Chapter 22

Markus confused me.  That was the only decision I could come to after pondering the matter as I watched couples whirling around the dance floor in front of me.  Maybe I had been harsh on him, thinking him stuck-up and arrogant without considering the way he had been brought up.  It can't be easy being the heir to the throne.

I wanted Lucien to come up and ask me to dance but I knew he wouldn't.  We were both being careful and neither of us wanted to jeopardise what we had.  It might not be perfect, but at least it was something.

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen."

My thoughts were interrupted as my father stood up to speak.  Every pair of eyes turned on him and all conversation ceased.

"As I'm sure you are all aware it has been my great pleasure and privilege to hold this ball in honour of Prince Markus's success in combat earlier today.  I am sure everyone present will join me in congratulating your victory, your Highness."  The whole room applauded Markus, suddenly stopping when the King indicated for silence.

"In celebration of Markus's victory," my father continued, "and as the third task for my daughter's suitors, I am announcing that a hunt will be organised for tomorrow morning."  This was met by murmurs of both excitement and horror from the people gathered.  "We will gather at sunrise to leave for the royal forest.  I am sure many of you will be attending.  But for now, enjoy the rest of the dance."

Low conversation began to circulate around the room again and the music began playing again.  I smiled and watched the moving crowd in front of me, searching for Lucien's face.  Either he was hiding from me or had decided to leave the party early.  Maybe he had done both.

"Lili."  My sister appeared at my shoulder, her gaze fixed harshly on me as she tried to communicate a silent message.  "Lord Harton has asked to see you."

"What can Lord Harton have to say to Liliana?"  The King interjected, clearly not as disinterested as he appeared.

"He did not say," Helena replied quickly.

"Then why doesn't he come up here to see Liliana?"

"I don't mind going to see him," I said, standing.  "You know what Lord Harton is like Father, he likes to think everyone is at his disposal."

"And by going to him you are proving that he can call on whoever he choses and they will come running."  This was clearly making my father agitated and I didn't want him to stop me from leaving.  Helena clearly had something to say to me and I wasn't going to let anything stop me from hearing it.

I went over to my father, bending down and kissing him on the cheek.  "I will only be a minute, I promise," I whispered in his ear.  He grunted in reply and I took the opportunity to leave his side, linking my arm in Helena's and allowing her to lead me into the crowd of people on the dance floor.

"What is it you have to tell me?"  I asked as soon as we were out of earshot of my father.  "Has Lucien spoken to you?"

"Yes he has," Helena whispered in response.

"What did he say?"  I asked eagerly.

"Not much.  But he wants to see you."

"I can't see him, not now," I protested, stopping in the middle of the hall.  "Father will suspect something funny is going on if I disappear."

"That's what I told him, but he's stubborn and I couldn't get him to change his mind."

"Where does he want to see me?"

Helena led me out of the Great Hall and down the corridor towards the servant's rooms.  I didn't ask any questions, scared we were being followed.  We finally reached a door and Helena stopped.

"He's here," she whispered.  "I can give you five minutes at most but then you'll have to go back."

"Thank you," I said, hugging my sister.  "Keep watch for me?"

Helena nodded her consent before opening the door for me to walk through.  I stepped over the threshold and closed the door firmly behind me.

The End

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