The feast passed with no incident, but that didn't stop everyone from being unusually watchful and tense. Evelyn was especially watchful, and she had forgone her dress and its tangling skirts for a shirt, pants, and boots so she could wear her dagger in her hip. She sat with the High King and all night he and the noblemen told stories of battles and challenges they'd fought. She didn't think he noticed when she replaced his wine with water. But then again he didn't notice that she tried all of his food before he ate it to test it for poison.
The next morning, the palace slept in. It was Sun's Day, and the whole palace woke later and stayed in bed longer. They all had breakfast with someone else, and the Kings and Queens ended up having Evelyn with them as well. Not of course, that any of them minded. The day was spent in relaxation, but that didn't mean the Kings were excused from their training. After all, the enemy doesn't wait for one to learn.
Evelyn sat on the side to watch until Orieus handed her a practice sword and shoved her into the drills. "Everyone for themselves!" he called. Instantly, Edmund and Evelyn attacked the High King, forcing him to defend himself against both of them. Orieus watched in amusement as Edmund switched to attacking Evelyn a few moments later, and then the High King and Evelyn were attacking King Edmund.
It finally ended with Evelyn's sword touching the High King's chest, the High King's blade aimed at King Edmund's collarbone, and King Edmund's weapon held against Evelyn's throat. They burst out laughing as the guards and spectators clapped, and Orieus handed the High King a practice shield. Evelyn had a practice dagger thrown at her, and Edmund was tossed a second sword. The three grinned and attacked each other with no real warning.
They continued like this for a while until they were ending with Evelyn struggling to use a shield. "You have no problem acting as the shield, but you cannot use one?" the High King teased her, and she threw it side arm at him. He caught it and spun it into position just in time to deflect the two practice daggers she'd thrown at him as well.
Evelyn woke the next morning to sunlight streaming down onto her face. She was curled on the floor between Spirit and Flame beside the bed. Unfurling herself, she got to her feet and went into the study, where she found a thin scroll on the desk. When she unrolled it, she found an official invitation to the ball that night. She sighed and went to bathe, where she took her time and relaxed.
Evelyn didn't see the Kings and Queens all day until the Queens came knocking on her door. Queen Susan came right in and made her way to the wardrobe, which Evelyn hadn't even opened. The Gentle Queen was already ready and Evelyn realized with a start that she only had an hour to get ready. She'd spent most of the day out riding in the gardens with Snowfire.
Queen Susan wore a violet and gold ball gown that surprised Evelyn. It didn't have the big hoop skirts like most ball gowns did, but then, neither did Queen Lucy's. The younger Queen wore a much more girly dress of light blue and dark pink that had a flowery design embroidered along the skirt and neckline. Both wore their hair in braided updos, and both wore soft slippers.
Queen Susan suddenly changed her mind instead of opening the wardrobe and ordered, "Sit on the window seat. I need to do your hair." Evelyn obeyed with a raised eyebrow and sat with her back to the Queen.
After a little while, Evelyn felt the Queen's hand draw away from her head. Then she felt something settle below her collarbone and then a light weight dropped onto her neck and she realized they'd put a necklace on her. Earrings were put in, and then she was ordered, "Turn around and do not let your head touch the window." She smirked as she complied, and kept her eyes closed as her Queens applied makeup to her.
"Alright, now for the undergarments," Queen Susan said, throwing a breast band and under breeches at Evelyn. Queen Lucy stepped out as Queen Susan busied herself in the wardrobe so Evelyn could strip and switch her undergarments. "Now these," the elder Queen added, handing over a pair of long socks. Evelyn pulled them on and looked down at herself. They were saving the dress for the absolute last, probably so she wouldn't have time to change out of it.
"Should she put her shoes on before the dress?" Queen Lucy asked, holding a pair of black mid-calf height boots.
"Yes. Give them to her," her sister replied, spraying Evelyn with vanilla scented perfume. Evelyn then pulled on the boots and looked up at Queen Susan. "Close your eyes," the Gentle Queen instructed from behind her. Evelyn did as she was told, standing as well. She was guided into stepping into the dress and felt someone pull it up over her hips until she could slip her arms into what felt like quarter sleeves. She felt someone that she guessed to be Queen Susan lace up the back of the bodice. "Alright, you can open your eyes now," Queen Susan told her. Evelyn took a deep breath, making the elder Queen sigh and the younger giggle, and opened her eyes.
She looked down curiously. And she gasped.
The bodice of the dress had a square neckline that connected to the sleeves, which were indeed only covering a quarter of her arms. The dress hugged her abdomen and hips, and then flared into a kind of layered and slightly flaring skirt that only reached about the bottom of her thighs.
But that was only the front. The back of the skirt reached the floor. It seemed to be connected over the top of the short skirt and when she examined it, she found that the actual joining of the layers was on the front side of her hips. Had it been a full floor length skirt, she would have thought it had a train, and it seemed it did indeed have a little extra length. She was relieved to find with her hand that her whole back was covered by the dress, but her knees and part of her lower leg were exposed.
The whole thing was solid black.
Her makeup, when she saw it in the looking glass Queen Lucy held, was silver based with black eye liner. Her sapphire eyes looked brighter than normal, and she was surprised to see that her skin looked tanner because of the coloring. Her lips had been glossed with a sparkly silver sheen, but it was her hair that caught her attention. The blonde looked golder than she expected, but that wasn't it. A black tiara like band rested on her brow, on top of the golden locks tumbling down around her shoulders.
"Your Majesty…" Evelyn murmured.
"You're wearing it, whether you like it or not," Queen Susan told her.
"I can't, Your Majesty, not in front of the Calormen Court," she protested.
"You mean you can't wear it in front my brother the High King," the Queen laughed.
"Both," Evelyn sighed.
"Too bad. It makes you a girl and a warrior. Plus, with your sword and your dagger, you'll look every inch the High King's protector," the elder Queen replied.
"Not his protector. His sixth sense," Evelyn corrected her.
"You still have to wear it," the Queen said, grinning.
"This kind of dress isn't in style," Evelyn tired again.
"In Calormen maybe. But neither are our dresses. Narnia makes its own style," Queen Lucy piped up proudly.
"I'm wearing this dress, aren't I?" Evelyn finally conceded, though she wasn't happy about it.
"Yes. Now strap on your weapons," the Gentle Queen ordered, moving towards the study. Queen Lucy followed, offering Evelyn a reassuring smile over her shoulder. Evelyn took her sword and dagger, both still on the belt, from where she'd placed it in the wardrobe, strapped it on, and followed the Queens out into the hall.
She could feel the guards watching her the whole time as the three women and their six cats made their way through the halls to the ball room. A herald took one look, and sounded his horn. "Their Majesties, Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, and Lady Evelyn," he announced, drawing everyone's attention. The Queens each took one of Evelyn's arms and glided into the ballroom, forcing her with them. The cats moved through the crowd both ahead and behind them until they reached the dais, where Evelyn was pulled up the dais. The Queens took their places in their seats and Evelyn stood between the two thrones.
"Keep your head up," Queen Susan hissed to Evelyn as the women in the crowd stared in horror, the men stared in shock, and the High King stared in speechless astonishment. Then they all had to stand and Evelyn stepped back and moved to the side of the dais.
"In honor of the arrival of our guests, the Calormen Court, the Kings and Queens of Narnia hosted a feast and court ball," Queen Lucy started.
"Also in honor of our guests, in a hope to make them feel more welcome, the Kings and Queens of Narnia hosted a gala and picnic as well," King Edmund continued.
"An informal tournament and a formal challenge were held, though unintentional, by the High King, also in honor of the noblemen and knights of the Court," Queen Susan went on.
"And now, in honor of the end of the Court's visit and in hope that the Court will return next year to Narnia, the Kings, the Queens, and the Lady give you the Sunset Royal Ball," High King Peter finished. The Court clapped, and the younger three royals moved down from the dais.
The High King did not go down. Instead he sat on his throne as Evelyn moved up to stand beside him. "Please do not think too harshly of me for wearing this," she begged him quietly.
"How could I think harshly of you? Evelyn, you look amazing. And stop worrying about the mark on your leg. No one can see it," he told her.
"How do you know about that?" she asked, completely unprepared.
"My sword ripped your pants yesterday, during the time we spent sparring, and you hid it with your hand. Remember?" he replied, "and you keep reaching for the hem of the skirt like you're afraid it will shorten."
She sighed and then he was taking her hand. "Dance with me, once I dance with my sisters," he requested, acknowledging the tradition for Narnian sovernties to dance first.
"If you must insist, Your Majesty," she replied.
"Insist I do, Milady," he smiled, remembering five days previously.
Close to ten minutes later, the High King was returning to the dais. He bowed and held out his hand to her. She did her combined bow and curtsy, which looked even better in the outfit, and placed her hand in his. He led her down the steps and onto the dance floor, where both of them realized they were wearing swords. They started to dance, one of the High King's hands on her waist, hers on his shoulder and the other two clasped together. Then they shocked the Court.
They drew their swords. And they turned their dance into a dueling dance. The floor cleared and each strike of sword on sword produced a ringing note. Evelyn's long skirt and golden locks swirled around her as they moved, and the High King's heart was beating faster than a showy duel should have made it.
Evelyn's heart beat in time with the High King's, and her eyes glowed beneath the painted lids and lashes.
And they danced their duel.