he likely wouldn't care to hear the answer.

"A ball!" Anita said, too excited to shoot Seth her customary glare.

"The prince is putting on a ball!" Exclaimed Carmen, as if it wasn't obvious that the royal family would be hosting it.

"And since when does that concern you two?" Seth asked. Sure, they came from a well off and well respected family, but not one high enough to warrant ball invitations being extended to them.

"Oh, shut your mouth," Anita snapped, this time remembering to glare. Seth shrugged innocently. "The ball is open to all the ladies in the kingdom."

"So? I still don't see how it applies to you. I mean, if it's only for the ladies, then you're out of luck." Seth's jeer was met with huffs and a pillow being lobbed at his head.

"Be careful, Cinderson, you could be talking to your future queen. Comments like that could get you beheaded." Seth ignored Anita's use of his 'nickname,' which she was obviously disappointed about. She and Carmen had thought themselves so clever when, years ago, they came up with the name— 'cinder,' because he was often covered in ashes from tending the fire, combined with his last name: Sorenson. It had bugged him at first. Now it really was just another name he responded to.

"You, a queen? And how would that nightmare become reality?"

"The prince is looking for a wife," Carmen spat at him. "Come on, Anita, let's tell Mother. The sooner we put in orders for our dresses, the better." The two girls traipsed out of the room, leaving their opened letters strewn on the coffee table. Seth stooped to snatch one, glancing it over. And, sure enough, Prince Bracken was looking for a bride and hoped to find one at his birthday ball later that month. All the kingdom's eligible maidens were invited and encouraged to come. How Prince Bracken planned to sort through a kingdom's worth of girls in a handful of hours and find the perfect queen, Seth didn't know. He snorted, dropping the letter. It seemed like a dumb idea to him. But what did it matter to him? As long as the prince had any taste at all, the Fae Kingdom would be spared having Carmen or Anita for queen, and that's as far as his interest stretched.

~oOo~

Seth didn't mind the farm work. It wasn't far from what he'd always expected he'd do. He used o help his dad around the farm, and though it was a bigger burden alone, it at least felt rightfully his to carry. It was the housework that got to him. It was cleaning up after Carmen and Anita and his step mother, cooking for them, waiting on them in general that made his blood boil. It shouldn't be his job to take care of them, but it was. He had to remind himself that harboring bitter feelings for the steps wasn't going to get him anywhere, that wanting to wring their necks was dumb and pointless, that his energies were best exerted elsewhere. And when he was outside tending the animals it was a lot easier to remember that. He could pretend that he was here because he wanted to be, that he did this because he wanted to. Not because he was more or less a slave to his step mother.

"Hey Viola," he greeted his cow, petting her for a moment before going about the morning farm duties. Viola was rather large for a milk cow, and, when his step mother was particularly displeased with Seth, she'd threaten to have Viola cut up for meat. Luckily, it have never escalated to that.

As he worked, Seth thought back on the days when his dad was alive, before that even, to when his family was whole and happy on this same land. He'd been seven when his mother left, and Kendra… It was so long ago that he hardly remembered it. He'd have forgotten his sister's face if he didn't have a photo of her— he'd long forgotten what his real mom looked like because his father couldn't stand having her likeness around the house. And then good old Dad had married Belinda and brought her and her dumb daughters to their home. He tried not to, but on his worst days, Seth couldn't help but feel angry at his father for chasing off their real family and trying to replace them with Belinda, Carmen, and Anita. And he felt anger towards his mom too, for running off with Kendra and never looking back. The only person in the world he felt no bitterness towards was his big sister. But he didn't know how to find her…

"The ball!" Seth blurted, startling poor Viola, who gave a disgruntled moo. "Sorry, girl," Seth soothed, but his mind was racing. The ball. All eligible maidens in the land were invited to go… going to a ball, falling in love with the prince, living happily ever after like some fairytale— it was just Kendra's style. She'd be there. He knew that if she had any say in the matter, and she should, she'd be at Prince Bracken's 20th birthday ball. And if Kendra was going to be at the ball, then so was Seth. The only question was how he was going to get there…