Dani turned away from her conversation with the noblewoman Chandreese and drew her chalice to her lips. She looked over the rim to where all the foreign dignitaries sat at the head table with the Queen, her mother. Drawing in the smell of warm cider she gazed out towards one, in particular, the Lady Neowise.
The sleeves of Neowise’s dress were a dark and bruised purple that grew lighter where they joined the bodice, melting seamlessly into a mix of orange, pink, and red hues.
Even more mesmerizing than her dress though was her face. All angular and sharp, her skin was a pale opal bordering blue, and her hair was like tainted daisy petals.
More curious; were the umber brown horns jutting from the top of her head. She was the first of her kind to have graced the halls of this castle so far as Dani knew.
Dani wondered how she’d ever get her alone. It had been on her mind for quite some time, ever since she’s heard they would have visitors from the neighboring kingdoms of Iru and Kavga.
She’d only ever been to the cities within the mountain ranges that surrounded her kingdom, but she’d longed to see more.
Because the trip was so grueling and long even with the best of supplies, her mother had never even condoned the idea of her going. Though she had made the trek many times herself.
To her right, the Lady Chandreese cleared her throat and stared at her pointedly. Dani blushed and looked away. She’d completely zoned out in the midst of their conversation and had no idea what the noblewoman had just said to her. She bit the inside of her cheek nervously. She had to get it together, she couldn’t afford to have the nobles gossiping to each other or her mother about her behavior today.
She gathered herself and turning to the Nobleman on her left side, she did her best to maintain a conversation with him.
All the while her mind strayed to that morning and the promise she had made her mother.
She’d hardly slept a wink all night. And it showed when her servant Millie had rushed in to wake her but found her laying on her bed staring absently at the canopy above her bed.
“Good Morning, your highness. The queen requests an audience before you go down to break your fast.” the servant had said.
Dani who knew Millie had only said the word ‘request’ as a consolation, had sighed heavily at the news.
The queen hardly ever wanted to see her for anything other than business matters these days. Whether it was to bully her into attending more council meetings or managing the castle affairs. She doubted this would be anything different.
Seconds after saying so, Millie had set to readying her ward for the day ahead. Heading off to the bathroom where she could be heard humming as she picked out fragrant soaps to add to the hot bath water she was running. And as Dani bathed, Millie went across the princesses’ chambers in search of the day’s garments and jewelry. Ultimately picking out a simple yellow gown with white sleaves and golden embroidery, to accentuate her blond hair.
Soon enough Millie was plaiting Dani’s now wet hair, and wrapping it around her head in a crown. A style her mother had once said she liked very much on Dani.
As Millie completed the look by attaching simple topaz earrings, Dani glanced in her mirror to admire the jade-green gown that Millie had laid out on her bedspread moments before. Like the one she wore now, it featured gold embroidery, her favorite detail.
She smiled in the mirror at her servant reflection in thanks for all her effort. She would wear that one later tonight, to the Ball.
Once inside her mother’s suit, Dani had paused took a breath before entering the bedroom.
As far as things went. Dani loved her mother both as that and as the Queen. She was a just and honest woman who kept her people at the forefront of her mind, and Dani was beyond proud to be her daughter.
However, that devotion to the crown had often left Dani feeling somewhat neglected, if not resentful of the day she too would have to be its most firm protector.
The Queen looked up as Dani entered.
The Queen had aged gracefully and had never made any attempt to hide her age or the wrinkles around her eyes with creams and tinctures. Instead, she bore them proudly stating to the court they were a symbol that she had persevered through many challenges. Often joking that she’d been busy raising the royal court as if it were an infant.
The two of them together were a sight to behold. They were like carbon copies of each other, save the coloring of their eyes. Where the Queen had chestnut brown eyes, Dani’s were a Hazel green with specks of gold.
Now the Queen looked out to her daughter with those very eyes and they twinkled as a smile crept across her face. But it was a short-lived joy. She promptly got to the reason for calling Dani to her.
“Dani, tonight we hold a ball. In celebration of all the foreign representatives, our allies have sent to our court. This means there will be a good number of eyes on you” She paused and sighed softly.
“Dani I need you to behave, no acting out today, no calling out the men for their behavior, and certainly no refusing to talk to the other nobles.” with each word she’d spoken her voice had gotten slightly louder.
Dani looked sheepishly at the ground. “Yes, your majesty”, she responded with a bow. She turned to leave hoping the conversation was over.
She stopped in her tracks and clenched her fists. She could feel little pinpricks across her back.
“How’s Flynn doing,” her mother asked softly. This was a courtesy question Dani knew. Her mother had the power to find out about all and any of her subjects should she really want to. Flynn was without a doubt not off that list.
“He’s fine, you know...going to the military academy soon.” She’d responded looking up to meet her mother’s eye.
“I suggest you make a point of talking to him. His father tells me he’ll be getting sent out with the next group of recruits in a fortnight...He won’t be back till fall you know.”
With that, the Queen raised an arm dismissing her.
Once outside the chambers Dani had sighed and smiled softly to herself. Flynn was her friend and her mother knew that. It was touching to see that she cared enough to push Dani to go and speak to him. If not slightly disarming that she knew they had not spoken.