Adrianna took her place next to her father on the steps leading down to the ballroom floor, looking out over all the people waiting expectantly for the arrival of the Ferserian Queen. Adrianna knew why they were all so excited; a strong female leader was something Verenians couldn’t understand and they couldn’t wait to meet one of the most powerful women in the Known World.
They didn’t have to wait much longer. A short fanfare introduced the Prince and his wife who stood at the top of the stairs being applauded by their guests.
“My lords, ladies and gentlemen,” the Prince announced, with the same energy and charisma that he had used when he had greeted the same guests before. “It is my great pleasure to welcome to my court as honoured guests, Her Majesty Queen Rowena of Fersere and her husband, His Royal Highness Prince Artem.”
There was more applause as the couple appeared beside Prince Niccolo and his wife. Adrianna stared hard at the blonde woman who was dressed in ivory satin and was wearing a beautiful tiara in her hair. There was no mistaking the woman she had met moments before in the corridor leading away from the ballroom.
“What a wonderful, warm welcome,” the Queen said to the gathered guests once the applause had died down. “I know that this visit is going to be one of great joy and will be known as the start of a great friendship between our two countries.” Her words prompted more applause from the guests and the Queen paused to take it in. “I know that my excellent host has laid on a splendid banquet in honour of our arrival, for which I thank him, and I will keep you from it no longer except to thank you all for your generous hospitality.”
The Queen and her husband paused for a moment more at the top of the stairs before Prince Niccolo indicated that they should begin moving down the line of people he thought she should meet. Nerves began to build up in Adrianna’s stomach as Queen Rowena drew closer towards her. Would the Queen reference their earlier meeting? Or would she pretend it had never happened?
“And this is my dear friend and advisor, Duke Marco Giordano,” the Prince said, introducing Adrianna’s father.
“How wonderful to have you in Verenia,” the Duke said smoothly, bowing and kissing Queen Rowena’s hand.
“It is wonderful to be here I assure you.”
“And this is his eldest daughter, Adrianna, only recently presented to court.”
“Adrianna,” the Queen repeated, recognition flashing on her face as Adrianna curtsied to the floor, saying nothing. “What a beautiful young woman,” the Queen remarked.
“Indeed she is,” Niccolo agreed. “She is one of the finest jewels in my court.”
“Why does she wear a mask?” The Queen asked, surprising both Adrianna and Prince Niccolo with the question. “If she is so beautiful why should she hide her face?”
“It is a sign of respect for her father,” Prince Niccolo explained. “If she should marry then she will wear a mask to show her loyalty to her husband.”
“I would like Adrianna to be seated next to me at the feast,” the Queen requested, almost ignoring what the Prince had just told her. “I should like to get to know some of your women a little better. So far I have only seen men and servants. I would love to know what Verenia’s noble women are like and learn a little more about these masks that they wear.”
“As you wish,” the Prince said, slightly stiffly before moving on. Adrianna stole a quick look up at the Queen at she passed who was smiling warmly down on her as she moved on. Her husband, a fine looking man with clearly defined cheekbones and laughing dark eyes, although not quite as polished as the noble men Adrianna knew, also smiled kindly on Adrianna as he passed, inclining his head towards her respectfully.
Adrianna knew her father wasn’t going to be happy about her being seated next to the Queen, but there was nothing he could do about it. Prince Niccolo had to please Queen Rowena and the Duke had to please Prince Niccolo. However, this didn’t stop Adrianna’s father from giving her the same lecture he’d been giving her all evening about not talking politics with the Queen as they filed through into the banquet hall. There was one long table sitting horizontally at the top of the hall for the Prince, his guests and any important members of the King’s Council and his senior advisors. Everyone else was to sit at the other long tables lining the room vertically.
Adrianna and her father followed the procession that was heading towards the table at the top of the room. One of Niccolo’s personal footmen came to escort Adrianna to her seat next to Queen Rowena.
As she arrived at the Queen’s side, Adrianna did not know what to say or do so she remained silent. When all the tables were filled Prince Niccolo sat and the feast began. Huge platters of food, larger than any Adrianna had seen were placed on the high table, each one brimming with meat or vegetables and all arranged in the elaborate style that was always used for important feasts.
On the Prince’s command, everyone began to help themselves to the food and people began to talk. Adrianna looked shyly at the Queen, who was seated to her right, waiting to see what she would say.