The Forests of Evenlear, Part 10: The Havenwing Ball

Fiction By Mary // 12/16/2017

My plans of showing Mira around Havenwing were dashed by torrential rains that lasted all day. By the time it finally relented, the sun was going down and it was time to prepare for the ball.
Mira and I declined the lady’s maid’s offer to arrange our hair for us, in favor of experimenting on each other. After hearing of our intentions Aunt Monria presented us with her entire chest of hair ornaments to choose from, offered a few casual suggestions for styles that would suit our hair colors, facial shapes, and dresses, and then left us alone.
“I know just what I’m going to do with your hair,” Mira said when the door shut, “but you must turn the chair away from the mirror. I don’t want you to see until I’m finished.”
I complied and sat still while Mira worked. Trying to imagine the result by feel proved impossible—there were so many pieces, and her fingers moved in such unusual patterns that I had no idea what she was doing.
When she finished, she held a hand mirror in front of me with the vanity mirror behind me so I could see.
My jaw dropped. Mira had transformed my hair into a rose blossom as wide as a tea saucer, framed with a medallion of the most intricate braids I had ever seen. A few tiny crystal stars from Aunt Monria’s ornament box decorated the petals of the rose like dew drops.
“Do you like it?” she asked, looking immensely pleased with herself.
“Do I breathe?” was the only reply I could manage. I almost asked where she had learned such artistry, but stopped myself. She had yet to answer a single question of that nature directly, so what was the point? Her sister was probably a talented hairdresser or something.
“Oh, I am so glad!” she said. “Now, it’s your turn to do mine.”
I suddenly felt extremely self-conscious and inadequate. “Uh—Mira, I think it only fair to warn you that even the best I can do will be nothing compared to what you’ve done to me.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “I am in the city now, attending a city ball. I want my hair to look just like a Havenwing lady’s hair ought to look for this occasion.”
I breathed a sigh. “That, I can do.”
Actually, the results of my efforts turned out to be quite striking, I thought. Mira’s hair was as cooperative as it was beautiful, and after making certain I used the blond streaks running through the red to full advantage, I was more than a little proud of myself. While the arrangement was nowhere near as exquisite as mine, she still looked amazing.
We changed into our dresses and presented ourselves to Aunt Monria, who fawned over us considerably and showered us with assurances that our dance cards would be filled to overflowing with the names of every eligible young man in Havenwing.
Mira whispered to me that she certainly hoped not, and I agreed with her.
After Aunt Monria had paraded us before Uncle Oruc, who paid us both very kind compliments on our appearances, we all bundled into the carriage and were off.
It was pouring rain when we arrived at the Grand Hall, but even in such dreary gloom the building looked magical. Light from inside set the stained-glass windows aglow in the stone walls, like fragments of jewels glimmering through chips in a rock.
A pair of valets wearing raincoats over their liveries met us at the carriage with umbrellas and hurried us rather inelegantly up the steps to the doors, which another valet opened for us. Our escorts quickly passed us off to their indoor counterparts and dashed back out into the downpour while we surrendered our damp coats and were ushered into the ballroom.
The splendor was breathtaking. Rows of couples in spectacular finery danced to the rhythm of the orchestra’s deep, powerful music in precise patterns across the ocean-blue floor inlaid with green and gold vining patterns. Giant chandeliers of brass and crystal sparkled with warm yellow light, and their glow reflected back to them in glimmers from the glasses on servers’ trays and the jewels worn by the attending nobility. Above it all, the skylights in the towering, vaulted ceilings flashed white and blue with lightning, and thunder pounded its rhythm behind the music.
In all the commotion of scurrying in out of the rain and passing off coats and capes, I hadn’t thought to look at Mira until I felt her squeeze my hand. While the magnificence in the hall was dazzling even to me, the look on Mira’s face gave me a moment’s concern that she might faint—the sincerest expression of disbelieving awe that I had ever seen.
Her eyes moved in a slow arc starting at the dance floor, up the stained glass- and art-strewn wall, across the ceiling reflecting shards of the chandeliers’ gold in her green eyes, and down the other wall.
I smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. “Well?”
“Lythia,” she whispered. “I…in all of my wildest imaginings, I never imagined that it would be like this. It’s—it’s as though my mind cannot even understand what my eyes are seeing.”
I couldn’t help laughing. I was a farm girl too, after all, and that seemed just a bit dramatic.
“It’s beautiful,” Mira said, still whispering but sounding much more decided. “So, so different…but beautiful.”
Different? Different from what, I wondered, but I was stopped from asking by Aunt Monria’s touch on my shoulder.
“Well go on, girls, don’t just stand there gaping all evening. I’m sure there are dozens of young men out there ready to fall all over themselves to dance with you.”
The idea sounded frightfully awkward, but nevertheless Mira and I glanced at each other, straightened our shoulders and raised our chins, and made our way down the few shallow steps from the entryway to the ballroom floor.
The toe of my shoe caught in the hem of my dress as I stepped down from the last stair, costing me quite a bit of my poise. Mira caught me by the arm as I stumbled to regain my balance, and we hurried to the side of the room as my face flamed and we both tried not to burst into hysterical giggles—whether from embarrassment or nerves or both I wasn’t sure.
We found a spot near the wall where there was a bit of breathing room and turned around to watch the proceedings as the dance ended. I noticed that Mira was practically quivering, her entire face lit by a smile.
“This is so exciting!” she whispered. “I cannot believe that I am actually here!”
I laughed again and leaned back against the wall with my arms folded behind me, enjoying both the hectic activity and the fact that I was more or less safe from it here on the sidelines.
No sooner had I had that thought than I spotted Daven Bruckwell coming towards me. He was resplendent in his full dress uniform. I must admit, my heart fluttered a little at the sight of him.
“Good evening, Miss Marcoval,” he said, smiling as he bowed deeply.
I took advantage of the fact that his bow kept him from seeing me, and only bobbed a shallow curtsy. The incident on the stairs made me wary of attempting anything more.
“A good evening to you, Corporal Bruckwell,” I replied. I introduced him to Mira, saying only that she was a friend from outside of Havenwing—since I really knew nothing more about her to say. My lack of knowledge about her life was beginning to bother me more and more. Only just now had it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her last name!
“Delighted to meet you, Miss Mira,” Corporal Bruckwell said with a smile. “As it happens, I have a friend to introduce as well.” He turned to the young man standing nearby, also in uniform, who I hadn’t noticed before. “This is Corporal Rory Allman.”
Corporal Allman bowed briefly to me, but put a great deal more attention into addressing Mira, taking her hand and bowing over it, smiling at her the entire time. Her cheeks blushed a little, but her smile beamed sincere delight.
Then, at the same moment, the young men asked both of us to dance.
Mira and I exchanged a nervous glance. There had been no false modesty in my confession of being a terrible dancer—put me at a lively country dance and I did just fine, but these elegant city dances were another matter, and Mira didn’t know them at all. How in the world could we accept, only to make fools of both ourselves and our poor, kind partners? No young officer deserved to be seen dancing with a clumsy goose.
“Is something wrong?” Corporal Bruckwell asked, glancing at Mira and me. “We don’t bite, and we’ll do our best not to step on your toes, I promise.”
“Oh, it—it isn’t that,” I said, still looking at Mira. “It’s just that—well, we’re both just country girls, after all, and I’m afraid we’re not much good at city dances. We had rather planned on being wallflowers for the welfare of all concerned.”
“One dance, just to say you’ve done it,” Corporal Bruckwell said. “Then if you dislike it or feel uncomfortable, well, I daresay Rory and I will spend the evening enjoying the company and conversation of the prettiest wallflowers in Havenwing.” He bowed again and offered me his hand. “A fair bargain?”
Once again, I glanced at Mira. Her eyes sparkled even brighter than her smile, urging me to agree. So I did.
Over the course of the evening, Mira and I actually ended up dancing several dances, and…rather to our embarrassment, Aunt Monria’s prediction proved correct: there were several young men who cut in on our partners to dance with us. All the attention made us terribly self-conscious—I was used to just being “Lythia, the neighbor girl,” not “Miss Marcoval, the school teacher and the magistrate’s niece,” and I suspected Mira felt more or less the same way.
Nevertheless, we had a lovely time. The storm had blown over, revealing a moonless sky full of stars by the time the ball ended and we climbed back into the carriage to go home. Aunt Monria and Uncle Oruc listened graciously as Mira and I chattered uncontrollably about our evening and assured both them and each other that we would never be able to sleep, there was so much to think over and talk about.
By the time we got to bed, however, after hot chocolate by the fire and the hour it took to undo our hair and hang up our dresses, we were so exhausted that we fell asleep without another word exchanged between us.

Comments

WHAT WHAT WHAT

I have been waiting for this chapter ever since I joined ApricotPie (over three years ago)! Let me just say, you did not disappoint me. I love your descriptions. Everything flows so smoothly, and carries the same steady, whimsical and dream-worthy mood throughout each scene.
Also, welcome back! I'm so happy that you've decided to be active on here again. :) I've hoped you would for quite some time now.

Damaris Ann | Sun, 12/17/2017

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Hooray!!!!

You're back!!! It's SO GOOD to have you back, Mary! I hope you will stay and keep posting here for many years to come! :D

I'm going to have to go back and re-read all the previous chapters, but I think I still remember enough to say that I'm wondering what connection (if any) Mira might have with the forest people... and do I remember you commenting once that there was going to be a love triangle in this story? I don't remember... but now I'm going to go back and read the previous 9 chapters, and eagerly look forward to chapter 11.

So good to have you back and writing! One of the great things about Apricot Pie is you can receive encouragement along the way as you share your work, and the rest of us get to comment and share how your writing affects and moves us. :) So write on, Mary, write on!

James | Sun, 12/17/2017

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

:)

I'm so glad you're back, and thoroughly enjoyed this chapter.

Kyleigh | Sat, 12/23/2017