The Slipper Fit


2. Menagerie

I may have been away from the pampered lifestyle of a noble, but I certainly hadn't forgotten it. Almost as soon as I had entered Phoebe's home I was treated to the most luxurious of amenities. A bath was poured for me, filled with crimson rose petals that made the water perfumed. A maid lathered and washed my hair and body until I was quite certain that I had never been so clean in my whole life. It was a glorious feeling, and I didn't leave the tub until my skin was shriveled like a prune- much to my maid's dismay.

By the time I'd left, my luggage was already unpacked into the closets of my elaborately decorated room. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to have so much space to yourself, as my room in Phoebe's manor was at least thrice the size of what I'd grown used to.

A new maid entered my room and curtsied low.

"I'm to be your chambermaid m'lady," she said, her voice in a faint whisper. Ignoring her obvious disease, I clapped my hands together in delight at the prospect of having my own chambermaid again. It had been so long since I'd been waited on so thoroughly.

"Excellent. Find the white gown with the golden embroidery. It should be unpacked already, though it may be in need of a good pressing before I can wear it," I ordered while looking through the different powders and creams that had been arranged for me on the vanity. My fingers traced the gold designs that rimmed the mirror for a time, until I realized that the chamber maid hadn't budged from her spot near the door.

I turned to look at her, perhaps a little too sharply.

"You won't find the dress by staring at me," I chastised, and the girl blushed with embarrassment. I got a good look at her then. She was quite short, with mouse-brown hair that curled in tight ringlets beneath her bonnet.

Curtsying again with a mumbled apology she began going through my things about as delicately as a wild boar trotted through the forest. Sighing heavily I made my way over to her and I could see the panic in her eyes.

"F-forgive me m'lady, it's just you've so m-many white d-dresses I'm not sure the one you mean," she stuttered. It was almost like she was fearful of me, though we'd never once met before and I'd done little other than give her a command that she should have been well used to by now. Though I was mildly irked at the fact she couldn't do her job properly I couldn't help but feel a pang of concern for the girl, who didn't look like she could be any older than 16 summers.

"Whatever is the matter?" I wondered aloud, more to myself than directed to her, though she answered anyhow.

"A-are you going to punish me?" she asked, brown eyes wide with fear. I wondered why she was so fearful- if it was simply her disposition or if she was used to being scolded and punished. Either way, since I was used to finding my own clothes it was hardly trouble for me to offer her some assistance. I may have liked being waited on but I certainly was capable of doing things on my own. I chose my next words carefully, so as not to alarm her further.

"Whatever would I punish you for? Not finding my dress? While I concede that you are lack the skill of an experienced chamber maid that's hardly reason for punishment is it? And to be fair I do have quite a few white dresses. They flatter me well."

I sorted through the gowns, most of which still needed to be unpacked, until I found the one that I wanted. It was the most lavish one I possessed, save for the one I meant to wear to the ball on the morrow.

"This is the one I meant, though it's an awful amount of trouble to put on. I shall need your help," I said, hoping that by giving the girl a more straight-forward task that she would be able to relax a bit more.

Once the maid had helped me into the gown, an arduous process given the amount of ties that laced up the back, I was ready to greet my hosts once more.

Phoebe came to collect me just as I finished applying a bit of rouge on my cheeks. I opened the door to greet her, and she looked me over before giving me her approval.

"The dress is lovely," she said. "Though you really ought to wait for your maid to open the door." She was right, of course. Ladies did not open their own doors, bedroom or not. I hadn't forgotten of course, it had just been so long since I'd had a chambermaid that I had grown used to performing simple tasks on my own. Still, it bothered me that she'd talked down to me, since before I'd left the city I was the one who enforced the rules of a fashionable society and Phoebe had humbly listened to my advice. Needless to say, I didn't like that the tables had been turned against me, and so I resolved to take back the power I'd lost over the years.

"Would you have preferred I keep you waiting? The maid is preoccupied at the moment, and I'm not above the simple task of opening a door," I answered, without leaving her room to protest. Her pale blue eyes raised in surprise of my comment. Perhaps Phoebe was used to leading the fashionable society now, but that would soon change, as soon as she'd heard my reply she remembered her place. Wealthier than me she might have been, but my father's name still carried great weight in the city, and many would remember me well.

"Of course you're right my friend, how rude of me to suggest otherwise," she said, a delicate smile returning to her face.

"Tell me, what are our plans for today? Something stimulating I should hope?" I asked, changing the conversation as seamlessly as I could manage.

"We will take tea with my parents, and afterwards a leisurely stroll in the palace menagerie where I have it on good authority that Prince Sebastian will be until late evening," she said.

"How devious of you. It sounds perfect. That way I haven't done myself up for nothing," I said, and linked arms with her to where her parents were waiting for tea.

Phoebe's manor had a lovely rear garden, full of vibrant colors and perfumes so splendid that they could drown out even the most loathsome of smells.

Her mother and father were sipping tea calmly as we approached, and the two made a charming scene, regal and stately in the finest silks and jewels. They rose when they glimpsed us, and the Lady Ellen, Phoebe's mother, embraced me warmly.

"Dear Honoria, how lovely it is to see you again. You've quite blossomed my dear," she said assuredly. I curtsied deeply towards her and her husband, who had remained seated while examining me thoroughly.

"I can't thank you enough for allowing me to spend my summer here with you," I said, truly grateful for their invitation. Without their hospitality I could never have afforded to live near the palace or attend the events I'd need to in order to win Sebastian's affection.

"Think not of it child, it was the least we could do for your dear father. I miss his wise council more than words could ever say. You've a spark of him in you, I think. Those green eyes of yours are so like his were."

It was a lovely feeling, being compared to someone as excellent as my father had been, though I knew I would never be able to live up to his reputation. My father was well known for being wise, just and fair in the way he managed the affairs of the crown. He had won the love of the nobles and commoners both, a feat that seemed nearly impossible to achieve, and his death had been a blow to many.

I sat down as gracefully as I could, remembering the instruction it had taken me years to perfect.

"Tell me Honoria, are you looking forward to Prince Theron's ball as much as our Phoebe is?" Lady Ellen asked amiably.

"I admit that I am. It has been ages since I've enjoyed a proper party."

"You are eager to meet a proper husband I think," Lord Reginald said with a deep chuckle. Perhaps I should have been embarrassed at his ability to uncover the truth of my return to court, but I wasn't.

"Of course I am. What lady doesn't wish for a good match? And I'm well aware I won't meet mine in the countryside."

"Do you have any prospects?" Lady Ellen asked, and Phoebe and I shared a secret look.

"Not as of yet," I admitted. I could hardly call Sebastian a prospect until I managed to win him over- and I would manage, it would just take time.

"You're lovely enough, and your name will help you win many suitors. In your father's absence, I will make sure that you're well taken care of until that happens."

I smiled and Lord Reginald then. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have a father, and it was good to be reminded.

"Honor and I are going to take a walk through the menagerie. I told her about the Crown Prince's new collection of exotic birds, and she is dying to see it," Phoebe explained to her parents, though her mother looked a little disturbed at the idea.

"Goodness, those filthy things. Why Prince Theron saw fit to bring those birds back from wherever he's been all these years I'll never know. They're probably riddled with diseases."

"Still I would like to see them. I've never seen exotic birds before, but I've heard how beautiful they are," I said, glad I was quick-witted enough to go along with Phoebe's excuses. I wished that she had filled me in about what our excuse to go to the menagerie would be in the first place, but in her defense I hadn't asked.

In truth, the idea of seeing the creatures the Crown Prince had brought back with him from Indara in the south was intriguing, so I wasn't exactly telling a falsehood. I just didn't mention that the true exotic creature I wished to glimpse wasn't a bird, but Sebastian.

"Well I suppose it's fine girls, so long as you wash thoroughly when you return. I won't have any foreign diseases in my home," the woman finally agreed, and Phoebe and I tossed each other excited looks while we finished our tea as quickly as we could.

We took a carriage to the palace, though it wasn't a long walk I would have hated to spoil the my hem by having it trail along the ground after me. Doubtless that would leave a horrid impression, and I wanted to look my best after all.

I had never been to the palace gardens, even as a child. It was well known that they were a place reserved for those nobles who were of a wooing age. The gardens provided an atmosphere that was as lovely in the daylight as it was under the moon, and both gave young lords and ladies time to flirt and mingle. I had been just too young to participate in the frivolities before I'd left the city, though girls older than I was often told me of the delights to be found in the gardens- hidden gifts of roses and secret kisses behind the trees. For although it was common knowledge that the garden was used as a sort of meeting place for young lovers to show any sort of affection too openly was to invite any young lady to scorn and ruin. Still, the secrecy of romance made it a far more enjoyable pastime, almost like it was a game, though the threat of losing was very real.

The garden was hidden behind a silver gate, and though you may have been able to see beyond it at one time, white rose bushes lined it so thickly now that the view from inside was completely blocked by the enormous, white flowers. To get inside, one needed to first pass beyond the gate where guardsmen in their golden armor stood at attention, ensuring that no common rabble was allowed inside. Phoebe and I drifted past them effortlessly, each of us holding the hem of our gowns so that we didn't scuff them and make them dirty.

It didn't take us very long to find where the rest of the courtiers our age had gathered, near a golden cage that held, I supposed, one of the Crown Prince's exotic birds. It was surrounded by enormous flowers, the likes of which I'd never seen, in all sorts of colors and shapes.

The courtiers weren't paying much attention to the creatures though, and instead stood in a circle while they played a game of truth and falsehoods. It was a game I knew well, for it was simple to play and one needn't have any special tools to play it either. Instead, you were meant to tell two things that were true and one thing that was false. Whoever could guess which was the lie was the winner and could demand a favor from the one who'd told the falsehood.

It took me only the barest of moments before I noticed him- my golden prince. Sebastian looked just as handsome as I remembered, though he was far taller now, he was still perfectly beautiful. It hardly surprised me that he was the center of attention among the crowd of courtiers that had gathered there.

I grabbed Phoebe and urged her to stop for a moment, if only so that I could look at him without him noticing. In those few minutes all of the girlhood dreams I'd once had of him flooded back into my memories until I was certain that my desire to marry him was the right decision after all. When I finally mustered up enough courage to press forward I did so, ensuring my posture was as straight as an arrow so that my figure was held to the greatest advantage.

It was Sebastian who saw me first, his golden eyes sparkling with mirth as they cast their gaze over my.

"I'd recognize that red hair anywhere. If it isn't Lady Honoria. It has been far too long since you've graced us all with your enchanting presence."

"Such a kind welcome Your Grace, though I hardly warrant such a flattering introduction," I said, as humbly as I could manage.

"Nonsense, you're positively blooming My Lady," he grinned reaching over to a rosebush behind him to pluck a blossom. He handed it to me with a perfect bow, and I urged myself to keep from blushing at his attention. It would never do to have him think he'd won me over so easily. Sebastian had always liked to hunt, and hunting for his wife would surely be no different.

"I thank you for your attention Your Grace, though in truth I came here to see your brother's birds. I've heard they're quite lovely," I said, and though it took all I had to turn away from him after seeing him again after so long, I forced myself to instead look into the golden cage. However, the sight that awaited me there was far more intriguing than I'd anticipated, and for a moment I was distracted from Sebastian's presence altogether.

The birds inside the cage were quite large, but what was most astonishing were their feathers- iridescent blue and green in some of the most beautiful patterns I'd ever seen. Their tail feathers spread out more gracefully than any lady's fan.

"They're exquisite! Whatever are they?" I wondered aloud.

"You'd have to ask Theron. I've no idea, though I'm not certain you could find him to ask. I haven't seen him since his return" Sebastian said with a laugh.

"No doubt he is exhausted from his travels." I said, keeping my eyes fixated on the birds that were now strutting around as proudly as Sebastian was.

"No doubt our Piggy Pock Face is too embarrassed to show himself in proper society. The Indara sun doesn't look kindly on such pale complexions as his."

"I'm sure he's grown up just as we all have Your Grace."

"Grown up and out I shouldn't wonder," Sebastian laughed, earning sniggers from the other courtiers present as well.

"Well I suppose we shall all see at the ball tomorrow won't we?" I answered, thinking it a little unfair to laugh at Prince Theron's unfortunate appearance when no one had even seen him to validate the truth of the matter.

"I'm so pleased you will be attending, your hair will be a definite asset," Sebastian said, and I finally turned back at him with curiosity.


"It is a masque after all, and though you may not recognize me I will most certainly be able to find you."

My heart dropped like an iron anchor in my chest. I had never been told it was a masque, and I hadn't come prepared. Surely Phoebe simply forgot to inform me, though now I wasn't sure how I'd ever have time to prepare a proper costume.

"Oh- of course it is. I will be looking forward to it then," I covered, maintaining my composure expertly.

"I shall as well, if you promise to save me a dance," Sebastian said. I was so worried about my predicament that I barely remembered to curtsy before I left the menagerie.

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