My dance with Ged was thankfully back in slow waltz mode. I was afraid they would go into a polka, and Uncle Owen had already pushed the limit on my high tempo dance skills.
Ged is… look, you know that anime where the student council president is a tall, handsome, taciturn man with glasses? You know, half the school animes that ever aired? That’s Ged, although he isn’t student council president. But he is criminally handsome.
He is an excellent dancer, too. Frankly, father and sons are everything a young girl might imagine of a handsome king and a pair of princes, especially on the dance floor. I do understand why Clara and Erin had been so amazed at my attitude regarding these men. My older brothers had already stolen every heart in school.
Amelia and Rod both have the golden blond hair and green eyes from their mother, the late Queen Sylphana, but Ged has Owen’s sandy hair and blue eyes. Rod inherited his father’s broad shoulders, but Ged has a bit more height and an elegant, narrow frame. Overall, Ged is probably the most attractive man in the family. My inner Robert just shook his head and stepped aside so Tiana could enjoy dancing with him.
But almost immediately after we started dancing, I nearly tripped.
A short distance away, I had just witnessed Clara and Erin, gracing each other with their fetching smiles that matched well with their ‘school formal attire’ ballroom gowns, waltzing in each other’s arms.
Erin the earl’s daughter is much taller than Clara, so naturally she was leading. She’s a lovely brunette with a strong look and slender figure that could pull off the ‘prince of the girls’ school’ look if she wore the men’s uniform. But frankly, she is quite gorgeous in a gown, so there was no escaping the yuriness of the scene.
Ged noticed my shock and followed my glance, then chuckled.
“You haven’t seen that before? They call it a ‘friendship dance’.”
“Why?” I asked, because I couldn’t come up with a more intelligent response. Then I spotted another girl-girl couple. Aaaand a third one, this time a pair of moms. What was going on?
“There seems to be a serious shortage of gentlemen in Atius. Too many noblemen have returned to their provinces to deal with demons and monsters. So, about three months ago, your mother declared that the ballrooms have too many wallflowers, and she began asking women to dance.”
I shook my head. “Mother…”
His usual taciturn face melted into his signature mild smile. “It caught on rather quickly. Women do love to dance, after all, and no man minds viewing a pair of flowers side-by-side.”
My brain conjured images of Mother and Dana again, and I began questioning whether her motives were pure. I had to stop suspecting my mother like that…
Or not. The original Tiana, with her prim Palace upbringing, had somehow refused to think about the implications of the hundred to one ratio of female fairies to male fairies. Robert understood it meant that fairy girls probably weren’t strict heterosexuals.
We danced in silence for a while. Ged had enough of his attention on the present to lead properly, but I could tell that part of his mind was elsewhere. I took a guess why.
“Big brother, how did the advanced school students react?”
Tiana has always called him Big Brother in private. If my fellow weebs want to imagine I’m saying “Onii-chan” I won’t stop them. But for the record, Ostish isn’t Japanese. I wasn’t saying “Onii-chan”.
With a brief, unhappy quirk of the lip, he said, “You’ve already gone to war once. I think you know.”
As a thirteen-year-old squire, Tiana had indeed been deployed to a short conflict when Orestania sent in troops to aid Lang Doria during yet another attempt by Alador (Western Doria) to invade them. It had ended when the demons in the Regaritan empire attacked Alador’s back. The Aladorians made a quick truce with our side so they could face the other direction.
Addressing the advanced school students who were guaranteed to go first if they began to send students must have been the hardest. I nodded my understanding.
Then I teased, “Perhaps there’s a girl in school you’re worrying about?”
To my surprise, he looked me square in the eyes and nodded. “There is.”
Amelia had told me that Ged notoriously refused to form bonds with any woman. Such a girl would be some shockingly big news. But he wouldn’t say any more about it, so I had to let it go. But after that brief exchange, he seemed to come back to the present. I think he was genuinely enjoying dancing at last by the time the waltz ended and it was again time to change partners.
# # #
I did not know how much of a sensation I was causing by dancing with all three men of the royal family until I left the dance area.
The stares on my way to the buffet tables were, frankly, amazing. And I was able to listen to the whispers, since nobody expects to be overheard from as far away as they were. Some of it was downright catty.
But it faded, because these women needed to concentrate on making themselves available. Like Ged mentioned, there was a visible surplus of women.
I circulated through the crowd after collecting a drink. It was iced tea. For once they weren’t serving alcohol to teenagers in this world. I did my best to ignore the stares. I was also enduring numerous teenage male eyes. They were quite blatantly appreciating Mother’s efforts to turn her daughter into an exhibitionist. At first I was paranoid that they were going to ask me to dance, but after two dances it still hadn’t happened. It occurred to me at that point that I might be immune, thanks to people assuming I was on the job as a knight escort.
One of my fellow royal knights blew that theory. Sadly, it wasn’t Sir Belgar.
It was Lady Chiara.
She came right up to me, brushed light blue tresses back over her shoulder, extended her hand like a suitor and asked, “My Lady, may I have the next dance?”
My mouth dropped open for a moment, but I was somehow able to retrieve it. I knew how to accept, but none of my etiquette or dance lessons had covered the proper etiquette for declining. Before I knew it, she led me into the dance area as the orchestra was playing the opening strains of a slow waltz.
She laughed. “I recognize this one. It’s a mixed waltz. Do you know how to lead?”
A mixed waltz meant it would turn into a fast waltz later in the piece.
Well, I knew how in theory, but I had no confidence in dancing the steps backward through the fast waltz section.
She turned and took up the man’s position, while admitting essentially the same thing. “I hope I don’t trip you during the fast part. I only learned how to lead recently.”
I was noticing by this time she had the same accent as Ceria and Bruna. She was Braysian. I remembered Ceria’s little sisters and wondered if the blue hair and sea-green eyes meant Chiara had sea blood as well.
We began to dance and the first thing I discovered is that if two girls of the same height dance… well, Orestanians dance close together– not belly-to-belly, but close– and we’re both reasonably well-endowed, so they were kind of touching.
I couldn’t help it. The sensation drew my eyes down. Of course, Lady Chiara wore the same scandalously low-cut ‘uniform’ as myself. The opposing pairs formed quite a heavenly vision together. I quickly looked back up, red-faced, and she started giggling.
“I didn’t actually plan to do this,” she told me. “I was only planning to introduce myself when the impulse struck. Did you do something to attract me?”
I tipped my head. “Did I do something?”
“I mean… did you use your powers? I’ve heard your species likes both sexes, so…”
I quickly shook my head. “If you’re talking about that, I never use my powers that way. The girl is always a volunteer.”
She blinked. “Really? You can find volunteers that easily? My goodness. Just for the record, I only wanted to dance.”
I gave a fake pout. “Really? That’s disappointing. It’s not that bad, you know. I find that girls quite enjoy it.”
“Really, no thank you,” she smiled and laughed in a self-conscious manner. “I think I shall stick with gentlemen.”
Wait. Stick with gentlemen? Then what she thinks I’m talking about is…
My face heated up. “My Lady, I’m not a succubus.”
She blanked. “You’re not? But you have those wings. And you said…”
“I’m half vampire,” I interrupted to tell her, before she could repeat what I said. In the context that she heard them, my words had become awfully embarrassing.
After a moment, she grew a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry.”
The music sped up and we had to start dancing the fast step. We had several near catastrophes because she would get mixed up and do the steps backwards. We finally came perilously close to toppling. Laughing, we escaped the floor together and returned to the sidelines.
“Alas, I’m not ready to lead a fast waltz, it seems,” she said with mock disappointment.
“You did better than I would have,” I assured her.
She then curtseyed and said, “My Lady, I am Chiara Birthe of the Royal Knights. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
I did the same. “My Lady, I am Tiana Pendor of the Royal Knights, and likewise.”
Her mouth opened, then closed. Then she said, “Oh.”
“You’re the one who’s going to…”
I quickly raised my finger to my lips and she stopped and nodded. I asked, “So you’re one of the knight attendants for the Royals?”
“For Her Highness,” she nodded.
“I didn’t know there was another lady knight so close to my age.”
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but she looked around eighteen.
“I only received my accolade last week,” she confessed. “And I trained in secret. I was never supposed to become a public knight at all. But apparently the princess was nearly abducted, so the king wanted a guard who could be with her anywhere. I couldn’t refuse.”
“A ‘Public’ knight?”
“Oops. Forget you heard that.”
I grinned. I had recently learned about one undercover lady knight. It made sense there would be more. Many knights do investigative work. There could actually be several women among them and I just hadn’t been aware.
“Oh, that’s my signal,” she said. I followed her eyes and saw a male knight making a beckoning gesture our direction. “It’s my turn to stay close to the princess. We’ll speak again, Lady Tiana.”