Chapter Twenty-Three – continued
When Camille and her father arrived at the castle, on foot through a side entrance most thought unused to avoid the flurry of court Lawrence so despised, Camille left her father and went in search of her sister. Lawrence had barely inclined his head at her words as he stripped off his heavy gloves and shook the snow from his hood. While he fussed and servants rushed over to help make him presentable to the King and Queen, Camille hurriedly waved off the girl trying to take her cloak off her shoulders and rushed over to the guest wing.
“Abigail?” she called out into the startling empty hallway.
Closed doors lined one side while landscape paintings were on the other, interspersed with tall vases full of winter ferns and blooms. It was lit by fae lights, but they were dimmer than she expected them to be, as though the maroon carpeted hallway was uninhabited. But she knew this was the guest wing, had stayed here a few times as a child.
“Abigail?” she called again, both aloud and directed to the glass around her neck, as she started walking, relief flooding her chest as the lights brightened as she passed by. But there was no answer from her sister.
Behind one door, just a couple down from the hallway entrance, she heard some muffled voices. There were at least two and both were female. One also sounded a bit like her sister’s when she was strained.
Brows raised, she knocked softly, wondering who might have cornered her sister. It certainly wasn’t Madeline, which offered no end of relief. That woman was safely locked up with her mother and Mistress Lacey; there was no way she could have snuck out and gotten to the castle before her.
“Come,” she heard her sister’s voice call out.
Amusement lightening her features, Camille turned the knob and pushed the door open, only to come to a complete stop with her jaw dropped.
“Do not laugh,” Abigail warned, staring Camille down through the mirror she stood before.
Camille forced herself to press her lips together as she pushed the door closed behind her and entered her sister’s new sitting room. Or perhaps it was her new closet.
Dresses, skirts, blouses, and numerous ribbons and accessories filled every surface. It was a riot of color, none of which had actually been seen on Abigail since she was a child. All kinds of materials, some she’d never even seen before, lay strewn all about the room, as though some were still waiting to be tried on by Abigail and others had been cast off as not quite right.
Abigail herself was swathed in a lime green gown with tiers of lace running down the skirt. Around her shoulders was a lacy shawl fastened with a gaudy brooch of sapphires and emeralds, all of it neatly hiding the glass hanging around her neck. Her hair had been done up in curls and braids with ribbons threaded every which way. Three women, all noble by the looks of their gowns and complicated coifs, were clucking around her. All three were young, but still a few years older than Abigail and all three wore silver marriage bands.
“I’m certain an amusing story must be around here somewhere,” Camille said, fighting hard not to smile.
“They’re trying to help,” Abigail said faintly, though there was a considerable amount of strain around her eyes. “Ladies, I’d like to introduce you to my sister, Lady Camille of Olidan.”
The three women turned and dipped small curtsies. Camille didn’t take much note of them beyond likening them to clucking hens, but did respond in kind. At least they were quiet now and no longer arguing over which gown to try on Abigail as though she were a doll for their pleasure.
“Camille,” Abigail continued, clearly forcing cheer into her voice, “I’d like to introduce you to the court’s newest ladies, Countesses Elleris, Sanery, and Glifford. They have been, ah, helping me acclimate to court since Lady Kyanan showed me to my quarters. They’re surprisingly quick about it all.”
Camille looked over the three smiling women, at their vibrant gowns and ribbons and pins in their hair. They looked ridiculous, but she wasn’t about to say that in front of her sister. Soon enough Abigail would be their Queen and wouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense.
“I daresay,” Camille said calmly, folding her hands in front of her and drawing a wince from her sister, who knew what was coming, “Lady Abigail is more familiar with court than you are. Our father, the Count Olidan, is a favored cousin of the King and she is childhood friends with both the former and current Crown Princes. If you would, I’ll have a word with my sister.”
After a few quiet murmurs from Abigail, the three women left in a flurry of material, taking nearly all the gowns with them out the door. Except the one Abigail was left wearing, along with a stricken look on her face.
“Help me?” Abigail asked pleadingly.
Camille laughed and hurried over to unlace the gown and start to pull the ribbons from her hair. Her sister sighed as the laces loosened and the shawl fell from her shoulders. Once Camille had pulled the sleeves down her arms, she went to work undoing the braids and shaking out her hair.
“What monstrosity is this?” Camille said as she gathered the dress from her sister’s feet.
“I have no idea,” Abigail said as she pulled on the soft, simple gown she’d likely been wearing that morning. “They told me lace and ribbons were all the rage and they were going to help make me presentable.”
“Abigail,” Camille gently admonished, ” you should have said something.”
Her sister only shrugged as she scurried around the room to gather the loose ribbons and accessories. “They were only trying to help.”
“You practically grew up in court!”
“Yes, but it’s been a number of years since we were really back in court, and Adrian is being kept quite busy.”
“You’re going to be Queen one day,” Camille said, her voice laced with exasperation.
Abigail paused long enough to glare at her sister. “Then let the ladies have their fun before I choose to change things.” She returned to gathering some long lengths of fabric whose utilization completely baffled Camille. “Besides, you never know when something might end up being interesting or nice to wear.”
Camille waved a hand. “None of this looks pleasant.”
“No, but perhaps a single braid would be nice.”
Camille opened her mouth to respond, her head already shaking, but she heard the clatter of jewelry pieces tumble from her sister’s hands on the edge of a gasp. Her head snapped to her sister, only to find Abigail rushing to the windows to see skies that had darkened considerably within just a few moments.
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