The train was packed. The car was too hot and too full of tired people going home. The air was humid and smelled of damp clothes and sweat. The man standing next to Eileen, middle-aged, grey coat and glasses, looked like he was about to pass out any moment. His coat was soaked through and his face was glistening with rain and sweat.

Like everyone else in the car he rocked back and forth with the movement of the train and every time he leaned towards her Eileen worried he was going to be sick. This part of the subway system was old and in dire need of renovation. The car shook and rattled in a sickening way and it wouldn’t have been the first time an exhausted commuter had thrown up in it.

The car too was old and well used. The grinding noise of metal against metal as the train sped along its track was nearly deafening. Eileen could hear it even over the sound of the music in her headphones.

When the train arrived at her stop she was more than happy to get out. Like a herd of cattle the commuters streamed out of the cars and towards the stairs that led out of the subway station and up into the rain above. Despite the weather Eileen was eager to get out. The air in the station wasn’t much better than on the train and she looked forward to taking a few deep breaths of fresh air once she was back above ground.

She flipped open her umbrella and stepped out in the rain, turning left and heading up the street towards the little apartment complex where she lived. She was in no hurry. It would be nice to get in out of the rain and she would probably take a hot bath when she got home, but she had no need to run. Unlike some of the people around her she was well prepared for the weather. With her knee-length green raincoat, transparent umbrella and yellow wellingtons getting more than just slightly wet was an unlikely prospect.

Still, she had no great desire to hang around outside in the wet and damp. It had been an interesting day and she looked forward to the peace and quiet of her home. It had started out just like any other day; receive customer orders, prepare deliveries and lodge payments – all perfectly normal, mundane stuff. Then halfway through the afternoon a customer out of the ordinary had arrived.

She’d been out in the back room, had just given Patrick the details and goods for his next delivery and was tidying up on the deliveries table when Rudolf had yelled for her to prepare the waiting area. The next thing she knew His Royal Highness Prince Adrian of Viller was standing next to her asking where he could sit.

It had come as quite a shock. She was used to celebrities and dignitaries visiting but this was something else entirely. The nobility only rarely visited the shop in person and it was unheard of that royalty even set foot in a shop like the one she worked in – even if it was well known and perfectly respectable; it just didn’t happen.

Yet there he was, Prince Adrian, the youngest of the kingdom’s three princes, arguably the most handsome, most desirable and most mysterious single man in the entire nation. She’d been alone with him in the back room of the shop and she’d talked about the weather.

Not that she had any chance of getting with the prince, but it would have been nice if she had been able to say something interesting, just for her own sake. It would have been nice knowing she’d made an impression, but instead she’d talked about the weather, how it was raining and wasn’t it dreadful. Then Rudolf had appeared and sent her off to look after the store while he and Eily made Gossamer Wings.

Curious indeed. Eileen knew a couple of tabloids that would pay handsomely to hear about this. Not only had the prince appeared in person, asking to be discreet. He’d also purchased Gossamer Wings, a type of chocolate creation that could really only mean one thing. The press would have a field day with a story like that.

Prince Adrian was rarely seen in public these days. He’d been sent to serve on a high-altitude air-base after some very public indiscretions in his youth. The whole affair had been an embarrassment to the royal family and the young prince had been relegated to a position far removed from the public eye.

This hadn’t stopped the rumors about him though. Only now they weren’t as much about his amorous escapades as about his military adventures. According to what was said Prince Adrian was an adventurer and a hero far beyond those seen in your average action movie.

If the prince was back and there was a woman he had his eyes on, that would be something for the gossip magazines to feast on for weeks. Eileen wouldn’t say anything though, not to anyone. A bit of extra money would be nice but if she was found out she’d never land a decent job again. No, better to keep quiet and when the story came out, which it sooner or later undoubtedly would, she could tell her friends about having been there.

She’d talked it over with Eily of course, but the elf had seemed unimpressed. Then again, she was probably older than the entire Viller dynasty and the comings and goings of mere humans mattered little to her, royalty or not. Eileen liked and respected Eily, even though she was an elf. She did her job well despite still having issues with the language. They didn’t have very much in common but after just a few months they’d come to some sort of understanding and they worked well together without getting in the way of one another or stepping on each other’s toes.

It hadn’t really come as a surprise to Eileen that Eily hadn’t been all that impressed by the appearance of the prince, but it didn’t bother her much. She’d save the memory for later and once enough time has passed she’d confide in her closest friends she’d actually met Prince Adrian.

That was for another day though. For now her most pressing concern was to get home, run a bath and enjoy a quiet evening out of the rain. She walked through the gate that led to the courtyard of her apartment complex – almost home.

In the courtyard two hobbits were fussing over the communal grill. The hobbits were the complex’s maintenance staff and it was a rare day when they couldn’t be spotted tinkering with something, whether it needed fixing or not.

The grilling area was a great spot for barbeques in the summer, but with the weather lately it hadn’t seen much use. Eileen waved to the two little men who cheerfully waved back and then went back to do whatever they were doing with the grill.

Eileen climbed the stairs that led up to second floor and the landing outside her apartment. She closed up the umbrella and shook off the water, put the key in the lock and turned. As she closed the door behind her the noise of the rain and the wind was shut out and all that could be heard was the light patter on the windowpane on the other side of the apartment. It was good to be home.