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Fiction

She giggles. Tosses her hair, and looks up at her partner, eyes sparkling.


Count Ahmed of Vyl smiles down at her, as the music swells to a close. He takes a step back, keeping hold of her hand, though his other arm drops to his side and her own falls from his shoulder, and bows to her, soft lips brushing her knuckles. She nods back at him, and after a moment’s thought, leans forward briefly to press a kiss to his cheek.


His face brightens, and he casts his eyes aside, abashed. His voice is warm, when he asks, “Might I have the pleasure of your company again this evening?”, and she mimes writing his name on her palm.


“I’ll save you a dance.”


She walks away, smile still teasing the corners of her mouth. 


****************************************************************************


She doesn’t let her smile fall. It’s been carefully crafted, perfected over the years against her aged looking glass: the soft upward curve of her lips, the dimple in her cheek, the kohl carefully applied against her lashes to brighten her eyes and lift her features. Her dark irises gleam gold in the flickering light, and she keeps careful note of her position relative to both chandeliers, to avoid letting shadows dim her face.


She knows how to play her part.


She spins and sways on the ballroom floor with the young men her age, and holds polite conversation with various nobles and intellectuals, and holds far less polite conversation with the other young women who sit out the same dances as her, swapping salacious stories in corners full of hushed whispers and muffled giggles.


She defects and diverts and dances around questions about her ailing brother, and nods amiably at the High Priest’s drunken rants, and bites her tongue until she tastes iron listening to an elderly couple babble on about the golden age of Kyrnin.


Her scarlet dupatta trails behind her like a banner, and the diamonds in her hair sparkle like stars in an inky night sky, and she thinks her slip on shoes may be staying on through the friction between the lining and her callouses alone. Her fingers fidget at her sides, itching for a drink she dare not touch, and she aches for a caffa leaf every time she fights off a yawn, and she wants nothing more than to be alone in her room in the dark and quiet.


But she steels her nerves and grits her teeth, and her smile does not falter.


****************************************************************************


Sir Hira stares in their direction, eyes wide and expression petrified, and it takes all of Alia’s willpower to keep from laughing. 


His great-aunt does not see him, or else is utterly unperturbed. She simply beckons him over with a crooked, twice broken finger, and continues enumerating his various attributes and compatibilities, whilst Hira slowly shuffles his feet forward.


“Ah, now, there you are, finally,” she says, when he finally joins them. “Now, darling, as I was saying, the two of you are already acquainted, and well, both, how shall we say, currently ‘unattached’ -”


She hears Hira half choke beside her, and takes pity on him, as his great-aunt ‘s speech slowly comes to an end.


She turns to her friend, speaking over a conspiratorial “(after all, dear, you know us women can’t wait around for ever)” as she offers her arm. “Well Sir, shall we take a turn about the room.”


He takes her question as the lifeline it is, and the two of them walk away, turning their backs on her smug, self-satisfied smile.


“You still haven’t told her then?”


He groans, hand on hers, and for once her laugh comes naturally.


“How is Gulzar?” she asks, just to see him blush, and they pass their time in hushed, companionable conversation.


****************************************************************************


A little after midnight, she sees Asha slip in through the hardwood doors. Her eyes find Alia across the room.


Five minutes later, the two are standing together in a small courtyard, away from the bustle of the ball, the one moment of respite Alia allows herself on nights like these.


“How is he?” 


Her brother’s companion pauses, before answering. “The Regent, is fine. A little worried, of course, and I suspect slightly guilty at ‘tiring so early. But he knows that it was better he left too early than too late, and he knew you were there. He trusts you, you know?”


She blushes despite herself.


Asha continues. “He said he’d try to rest when I left, he ought to be asleep by now.”


“But, he’s alright? No worse?”


“No worse than can be brought on by mere stress. And no spells. But between you and me, you were right to dismiss him when you did. He was markedly struggling whilst climbing that last flight of stairs. If someone had seen…”


Alia sighs. “Right.” Her eyes flutter close for a moment. “Thank you. For, - thank you.”


“Just doing my job,” she says, but her face is warm and her voice fond.


And with that, Princess Alia repaints her smile, and returns to the ballroom.


****************************************************************************


The music swells to an early crescendo as she re-enters the room - a lilting, three-four melody. She turns towards the far wall and walks forward, skirting the edge of the dance floor, when she feels long fingers tangle with her own, catching her from behind.


She pauses, crossing her right leg behind her left as if to curtsey, and shifts her weight to her back foot, as she slowly pivots underneath the arch of joined arms, ducking her head as she does.


A hand settles at her waist, and her own comes to rest on a shoulder, and her face softens as she meets her friend’s eyes, Nur’s gaze knowing and kind, and the two fall into perfect step, waltzing about the ballroom.


Shielded for once from view and expectation, and safe in the circle of his arms, Alia lets her smile fade and her eyes dim, and allows herself to just be. 


****************************************************************************


She dances with Count Ahmed twice more, slowly and waning, and bids him and the room goodnight.


She finally retires to her own chambers in the early hours of dawn. She toes off her shoes, swaps her bright finery for a plain, loose tunic, and collapses face first into her mattress.


It’s perhaps an hour later, that Nur comes to find her. Alia is half asleep, and only barely conscious of the hand coming to rest on her head, combing through her curls and slowly picking out the gemstones.


She mumbles into her pillow. “How many more nights do we have to do?” She thinks the latter half may get lost, but Nur just laughs, and keeps stroking her hair.


“Just three more days, Princess. Three more days.”


Alia hums, and shifts as much as she can, to let Nur settle more securely on the bed.


When she wakes up she knows she’ll regret the black stains her kohl left on her bedcovers. But for now, finally comfortable and safe, and confident that she will not be disturbed, she lets her face fall, and sleeps.


July 30, 2021 01:51

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1 comment

04:22 Jul 30, 2021

This has a very dreamy Cindrella like feel. Again, very beautifully spun tale. I would like you to crtique mine. Thanks AM.

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