The next day, Adrianna woke up with an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. Rowena had done her best to cheer her up after Count Alberto had told Adrianna the good news, and it had worked for a time, but now she was lying in the semi-darkness of her bedroom she could feel the fear creeping back. She wasn’t going to marry him, she just couldn’t.
Before she could linger too long in bed worrying about her future, the bedroom door opened and the maid came inside and threw open her curtains, signaling the time for Adrianna to get dressed.
Queen Rowena had spoken to Prince Niccolo the night before, asking if she could have Adrianna as her companion for the rest of her stay and he had grudgingly agreed. This meant that Adrianna had to be dressed and over at the castle before Queen Rowena, Prince Artem and Anya were up.
The sun was only just coming up when Adrianna walked quickly to her carriage and it began to trundle down the drive. The city looked very different in the light of the early morning, but Adrianna was too pre-occupied to notice. Her maid had secured her mask too tightly to her hair and the material was beginning to scratch at the side of her face.
Finally, knowing she would be unable to bear the constant irritation throughout the entire day, Adrianna reached back to untie the ribbons woven into her hair that fastened her mask to her face. It was such a relief when the ribbons came free and the mask was removed from her face. She gently scratched the irritated skin, the relief washing over her.
“We’ve arrived, my lady,” the carriage driver called from outside the carriage as they came to a slow stop.
“I shall be ready in a moment,” Adrianna called, hurriedly trying to fix the mask back onto her face, the ribbon suddenly slipping through her fingers in her haste to tie a simple bow at the back of her head. She prayed no one would open the door and see her with her face bare and think that she hadn’t intended to wear a mask at all.
Thankfully she managed to tie a bow in the ribbon a moment before a footman opened the door. Adrianna descended from the carriage, a little disheveled looking, but that could be put down to the early nature of her arrival.
The footman led her into the castle where everyone was beginning to stir. She walked along vast corridors that she had never seen before, all richly decorated and with thick carpets lining the floor, her shoes sinking into them with every step she took.
“If you could wait here, my lady,” the footman said when they reached a door at the end of a corridor. She paused as he knocked on the door and entered, shutting it behind him. Adrianna began to wonder how long she would have to wait but it was only a moment before the door was opened again and the footman said she could enter.
The guest rooms of the castle were some of the most lavish in the entire building except for the King’s chambers, but Adrianna still felt remarkably underdressed as she stepped into the room, which had gold leaf covering all of the mounted candlesticks around the room and most of the other decorations.
“Good morning,” Rowena said, getting up from her dressing table and putting her brush down as she came to greet Adrianna. “I’m so sorry we’re not ready. I didn’t mean for you to need to come this early.” Rowena was dressed but her hair was still hanging loose down her back.
“I don’t mind at all,” Adrianna said. “It does me good to be up and doing things this early. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I believe we can manage. Artem is just in the other room getting changed, he should be with us in a moment. I don’t believe you have been introduced properly.”
“Not really, no,” Adrianna replied, “but I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
“I’m sure you two will get on well,” Rowena said, moving back towards the dressing table and brushing her hair.
“Do you need me to call someone to help you?” Adrianna offered.
“No thank you,” Rowena replied. “I’m quite good at doing this myself.” Adrianna watched intently as Rowena separated each section of her hair and twisted it until it was all piled on the back of her head in intricate twists and curls.
“How do you do that?” Adrianna asked, fascinated.
“Lots of practice. It pays to be able to make yourself presentable quickly without having to call a maid to help you with your hair. I haven’t needed one for years now no matter how much people tell me I should keep one. I don’t see the point in paying someone for a job I don’t really need them to do.”
“And I keep telling you that you shouldn’t worry about things like that,” a deep voice from behind Adrianna cut in. “Good morning, Adrianna,” he said. “I am very rude for not introducing myself, Artem Novak.”
“Very pleased to meet you, your Highness,” Adrianna said, curtsying as she shook his hand.
“Oh, none of that, please,” he insisted. “I’m not royalty, I only have my title because I married the right woman.”
“And that’s the only reason why he married me,” Rowena joked, standing up from her stool and joining the other two by the door leading through into the bedroom. “Is Anya settled?” She asked her husband.
“Getting there,” he replied. “She was fussing that she wasn’t going to be allowed to come with us but I think we’ve finally convinced her that she’ll have more fun here than if she comes with us.”
“Then I’ll go and say goodbye to her and we can go downstairs to meet the Prince.” Rowena disappeared through the bedroom door, leaving Artem and Adrianna alone and the latter feeling a little nervous.