It was winter.
Snow was falling gracefully on top of the Winchester Castle. The hills and mountains around the castle were covered in rich layers of snow that seemed to sparkle under the winter sun. The scenery outside the window looked peaceful and quiet. Though, inside the castle was anything but quiet.
Servants were scattered everywhere, from the big courtyard to the many white gardens. Butlers and cooks were gathered in the enormous kitchen, all bickering and discussing about desserts. Somewhere inside the castle, the maids were running along after the Queen and following her orders.
“I want this castle to be spotless,” her Royal Highness, Katherine Winchester, had said in a sweet but authoritative tone to the flock of maids behind her. “There will be guests coming in no less than four days.”
Typically for the Queen, she flung her long golden hair behind her and left the maids in a chaos.
“What is all the commotion about?” a young maid named Anna asked the slightly elderly maid beside her.
“As you may know, sweet Anna, the prince has come of age to marry.” the elderly maid had said. When Anna looked at the maid cluelessly, Madam Mary smiled for having momentarily forgotten that the young maid had only been working with them for a year. She was yet to find out about all the big balls the Winchester Royal family had thrown over the years. This one, in particular, was more important than the others.
“There is going to be a ball,” Madam Mary started and Anna listened carefully. She did not want to make a mistake and get herself thrown out of the castle. She needed the money. Her family needed the money. “Unbethroted princesses from all kingdoms will come in fortnight and our young Prince Alexander will pick his bride to be.”
“The prince sure is a fine looking gentleman,” said Anna, “I have no doubt he would find a princess in a minute.”
The very mention of the occasion brought Anna to her childhood. She pictured herself as the little girl she used to be, playing in mud at the country side. She remembered how she used to imagine herself in a beautiful gown, dancing with the gentleman of her dreams. She often practiced dancing with a broom or with her brother, if she could have managed to persuade him with sweets.
There was something different about balls and dressed up people. She thought they brought enchantment to the atmosphere.
Anna leaned against the window and sighed, “I have never attended a ball.”
“Of course you have not, dear,” the elderly maid looked at her in pity. “Our kind is not supposed to go to these kind of events.”
The young maid sighed again, her big green eyes turning sad. “I know.”
“You ought to not waste your time on frowning,” Madam Mary warned the maid. “If her Royal Highness is to see you, there would be scolding.”
Shaking her head from her thoughts, Anna helped the other maid with the cleaning.
By the morning of the ball, the whole castle was clean and decorated appropriately for the ball. All the unnecessary servants and maids were sent down to their rooms before the ball even started, much to Anna’s dismay. The young maid had hoped her Highness would at least order her to serve food to the guests.
Madam Mary was watching Anna carefully. She had not uttered a single word since they entered their joined room. She laid on her bed, staring up at the gray stony ceiling. The elderly maid had grown very fond of Anna since she came to work at the castle. She was childish, but in a good way, as she cared for the people around her and was always up and about to cheer them up. It certainly was unusual for Madam Mary to see her like that.
Every time the young maid would enter a room, beauty radiated from her. Her long hair was brown with light tips from spending too much time in the sun as a child. Her skin was a mixture between creamy and gold and her lips the color of roses. If Madam Mary had not known of her, she ought to think of her as a princess. It was no doubt how the young maid had managed to persuade His Royal Highness to accept her in his castle. She had the knack of getting what she wanted just by showing off her enchanting smile.
But, the poor lass wanted nothing else but to help her family with the money she’d earn.
Feeling a tinge of pity for the girl, Madam Mary sighed and sat behind her sewing machine. Countless of dresses and gowns were laying on the floor beneath the machine. The elderly maid often sewed beautiful gowns for her Royal Highness. From silk to linen, she was seemingly capable of sewing everything.
Opening the wooden drawer behind her, an idea flickered in her head. There was a dress that she had yet to bring to the Queen’s attention, but was saving it. She rummaged through the drawers and cabinets until she finally saw sight of it, and grabbed it in her hands.
“Stop sulking, my dear,” Madam Mary had said to Anna. “Get up and start getting ready.”