A v a r i c e | F i v e
F i v e
❝Anxiously the woman would wait;
the time Lady spent away was great.❞
LILITH HAD ASKED ME TO LEAVE shortly after I made the promise, deciding not to teach me anything. But I was to come back soon so she could begin the first lesson.
I hadn’t had any spare time as of late. The day after the promise was made I was kept busy by my mother. She was insufferably nosy, and although she was right in her suspicions, I would never tell her so. And now, today, I still was not going to be able to visit Lilith unless I wanted to face the wrath of the entire kingdom.
Today was the day we would dine with the royal family. Mother and I wouldn’t likely be sitting anywhere near to the actual royal family, but Father might. I wasn’t sure how many people had been invited to the dinner, but Mother wanted to be at the kingdom early.
I was asked to wear my finest dress and coat. My family was neither overly wealthy nor poor, so my dress was decently nice and made of silky material. Mother wore all of the fancy jewels father had bestowed upon her and dolled herself up with her powder and lip stain. I was forced to wear makeup as well, but not as heavily as she had.
“Are the Trills dining as well?” I queried as I waited by the door for my parents.
“A few of them, I believe,” my father nodded as he and Mother entered the room. “Check for the carriage, Cerise, please.”
Opening the door a crack, I peaked outside. “It’s here,” I announced, opening the door. Father and Mother pulled on their coats before walking outside. I went out behind them and closed the front door.
We all got into the carriage with me sitting at the far end. The entire way to the castle Mother and Father were arguing and belittling each other. They were both obviously stressed out. They always did this whenever they were nervous about something, otherwise they were both very loving of each other.
Our kingdom was small, only made up of about five towns in all, but our land was large due to all of the forests surrounding us. The town I lived in was closest to the castle, yet somehow on the outskirts of the kingdom. All over forests surrounded the town, barricading us from the rest of the kingdom.
The lycanthropes had hit our town the hardest of them all because of this.
Still, the carriage ride seemed to drone on for longer than what I had anticipated.
The sky had visibly darkened by the time we arrived at the front gates of the castle. Mother, Father, and I all stepped out. Father thanked our escort before leading Mother and I up the many steps to the doors of the castle, where a seneschal stood in wait for us.
“Your name?” the seneschal asked to no one in particular. He hadn’t even looked at us. He was staring down at a list.
“Victoire.” My father responded with his head held high.
“Victoire,” the butler murmured as his eyes roamed his list. “Of course. Here you are, right at the top.” He nodded, shutting his list and turning to look at us. He nodded. “Madame and Monsieur Ralph Victoire.” His gaze landed on me. “Mademoiselle. Follow me.”
We did as we were asked. “You are early,” the seneschal observed. “While you wait for the other guests, would you like to visit the Honor Hall?”
“The Honor Hall?” I echoed with a raised eyebrow. Mother glanced over her shoulder and glared at me, but I ignored her. I wasn’t sure what was up with her. She had never been so strict before.
“Yes, the Honor Hall. Or perhaps you would prefer to visit the castle’s library?”
“Honor Hall would be just fine,” Mother cut in with a wide smile. The seneschal nodded briskly and led us a few steps down from the waiting hall to a wide doorway. Portraits and statues decorated all four walls of the room, along with plaques with names scribed into them. Father, Mother, and I all went to different walls. Father went to a wall filled with plaques of fallen soldiers and famous knights. Mother went to look at the statues artists had formed for our royal family. I went to look at the portraits.
Portraits upon portraits of men adorned the wall, with no nametags accompanying. There were signatures at the bottom of each painting, but no other writing. A few of the signatures were the same and a few were different. Most of the men I could tell were knights due to either being in armor or our kingdom’s precious swords set behind them on a wall.
“Cerise,” Mother called me over to her just as I had reached the most interesting of the portraits. It was a girl. She was looking directly at me, her eyes the color of the sky at night. Her hair was pulled back away from her face, revealing a strong, square jaw. “Cerise!” Mother called me again, this time louder than before.
Sighing in agitation, I turned to look at her. The second my eyes met hers, she went from glaring to smiling. “Look at this gorgeous statue. Doesn’t it look like the one we have at home?” I wasn’t sure who she was trying to impress other than perhaps the seneschal, but no statue at the castle looked even remotely like ours at home.
Still, to please her I said, “It does. What marvelous craftsmanship.” In spite of my mother’s falseness, I added a bit more sugar to my voice than what was needed. Mother caught on and glared at me when no one was looking.
I began to go back to the portraits I’d been entranced by before Mother interrupted, but was stopped. “People have arrived,” the seneschal announced. “I will show you to the dining room now, along with the Bonham family.”
The Bonham family was made up of ten or so people, but as I exited the Honor Hall I discovered only four of the Bonhams before me: Lord and Lady Charles Bonham and their two eldest sons. I wasn’t certain of the boys’ names, though I was certain one of them had to be Charles because of their father’s name.
The seneschal led our two families down a narrow hallway with many doors and expensive paintings. Mother kept staring longingly at the paintings. Finally, we’d stopped. The seneschal entered into a room and held open the door as the rest of us followed. Mother got to her seat first, sitting as close as she could to wear the royal family would be sitting. Father sat beside her and I beside him.
“Marquise Renee, how lovely to see you,” Lady Elizabeth Bonham smiled tightly at my mother, her arm wrapped securely around her husband’s. Mother had no choice but to stand up from the table so she could properly talk to Lady Elizabeth without being insolent.
“And you as well, Lady Elizabeth. Your dress is exquisite.” They went on complimenting each other. Soon, my father had risen from his seat to join into the conversation, and with a glare from Mother, I joined as well.
“Lady Cerise Victoire,” Lady Elizabeth suddenly said, gaining my attention. She smiled prettily at me. “You’ve met my sons, correct?” Ah, yes. This was the infamous moment that I hated. She was trying to set me up with one of her sons. Mother would never have it, seeing as how Lady and Lord Charles Bonham were below us in rank. I was to marry someone of either my own stature, or above.
I didn’t listen to that side of my mother, but I certainly did not want to marry one of the boys before me.
They weren’t ugly, far from it. I just wasn’t looking for a romantic partner, much to my parents’ dismay. Despite my feelings, I politely introduced myself to the boys, and they bowed and recited their own names. I’d been correct in thinking one of their names were Charles. The other’s name was Richard.
Soon, more families filed into the dining hall, and mother stood close to our chairs in order to reserve them. The Bonhams left to mingle. The Trills arrived soon, but not all of them. Marquis Phillip Trill and Edward were here, but the rest of their family were not. Still, the second we spotted them, father and I excused ourselves from a boring conversation and met them hallway through the dinning room. “Ralph,” Phillip smiled warmly at my father, leaving out my father’s title. Father and Phillip were close friends. I had never heard the other use a title to define each other before. “Cerise, you look beautiful,” when Phillip looked at me, his eyes suddenly became softer and sadder. I knew immediately that this was because of my relationship with Lydia.
“Thank you, Marquis Phillip,” I nodded respectively. “How have you been?”
Phillip tipped his head to the side. “I’ve been...well.” He lied. My eyes met Edward’s, but Edward just glanced away, indifferent. It was obvious he hadn’t wanted to come here. He was still a kid after all, but he had to learn about dining and mannerisms sooner rather than later.
Father and I chatted with the Trills before many people came to wish them their deepest apologies. Father and I relieved ourselves to visit with other families.
Constantly I was interrupted in my conversations by mothers with their sons or just men. I expected this. My dowry was well and healthy, along with my nobility. I was supposed to begin courting soon, attending silly balls in order to meet “fine gentlemen”. Lydia was going to join me before her engagement to Oliver Ackerman.
Speaking of Oliver Ackerman... I noticed him immediately when he entered the dining hall. He wasn’t smiling, but he certainly didn’t look like how I’d last seen him. Surprisingly, his family wasn’t with him. I suppose by now he was old enough, mature enough, to attend a dinner with the Imperial family by himself, but his father was a duke. Most dukes went.
“Lady Cerise?” a baron was trying to gain my attention. I had already forgotten his name, unfortunately.
Looking up at him, I gave him a small smile. “Forgive me, Baron, but will you excuse me?”
The baron was taken aback, but he nodded nonetheless.
Oliver spotted me walking towards him and met me halfway. “Cerise,” he breathed out my name. “I’m truly sorry about the way I was acting a few days ago. It was disrespectful and shameful.” Oliver Ackerman apologizing did not bode well. I knew he was being sincere, but it still didn’t feel right. Oliver wasn’t a bad guy by any means; Lydia had always told me stories of his childish and humorous ways.
“I forgive you,” I nodded and smiled at him to release any tension between us. “Are you well?”
Oliver rolled his neck, his face wincing. “No, but I’ll make do.” His honesty was intimidating. Most people, such as Lydia’s father, would lie in order to cut the conversation short, myself included.
“Would you like to sit with my family?” Luckily for my mother, there were no seating arrangements based on title, otherwise we would be seated more in the center.
Oliver rubbed the back of his neck, contemplating. “I think I’ll sit with the Trills, if that’s alright. But thank you for the offer.” He smiled at me.
I nodded. “Of course. I wish you well, Oliver.”
“For you as well,” Oliver murmured and nodded back.
I went to go sit in my normal seat before any courting gentlemen bombarded me. Mother and Father were already sitting down. Curiously, I asked, “Where are the Trills sitting?”
With a ring from a bell the dining hall quieted down and everyone took their seats. The Trills were going to sit beside us, but one of the more annoying suitors for me sat down with his family beside me before they could, so they ended up sitting towards the middle of the table.
My stomach involuntarily erupted in nerves when I realized the seats across from me were going to be taken by the Imperial family. The end of the table would be the king’s, of course, and beside him, next to my mother, was the queen. There was a large space in between my mother and the queen for titling purposes. But on the other side of the table, about six or seven chairs had been left open for the princes and princesses.
Dinner was brought out to us, the wine was served, and chatter had been killed. Finally, the royal family was here.
I had seen them before, of course. Being the daughter of a Marquis was providential in these ways, but I hadn’t ever seen them so up close.
Other than the makeup, their faces seemed just like any normal person’s. There wasn’t anything overly handsome about them, other than their material brands and their presence. The king stood at his place at the head of the table while his wife sat down next to him. She smiled at her guests. There were four princes, and they each took their spot according to age. Two seats across from me were left open.
“Let us eat,” the king allowed, and sat down.
Not shortly after his commandment, the dining hall doors opened with a loud clatter.
Everyone, including the royals, were surprised and looked over to see who had come.
There stood the man who had saved me from the lycanthrope.