That night Princess Zigra entered in a lovely ash colored gown that went so well with the color of her skin, it was a challenge tearing my eye away from her.
However, the thing that really caught my attention is that she entered the ballroom unaccompanied. This caught my attention for one reason and one reason alone. For every other ball she has attended she has made her entrance in the arms of her cousin, Lord Ilarion Radoslaw. So what exactly changed today?
For a moment I didn’t believe it had anything to do with her stepmother leaving her unattended. Zigra was too perfect a lady to start a scandal like that unless she had a good reason to.
Leo, who was with me when she entered the ballroom, didn’t find anything weird in this, as instantly started towards her. I didn’t bother following. She was going to be his fíance, not mine. Besides it might be a good idea to give the two of them some time alone. It is highly, about time he showed some sign of interest in her if her was planning to propose anytime soon.
And knowing Leo, the guy surely was planning on something special.
I settled for watching from the background, keeping viligant and alert of everything happening in the ballroom - for I had placed my self in the darkest corner with the best vantage point to view the whole room at the same time.
As the night wore on, I started to find Zigra’s actions more and more strange, until I got to a point of concern that I approached her even before my mind registered what I was doing.
As much as Leo would have loved to spend the night away hold the princess in his arms, he was still the prince and they didn’t have an active relationship for him to do so. After the first three dances with her, Leo had to go mingle with other guests, which allowed all the other men seeking wives a chance at the unique beauty.
Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem.
For the last three nights I’ve been seeing Zigra brush them off without a consent and a second glance. If I didn’t know any better I’d say she was playing hard to get.
But I did know better and I knew she just wasn’t interested.
As I said, normally, men trailing after her wasn’t a problem, but today Zigra was acting really strange.
For my surprise she actually accepted the dance if the next guy t ask her once Leo was no longer with her.
I didn’t think this very strange. It could have been someone she knew - like Lord Nortosh Blurkley - and didn’t think much of it. Then to my utter horror, she started accepting dances from everyone who asked her. Her expression remaind stoic and oftenly she looked like she was dying of boredom out there - she usually hid in the shadows, with me or like me.
This was to my horror as it was already obvious every mans intention towards the princess wasn’t exactly innocent. There were enough men like Daarian Swen and she didn’t know the difference. I saw her dancing with three such men.
By then not only was I worried about her but also concerned about her well-being.
And before I knew it, I had left my safe sanctuary, my feet taking me towards where she and her latest partner - Wilhem Prowes - were finishing up their waltz, even before I made a conscious decision to confont her about this. I reached her just as they couresied to each other.
“Zigra, may I have this dance?” I questioned her, holding out mynhand even before her partner had fully risen from his bow.
Zigra turquoise gaze mine, it’s shutter dream tightly shut I could get a hint of what she was feeling. I raised my eyebrows when she just stared at me without either accepting or answering.
Thata seemed to snap her it of her trance. With a curt nod at her Wilhem, she accepted my outstreached hand. Just in time as well, as the music stared just then.
“Are you alright Zigra?” I questioned her, not a moment into our waltz. Pretending to brush her perfectly pinned up hair behind her ear, I felt her forehead for a fever.
You can imagine my surprise when her eye narrowed at the gesture - she was smart enough to guess what I had just done. “I’m perfectly fine Vincent.” She replied. Her voice however was level and it’s usual monotone, none of her annoyance showed through.
Hmmm.... Maybe I wasn’t getting to her as I presumed when her eyes narrowed. We seemed to be circling the same place.
I once again raised my eyesbrows, disbelieving, as I twirled her out f my arms. “I guess that’s why your throwing yourself at every available male in this ballroom?” I questioned, rolling my eyes and twirling her back into my arms.
She blinked at me silently, thats what told me she was shocked by my words. Her expression gave nothing of her thoughts away. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t realise it was such a big problem.” She finally told me, her voice low but clear. For some reason I felt like they were much blanker than normal.
Then it hit me.
She had been relaxing her walls around me, letting simple things through. After all I myself told her we were friends. Now my words had offended her enough for her to lift those slightly lowered walls back up. She was talking to me the way she’d talk to any stranger.
I almost groaned out loud at the thought. I was such an idiot.
“Forgive me for being so forward Zigra, but your not acting like yourself. Yesterday you hated attending the ball saying you didn’t want all those men following you around and today you’re agreeing - willingly - to be in their presence. If that’s bit stragne tell me what is.” I replied, losing my cool by her detached words.
Until then, I hadn’t realised just how carefully I’d have to tread if I ever wanted to win her trust. Sure, she saw me as her friend, but did she trust me?
Her next words answered half of my own question.
She let out an uncharacteristic sigh, her arms slacking their hold on mine. Now the both of us were standing in the dance floor not moving out bodies but facing each other. She gently massaged her temple, indicating to me that she was frustrated.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” She said, her voice nothing more than a whisper and I had to bend to hear what she said. “It’s just that....” she trailed off, casting her eyes downwards.
That’s just when a couple accidentally knocked on Zigra and she was trust back into my arms. The couple scowled at us, but a glower from me and they hurriedly waltz past us with no comment.
Straightening Zigra, I offered her my arm. “Punch?” I asked her and she silently hooked her arm through mine without a single word.
“I’m almost wishing Imogen didn’t have to go so I won’t have to bother with such trivalties.” She informed me the moment we reached the snack table. There was no emotion in her voice as person usual. “She wants me to find a suitor.” She added draining the punch in one glup.
Wow! She must be frustrated. She truly was acting so out of character, which was so unlike her. Zigra was a person of complete self control. She losing it was a picture to behold.
The best part? If anyone who doesn’t knows her see her behaviour they won’t find anything unusual about it. They see the same, in-control, apathic Zigra they saw everyday.
“Why dies that make you wish Lord Ilarion’s mother is here?” I couldn’t help questioning. As I mentioned many times, Zigra was a puzzling puzzle that was shrouded in mystery it just made you want to know more about.
“Then I wouldn’t be need to find a suitor, I can be minding my own business and she’d find me a good Duke to ruler alongside with.” I was stumped by how frank she was with her answer that I was left speachless for a moment too long.
“I see...” Was all I could say to her and she nodded her head, gazing back at the dance floor.
“You’re lucky your a knight. You’re not expected to marry. You can actually marry anyone you want or choose not to.” She told me, then gently leaned on my arm.
I pretended not to notice and looked out at the ballroom, searching for Leo. Then again, we were still standing by the refreshments table and therefore everyone could see us.
“Where is your brother?” I asked, breaking the silence that followed. While it was comfortable, it would not do to look too chummy with the princess Leo was planning to marry.
“He was slightly feverish by the time mother and father left, so asked him not to attend tonight, telling him to rest. It would it do if he gets sick.” She answered, valling Imogen because we were surrounded by people who very well could be evesdropping,
She seemed to suddenly remember exactly where she was leaning as she suddenly stood up straigher. She looked up at me, eyes and face blank, but didn’t apologise. Strangely, I was thankful that she didn’t.
“I should probably go check on him,.” She told me, inclining her head towards a side door.
“Mayhap I should accompany you?” I added, my gaze locking in on the many bachelors eyes on the two of us. The were clearly waiting for me to leave her side to swoop in. Not always necessarily with good intentions.
Absent minded, she nodded her head and started towards the door before I could so much as offer her my arm.
Amused, I followed after her.
We walk in silence, nothing uncomfortable or awkward. It’s a soothing, easy silence that didn’t need to be filled with useles, unwanted conversation. A silence that seem to define the graceful lady walking - or should I say floating - beside.
We maintained silence even when it was finally time for us to part ways at Lord Ilarion’s door. A nod and smile relayed the message of a goodnight perfectly finely. Of course, I was the only one to smile, but her eyes reflected what her lips wouldn’t.
Just before I left, I took Zigra’s hand on mine and placed a lingering kiss in her knuckles. Her eyes twinkled with amusement at my actions - Oh, so she knew I was teasing her (which, now than I think of it, was the entire reason I did it).
It wasn’t until way later - as I laid in bed than night - that I really realised that the shutteres that shut off her emotions from showung through her eyes were thrown wide open that I didn’t have to really see her eyes to see the amusement in them.
But at the time, I merely gave the charming-est smile I could muster, before she waved me goodnight and closed the door behind her.
Shaking my head in just as much amusement, I started back towards the ball. But with nothing to look forward to, I took a different - and longer - route back to the ballroom.
It just so happened that I had to pass through the ladies guest chambers on my way. It was entirely coincidental that just as I was about to step out into the hallway Zigra’s room was in that I heard a very familiar voice drift down to hallway to me. A voice that definitly didn’t belong in this hallway as her room was no where near here.
I stopped moving just before I stepped into the hallway. My sences were n full alert as I listented to Monique flirting freely with someone. For all her vanity, I knew that she wouldn’t just do so without at ulterior motive and that is what made me evesdrop on the conversation.
I carefully peeked around the corner to just make out the person she was flirting with.
One of Zigra’s guards.
This couldn’t be good.
She cooed for quite a while over the man, before she finally got to the reason of her efforts.
“I promise I can give you the greatest time you’ve ever had. Being a guard, I don’t think you have enough time to appreciate the God given gifts that a femal has to offer.” She cooed, batting her eyes seductively as she leaned closer to him, keepin her hand on the mans shoulder.
“Well... I guess that is one way to out it dear sweet lady.” The man replied, clearly enchanted by Monique’s well played acting.
“Here’s the little thing though, my friends are planning a little surprise for Princess Zigra and they asked my help. I would love to contribute by bringing the princess with me, but I’m not even on speakin terms with the princess. She is a little intimidating to approach. So will you help me with bringing her with you?” She asked, playing innocent and sweet.
She was playing with the guard and I feared he was falling right into the womans trap. I don’t trust for a moment that anywhere Monique wanted Zigra was to do the the princess any good.
Not, whatever her intentionally, they were sure not too be good. Infact, I’d betanything she was about too do something to Zigra. I just wished u knew what it was so I could prevent it. I’ll have to have to keep an eye on Monique - or have someoine do it for me.
I was making plans to prevent whatever she was planning for Zigra, when they were stopped short.
“Excuse me?” The man, Zigra’s guard asked sounding stumped. I looked up in time to see the man extract himself from the womans clutches. “With all due respect my lady, of it is princess Zigra you are after I’m afraid to say that you are on your own. I cannot allow you to do any harm to my gracious princess knowing something amiss.” The man said clearly ruffled by Monique’s nerve to approach him with such a thing.
Monique’s flirtious expression morphed into her true face of a scowl as she glowered at the man.
“Fine, be like that. Your precious princess is not even going to be thankful fr your little selfless act, all royals are the same, they never -” she seethed with venom in her tone.
“Just as you as you are part of the royal charade.” He replied.
Monique’s face turned such a shade of red n her anger that she huffed, stuck her nose in the air and stormed off.
I was also stumped by the loyalty that man had for her. I knew just how persuasive Monique could be when she put her mind to. She could make the vilest things seem like it was done innocently, so the loyalty the man had definitly had to be something more bigger than it appeared to be.
While curious enough to know what represented such loyalty, I had work to be done.
I couldn’t let Monique get her clutches on Zigra. I’ll have to do something about this. Zigra wasn’t going to get hurt by that bile woman. Not on my watch. I’ll allow no such thing to happen. Zigra was important - even if not for me. For Leo and her people.