The crowd went absolutely still at the Commander’s request. Even the King paused, taken back by the request.
“Can he do that?” I questioned discreetly near Leo - who was frowning with obvious annoyance at the commander.
“Unfortunately, yes, he can.” Leo answered just as discreetly, except his voice sounded more agitated and angered, though he tried to tone it down.
Nodding my head, and pretending I couldn’t hear the agitation or anger in his voice, I turned back to face the commander.
“And would it be alright for me to decline?” I asked behind my fan while King Ryszard recovered from his shock and answered the commanders question.
“That is quite a request and not up to me to give you an answer.” The King, recovering in an instant, announced to the commander. “That right is upto the Princess Zigra herself.” And like that, the spotlight was on me.
“It would be better if you accept.” Leo muttered to me even as I stood up - as slowly as I could so I could here Leo’s advise. Then he muttered something under his breath that I didn’t quite catch, but strangely sounded like, ‘though I’d rather you not.’ But that couldn′t be it as he had already told me that I probably should accept the offer - because he had won after all.
I stood up, gave a respectful nod to the King and turned to address the commander. “It would be my honor, noble knight, to accept your hand for the first dance tonight.” As much as I hated doing that, he did win and I couldn’t decline an offer made in front of everyone like that. I couldn’t believe that I told that without even the slightest grimance, because I felt like grimancing and more.
I could have pretended to faint and not answer at all, but acting had never been my forte, and besides, how mortifying it would be to fainted for something as simple an offer for a dance? That is simply too much.
Keeping a straight face, I gave a nod to the King before resuming my place beside Leo. I took in a deep breath once I sat down, glad that the attention was off me and back towards the King - I hated being put on the spot like that. It always needed to be improvised and you had to think fast on the spot, I really disliked it a lot.
I didn’t hear anything the King said as my ears were ringing - from being the center of attention like that - and having to improvise.
Leo gently took my hand and squeezed it, which did calm me down a bit, but what I really wanted was to lock myself in my room and have to curse quite a bit. Now that would be very gratifying. After King Ryszard dismissed us to go get dressed for the ball tonight, we stood as he, with Queen Caitlynn in his arms, left the pavilion.
Leo held his arm out for me and I accepted it even more grateful than I normally was.
Vince followed us inside, it was his duty as Leo personal guard to be with Leo at all times in occations like this.
It was rather umfortunate that we weren’t the only people to head inside as soon as possible, the hallways were soon filled with people - most of whom stopped to chat.
“Don’t worry Zee, you did the right thing.” Vince whispered to me, giving my back a gentle rub. I looked back at him, stiffly nodding my head at him in thankx for the reassurance. He sighed, not buying my thankx as helpful as I hadn’t found his reassurance. But their was nothing either of us could do about that so he let it slide.
Seeing me being completely lost in my head, and quite thankfully, neither man tried to make small conversation with me - not even the usual chatter we make. They took me straight to my room and I had calmed down enough by then to take Leo’s jokes with grace.
“I’ll see you tonight Zee.” Leo told me as he kissed my hand in front of my door, a devilish smiled lighting up his lips. “It seemes my wish is going to be granted sooner than I had preciously hoped.” He added, smirking at me with a mischeivous twinkle in his eyes.
Vincent looked at him questioningly, but I understood what he was saying just fine.
“Don’t keept your hopes too high up. I might or might not have found a way out of wearing the expected pink everyone expects me to wear.” I told Leo teasingly - which wasn’t entirely a lie.
Leo’s smile grew at my teasing - looking slightly more revealed.
Oh! I hadn’t meant to make them worry about me - for both of them had been worried. I understood that by how even Vincent’s shoulders relaxed at my light tone. This made me feel guilty and I would have probably apologised if Vincent hadn’t talked before I could.
“I think I know what you are planning.” He told me with a grin, but didn’t elaborate further. Even when Leo started bugging him about it. Ignoring the prince like he had a lot of experience doing it, Vince took my hand and just like Leo, placed a kiss on my knuckles. “I’ll see you tonight princess.”
Nodding my head, I was about to step into my room when I as stuck by a sudden thought.
“Wait - Vince, could you please check on Rion?” I called, turning back to the men. He didn’t think twice before he nodded his head, agreeing like he had been expecting me to ask that near him.
“I’ll tell you if he’s not well enough to attend the ball, don’t worry.” He finished before I could requeast it of him. Sighing in relief that I had found such an amazing friend here, I nodded my had in thankx.
With that, I stepped inside the room, closing the door behind me. Paller, Rayla and Nethra were scurrying around the room getting everything I needed ready for tonights ball. I gave myself up to them to pamper.
And like always, they had me ready right on time, with two miniutes to spare. This was their speciality. They worked fast - just the way I liked it. I hated being late and today morning was one of those can’t-help-it days where everything had to go wrong and we had to improvise and make up for lost time. I was very rarely ever late - mostly thankx to my ladies-in-waiting who took pride in getting me ready on time.
Vince had stopped by earlier and told Nethra - who answered the door - that Rion was perfectly fine and I had nothing to worry about. I took Vincent’s word for it - what reason does he have to lie to me? - and stopped fretting about Rion attending the ball in his condition, instead focusing on getting ready.
Now that they were done I finally allowed myself to look at my reflection in the mirror.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped in front of the mirror, bracing myself for the girlish look I was sure I was spouting.
My gown was made from the hottest, darkest pink material that Meesa could find. It had a v-neck that didn’t dip any lower than right on top of my cleavage - showing no cleaveage. The sleeves were fitting and the hems touched my wrist. The skirt swept the floor, showing no sign of the equally hot pink court shoes I was wearing. The bodice was appliqued with black pop-up flowers, complimented with beads. The hem of my sleeve was also embroidered with black lace. Black rosettes decorated the hem of my skirt along with bead work running half-way up the skirt. Even my gloves had black compliments which added a touch of elegance to my whole look.
My hair was done in perfect ringlets and pinned up in an elegant but stylish bun, over which my bonnet was placed. On my neck was a glittering pink necklace and on my ears were earings that hung half-way down to my shoulder.
Altogether, I didn’t look as bad I feared, but I still felt uncomfortable wearing pink. I just wasn’t used to it. It had been around Seven years ago that I wore thelast light colored gown I remember. Ever since mom died and dad married Imogen I’ve stuck to dark clothing and felt safe inside the walls I’d built up. Going out of my comfort zone had never been an option.
“’You look lovely princess.” Paller told me, standing behind me and placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.
I sighed, I had to go. I didn’t have time to be bothering with the way I look - this was inevitable. Besides, I promised the first dance to Commander Laynheart and I couldn’t break my word now. How disgraceful would that be.
Taking another deep breath to strengthen my resolve and squaring my shoulders, I walked out of my room with my head held high, my steps filled with confidence. I am a princess and I will not be ashamed to wear pink - no matter how uncomfortable it made me. And I will brave being uncomfortable without showing anyone just how uncomfortable I was.
I entered the ballroom by my lonesome, unaccompanied.
As I descended the stairs I let my eyes roam around the ballroom, searching for a familliar face. The royal family had yet to join us, which meant Leo and Vince wasn’t present. I did see Rion talking to a beautiful lady whos face I couldn’t place with a name. I had, after all, done everything I could to not mingle too much with everyone and most of the time kept to the shadows of the ballroom with Vincent - most of the time.
I did, however, notice the many eyes fixed on me as I descended the stairs, but I looked past the stares, hiding my discomfort behind my indifferent mask - as always.
I was approached by Commander Laynheart the moment my feet touched the ballroom floor. With a rougish smile he bowed to me respectfully.
“My gracious lady. May I just say that you look absolutely lovely tonight. Pink is a great color on you. It compliments your lovely figure rather beautifully.” The man said as he bowed, his rougish smile in place.
He threw that compliment rather casually and I sucked in a breath to keep my face free of emotion - I didn’t want to grimance. He sounded concieted and that was just not something I like to tolerate very much. Even Leo - whom I had seen flirting around with ladies - hadn’t gotten on my nerves quite so much.
But that could possibly be becasue he never flirted with me and treated me rather like he should a lady. In fact, he’d never casually thrown out a compliment for me ever. And every compliment he’d given me was given with such genuine-ness that I really couldn’t work up over it.
Standing up he took my hand and placed a lingering kiss on my knuckles.
“Thankyou commander.” I told not adding anything else so as encourage him to shower me with compliments.
Giving me a smile, he held his arm out for me to take, looking sure that I would do as he says.
Rather umfortunately for me, I had given him my word that I’d give him my first dance which meantI’d have to tolerate his company for longer than I wanted to.
It just happened to be my luck that the royal family - minus the princess who was too young to attend these balls - made their appearance right as I took his arm.
Once the King and Queen were seated with Leo, the King called the commander and myself for the first dance. The commander led me to the dance floor and we took our position as the music started.
The commander kept up a pointless conversation going throughout our dance. I humored him, because I would be rude to ignore him completely, keeping the conversation going. I was really glad when the song finally came to an end and other couples crowded the dance floor.
“May I dear?′ The commander asked me for the next dance as well as soon as we straightened out of out courtesy.
Unable to reject him in the midst of so many people watching - and Imogen’s demand still in mind, I agreed to another round of torture.
I hope you don’t mind if I steal Princess Zigra away from you for the next dance Commander.” Vincent’s voice questioned smoothly as he slid up the two of us the moment the second song was over - before the commander could ask for the next dance as well.
The commander regarded Vincent with a look that told how little he thought of him. “Sir Dwayne, what a surprise seeing you mingling.” Though he didn’t sneer it outright, the sneerwas very their. We could all hear it plain and clear in his tone, which made me to look up at the commander, then at Vincent.
He stayed silent, not saying anything to the Commanders words.
“Or is it simply just that Vasilios is not man enough to ask the ladies hand on his own that he has his servants doing his dirty work for him?” The Commander went on when Vincent didn’t say anything.
I was so shocked by the way he spoke of his prince - to the princes most trusted guard too - that I took a step back, away from the commander. “Commander, that was uncalled for.” The words were out of my mouth before I processed them, feeling a sense of protectiveness towards the only person who had managed to make me almost laugh.
Vincent quickly slid upto me and laid a hand on the small of my back, and indication telling me not to saying further.
I looked up at him - having to tilt my head as he easily towered over me, even when I’m in heels - but he simply had a small, almost mocking, smile on his lips. He looked completely unaffcted by the mans words. Could itnbe that this wasn’t something abnormal? A usual occurance? It is possible.
“Or it could simply be because Princess Zigra is amazing company and I genuinely want to dance with her.” Vincent informed the Commander in a easy-going, borderlining friendly tone - showing how unaffected he was by the commander’s words.
I could feel the Commanders teeth gritting as Vincent said a pleasent “excuse us,” and took my hand - his other hand still on the small of my back - and led me away from the commander.
“What was that just happened?” I questioned, still feeling a little dumbstuck by the conversation I had to listen to. “Why did you just let him to get away with saying something like that?” I asked heatedly, whirling in on Vincent for answers.
Smirk adorning his lips, Vincent wrap one hand around my waist and took my other hand in his own, then bent down to my level. His face was right in front of mine, his breath fanning my face when he chuckled lightly. “Is that anger I hear in your voice princess?” He questioned me teasingly.
I opened my mouth to answer him, but nothing cameout when I realised that he was right. I hadn’t kept my voice as blank as I’d like it to be. I had let the anger clouding me to slip past my defences - and all becauseI felt protevtive of Vincent?
Surely anyone who looked at us thought I was gaping at him, since I was staring a him with my mouth open, but I honestly wasn’t gaping at him. I was trying to form words, to say something without spluttering out nonsence. Oh, not to mention, fighting to keep my face free of emotion, no one needs to know how conflicted I felt.
Chuckling again, Vincent twirled us around in a circle. I’m proud to say though caught off guard - as I wasn’t paying attention to the dance - I didn’t stumble or lose my footing.
“But thankx for standing up for me.” He added with a genuine smile, looking down at me with his deep ocean blues. I never realised before today how beautiful his eyes were, especially when he was looking at me with the soft and another emotion I couldn’t place.
I felt my breath leave in a rush when our eye met and momentarily forgot what we were even talking about.
Suddenly he stepped away from me, releasing me from him arms and bowing. A moment too late I realised the song was over and hurriedly dipped into a courtesy. I’m sure my face was very pink, I’ve never been this careless before, so what exactly was it about Vincent that keeps making me lose focus today? Because I can usually keep my composture even in his presence.
When I got back up, I had to fight off the blush coloring my face and looked at Vincent to see him looking at something over my head. I turned my head to see that he was having an eye conversation with Leo.
This made me wonder if the commander was indeed right. Had Vincent only barged into and saved me from the commander for Leo? But why hadn’t he come himself? This is also very puzzling.
“Don’t look so suspicious Zigra.” Vincent voice said very close to my ear as he spun me back around to face him.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. What the hell is wrong with me today? I’ve been constantly spacing out and losing my composture. I’m not even thinking straight.
“Leo would have come and dragged you away from Gregory himself if I’d allowed him to, so don’t take what Gregory said to heart.” Vincent went on, twirling us around in tune with the music.
“You see, Gregory Laynheart is the son of the King’s sister, that means he’s Leo’s cousin. But the guy thinks Leo is not suitable to be King because he has a kind heart. He is playful and overfriendly with everyone he meats. And Gregory can actually beat Leo in a duel which fuels his dispise against Leo. They have this rivaly thing going on and I didn’t want them to start fighting in the middle of the ball. Even if Leo stands back that man would provoke hI into doing something stupid - all just to prove how lousy a King Leo’d make.” Vincent explained to me.
I stared up at him, connecting dots in my head.
“That is why he insisted on me dancing with him. He was trying to provoke Leo.” I told him softly, not wanting any of those shameless ladies from over hearing our conversation.
Vincent nodded his head with an ‘I’m impressed’ smile.
I muttered a small ‘oh’, my mind reeling in thought. Vincent stayed silent, letting me process my thoughts. “Is he after the crown?” I questioned in a whisper, looking back at his deep ocean blues.
He scoffed, but shook his head. “Even if Leo abdicates, the crown will go to Imara when she marries.” Vincent answered.
“So it’s some sort of personal vendetta?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulder as he spun me out of his arm. He bowed at the same time I courtesied as the song came to a finish.
Vincent suggested that we take a break, so we headed to the snack table. Dropping our current conversation for the moment - on the dance floor the couples moved too constantly for anyone to keep track of our conversation, but by the snack table people lingered at the same place for long enough to over hear everything we have to say - and moved to other topics that held our interest.
Later in the night I danced with Leo for a while and thankfully didn’t have to face Commander Laynheart again in the night. Vincent and Leo doing everything to keep me away from the man.
When midnight struck, the servants wheeled in a huge golden and silver cake that towered over almost everyone.
Today was Leo’s birthday.
Everyone wished him and there were firworks as the party went on way past one.
I was hanging back with Vincent while everyone clouded Leo - I’d already wished him, right after he cut the cake - when I got a very dizzy feeling and felt like I wanted to vomit. I clutched Vincent’s coat sleeve, making him to look down at me worriedly.
“Vince, I think I’m going to be sick.” I whizzed out, holding on to him because I couldn’t stand upright on my own.
His eyes widening, he discreetly slipped us out of a side door and took me to the closest washroom he could find.