Chapter Nine – continued
It was warm inside. Though there were few enough people to allow for free movement, there was still a heavy concentration of people milling around the hall and the grand ballroom. Warming lights had also been placed along the walls, letting light and heat sweep over the gathered guests.
Andalissa stood greeting guests at the open doors to the ballroom. Her short hair had been decorated with strands of pearls and sea glass and her pale pink ball gown nearly matched the color of the sand. She stood, smiling and responding to bows and curtsies with deep nods and smiles, but Camille could see under the mask her friend was wearing. Andalissa was impatient.
“Looking for me?” Camille whispered close to her ear as she, her sisters, and stepmother, took their turn greeting the Duchess.
Andalissa turned from where Muriel was dipping a curtsy and had to throw a hand over her mouth to smother her unladylike squeal. Her eyes sparkled as much as Camille thought hers must be as well.
Camille, smiling almost mockingly, dipped a curtsy while Andalissa bit back a giggle and responded with a nod. She could see Muriel scowling fiercely as Abigail quickly pulled Madeline close and led her into the perfect curtsy.
“A good birthday to you,” Camille said. She looked around before leaning close again. “Is your brother close by?”
Andalissa made a face before turning to smile and nod at Madeline. “He’s in the gardens, freezing I’m sure. He’s been rather distressed for the past week, ever since Gail ran off from the markets.”
“Gail did what?” Camille hissed.
Andalissa met her eyes. “Find me later, after everyone has arrived.”
Camille nodded and moved on, dimly hearing Abigail introduce Madeline to Andalissa. She frowned as she made her way into the ballroom, but it quickly morphed into a smile as she passed by a bewildered Muriel, who was trying hard to smooth her feathers and look like she belonged. She knew Abigail had been staying up late to help Madeline learn everyone in the royal family so she wouldn’t embarrass herself. She wasn’t sure if any of that care and concern had made their way to Muriel. Tomorrow’s gossip would be interesting.
She smoothed the front of her ice blue gown. The blue silken fabric Abigail had gotten from the markets had been used to create the bodice and shimmered in the light of the lamps as she moved through the ballroom. On the other end was the entrance to the private gardens, a courtyard located in the center of the manor. It had been years since she and Andalissa had walked the gravel walkways, had hidden behind bushes and trees and tall flowers to ambush the unsuspecting household staff. Andalissa’s mother had reprimanded them, but it had never stopped them.
With the strains of a soft dance wafting through the air from a small chamber orchestra she couldn’t see through the crowd, Camille turned back just before passing through the open doors. Madeline was easy to pick out. Taller than most of the ladies, her dark head stuck out. She was latched onto Abigail, whose face was stoic and polite as she guided Madeline around to a corner. Madeline didn’t seem to mind. Her face was pale and she kept biting at her lips. Muriel on the other hand, was attempting to be the life of a party. Or, at least, of the small group of barons and baronesses she had probably elbowed her way into. None of them looked pleased, but were polite enough to not turn away from someone higher in status than themselves.
It was not going to reflect well on her father, Camille realized with a cringe. Abigail, everyone was used to. Many of them likely also remembered her as a close friend to the Duke, Duchess, and, of course, the Crown Prince. Muriel, on the other hand, was going to be an embarrassment, and word would get back to her father.
Sighing heavily, she turned and headed into the courtyard. Sheltered on all sides from the light wind and lined with warming lamps that hung from posts and trees, it was much warmer than the front gardens, and a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of all the bodies.
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