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I am barely out of the hall before one of mother’s women calls to me; mother has sent her to summon me to her bower. I nod, and start for the stairs at a pace the court lady cannot match in her heavy skirts. Not being forced into conventional women’s dress is one of the few benefits of wielding the Weapon—actually, it could be the only benefit, but I may think of another someday.
Mother is in her favorite window seat working on embroidering ribbons in shades of blue. She sees me, but does not smile. I join her and wait for what she has to say. “There is to be a ball. I need to delegate my hostess role to you. I am too tired, but I do not want to leave my throne empty beside your father.”
I understand, and I promise to do as she asks, since father is befuddled enough to allow Alys to take her seat. An if he did such, I not only would not quell the riots, I would lead them.
“It’s not like your father to be so indiscreet,” she continues, to my surprise. “Everyone knows that ours is no love match, but we are expected to pretend nonetheless.”
“He doesn’t listen,” I tell her.
“No, he does not.” Her tone is so sad, I say no more. And neither, I promise myself, will Mynar or Lord Ekal.
Mynar and Lord Ekal do not seem to have moved, but the wine bottle is empty and has been joined by a second.
“He won’t listen to her either,” I tell them before they can ask. “And I am to play hostess for the upcoming ball, in her place.”
Both look surprised, it is usual for mother’s throne to stand empty when she does not have the strength to take it. Slowly comprehension dawns and their expressions turn to alarm and anger.
“He would not…” Lord Ekal begins tentatively, and I interrupt before the anger on my brothers face can turn into words he should not say.
“He will not, because I shall be there.”
My four Ladies are excited. I rarely pay them much attention, so they are all of a twitter when I tell them that I must be readied for the ball. For once, I will attend as princess, not Wielder.
I answer their questions about what I wish to wear with ‘something regal’, and let them make the selection. I am better at choosing weapons or horses than gowns. Whatever the choice, it will have massive skirts and will be heavy. I am already missing the simple divided ankle length skirt that I usually wear with a loose blouse. You can’t fight if you are tripping over your skirts.
I once asked mother why she didn’t mandate a change in style.
“Would you have me destroy the costly wardrobes most of the women at court have taken years to acquire? To adopt new styles they cannot easily afford? Such changes are best made gently.” Over the years she has decreased the mandated underskirts from seven to three—which in my opinion is still three too many—and slowly decreased the width of the overskirt. Changes that could be achieved by modifying existing dresses.
I often think our grandmother, who espoused these styles and forced them on the court, had to have been an idiot. Mynar merely thinks the styles must have made her look good. Father won’t talk about her, and mother will only say “She wasn’t a happy person,” in a tone that ends the conversation.
They bring out a red dress that I do not remember. My ladies have my measurements, and frequently have dresses made for me in the hope that I will someday wear them.
The bright crimson suits my mood, as do the blood red rubies in the necklace I select from the small vault which holds my jewels. I take my crown, also. For the first time ever, I will wear it willingly. My Ladies and I spend a long afternoon making me beautiful, without once saying aloud what we are all thinking. It doesn’t do to call a king ‘idiot’ out loud.
Protocol dictates the king and queen enter last, so I am seated on mother’s throne before father arrives, Mynar also wearing his crown, takes my usual position to the left of mother’s throne. His usual position to the right of father’s is empty.
I am pleased with the way I look, for all that the tight long sleeves and fitted bodice are as confining as the full skirts. But the crimson is like flames and the rubies glitter in the light of the bright wall globes that are also legacy of Stormborne knowledge. I think I will have a blouse or two made in this color, and perhaps a vest. It will go well with my usual black and grey. And having worn that topic to death, I search for some other distractions to help me ignore Alys’ presence at the front of the room.
Father arrives and shows no surprise seeing me on mother’s throne. He is too busy looking distractedly around until his eyes find Alys. I am busy trying not to kick him—too many witnesses.
Father gives the signal for the music to start and I step forward smiling to take his hand. He doesn’t notice me until I touch him, then he looks confused.
“We need to open the ball, father.” I pull him toward the dance floor, as a younger son of Lord Ekal moves to Alys’ side, asking to partner her. All pre-arranged, of course. Father would not be opening the ball with Alys.
It goes as planned, if you discount father’s eyes following Alys instead of paying attention to the stately dance figures. I deliberately step on his foot, but he doesn’t notice since I am wearing light dancing shoes instead of my usual boots.
For the rest of the night, I sit on the throne drinking grape juice instead of wine; father dances with Alys more than is seemly; and Mynar moves about the room talking, smiling, sending out waves of ‘all is well’.
The younger Lords are confused that I will not dance with them, but I cannot explain. During intervals father rests on his throne, Alys hovering nearby. I pretend to smile at her, but I am really baring my fangs. Father is fooled, but I don’t think she is. Every so often Mynar comes by to whisper comments in my ear, which Lord is oblivious and which angry. I smile as if he is telling me something amusing as I watch the intricate figures of the slow moving dance. (Stately and slow moving is all that the women in full ball dress can manage, the commoners have much more fun at their dances.)
Eventually the ball is over. It did not go well, but neither was it a disaster. I am even patient as my Ladies help me out of the crimson dress—I might want to wear it again.