"Sister! Sister, come downstairs!" Pharneus' voice echoed up the stairs and along the balcony to Nieneve's room. She looked up from her book at the sound of his voice, the tone of excitement she rarely heard from him was evident. She placed her bookmark between the pages and lay the closed book upon her bedside table before crossing the room and heading along the balcony to the stairs. Her brother was standing at the bottom of the stairs, a letter clutched in his hand.
"Pharneus, what is the matter?" Nieneve came steadily down the stairs, holding up the edge of her skirt so she wouldn't trip.
"It worked... my plan, we are going to the city sister!"
Nieneve's chest constricted slightly and she took a halting breath. She had been chosen? But... the history between her family and his... surely not?
"The Prince chose me?"
"Yes sister that is what I have been saying! Do you not listen? The plan has worked! We must pack! They would like you in the city tomorrow to meet your future husband."
"No time, no time! I will explain my plan in detail once we are en route. Hurry, go and pack. The servants will help you. Lovia! Lovia! Help my sister pack!"
He ran off to his study, laughing madly like a child.
Nieneve sighed and turned back up the stairs, walking slowly, weighed down by the possibility of her future. She had thought there was no real chance, given their history, that the current royal family would choose her as a bride for the future King. Yet here she was, walking to her room to pack her belongings for a move to the city.
"M'lady, I can do the packing."
"I want to help Lovia."
"No, I will help."
"Very well m'lady.'
The pair of them spent a couple of hours packing Nieneve's few dresses (she never wished for many dresses no matter how many Pharneus wanted her to have) and other personal belongings. Her brother ran in once or twice to exhasperate over how long they were taking or to exalt in his victory.
"Goodbye pitiful house! Hello city, place of my father's father's! I will sit upon the throne once more!" Pharneus' eyes were gleeful, wild, as he stepped from the carriage.
"Of course sister, silence. Silence is key. And you! You will be my silent key!"
"Pharneus, if anyone hears you-"
"Of course, of course. Come, I will show you the halls of our ancestors!"
As they walked from the carriage a company came to meet them. Nieneve was overwhelmed; she had never been to the city, or left her childhood home, and so found everything large and noisy. But beautiful; she found that although she preferred the trees and the streams of her home, the buildings and the people of the city fascinated her. As they had been driven through the streets she had peered from the sides in awe at the colours, the different people, the stalls that lined the lower streets... everything was new. Her brother had merely sat back with a grim smile on his face.
"Welcome to the city." A black haired man stood in front of the group that had come to greet the siblings.
Nieneve felt the resentment and anger bursting in waves from Pharneus but he was extremely talented at keeping a straight face.
"We are happy to be welcomed to his majesty's great city," He bowed and gestured that Nieneve should curtsey. She complied, keeping her head low.
"And this must be your sister. Her portrait does her no justice. Nieneve Dracarys, rise." She looked up at him and saw the ghost of a smile on his face. She thought it was strange, considering everything. "I am Apophis Vyper. My brother, the King, and my nephew, the Prince, are inside. They are both very apologetic that they could not be here to meet you. Unfortunately, matters of state required their attention. But if you would follow me I will show you to your rooms so that you can freshen and change before dinner. You will meet his highness the Prince at dinner, but I am afraid the King does not join us for meals. He is... busy."
"Thank you, time to freshen would be much appreciated after our journey." Pharneus said and they followed Vyper inside the castle. Nieneve stared around at the decorated walls of the entrance hall, entranced.
"It's beautiful." She whispered. Her brother took her by the arm and led her on.
"We have situated you here Lady Dracarys. Your brother is at the end of the hallway. Dinner is in an hour. I look forward to being able to talk with you more." He bowed and strode down the corridor with Pharneus in tow.
Nieneve entered her room to find that her cases had already been brought up. Two ladies in waiting, dressed in pink dresses, curtseyed.
"We are here to unpack as you would wish lady."
"Oh. Well, clothes in the closet... I will do the rest."
They both gave her an incredulous glance.
"My lady, it is our job to unpack your things. Ladies do not unpack their own things."
"Well I do. Come on, let's get started. I have an hour before I need to be at dinner."
The two ladies looked at each other and shrugged, opening the cases and beginning on the clothes. One of them pulled out the trousers that Nieneve had secretly packed and gave them a surprised glance but said nothing and placed them in the wardrobe as well.
Almost an hour later and Nieneve was smoothing down the dress she had chosen. She was not expecting such grandeur, although she had heard stories, and now she admitted she would need some new dresses. Her current dress was one of only two formal dresses she owned and if they were to be eating dinner every night with the royal family-
"You look beautiful my lady." Oralia, one of her ladies spoke up.
"Thank you." She smoothed the blue dress down nervously once more, fidgeting with the gold belt that ensnared almost her entire torso as she did so. "Now, would you walk me to dinner? I'm afraid I have no idea where to go."
"Of course my lady." Oralia curtseyed and they led the way from Nieneve's bedroom. Once they were in the main hall the ladies pointed to a door which was open and admitting guests as they reached it. Nieneve thanked them and entered. Her brother was already seated having gone without her in his eagerness to view the castle. She slipped over to him but before she could reach him, Vyper appeared by her side.
"My Lady Dracarys. We have seated you next to the Prince. We thought you might have a few things to talk about."
"Of course. Where is the Prince?"
"He has not arrived yet. But he shall. Here is your seat." He steered her to a seat three down from the right side where the King would sit if he was there. The King's seat was kept empty even when he had no interest in joining them for dinner. On his right was Vyper, then the Prince and then Nieneve.
Vyper held the seat out for her and she sat. Her heart was beating fast. What would her betrothed be like? She steadied herself. If he was polite, a gentleman, and she liked him, it would be harder to carry out her brother's plan. She rather hoped it would be different. She would be polite, keep him at arm's length, and tease him. Antagonising him would delight her if her was rude. It would level out the playing field.
"His Royal Highness, Prince Leopold." The announcer called, as the doors opened and footsteps were heard in the hall.