She grinned inwardly as she watched their faces, feeling almost glad that she unveiled herself. The shame of uncovering her face would’ve dragged her reputation through the dirt in Wilderose, but there was just about no one here who would care. When the first wave of shame and annoyance flushed through her, Catalina smiled outright at the ridiculous gaping mouths of the king’s men.
She knew she was pretty, she knew all too well that her beauty was incomparable. Clearly everyone else agreed with her, for the lords on the king’s left side were staring openly at her face, drinking in each perfect feature as though she was a work of art. She raised a well-groomed brow and cast her big blue eyes over them, enjoying the power she had of rendering them speechless. The king simply inclined his head in satisfaction, his eyes raking first her flawless face and then her full figure. She saved the best until last, turning to face the prince and staring straight into his eyes. As she predicted, his face became so red that she could practically see heat come off it. Ignoring Mistress Elvira’s warning gaze and raised eyebrows, she slowly winked at him. Shocked at her boldness, Prince Frederick dropped the entire goblet of wine down his top, the red liquid soaking through his fine linen shirt.
“Is this better, your majesty?” she addressed the king in Latin, making sure that everyone had clear views of her face, “May I put the veil over my face again?”
“Yes, yes,” said the old king, clearly satisfied, “Looks like you’ll be worthy of the trouble and the title then.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” she said demurely, while inside she was fuming.
Worthy of the trouble and the title? Why, of course I would be! What did he expect, an ugly princess with a mind as dim as a Norwyn twilight? They did not call me La Belle Catalina for nothing.
With the veil half-pinned into place, she seated herself down on the last empty chair and faced the king. Her clear blue eyes and lovely complexion were still partly visible, framed with a few wispy auburn curls.
“Would your majesty prefer some light dishes to accompany the wine? And a few musicians by means of entertainment?” she offered, still acting the part of the polite daughter-in-law.
“Some pastry would be nice,” answered the king, “Call up all your musicians, I want a lively dance party tonight. And it would be lovely if you could do the honours of starting the party with a Wilderosean dance.”
She spoke quickly to Mistress Elvira, relaying the king’s request. A moment later serving boys brought in trays upon trays of warm pastry, freshly baked sweets filled with honey and nuts. Along with the food came the musicians, arranging themselves neatly into a corner and striking up a lively tune. The princess stood up and smoothed her skirts, then beckoned to her three ladies-in-waiting who were positioned a little behind her.
“Maria, Isobel, Adele,” she said to them in her native tongue, “I am sorry that we have to do this, but please bear with me the shame at having to dance to a stranger’s beckon at midnight.”
They all curtseyed and assured her that it was their greatest honour to accompany her, although Isobel could not help betraying her reluctance with a small wring of her hands. Together the four Wilderosean women positioned themselves in the middle of the floor, and at Catalina’s signal began to dance to the joyful rhythm of the music.
They were great dancers, graceful and lithe. Their quick feet moved perfectly in time, the heels of their slippers tapping out accompanying beats to the song. The men were entranced, not only by the beautiful princess but by her three very attractive ladies-in-waiting. Maria was clearly the best dancer there. She moved her hips to the sound of the flute and clapped her hands along with the drum like a born performer, losing herself completely in the music. Isobel was enthusiastic and cheerful, her lovely green eyes always smiling as she moved across the dance floor. Adele was a downright flirt, glancing suggestively from beneath her veil and laughing her silvery laugh as she passed by a particularly handsome lord. But Catalina was the prettiest, her auburn hair escaping from the flimsy veil and its pins, her face flushed from the quick dancing. She wore a secretive little smile on her lips for the entity of the dance, a smile that a certain prince was determined to figure out. She was getting to love the potential freedom mischief she could have in Norwyn, and the utter shame of having to dance for an old king at the indecent hour of midnight was fading. She was enjoying the attention of her husband-to-be too much to paid heed to much else.