Next morning, I was exhausted and overslept, I only woke up because of Maina’s knocking.
‘I came to walk you to the training,’ Maina said.
‘Yes, of course, please wait for a moment,’ I said and closed the door.
I woke Alana up, none of us closed their bedroom doors. She slept deeply in a comfortable bed just as I did. I dressed up as it for a journey and picked up my wooden sword.
‘Don’t wait for me,’ Alana said, ‘I’ll follow you soon.’
I closed the apartment door behind me and followed the girl. We walked to the courtyard at the other side of the castle where a huge enclosed space was kept for practising with wooden dummies and wooden weapons.
Next to the fence, a balcony stood with covered benches from where the practice could be observed.
When I arrived, the wives and the Princess already sat on the pedestal and watched the warm-up. The younger baker boy was going to practise, probably the Prince allowed him to join us.
A huge circular area was marked in the middle for the contests, everyone rested or warmed up outside of it. The guards and the Prince’s friends whom we met yesterday were here. From what I heard, the morning was always used for practising.
‘Good morning everyone,’ the Prince said, ‘today I’ll start practising with my guests who arrived yesterday.’
Everyone waited outside the circular area, the Prince had the first contest against the younger baker boy. The boy was not unskilful, but he was young and weak, and the Prince got the sword out of his hand quickly. Jonal, the older baker boy seemed to be a better opponent, but he was still not a challenge to the Prince. The miner was very well-built, and the power of the blow from his sword was extreme, but the Prince was able to defeat him using his speed.
I looked up at the pedestal, my sister had just arrived in a red dress. She had let her hair down again, only a braid passed over the top of her head, crossing her side plaits.
The Prince had a contest against Doran, and even though he started to become tired, he won.
’Aleron, ’the Prince said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a short break.’
‘Of course, your majesty,’ I said.
‘I’m happy to practise with someone during his majesty’s break,’ Baron offered and looked at my sister. I was not surprised by his offer, I understood his desire to impress Alana.
‘I’ll accept the challenge,’ I said, ‘After our contest, I would be as tired as his majesty after his short break.’
‘It won’t be a quick contest, Aleron,’ Baron said confidently and went inside the circular place.
‘I hope it will be,’ I said and followed him.
Baron was not a bad swordsman, but he was neither as fast nor as strong as I was. My sister observed my contest as an expert, and she applauded my victory. Baron bowed towards her slightly, Alana nodded.
‘I’m ready Aleron,’ the Prince drank some water and stood up.
‘Me too, your majesty,’ I said.
The Prince was an excellent swordsman, he was pretty much on the same level as my sister, but he was stronger than her. Our contest took longer than any other, and I won just because the Prince took a barely noticeable look at my sister to see whether she was observing the contest. As I expected, Alana was curious, and she didn’t miss even one move.
‘You were good, Aleron,’ the Prince said when I pointed my sword at his throat.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ I said.
‘Where have you learnt to fight?’ A soldier of my parents’ age asked.
‘From my father,’ I said.
‘Your technique is perfect,’ he said.
Everyone congratulated the Prince and me as we were the only winners this morning. Prince Veron accepted everyone’s congratulations, but he became visibly happy when, following the rules of etiquette, my sister stepped up to him.
‘Congratulations, your majesty,’ my sister said with a smile, ‘From what I’ve heard, Aleron is very talented and he is challenging to beat.’
‘I’ll keep on trying in the forthcoming weeks,’ the Prince smiled.
Alana bowed to the Prince and came over to me to walk back together to the apartment. Everyone walked back to their apartment, Alana waited while I got dressed.
‘How did you like the contests?’ I asked her from my room through the open door.
‘The Prince is more or less on my level,’ she said, ‘Baron and the other guests are not even there.’
‘I agree,’ I said.
‘I’m curious whether the Prince or I is the better swordsman, but it will not be revealed ever,’ she said.
‘We need to find a way for you to practise,’ I said, ‘I’ll find a way.’
‘Thank you, Aleron,’ she smiled, ‘that would be good.’
We went for breakfast which was less interesting for Alana and me than yesterday, as the swordsmen were asked about their experiences. Close to the end of the breakfast, the Prince stood up, but as his family didn’t follow him, we put down our cutlery and sat quietly to wait for the announcement.
‘I’d like to announce a dance evening tonight to honour our guests which will be organized after dinner today,’ the Prince said, ‘outfits will be delivered to your rooms.’
An enthusiastic roar could be heard across the room, the royal family stood up, everyone immediately followed them. The royal family left the room, we bowed slightly. We started to walk back towards our apartment.
‘Aleron,’ Baron’s voice stopped us, ‘please wait a minute.’
‘I can walk back by myself,’ Alana said to me and continued her walk along the corridor.
I waited with curiosity for Baron.
‘How can I help you?’ I asked Baron.
‘What is Alana’s favourite flower?’ he asked, ‘I’d like to send some flowers to her.’
‘Something white with lots of petals,’ I said.
I had no idea about flowers, and I was not aware that Alana would have any favourite one.
‘There are quite a few flowers like this,’ he laughed, ‘I’ll find something then.’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about flowers,’ I said.
‘No problem, please don’t tell Alana this conversation,’ he asked.
‘I will not tell her,’ I promised.
Baron went in the other direction, I returned to our apartment, but my sister was not there. I looked out on the balcony, but my sister was not amongst the group of people assembled in the garden where the same people had come as yesterday. I headed to the library, she must be there.
The library was the same empty just as yesterday. Alana stood on the long ladder and read a book.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked her, ‘I thought that we would join the rest in the garden.’
‘You can join them,’ she said while she climbed down the ladder, ‘I found this book about dance and I must learn it by tonight. Maybe this book will help me to remember our mother’s teaching.’
She sat down at the nearest table, I joined her.
‘Do you want to learn to dance from a book?’ I laughed.
‘From where else?’ she asked, ‘I have found only this old book, please help me to remember.’
’Let’s see, ’I turned the book a bit towards me and read it, ‘It is called Castle Dance. Are you sure that this is what we are looking for?’
‘Yes, this is what our mother taught us, but in this book, we have more than one type of dance.’
‘Which types?’ I asked.
‘Steps if the partner has a lower rank, steps if the partner is of the same rank and steps if the partner has a higher rank than ours,’ she read.
‘Which one did we learn?’ I asked.
‘I’m trying to figure it out from the drawings,’ Alana turned the pages forward and back.
‘As far as I remember there was a cross-step in the footwork,’ I said.
‘In the book there is a cross-step in every type,’ she answered.
Alana put the book on the table, and she tried to follow the steps in the book holding the desk. She faced the window and turned her back to the door.
‘Will master Sifun not come out of the warehouse?’ I asked.
‘I put a blanket on him after my arrival,’ Alana said, ‘he is sleeping in the warehouse on a bed.’
‘Did you find out what type of dance we learned?’ I asked.
‘I think none of them, the type with the same ranked partner is the closest match,’ she said, ‘I hope that the Prince doesn’t want to dance with me tonight.’
‘Why?’ I asked, ‘what is your problem with the Prince?’ I asked.
‘Nothing,’ she laughed, ‘when he forgot to greet me as his guest, I was not impressed by him, but during the board game, he seemed to be different. Yesterday afternoon he was very nice’ she smiled.
‘Maybe you scared him during the introductions, and he forgot to say anything,’ I teased my sister.
The Prince had tender feelings towards Alana, but I wanted my sister to find it out by herself.
‘I have not been described with this word before but maybe I was scary,’ she laughed.
‘Why don’t you want to dance with him tonight?’ I asked.
‘Because dancing with a higher-ranked person seems to be impossible,’ she said, while she kept moving her feet, ‘I cannot follow the moves even in the book. I don’t even understand why these different types are needed, I might not even know the rank of my partner.’
‘Put the book down,’ I said, ‘let’s try to dance together.’
I placed my right hand round my sister’s waist and pulled her close before we started to make the moves watching our feet.
‘Here comes one cross step,’ I said, she laughed.
‘Aleron, you just want to make a cross-step but we didn’t learn any before. The book is old and there are similar moves to a cross step, but we never learnt any. In case if we had learned any cross steps, you would have fallen over and I would remember that,’ she laughed.
‘I’m sure that we had a cross-step,’ I said, ‘we should have listened to our mother more.’
We stopped dancing, we didn’t remember anything. Alana held the table again and continued to copy the steps from the book with her feet. I drank tea, which was brought here by my sister in a jug. I recognized the taste of my native tea.
‘Do you remember what our mother said?’ She asked with a laugh, ‘If you danced as well as you use your swords, I would not have a headache so often.’ I laughed as it was a literal quote from our mother.
‘Our father always maintained that our swords would be more useful than some dance steps,’ I said.
‘He was right,’ Alana said, ‘we are here because you are good with a sword and not because of your dancing knowledge.’
‘Because no one saw you using your swords,’ I said, ‘based on your knowledge you could easily become a guard,’ I laughed, ‘Can we not request any help from anyone?’ I switched the topic back to the dance.
‘If I ask Tarla, she will have a heart attack because she will count on us tonight to set a good example,’ she said, ‘I think I’ll stay at home tonight.’
‘No, you won’t,’ I said decisively, ‘we are going to the dance tonight, and finally, for the first time in your life, you will be asked for a dance.’
‘All right then,’ my sister said, ‘in that case, we will need some help. No one knows our mother here, but she wouldn’t be happy if we were getting embarrassed tonight.’ Alana kept moving her feet holding the table and watching the book.
‘Maybe we can help you,’ the Prince came out from behind one of the columns, his sister with her cat from behind the other one.
My sister finished her moves, turned back surprised and closed the book in a hurry.
‘Your majesty,’ both of us bowed, ‘we were not aware of your presence,’ I said.
‘We were looking for you,’ the Princess said, ‘you were not in the garden, so we came here, and we can help you to prepare for tonight.’
‘Do you really know how to use a sword?’ Prince Veron asked my sister with unconcealed curiosity.
‘She doesn’t, your majesty,’ I answered instead of Alana, ‘women are not allowed to take any weapon in their hands, your majesty.’
I stepped up quickly next to my sister to move in front of her in a moment in case of any problem. Maybe this will be the moment my treason would be revealed.
‘Probably you misunderstood something, your majesty,’ Alana said, ‘my brother is the swordsman.’
‘As a Prince, I give you my word, no one will ever hear about this from me or my sister,’ the Prince took a step backwards to show his peaceful intent.
‘Please tell me the truth,’ the Prince asked Alana nicely, ‘do you really know how to use a sword?’
‘You can answer, Alana,’ the Princess said, ‘no one ever will betray you.’
My sister looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders. We were caught, and the Prince became curious.
‘I learned a bit from Aleron, your majesty,’ Alana said carefully.
‘Here is my offer then,’ the Prince said with a smile, ‘Now we will teach you to dance in exchange for a competition in private this afternoon’ the Prince made his offer with a smile.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ Alana said, ‘but I can dance.’
‘No, you can’t,’ the Princess laughed, ‘Aleron,’ she turned to me, ‘there is no cross-step in the dance,’ she put the cat down on a table.
‘Which kind of book have you found, anyway?’ the Prince went next to my sister and opened the book on the table.
He turned over the pages for a while and started to laugh.
‘Come Velina, look at this,’ he said, ‘this book is around a thousand years old and the steps are drawn.’
The Princess went up to her brother to look inside the book, Alana walked closer to the window.
‘This book is old,’ the Prince said, ‘I’m offering one more time my help if you don’t want to give Tarla a heart attack,’ he smiled at Alana.
‘Aleron?’ Alana asked me, she was visibly unsure.
‘We accept the offer,’ I said, ‘but no one else can know about my sister’s ability.’
‘It will be only the four of us,’ the Prince said, ‘I swear to that.’
The Prince offered his hand to me to signify a business deal, I shook it.
‘Let’s start,’ the Prince said and pushed the tables and chairs aside, I helped him.
‘Velina,’ Prince Veron instructed his sister, ‘stay next to Alana in front of Aleron. Aleron, come and stay next to me.’
We stood in the middle of the room about one foot from each other. The royal siblings started to move their feet slowly, we copied their moves.
‘Our mother taught us this,’ Alana said while she followed the Princess’s steps.
‘This dance is our current dance,’ the Princess said, ‘that book is very old.’
‘Based on that book it would be really impossible to dance with me,’ the Prince smiled while slowly showing me the steps, ‘this is the only dance that has existed since I was born, it does not matter who the partner is.’
We practised slowly, only a few different steps needed to be combined. After a while, I started to understand the pattern, so did Alana.
‘I think I’ve got it,’ I said.
‘Me too,’ Alana smiled.
‘You knew the basics, you just simply forgot,’ the Princess said, ‘it was not apparent, but your mother taught you well.’
The royal siblings finished the moves, we continued to practise with Alana under their observation. I didn’t look at the Prince but probably he observed my sister more than me.
‘I think we are done,’ the Princess said when we had finished the last sequence.
‘We can do the next step now,’ the Prince waved to his sister.
‘Come, Aleron,’ the Princess put my right hand in place round her waist and pulled me closely, ‘let’s try together.’
We danced slowly and when I looked down at my feet, she raised my head with her hand.
‘Talking is seemly while dancing,’ she smiled, ‘I assume you know that.’
‘I know,’ I said, she chuckled.
We finished dancing, according to the rules of etiquette I gave an air kiss on the Princess’s hand.
‘We are next,’ the Prince said and stood up in front of my sister.
The Prince kept an unnaturally large space between Alana and him and slowly led her. When my sister looked down at her feet, the Prince coughed loudly, but he didn’t touch my sister’s head. They practised only one sequence before the Prince stopped.
‘I think you know everything,’ the Prince gave an air kiss on Alana’s hand.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ Alana bowed with a smile.
The Prince and Alana looked at each other, something was clearly in the air, the Princess smiled at me.
‘We are ready,’ the Princess said.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ Alana and I bowed.
We sat around the table where my sister kept her tea, the dancing lessons were over.
‘Tarla won’t have a heart attack now,’ the Princess said.
‘Are you ready for the afternoon practice, Alana?’ the Prince asked while he poured a cup of tea for himself.
‘I’m ready, your majesty,’ my sister smiled, ‘we made a deal.’
‘This tea is delicious,’ the Prince said, ‘I haven’t drunk this before.’
‘It is my tea,’ Alana said, ‘I brought the herbs over with the jug.’
‘How do you know anything about tea?’ the Princess asked.
‘From my mother,’ my sister said, ‘she taught me all about herbs and my tea contains some herbs.’
‘From how did your mother know so much about noble customs?’ the Prince asked.
‘We don’t know, your majesty,’ I said, ‘probably she knew them as a teacher.’
‘It’s lunchtime soon,’ the Princess said, ‘we should leave.’
‘Let’s go,’ the Prince said.
We stood up, Alana picked up her jug and her herbs. I took the jug from her before we left the library. The royal siblings were about to go in the opposite direction, we bowed and started to go back to our room.
‘Aleron,’ the Prince said, ‘please wait for a moment.’
Alana signalled to me that she was going back to our room, I turned back with the jug in my hand.
‘How can I help you, your majesty?’ I asked.
‘I’d like to ask you which flowers your sister prefers,’ he said, I laughed.
‘I was not the first one to asks this, right?’ the Prince asked.
‘No, your majesty and I cannot help you,’ I said, ‘I have no idea about her favourite flower as she hasn’t received any before.’
‘Never?’ the Princess was surprised.
‘Never, your majesty,’ I said.
‘That is why you said that she would be asked for a dance for the first time tonight,’ the Prince said, I nodded.
‘Veron,’ the Princess smiled, ‘you were the first one who asked her for a dance.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘These things mean more to Alana than a few flowers.’
‘Thank you, Aleron,’ the Prince smiled, ‘you helped me a lot.’
The royal siblings walked in the opposite direction and I returned to our apartment. Our lobby was almost full of huge flower baskets, every basket had different white flowers in it.
‘What is this?’ I asked my sister about the flowers.
‘Baron sent them,’ Alana stood in her room and took care of her herbs, ‘he wrote that he couldn’t decide which were my favourites.’
‘It’s very kind of him,’ I said and went into my sister’s room.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked my sister.
On her table, small rags lay next to each herb with dried leaves on them.
‘All of them are blooming nicely,’ she smiled, ‘I’m taking off the old leaves in order not to overload the stem.’
‘I see,’ I said, ‘let’s go for lunch.’
We left our room, Maina walked towards us, but she just stopped and waited.
‘You don’t cause much work for me,’ she smiled.
‘We are happy not to,’ I said.
At lunch, we sat in the same place as yesterday, the royal family ate without saying much, the Prince glanced at my sister sometimes.
‘How was your morning?’ the Princess asked the girls.
‘It was good, your majesty,’ Dalina said, ‘we tried to beat Baron at the board game, but we were not successful.’
‘I let them change as many pieces as they wished,’ Baron smiled, ‘but they couldn’t win. Alana,’ he turned to my sister, ‘we missed your lucky hands.’
‘I doubt that I would have been a huge help,’ my sister smiled.
‘Where have you been this morning?’ Baron asked Alana kindly.
I looked at the Prince, he was visibly not happy about this question, although it was following the rules of etiquette.
‘I found a book in the library which took up my time,’ my sister said, ‘unfortunately, I haven’t finished it yet.’
‘I see,’ he said.
The royal siblings couldn’t be asked about their absence, and Baron was not interested in me, so we spent the rest of the lunch quietly.
After lunch we walked back to our apartment, Alana had to change her dress.
‘What should I wear now?’ she asked.
‘You can put on the dress that you used to wear during our journey,’ I suggested, ‘it allows you to move.’
‘I cannot put any local dress on,’ she said, ‘I will just put on one of my southern dresses then.’
‘You will look beautiful,’ I was sarcastic.
Alana got changed, her old dress looked more awful than before. Someone knocked on our door, I opened it.
‘Come with me, Veron is already there,’ the Princess said from the door, ‘very nice dress,’ she chuckled.
‘The other one underneath this would be more conspicuous,’ Alana smiled.
I picked up her two wooden swords and her steel ones, I didn’t know which one would be needed. We followed the Princess downstairs where she turned to a small corridor. Next to a door, a guard was waiting quietly.
‘Prince Veron and Aleron will have a private practice now,’ she said to the guard, ‘You should not open this door under any circumstances until my brother or I tell you to. Is it clear?’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ the guard said.
The Princess opened the door and we went inside a room. The room had huge windows couple of meters above me, close to the ceiling. The room was bright, but no one was able to look inside. Next to walls, there was a climbing wall, many kinds of wooden weapons, and wooden dummies. The Prince sat in the corner on a small chair, with the cat on his lap. As soon as we entered, he stood up.
‘Interesting dress,’ he looked at Alana’s sackcloth.
My sister took off her old-fashioned dress and put her hair under the wig. The Princess helped her until my sister looked as if she were on a journey.
‘I assume you travelled like this,’ the Prince smiled, he was obviously impressed by my sister.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ Alana said, and indicated to me that I should throw the wooden swords to her.
‘Two short swords?’ the Prince asked while he took a long wooden sword from the shelf.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ my sister smiled, ‘I’m a girl, I needed an effective weapon which matched my strength.’
‘So be it,’ the Prince smiled, ‘if you are ready, we can start.’
‘Princess Velina, will anyone open the door?’ my sister asked.
‘No, no one ever,’ the Princess smiled.
‘Thank you,’ my sister said, ‘I’m ready to start, your majesty.’
The Princess sat on the chair with the cat, I sat next to her on the floor. This contest will take a long time, I didn’t want to stand for such a long time.
The two short swords were unusual for the Prince, my sister didn’t demonstrate any of her skills, she just defended herself.
‘It will take a long time,’ the Princess said to me.
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said, ‘my sister will not give up easily.’
‘My brother neither,’ she said.
‘Come on, Veron,’ the Princess said loudly, ‘do something, it is very boring so far.’
‘She doesn’t have any weak spot,’ the Prince said.
‘Attack her left shoulder, your majesty,’ I suggested, ‘she always keeps it unprotected.’
The Prince accepted my suggestion and attacked my sister’s left shoulder. Alana kept her left arm higher, but the contest started at last.
‘Finally, something is happening,’ the Princess said.
My sister gave up defending herself to attack the Prince. It was a fair fight, I had no idea who would win. They were on the same level, but the Prince was stronger. After a while, he started to use his strength as an advantage against my sister. The Prince kept attacking to make my sister tired until he was able to get the sword out of her left hand. My sister lost her left sword with a quiet scream and she attacked desperately afterwards. With one sword, my sister didn’t have a chance, the differences between the length of the swords made the Prince victorious. Both were bathed in sweat when the Prince pointed his sword at Alana’s throat.
‘Thank you,’ the Prince said and dropped his sword, ‘it was a perfect bout,’ he bowed to my sister showing how honoured he was.
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ my sister smiled, and she bowed slightly.
They looked at each other, I started to feel like a spare part.
‘Veron,’ the Princess broke the spell, ‘your friends are looking for you.’
‘It took longer than expected,’ the Prince smiled.
Alana took off her wig and put her sackcloth back on, I collected her swords.
‘Let’s go,’ the Prince said and opened the door.
‘Did you have good practice, your majesty?’ the guard asked.
‘Very good,’ the Prince smiled, ‘this person from a south is an excellent swordsman.’
The guard looked at Alana’s glistening hair, but he didn’t say a word.
‘Go to the garden, Aleron,’ my sister said to me, ‘I’ll join you later.’
Alana hurried back along the corridor to our room.
‘Velina, go with Aleron,’ the Prince said, ‘I need to wash. Tell them that I practised with Aleron.’
‘I’ll tell them that Aleron is so much better than you that he didn’t even sweat,’ the Princess laughed.
Velina and I walked to the garden, Baron came up to us.
‘Your majesty,’ Baron bowed to the Princess, ‘we are looking for Prince Veron.’
‘He will come soon,’ the Princess said, ‘he practised with Aleron. They had a silly bet.’
‘None of the bettings is foolish,’ Foren, the Prince’s other friend who had a dark skin said.
There wasn’t much time left until dinner, the contest had taken a really long time. The Prince arrived and he told everyone that he had beaten me. We played the board game until dinner, but my sister didn’t show up.
‘Where is your sister, Aleron?’ Baron asked.
‘She is preparing herself for tonight.’
I told the truth, washing her hair always took a long time.
Before dinner we went back to the apartments, our outfits for the dance waited for us on the sofa in our lobby. My outfit looked similar to what I had worn for the introduction, but the bodice was made from blue silk with silver stripes. My sister came to dinner in her dress she had worn that morning, after dinner she would have enough time to change.
‘My hair taking longer to dry here,’ she said, ‘I need to remember that.’
We spent the dinner quietly, everyone was excited about tonight. One of the servants poured a drink for the Prince, who looked at my sister with a smile. Alana smiled back and slightly nodded. I looked around but apart from me, no one noticed the smile between them.
‘Alana,’ Baron said, ‘will you honour me with the first dance tonight?’
‘Thank you, Baron,’ my sister said, ‘my first dance tonight belongs to my brother.’
As Alana was my companion and I was the main guest, according to the rules of etiquette, she should have the first dance with me.
‘Right,’ Baron said, Foren patted him on his back.
‘After a short break, Tarla will walk everyone to the dance,’ the Prince stood up, ‘thank you for coming.’
The royal family left the dining room, we walked back to our apartments.
‘What was this smile in the dining room about?’ I asked.
‘I sent a jug of tea to the Prince,’ Alana smiled, ‘I asked Maina to simply pour the Prince a drink from my jug.’
‘I see,’ I said.
I got dressed and waited for Alana. Her dress was made from blue silk with silver stripes on it. On this dress, there were no sleeve, her shoulders and arms were uncovered. The dress widened down from the waist and Alana put a petticoat with many layers underneath. I helped her with a pearl necklace which matched the dress. She plaited a braid of pearls into her hair, but she let the rest down again. A pleasant scent surrounded her; her eyelids were gently coloured with blue and her lips were pink when she finally came out of her room. She was beautiful, I was proud to be her brother.
‘How do I look?’ she asked.
‘You will be asked for a dance for sure,’ I teased her, ‘You smell nice.’
‘I asked Maina to bring me some make up products from the market,’ she smiled, ‘I’ve noticed that women here frequently wear make up and use fragrance oil.’
Tarla knocked on every door to collect the guests and led us through the double door where we introduced ourselves. The room looked huge now, the temporary walls were pushed away next to the real walls. We walked to the middle of the room, in front of us in the corner a nicely dressed band waited and in the other corner three green velvet chairs were prepared for the royal family. At the side of the band, chairs stood with tables for the guests. Everyone was here already, we saw a lot of new faces, probably the noble families. The old lame lady sat by one table with her dog. Many people stared at my sister, but as she hadn’t accepted Baron’s offer of courtship, no one stepped up to her to ask her to dance.
The royal family arrived, and everyone bowed slightly. The Princess’s hair now fell to her shoulders in pale-red locks, it seemed longer than yesterday, and alternating with the burning red, this hair colour suited her much better. The royal family wore green clothes with golden stripes, women’s dresses were the same shape as Alana’s. The Prince stood in front of his chair and he raised his hand to make everyone quiet.
‘Welcome everyone to the dance evening tonight, which has been organized to honour my guests from the four provinces,’ he waved towards us, all the guests stood in one group, ‘I wish everyone a good evening.’
The Prince asked his mother for the first dance. According to tradition he had to dance with his mother first until he got engaged. From what I heard from my mother, this opening dance was used sometimes to announce the engagement of the Prince. I asked Alana for a dance and we were focusing on our steps during the first dance. None of us looked down, but we didn’t talk either. The Princess was asked to dance by an older man, they moved slowly.
‘You can dance,’ the Prince said behind my back, bowing to ask if Alana could dance with him.
‘Watch your legs, your majesty,’ I laughed and took a step away from my sister.
The Princess indicated that she would like to dance with me, so I went up to her and bowed slightly.
‘Thank you,’ the Princess said as we started to dance.
‘No problem, your majesty,’ I said, ‘your new hairstyle suits you, your majesty,’ I said.
With this hairstyle, the Princess looked more graceful and a nice scent surrounded her.
‘Thank you, Aleron,’ she said, ‘this is my real hair, but I like to vex my mother with wigs, she always thinks at first that I have changed my hair,’ she laughed, ‘thank you for asking me for the dance. I like Lord Adon, but he cannot dance anymore.’
‘Who is he?’ I asked.
‘He is a member of one of the oldest noble families,’ she explained, ‘He has a wife who walks with a stick and they have a small dog. Our family owe them a lot and they live in the castle. Our parents wanted me and Veron to marry their offsprings, but they lost their children in a battle and now it is only the two of them.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘maybe that had caused the uncertainty about the Prince’s future.’
‘Maybe,’ she said, ’but one thing is for sure, and that is that Veron is in love,’ she smiled, ‘at last.’
I looked at the dancing couples, my sister said something, the Prince chuckled and vice versa. They danced in harmony, there was no one so blind as those who could not see the mutual attraction between them.
‘That is why he was impolite, am I right?’ I asked the Princess, she nodded.
‘Yes,’ she smiled, ‘Veron forgot to say a word and our mother became more and more angry because Veron insisted that he had greeted Alana, but our mother couldn’t hear it. Our mother insisted on that awkward apology as well when Veron didn’t kiss Alana’s hand because he was afraid to touch her hand,’ she laughed.
‘How much have you heard today?’ I asked.
‘We opened the door when you were talking about master Sifun,’ she said, ‘when Alana said that she hoped that Veron would not ask her for a dance tonight, we hid behind the columns and watched the dance.’
‘Why is that library so empty?’ I asked.
‘It’s an archive library,’ the Princess said, ‘we keep the old books there because we have three other libraries with the newer books. This library is perfect for master Sifun as he cannot sleep during the night because of his wife’s owl.’
‘Their dance looks better now than the one this morning,’ I nodded towards the couple with my head.
‘I told Veron to be more natural as their dance this morning would be obvious to everyone,’ she smiled, ‘He was very impressed by the afternoon competition.’
‘Does he know that we are not nobles?’ I asked.
Nobles can marry anyone from the working class, but the royal family can marry only a noble person who has got noble ancestors for three generations.
‘He does,’ she said, ‘but he can court anyone, and he just wants to be with your sister now. Love rarely asks for a rank.’
‘Your parents?’ I asked, ‘What do they think?’
‘Nothing,’ she said, ‘our father has not been here for many months and our mother is waiting. Officially she doesn’t know, but this mutual attraction can be spotted unless you are blind.’
I had to watch my sister and who is asking her to partner them in a dance. Baron asked Alana to dance with him instead of the Prince, but as he didn’t have a partner, I continued dancing with the Princess.
‘You need to go,’ the Princess smiled, ‘Lord Adon will ask your sister for a dance. As the guest of the Prince, he should ask her for a dance.’
‘Who should I look for?’ I asked.
‘The lady is sitting there,’ she indicated a woman behind me, I turned.
‘Thank you,’ I said, Baron just appeared next to us.
I walked to the woman, the dog by her feet raised his head.
‘Can I ask you for a dance?’ I asked the lady with a slight bow.
‘My husband is dancing again with someone new,’ she laughed and stood up.
We stood on the edge of the dance floor, she moved slowly, and it couldn’t be called a dance.
‘Everyone here knows that I don’t have to be asked for a dance if Adon is dancing with someone, but you are new here.’
‘Yes, I arrived a few days ago with my sister and I’m staying for a few weeks.’
‘Where are you from?’ she asked.
‘From the south.’
‘You are too blond to be a person from the South,’ she smiled.
‘My parents were born here, they moved to the south afterwards.’
‘You know the etiquette very well,’ she complimented.
‘Our mother used to be a teacher and she taught us everything.’
‘She did a great job,’ she said.
Another friend of the Prince asked my sister for a dance, I walked the woman back to her chair.
’Thank you for the dance,’ I said.
‘Thank you too,’ she said, her husband had just arrived.
‘Your sister is a great dancer,’ the man said, ‘and she is beautiful.’
‘She resembles our mother,’ I said.
‘I thought so.’
The old couple left the ballroom, the dog followed them. I kept dancing. Until my sister took a break, I was not allowed to rest either. The rest of the guests stopped dancing quite early, the baker boys became drunk, they were walked back by two guards to their apartments. Doran and his family left with the little girl early, the miner couple mainly sat and made new fiends.
I didn’t have time to rest, Alana was dancing without a break but after two or three partners she was asked by the Prince. Close to the end to the event Alana was dancing only with the Prince and I just stood next to the Princess as she didn’t want to dance more.
‘Who is she?’ I asked about a woman who would catch the eye of every man.
The tall, slim woman had long brown hair and she wore a burgundy dress with a significant décolletage. She stood next to the wall and watched my sister dancing with the Prince.
‘Edria,’ the Princess said with loathing, ‘she desperately wants to become a Queen.’
‘I haven’t seen her behaving as if she’s your companion,’ I said.
‘I haven’t let her join my circle,’ she said, ‘we don’t have a good relationship, but the future of Edria has been hidden as well for a while.’
‘What happened between you?’ I asked.
‘She isn’t fit to be a Queen,’ she said, ‘watch her and you will understand why not.’
I started to watch the woman, who was passed by a servant with a tray of cookies. Edria waved to the girl, who stopped to allow the woman to take a cookie. The cookie was not tasty enough for Edria and she gave the servant a poke. Her move was barely noticeable, it seemed like an accident, but as I saw the whole incident it was clear that she did it intentionally.
‘Did you see that?’ the Princess asked, ‘she isn’t fit to be a Queen, she is power-hungry and evil. Unfortunately, I saw everything she did in the past.’
‘Does Prince Veron know?’ I asked.
‘He does. Last year Edria managed to have a courtship with Veron for a few weeks. Based on rumours, she already ordered her wedding dress at that time, but after a few weeks Veron told her that he would not be her suitor anymore.’
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘Veron got to know her. Edria even dragged my brother into her bed, but that relationship only lasted a few weeks,’ the Princess said, ‘Veron gets to know people quickly.’
‘She wouldn’t need much effort to drag your brother into her bed,’ I laughed, the woman was very attractive.
‘Quite a few women have already visited my brother’s bed,’ the Princess said, ‘it is not such a huge thing here, we need to be careful not to have a child, but we have a potion for that. Is this a problem in the south?’
‘Yes, your majesty,’ I said, ‘In the south, it can happen only after an engagement or in taverns where we have this kind of service. In the south, only Alana and my mother were able to make a potion.’
‘I see,’ the Princess said.
‘Please don’t tell your brother this, I don’t want him to look strangely at my sister.’
‘I think he already inferred it, as Alana never received any flowers and was never asked for a dance, but I promise you that I will not tell him.’
‘Thank you, your majesty,’ I said.
‘Last dance,’ the Queen stood up and said loudly.
The band started a new song, Prince Veron left Alana and went to the Queen to dance the last dance with her. I danced with my sister, only a few couples were still dancing.
‘How was your evening?’ I asked my sister.
‘My legs are tired,’ she smiled, ‘I’m not used to doing this.’
‘From now on, you should be,’ I smiled.
The short song had ended, the royal family left the room, after bowing we walked back slowly to our room.
‘Alana, Aleron,’ the Prince said behind us, ‘wait.’
The Prince and the Princess walked towards us, we bowed and waited.
‘We will walk with you in order to talk about tomorrow,’ the Prince said.
The Prince stepped between my sister and me and slowed down, we adapted to his speed.
‘Did you enjoy yourself, Alana?’ the Prince asked my sister, completely ignoring me.
‘Yes, your majesty, thank you for the dances,’ my sister smiled.
The Princess hissed quietly at me, I joined her out of earshot, behind the couple.
‘Is it what I’m thinking?’ I asked quietly, the Princess nodded.
‘I think, yes,’ she smiled, ‘Veron told me to come with him but we were almost running along the servant’s corridor to reach you. He said he wanted to talk about tomorrow.’
With a slow walk, we arrived at our apartments, Alana and the Prince talked quietly and cheerfully until the Princess and I came. Our corridor was quiet, only the guards stood in their place.
‘It was an honour to walk you back, thank you Alana,’ the Prince indicated his intention to court my sister and be her official suitor for social events from now on.
If Alana had said that the walk was not necessary, the Prince would have been in the same situation as Baron, so we waited curiously.
‘Thank you for walking me back, your majesty,’ my sister smiled, ‘I hope that next time we can continue the discussion.’
The Princess looked at me with a smile, my sister accepted the Prince’s offer. The Prince gave a hand kiss to my sister who went inside afterwards. From now on the Prince could give a real hand kiss to my sister instead of an air kiss.
‘Aleron, see you in the morning,’ the Prince said, ‘don’t be late.’
‘I will not,’ I said and entered our apartment.
Alana took off her necklace and the pearls from her hair, I sat down on the sofa in the lobby.
‘Do you know that you accepted the Prince’s offer of courtship today?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘I know,’ she smiled, ‘I was not aware that he likes me.’
‘In the ballroom only you were not aware of this,’ I teased her, she just smiled at me happily.
‘Do you know that he cannot marry you?’ I asked again hesitantly.
‘I know,’ she smiled, ‘but he is very confident and nice, and I like him.’
‘I think it is more than just a like,’ I said.
‘Maybe,’ she kept smiling and went to the bathroom.