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A Royal Ball

 
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George Frederick
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:32 pm    Post subject: A Royal Ball Reply with quote

3rd March, 1617

Smallest of the countries who could lay claim to the status of vassal to Pomerania, Carantania was not the strongest or the weakest. On paper, it seemed to have little to offer, and much to gain from its alliance with the stronger nation, and for many generations, it had been content to stay that way. Yet it did, on occasion, produce gossip of a particularly stirring kind. Indeed, the gossip circulating thse days was all the more stimulating for the fact that it seemed to echo the events that had taken place a little over twenty years ago in the same country, to the same man. Twenty years ago, he had been the Crown Prince, never married and the last of his line. Now he was the King, a widower, and still the last of his line.

And what was the event that had the nobles of Meringia in a tizzy? A bride-finding ball.

For the second time in two decades, princesses and noble ladies from across the continent had been invited to the royal palace of Riftfell in Carantania, to meet with the King in hopes of winning his favor and being chosen as his Queen. The first one had not been a particularly rousing success; this one, hopes were high for. The Chancellor of Carantania, Franz Schmaeda, had seen to all the details personally, making good use of the notes left by his predecessor on the same subject. He had, however, sent one invitation his predecessor would never have approved of, and was hoping that the King did not take immediate offense when he realized who it was. As it stood, the nobles and their invited guests had already begun to arrive, and the King had yet to make his own appearance.

Franz cleared his throat, hoping to draw his monarch from his thoughts. "Your Majesty, if I may?"

"It is just like before, Franz. All these women, all hoping to be queen," the King mused aloud as he watched the train of carriages arriving at the palace from high above. Just as he was twenty years ago, he was not particularly anxious to choose a bride from among the hopefuls, all of whom seemed only interested in the influence such a position would offer them. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he had wanted to marry for love, and even after twenty years, the sting of that loss had not faded. He and his wife, the late Queen, had not been a good match for each other, but after so many years of marriage, they had at least learned how to tolerate each other before she had died. And now, how did he feel about her loss? Guilty and yet relieved, all at once.

"With respect, Your Majesty, I believe that the last time this was attempted, the guest of honor had no intention of choosing a bride at all," Franz said, attempting to be diplomatic about this. "This time, he was the one who ordered that the ball should occur." He eyed his king in concern, softening his voice. "Not every lady invited is after a crown, Frederick," he said in a gentler tone, a man speaking to his friend, rather than chancellor to king. "Their parents, perhaps, but the ladies themselves may be hoping not to be chosen. Remember that you are not the only person here without much choice in the matter."

"Be that as it may, Franz, let's be honest. What we are really looking for here is a brooding mare, yes?" Frederick pointed out. Though the name given him at birth was George Frederick Raphael, his parents had dubbed him Freddie from a young age, and it had stuck.

"No," Franz shook his head vehemently. "We are looking for a companion, a queen. You've been shouldering this kingdom all alone since your father's death, with no one but me to put up with your rants and insecurities and occasional idiocies. You need a companion, and if that companion happens to come with child-bearing hips, all the better."

"If I cannot produce an heir, Alfred will inherit the throne, and we both know what that means for Carantania," Frederick argued, pushing away from the window to face his friend and most trusted advisor. "I have been a fool, Franz. As a young man, I was full of foolish, romantic notions. My youth was my excuse then, but there is no excuse for what came later," he added. While the ball was supposed to be a happy, exciting occasion, it seemed the man for whom the ball was being thrown was less than enthusiastic.

"Had your father been brave enough to come to an accord with Pomerania sooner, perhaps the young man you were would not have needed to be excused," Franz said thoughtfully. "But this is all water under the bridge. The ballroom will be filling up by now, and I am aware that the princesses are all expecting to be announced as they enter." He glanced toward the door, and sighed. "And I have a small confession to make."

Frederick rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed in impatience and annoyance, though he knew he had no choice but to play along. He had learned how to play his part well over the years and was no longer a foolish youth, though he knew he would never meet anyone who could ever compete with his Genevieve - the only woman he had ever loved, lost to time. Without noble blood of her own, she had not been considered a suitable bride, and had withdrawn from court of her own accord. He had never seen her again, but he had never forgotten her either. "What confession is that?" Frederick asked as he donned his gloves.

"There ... may be a face that looks familiar among the crowd," Franz offered awkwardly. "I'm told the lady greatly favors her mother, who was .... shall we say, known to you before her departure from court?"

Frederick lifted his gaze to the other man, a puzzled look on his face. "I beg your pardon?" he asked. He had heard what the other man had said, but he was not so sure he understood his meaning.

Franz cleared his throat. He knew confessing now was a good idea; far better than allowing his king to get the shock of his life in a room full of eyes watching him. But that didn't make it easy. "The lady in question hails from Kediri," he explained. "Her father, the Comte de Chalagne, passed away before the year turned. She is, however, of suitable rank, and her name appeared on the list of recommended ladies given to us by the King of Kediri." He paused, eying his friend and king warily for a moment. "Her stepmother will be accompanying her. Her mother, sadly, died of childbed fever shortly after the lady's birth. You're going to make me say her name, aren't you." It was not a question; more of a resigned statement of fact.

Frederick narrowed his eyes at his friend, not because he was angry, but only because he was confused. What in the Goddess' name was he going on about, and what made this particular woman more special than any other? "I have no idea what you're talking about, Franz. Please explain."

"The lady's mother, before she was married, was Genevieve von Marchelle." Franz visibly braced himself at this point; that name had not been spoken aloud at the Carantan court for more than twenty years, out of respect for the man standing in front of him.

Though the name might not have been spoken, it had certainly been thought. Countless nights Frederick had laid awake in bed alone wondering what had become of her, and here Franz was telling him her daughter was here and was one of the many hopefuls. The King blanched, grasping hold of a chair to keep himself upright, though he had not yet laid eyes on the girl. "Genny," he whispered quietly, his mind traveling back through twenty years to youthful memories of love and loss. "I should break your nose for that, Franz," he said, coming out of his thoughts.

"I was not aware that her daughter had grown to favor her so much until I overheard one of the servants discussing it yesterday evening," Franz said apologetically. "If I had known, I likely would not have extended the invitation to her. As it stands, I am afraid that your nobility may well spend the evening pestering the young lady for having her mother's face." He raised a brow at the almost absent threat to his nose. "You could certainly try, Your Majesty, but then you would have to explain to all your guests why your Chancellor is bleeding on them."
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George Frederick
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"And she is likely young enough to be my daughter, just are most of the hopefuls. Children, all of them. What do they know of running a country or of being a queen?" he asked, though the question was a rhetorical one for which he expected no real answer. "I thank you for warning me. It would not be seemly for the King to swoon at the sight of a pretty face."

"Youth is not an indicator of dignity or grace, Your Majesty," Franz reminded him in a quiet tone, studying his king for a long moment. "What did you know of running a country or being a king when the crown was thrust upon your head?" It was a pertinent question, albeit just as rhetorical. "Shall we go down, sire? You have a good many ladies to dance with this evening."

"Tell me, Franz, which of these ladies do you think would make a good queen?" Frederick asked offhandedly, though he valued his friend's opinion. He already knew the man had his best interests in mind, but this was also about what was best for the kingdom as a whole. Well practiced at keeping his feelings subdued, his friend was likely well aware how all of this was weighing on his king.

"Any of the princesses would make a good queen," his chancellor said with predictable weariness. "Good queens, and terrible companions. In my opinion, sire, the ladies of the noble classes receive the same education as a princess and far less of the privileges. Though marriage to a princess is expected, for your own ease of living I would suggest you pay a little more attention to the ladies over the royals."

"I made a marriage once for political reasons, Franz. If I am to leave Carantania with an heir, this match will have to be more than merely political," Frederick said, though it seemed Franz was already in agreement. "Well, I suppose we shouldn't leave the hopefuls waiting any longer," he said, gesturing his chancellor toward the door to precede him. Though he might outwardly appear to be the epitome of calm, inside him was a raging storm of emotions and uncertainties, just barely kept in check.

"Indeed, Your Majesty."

The walk down from the King's private apartments to the ballroom had never seemed so long before tonight. As they approached the doors, the sound of the music and chatter rose to meet them, betraying the very real interest the nobility of Carantania had in the events of the evening, not to mention the hopefuls and their families who had been invited. Franz paused before offering a nod to the footmen, giving his king an opportunity to brace himself. The great double doors were opened, and the music halted at the sound of the Master of Ceremonies' great mace striking the floor. All eyes turned toward the dais.

"His Royal Majesty, King George Frederick Raphael VonTania of the House Hasperan!"

"As they say, it is now or never, eh, Franz?" Frederick asked his friend quietly, before he summoned a kingly smile and comportment and strode through the doors onto the dais to face all those gathered before him. "I should like to thank you all for attending, and I hope you all enjoy this evening, whatever comes of it," he greeted them all as equally as he could.

The ripple of bows and curtsies was more than enough to make a man briefly seasick, but thankfully Franz had everything in hand. As he indicated to the conductor, the music began once more, the dancers resuming their motion over the floor. The chatter resumed as well, though this time there were a good many longing glances sent in the king's direction as he made his way down to them. "Where would you like to start?" Franz murmured to his friend discreetly, the memorized list of names and portraits in his head ready for shuffling.

Though he was well past his youth, the King was a regal presence, perhaps even more so in his prime than he had been in his youth. Despite the presence of some gray just starting at his temples and a few lines around his eyes, he was as handsome and capable now as he'd been then. Older and wiser and no longer as imprudent and impetuous as he'd been in his youth. "At the beginning, I suppose," he replied logically enough.

"That would be the Princess Amelie, youngest daughter of King Benedict of Cicilia ..."

And so began a long evening for Frederick. With Franz on hand to make sure he knew which name went with each face that was presented to him, as well as a tidbit or two about their home or interests, he made conversation, he danced, he complimented. He left several princesses infatuated with him, as well as gaining himself a few slightly dishonorable propositions from the older ladies who had been invited. Until finally the name he might have been dreading was murmured into his ear, and a young woman was brought forward from the crowd of gowns before him to sink into a curtsy.

"Comtess Vivienne de Chalagne, and her daughter, Lady Serafina," Franz presented the pair to his king, and inwardly winced.

Frederick had suffered the evening with good humor and grace, laughing and smiling along with his guests as though he was enjoying himself as much as they were. In truth, though, he was anxious for the evening to be over. While there were plenty of princesses and ladies suitable to be queen - many of them lovely, beautiful even, poised and graceful - none of them had sparked any real connection with him. He had just about resigned himself to the fact that he would have to choose the one best suited to be queen and hope that they did not grow to detest each other when he was introduced to a young woman who quite literally took his breath away. It was not because of her beauty, though she was beautiful, but because she bore such a striking resemblance to her mother - her real mother - that for a moment, he found himself speechless.

The two women curtsied low, the elder rising as was her right before she was invited to do so. The younger, however ... Franz' warning had been well-given. Serafina de Chalagne was the spitting image of her mother, all porcelain pale skin and rich dark hair, delicate features that seemed soft on a face that was all but timeless. She seemed older than her twenty years, but that could only be a blessing in some situations. Yet he could not see her eyes, downcast as she lingered in her deep curtsy. At Frederick's back, his chancellor cleared his throat pointedly, hoping the king would take the hint and let the poor girl stand upright soon.

Frederick stepped forward to offer the young woman a hand and ease her to standing. He hardly spared a glance for the step-mother, his attention drawn to the dark-haired beauty before him. "A pleasure to meet you, Lady Serafina. Might I interest you in a dance?" he asked, as politely as he could, considering how many times he had repeated this question all night, only this time, his invitation seemed amply sincere.
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George Frederick
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Slender fingers slid into his grasp as she rose, and for the first time that evening, there was a subtle difference. Princesses pulled on his hand, using his strength to raise themselves up; ladies laid no pressure on his fingers whatsoever, as though offended that he thought they needed it. Lady Serafina seemed to do both, keeping her independence as well as giving him a reason to have taken her hand in the first place. As she straightened, she lifted her eyes to his ... and there was the difference. Her eyes, bright and deep blue, were not the eyes he had known in her mother. "I would very much like to dance, Your Majesty," she said softly, a flicker of a smile in those eyes. "Thank you."

He could not be sure if she was there by her own choice or because she was expected to be here, like so many others, her family hoping to raise their status and importance with the prospect of their daughter becoming a queen to one of the most eligible bachelors in all of Meringia. "Then we shall dance," he said, offering a smile of his own, though he was as nervous as a schoolboy inside. He touched his fingers to hers to lead her to the dance floor, aware of the eyes that were watching them.

His smile seemed enough to put her at her ease, her lips curving in answer as he lead her onto the floor, ignoring the encouraging sound from her stepmother as they went. She had watched him dance with so many noble women this evening, and here he was, dancing with her. It was an honor even to be asked. As the music began, she drew in a soft breath, a momentary flash of panic spreading as for a second she forgot the steps.

He placed a hand at her waist to guide her, his other arm behind his back. It was a tricky way of dancing, but the only way deemed suitable for an unmarried man and woman. He couldn't help watching her, unable to get over the uncanny resemblance between her and her mother - not the woman who had brought her here today, but the woman who had died birthing her. The thought of that saddened him, but he said nothing of it. Even if he had somehow managed to marry her, he might have lost her to childbirth. It occurred to him also that he was old enough to be her father, and yet, she was not alone in that many of the hopefuls here were young enough to be his daughter. He noticed how she paused for a moment and wondered if she was having second thoughts.

"Is there something wrong?" he asked, his voice tinged with concern.

Hesitating to speak, Serafina managed to find her words as the music began, her hands held prettily to her sides as she let herself be guided by the king through the steps of the dance. "It is nothing, Your Majesty," she assured him. "I momentarily forgot twenty years of dance lessons. It is a little disconcerting to be the envy of every woman in the room."

"Every woman in the room has already had their chance. This is yours," he reminded her with a soft smile, eyes bright with something almost resembling affection or at the very least kindness. "Try not to think of me as a king, but only as a dance partner," he urged her gently as he led her slowly about the ballroom, doing his best to ignore those who were watching his every move. It had taken years to get used to such things, even raised as he was to endure it.

"I know I have little chance to catch your eye, Your Majesty," she said quietly, wanting to reassure him in case he thought she might feel slighted at being the last of his invited intendeds to be given a dance. "I am honored to be here. Even more honored that you did not forget me in the clamor for your attention. It must be difficult to be the most eligible man in the room, surrounded by women desperate to make a match for themselves."

He arched a brow at her comment, knowing nothing could be further from the truth. "And why do you say that? Because you are not a princess or from royal lineage? You are just as worthy as any woman in the room, perhaps more so because you are not noble," he argue, his voice just quiet enough for her to hear him without any eavesdroppers overhearing.

Her smile was wry, knowing herself and her background almost as well as he knew it. "My mother was a commoner, sir," she told him quietly. "That is, she was of the lower nobility, and to royalty, that seems almost the same thing. I know it is my father's name that placed me on the list of ladies that your chancellor compiled, just as I know that my mother's family will count against me. Truly, I do not mind. I am simply pleased to have been invited at all. To be able to say that I danced with you on the night you chose your bride."

"I am not certain I will be choosing a bride tonight," he admitted with an almost apologetic look on his face. "I think it only fair that I have a few days to consider. There are, after all, so many ladies to choose from. As to the matter of your mother, it is not only one's bloodline that makes one noble."

"My father always spoke of her so fondly," she said, innocent of any reason why this conversation might be uncomfortable for the king. His comment made her frown very briefly, remembering to school her expression if only to keep the princesses in the room guessing at what they were talking about. "My stepmother was under the impression that your decision would be made tonight, Your Majesty."

"I'm sorry to disappoint her, but if I make that announcement tonight, there might be a riot," he said with a smile and a hint of amusement in his eyes. A riot because of him. It was almost enough to make him laugh. "May I ask, are you here of your own accord or because of your stepmother?"

For just a moment, she seemed on the verge of laughter herself, biting into her lower lip as she fought back a wider smile than was truly appropriate in the circumstances. "No, we could not have your royal person stripped of his finery by angry princesses, could we?" she heard herself say, and again, seemed to fight with herself. Her stepmother would have been mortified if she had heard her say such a thing, but the king did not seem to mind. His question softened her smile. "I will not lie to you, Your Majesty," she told him softly. "My stepmother is eager for me to make a match, though it is more that she wants me gone from her house. As for my presence here ... I asked for permission to come. She did not force it upon me."

He smiled, both at her frankness and her sense of humor, which he not only found refreshing but which reminded him of her mother. "Would it trouble you if I told you I find your honesty refreshing?" In a roomful of hopefuls who would say or do anything to win themselves a place in the king's palace, if not his heart, she was like a breath of fresh air.

"It would trouble my stepmother," she said in amusement, glancing over her shoulder briefly as she felt another skirt brush her own, remembering belatedly that they were still dancing. A faint flush colored her cheek as she noted the jealous eyes following her around the ballroom. "I see no reason not to be myself, Your Majesty. You are choosing a wife, someone who will share your life as much as you wish them to. I would not present you with a false image of myself."

"It is not an easy thing to be king, Lady, nor will it be an easy task to be queen," he warned her with a sigh. "Her most pressing duty will be supplying Carantania with an heir, and yet, I wish for a companion, as well. Someone who is not solely interested in what power and influence such a position would offer."
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2017 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Someone who fancies you would be a good place to start." This time, she did blush, knowing perfectly well that saying something like that to a man she had confessed to having come all this way just to dance with was taking honesty a little too far. "Forgive me," she apologized. "It is all very well wishing to be truthful, but I fear my mouth does engage without the interference of my mind at times."

"Someone who fancies me, or someone I fancy?" he asked, though of course, it would be ideal if they were both the same thing. "As I said, I find your honesty refreshing." He paused a moment, frowning as he realized the waltz was coming to a close. "Would you be opposed to having dinner with me tomorrow night?" he asked, leaning a bit closer so that no one heard him but her.

The offer startled her, but she did her best to hide the surprise on her face as the music came to a close, stepping back to curtsy to him before taking his hand once again. "I should like that very much, Your Majesty," she answered softly. "If you think you can stand to be in company with the Comtess as well."

"The Comtess is not invited," he pointed out, and as king, there was no real room for argument. "I will send a carriage for you tomorrow evening. My chancellor will make all the arrangements. I trust that will be satisfactory?" he asked, knowing it would be hard for her to say no.

"Uh ..." For a moment, her mouth hung open, surprised once again that he was so willing to set aside propriety. But then, he was holding a weekend of entertainments with the sole purpose of choosing a bride. "Of course, Your Majesty," she assured him, unable to say no even if she had wanted to. "I shall look forward to it." How many others had been invited to private audiences with the king this evening, she wondered. How full was his day tomorrow?

Propriety or not, he found himself lifting her hand to his lips to brush it with a kiss - something he had not done with anyone else he had danced with all night. Unfortunately, she wouldn't be the only one who had noticed. "Thank you for the dance," he said, offering her a courtly bow before turning to find his chancellor.

Delivered back to her stepmother with a kiss to her hand, Serafina was soon the uncomfortable focus of several unfriendly glares from many of the ladies in the ballroom. Her stepmother, on the other hand, was preening as though it had been her hand the king had favored. It promised to be an exceedingly awkward evening for the young lady.

Franz, however, was on hand to indicate that the music and dancing should continue, falling into step with his king as though summoned with more than just a glance. "Sire?"

"Franz, I want you to arrange for a carriage to bring Lady Serafina to the palace tomorrow evening for a private dinner. Can you do that? Oh! And also, make sure the cook makes something special. And I want to project the perfect ... ambiance," he said, with the wave of a gloved hand as he tried to find the right word. "Can you do that, Franz?" he asked, as the two of them moved back to the dais, the dancing over for the evening. "Please let the ladies know that I need a few days to consider before making my decision."

To his credit, Franz' expression did not reveal even a fraction of his reaction to that particular order. "Chaperoned, or unchaperoned, sire?" he asked mildly, aware that his king had a tendency to run roughshod over propriety when he wanted something. "All arrangements can be made easily, of course."

"Unchaperoned," he replied. "I do not need her stepmother poking her nose in and trying to arrange her life for her. You may chaperone, if you are so concerned about propriety. After all, you are the one who is responsible for inviting her in the first place," he pointed out further, as he tugged the gloves from his fingers. "Please express my regrets, but I am weary and am going to retire for the evening."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

Franz bowed, catching the eye of the footmen by the double doors. The two men moved to open them, to allow the king to make his escape as the music stuttered to a halt amid the flurry of bows and curtsies that followed. As the doors closed behind the king, he could just hear his long-suffering chancellor making his apologies to the crowded ballroom, and inviting them to continue the revelries under the auspices of an announcement to be made in two days' time.

Despite his earlier misgivings, Frederick couldn't help but smile. Though she wasn't her mother, Lady Serafina had impressed him with her wit, intelligence, and charm, and while he still had his scruples about marriage, she had been the only woman who had caught his attention all night.

If nothing else, the following night's dinner was certainly going to be an interesting affair.
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