Flash: Birthday Dances (Cursed to Marry Part 1)

Tourmaline: rubellite, Madagascar (36.85), Brazil (13.16, 17.13 // 16.73, 10.26, 23.56). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. – from https://www.gemsociety.org/article/rubellite-jewelry-and-gemstone-information/

David turned his bored gaze from beyond the thick fabric hanging he had tweaked aside to see the visitors to where Izzabella bustled in, shedding retainers and servants doing last minute twitches to her hair, makeup, and white frosted pink gown, a confection of silks, gaze, and crinoline. “Well, now, don’t you clean up fine, nursery.”

The young woman’s flashing blue eyes met the matching blue of her oldest brother, while she shooed away the woman smoothing her elbow-length embroidered lace gloves into place. Staring at him, she pinched her soft pink lips into a firm line, the lipstick not budging a testament to her entourage.

“Still not speaking to me, hmmm?” He ran a critical gaze over her outfit, noting the family jewels at her ears, neck, wrists, and fingers, frowning at the little finger on her left hand missing lace, the area at the bottom where the glove encased her hand frayed as though she cut it, and the ugly muddy-colored small gem stuck on an antique gold pinky ring she never took off which didn’t match a thing she wore. Not a battle for today, however warranted.  “Do you plan to keep this up all night?” David raised his left eyebrow.

Izzabella crossed her arms over her sweetheart neckline and sniffed, lifting her slightly pointed chin.

“At least you know how to dress,” David turned toward the fabric hanging and offered her his arm. “I wasn’t sure your little protest would have you showing up in the trousers of a horse-crazed tom-boy or a simple shift of a socially inept bookworm geek girl.”

“I know my duty,” she hissed quietly enough only the male servant waiting beside them. Placing her hands on the crook of her arm, Izzy edged her right hand to cover her pinky ring and so the Ezmerelda rubellite ring displayed prominently against David’s dark wool jacket, a relic from the only woman of their line who sat on the throne in her own name. Many Rowanwoods debutants wore the fuchsia pink set for the solstice ball, since summer limited unmarried females to whites and pastels, but Izzy chose it for many reasons beyond simple color.

“If you say so, though I haven’t seen it in over a year.” David, nodded to the servant. “Announce us.”

Izzabella couldn’t keep her hands from tightening in anger at his words. He always had to have the last word. She shouldn’t have bothered speaking at all. Keeping her eyes straight ahead, while ignoring her brother’s smirk as she released the tension in her hands, she waited while the servant stepped into the larger room. Beyond it, a signal crossed from herald to herald, then the curtains in front of them parted letting the quieted gathering see them. To their right, their father sat beside his latest wife.

“Crown Prince David Ramiro Hamlet Sancho Andwarder Colin of Rowanwood, Duke of Ravineruin, Count of Southern Seaport, Lord Constance of the Greenfields, Heir of Chormatica.” The male servant drew a deep breath, his red and black wool suit expanding. “Princess Izzabella Theresa Brooklet of Rowanwood, Lady Providence of the Heavygrain.”

The two climbed down the shallow stairs to circle around the thrones in the process changing positions until they in front of the king and queen with David before the king and Izzabella before the queen. The formal guards either side stepped toward them, hands on their hilts. Further back, along the walls, the real guards hands lay on their guns. Together the prince and princess sunk down on the large heavily embroidered pillow displaying the stag and wolf supporting a berried rowan tree in front of the gilded rowan wood seats, and in unison, they bowed until their hands touched their hands on the riser in front of the pillow. Out of the corner of her eye, Izzy watched her father’s feet as he stood. He motioned, and the sounds of boots scuffled back. Bent over as she was, releasing the breath she held seemed to echo between her hands; she would have been embarrassed if she hadn’t heard a similar exhale from her brother. The pillow and the risers, despite the best efforts of the restorers still carried bloodstains. No crown had dropped a hand in a century, and only once on an heir in the entire double millennium-long history of the kingdom, but their father had a new wife and could want to clear space in line for the offspring in her swollen belly. And he loved spectacle.

“Son. Daughter. Please rise.” The king of Chromatica’s voice rolled over them, to the audience and the cameras beyond.

Rising together, like they drilled for years, she and her three brothers, singly, together, and any combination of the four, the crown heir and the sole daughter of the Rowanwood house stood before their father. The older man stepped forward and kissed David on both cheeks, saying “You look well,” as though he hadn’t seen him in a while, though Izzy knew full well they had spent the morning like normal dealing with briefings and planning politics while she had been buried deep in stylists and seamstresses.

Personally, Izzy thought her brother looked haggard. She did pity him dealing with their extremist and incendiary father, but she squashed the sympathy, reminding herself she was still angry with him going along with the king and the cabinet of ministers on their approval of the Ravineruin Repurpose plan.

After the prince muttered his thanks, the king moved to her, kissing both her cheeks, his hands squeezing her shoulders tightly enough she had to clench her teeth to keep from crying out. There would be bruises in the morning. “My favorite daughter, happy birthday,” his words and her silence easily picked up on the directional microphones. “It has been an amazing eighteen years watching your grow into the fine young woman you are. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

“Thank you father.” Izzy dipped in a short curtsey getting her father’s hands off her shoulders, her movement causing them to drop naturally to his sides as if he hadn’t been punishing her. She debated continuing on or off script, but decide to continue her silent protest.

The king waited a beat or two for something more from her. His blue eyes darkened when she didn’t spout nonsense about her hopes and dreams of the future. “Please, my children, sit.” He waved at the empty seat beside him for David, and the closest of the three empty seats beside the queen. The two empty seats holding small coronets for the twins while they performed the military service. Making a second of eye contact with David, he gave the slightest movement and they moved apart to their respective seats.

Sitting beside the empty seats, Izzabella considered if her next duty would be university or military. Should she do Navy like Mike or Air Force like Sammy? David had done Army, like all Crown Heirs. That is, if her father didn’t seal a treaty with marriage. Not that happened much in the modern world, but little countries like theirs sometimes pulled that historic treasure out of their dusty misogynist texts. While she arranged her skirts, the king released the crowd to return to their music and merriment.

Some merriment. More like dealmaking, gossip, and appearance during the annual solstice ball. Everyone here paid a premium for the ticket, or the invite, going into the crown coffers to keep up appearances of royalty during an age of internet and television, though officially the event was a charity fundraiser. Looking at the queen, Izzy tried to make eye contact, trying once again to reach the woman. With the queen only four years her elder, she thought maybe they could be friends. The princess had a lot she could share with the noblewoman about how the ends and outs of their particular small pond worked, but Jennifer was determined to keep her distance.

Izzabella began to regret her silent protest. Normally she would have nattered about wanting to dance, and her father giving her permission to do so, at which point the gala would turn into a ball with her and David opening the first dance of the night. Stubborn pride kept her seated, despite several younger folks making eye contact, nearly begging her to bring the party to a start. But most of them know her protest, and some even agreed the Ravineruin River being dammed was ecologically unsound. Not exactly her reason for the protest, the actual reason being a state secret, but still the public reason satisfied even older decision-makers as an acceptable action for a young woman.

A woman worthy of putting in silks and fluff and calling Princess.

Izzy twisted her pinky ring around.

David said something quietly to the king before standing, making a small bow to their father, then crossing over to her and holding out a hand. “A dance for the birthday girl?”

She looked at it considering. It was her birthday and she could protest if she wanted to. She was a princess and she had a duty. Her shoulders were bruised and her stomach was still recovering from being on bread and water last month for refusing to attend the ground breaking ceremonies of the parks being built along the new Ravineruin Reservoir. The teens and youth attending expected some fun. The elders didn’t take her seriously.

David narrowed his eyes. Izzabella stood quickly, taking his hand silently, before hand-in-hand they walked down the last of the steps and crossed to the temporary wooden dance floor laid atop the fifteenth century Spanish marble work an ancestor had ordered for his Catalonia queen when she redecorated Breakercliff Castle to her tastes. While they walked through the crowd, the musicians morphed their tune to the Prince’s Advance. Camera people rush around while the younger people in attendance, plus a couple older couples who loved to dance, gathered at the edges of the dance floor. They would join the royal couple at the start of the second verse. David swirled her around, raising her right hand to his shoulder sending pink sparkles spinning off the huge emerald-cut Ezmeralda ring covering a finger completely between knuckle and the joint on her middle finger, the rest of the Ezmeralda summer set on her wrists, hanging on her ears, and in the choker at her neck took on new life as the silver and gemstones were hit by the flashes from cameras.

Two light taps barely could be heard over the press-core chaos, but the musicians came in with the song agreed upon and David and Izzabella swept into a modified waltz, retaining a few folk hand movements from Chromatica heritage when one or the other of the brother-sister pair let their hands swing out from their partner during the spins. A wrist twist for long summer days, a hand dip meaning blessing on the crops, providence, constance, bounty, health. Modern and history. Precision and lore.

The older couples and some of the younger ones followed suit, not exactly matching the royals as it wasn’t a formal, structured dance like the Spear and Scythe, but the harmony between the hands elevated the dance from a simple modern gathering from anywhere the rich gather in the world to something uniquely Chromatic.

A newly widowed countess, the highest-ranking single woman present, introduced the new Boliva ambassador to David and Izzabella, before claiming the next dance with the heir, leaving Izzy with the bureaucrat who Izzy discovered by the second cord had no business being on the dance floor. Thank goodness for big skirts to protect feet.

Next partner switch was with a gangly teen worth more than Chromatic, if one didn’t count the mining. She did have to firmly remind him that etiquette didn’t allow her to repeat partners.

“Unless you fell in love and eloped,” he grinned down at her in an unsettling manner, while continuing to hold her hand. “Maybe a turn outside after dark when you tire of the game.”

Struggling to remember his actual age, Izzy decided it didn’t matter. This one needed to learn the meaning of no. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t,” she said while yanking her hand away, then checking to make sure all the rings were still on her fingers before offering her hand to the man coming to her from the right side. Martin, Count of Northern Hills and Speaker of the Council, who had been trying to corner her for close to a year. Unmarried and his late forties, he wanted to speak to her for several reasons.

A better choice politically then the businessman living on his father’s bank account.

“My dear child, you looked parched after all that dancing. Would you like some hazelnut water?” The Speaker tucked her hand into the crook of his arm.

“I can get it for her.” The youth stepped closer to them.

The balding man looked the teen up and down. “I don’t doubt you could, sir. But I do need a moment with the princess. State business you understand.”

“Really?” The other male sneered. “Or you just butting into none-of-your-business, old man?”

“Arnold, I really do have business with him.” Izzy interrupted, drawing the eyes of both men, “I’ve been getting ready for the party all day, you know, and I just haven’t been able to get back to him. Please excuse us.” The brunette turned her face toward the Count. “And the hazelnut sounds perfect.”

They managed to move away without Arnold following.

Slipping into the obscure Chromatic dialect variation on Spanish, the politician said, “Well done girl, I hate that we can’t just color his skin like he deserves, but his father is investing heavily in Seaport shipyard.” Closing on the servers at the edge of the room, Martin signaled for two drinks. One with the royal baldric came over in a moment with two glasses.

“Alfonso,” Izzy smiled at him and waited for him to take a sip from one glass before passing it to her. He passed the Speaker the other drink untested. Once they both had taken sips from their drinks, the princess asked, “Count North, did you come over to rescue me, for which I am grateful, or did you have some other darker stone reason?”

“I only do bright stones, you know that child.”

Not with the way you can lead my father around by his nose, but you are better than the last Speaker who set off his temper every single gathering. Izzy kept her thoughts to herself while taking another sip.

“But I did have a reason or three.”

“Of course.”

“First, it’s time to end your strike against appearances. You no longer have school studies to delay them.”

Izzy lifted her right hand and gazed at the large rock on the ring and then did a quick glance at his face and then returned to contemplating the rock before dropping her hand.

The count took a swallow of the sweetened hazelnut water, looking like he swallowed something sour. “Second, unified front.”

She rolled her eyes around the gala and raised her eyebrows, twisting a hand in the dance symbol for completion.

“Crumbling stone, girl, you know what I mean.”

“I am not a girl, and you know what,” she stopped for emphasis before continuing, “I mean. And let me answer the third – or whatever number you have it on your list, but I figured you will hit it at some point, no, I am not interested in marrying you.”

“Direct, but I like that about you.”

“No, that is very much one of the things you dislike about me and Sammy.” Izzy smiled at him. “The fact we know how to handle directness as a tool and you have never figure out how to come at anything except sideways.” She finished her drink. “Not that you aren’t very, very good at that and I do admire you for your skill, but you and I aren’t suited.” She held out her left hand with the drink, frowning when light caught her pinky ring.

“You are too young to see it, but we would be great together.”

A server took her drink away, but Izzy kept staring at the gem, bringing it closer. The gem swirled with shimmering colors over its cabochon surface. Speaking towards it, she said, “No, we wouldn’t. You really should look closer to home.”

“What?” the Count reached for her hand, “What is it?”

Izzabella dropped her hand, “Nothing that concerns you, but, might I recommend, consider Lady Elena as a possible spouse. She often works with the Council on transportation legislation with the Guild House and you have a lot in common … politically.” This time Izzy managed to raise one eyebrow, she didn’t have control over it like her father and brother did, but sometimes it came worked.

Martin looked down at her with his black eyes.

Yes, I know who you are have affairs with and I will not accept that in a spouse. Her eyes did not waver as she stared back at him.

He broke off the eye contact, looking to the side slightly.

“Really, Lady Elena would be a good match.” Izzy placed a gentle hand on his wrist, deciding to offer an olive branch. “Her whole family is amazing. If I decide on university before military, I likely will be in the same year as her youngest sister, maybe even having her as a roommate.”

Martin turned his head back, tilting it to the side. “The Red Guards would like that. Especially if I follow your advice. Her family would need a detail if I get voted Speaker again in the fall and follow your recommendation courting Elena. Having all the ores in one vein, so to speak, would make them happy.”

I guess I am going to Unie first then.

“Could you escort me back to my father? I would like to sit a moment.” And figure out why the Ravineruin ring changed color. Or, more accurately based on legend, who has arrived.

(words 3,030; first published 10/27/2023)

Cursed to Marry a Fairy Tale Prince Series

  1. Birthday Dances (1/3/2021)