It was a slow waltz, and I’m pretty sure we dance the same step as on Earth. Back with the right foot, sideways with the left, pull in the right, back with the left, sideways with the right, pull in the left. You’re continuously going backwards, so you have to let the guy steer you with his hands, signaling when to turn so you don’t run into another couple. That’s why it’s called ‘leading’.
It’s probably a good thing Robert only read about it, since the steps are backwards for guys. The only actual dancing experience I had was as Tiana, in her lessons and a few dances with the royals at birthdays. I wasn’t in danger of getting the steps mixed up.
But why? Why do they have the same step on Huade? Why does this music sound just like waltz music from Earth? I have so many complaints…
It must be for the same reason as my earrings. Normally I wear plain gold studs, but Mother had a fairy jeweler custom-make earrings for my court dress. Dangling from my earlobes at that moment were big mithril coins with ‘ancient language characters’ inlaid in gold and diamond.
Heads was “嬌” and tails was “寶“.
Yup. ‘Ancient language characters’ are Chinese characters. Together they spell my name, in very old-fashioned Fairy. “Tia Nà.” “Charming Treasure.”
I really have so, so many complaints.
We danced a while in silence, after my question. His smile had become the one that he had given the other girls. His lady-killer powers are strong, and the other girls might not be able to tell, but I know Rod. This smile was painted on.
I considered asking about Mireia, but decided from his mood that it was not the time. Instead, I asked, “What’s wrong, Your Highness?”
He scowled momentarily, then asked me with deeply troubled eyes, “Are you going to plead with my father like Parna suggested?”
I almost missed a step. Somehow I stayed on the beat. Bless you again, Carson.
It took several steps for me to be confident I still had my balance. I looked away from Rod so I didn’t have to meet his eyes for a bit. I saw my mother and the king. And Ged had finished up at the parade ground and was dancing with Amelia. Oh look, there’s a coincidence. Lady Josannah is waltzing with that Earl Hamnus fellow…
Nope. Couldn’t run away. Had to face it. That had been genuine worry in his eyes, and I was the cause.
“You heard all that, huh?” I asked him.
“Just the last part. Your mother let me into that silence thing of hers not long before he said it.”
“Do you think Uncle Owen would listen to me?”
His mouth twisted. “Amelia can twist Father around her little finger. Although your mother makes sure Amelia doesn’t get away with too much. As for you… well you hardly ever ask for anything, but Father couldn’t say no when you decided to become a knight.”
I tipped my head. “Maybe I should try it.”
Rod grew a really troubled look again. “Ti, please don’t.”
“Because I’m afraid he might listen,” he admitted. “Maybe your mother would stop him, but…”
I was still pursuing the idea. “Rod, there has to be a better wife for you! Look around you! We have a room full of better candidates for you right here! And most of them are humans like you! Some of them are absolutely gorgeous!”
I saw videos of ballroom dancing on Earth where the gentleman rested his hand on the lady’s shoulder just like how I was doing with Rod. But most Orestanian ballroom gowns have bare shoulders, and the men don’t wear gloves like the women do. The man would be putting his bare hand on the woman’s naked skin. Instead, he holds her waist by the side with his right hand and takes her gloved right hand in his left.
Rod looked around, probably to make sure we weren’t being overheard, then pressed in close.
The lady knight’s court dress has a very low back, which I think Mother may have lowered a bit further while I was in Hamagaar. I’m certain the bodice dropped. His fingertips had already snuck past the cloth at my side several times for scandalous brushes in back, Now his hand slipped completely behind to caress me there as he spoke right into my ear.
“Ti, you’re the only girl I want.”
My heart actually felt like it skipped a beat. It isn’t just an expression.
It turned out Tiana wasn’t immune to this junior lady killer after all. It was a complicated feeling, because she still thought of him as her own brother. But frankly, Rod had grown up to become the exact type that Tiana was attracted to. Broad-shouldered and confident, like his father, or Sir Belgar…
As my face grew red, my mother came into view, dancing with the king. She looked happy as she spoke to him, and in the middle of whatever she was saying, she glanced and nodded slightly our direction. I knew that Rod and I were the subject of conversation. Maybe she had witnessed his sneak attack.
I realized as he slipped back into the ‘appropriate distance’ that he didn’t have anything to worry about. That reality hit me like a punch in the stomach, but it was something I could no longer deny. Tiana’s loyalty to Uncle and Mother had become my own. Robert was losing this battle, because Tiana had already surrendered.
I was going to marry him.
No, I still couldn’t imagine doing ‘married things’ as a woman. I knew from an intellectual standpoint that I inherited Tiana’s attraction to men, but, for now, Robert’s aversions still made a guy a bridge too far.
Of course, my feelings during feeding had made it clear to me that I definitely had attraction to women. It wasn’t just due to Robert; the old Tiana had rejected women more in order to remain virgin until marriage, not out of aversion. After marriage, she would probably have tried to stay faithful, and probably would have succeeded. For me, with the influence of Robert, I wasn’t sure that was possible anymore.
I did not know how I would handle any of this when we got to that point. But the Tiana side of me had come to accept that Rod was my fiancé, and I couldn’t imagine disappointing him. Nor Mother, nor Uncle Owen.
Tiana, why are you such a loyal daughter? What made a strong woman like you so compliant when it comes to family?
What am I going to do when we get to that point?
I hung my head a bit and griped, “Why can’t I just be your little sister?”
“I’m sorry, Ti,” he answered, looking genuinely apologetic. “I know you feel that way, but in my eyes, you’re not my sister.”
I think he knew I was a bit hurt by that, because he pressed forward immediately to explain, “Ti, since forever, you’ve been the girl that I want.”
“You said you were originally against the marriage,” I noted.
“Because I thought you didn’t want to be part of our family anymore! You ran away from us to join the knights!”
“I already told you why I joined the knights.”
“It’s what I thought at the time. But once I began imagining you as my wife, I just couldn’t object anymore,” he said. “You’re the right one for me. I’m certain of it.”
“You called me an ‘ugly crow’,” I countered.
“Do you remember why?” he asked with a sparkle in his eye. “I saw you in the garden, practicing with your wings. You were so amazingly beautiful, and I got embarrassed to be feeling that way about you. I was only twelve, you know.”
I could remember the event, but I hadn’t considered until now that Rod had been twelve. From my experience now as Robert, I knew that a boy that age has noticed that girls are interesting.
Tiana may have been ten years old mentally, but fairy bodies mature much faster than human bodies. At ten years old, her body was that of a human fourteen-year-old. And since she didn’t yet have custom clothing to accommodate her wings, at most she was wearing only panties when he saw her…
I turned red and looked down again, although somehow I stayed in step with the music.
“It was a pretty mean thing to say,” he admitted. “Can you forgive me?”
Then I looked up, now a little peeved, and asked, “Where the heck were the maids? They were supposed to be on lookout!”
“I snuck around them,” he explained, sounding proud of it. “I wanted to see your wings so much. Nobody told me the reason you practiced in private.”
He laughed. “Guilty as charged. Father paddled me without mercy, you know.”
“You deserved it.”
“Yeah. But it was worth it,” he smirked.
“Rod!” I fumed at him while blushing a little harder. I overcame the temptation to step on his foot, though. Praise me, Benedetta.
The waltz came to an end. I recognized the opening strains of the next waltz. It was what Orestanians call a ‘fast waltz’. It’s actually a completely different dance than the slow waltz. The couples twist and twirl fast enough to make the ladies’ skirts fly out. It’s quite a sight with a room full of dancers.
The men must have planned this in advance. They had kept us together as the three couples at the center of the floor, and they now passed their partners to the left practically in unison. I found myself in the arms of the ladykiller-in-chief… I mean, Uncle Owen. I stared up at sandy hair, broad shoulders and vandyke beard, and immediately knew why every woman in the kingdom wanted to dance with him.
He didn’t even give me a chance to raise the question. Before the intro even ended and we began dancing, he told me, “Your mother says I must close my ears and refuse to listen if you bring it up.”
I looked at him in amazement, then said, “Your Majesty… which of you two is the king, again?”
He tipped his head back as we began dancing and laughed, then looked down at me with an appraising eye and said, “Tomorrow I depart for Thuriben to take charge of the mobilization. So, tonight, please allow me to enjoy dancing with a beautiful woman in my arms. Spin.”
He rotated me through a 360, and then started us turning the other direction. That’s pretty much how the dance works. You just keep switching the direction that you are turning so that you don’t get dizzy. Or sometimes you dance like a slow waltz, but you twist back and forth because of the way your feet are falling. I was too busy to talk. Mother might be able to chatter during a fast waltz, but I don’t have enough experience at it. I have to pay attention to my feet.
Uncle Owen kept guiding me through one change after the next, all the time beaming at me with those blue eyes. By the time he handed me off to Ged at the end of the dance, I was convinced he had kept me busy with dance moves on purpose so I couldn’t say anything to him.