Chapter 11 - Unwanted Attention
Chapter 11 - Unwanted Attention
Noah was glad that Annabell, Lady Jade, was nowhere near him during dinner. He had never eaten a meal that needed more than a small knife and a pair of clean hands. Back at the Montego Manner he sometimes helped Cook set the table. He knew the order that each strange shaped fork went in next to the stack of plates, but he had no idea which utensil was appropriate for which course.
Why did he need three different spoons when each one had the same function?
The whole ordeal was rather confusing to him.
Noah looked at the other people at the ‘C’ table. He noticed that Lord Copper, the man’s masked name, was using the second smallest fork to eat his salad. Noah did the same.
“So, Lord Coal, how was your trip?” a woman’s voice asked.
Noah didn’t know whose voice the question belonged to, but he inwardly cringed at it. He decided to keep Lord Jenkins’s persona from Market Day. The Sky forbid what would happen if members of Society thought that he was from Alminia. However, the fact that Lord Coal was not Alminian, seemed to make him a popular target for questioning.
He didn’t understand why so many people felt the need to ask about everything? It didn’t sit well with him.
“Oh are you not from here Lord, Coal?” One of the other Ladies, who hadn’t been listening earlier asked interested.
“No, I’m-” He started, but was interrupted.
“He’s from Terrafeuw.” The gossipy older woman known as Misses Champagne interjected.
Lord Copper put down his fork and decided to join the conversation that seemed to revolve around Noah. “Are you really?” he asked.
“Yes.” Noah replied simply hoping to end the conversation quickly.
A young woman in a dark chocolate brown mask deiced that she wanted to know more. “Is there anyone here that you recognize, from home?”
“From Terrafeuw?” He asked trying to decipher the question. When she nodded he continued. “No, Lady Chestnut, why do you ask?”
Miss Citrine, a smaller version of Lady Chestnut, radiated excitement as she bounced on her seat. “Do you think he might be here?” She asked Lady Chestnut, making Noah think that the two might be related.
“He could be,” The young woman answered, “Many other Royals were able to attend.”
“Pardon me, Lady Chestnut,” Lord Copper asked, his fork frozen at the edge of his mouth. “Who is it that you are talking about?”
“Oh well,” She said shyly knowing that speaking of people’s actual lives was frowned upon before midnight. She played with the glass in her hand for a moment before saying quietly. “Now, it’s just a rumor, but they say that Prince Phillip of Terrafeuw was invited but he couldn’t attend.”
Misses Champagne looked suspiciously at Noah and asked, “Lord Coal, would you know the reason?”
“I do not.” He responded.
“Maybe he did come.” Lord Copper offered.
“Do you think he’d come all this way and keep his identity hidden?” Miss Citrine asked her voice filled with excitement.
“It is a masked ball.” Noah replied without thinking.
“He’s supposedly no older than you Lord Coal” A woman whose name he didn’t know accused.
All eyes fell on Noah, and he knew that he had to say something before they started to believe what wasn’t true. “I have relatives in the Alminia, that were married recently.” He tried to explain, but the lie felt weak on his tongue.
“Your relatives must be very thankful for your presence.” Misses Champagne said pointedly clearly not believing him. “When do you journey home?”
Once again Noah said the first thing that came to mind. “I’ll be leaving when the week is out.”
“So soon?” Miss Citrine whined sadly.
“Yes, well,” He said trying to come up with a believable reason, “I’ve been away far too long.”
An awkward silence fell among the table until the serving staff brought out the next course. The eyes of the members of Society watched him cautiously for the rest of the meal making him rather uncomfortable. Once again Noah found himself wishing that he could go back to being as disregarded as the Servant he was, not the Lord he was masquerading as.
Just as the servers placed the last meal in front of them, Noah’s eyes caught the backs of two figures at a near by table. He had been avoiding his Masters’ rather well for most of the night, but seeing the Twins, reminded him just how unlucky he’d be if anyone realized who he was.
“I heard that even the Princess is masked tonight.” Sir Cyan announced, speaking up for the first time.
“That would be delightfully mysterious of her.” Miss Citrine gossiped happily.
“It is a true masquerade then.” Lady Chestnut responded with a smile.
‘Well she’s isn’t the only one in hiding’. Noah thought to himself, staring intently at the piece of bright pink cake in front of him.
“Do you think the handkerchiefs have anything to do with it?” Lord Copper asked.
“You mean like clues?” Asked Sir Cyan putting his dessertspoon down. “It would be rather appropriate given the theme.”
“This is just marvelous.” Miss Citrine said gleefully motioning to the cake and changing the table’s conversation as each person guessed at what was in the dessert.
Noah didn’t offer the group any information about the creation of the apparently successful final course.
Dinner had passed slower than Noah would have liked, but it did pass. The people of Society at table ‘C’ all thanked each other for the conversation and dispersed back out towards the ballroom. Lady Chestnut slipped him a favor, a blush on her cheeks, before she followed the group leaving the room.
Noah paused and noticed two white doves flying on the edge of the ivory handkerchief. He put it in his breast pocket with the others.
Throughout the night he had been forgetting his actual place in the social rankings, just as he had earlier with Annabell. He had once prided himself in knowing the boundaries of society. He knew where the line was drawn, but the Masquerade Ball blurred that line. The way that he acted around her didn’t make any logical since, but he had been comfortable doing it.
How was it possible that logic seemed to disappear when he was around her?
“Is there a problem sir?” The familiar timid voice behind Noah caused him to turn suddenly. “If there isn’t anything wrong, we would like that ask you please clear the Grand Dining Room.
Noah stared intently at his friend. She didn’t recognize him.
“Sir, are you alright?” She asked concerned.
“Tilly?” He asked cautiously hopping that he wasn’t seeing things.
She answered slowly, “Forgive me sir, but how do you know my name?”
Noah looked around to make sure that all of the guests had left, before he removed his mask. “Well I thought that you were my friend, Till.” He said with a laugh.
Even without his mask on it took Tilly a moment before she recognized him. “Noah?! I don’t understand. What are you...? How are you...? You can’t be here.”
Noah hurriedly put his mask back on, and tried to calm her down before someone noticed. “You think that I don’t know that?” He asked referring to her last statement.
“Then how...?” She questioned, her timid voice returning.
“Willaminia.” It was all he had to say.
A look of understanding instantly fell on Tilly’s face, followed quickly by concern. “Noah you must go home. If they find out...”
“You not going to tell on me are you Till?” He asked concerned.
“Please, I just, I mean I...” He began trying to figure out what he wanted to say. “Look I’ll be careful, I promise. It’s a bit hard when ‘Lord Coal’ is so popular, but I’m doing my best to go unnoticed.”
“Lord Coal?” She grunted out of character, “Well it’s appropriate.”
“I didn’t pick it.” He reminded
“So how long are you one of them for?” She asked softly before explaining. “How long before you get to return the outfit?
“I’m like this until Twins are ready to leave.”
“So you have all night then?” Tilly realized. She started shooing him away from her. “Well you should get back to the ballroom. Being overly friendly with the staff is the easiest way for you to get caught.”
“If it took you that long to recognize me, I should be fine.” Noah informed hopefully.
Tilly laughed slightly and ushered him back towards the ballroom. “Good Luck.” She whispered softly then, just like that, she was gone.
~~~Change Character Focus
Alexandria waited for Lord Coal by the doors that separated the Grand Ballroom from the hallway. She hoped that, since the table that she had been sitting at was closer to the Dining room exit, she had entered the ballroom earlier than he, but he hadn’t arrived yet and for some reason that worried her.
As the crowed waned she wondered if it was possible that she had missed him completely? Given how crowded the entrance had been at one point, she wasn’t entirely certain that she’d see him.
What if he had arrived before her?
Would he have waited?
He had asked for a dance with her, but he never said which one. What if someone else at his table caught his eye?
Her thoughts offered her little comfort as the trickle of people coming into the room ceased completely.
“Excuse me Lady.” A sickening sweet voice called from behind her. “We were hoping that you would be able to help us.
Alexandria turned and noticed two men standing near her wearing a pair of the most obnoxiously ornamented outfits that she had seen all night. “I beg your pardon?” She asked hoping that they hadn’t been talking to her.
“I am Mr. Bronze.” The one on the left in a mainly red ensemble answered, indicating that they had been talking to her. “And this is my brother...”
“Mr. Brass, at your pleasure.” He introduced. His outfit, though mainly blue, was very similar to his brother’s, if it could be called an outfit. Alexandria couldn’t help but think that the brothers in front of her were wearing costumes rather than formal wear.
“Mr. Brass, Mr. Bronze.” She stated as non-charismatically as possible. “I am Lady Jade.”
The one on the left, Mr. Bronze, answered first, “My brother and I were having a dispute.” He began.
“And we were hoping that you would be able to help us resolve it.” Mr. Brass finished.
“Me?” Alexandria asked as a sickening sensation crawled across her back. “How might I be of assistance?”
The pair stepped closer. Alexandria tried to move away but found the wall of the ballroom blocked her escape.
“Well,” Mr. Brass began, “We have been debating which one of us would have the pleasure of dancing the next set with you. Either myself or my-”
“Or perhaps me?” Bronze interrupted.
“Gentlemen please.” Alexandria began, flattening her palms to the wall behind her so that perhaps, just perhaps, she could pass through it to the other side. “I won’t be able to dance the next set with either of you.”
They took another step forward and their proximity made her nervous.
“Why is that?” The voice of one of them asked as she looked about her trying to find an excuse to leave.
“It’s just that, my next dance is taken.” She tried to sound strong in front of them, but her voice came out weak and hesitant.
Her thoughts began to run away from her. What would happen to her if Lord Coal had found someone else to dance with while at dinner? Would she end up having to dance with the two men in front of her?
“Is it now?” Mr. Bronze asked skeptically.
Mr. Brass also didn’t seem to believe her. “Well the next set will be starting in just a few moments. Please tell us, where is this mysterious dance partner of yours?”
Again they stepped closer. They stood a breath away from her, just as close as Lord Jenkins had been earlier that night on the steps, but the shiver that currently ran up her spine was nothing like what she had felt before dinner.
“Come on Lady Jade,” Mr. Bronze said taking her arm firmly, “How about you dance the first set with me?”
Mr. Brass offered a disappointed look, but he didn’t say anything to contradict his brother’s words.
Alexandria could feel herself hyperventilating. She had never been in this type of situation before. She closed her eyes, as she felt his hand tug her towards the dance floor and hoped for something to miraculous to happen.
And it did.
The man’s pull stopped.
“Excuse me Sir, but you are in our way,” Mr. Bronze’s voice appeared formal, but the threat was evident. “Lady Jade and I have the next set.”
“That is for the lady to decide.”
Alexandria’s eyes snapped open at recognition of the voice, however she was momentarily confused at the appearance of the man that block Mr. Bronze’s path. He looked like Lord Jenkins, he had the same suit, the same hair color, and he was wearing the same mask, but his eyes were different.
Lord Coal’s eyes had looked nearly white earlier that night. The mask outlined his light blue eyes in silver, making them look even lighter. But now, they were dark, harsh. They reminded her of the sky as a storm rolled in, dangerous.
He became a person that demanded respect easily, but the brothers blocking her exit didn’t seem to grasp that knowledge.
“Get out of our way, please.” Mr. Bronze clearly threatened.
“No.” He responded flatly.
Mr. Bronze’s grip tightened on Alexandria’s wrist.
“What is your name, sir?” Mr. Brass asked, coming to the aid of his brother.
“That does not matter.” Lord Jenkins retorted, his tone unwavering.
Mr. Bronze stepped closer to Lord Coal, pulling Alexandria away from the safety of the wall. “I would like to know the name of the man that stands between me and the dance floor?” He insisted.
Lord Jenkins didn’t appear phased by the man’s sudden closeness. “I am the lady’s next dance partner.” The two men looked at him skeptically, but he ignored them and continued speaking, “If you disbelieve my words, you may confirm them with the Lady herself.”
Three pairs of eyes turned towards her, and Alexandria once again wished that she could pass through the ballroom wall. She didn’t dare look at Mr. Bronze, or Mr. Brass, the looks that she had received from them earlier had felt dangerously possessive. She didn’t like how their eyes watched her intently.
Instead, she focused on Lord Coal.
His eyes were still storming within their sockets, but Alexandria didn’t look away. She couldn’t look away. She found herself desperately drawing strength from those eyes. Lord Noah Jenkins nodded towards her, indicating that it was safe for her to speak.
“Excuse me my good sirs,” she said feeling Mr. Bronze’s grip tighten possessively, “but this man is correct. I did promise him the next dance.”
“Well then,” Mr. Bronze began, “it seems such a shame to let you leave so soon Lady Jade.” his hand moved towards her face and she knew that he meant to caress her. Alexandria closed her eyes expectantly and her body stiffened, but his hand didn’t reach her.
Cautiously she opened her eyes.
His hand still reached for her face but it had stopped just inches away, held back by another’s hand. Alexandria’s eyes followed the hand that held Mr. Bronze’s at bay, and noticed that it was connected to Lord Coal. When had he moved in front of her, and how had he not made a sound by doing so?
“I would appreciate it if you let go of my arm.” Mr. Bronze said, his voice as cold as the mountains in winter.
Lord Coal moved so that his body acted like a shield, completely blocking Mr. Bronze from her view before he released the man’s hand. “And I,” He responded, his voice still apparently unmoved by the Mr. Bronze’s presence, “I would appreciate it if you and your brother left the Lady alone.”
“Who are you to ask such a thing?” Mr. Brass demanded stepping up next to his brother.
Lord Noah Jenkins turned his head slightly to glance at her. “I,” he said as he offered her his arm, “well, we,” he corrected with a smile as she grasped his elbow, “were just leaving.” It was all he gave them as an answer.
Alexandria couldn’t help the grin that found its way to her face as he led her away from the two men. The scene of how he had basically rescued her from those two brothers replayed in her mind. His words and unaffectedness at their harshness had seemed second nature.
“How did you know?” Alexandria asked perplexed about something, “Mr. Brass and Mr. Bronze,” she continued, “How did you know that they were brothers?”
She looked up at him expectantly, but the storm that had been in his eyes hadn’t settled yet. He didn’t appear to hear her question. He remained silent until they reached the edge of the dance floor, and his voice was so low that she could barely hear it over the din of the chatter around them.
“Please,” he said placing his unoccupied hand on top of hers. She instinctively tightened her hold on his elbow, “just please stay away from them.”
The request seemed too personal. She wanted to ask him about it, but her earlier unanswered questioned answered its self.
“You know them, don’t you?” She asked.
He didn’t look at her, but he nodded in response to her question.
Alexandria didn’t need to ask Load Coal how he knew the two men. His way of dealing with them, his warning, his reason for even being in Alminia told her all she needed to know about them. Mr. Bronze and Mr. Brass were his Alminian cousins.
The three were roughly all the same height, but with the masks on Alexandria wasn’t able to see any other quality that hinted that they were related. Perhaps they married into his family. Alexandria certainly hoped so.
The music started and Alexandria noticeably felt Lord Coal relax.
“I believe you asked for a dance.” She reminded, a smile finding its way to her face as he lead her to the floor.
The dance was a slow and intimate one. This excited Alexandria as she realized that she would be able to spend the next few minutes in the arms of the man that had allowed her to call him by his first name.