It hardly felt like any time had passed at all when the moment came for Adrianna to step into her father’s carriage and ride into the city towards the King’s castle. Not that Adrianna or the Duke would see the King. He had been indisposed for nearly five years and most people considered Prince Niccolo the ruler of Verenia. It was to him that Duke Giordano answered to and it Prince Niccolo that signed every document that was required of the King.
The carriage ride was silent as the passengers rolled quickly towards the centre of the city, Padria. Padria had only become the capital of Verenia relatively recently, since King Niccolo II, the current Prince Niccolo’s grandfather, had taken the throne. It was said that he preferred the warmth of the southern border and so declared Padria his new seat of power. Naturally, everyone else who held any sort of power or influence followed him and very soon the city became a thriving centre of political activity.
But none of this crossed Adrianna’s mind as she watched the houses pass by her on their way to the castle in the centre of the city. She knew they had arrived when she heard the horses’ hooves and the wheels of the carriage running over the wooden drawbridge that took them into the courtyard outside the grand entrance hall.
As usual there were great flaming torches lighting up the stone square and many glamorous and wealthy people were climbing from their carriages and ascending the stone steps into the castle. When it was the turn of Duke Giordano and his daughter, he stepped out first and a footman handed Adrianna down before closing the door, allowing the carriage to rattle away towards the stables.
“Remember what I told you,” the Duke said to his daughter through his smile as the ascended the steps. “Be graceful and gracious. We must make an impression.”
“I will remember, Father,” Adrianna replied as they reached the top of the stairs. She held back for a moment to let the Duke stand in front of her as he was announced.
“His Grace, Duke Marco Giordano,” the herald called as the Duke walked stately down the carpeted staircase leading into the ballroom. “And his daughter,” the herald continued as Adrianna took her place at the top of the stairs, “Lady Adrianna.”
She could feel a few pairs of eyes turn to look at her as she made her way down to the ballroom floor. The jewels and beads on the bodice of her deep blue dress and the exotic pins that adorned her hair shimmered in the candlelight making her appear the most beautiful woman in the room.
However, when she reached the bottom of the stairs she had no idea which way to turn. Her father had disappeared almost immediately and she could see no other friendly face to go to, not even Lady Lagana or Countess Novia. But she was determined not to loose face and walked confidently out into the sea of people who had already arrived, secretly hoping that someone would stop her to speak to her.
Her prayers were half answered when she caught the eye of Baron Dorian who immediately cut off his conversation with a smartly dressed older gentleman and headed straight towards her.
“My Lady Adrianna,” he said, bowing and kissing her gloved hand. “How absolutely splendid you look tonight.”
“Why thank you, my lord,” she replied, curtsying elegantly to him. “May I say that you are also looking very smart this evening?”
“You are too kind, my lady.”
“How are you enjoying your evening so far, my lord?”
“I am sure I shall enjoy it much better now that you are here, Lady Adrianna. The room was dull and colourless until you walked in.” His words were far to contrived for Adrianna’s liking but she simpered, as was expected, and told him that he was too generous on her humble looks. The compliments flowed from the Baron’s mouth for a good few more minutes until Adrianna thought she might have to crawl behind a tapestry to hide. Thankfully, everyone’s attention suddenly turned towards the staircase as the herald introduced the last of the guests.
“His Royal Highness, Count Alberto, third son of His Royal Highness, Prince Niccolo.”
The room began whispering as the Count descended the steps. Everyone knew who would be announced last.
“Presenting His Royal Highness, your host, Prince Niccolo, first son of our most glorious King, heir to the throne.” There was rapturous applause as the Crown Prince appeared at the top of the staircase. To Adrianna he wasn’t anything special. He was a man of about fifty years of age with a full head of grey hair and an unsettling smile. Many still called him handsome and Adrianna could see how power could make him more appealing. However, he was married and only a fool would put their daughter under the nose of a Prince who was known to have more mistresses than anyone could count. To be one of the many women who had the honour of being chosen as the Prince’s mistress wasn’t worth losing a good match to another man, for no one would marry the Prince’s castoffs.
“Welcome, my lords, ladies and gentlemen,” the Prince said, addressing the whole room with his bright blue eyes. “It is a pleasure to see you all here tonight. I hope that I have a chance to speak to you all tonight if I should be fortunate enough and if not I wish you all a very pleasant evening.” There was more applause from the guests, who were silenced again by the Prince raising his hand. “But before the festivities begin I have an important announcement to make.
“I have received a letter, only this morning, from Her Royal Highness, Queen Rowena Novak of Fersere, accepting my invitation to visit Verenia. The Queen and her husband, Prince Artem, will arrive in five days time when I will hold a splendid feast in their honour and I expect you all to attend.” This prompted rapturous applause and excitement from the gathered guests. “It shall be one of the most lavish events this realm has ever seen to show our royal guests just how we do things in Verenia.
“I am sure you are all as excited about this news as I am and I hope that this evening will be filled with joy because of it. Have a wonderful evening and may the entertainment begin.”