Colors swirled around her, keeping time with the music. It was the first day of the ball, and guests flocked to the castle of Hanadil by the scores. For a moment, Ilona felt dizzy, but it was a delightful dizziness that made her feel as if she could float away into the music itself.
Then the music stopped and the swirling colors resolved into the forms of lords and ladies in elegant array. Reluctantly, Ilona glanced up into the beaming red face of her dance partner. He hadn’t said a word through the whole dance. What kind of husband would he make?
Her silent partner returned her to the throne, waiting until she ascended the few steps and rejoined her parents before he turned away.
“Any favorites?” her papa asked in a stage whisper.
“I hardly even know.” Ilona brushed at a loose strand of blonde hair, and Cordula appeared from the shadows to re-pin it.
“You will.” The king’s confidence was contagious. “We all will.”
But her mother looked worried. “There’s no need to decide anything tonight.”
Ilona puckered her forehead and leaned forward to see her mother’s face better. Usually Queen Amalia loved parties. But she seemed withdrawn and uneasy today.
“Your highness, may I present…” Two criers spoke at the exact same time, one from each side of the steps leading down from the throne. Behind one of them stood a handsome young man with hair as dark as a raven’s. His clothes identified him as foreign royalty. Behind the other stood an equally handsome young man with hair as blonde as Ilona’s. He wore the coat of a Hanadil lord.
For a moment, an awkward silence reigned. Neither crier knew whether to back down or stand his ground. Finally, the black-haired stranger broke the tension, waving the other ahead of him. “I shall be here when you return, princess,” he said.
The criers looked relieved and the blonde-haired stranger was introduced. “…Emil, eldest son of Lord Shafton of Hanadil.”
Emil bowed and offered his hand. “May I have this dance?”
He led her to the floor as the next waltz started. One-two-three, one-two-three. “Your dancing is like poetry, your highness.”
Ilona laughed as he twirled her. “Poetry comes in many forms.” Her eyebrows lifted mockingly. “I hardly know whether the comparison is a compliment or not.”
He smiled, revealing a perfect set of white teeth. “And your wit is as bright as the stars.”
“I don’t remember seeing you at court with Lord Shafton.” She followed his lead through an intricate pattern of steps, secretly delighted over the skill of her partner.
“No, I’ve been abroad.” He guided her away from a clumsy pair of dancers. “The world is a place of entertainment and beauty.” He smiled charmingly. “Don’t you think it should be enjoyed to the fullest when we are young?”
All too soon, the dance was over and Emil returned her to the throne. The raven-haired stranger was waiting, as promised, and his crier stepped forward eagerly.
“May I present his highness, Prince Detlef, youngest son of King Rowan of the North Country.”
(by Esther Brooksmith)