The music filtered out into the hall, the closed doors unable to muffle it completely. Allura smiled to hear it, picking up the strains of her favorite classical piece, the musicians her father had hired, performing it without mistake. The music alone made her want to hurry, Allura wondering if anyone would ask her to dance. She knew she could count on her father to lead her around the room for a song or two, but mostly she would be left on her own for that particular entertainment.
Fainter than the music was the low murmur of the crowd, the guests gathered and waiting for the birthday girl to put in an appearance. She knew most of the people who would be there, many of them guests of her father, the nobles taking this time not to celebrate but to advance their own political agendas. If she was lucky there would be a few people near her in age, the sons and daughters of the dukes and lords who had been invited to this event.
She just hoped her father didn’t try to play matchmaker with her and the son of a noble, Allura not wanting to think of her obligations to further the throne line. Allura wanted tonight to be about fun, about being care free, her duties and obligations pushed to the side in favor of the night’s entertainments. And there would be plenty, dancing, games, and fireworks, along with free flowing wine and champagne of which Allura would partake of for the first time this night.
If that wasn’t reason enough to be excited, Allura thought of her special guest, a smile blooming on her face though no one was there to see it. She thought of the handsome God, a picture of Lotor with his kind smile appearing before her. She hoped the busy king would find time to adjust his schedule to attend the celebration, Allura anxious that something would happen to dissuade him.
She could still hardly believe he had said he would attend, Allura turning flushed with excitement at the confirmation she had received. She had gone over the messenger’s words, forcing the man to repeat all Lotor had said and done when accepting her invitation. She thrilled at the words he used, learning Lotor felt delighted at the idea of attending the celebration.
She echoed his words, Allura feeling enthused at the thought of Lotor attending her special day. She hoped to spend time with him, knowing it would be near unbearable to be so close to him without a chance to talk, to laugh, to even she dared hope, dance.
The thought of being in the God’s arms once more brought a heated flush to Allura’s face, the girl patting at her cheeks to even out the blush. She often replayed the moment of their almost kiss, the girl getting excited as she dared to imagine what the God’s lips would have felt like. She wondered if the kiss would have been like in her books, passionate and sublime, with a hint of forcefulness to his mouth. She harbored no doubts that Lotor would be an excellent kisser, something like keen intuition telling her so.
She caught sight of her reflection in the hall mirror, Allura startled by how brightly her blue eyes sparkled. Her cheeks had not lost their rosy color, and her lips had spread into a wide smile. Anyone who looked at her would know, Allura love sick and reveling in the feeling!
She rapidly shook her head no, watching as her thick blond curls bounced around her face. Allura took a deep breath and began fussing with her dress, trying to compose herself both inwardly and outwardly. Allura tried to force thoughts of the God from out of her mind, the girl instead concentrating on her new ball gown.
Predominately shades of pink, it was off the shoulder with a white border made of stiff fabric. The stiffness softened further down her bodice, becoming cool satin that was a pale pink in the center, with a much darker shades on the sides and the back. That shade extender to her sleeves, billowing out into a white frame around her wrists. Her skirts followed the same pattern as her bodice, a light pink skirt revealed beneath a heavier skirt of dark pink, that parted in the middle to reveal the lighter underskirt. Ruffled beneath the two layers was white crinoline, the fabric adding volume and bounce to her dress. Pretty pink slippers were on her feet, a trio of white pearls sewn in place just behind her toes.
The dress alone had taken months to prepare, the castle outsourcing seamstresses from the city of Altea. They had been glad for the work, the long winter leaving them without much to do. The dress, with it’s intricate sewn seams had been an extravagant expense, one Allura almost felt guilty for. He father had insisted an eighteenth birthday was special, and pointed out that the money went to those who needed it in paying for their time and services.
The dress itself would not go to waste, Allura would be sure to wear it to other court functions. But tonight it was new and perfect, Allura smoothing her hands down the sides of her waist. She gave one last critical glance at her reflection, relieved to see her smile had dimmed down several notches, no longer quite as dazzling. Her blush had faded, Allura a pale beauty once more.
With a nod to herself, she walked the last few feet to the banquet room, the guard there greeting her with a pleasant smile. Allura returned his warmth, pleased with the birthday greeting he offered her. He then turned to open the door, the music and voices growing louder as Allura caught sight of the room. She managed not to gasp, looking at the transformation that had been done to the large banquet hall.
The large dining table had been shoved to one side, making plenty of room for people to dance if they so chose. There was already several couples out on the floor, twirling in place as they swayed to the music. The music originated in one corner, green and gold clad minstrels playing their songs. The music carried throughout the room, people having to stand clear on the other side if they wanted to hold a conversation without shouting.
The table was covered with dishes, all manners of food laid out on the plates. Much of it was Allura’s favorite meals, the girl spying many different types of cakes and candy and even cold cream that had been dyed pink from the strawberries mixed inside. The food was laid out like a buffet, the partygoers holding plates as they selected the morsels they wanted to partake of.
An ice sculpture sat in the center most section of the table, the ice carved to resemble Allura in her new dress. Surrounding it was bronze goblets, the cups catching the drippings off the ice, which had already started to melt. With the sculpture and all that food, there was barely room for any flowers to be on the table. Squeezed in among the platters and bowls, white and pink roses sat in their fragrant splendor, the perfume of their petals filling the air.
Roses weren’t the only thing blooming in the room, flowers had been picked and twined into garlands that surrounded the columns that held up the ceiling. Between two such columns was a banner, the written words wishing Allura a happy eighteenth birthday. The windows were open, the view overlooking the inner courtyard, the breeze helping to vanquish some of the stuffiness of the crowded room.
The room was as brightly lit as the flames of the torches could allow, over a dozen of them strategically placed throughout the room. It still left some corners darkened, and there was already one couple hiding in the shadows, exchanging passion fueled kisses that nearly made Allura sigh with envy. Only the fact that most everyone’s eyes were on her now, the people having turned with expectation in their hearts kept her from expressing anything but joy.
Her study of the room happened in a mere instant, Allura anxiously looking around for Lotor. He would be impossible to miss, and she felt disappointment boil up inside of her at his absence. ~I guess he decided not to come after all.~ She thought sadly, though kept a polite smile plastered on her face. She was no longer in the mood for a party, wanting nothing more than to lock herself away in her bedroom. But she couldn’t make a quick escape, not when this party was done in her name.
“Ah…there she is.” Her father was approaching, smiling happily at her. Her mask of feigned excitement didn’t slip, didn’t alert Alfor to her true feelings of the moment. “There’s the birthday girl.”
Dutifully she stepped forward, taking his arm to the cheers of the people gathered in this room. Several lifted up their goblets, toasting to Allura’s life and good fortune. She smiled through it all, raising her voice to issue out her thanks. To her embarrassment, her voice came out choked with emotion, her father patting the back of her hand in soothing comfort.
“Ah, forgive me…” She said softly, and Alfor took it as a sign to speak for her.
“Ah, my dear daughter is overcome with emotion.” He said, the crowd growing quiet to listen to their king. “But she, as well as I, want to thank you all for coming. Thank you all for sharing this special day with us.” He gestured with his free arm, hand taking in the dining table and it’s overabundance of food. “Eat! Drink! And make merry!”
The group of nobles laughed, appreciating the order their king had given them. Some resumed dancing while others huddled in small groups, sharing conversation. Alfor led Allura deeper into the room, guiding her towards one such group of nobles. She stifled a sigh, seeing a young man her age, with coarse brown hair that was so dark a hue it was almost black.
~And so it begins.~ Allura thought, realizing her father intended to introduce her personally to the young man. She flashed the nobles a smile, seeing the way the youth’s eyes shifted away from her gaze when she looked at him. He was either very shy, or simply wasn’t interested in her personally. Either way, her father took no notice, ushering her closer to the young man.
“Allura, I want you to meet Kesington.” Alfor said, the young man dropping into a stiff bow that allowed him to stare at the floor rather than Allura. “He is the Duke Warlime’s son.”
“Pleased to meet you.” She said the words she knew her father would want to hear, Allura nodding her hellos to the youth’s parents. He was still in mid bow, slow to straighten when his mother nudged him, elbow jabbing him softly in the side.
“Kensington, the princess is speaking to you.” It was then and there Allura decided the youth was simply suffering from an extreme case of shynees, the girl noticing the tips of his ears had turn red.
“The pleasure is all mine, princess.” She had to lean forward to hear him, his voice whisper soft.
“I’m sure the princess would love to dance.” Suggested the Lady Warlime, and now Allura caught sight of startled gray eyes. He seemed ill at ease at his mother’s suggestion, even more so when his father clapped a hand on his back.
“Yes, an excellent idea. Kesington, do take the princess for a spin across the dance floor!”
There was no good way to avoid this dance, not without causing grave insult to the youth and his parent’s. Allura stifled her sighs, and held out her hand, waiting for the young man to take it. His skin was cold, practically clammy with sweat, but Allura flashed him a kind look. He seemed to melt at that expression, allowing her to lead him away to the center of the room.
“I’m sorry.” Allura told him, the youth placing one hand on her hip. They stood apart, many inches between them, Kesington moving stiff and awkward. “You shouldn’t have to be pressured into dancing with me.”
His eyes widened, Kesington shaking his head no. “It was no pressure! I wanted too!” She held back her comment, feeling that was a lie, the youth simply too shy to have ever even dreamed of dancing with her. They made awkward spins around the floor, Allura occasionally catching sight of her father, the man beaming at her. He was pleased with what he had done, and she hoped he wasn’t dreaming of a wedding that would never take place.
They continued to dance, Kesington not even making the attempt to engage her in conversation. He kept his eyes downcast, surely watching to make sure he didn’t trip over her skirts, or step on her toes. Allura wondered how much longer she would have to endure this awkward dancing, when a hush fell over the crowd. Kesington kept right on moving, not even noticing the reason behind the crowd’s silence.
But Allura did, the girl fighting to keep her expression from lighting up like a lit torch. For standing in the door’s threshold was one of the Gods, the man with beads in his black hair, Kratos if she remembered his name correctly. Behind him, crowding into the hallway was several more Drules, each one so tall and surrounding their King so that the view of him was blocked from her.
Each rotation on the dance floor brought her closer to the door, Allura impatient to pull away from Kesington and run the last feet to the Gods. Her father was already moving, his eyes showing his surprise at seeing them here. The lord high priest Fordham was also moving, hurrying to intercept her father before he said something foolish.
“Excuse me!” Allura said at last, snatching her hand back from Kesington’s grip. His fingers were going limp, Allura didn’t need to glance at his face to know the shy youth was going numb with shock, a gasp escaping him. She hid a smile at his reaction to the Gods, gathering her skirts in her hands she hurried forward, getting close enough to hear her father hissing out an impolite question.
“What are they doing here?!”
“Sire please, calm down.” Fordham was saying, his hands held up in placating submission. “Think of the good fortune their arrival brings!”
“Good fortune?” Alfor didn’t sound like he was buying what the priest had to say, her father continuing to stare at the Gods in the doorway. “To have them crash the party?”
“They didn’t crash, I invited them.” Allura said, interjecting herself into the conversation. Her father turned to look at her, and she nervously smiled, nodding her confirmation of her previous words.
“It’s really quite an honor.” Added Fordham, the priest working to soothe her father. “To you and your daughter! And just think of the blessings they may bestow upon her this day.”
“Blessings?” Alfor snorted, showing his disdain for the priest’s choice of words.
“Father….you are being rude to our guests.” Allura pointed out, smiling in the direction of the Gods. They were looking her way, waiting for some sign of acknowledgment before coming any further into the room. She wondered if they could hear her father’s words, sense his displeasure at their arrival.
Alfor sighed, realizing he was indeed being rude, the King pulling himself together to be every inch the gracious host. He gave a signal to the Gods, no longer as visibly agitated as he had been. There was a moment of hesitation of the dark haired Kratos’ part, and then he was stepping forward, leading the small group of Gods into the room.
“Welcome your highness.” Allura said brightly, seeing the guardsmen Gods stepping aside. She boldly met Lotor’s gaze, her smile growing dazzling in response to the warmth in his eyes.
“Yes, welcome!” exclaimed the priest, voice excited. It seemed Fordham never got tired of seeing the Gods.
“Your highness.” Alfor’s voice betrayed none of his earlier irritation, Allura seeing Lotor nod back at her father.
“King Alfor.” Lotor’s gaze flitted back to Allura, his own smile cheery. “Princess. I thank you for inviting us.”
“It was…..” Her voice grew strained, her smile freezing place as a woman stepped forward from amidst the guardsmen, her hands reaching to wind possessively around Lotor’s arm. “….my pleasure to do so.” She finished up weakly, trying not to stare at Merla’s amused face. Allura didn’t know why she was so surprised to see Merla there, disappointment churning in her stomach.
“A greeting’s princess.” Merla was civil, no hint of her previous upset with Allura showing in her voice.
“Goddess.” Allura acknowledged, at last remembering to curtsey to the Gods.
“I hope we’re not too late.” Lotor was saying, and it was Alfor who answered him.
“Not at all…The festivities have barely begun.”
“I didn’t hear your ships.” Fordham spoke up, the man brimming with curiosity.
“We decided to go native for the occasion.” Lotor said, gesturing to one of his guards. “We took a carriage here.”
“The ride was longer than we expected.” Added Merla, turning to accept something from a guard. It was a medium sized box, with holes cut into the cardboard. It seemed to shake in her hands, Merla holding the box towards Lotor. Even with her disappointment at Merla’s inclusion to the party, Allura found herself brimming with curiosity, watching as Lotor lifted the lid of the box.
A dark shadow seemed to move, the King quick to catch at it with his hands. “A gift for you, princess.” He said, and she gasped, seeing him lift up a tiny kitten. But it was like no feline she had ever seen, with dark blue fur, and a darker stripe going down the center of it’s back. It’s eyes were completely yellow, missing the black slits that the cats of Arus had. A purple bow was around it’s neck, silver sparkles on it’s furls.
The kitten meowed it’s displeasure at it’s escape being impeded, struggling in Lotor’s grasp. He ignored it’s wriggling movements, stepping towards Allura to deposit the kitten in her waiting arms. She forgot all about her bitter upset at Merla’s presence, the girl melting as she held the tiny creature. “It’s adorable.” She said, the kitten blinking it’s yellows eyes up at her as it gave her a considering look.
“He.” Merla corrected her. “The kitten is a he.”
“He…” Allura repeated, and adjusted her grip on the kitten to scratch under his chin. “Thank you.” She said, glancing up at Lotor.
“You’re welcome.” He smiled at her, Merla having returned the empty box to one of the guards. “I know you will give Coba plenty of love and attention.”
“Coba.” She repeated the name, the kitten meowing in recognition.
“A most unusual creature!” The priest was examining Coba, poking a bony finger into the kitten’s face. “Surely divine in nature!” He let out a yelp, Coba having swiped his claws at the offending finger.
“Divine? Hardly.” Lotor shook his head no. “But precious yes. One of the few creatures to have survived the devastation of our home.”
“We will be sure to take very good care of Coba.” Alfor said, the Gods looking relieved to hear it.
“And he the princess.” Lotor said, Alfor making an interested sound. “Coba will bond with her, and grow to be a devoted protector.” The kitten was snuggling into Allura’s arm, a low approving rumble purring out of him. “Ah…” Lotor appeared to have noticed how everyone had stopped to stare, the party at a halt save for the musicians who continued to play their instruments. “Forgive us. We did not mean to interrupt the mood of the celebration.”
“Tis a welcome interruption!” Allura told him, and he smiled.
“Still…We don’t mean to take attention away from the birthday girl.” Lotor said.
She was on the verge of telling him she did not mind, when her father spoke. “They’ll get over it soon enough. Come…!” A clap of his hands, Alfor gesturing for the Gods to come deeper into the room. “Relax and enjoy yourselves.”
“We will.” Merla said, walking arm and arm with Lotor. The two Gods walked over to the banquet table, a few guests gaping at them, and hurrying to get out of their way. The guards that had accompanied Lotor, began to spread themselves through out the room, taking up defensive positions along the walls. Allura had turned to follow them, when her father reached over to take her by the arm.
“Allura, you left poor Kesington alone.” His voice was a soft chide, Alfor already steering her back towards her awkward dance partner. She held back her sigh, casting one last longing look in Lotor’s direction.