Chapter 10 - Behind a Mask
Chapter 10 - Behind a Mask
Noah could not believe that he had let Willaminia talk him into joining the Royal Masked Ball. Still, nothing he said seemed to have any effect on her belief that he would participate in the festivities.
The woman had planned everything.
She hadn’t needed any help with the masks.
By asking him to help her, she managed to get him to the palace. Once he was there she had given him a large box and told him plainly, “Put it on.”
He at first thought that it was a uniform of some sort, but nothing was that easy with Willaminia.
Why hadn’t he seen it coming?
Who would have?
It had been a long night, and unfortunately for him it just started.
He had young Ladies coming up to him and asking him what his ‘name’ was and if he was free for the next dance. Wasn’t he supposed to be the one asking them?
He felt exhausted from all of the attention that he had been getting.
Willaminia told him that his masked persona was called Lord Coal, and Lord Coal had a favor from nearly every girl that spoke with him. It was impossible for him to walk two feet without being noticed.
Then he caught sight of her.
Well it looked like her. He hadn’t actually seen her in the last six weeks, but the woman had the same eyes, and the same raven colored hair as the vision that had been following him around the Manor.
Still he couldn’t be sure if it was her, or if his eyes were playing tricks on him.
During one of the dances he had managed to sit out, Noah caught sight of her dancing with a man in a brown suit. He wasn’t sure if she had seen him yet, but his heart sank when he saw her hand the man a handkerchief, just like many others that ladies had given him.
Noah knew what they meant and yet he couldn’t understand why it hurt him so much to see.
He turned away from the sight and began to walk through the ballroom, looking for some place that he could be alone.
As a young woman started walking towards him, Duchess Amber if he remembered correctly, a set of double doors caught his attention. Without a second thought Noah opened one and slipped out of the claustrophobic ballroom and into the cool night air.
~~~Same Scene, Change Character Focus
Alexandria was astonished as she peered out from behind one of the stone pillars. The Grand Ballroom, normally cold and empty, danced before her in a whirl of colors.
She had become exceedingly more nervous about the Masked Ball as it drew closer, but once it had started she felt almost like she did those six weeks ago at the Market, overwhelmed.
At least she felt beautiful in her dress. The silver-green fabric snugly hugged each of her curves without feeling binding. Her hair had been pulled back and cascade of soft curls fell lightly over her shoulders.
Her disguise made her feel like a completely new person.
She felt free.
She had been able to bypass the line of nobles waiting to retrieve a specific mask from Madam Pumberly since she already had one of her own. Her silver mask with dark green accents fit to her face perfectly, and kept her identity a secret.
Alexandria had the night to herself, at least until midnight.
Once she left the safety of her pillar, Alexandria noticed many different eyes on her. People of different shapes, sizes, and colors had noticed her. She scanned the room, but couldn’t seem to find the one person that she was looking for.
“Good evening, lovely lady.” A voice called from behind her. Alexandria turned slowly, knowing that the voice that addressed her was not the one she sought. “Might I ask you for your name, and a dance?” A gentleman in a dark grey suit, with a vibrant orange mask inquired.
“For tonight, I am Lady Jade,” she informed politely, “and you sir?”
“You may call me, Lord Hue.” The man responded.
Alexandria offered the man a small curtsy. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Might I have this dance, Lady Jade?” He asked.
Alexandria looked closely at Lord Hue, and noticed a warm pair of dark brown eyes looking back at her kindly. “A dance would be lovely, Lord Hue.” She decided.
She accepted his hand and, the moment the music started, he whisked her away.
As they were twirling around the room, Alexandria couldn’t help but noticed that the young man had a poor talent for dancing. Lord Hue apologized constantly for being off count, thankfully though; he hadn’t stepped on her toes. Half way through the dance a particular set of ice blue eyes caught her attention causing a familiar shiver to creep along her back.
He was here.
“Are you cold Lady Jade?” Her dance partner inquired concerned.
“Not at all Lord Hue.” She covered quickly, “It’s just the excitement I suppose, nothing to cause concern.”
Alexandria tried to keep her attention on her dance partner for the rest of the song. That became relatively easy when he completely messed up one part, and she had to coach him through the rest of the song.
After the dance, she thanked Lord Hue, who asked for another dance later, saying that she was the kindest dance partner he had all night. Alexandria was slightly confused by his statement given that there had only been three short dances prior to their own, but she agreed to think about it.
The ballroom was starting to fill up, but it was still early into the night. How many Lords and Ladies would end up being there that night?
“What is your name my Lady?” Another gentleman called.
Alexandria turned towards the voice and saw a man in dark brown suit, with matching mask, green eyes, and very light brown hair. He was roughly the same height as the person that she had been looking for, but he seemed a bit older, perhaps mid to late twenties.
“Jade, Lady Jade.” She responded answering his questioned, “And you sir?”
“Brown,” He answered with a sour face. “I am apparently, Sir Brown. Please don’t judge me for it.” He said lightly, “I did not pick it.”
Alexandria offered him a smile. “What is it that I can do for you Sir Brown?”
“Would you do me the honor of allowing me the next dance?”
“I do believe that the next spot on my card is empty, Sir Brown.” She informed, holding out her hand as the music started.
While Sir Brown escorted her to the dance floor, the pair of ice-like eyes caught her attention again.
She couldn’t be hallucinating, could she?
She had been seeing his eyes throughout the castle for the last six weeks, why would tonight be any different?
Alexandria tried to take her mind off of the young Lord that she would possibly never see again, and tried to concentrate on the man in front of her.
“Tell me a bit about yourself Sir Brown.” She began as he skillfully moved them about the floor.
“Well I’m from one of the outer most Kingdoms of this Land.” He said cryptically.
She didn’t blame him for being vague. The rules of the Masked Ball forbid the sharing of identities until after midnight. “You must have traveled far for this celebration then.”
“Any distance would be worth it, for a dance with you.” He beamed a smile at her.
Alexandria realized that he was openly flirting with her. The freedom of her mask allowed her the opportunity of flirting back. “I believe you are making me blush Sir.”
The words seemed forced to her, but if Sir Brown had noticed, he didn’t mock her for it. Instead he offered her a wide smile. “Then it seems that my night is complete.”
The song soon ended. Sir Brown escorted her off the dance floor and thanked her for the dance. She in turn handed him one of her favors, she had made ten after all. The Sky forbid what would happen if she kept any of them, and there were worse people that she could hand them to.
Before Sir Brown could say anything about her actions, something else caught her attention.
Someone else caught her attention.
She hurriedly curtsied and thanked him for his time, before leaving Sir Brown somewhat dazed on the edge of the dance floor.
He was there.
She knew that she wasn’t imagining it this time. He was in a dark green suit that made his light hair stand out.
His dark green mask was lined in silver and made his eyes look whiter than normal. She couldn’t imagine him in a more perfect ensemble.
As she followed him she couldn’t help but think that it was uncanny how well his outfit matched with her own. It was almost as if Lord Jenkins knew what she would be wearing, and dressed to match. She had a sneaking suspicion that Madam Pumberly had something to do with it.
Lord Hue, the man she had danced with earlier, interrupted her pursuit to ask her something. By the time she politely excused herself she had completely lost sight of the person she had been following.
Defeated, she wondered around the edge of the ballroom trying to remain unnoticed until she found herself next to the doors that led out to the balcony. Without a second thought, she opened one and slipped through to the other side.
The sun hovered just above the peak of the Farfiret Mountain range. It was only just setting, which was odd given how late it felt. The breeze that passed by her skin hinted at the autumn months that were on their way. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
It was a wonderful day for a birthday.
As she looked at the sky a figure caught her attention.
It was a man that much she was sure about, but the glare from the sun kept her from seeing who it was. Her heart skipped a beat when he moved slightly and sun illuminated the light hair on top of his head. She looked around to see if anyone else was out there with them.
When she decided that they were indeed alone, she walked towards the figure before her.
“It’s a lovely view. Is it not?” She asked lightly.
“Yes it is lovely?” A voice replied smoothly.
The voice didn’t match what she had been expecting to hear, and as he turned around to face her Alexandria realized that, although he was indeed handsome, he was not the man that she had believed him to be.
His reaction seemed confused as well. “Oh, forgive me Lady I thought you were somebody else.”
“No, it is I who must apologize, for startling you.” She said somewhat franticly.
“Mr. Gold.” He informed her, holding out a hand.
Alexandria shook his hand firmly. “It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Gold.”
“And who, might I ask, are you?” He inquired.
“Lady Jade.” She said offering him a kind smile.
“A pleasure.” He responded, his voice now taking an informative tone, instead of the smooth one.
Alexandria’s voice matched his tone. “Did you say that you were expecting someone else?”
“Well I had hoped to meet Miss Diamond,” he admitted easily, “but no luck. Were you expecting someone out here as well?”
“Me?” Alexandria spat out forcefully, before quickly adding, “No, I was escaping the crowd and thought I had spotted an acquaintance.”
“Ah, mistaken identity.” He deduced, not questioning her motives.
She accepted his conclusion, “It would seem so.”
“Mr. Gold?” a small voice asked from behind Alexandria. “Am I interrupting something?”
The young woman wasn’t as small as her voice made Alexandria think, but she was a beautiful young lady with a light gold dress on. The pair matched rather well, and the Princess felt slightly guilty for giving the woman any false thoughts.
“Don’t worry about interrupting anything Miss Diamond.” He assured, his attention fully claimed by the soft-spoken beauty. “Lady Jade here had just mistaken me for an acquaintance.”
“It is entirely my fault.” Alexandria agreed hoping that her voice sounded carefree, “Please forgive my mistake.”
“Oh.” It was all the shy woman said.
Alexandria curtsied and excused herself from the pair.
She walked to the staircase that led down to the gardens hoping to give the pair some privacy.
“They’re a cute couple.” A voice from above called, startling her.
Alexandria’s heart stopped. She hadn’t heard that voice in over a month, and yet she instantly knew to whom it belonged.
“What are you doing up there?” She asked noticing his feet dangling from the top railing of the staircase.
“Why must I tell you that?” He asked in a manner that didn’t suggest malice, or confusion at her question, just curiosity.
“You startled me for one, and also because I asked.” Alexandria shot back hoping she sounded more like she was teasing him, and less like a stubborn member of Society.
“What makes you so important that I am unable to startled you or deny answering your questions?” His voice seemed slightly hurt, but Alexandria didn’t know the reason why.
“I asked you first.” She reminded his feet, unable to look directly at him, partially because of the sun, but another unknown reason kept her eyes averted from him. Was she ashamed? Why?
“Well I talked first.” He countered. His tone morphing back to a lighthearted playfulness that she remembered, “I believe I startled you by doing so.”
“You are teasing me sir.” She realized happily.
He released a hearty laugh that caused a shiver to radiate across her shoulders. “You caught on quickly.”
“I might not have.” Alexandria warned him.
“True.” He admitted startling her as he hopped off of the railing, and landed softly on the step in front her. “But then I could always apologize for mistaking you for somebody else.”
“You were listening?” She realized, her eyes widening.
“Guilty.” He confessed.
Alexandria blushed realizing that he wasn’t as easily fooled as Mr. Gold. “I didn’t think I would see you tonight.” She confessed hoping to change the subject.
“I was debating on not coming.” He responded was rather serious.
“Might I ask, what brought you out here?” She wondered gesturing to the outside of the castle.
“I wanted some time alone.” He answered plainly.
“I see.” She stated, debating whether or not to leave him alone.
“Why do you sound sad?” He inquired softly.
Alexandria looked towards him, only to notice that he wasn’t looking out towards the gardens, or the mountains, or even the sunset; but directly at her. She forced herself to remain calm as she tried to remember the question that he had asked her. “There is no reason.” She managed.
“I don’t believe you.” He stated skeptically, and again Alexandria thought about how hard it would be to fool him. He had an intuition that few members of Society possessed.
“Well, it’s just...” She began trying to come up with a legitimate question. “Why didn’t you ask me for a dance?” Alexandria asked deciding to change the topic.
“What?” He blurted out startled by her frankness, “Is that really what you wanted to ask me?”
“Yes.” Alexandria decided.
“The night has barely started.” He answered easily, not even pausing to consider the question. “I only noticed your arrival moments ago, but you were dancing with someone else at the time.”
“Oh.” She stated simply, feeling her face blush at the spark of jealousy that she heard in his voice.
“But,” he paused catching her attention; “if you have an empty dance on your card, would you consider dancing it with me?” He was hesitant in asking his question, she could sense it. Why?
Why would he ask in a way that sounded like he expected her to reject him?
“And what name will I place on my card good sir?” She said teasing him.
Lord Jenkin’s face whitened, “Excuse me?”
“I am Lady Jade,” She informed, confused by his reaction, “but who are you tonight?”
A small smirk of understanding found its way to his face and Alexandria couldn’t help but smile.
“Lord Coal.” He finally answered.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Lord Coal.” She said holding out her hand.
“The pleasure is all mine.” His words were commonplace, but the moment he grasped her hand Alexandria sensed something else behind them. It was almost as if Lord Noah Jenkins was trying to convey a secret message, but she didn’t have the code.
“Now,” She interjected, deciding to change the subject. “Please tell me, how you came to be sitting on the top of the railing?”
“You actually want to know?” He asked, his voice a mixture of awe and confusion.
“Yes.” She replied actually intrigued. Alexandria had spent many hours climbing the stairs to the top of her Tower, but it never occurred to her to climb up a railing so that she could sit atop the wall.
Before he could answer the dinner bell rang out loudly from inside the ballroom. Alexandria couldn’t help the sadness that panged her heart. Since the ball was designed for guests to not know each other, the seating had been arraigned alphabetically biased off of each person’s new persona. Coal and Jade weren’t near each other, so Alexandria would not be able to sit near Lord Noah Jenkins during dinner.
“Well it would seem we are being summoned.” He said lightheartedly as he moved to head up the stairs.
“I still want to know.” Alexandria insisted as he slid past her, his body barely an inch from hers.
Both of them stilled as an unknown force stopped his feet from continuing up the steps. “Well,” He choked out softly, as if speaking had suddenly become difficult, “If you would be so kind as to lead me to the dining room, I will tell you all about it.”
“You’re teasing me again Lord Coal.” She scolded playfully, remembering to use his masquerade name.
“Always.” He vowed. He held out his arm for her to take, and together they headed towards the Grand Dining room.
As they walked at a comfortable pace, he spoke quietly about how he got on top of the railing. Alexandria kept wondering why on earth Lord Noah would climb the railing to begin with, but he didn’t divulge that information. Maybe he actually wanted to be alone, maybe the railing offered a better view of the sunset, or maybe he did it just because he could.