The second dance quickly turned into a nightmare for both Julien and his partner as it was one of Queen Louise's new selections, a lively song with a piping flute descant. The pattern one's feet should follow was complicated, indeed, and no matter how he studied the other dancers' movements, he could not make any sense of it.
At length, after running consecutively into no less than six couples, Julien gave up. “Perhaps we should sit this one out?”
The girl's cheeks had turned a bright pink with the effort she had put into the dance, yet it was clear that the song was getting the better of her. With what Julien was certain was a relieved nod, she surrendered the steps to the dust and allowed him to lead her off the floor.
With a sniff, the housekeeper drew herself up. “Well, iffen yer not goin', then I will. I could pass as one 'o 'em rich ladies. I know I got the 'aughty part done ta perfection. I'll jest march up ta the prince an' order 'im ta take me ta the baron. An' jest ya wait 'til ya 'ear what I'm goin' ta do ta that uncle 'o yers... why are ya laughing?”
The mental image was too hilarious for Celesta to hold it in anymore. She could believe that Ahna would do exactly as she said she would, but she didn't think Prince Julien would appreciate a housekeeper crashing the event of the century. The duchess would never approve.
Celesta knocked on the door as Ahna grumbled, “R'mind me next time, I 'ate walkin'.”
“It's not that far.”
“It's 'azardous fer a woman o' my age ta weary 'erself with cross-kingdom treks!”
Denstan sat with his back to the visitors, intently working on something on the table before him, while Rerik hung on his father's knee, completely enamored. Ahna swaggered up to him and dropped a hand on his shoulder.
“Well, well, well, if it ain't our Kadsa's young man! Still as reckless an' wild as ev'r, I 'magine.”
“Father's not reckless!” Taimee insisted while Rerik only gaped at the strange woman who dared to thump his father's collarbone.
He was battling a grin, and losing miserably. “I am slighted to think you deem me unfit to learn your name. Or even just one of your names. Come, you must have pet names and the like,” he said, dropping his hands to his sides in a playful exaggeration. “Won't you tell me one of those? I must call you something besides that girl or young lady!”
Celesta licked her lips, trying to calm her racing heart. “Pet names?” Surely that is not dangerous. I might be able to oblige him in that, at least. Something that won't link me to the Hill.
“Yes, your family. Surely they have something they call you, even if it may not be your real name. You can share that with me, can't you? What do they call you?”
The question hit hard, a lot harder than he may have meant it to, but the hit was there all the same. He could never know what it was exactly that he was asking. She took a deep breath and gave the answer.
“Cinderella. My family calls me Cinderella.”
“Will you not tell me what is going on?” The queen planted her hands on her hips firmly. “You have been gone hours from a ball thrown in your honor, and now after I abandon it in the hopes of finding you and bringing you back, you reappear with your shirt torn, your face pale, and blood staining your clothes.”
“I was showing Cinderella the library when someone attacked me.”
He wasn't sure what she thought more important: the mention of the girl or the attack. Fortunately, she chose the girl. “You were with who?”
The prince stared at the brothers. Jorah was taller by appearance the elder of the two, yet the features shared between the two almost made them twins. He could not think why he didn't notice it before. What he did notice was that neither one looked anything like Ilmiltora, for they boasted sandy curls where hers were dark, ruddy countenances where hers was delicate, and pleasant faces where hers was decidedly not. How such different people could all be in one family was beyond Julien's reckoning. He burned with curiosity about them, but wasn't sure how to phrase his questions with a pretend innocence.
“If you are the nephews of Sir Perradd, then...” he coughed, “Ilmiltora must be your sister.” There. That wasn't too shocking, was it?
Jorah's eyebrows went up. “I'm afraid we do not have that pleasure, Your Highness.”
The other, Jacynthe, laughed and spoke for the first time. “You mean we're lucky to claim her only as a distant cousin and not a blood sister.”
Again, all snippets from Secret of the Hazel Tree. And yes, it's all mine. Please don't steal anything. *grins*