~Chapter Five: Will You...?~
“Good morning, Tony!” I said with a smile as I entered the dance room of Practice Hall. After the hectic time I’d had the day before with the Traveling Market, I was ready to jump back in and learn more Ballroom Dance steps.
Tony gave a little bow. “Good day, Princess Elizabeth. I hope you like the lesson I have in store for you today. I think that you have mastered the Waltz beautifully, especially after conferring with Prince Cesar...”
My heartbeat sped up. Tony “conferred” with Cesar? What had he said? Well, apparently nice things, because Tony thinks I’ve mastered it! I hoped Tony didn’t notice the blood rushing to my face.
He didn’t. “And so, I think it is time for us to move on to the Foxtrot. This is a simple and yet wonderful dance, a bit similar to the Waltz, so I think you will have no trouble picking up the steps. We will start in the closed position...”
I nodded, placing my left hand on Tony’s shoulder and holding out my right hand for him to clasp.
“Now,” he went on, “The rhythm is a little different. We will start off with the basic Foxtrot, which is also a three step pattern. Now, the gentlemen first steps forward with his left foot, while the lady steps backwards with her right. So, I will be traveling forward for this segment, and you will be traveling backwards. The dance has variations like the waltz, such as turning, but we can also travel to the side. The basic pattern we will focus on for now goes like this: ‘Quick, quick, slow.’ Now, let’s try it.”
I nodded again, taking a deep breath. He clapped, and the phonograph started. Assuming the closed position once more, he counted the beats and then stepped forward with his left foot. “Let us begin. Quick, quick, slow. Quick, quick slow. Very good.”
I smiled. This music was so cheerful! The pattern really fit. As the music went on, I found myself growing more accustomed to the steps.
“Wonderful! Now, depending on the variations in the music, you can add a fourth beat to this pattern, which is a hesitation. The pause in the footwork adds drama to the dance. Now, let us try it. Quick, quick, slow. Hesitate.” I stopped in my tracks at the cue. “Good! Now, remember to include it naturally in the footwork. It is an elegant pause rather than a sudden stop. Quick, quick, slow. Hesitate.”
We danced for several more minutes, practicing the pattern over and over as we made a large circle around the room. Tony then tapped the side of my rib cage where his hand had been resting and slowed his steps. “Excellent. Now, let us move on to a different pattern. The Foxtrot can be danced to many different types of music, and so there are several routines that build the foundation of this dance. Let’s try this variation: Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.”
It was pretty hard to try going slow at first, then quick, after we had just practiced for a half hour the opposite way. “Sorry,” I stammered as I messed up the count and caused Tony to stumble into me.
He chuckled. “It is quite all right, Your Highness. Just count the pattern under your breath. It is helpful to listen to the music as well. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, the rhythm of the music and the different patterns of the dance will automatically fit together for you.”
“Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow,” I mumbled under my breath as we continued around the room. After awhile it seemed as natural to me as the first pattern.
“Wonderful, Princess!” Tony praised me with a smile.
I smiled back. These dance lessons were so much fun, and Tony was such an encouraging instructor. We practiced the routine for a while longer, then we began to mix the two patterns to match the music.
Soon our scheduled time was up. Tony released my hand and stepped back, nodding slowly.
“Thank you very much for the dance lesson!” I said to Tony as I gave a small curtsy.
Tony bowed deeply with a smile. “The pleasure was mine, Your Highness.”
With a wave, I hurried out of Practice Hall. Kip trailed behind me. “A very splendid practice, Princess,” he said when he’d caught up to me.
I smiled. I had really enjoyed that lesson. “Thank you, Kip!”
“Now if we could just find you a partner,” Kip continued merrily, “I am sure you would win the Dance Competition!”
I bristled. Why did he have to bring that up? Hadn’t I been trying? I hadn’t seen Cesar since yesterday afternoon, after the ceremony, when he had been talking to...that girl.
I sighed, trying not to lose my confidence. I was still going to ask Cesar. That girl probably was nobody...but I still was sort of hoping I didn’t run into Cesar. While I wanted him to be my partner, I really was too nervous to actually ask him. “I know, Kip,” I said at last in defeat.
Kip nodded, not seeming to notice my pensive mood. “In one hour you have your history lesson, then after that, etiquette, then a break for luncheon, then you have to meet with the Duchess of Sunbeam Heights, and don’t forget tonight we are having a special banquet for your mother, who will be returning from the River Kingdom this afternoon.”
“Oh, and your weekly horseback riding lesson is today at 2:30 PM,” he added.
My heart sped up and I stared at Kip, wide-eyed. I was getting a horseback riding lesson? The Princess got them weekly?
Kip seemed to take my expression to mean I was nervous. “Now, as this can be a bit dangerous to the novice, I must ask, do you have any experience around horses? Any riding?”
I had to conceal a grin so as not to look like a maniac. I knew a lot about horses. I had read all the books, seen all the tv shows, all the specials on Animal Planet, and I even had a subscription to Horse & Rider. Now, had I ever had professional lessons? Not exactly. Some friends of my Dad had several horses, so they had given me a few riding and grooming lessons, but I’d never gotten past a trot. “I do have some experience. I wouldn’t say I’m past beginner, however. Mounting, dismounting, grooming, handling the reigns for walking and trotting is basically all that I know.”
Kip frowned, looking thoughtful. “No dressage experience, then?” He asked.
I made a face. I personally never liked dressage. Well, to be honest, I hadn’t ever tried it, but to me it just seemed hard and silly.
Kip narrowed his eyes at me, lowering his glasses so I could see the full effect. I quickly replied, “Well, not really, but, um, I am a fast learner!”
Kip sighed and nodded. “It’ll have to do, I’m afraid. The real Princess is fully trained in dressage, but her horse, Aurora, is very agreeable, and wonderful with riders of all levels. I’m sure with proper tutelage you will pick it up in no time...”
I had to bite my lip to conceal a squeal. A real horse, all for me! Well, at least for the time being! And Aurora...that meant she was a girl...and what a pretty name. I couldn’t wait to meet her!
“...At least well enough to pass off as the real Princess,” Kip went on. “I must say, you’ve done very well in all of your lessons thus far. Much better than the Princess, in fact.”
I couldn’t help but preen a bit at this compliment. I did take my grades very seriously. And, I had to admit, almost all the lessons I’d had so far, like Astronomy, Botany, and Writing and Rhetoric, were a lot of fun! They were different then my classes back home. I just hoped the Princess was doing okay in my classes...
We approached the castle gardens, the heels of my dress shoes making a satisfying clack against the carefully laid cobblestones. I inhaled deeply as I passed a beautiful rose bush with pink, yellow, and purple buds. Purple roses...who knew? It smelled divine.
“And now let me review tomorrow’s schedule...so there are no ahem,” Kip cleared his throat and gave me a nervous look, “Surprises.”
I smiled sheepishly, knowing that he was referring to how I had forgotten about the dedicatory speech the day before. “All right, go ahead, I’m listening.”
Kip produced a tiny scroll from inside his vest. “After breakfast at 8:15 AM, you have your dance lesson at 9:00 sharp. Then it’s back to the castle for your mathematics lesson, and then Writing and Rhetoric. Then you are free from noon until 3 O’clock, when you will be expected to meet with your mother for afternoon tea, with the standard lesson, of course.”
I nodded, trying to process and remember everything he was saying. Standard lesson on how to serve tea? I wondered. It made sense, I suppose, being a Princess and all. Princesses were probably expected to host many types of gatherings with poise and grace.
“Then after tea time you will have your Botany lesson, and then you will have your study time in the library until dinner. After dinner with the Royal Family, you will be free for the evening.”
I let out a rushed breath. Being a princess was just as tiring as college. Nay, moreso. I lifted my hands to my face and gave my cheeks a couple quick slaps to keep myself alert. I could do this. When I lifted my eyes to look ahead of me, my heart skipped a beat.
Cesar was walking not twenty feet in front of me, passing the ornate fountain that ordained the lovely scenery of the gardens.
My heart thumping loudly in my ears, I swallowed hard. As much as the thought of asking him made me nervous, I had to do it. I was a Princess now, at least for the time being. I could do it! It was now or never...
“Cesar!” I called, hoping my voice didn’t come out too loud or squeaky sounding. My heart sank when he didn’t react. Maybe he hadn’t heard me because of the fountain. I quickened my steps, praying I didn’t trip, or come across as some crazed stalker. “Cesar!” I said again, this time a little louder, crossing my fingers.
He must have heard me that time, because he slowed his steps and turned his head. I gave him a shy little wave, and my heart jumped in my chest when he smiled at me in reply.
I hurried my steps to make it over to him, noticing appreciatively that Kip was lagging behind, suddenly very interested in inspecting a rose bush.
“Good morning, Prince Cesar,” I said a bit breathlessly when I reached him, carefully smoothing the skirt of my pink dress. “How are you today?”
Cesar smiled. “I am very well, thank you.” His gaze suddenly swept past me. “I, er, notice that Prince Klaus is not accompanying you today.”
Something about his tone was different than his usual manner. He sounded...stiff, almost mad. What was up with him and Klaus? I found myself wondering again. And why did he bring that up? Wait a second! Was he...jealous?
I shrugged, still a little confused. I couldn’t let myself believe that he was jealous...why would he be? He didn’t like me or anything... “Why would Klaus be with me? He just wanted to help me find my tiara, then he went on his way.”
Cesar’s expression changed at this news. He seemed...happy? Happy why? Because I didn’t seem to want to be with Klaus all the time? Maybe he was jealous. Or maybe you’re reading too much into it, an inner voice chided. Don’t be so vain.
“Well, then...what are you up to, Princess Elizabeth? Lovely day, isn’t it?” He said cheerfully, indicating the rose bushes with a wave of his hand.
I nodded, then nervously wrung my hands together. “Yes, yes it is. Um, actually, Cesar–I wanted to ask you something.” Seeing his curious look, I continued, much like I had rehearsed and even dreamt about, “I–I know that I turned you down before when you asked me, and I don’t know why I did that, really–but, I’ve been thinking, especially since we danced the other day...” My mouth felt dry and sticky. Cesar was staring at me, his eyes suddenly a little wider than they had been. Oh, my gosh, just spit it out! He’s going to think you’re an idiot! I chided myself. “...that maybe I was just afraid, and so...”
Cesar, his expression still unreadable, opened his mouth like he was going to interrupt, but I quickly held up my hand. “I’m sorry, I really need to get this out. I–I would love to dance in the competition with you,” I dropped my gaze to the cobble stone under my feet, unable to look him in the eyes any longer. “Please forgive me for turning you down before. Will you be my partner?”
A moment passed where neither of us said anything, and I could hear a bird chirping in the distance. Why wasn’t he answering? The silence seemed to go on forever...
At last, I dared to lift my eyes. Cesar’s eyes in turn locked with mine. His expression was finally readable–I thought he was happy at first, then suddenly his eyes clouded and he seemed to become sad. "Elizabeth, I would like nothing more than to be your partner. But unfortunately, I can't. You see, Princess Adrianna of the Wyvern Kingdom asked me to be her partner a few days ago. And...I accepted."
My heart sank, and I shook my head. Was this Princess Adrianna the one who was talking to him yesterday? That would make perfect sense. The real Princess had rejected him, so he’d decided to go with a nicer, more beautiful, more talented princess who appreciated him. Of course. I was such an idiot. I didn’t want him to know how miserable I was feeling, however, so I tried to play it off. "Oh, of course. I'm sorry, I didn't know." I stammered as I started to back away, biting my lip.
To my surprise he took a sudden step towards me, his hazel eyes shining with concern. "No, please, Elizabeth! I didn't know you'd...had a change of heart, believe me. I would love to be your partner! Especially after we danced together at Practice Hall. I realized that I...” He trailed off and shook his head quickly then, and instead said, “It was wonderful...But it was also too late--I'd already accepted Princess Adrianna’s offer."
Oh...! So he hadn’t just been snagged yesterday? I suppose it wasn’t entirely my fault, then. I hadn’t blown my chance. It’s just, when I realized we would have been a good dance match, it was too late. I nodded, trying to not sound as shaky as I felt. "No, of course. I completely understand. I wish you both the best of luck. I-I’m sorry to have bothered you.” I curtsied and bowed my head, trying to act gracious even though I felt embarrassed and disappointed. Then I started to turn away, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible.
He surprised me again by reaching out suddenly and grabbing my hand, causing me to spin around and face him once more. "Wait, Elizabeth!" My eyes widened as I held my breath, waiting for him to continue. I was very aware of his hold on my hand, which was warm like the gentle flame from a flickering candle. What was he going to say? My cheeks grew warm as I took in the determination on his face, which was mixed with something else, something I couldn’t quite place.
"Um...” he began, clearing his throat, looking nervous and shuffling his feet, but never relinquishing my hand, which caused my heart to speed up. “I've been wanting to ask you...I’m not sure about what your answer will be, but I’ve grown hopeful...”
I felt my breath hitch in my throat. Don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your hopes up, I warned myself. What was he going to ask?
“That is, Elizabeth...would you like to go on a date with me?" he asked in a bit of a rush, his hazel eyes crinkling as he lifted an inquiring eyebrow.
I stared at him in shock. Had I heard him right? He couldn’t be asking me on an actual date, could he...? "A date?" I asked intelligently, mentally kicking myself when the words left my mouth.
Cesar dropped his gaze from mine, probably discouraged by my stupid question. "I...”
I wanted to scream. Was he going to change his mind because he thought I didn’t want to go out with him? I did! I did!
“I don't mean to presume...” he continued, swallowing hard and lifting his eyes to meet mine once again, “But I would like to still see you, even if we can't be partners...but I'm sure one so beautiful as yourself wouldn't-"
"I'd love to!" I burst out, interrupting him. I couldn’t let him talk himself out of asking me!
Cesar’s eyes widened, and his lips spread into a slow, uncertain grin. "Y-you would? Would you be free for lunch tomorrow, at noon?”
I quickly scanned my memory for the schedule Kip had just read off to me, hoping I could remember right, then nodded. "I'm free for a few hours after that."
He grinned again, this time the smile reaching his eyes. "Wonderful! I shall meet you outside Waltz Castle at 12 PM, and then perhaps after lunch we could take a walk along the beach?"
I nodded, dazed and unbelieving. "That sounds great!"
"Well, I must be off now, but until then!" He bowed to kiss the hand he was still holding.
I felt myself blush, unable to conceal my smile.
Cesar then let go of my hand, and with a smile and a little wave, he turned and went on his way.
I walked slowly back towards Kip, who looked up from the rose bush he’d been staring intently at and (I presumed) pretending to take notes on. “Ah, Princess! How did it go?” He smiled hopefully. “You seem happy!”
I nodded enthusiastically. “Well, it turns out he’s already accepted someone else’s offer, so he can't be my partner...” My good mood sullied a bit when I admitted this out loud, “But we have a date tomorrow!"
Kip smiled. “That is wonderful, Princess. But...you still need to find a partner...and will it upset you to not dance with Cesar?"
I wasn’t sure. Who would I dance with? Klaus had a partner, Vince was annoying, Kiefer was just mean...All I knew was that even though we couldn't be partners, he hasn't rejected me and he liked me back! I wasn’t going to try and fool myself, I really, actually had feelings for Cesar. Even if we couldn’t be partners, I wasn’t imagining things!
What will I wear? I thought nervously, pulling on a strand of my hair. Well, I was lucky enough to have a huge closet filled with beautiful clothes exactly my size, so that was something.
“Princess?” Kip interrupted my thoughts.
“Hm...?” I looked at him blankly.
“Forgive me, but we will be late for your history lesson if we just stand about...” Kip told me, glancing at his pocket watch.
My eyes widened and I gasped. “Oh, my gosh! I’m sorry!” I broke into a run towards the castle.
* * *
“Great job, girl,” I murmured as I leaned over and patted the side of Aurora’s sleek brown neck. I was in the middle of my horseback riding lesson and I...was...loving it! My instructor was a giant frog. Yes, a frog. I had been getting used to all the talking creatures, but seeing a giant frog in breeches and a little black helmet astride a tall Stallion made me burst out with a laugh that I had to bite the side of my mouth to stop.
My lesson had actually gone very well so far. After I saddled up Aurora, who was very sweet, we started off with a walk that turned into a brisk trot. I was a little confused at first, because my instructor, Clive, was using terms similar to English riding. Luckily I understood what the Western equivalent was, so I didn’t mess up too much. If my instructor realized anything was off, he didn’t let on.
Clive rode towards me. “Now, Princess,” he began, clutching his riding crop, “We shall take a quick break, so you can grab some water, and then we will review our dressage.”
My eyes widened a little bit, but I managed to nod. I dismounted and walked Aurora to the paddock, tying her rope to the gate. Kissing her nose, I whispered, “I’ll be right back.”
I walked inside the stable and went to the break area, grabbing a glass to fill with water. As I took a deep breath to calm my nerves about dressage, I had a sudden thought. I wondered if I would see Cesar around the stables sometime while I was here, since he either owned a horse or at least rode, based on what I saw a couple days before.
Suddenly, Kip flew into the room. “Princess,” he said in a rush, “I have just the thing to help you for your lesson!” With a flourish, he produced what looked like a tiny jewel.
Taking it from him, I gave him a confused look.
“It fits inside your ear,” he explained, “And I will give you tips as you ride.” He lifted what looked like a quill. “Allow me to demonstrate.” He held the quill upright as if he was writing, the feather tip close to his chin. Then he motioned for me to put the little object in my ear. “Give the reigns a tug to the right,” he whispered.
I heard it loud and clear in my ear. “Wow, Kip, that’s amazing, it’s like a BlueTooth!”
Kip looked at me blankly. “A blue what?”
I shook my head quickly, smiling. “Nevermind. This is a great idea!”
Kip smiled shyly. “I hope it works!”
* * *
That night, at the banquet for the Queen’s return, I found myself staring at my plate of food halfway through. My horseback riding lesson had gone great, thanks to Kip’s help, and so had my other studies. Now I was at dinner, poking at my plate of pasta. It was a small dinner, with my “mother” and “father,” and two of the princes who were staying in the castle, of which I only found out about tonight, since apparently they had been dining elsewhere these past few evenings, Klaus and Luciano. Liam apparently was also staying in the castle, in the West Wing, but was unable to join us. I wasn’t sure where the other princes were staying, but I wasn’t about to give myself away by asking.
For the first part of dinner, the King was doing most of the talking, asking both princes about their kingdoms, seeming to know Klaus’ family and kingdom pretty well. When Klaus talked to me, he was very friendly and polite, but Luciano...was shall we say, different? He wasn’t rude or anything, just a bit...spacey. It was sort of cute, really. He was similar to Lucas back home, but not nearly as comfortable with me as my friend was, I guess because we were basically strangers. When I had attempted to make conversation with him, he would sometimes stare at me for a few seconds before responding. And, when I’d tried to make a joke, he didn’t seem to understand for a few moments, furrowing his brows together, before it suddenly dawned on him. Then his laughter lit up his eyes, and he’d told me I was very witty.
At the moment, the King was deep in conversation with Klaus. I glanced at Luciano, who looked up from his own plate and shared a look with me before dropping his gaze to his food again. I smiled. If I needed to be partners with someone else, maybe Luciano would be a good pick. He seemed nice enough.
“So, Luciano,” I began, delicately twirling the pasta on my plate with my fork, “Have you chosen a partner for the Ball yet?”
I noticed out of the corner of my eye the Queen look up and smile at me. Oh, dear, I had an audience. Well, maybe that was a good thing. He couldn’t exactly reject me when the King and Queen were right there, right?
Luciano cleared his throat and reached for a piece of bread from the basket in front of him. “Oh, I’m not entering the competition.”
My eyes widened. “O-oh?” I stammered.
“Nonsense,” The Queen, who was seated beside me spoke up with an encouraging smile. “You simply must enter! We all want to see what the Prince of the Garadium Kingdom can do!”
I held my breath, noticing that the King and Klaus had stopped their conversation abruptly to listen.
Luciano looked a bit nervous but stuck to his ground. “My apologies, but that will be impossible. I don’t dance anymore.”
His tone seemed so final I decided not to press it. Klaus, however, spoke up. “Come now, Luciano,” he patted him on the back, “Certainly Princess Elizabeth can change your mind! I’m sure she’s a beautiful dancer!”
I glanced at him, surprised. He grinned at me and winked. I felt myself flush.
“I’m very sorry,” Luciano continued stubbornly, “But I will be in the audience, watching with rapt attention.”
The King sighed. “Well, I suppose there’s no helping it then.” He glanced around the table. “Are we ready for dessert?”
As the servants cleared away our dinner plates, the Queen reached for a lock of my hair and began twirling it in her fingers. “And, my lovely girl, is there any one Prince that you would like for your partner?”
I looked at her. It was strange, and yet comforting how much she looked like my own mother. The only difference, I noticed, was that her hair was reddish brown instead of the deep chocolate my own mother’s was. Because of the striking similarity, I felt comfortable sharing my feelings with her. “Well, I was hoping to dance with Prince Cesar, but he already has a partner.”
“Hm...” she mused, tucking the hair behind my ears. “But I am sure you will be asked by someone else soon. Don’t lose hope, my darling.”
I smiled and nodded. “I’m excited, at least, because Cesar and I have a lunch date tomorrow!”
The Queen’s lips spread into a smile, her eyes twinkling. “That is wonderful. He is a rather dashing young man.”
I blushed, then turned my gaze across the table. Klaus had been staring at me with an odd look on his face, but quickly dropped his eyes to the dessert being placed in front of him when I caught his gaze.
What’s that about? I wondered. However, I forgot about it the moment I took a bite of the delicious chocolate fudge cake that had arrived. I began to think yet again about my date tomorrow. I couldn’t wait.
To be Continued...