For the Iande Contest/RP
crappy writing at 2 a.m. like wudduuuuuup
EDIT: Responses to other girls through to Elspeth. That should be all of them that gave a response. If I somehow skipped someone, tell me. My mind is a bit flighty so...I may have forgotten.
I sat in the carriage with my eyes closed, picturing the palace in my inner eye. I had seen its interior only on a mere handful of occasions when I accompanied my mother to the latest ball or gala. Such beauty and magnificence easily outclassed anything I had ever seen before, making even my family’s estate appear dull in comparison, a fact that Mother strongly resented.
Mother, of course, in keeping with the latest fashions, fit me with an entirely new wardrobe once the opportunity to marry a prince presented itself to me. This was the entire reason why I found myself in a chaffing gown of green and white, so gaudy as to be bedecked in fur and inlaid with silver. My waist was constricted under an exceptionally tight corset that truly made me appear as though I could snap in half at any one moment.
Even my face was so unrecognizably caked in creams and paints that I felt hardly as if I were myself at all. I wished inwardly that I could have worn something of comfort. I was not wishing to be distracted with an inability to breathe whilst presenting myself to the Emperor, but that was the price I must pay for my mother’s need to display me as if I were a porcelain doll.
My thoughts were interrupted as suddenly as they began, for the carriage had stopped.
My heart thudded deeply in my chest, so loudly that it would be no small wonder if my footman could detect my agitated state. After all, even after spending the entirety of my life thus far in Bascalin, I had yet to set foot within the throne room itself. The footman gave no sign of notice however, but offered his hand in assistance as I stepped into the warm afternoon sun and away from the safety of my carriage.
I recalled what my ayah had always said to me when I was younger, during those long nights that cloaked terror in its shadows and monsters under my bed. I could not bear for ayah to leave the room for fear of being alone in the blackness. But ayah always knew best. She would hold me and sing me songs of the sea and tell me of father’s journeys. And when the time came for her to bid me goodnight, and when I clutched to her skirts and cried, she would smooth my hair and smile gently and say, “Terror does you no good, child. You cannot choke it back down, for it will destroy you. Instead, let it fill you. Experience it entirely. Give yourself five seconds to be afraid. When they are over, all that will be left is you.”
And so I squared my shoulders, held my head high, and stepped forward.
Twenty-four ladies, three princes.
If I fail, I will bring dishonor upon my family.
I may never find a husband.
I’ll always be alone.
I exhaled and closed my eyes, letting a comfortable calm settle into me.
The doors opened and I was ushered into the palace.
“Presenting The Lady Cyrilla Frostthorn,” a voice announced me as I entered the throne room.
I strode in proudly, refusing to spare a glance towards the ladies already seated or to the glorious majesty of the room, though both were tempting. I kept my gaze firmly and directly above the head of the Emperor as I advanced towards him as gracefully as I could muster.
I gave a deep courtesy to the Emperor, lowering my gaze.
When I rose back up, his eyes, like burning coals burned into mine without mercy. Chills raced down my spine.
“My lord,” I spoke, loudly and clearly, “I humbly present myself before you as the only and firstborn child of the Lord Delvin son of Dinfar son of Daine of the great clan of Frostthorn of Bascalin.”
The Emperor inclined his head slightly. And I turned to courtesy to each prince in turn.
“My lords.” I acknowledged, making sure to take note of each prince.
The eldest was intriguing. His gaze was one of complete dismissal, as though the entirety of this occasion were a sordid affair. I must have looked upon him for too long, for he quickly turned away. I wondered whether he felt as foolish as I did for putting on the display that the emperor had decreed.
The next eldest, Prince Delt, I believe was his name, juxtaposed his brothers behavior by supplying an odd grin, which was in such contrast that I was entirely startled and could not stop the heat from rising to my face. I began to be grateful for the rouge painted on my cheeks. Prince Delt must have noticed despite this, to my embarrassment. His eyes danced with a mischievous laughter that made me wonder just how long he had been confined to the throne room.
The final prince was fidgeting so much that I could hardly notice anything else. I assumed that he must be the sort of person that must always be occupied.
The Emperor interrupted my study with his stern voice, “You are one among thousands of daughters of Bascalin. So tell me. Why is it that you are here?”
I looked unflinchingly at The Emperor, hoping my response would be a worthy one. “I have come, My Lord, so as to prove the honor of my family’s name, and to prove my worthiness to such a name. I have come so that I may share in bringing prosperity to your house, and the house of your son until a son of my own may continue in your name.” I wished to leave no doubt that I would, in fact, marry one of his sons. The stakes were much too high for me to display any insecurities or weaknesses.
Yet, as I curtseyed one last time, and headed to a proper seat from which to finally study my competition, the haughty and beautiful faces that met me filled me with dread. Still, I would betray none of it.
I felt at a slight disadvantage, for two others had arrived before me, and I had been unable to witness their responses to the Emperor. One met my gaze with a nod, and I respectfully inclined my head in response.
This girl-no, woman- she was certainly a powerful figure and, by the looks of her build, one used to working for her achievements. Even so, she sat proudly, a leather stash with what I assumed to be the mark of her family upon it, appearing almost regal, as though she already belonged in the palace. I wondered where she could have been from, that it had shaped her so.
The other girl was watching the door with rapt intensity, presumably waiting for the next girl to arrive. Her eyes were quick and sharp, as if searching for a target. There was a intensity about her that made me wary, yet, I had to admit, it granted her a certain beauty, as did the simplicity of her braided hair.
My head turned as the next girl was announced. A ‘Senaria of Vandrea,’ carrying with her several…milk jugs? I watched in interest as she presented her gifts to the royal family. She was certainly not of any noble lineage, for she showed rather coarse manners, even flirting openly with the eldest prince, to my shock. It also made me wonder if she held only interest for the eldest. This could work in my favor. If more ladies vied for the hand of the next in line, as likely they would, I would have less competition for the other princes. After all, my goal was not to find a position so much as a husband.
The fifth of us to arrive was Lady Symelia of Ytri, wandering into the room with a curious, learning look about her. She looked upon the Emperor and the princes with an unsure gaze before kneeling before them with a polite smile, her loose braid falling over her shoulder. She did not know the customs of the land, but I inwardly admired her attempt. This one did not worry me as she made her way over. She appeared far too ignorant and kind. Though they were admirable traits, they would not get her far with such strict competition.
The next arrival was…interesting. Fenil of Nyph strode in with shackles upon her wrist, as though a common criminal, and, though her dress was exotic, the make was still somewhat crude. She gave a ridiculously gracious bow, full of sarcastic flourish and, without even a glance at the princes, gave an equally sarcastically polite response before joining the rest of us. I was somewhat amused by her show, but curious as to why someone would make such a mockery of this opportunity. I was hit with a pang of longing, realizing just how little I had done in my life thus far, though these others were full of life and experience. Either way, I brought myself back to the present, this Fenil was no threat if she did not take this opportunity seriously.
Sarina of Chastry was obviously eager to please; her expression fell after noticing the eldest son’s complete lack of interest and then immediately rose at the smile of the next. Her response to the emperor was polite, though she was looking above his head the entire time. Perhaps she was avoiding his gaze. I smiled slightly. Most girls would look down to achieve such a goal. Yet, she remained calm as she gave her address, so she showed some promise, though not enough to provide me concern.
Makani of Qan was a dark beauty, but a nervous wreck, much like her ship analogy. It had a certain fanciful poetry to it, certainly, but she was completely unaware that it gave the Emperor room to tear her to pieces. Even so, she was able to hold her ground better than I had anticipated. She was quick on her feet for one so nervous, an admirable quality. She did not spare the princes a glance as she made her way to the seats, appearing somewhat relieved that the course of events was finally over.
The youthful representative of Rixier came next, sporting a gown that was so large it could have eaten up the room. It only made sense, of course, for Rixier to flaunt their wares upon their representative. The youth, Corasara, curtseyed, giving the appearance that she had melted into her dress. She had a terrible habit of showing her true feelings occasionally. “A crack in her façade,” my mother’s voice sounded in my head. Yet she would recover quickly, and her response to the Emperor was simple and direct.
She was followed by Lady Tanaris Summerwing-a beautiful name, unlike my own harsh one- of Prendit. Her hair was truly striking in color. I wished that just one of these girls could be ugly, but immediately shook off my pettiness and watched as she curtseyed to the royal family. When asked why she was worthy to stand among our ranks, she gave a prepared answer, as though she had been asking herself the same question. She stated that she had a use, and that it was her right to prove such a thing. A very brash answer, but a sure one, nevertheless. Did I have a use? I wondered, What is my purpose?
The twelfth of us to arrive was unmistakingly from Zyle; a sort of dissonant melody accompanied the expressionless Lady Ávra into the room, eyes on her target, the Emperor. Her dress shone, catching the light of the delicately chiming glass decorating it. She certainly had a presence about her, even stubbornly refusing to speak. Or perhaps she simply couldn’t? She certainly intrigued me. Her attendant spoke in her stead, reading her introduction and response to the Emperor. She was surprisingly brash. She had made an impression certainly, but it was also a risk. I did not count her out of the running just yet. I had yet to understand her.
The start of next half of the arrivals began with Lady Lyla of Wenth, her face both beautiful and reserved. She approached the royal family with confidence and addressed the Emperor with equal assuredness, accepting any challenges that he should put before her. I respected her address and that she betrayed no weakness. She would prove a worthy candidate for Queen, I was sure.
Cora of Kretin. The name rolled off the tongue gracefully, though by her walk, you would not know that she had any grace at all. The poor girl looked so uncomfortable, and her eyes wandered. She could not possibly be used to such finery, but she did not totter over, at least, and her curtsey was successfully in stark contrast to her painful journey towards the Emperor. Her words failed her as she spoke with the Emperor, insecurity plain on her face. I swallowed back my pity as the court hid snickers and laughter. The poor girl did not know it, but she was certainly going to be the subject of ridicule and gossip amongst the court, along with the girl that brought milk. I could imagine my mother’s hushed whispers of such embarrassments others had suffered in the past. It was something I wished upon no one.
Such matters were forgotten for the moment, for the next of us, Ismene of Antre was announced, looking towards our gallery first and…smiling to herself. Obviously she had not meant to do so, covering her mouth immediately and turning a lovely shade of scarlet before starting towards the Emperor. She stopped stiffly as the royal family appraised her. She bowed with grace, though still somewhat stiff, but her response to the emperor negated every impression she had implied thus far, though she seemed meek once more after, as though she regretted her words. She intrigued me. It was as if she were a toy that two children yanked between them, arguing over its best course of action. I sighed inwardly. This was tiring. There was a reason that I had no playmates as a child.
The next girl, from Phitra, walked with a sense of purpose, eyes focused forward with only one goal behind them. If not for the intensity of her focus, I would have been completely distracted by the lovely sparkle of her dress. Her talk was as purposeful as her walk. She did not mince words, but instead gave an honest answer that she had come to find ‘a piece of herself that had seemed missing.’ A risky statement, but an intriguing one, none the less.
The final girl strode in, dressed in modest fabric and a quiet expression. Like the milk-jug girl, this Elspeth carried with her a gift, clutched perhaps subconsciously inward, as though it were absolutely precious. She put on a graceful display with a well-practiced courtesy. Even her accent was well disguised. Her gift was presented to the emperor, revealing a gorgeous array of purples inside the unimpressive looking rock. But as the saying goes, “what does one bring for he who owns all?” The gift was set aside and the emperor bade her to answer the question he had presented everyone.
And then, as soon as they began, it seemed, the proceedings were over.