Last week, I posted part 1 of a short story inspired by my Broadway Writing Prompt. It got away from me a bit, and so this is longer than the last post. It also is long past the word count point of qualifying as “flash fiction,” thought I’ve left this post in that category anyway. I’m not entirely satisfied with it — maybe later I’ll spend some time editing it and post the whole thing together on a writing sample page.
The Simple Joys of a Lovely Night (continued)
“Get up,” he said. He took her arm and helped her to her feet. “What are you doing back here?”
“I was hiding,” she said.
He smiled without mirth. “So was I.”
Her fear evaporated into curiosity. “Why should you hide?”
“I assume you’ve seen my affianced wife?”
She thought of the blond woman in pink. “Yes.”
“She’s hard to miss,” he said. “Surrounded by all her admirers.” Muttering, he said, “I wish she’d elope with one of them.”
Celia touched his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said.
The music on the other side of the curtain and walls changed from soft background noise to a flourish of dance music. Prince Camden looked toward the ballroom.
“They’ll be looking for me to open the dance,” he said. “But I’ll not dance with her.”
Celia shook her head, wondering what was wrong with this silly girl. She had the chance to marry a prince, and she was throwing it away to flirt with hoards of men like that froward Lord Devlan.
“What were you hiding from?” he asked.
“There was a man following me,” she said. “He made me nervous.”
On the other side of the wall, an announcer said that the prince would be opening the ball with his fiancee in a few moments. Someone knocked on the wall, and a man’s voice said, “Camden, stop hiding and come dance.”
The prince darted a look at the wall, then studied her for a moment. “What would you think if I said I had a plan that was guaranteed to either solve both our problems, or earn us the king’s wrath? Would you risk it?”
She tilted her head and smiled. “I decided when I left my aunts that tonight, just this once, I would not be afraid of risks.”
He smiled, warmly this time. “Dance with me, then.” He held out his hand.
She rested her hand in his. It seemed to fit just right. He led her to the other end of the room and pulled back a curtain in a doorway. They stepped into the ballroom, beside the dais with the king and queen’s throne. She felt their eyes turn to her, and saw the queen startle. The king started to rise from his chair, but Prince Camden continued to the center of the dance floor as if he did not notice.
“Can you dance?” he whispered.
“A little,” she said.
“Just follow me. You’ll be fine.” He stopped so they were standing at arm’s length from each other. “Curtsey,” he whispered.
She obeyed. He offered her a bow. The music started, and he pulled her into a closed dance position. She recognized it as a waltz, and managed to step back on time with him and the music. After the first nervous step, it was easy. She could feel where he wanted her to put her feet as he took each step. If dancing had always been like this, she would never have wanted her lessons to stop.
Not until the last notes of music died away did she take her eyes off Camden’s face. Then, she noticed that Princess Fleurette was sanding to one side glaring so strongly that for a moment Celia felt nauseated. She turned her attention back to Prince Camden and answered his bow with a curtsey. The dance was over, the ball had officially begun.
Other couples moved onto the dance floor as another song started. “Another?” he asked. “I’m not quite ready to face the king.”
She glanced at the dais. His Imperial Majesty King Reginald the Seventh of Edesh looked like an angry three-year-old who had just been told he could no longer keep his favorite pet. “Dancing would be better,” she agreed.
He pulled her a little closer than last time.
Camden could never remember a time when he was so enamored so quickly. Since she had appeared in the room behind his parent’s throne scared and alone, he had hardly taken his eyes off her. Perhaps it was the way her fear of him vanished the moment she saw he was unhappy, or the way she watched him when they danced. Maybe it had something to do with the look on Fleurette’s face. After enduring two weeks of her attempts to make him fight for her, it was nice to turn her jealous for once.
The young woman beside him touched his arm. “What’s wrong?”
He looked down into her earnest blue eyes. “I just realized – I don’t know your name.”
She started to answer, then her eyes grew wide looking over his shoulder. He turned to follow her gaze, and saw people bowing out of the way as his father walked across the room. Camden put his arm around her, resting his hand near her waist. He felt her tense muscles relax.
“What are you doing?” the king hissed. “Who is this woman? Why aren’t you dancing with Fleurette?”
“You want to have this conversation again? Here?”
The king glowered. “In private, then. Now.” He headed toward the room behind the dais.
Camden took her hand and kissed her fingers. “I hope this won’t take long.” She smiled at him, though her eyes looked worried.
He followed the king. When the curtain fell behind him, his father turned. “Are you mad? Spending your engagement party dancing with an unknown hussy. It’s unthinkable.”
“What’s unthinkable is that my ‘fiancee,’ as you call her, has spent our entire engagement throwing herself at other men.”
“Because you’re ignoring her.”
“Because she’s a vain, silly girl. I don’t want her ruling at my side, I don’t want her in my bed, I don’t want her mothering my children. I will not marry her.”
The king stared at him, his face darkening. “You’re determined to defy me, then?”
He folded his arms. “I won’t marry her.”
“It’s because of this girl, isn’t it?” The king stood on his tip-toed to glare in his taller son’s eyes. “You thought we wouldn’t approve, but now you’re backing out of a marriage agreement for her.”
“She’d not at fault. We just met.”
“So you’ll throw away a perfectly suitable alliance, and risk shattering a decades-long peace with Awhar, for a woman you know nothing about.”
“I know I’d rather marry her than Fleurette,” Camden snapped. He spun on his heel and marched through the doorway. He heard the curtain fabric tear as he pushed it aside.
She was gone. He looked around the ballroom. Perhaps she had moved out of the way of the dancers. But he did not see her. He circled the room, glancing at every face. She was not here. Running, he looked in the banquet room. Still no sign of her. He turned toward the entry hall and nearly collided with his mother.
“If you’re looking for your dance partner, she’s gone.”
“I sent her away.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Your father felt her presence was disruptive, and Fleurette asked me to do something to keep you from embarrassing yourself.”
Camden pulled away from his mother and ran toward the front doors. He pushed his way through crowds of people, who only blocked his way by their dedication to bowing or curtseying as soon as they recognized him. By the time he reached the doorway, four different carriages were rolling down the drive and away into the night. He could not catch them now.
Pushing his way back through the crowd, he found his mother. “Where did she go? Who did she travel with?”
She looked mildly surprised. “I don’t know. She left in a group of people. I think the LaDansens, Lord Devon, and the Earl of Hardington’s party all left about the same time.”
“I’m going after her,” he said.
“No you’re not. You’re father ordered that you are not to leave the palace.”
Camden stalked in a circle, fuming. That meant no horse, even if he did climb out a window and slip past the guards. There was nothing he could do.
Megan did not speak to Celia until they were back at the LaDansens’ house and upstairs in her room. “How could you?” she said. “You ruined everything, and I didn’t even get to meet the prince.”
Celia listened to her harangue in silence. She changed into her own clothes and hanging up the lovely dress. It had not surprised her that the queen asked her to leave, and sent a guard along to ensure she found the LaDansens and did just that. She was sorry that Megan was upset, but it was a vague and distant kind of remorse buried behind a warm glow.
“You know what?” Megan said, “Just leave. Go, I don’t want to see you.”
She went, dancing down the stairs and running back to her aunts house. All the lights were out. She climbed in her window and saw the note right where she had left it. Tearing it in pieces, she dropped the paper into the fireplace and lit a match. While the note burned, she changed into a nightdress. The last flames were dying out as she whirled in a circle and fell back on the bed. What a perfect evening.
When she woke the next morning and joined her aunts for breakfast she still felt as if she were floating. “Ethesmie said you were sleeping when she looked in on you last night,” Aunt Giselle commented. “I assumed you would recover.”
Celia choked on her oatmeal.
Aunt Ethesmie raised and eyebrow at her. “I suppose you’ve heard of the king’s party last night,” she said in a casual tone. “It would have been something to attend such a party. Can you imagine it, Celia?”
“I think I can,” Celia said, trying to speak normally around the lump in her throat.
“There’s no point in imagining it,” Giselle said.
“I would like to hear about it, though,” Ethesmie said, “and we’re not likely to talk to anyone who was there. Why don’t you tell us what you think it might have been like.”
“I think I would have worn a pretty dress,” Celia said. Giselle rolled her eyes, but Ethesmie nodded encouragement. “One that was blue and sparkling like a star. And I would have danced with the prince.”
“Really?” Ethesmie said. She glanced at Giselle and added, “That’s quite an imagination you have, my dear.”
Celia was starting to enjoy the sense of conspiracy. “Really. It was so beautiful, that is, I imagine it was so beautiful. The music was playing and he danced like we were floating on air.” She sighed. “And then he kissed me.”
“What a shocking idea,” Giselle said.
“My finger tips,” Celia said. She stared into the air. “He was so very tall.”
Giselle stood up from the table. “Well, we’ve indulged in quite enough fancy for one day.” She walked past the window, then paused to stare out. “Whatever is that man doing by our front gate?”
Celia ran to the window, thrilling at the idea that Prince Camden might have found her. But it was Lord Devlan walking up and down the street outside. She hid behind a curtain.
Giselle marched to the front door and flung it open. “Young man,” she called, “Do you have business here?”
He leaned over the gate. “Is she at home? I must see her.”
“I do not know who you are referring to, but if you do not leave at once I will call the police.”
“I won’t cause trouble,” he said. “Just let me stay our here on the street.”
With a “harrumph” noise, Giselle slammed the door. “I’m going to tell the gardener to keep an eye on him. There’s something not right.”
“Do you know him?” Ethesmie asked once Giselle had left.
“He was there last night,” Celia whispered. “I was hiding from him when I met the prince.”
Ethesmie shook her head. “Honestly, child, I never did anything so foolish when I was your age. You’re lucky I don’t tell Giselle – she’d never let you leave the house again.”
Celia sat in the window seat, obscured from the road by a thick curtain. “I feel so sorry for the prince,” she said. “He doesn’t love the woman they want him to marry.”
“Royalty seldom have the luxury of love,” he aunt said.
Pacing up and down the long hall, Camden waited. He repeated the names of the people who might know how to find his elusive dance partner. “The LaDansens, Lord Devon, the Earl of Hardington.” If only he could track them down, he would be able to find her.
He looked at the double doors leading to the meeting room where his parents were discussing his future. Half an hour already, by the clock in the hall.
Heavy footfalls echoed by sharp, tiny footsteps caught his ears. He looked up, to see a glowering Earl’s son marching toward him with Fleurette at his heels. The man stopped inches from Camden.
“Sir,” he said, “You have insulted this young lady in a manner that cannot be ignored. You are unworthy of her affections, and I must speak.”
Camden held up his hand. “Stop. You don’t want to challenge me to a duel.”
“I am not frightened,” he said. “I will risk your royal wrath to fight for her.” Behind him, Fleurette was smiling.
“Don’t bother,” Camden said. “You can have her.”
Fleurette gasped. “How dare you?” She stepped our from behind her latest champion and slapped Camden.
He let her hit him once, then caught her hand when she tried again. “You’ve made your feelings quite clear. I thought it was time I did the same.”
She stamped her foot. “Oh, I hate you. I wouldn’t marry you now if you were the last prince in the world.”
He moved to the door and pounded on it. “Father? We’ve resolved your problem. Fleurette says she won’t marry me, and I won’t marry her.” The door swung open, and the king stared at him. “If you’ll excuse me,” Camden said, “I’m off to visit the LaDansens.” He bowed to Fleurette and nodded to the king. “Princess. Father.”
He walked with composure until out of sight, then ran to the stables. The gossip moved even faster than he did, and no one tried to stop him when he saddled a horse and rode from the palace. He turned his horse east, knowing the LaDansens lived in that direction and trusting someone could give him directions once he got closer.
A few hours and two requests for directions later, he reined up in front of a white house with pillars. Leaping off the horse, he knocked on the front door. A butler in a crisp black suit answered. His eyes widened when he saw who was there.
“Your Majesty,” he said. “What can we do for you?”
“I wanted to ask the LaDansens if they traveled to the ball last night with a guest.”
“Who’s there, Walter?” a girlish voice asked.
Camden looked past the butler to see a dark haired girl on the staircase. Her mouth fell open in surprise, then she smiled.
“Miss LaDansen,” he said, “I was looking for a young lady who may have accompanied you to my engagement party.”
The corners of her mouth turned down. “Oh, you mean Celia. She lives in the house behind us.”
“Celia,” he repeated. It was a name as heavenly as she was. “My thanks.”
Back on his horse, he cantered down the path behind the LaDansens’ house. The home that appeared through the trees was much smaller – more like a tidy cottage than a mansion. He slowed to a walk as he neared the back door.
As his foot touched the ground, an upper window opened. A woman with severe gray hair looked out. “You turn right around and leave, young man. I’ll not have you all hanging about the place.”
“My apologies,” he said, “I do not mean to intrude. I am looking for Celia.”
“Whatever for?” the woman asked.
The backdoor opened, and the lovely blue-eyed girl stepped out. Her eyes and smile were wide. “Prince Camden,” she said with a curtsey. “Whatever are you doing here?”
He dropped the horse’s reins and took her hands. “I had to find you. Fleurette says she will not marry me – my parents have no choice but to release me as well.”
“What are you babbling about?” the voice upstairs squawked. “Celia, where did you meet this man?”
She blushed. Lowering her voice, she said, “I didn’t tell my aunts I was going to the party last night.”
Camden squeezed her hand. “Let’s tell them together, then. Are they your only family?” When she nodded, he added, “I want to ask their permission to court you.”
She could not have looked more surprised if he’d announced he would spontaneously take flight. “To court me?”
“Well I didn’t chase you across the kingdom for a shoe fitting,” he chuckled. Putting an arm around her shoulder, they went inside to meet the elderly woman he could hear hurrying downstairs.