"Who is Julio?"
My question created great ruckus amoung all the ladies, who burst into simulatenous blabber. Confused, I furrowed my brow at their reaction--but what was I to expect?
"He is Prince Samuel's friend," Zandestra spoke the loudest of all of them, hushing the girls beside her with one sweeping motion of her arms. The two at her side appeared quite flustered and ruffled, upset at Zandestra and staring daggers from the corner of their eyes. Behind the smiles, many of the women were pure enemies, at war for men, dresses, and the ability to head their group. "And body-guard. No one should mingle with him. He...has the most wretched reputation."
Many nodded, "Hum-hum, " "Certainly," "They say he's a bastard child, you know,"
"Why? He is just....lovely," sighed Jerabelle, gazing off as if caught in some gooey day-dream. "If I could only get him to look at me."
Several others giggled and blushed in aggreement. "Ladies, ladies!" cried Zandestra, exasperated and appearing extraordinarily embittered. "Straighten your head upon your shoulders! If you yourself wish to taint your own name by mingling with that-,"
"You are over-exaggerating, Zandestra!" laughed Alandra. "He is a spectacular sort--a way with words! What a dancer! So charming--he led me away to the silver gardens beneath the stars and held...."
A gathering of shrieks, laughter, scoffs and gasps mixed in the room, all the meanwhile I watched blankly, curiously. "Would you stop speaking of him!" cried out Lena, the crack in her voice forcing all to turn and fall silence. Her face was formed into an angry frown, yet tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. "He is evil! He-he-he broke my heart and then-then...!"
"Oh, Lena," several others rushed to her side as Lena crumpled over to cry freely into her hands. Zandestra shook her head, also going to pat Lena gently on the back. I frowned, attempting to absorb it all.
Zandestra then gracefully came and placed herself next to me. "Poor, dear Lena--a little...loose with her heart and her feelings. So gullable. She swore he was in love with her, but the next day..." She leaned in, putting her lips to my ear, "She found him...with Olaerine, her sister, you know?"
"Ohh," I nodded slowly, looking to my hands.
Was all this...gossip true? Was it mere rumor? True or not, I decided to block any feeling of him and guard myself from him, despite my intense curiousity of him which harbored deeper then any emotion for any other man before.
I could not shake the question: Why did he entice me so much?
With the passing afternoon came an invitetation which put me stunned. It was a personal invite from Prince Samuel himself to dine with him in the palace, a gesture which put such excitement in my parents and our household. Suddenly, they saw I could become Queen.
He simply spoke to me once during the ball; it was cordial and I thought nothing of it. If anything, he signaled no admiration other then a few polite words and I only replied with manners.
But then again, was that Julio not a companion with Prince Samuel? Did he have something to do with it, and was this is way of meeting me again?
Yet all seemed convinced of Prince Samuel's desire for me now, and I mentioned nothing of my own meeting with Julio, if he was of that repuation as the girls suggested. All the handmaids complained of lack of time, a few hours to the dinner itself, fluttering about me in a great rush as Mother supervised, picking out everything and giving everything her stamp of approval. I was simply a silent doll as they dressed and made me up.
"This dress for certain, my dear." Mother said, coming to my side with the gown of silver, the dress I never had worn before.
And for a reason. "Mother! Not this one, please," I pleaded.
She laughed, "Come, come--put it on, at least. You'll see."
Realizing I could not fight her, I obligingly put on the dress, which was followed by gaps and giggles, oohs and ahhs from all the ladies about me. I colored at my reflection in the mirror, looking to the low neckline which showed my long, pale neck, my near bare chest, the lack of sleeves which displayed the smooth, graceful carriage of my arms. It was set in my head that this Julio would be there, and most likely he and Prince Samuel would not fail to notice it.
"See, see, Helena. Carry yourself high--you will be more then pleasing to the Prince."
Indeed. And some else as well.
After the ride in the sleek, modern ship in which the royal family sent for me as my carriage, I entered into the long dining room where they all awaited. At first glance, it was simply the royal family, and the man which I could not seem to get my mind off of was not there, to my relief. Though I could not ward off a sense of disappointment.
I held my head high, completed all the proper mannerisms without, from what I could tell, a fault. Prince Samuel stood, appearing incredibly dashing in his fine clothes, kissing my hand and helping me into my seat. "You look lovely," he murmured, almost appearing charmed. I thanked him bashfully, yet swallowed my blush.
As I seated myself, I looked across the room and, lurking in the shadows, was Julio, looking at me.