Chapter Sixteen – continued
“At least Adrian will do us proud,” Princess Aloise said with a fond smile at her son. “Abigail, my dear, it’s so lovely to see you properly.”
The Princess held out her free hand, a soft smile on her face. She always did have a soft spot for Abigail, just as her husband did. Camille could see a moment’s hesitation on her sister’s face, but Abigail still went and offered a curtsy over the Princess’s hand as the Princess smiled indulgently.
“It’s a pleasure, Princess,” Abigail murmured, exactly as Genevieve had taught. In her place, Camille smiled proudly. Abigail would grow into her own. “Prince.”
“Ever the perfect lady,” Princess Aloise said softly. “Your mother would be so proud of you. You’ll make a fine bride for my son.”
It was so subtle Camille only saw her sister stiffen because she knew her so well. Quickly, Camille cut her eyes over to Madeline, whose face was studiously blank, and then to Muriel, whose eyes showed fury. An unease settled in the pit of her stomach. Fortunately, there was little either could do in a castle full of royalty.
Abigail dipped her head once more before retreating back to Adrian, who swiftly tucked her hand under his arm and wrapped her under his cloak along with him to help warm her.
“Well, let’s not stand here freezing,” the Prince finally said. “My brother is awaiting us so we can begin this ball properly. After you, Lawrence.”
Lawrence offered a bow and turned Muriel with him. Camille saw Muriel’s spine straighten with pride. As the architect of the royal marriage, the Count Olidan had a place of honor in the arrival train: just ahead of the Murants, who were always the last to be received by the King and Queen. If she hadn’t been groomed so well, Camille would have groaned. As it was, she simply fell into line behind her father and beside a stiff Madeline.
“Just stay close and do as I do,” Camille muttered to her stepsister.
Madeline offered no other reply than a curt nod.
The line moved slowly as the nobles who had arrived before them were still being announced to the King and Queen. It was the longest slow walk Camille had ever done. Not only was it freezing, but she was stuck next to Madeline, who almost looked like a walking doll. Her gait was a little stiff and, other than her skirts and cloak, nothing else seemed to move. The ball in her stomach hardened.
Finally, they stepped into the castle, into the great hall with it’s high, domed ceiling sparkling with bright chandeliers and fae lights that floated just overhead, offering light and pulses of heat. On the other side of the hall, directly across from the great doors, were the doors to the ballroom. The line of nobles was headed right for it, where a steward stood tall, arms held stiff at his sides, his voice booming over the softened straights of a group of strings and wind instruments coming from within the ballroom. Another steward approached and quickly whisked off with their cloaks.
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