I woke very late the next morning, my cheeks still sore from all the smiling I had done and my feet aching from the dancing. Of course, after Prince Markus had danced with me, every suitor in the hall had asked me to dance too, and not all of them were as graceful or careful as Markus and Lucian. My poor toes had been stamped on so many times I was surprised they were still attached to my feet.
I rolled over and cuddled my covers against my chest, sighing. I had no idea what my father had planned for today, but I was sure I wouldn’t like it. I just hoped I would be able to see Lucian again. I’d enjoyed my time with him the night before and really wanted to spend more time with him. But my father would say I was showing favouritism and I shouldn’t let on which man I liked until a decision was made.
I lay in bed for ages, not wanting to drag myself out of the warmth of the covers and get ready for another boring day.
‘My lady?’ There was a knock at the door and Elisabeth entered, followed by a servant carrying a breakfast tray. ‘Good morning my lady. Did you sleep well?’
‘Yes thank you Duchess,’ I said frostily. ‘I slept very well.’
‘You have a busy day ahead of you,’ Elisabeth informed me. ‘The second challenge is being held today and your father says you need to look your best.’
‘I always have to look my best,’ I muttered, rolling my eyes as I picked at a bread roll from my breakfast tray. Elisabeth ignored me and as I ate my breakfast she went to my wardrobe and began selecting potential dresses for the day. Luckily the rain had cleared and the sun was shining down brightly, but it was still cold outside so I would have to wear one of my winter dresses.
‘How about this one?’ Elisabeth suggested, holding up a dress my mother had given my two years ago, which was a horrid sludge brown colour. I had never worn it.
‘No way,’ I said, climbing out of bed and running across the room to my wardrobe. ‘How about…’ I said, flicking through my dresses, ‘this one.’ I pulled out a deep red dress with long, wide sleeves and gold panels on the front of the bodice.
‘I don’t think so,’ Elisabeth said patronizingly, taking the dress out of my hands and putting it back into the wardrobe.
‘Why not? It’s one of my best dresses and it suits me very well.’
‘Yes, but you can’t wear red two days in a row. You have to show you can wear lots of different colours.’
‘How is that important?’ I exclaimed. ‘They’re not going to decide they don’t want to marry me because I wear a colour that suits me two days running.’
‘I’m not going to argue with you about this my lady,’ Elisabeth said sternly, ‘but I am under instructions from your parents to do my job and I would be failing in that promise if I let you choose a red dress.’
‘Fine,’ I said, throwing my hands in the air, ‘I’ll pick another one.’ I looked in my wardrobe and tried to ignore all the dresses that had even a hint of red on them. ‘How about this one?’ I said, pulling out a dark green dress, the skirt covered in embroidered leaves in lighter shades of green.
‘That should be fine,’ Elisabeth said disinterestedly. Would I never be able to satisfy this woman? I thought she was still mad at me for trying to run off with Lucian during the party, and I was praying she hadn’t told my parents about it. But that was probably pointless. Nothing happens in this palace without my parents being told about it by their spies.
Elisabeth left so I could get ready in peace a few minutes later Jenny came in to help me dress.
‘Did you have a good time last night?’ She asked as she tried to tame the tangles in my hair.
‘Yes I did.’
‘Did you see anyone you liked?’
‘I’m not sure,’ I said, my mind immediately wandering to Lucian. ‘There was one guy who was very nice to me.’
‘Was it Prince Markus?’ Jenny asked excitedly. ‘We were all so surprised when he presented himself, not that you don’t deserve to marry a prince, you are beautiful enough to catch his eye, but we just didn’t expect him.’
‘I can see why. He’s a bit of a strange one, and I think he is under the impression that he is better than everyone else.’
‘He’s the heir to the throne of Basedow. He’s going to inherit the strongest and most powerful country in the Known World. He is better than most.’
‘I don’t like him,’ I said as Jenny laid down the comb and went to my drawers to take out my under dress.
‘So who was the man who was nice to you? Was he a prince too?’
‘He’s not as important as a prince. His father is the advisor to the King of Rosarin and they own a lot of land. When his father dies he will become a lord, but that’s nothing to a prince. I definitely know which man my father wants me to pick.’
‘You’re talking about Prince Markus?’ Jenny said as she held out my dress for me to step into, running around the back, pulling it up and over my shoulders and lacing it up as tightly as she could.
‘Of course. No other man is going to stand a chance in my father’s eyes. None of them can possibly compete with his position or wealth or power. He has everything my father could want from a son-in-law, as well as a very valuable alliance with a country whose culture is based around military training and service. No one would dare attack Mascia if I married him.’
‘Isn’t that a good thing?’
‘Yes it is. But there is something about Markus that I just don’t like. He’s overconfident and thinks he can walk in and tell people what he thinks of them just because he has power.’
‘Maybe it’s not his fault and it’s just the way he has been brought up. I’m sure it can happen when your family is that powerful.’
‘Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I have to like him.’