My laughter sounded contagious even to me. So, I went on laughing. The more I laughed, the more I wanted to laugh. I stopped myself just at the right time as everyone’s eyes focused on me. I didn’t much like the attention, but I needed everyone’s eyes on me if I was to diffuse this situation.
I took a few steps and walked to my father and placed my hand on his arm, “father, do you remember the time I thought there were monsters in my cupboard? I used to ask you to get rid of them every night. I believed in them so much that you needed to capture them in a sack and get rid of them every single night.”
My voice rang loudly in the party room. My family’s expressions calmed a little by being reminded of old memories. The nobles looked at each other in bewilderment before staring at us again. The princess also seemed confused and at a loss for words wondering what I was getting at.
I looked straight at the princess and continued, “Dreams and imaginations work that way. Sometimes they can feel very vivid and real. Fifteen is very young. An age where all the monsters in our lives and our cupboards seem very real and daunting. Your Majesty, all you need to do is open your wardrobe and check for yourself. I promise you there will be no monsters inside.”
The princess’ face turned red. She seemed to have taken this as an insult to her royal personage. I had been only four when I had believed in make-believe monsters. Father seemed to be deep in thought and smiled at me. At last, he patted my hand on his arm. I stood on the tip of my toes and kissed him lightly on his cheek.
“This is my debut party too,” I continued, “I really truly want to enjoy it so that I remember this day fondly in the future. So, could we set this aside and dance.” I turned to the Grand Duke. “Grand Duke, would you like to dance with me?”
Despite my better judgement, I invited him to the dance offering my hand. He was the only other male present besides my family. I could have looked like a child depending on her family for a dance if I had asked Alex, Aaron or grandfather. And I truly wanted to leave an impression after my grand speech. Grand Duke was the best choice. He had no true loyalty to the royal family, so I needed someone who didn’t care about the princess.
I had just blurted out his name. The Grand Duke looked at me as though he had expected this and smiled awkwardly. He walked up to me, bowed and took my hand. “Daughter of Marquess of Wishburn, it would be an immense honor to dance with you.”
As he took my hand and led me to the impending dance, the nobles moved back to give us space. We walked to the center of the room. The band must have been playing for a while, but I only heard them now, at this moment.
Was I nervous? As I stepped alongside the Grand Duke, I felt a chill and cold sweat trickle down my neck and back. The people’s gazes bore into me. The family crisis. I had never experienced this before. In my past life, I had been busy avoiding people unless I was hired to kill them. And in this life, nothing of this sort had ever happened before. After noticing everyone’s eyes on me, my heart was hammering in my chest.
Easy now, I told myself. It’s not that big of a deal. You said nothing wrong. There is no need to be nervous. Talking in front of everyone is not a very big deal. You were humming a song as you killed Sir Slanter Eyes, for god’s sake!
One drowned in a bathtub. Another killed himself by hanging on a beam. Their first son had been innocent. But I was too angry, and guilt-by-association was something that made me even more mad. Besides, one person alive in the family will always conspire for revenge. I had to clean up the mess. There was no room for sympathy. I had to focus on practicalities. Building resentment only led to destruction. I had to nip it at the bud.
“You did something great.”
While I twirled, I saw the princess walk to the throne, clutching at the hem of her dress as red as her face at that moment. The Grand Duke noticed her as well, and then looked at me. Other nobles got into dancing tentatively. The princess should have been the first to lead the dance but there was no choice now. I couldn’t really ask my brothers to dance with her after what just happened.
“Why is the princess obsessed with my brother?” I asked the Grand Duke, hoping he had an answer. “They haven’t even met before this.”
If the Grand Duke was offended by my blunt and straightforward way of talking, he gave no indication. He turned me around and continued dancing. “I do not know. The princess usually says and does… unique things.”
“Does she really have foresight?”
He raised his eyebrows. “If she did, would she have been so blatantly wrong today?”
That was true. The case of Count Thoreau must have spread through gossip and whispers behind the doors. The information might have eventually reached the royal family upon which they might have assumed we had retaliated for revenge. It was entirely possible. But what was confusing was, why did she accuse Aaron? Why not Alex, who is very adept in swordmanship? Or father? Or even grandfather?
I had an inkling that Alex knew something. He had met the princess before so he must know something about why the princess was obsessed with Aaron. But even he seemed stumped when the princess outright accused Aaron. What was the princess thinking…?
I twirled and looked at the Grand Duke. “You are a good dancer,” I said.
“Really? I am not much of a dancer and I haven’t ever danced with a pretty young lady before to be honest.”
He did say he wasn’t very sociable. I looked into his grey eyes. Whenever I looked into his eyes, a faint, nostalgic memory tried to surface in my mind but when I tried to think, it went away. I don’t know why he looked familiar. Those eyes, those expressions. They seemed very familiar.
“Have we met before?” I asked.