I don’t know how long I spent outside crying my eyes out like a lunatic. But when I was finally calm enough, I got up from the ground and gathered my dirty shawl, tossing the wooden sword aside as I made my way back into the Palace. As I snuck back inside I wrapped my bleeding hand with my shawl, fighting back a yawn as I made my way down the hallway. But as I neared my door I froze, feeling the presence of someone nearby.
I turned as quickly as I could, angling my body so I was facing the direction that the presence was coming from. But there was nothing, just empty silent space that was partially lit by the moonlight streaming in through the windows. Cautiously, I entered my room and closed the door, making sure to lock it before climbing into bed. It didn’t take long after that for my body and mind to give in to exhaustion, and I eagerly welcomed the kiss of darkness that swallowed me whole.
The next morning I was woken up by Ivy’s overly cheerful voice as she jerked the curtains open and let the sunlight in. She went on and on about how cleverly things were run in the Palace and that she felt at ease working there. I, of course, cut in by asking her how she managed to get into the room when I had locked it. And she happily showed me the new thin necklace she wore that held two keys on it, explaining that as my Handmaid, she only had the keys to unlock my room. After that she brought out my breakfast and went on about something that the other Queeness’ were apparently doing.
“They’re using their Handmaids as spys My Lady!” She said, bouncing in her seat across from me while I ate. “They tell their maids to assist in the basic chores of the Palace maids so they can gather any new information that might reach their ears first.” I nodded as I chewed, still too tired to really give her the attention she wanted. “I could do the same for you My Lady, if you wish.”
“There’s no need Ivy.” I said, speaking around another yawn. “I already told you that I have no interest in truly competing while I’m here.” I smiled at the sight of her pout, shaking my head before continuing. “But if you really want to do it, I won’t stop you.”
She squealed and jumped from the loveseat, rushing around the center table to hug me.
Just then we heard a firm knock on my door and Ivy hopped over to answer it. She gasped as a Palace maid and two Knights walked into my room, following them as they stopped in front of me.
“Lady Delphia.” The maid started, smiling sweetly as she presented an elegant cream color envelope. “We have come here to present your first Queeness challenge, please read this and begin your preparations.”
Ivy approached the maid who handed her the envelope, opening it for me before handing me the paper that was inside. The Knights and maid left as I read the paper, my eyes growing wide as I took in this new information.
“What is it My Lady?” Ivy rocked from side to side as she waited, shifting her weight from foot to foot until I looked up.
“The Royal family is hosting a last minute festival on the Palace grounds in three days.” I set the paper down as I leaned back in my seat, my mind spinning as I spoke. “It’ll last for six days and each Queeness will perform their family’s Chorus Superbia.”
Ivy gasped as I thought of what this meant, my chest quickly filling with determination as I thought of it.
A ‘Chorus Superbia’, or Pride Dance, was a unique and special choreographed dance that can only be performed by the women in a family. It was a way for girls and young women to honor their family name and their ancestors during the big moments in their life. Graduating with honors from a prestigious Academy, Shifting into your animal form for the first time, during their wedding reception and after the newborn blessing of their baby’s. These and other rare moments where a woman would perform this dance alone to show others that she was honoring and respecting those that came before her. Showing respect for their sacrifices and the lives they had that led up to them being a part of that family. It was also only passed down through direct descendants, so a woman could not perform the dance just because she married into a high status family.
It didn’t matter if you were Noble, Royal or of a Knighthood; If your family lineage was long or if your ancestors did something that earned them the right to high status among others, you had a Pride Dance. And it just so happened that the Delphia family had one that hadn’t been seen since my great grandmother married and had my grandfather.
My mother never got the chance to perform it. I thought bitterly, clenching my hands in my lap as Ivy jumped around my room excitedly. She never married, and Arden and I were never permitted our blessings as baby’s. She wasn’t even allowed to perform it after she was given the title of Grand Knight because the Duke wouldn’t let her leave the estate after learning of her pregnancy. And now, here was an opportunity to not only show off a breathtaking dance that would honor my family, but I would also get to use that moment to further distance myself from the Du Pleasant shadow.
“Ivy, go get my brother.” I told her, feeling completely awake now and eager to share the news with him. “He’ll want to hear this.”
She nodded and raced out of my room while I walked over to my bed where Ivy had laid out my dress for the day. I rushed to put it on so I could start practicing, not bothering much with my hair or shoes as I started to move around the furniture in my room. Arden and Ivy walked in just as I finished pushing things to the side, leaving a nice wide open space for me to practice.
“I hear your first challenge is a special dance during a festival.”
I smiled, nodding as he and Ivy took a seat on one of the loveseats I had pushed away.
“Yes, each Queeness will get picked at random, with two perfoming per day.” I explained, stretching my limps on the floor as I spoke. “One will start the festivities for that day while the next will close it. And the winner will be determined by the reaction of the audience.”
“I thought you weren’t going to try to win anything?” My brother questioned, flashing me a sly smile when I turned to look at him.
“Are you going to ask me to step down from this?” I questioned back, sitting up to look at him better. “And avoid showing off for our family while simultaneously and publicly cutting ties to the Du pleasants?”
“Of course not.” His smile grew then, giving me all the encouragement I needed. “I was just wondering.”
“Besides, it’s just one challenge.” I added on, returning to my stretches. “Winning this one event won’t crown me as Queen.” I chuckled lightly, shaking my head at the thought of actually becoming Royalty of any kind. “I’m not aiming to be Queen at all, or fight for the Princes’ attention either… those desperate Nobles can have him.”
“I still think you would make a great Queen My Lady.” Ivy huffed, pouting at me from her seat next to my brother. “These other Lady’s are just too greedy, vain and petty to make good Rulers.”
Arden laughed at her words, nodding along while I stood and prepared to practice.
“You know, for what it’s worth, I agree with her.” His words made me pause for a moment, turning to face him and see if I had heard him correctly. “You would be the perfect Queen.”
Our identical amethyst eyes locked for a moment, his sincere words touching my heart in a way that made me picture it in a different light. But I shook my head clear of those thoughts and smiled at him, walking over to give my dear brother a little kiss on the cheek before returning to the middle of the room.
I danced and practiced as much as I could for the next three days, taking in criticism from my brother and Ivy who I had asked to be as picky as possible. Ivy would struggle to find anything wrong with my dance and spent time complimenting me on everything. Arden was the one who was much more critical, pointing out any misstep, hesitation and weakness in my dance. He would remind me of our mother every chance he got too, telling me how proud she would be of me and how she would cheer for me if she was here to see my practice.
This motivated me immensely, giving me that extra push to perfect every last step, sway and turn that I needed to perform.
When it was finally the night before the first day of the festival my brother brought in his sword and let me use it so I could add a little more flare into my dance. I even added my deep violet flames in as well, stunning my brother and Ivy when I showed them what I wanted to do with it during my performance. Ivy burst into tears and happily squealed and clapped when I was done, and my brother rushed over to me with the biggest smile on his face. Pulling me in for a big hug that nearly crushed my lungs.
“You are going to blow them all away Amara.” He said, kissing my forehead as I walked him out of my room. “Mom and Grandpa would’ve been so very proud of you.” A few tears slipped out after he said that, making me chuckle weakly as he wiped them away. “And I’m proud of you too.”
That night I dreamed of my mother, seeing flashing moments of my childhood pass through my dreaming mind. Seeing her practice with our Grandpa, having a picnic by a lake and curling up in her bed during a storm, just the three of us. Those distant, warm memories helped relax me as the hours ticked away, pulling me ever closer to the moment in which I would show the world the true beauty, grace and power of a daughter of Delphia.
The morning of the first festival day brought on a surge of chaotic excitement that affected everyone. And soon the news of who was going to open and close the first day of the festival spread across the Palace. Those Noble Ladies spent the entire morning shouting commands at their Handmaid’s as well as the Palace maids. They were urging them to get things for them, changing their minds about their performance outfit and crying a river when the tiniest things were out of place. Ivy, Arden and I just enjoyed the free show, quietly laughing at the manic range of emotions that was running through the two dancers of the day.When the sun was high in the sky, we were all escorted to the large open plain on the farthest edge of the Palace grounds, on the other side of the Central Palace. Banners, flowers and ribbons of all colors were blowing in the summer breeze from the posts of every shop and game stand. There were hundreds of Shifters walking around too, all full of smile
Of all the people to run into...I thought to myself, standing there stunned as Calix clung to the Crown Princes’ neck.Wait… did Calix say Uncle?“Where have you been Calix?” The Prince asked him, looking down at him with a warm smile. “Your mother told you to stay near the library.”I couldn’t focus on Calix’s answer as I stood there, suddenly distracted by the Prince.He’s very handsome… How come I’m just now noticing this?My mind wondered, recalling the past few moments in which I was near the Prince.He was tall, with broad shoulders and well defined muscles that could be seen beneath his clothes. There were solid black markings on his arms, spaced out and scattered around him. This made him seem mysterious in a way. He also had an air of authority to him that mixed with wisdom and something else that I couldn’t place. The way he was s
The next few days of the festival passed by in a near blur, with Ivy and Arden enjoying the daily changing booths and activities. We tried many different treats and poked fun at each other while we played different games. Ivy burst into tears on the third day when I had shown her the new and simple outing dresses I had bought her. And my brother managed to sell a few more trinkets that I had snuck away from the Du Pleasant estate, adding more to our travelers fund. Little Calix even joined us a few times, introducing us to his mother who was the Crown Princes’ adopted cousin.She was a beautiful woman named Lanalee with straight coffee brown hair that she kept in a neat shoulder length cut. She had the same amber eyes as her son, but her facial features were a lot more delicate and curved than his, making me wonder what his father looked like. She was also very kind and open to us, telling us stories about herself and her son when they traveled around. She had let slip
The last day of the festival was opened by Rosanna, and she, like nearly every other Queeness, dressed in the Royal Fafner family colors of red, gold and grey. Her dress was of smooth glittering red silk that was adorned with gold. And a pale grey scattering of jewelry glinted off her body as she danced. Thankfully she didn’t embarrass herself like some of the other Queeness’ and actually stuck to her family’s Pride Dance. But the dress itself was enough to wonder what was going on in that head of hers.It was far too tight in some places and showed quite a bit of skin too, not leaving much to the imagination. Of course this made it so the men in the audience cheered and whistled loudly for her, no doubt garnering some amount of points for this challenge.After Ivy, Arden and I made it out of the arena we met up with Lana and Calix by a drink booth. We then followed the ever energetic eight year old throughout the festival, watching different side sho
*Prince Dorian*I should have known that things weren’t as I was told. I should have picked up on the signs before my opinion of someone had formed. It should have been easy for me to notice these things… if I wasn’t blinded by false friendship and lies.My choice of friends and those I kept close to me had always been a long and tedious process. I didn’t care for those that wanted to suck up to me just because of my station in life. I didn’t want those that saw me as a tool to better their lives or as some omnipotent guard that would let them get away with anything they did wrong. But even through all the nit-picking and information gathering, a fraud still managed to get through and join my inner circle.This was the case with the Du Pleasant brothers, Marcus and Samuel.I had met them during my time at the Academy and, after months of casual greetings without anything suspicious coming up, I allowed them to join my small
*Amara*Calix was sleeping soundly when his mother raced into my room, her eyes wide with fear as she searched it for her son. Once she found his little sleeping form on my bed she whimpered and rushed towards him, kneeling beside the bed and its spilling blankets. Her eyes scanned him over and over again as he slept, searching for any sign of injury. When she was finally satisfied that her little boy was unharmed, she went limp and pressed her head against the edge of the bed, her body shaking with her tears.Gingerly, I approached her, placing a hand on her shoulder as her muffled sobs rang out in my room. Unexpectedly, she grabbed my hand and pulled me to my knees, holding me tightly as I looked over her shoulder at the still crying Ivy. Once she was calm enough I helped her up and gave her a blanket to wrap around Calix, allowing him to stay warm and cozy a
My stomach was in knots for the rest of the night, and Ivy’s constant gleeful comments weren’t helping me relax. When I did manage to get to sleep I dreamed about ridiculous things that didn’t make sense at all. And they all centered around the Crown Prince. I felt like I had truly gone mad with these increasing confusing emotions and now my dreams were being plagued by this man I wanted nothing to do with. A part of me was strangely filled with peace when my mind conjured up those deep red eyes and thick black hair. And an invading wave of unwanted emotions filled me when I’d hear his voice echo in my mind. Emotions that I never wanted to feel again.Thankfully, the other piece of me was able to shove those things down once I awoke the next day. I had gotten up expecting to still feel exhausted and drained because of those dreams but I was delightfully refreshed and energized inste
He’s reporting to me?Those words rang out in my head and I couldn’t understand them at all. Why would His Highness ever report to anyone of a lower station than him? He’s a Prince! He should only ever report to his father and mother, not the illegitimate daughter of a Grand Knight and Duke. I hadn’t even taken his promise seriously last night, thinking that he would be too busy with the investigation himself to have time to let me learn what had been discovered.I blinked several times as I looked at him, seeing his warm smile grow as amusement danced in his eyes. Finally, after a long, stretched out silence, I gave in with a sigh, schooling my emotions as well as my expression.“I am deeply grateful that you took time out of your day to meet with me, Your Highness.” I gave him a