I opened one of the massive double doors at the back of the castle and slipped in unnoticed. The ballroom was dimly lit and dusty, beautiful, but only a ghost of what it would look like in two months during the High Ball. I'd been coming here a lot lately over the last month leading up to my 19th birthday. I always came in from the ground floor doors, never having the courage to come in from the upper level at the top of the grand staircase. I would have my turn up there soon enough, on May 15 in fact, only two months away; too soon.
It happened every year, girls all over the Kingdom who were 19 came for their chance to be presented to court, or more specifically to be presented to all of the eligible bachelors at court. It was a long standing tradition of Highbourne, giving all the common girls a chance to dress up, get their names announced at the top of the stairs, and float down the grand staircase to join the ranks of adults. All girls expected their dreams to come true that day. The week of celebrations was all about them, the married women even wore delicate masks during the balls so everyone knew who was available. I stopped attending when I was 11, it wasn't for young girls anyway; I usually got to go because of my father's position with the King, but I remember my last one like it was yesterday, it was the day Annabelle had her chance at the top.
It was a mix of swirling colors and sparkling champagne; the sound of girls laughing and parents giving each other the once over. Annabelle was presented on the second day of the ball; she stood at the top of those stairs, bravely facing the Kingdom as regal as a Queen. Her smile lit up the hall like the sun, the polite chatter in the hall dimmed to a quiet buzz while everyone waited for the name of the scarlet beauty.
Mother had gone all out for her oldest daughter; her hair was braided down her back and adorned with little pearls. Her scarlet gown showed off her strong nose and delicate brown eyes. "Miss Annabelle, Lucile Rhodes, daughter of Sir Dimitri and Lady Gizelle of Chalot" The herald announced. I wondered why she hadn't begun her descent when I noticed her eyes searching the crowds, looking for someone, me.
I stood high up on my toes until she finally found me, smiled, and started coming down the stairs. Anna broke her eye contact with me to look for another pair of eyes, Charlie's, I'm sure. They had been childhood friends growing up in the castle together and fell in love over the years; they'd spent the whole of yesterday dancing together. He was gazing up at her from the bottom of the stairs, waiting to be her first dance partner of the evening. I knew if he could he'd keep her to himself for the whole night instead of giving her up to the other waiting bachelors.
I sighed wistfully, and ran my hands over the banister. I'd grown up at the castle too, but there wasn't anyone special in my life. Unlike my sister, I never aspired to be a lady of the realm; or not in the traditional way at least. I had my friends among the ladies who lived at the castle, and my playmates among the young boys, but only for training. The only one I was forced to see outside the practice courts was the Prince, who'd grown up even more arrogant and condescending than he'd been that day.
I looked back at Anna and regretfully down at myself.
"What is it? Wish you had the body to fill out a dress like her?"
I looked over at Prince Johnathan, immediately angry. At the age of 11 I had yet to develop any feminine curves, something John never failed to tease me about knowing it would get a rise out of me, and I always obliged.
"Shut up John!" I hissed "You're just jealous that everyone's too busy watching the girls to notice YOU"
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