The first debutant already walked down the stairs, when James took his seat at some kind of throne opposite the stairway.
Daina stood next to him, on his right. Those little debutants should see first-hand, who awaited them if they dared to move even one of their fingers in his direction.
James himself didn’t even notice the presence of the debutant.
His thoughts were with Maggie, or better said Margarete and he was curious to see, in which direction today’s debutant-ball would go. Did he really misjudge her that much and by doing so, completely underestimated her?
At least there was one pleasant turn to Daina’s vision: Finally something interesting would happen on such an event, which were usually dead boring...
One after another, the girls were called by their family name and walked down the stairs.
As Margarete belonged to Clan Romanov, which wasn’t powerful among the insignificant ‘House of Warriors’, she had to be close to the end of the line-up.
James tried hard, to seem to be interested in the ceremony, nodding at known faces from time to time. Meanwhile, he was waiting patiently for her to come, like a lion that was waiting for his prey.
In the meantime the long queue in front of Maggie, shrinked noticeably. Only two girls were left.
She was the seventeenth girl, out of twenty. The reason for being almost at the end of the line-up, was the insignificance of her Clan. This would probably change with her introduction.
Until now, the other debutants chose to either ignore her completely, or they gossiped about her. No one of the attending ladies had let herself get carried away, to be openly hostile to her.
One debutant was left in front her.
Maggie felt sicker with every passing minute and her throat felt tight.
When she wanted to close the gap between the person in front of her and herself, someone from behind her, stepped on the train of her dress, thereby stopping her movement.
When she turned around, she looked into a maliciously grinning face, that was framed by wild red curls.
“Break a leg!” The debutant glared at her.
At first, Maggie was stunned, but then she simply shrugged and replied with a meaningless: “Thank you!”
She was completely aware, that this first public attack was only the beginning of many.
Then it was her turn.
The girl in front of her had already arrived at the ballroom downstairs. The herald, which cried out load all debutants, was now announcing her.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your highness. The next debutant is: ...”
The herald stopped mid-sentence and frowned. He read Margarete’s name and her belonging Clans from his card for several times, as if he wasn’t able to understand the meaning of the words.
Niklas, who already took his place at the end of the stairway to receive his daughter, grinned triumphantly.
The first murmur went through the hall.
James Stuart sat himself straighter in his throne and fixed his gaze at the balcony, on which the next debutant would appear. Even Daina seemed to be curious.
The herald cleared his throat and found his voice again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your highness. I am presenting to you the Lady Margarete Romanov, from Clan Romanov. She presents herself as a mix of the ‘House of Warriors’, with an affiliation of 32% to Clan Romanov and the ‘House of Regents’, with an affiliation of 68% to Clan Fleur de Lys.”
The general reaction to this revelation was dominated by horrified silence.
Only Niklas Romanov couldn’t suppress his confident smile and James Stuarts eyes darkened, according to his mood. You could have heard a pin drop on the ballroom.
Maggie, who was perceiving the silence in horror, was gaped at by the staff member, who was in charge of the line-up, with big eyes.
She seemed to have problems with getting her composure back. Then she pulled herself together, moved closer to Maggie and stammered: “You have to go now, otherwise the further course would be disturbed...”
Maggie inhaled deeply.
There was no turning back, now. She had to get it over with and she had to do this with dignity.
Slowly, she put one leg before the other and walked onto the balcony, from which she was supposed to go down the stairway. It felt like thousands of eyes were glued to her.
When she was close enough to the stairs, to be able to look down, she saw Niklas smiling at her confidently.
At that moment she became very angry. How could her father do something like that to her! But she wouldn’t bulge in front of all the aristocrats or run away from them.
By doing so, she would ruin Adrian’s and Darius’ social prestige - even for their offspring for many generations.
She concentrated her anger towards Niklas, which let her forget her insecurity and helped her get through this impossible situation. She went down the stairs with her head held high. Every step, led her closer to the dance floor and closer to the disapproving whisper of the other people present in the hall.
She fixed her gaze at Niklas. Would she have allowed herself to let her eyes wander the room, and if they had met Malachy’s eyes, she would not have been able to get through with this.
When she arrived downstairs, Niklas offered her his hand. She smiled bravely, took Daddy’s hand and let herself be escorted to her allocated space on the dancefloor, even though she just wanted to slap his hand away.
In the meantime, the next debutant was announced, but still every head in the hall was turned towards Margarete.
When the red-haired girl appeared on the balcony, at least some of the heads turned towards her direction. Maggie was able to take a deep breath for the first time since her proclamation.
After all debutants had entered the dancefloor, accompanied by their Clan leaders, the live band started to play the first accords of the waltz. Now, the dance partners had to bow before each other and the opening dance, a waltz by tradition, started.
Niklas pulled her close enough, that nobody could overhear what he whispered inconspicuously into her ear: “Well done, Margarete! It wasn’t that difficult to walk down a stairway. You will master the rest of the evening in excellence, I am convinced of that. That’s how things are done by real Romanovs.”
He seemed to be genuinely proud.
At first Maggie was stunned. Then, her head filled with snippy replies, but at that moment Niklas wasn’t worth a single one of them. So she said nothing and went on smiling bravely.
While Maggie walked down the stairs with her head held high, Amie, Adrian and Darius held their breathes and couldn’t take their eyes of her.
The revelation of her royal origin lead to Adrian’s face colour turning white and Darius’ loss of his mask, which he had perfected over the centuries. Both of them looked at each other and they seemed to change an endless amount of words, only by gazing.
Amie didn’t understand, what was going on, especially not, how serious this situation was.
She turned to Darius for help: “I believe, that I am familiar with the name Fleur de Lys...”
She brooded over that name for a moment. When she was finally able to sort it’s meaning out, her eyes became as big as saucers.
“That is the name of THE Royal Family, which had died, isn’t it?”
She moved a step closer towards Darius. To get his attention, she put both her hands on his lapel collar. “How is this possible? The whole family has been killed in an accident! I don’t get it!”
Darius went a little bit further into the back of the ballroom, taking Amie with him, so anybody would have a hard time on eavesdropping on them.
He replied quietly: “That’s the official version. Rumours say, that there was no accident, but they fell victims to a conspiracy between royal houses. Till today, no one knows what happened exactly and who was part of it.”
Amie gasped for air. “How could I miss out on such a story? I already celebrated my one hundredth birthday and have never heard of this...” she babbled on headlessly.
Suddenly she became silent, her eyes became even bigger and she pulled Darius even closer to her, in order to inform him of her realisation: “Does this mean, that the mastermind behind this conspiracy is still around? Doesn’t this endanger Maggie?”
She was so close to him, that he could feel her warm breath on his face.
“Possible” he replied, while grinning mischievously “but I strongly doubt, that anybody would dare to do something to her here, in the midst of the whole society of high-ranking Aristocrats...”
Amie noticed how close she was to Darius. She blushed and put some distance between them. Darius couldn’t pull his eyes away from her, until a murmur went through the crowd.
Now, his eyes followed the scene, that was unfolding in front of him, which caused him to change his opinion.
“I have to correct myself. There is one person in this hall, who could make Maggie’s life a living hell: James Stuart. As the last survivor of Clan Fleur de Lys, she could take away his throne.The way I know him, he isn’t someone, who let’s anything being taken away from him, which he believes to be righteously his.”
Darius pointed with his finger into the direction, where the crowd parted itself to make space for James, who had left his throne and trotted slowly on the dancefloor.
The original idea behind the debutant-ball was for it to be a bridal show for high-ranking Aristocrats, but especially for the Regent.
It was a millennia-old tradition.
Still, the current regent, James Stuart, had never even lifted a finger at one of the debutants or looked at them longer than necessary, since the beginning of his regency, 26 years ago.
The ladies didn’t dare to dream of him, standing up and walking on the dancefloor in order to greet them. But still it was exactly that scene, which unfolded itself directly in front of the eyes of every person present in the room.