The next day wasn’t as unbearable for Adrianna as the others had been. The memory of Matteo’s kiss kept her sane through the long hours of solitude. Just after midday, Luisa managed to sneak into Adrianna’s room and grill her about Matteo. She was most impressed that Matteo was a revolutionary, something Luisa still saw as both alluring and dangerous. Her overactive imagination immediately pictured Matteo brandishing a sword in one hand and leading a revolutionary charge to overthrow the monarchy. Adrianna tried very hard to explain that Matteo’s cause wasn’t like that, but Luisa wouldn’t accept anything less.
She left Adrianna’s room perfectly satisfied with her sister’s secret romance and had sworn to tell no one of what she had learnt, especially not Vittoria or the Duke.
When the sun was beginning its descent across the sky, Duke Giordano appeared in Adrianna’s room, accompanied by her maid, to help her choose her dress for the evening. He finally settled on the red dress she had worn for her first party, the black detailing bringing out the darkness of her hair and her perfect olive skin.
Her maid dressed her in perfect silence, not chattering away in her usual manner. Adrianna assumed she was under instructions from the Duke to say nothing and didn’t want to get her into trouble so also remained silent.
Her father only gave her the merest glance as she appeared at the bottom of the stairs, ready to get into the carriage, an imperceptible nod showing his approval as they left.
The castle was much more finely decorated when their carriage pulled into the courtyard. The royal banners were hanging from either side of the door and all of the footmen were decked out in their finest uniform, gold tassels hanging from their jackets their boots polished so hard that they shone. Hundreds of people were gathered in the ballroom, and Adrianna thanked the gods that there was no herald to announce her arrival. She got enough strange glances from the lords and ladies gathered without the whole room turning to look at her.
“Father, I need to get out of here,” Adrianna said after ten minutes of whispering around her and people turning to stare.
“You got yourself into this mess,” he remarked back, “now you have to endure the consequences.”
“Then I will go and powder my nose,” she replied defiantly, walking away from her father before he could protest. She had no idea where she was going; she just knew she needed to get out of the oppressive atmosphere of the ballroom.
She walked out of the same door Alberto had led her through only five days earlier, shutting it behind her with a sigh. The corridor was much brighter than it had been the other night, with many more candlesticks lining the room sending off a warm glow. Adrianna wandered slowly down the hallway, trying to put her thoughts in order and compose herself before she went back into the ballroom.
When she head footsteps running towards her from the other direction Adrianna panicked, not knowing what to do. There was nowhere to hide and if anyone were to turn down the corridor there was no way they could miss her.
So when a little girl of no more than five with beautiful blonde curls ran around the corner, almost crashing straight into Adrianna, she had no idea what to say.
“Hello?” She said to the little girl, unable to think of anything else.
“Hello,” the little girl replied shyly, looking up at Adrianna with big brown eyes.
“What’s your name?” Adrianna asked but received no response from the girl who shied away from her and hid behind her mass of blonde curls.
“Anya?” A worried cry came from around the corner, closely followed by a beautiful woman dressed lavishly in ivory satin and a glittering tiara that was surrounded by her own blonde curls. “There you are,” she exclaimed, scooping up the girl in her arms. “I’m so sorry,” she directed to Adrianna, “she’s been wandering off all day. I don’t know what I’m going to do with her, new places always excite her.”
“That’s alright,” Adrianna replied. “I don’t mind in the slightest. She’s a beautiful girl.”
“Thank you, of course I think the same. I won’t keep you any longer, I’m sure you have somewhere important to be and this little girl has made me late for a very important engagement.” The last part was directed more towards the little girl in the woman’s arms than to Adrianna, but she didn’t mind that. The sight of the caring mother and her daughter struck a chord in Adrianna’s heart that made her smile.
“Say goodbye to the nice lady,” the blonde woman said, waving at Adrianna as she backed away.
“Bye bye,” the little girl mumbled, waving shyly in an imitation of her mother. Adrianna waved back until the pair had disappeared from view. The encounter with the little girl had strangely calmed her nerves and Adrianna felt ready to return to the ballroom.
As soon as she re-entered the room her father was on her and dragging her towards the main staircase.
“The Prince has requested your presence in the party that will greet Queen Rowena and her husband. You are to be polite and gracious but engage in no deep conversation whatsoever. Keep any exchange short and of no political nature, do you understand?”
“Yes, Father,” Adrianna replied, already losing interest in the evening’s festivities. If she wasn’t going to be allowed to engage in any form of conversation she might as well have not come, but her presence had been requested and so she must smile and pretend that everything was perfect.