The Betrothal Ball meets everyone’s expectations, which is saying a lot. The fall air is crisp, making the bonfires in the streets comfortable, and the whole castle is decorated to celebrate the fall harvest. But best of all, I can dance with Alan as much as I want.
My dress is bronze, with details in gold, my jewelry gold, and I even, unexpectedly, feel beautiful; have felt beautiful since the moment Alan looked at me in the hallway, before we entered the main hall. Since the moment he ignored guards and castle staff and my parents and kissed me. Daver has dressed Alan in shades of brown, nicely complimenting my fall colors. We move smoothly around the dance floor, ignoring everyone, none of whom are ignoring us.
Mynar has forgotten to be preoccupied with his current obsession, and is enjoying his own dances, secure in the knowledge that he can now smile at the occasional girl without having his wedding planned. Jes is showing great aptitude also, dancing with each of my Ladies in turn. His dance classes must have been successful. Even Lord Taver is enjoying himself, despite his three daughters glaring at his partners. I briefly debate going over and slapping each one of them, but decide to be even crueler; tomorrow I will talk to mother about their attitude toward their widowed father.
I see Lej standing in a corner, just observing, and whisper in Alan’s ear. He dances me over to Lej, and I ask him to dance with me.
“You.” I give him no choice. He is an adequate partner, at least he avoids stepping on my toes, and after a few moments even starts enjoying himself. Over his shoulder I can see Alan flustering Lady Ckel by asking her to dance.
For a while we fall into a pattern, two dances with each other, then one dance with someone else. “And your guards aren’t even glaring at me anymore,” Alan comments as we glide around the ball room.
After a few more dances, I decide it is time to sit with my parents for a while. Daver has fixed a corner with screens and braziers and heavy rugs on a small temporary dais so mother can both observe the ball and stay warm. Her spirits are good, and she doesn’t look tired, but she still hasn’t tried to dance. Father hasn’t left her side.
“Nayan, you haven’t danced with our daughter yet.” Mother’s statement is clearly an order to both of us. “Alan will keep me company.”
For a moment we just circle the dance floor, father looking regal and me grinning at him: he has lost this battle and we both know it.
“I guess Alan isn’t too bad,” he finally admits. “As long as he leaves demons alone. He is going to leave demons alone, right?”
“He promised me not to summon a demon without my approval.”
“In the city, or in the realm? His village isn’t in the city.”
I think for a minute, trying to remember our first discussion. “In the realm.” Father is mollified, and I tuck away the comment about ‘his village’ for future consideration. We had labeled the village Alan’s just to bluff Alvl, but this sounds as if father has decided it is officially his—or mother has.
“And he is dividing his focus between scrying, forging, and his three new books.” I deliberately put scrying first, since it is the one thing I know father approves of.
“Grimoires.” Father’s tone manages to convey vast amounts of disapproval and distaste and skepticism in just one word.
“Reviewed by all three of the priests who went with us. If Alan had tried to keep anything related to demons, they would all still be nagging about it.”
Father realizes the truth of this, and enjoys the rest of our dance. I don’t remind him that Alan already knew how to summon demons before he came to Misthold; he just hadn’t. No reason to promise me he wouldn’t do something unless he could do it.
When we finish our dance, mother is looking pleased with herself and Alan has the what-just-happened-to-me look that frequently occurs on the faces of mother’s family. “We have decided,” mother announces, “That Mages don’t summon demons. Ever.”
Father looks even more pleased than mother, he practically beams at Alan. I gently pull Alan aside and pat his arm comfortingly.
“Why did I promise your mother… “
“We frequently ask ourselves that same question,” I admit, once it is clear he isn’t going to finish his sentence. “And anyway you had already promised me you wouldn’t summon demons.”
“Just in Abalem.”
I am trying to decide if I am annoyed Alan was counting on the loophole in his promise to me, or if it doesn’t really matter now that mother has intervened, when a large crash interrupts my internal monologue.
Alan moves in front of me, blocking my view. I don’t get angry since I really am disarmed (three small throwing knives don’t count as armed) and Alan is always ‘armed’. I look toward my parents. Father is similarly shielding mother, and about a dozen guards are shielding them both. I shift to Alan’s side, not wanting to break his concentration, but then can see only my guards’ backs. By the time I shove my way to where I can see, other guards are pulling two young men apart and helping one of the staff back to his feet amid a large tray and multiple wine tankards spread about the floor. Various wet spots show the tankards weren’t empty.
Everyone is looking at the two young men dangling from our guards’ hold, but I look around the room observing everyone else, and notice Dena looking smug. I start toward mother, but stop when I realize she is looking at Dena too. Then the screaming starts. Three young women are making it very clear to the two fighters how they feel about having wine spilled on their ballgowns. I am amazed at the volume the three girls achieve.
I leave Dena to mother, and head toward Mynar. “Find out why those two were fighting,” I suggest, “And I will take care of the girls.”
He nods his agreement and waves to Jes to join him as I move toward the angry young women. Two of them are crying as well as yelling. I gently herd them in front of me, toward one of the wall chambers. “Let us go see what can be done, before the wine dries.” With a few sniffles, they follow me willingly enough, attention from the Princess being more satisfying than yelling at two idiots. As I expect, Daver and a team of staff descend on us and start fixing things.
“Raid my closets for what you need,” I whisper to Daver. “It will make them feel better.”
By the time I finish soothing and agreeing how awful rowdy young men are and get back to the ballroom, the floor has been cleaned and dancing resumed.
Alan is waiting to sweep me back to the dance floor whispering in my ear, “This is more exciting than I had expected.”
I giggle a little and shift slightly closer to Alan; there are still a lot of dances to go before the night is over. And at some point, I want to visit my—our—mercenaries’ bonfire. Yes, I will cynically use my Betrothal Ball to tie them to my interests; I am my mother’s daughter.