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The pelting rain fell in a cold sheet assaulting the window too, blurring any possible vision, but she could still see the long procession of carriages outside. They were gold, silver, and sapphire blue with gilded decorations, pulled by magnificent steeds, whose coats were slick from the downpour. Waiting servants held umbrellas for the guests who stepped out. She watched them come, dreading the moment when she would have to go down and meet them all. It had been her father’s idea, this party. So she could be put on display like an exotic animal at a fair.

This whole thing was absurd. She was only sixteen, and her life was about to be given away. Her father had told her that every girl in the land envied her, and she would gladly trade places with any one of them in an instant. She didn’t find her position something to be jealous of; if anything the whole world should feel sorry for her. On the day of the wedding every guest should sob and wear black. That would be fitting for the situation. A loud knock on the door interrupted her train of thought as she gazed down.

She turned and adjusted her hairpiece. “Enter,” she commanded, wondering if the authority in her tone masked the fearful girl beneath it. The door opened and a thin girl dressed in a simple frock with a bundle of pink silk in her arms came in with a smile.

“Getting haughty now, are we, Julietta?” the maid asked, an amused glimmer in her eyes.

“Oh Raya, thank goodness,” Julietta’s stiff expression relaxed. “I thought you we my father,” she made a face at the wall behind Raya.

“Yes, yes, there’s plenty of time to go off about your father, but you have to change,” Raya elaborated her statement by holding up the silk in her arms.

“Oh,” Julietta said quietly. “I thought he was going to let me pick out my own outfit for the occasion,” she gestured to her dress, a grey gown that reflected her mood.

“He changed his mind. Probably had the plan to do so all along. He must’ve known you’d put on something like that. Not that I don’t blame you, or anything. Just not the most festive wear if you know what I’m saying,” Raya said, a bit sadly. “You’re not to wear that flower either,” she pointed to Julietta’s head, and unclipped it from her hair. It was fake, and it’s shimmering beads contrasted the drab dress, but Julietta loved it anyway.

Julietta reached out to reclaim the flower. “Raya, you know my mother gave this to me,” she whispered, her gaze fogging with tears.

“Aye, I know. Your father doesn’t want anything in your hair though,” Raya put a comforting hand on Julietta’s shoulder while she gently took the flower back and placed it onto Julietta’s desk. “Now one moment,” she deposited the dress into Julietta’s arms and crossed the room to her wardrobe. Emerging soon she carried a small hoop skirt in one hand, but Julietta was more concerned with what the other hand held.

“I don’t have to wear that corset, do I?” she begged. “I hate that thing. It’s impossible to breathe in.”

“Aye, indeed,” Raya frowned at the corset. “Looks more like a torture trap than the latest fashion, but...”

“I know, I know. My father wants it,” Julietta sighed. “Let’s just get this over with, Raya.” The next few minutes passed in silence as Raya helped Julietta out of the gray dress, and into the pink one, complete with hoop skirt and corset.

“You’re a truly natural beauty,” Raya sighed admiringly. “It’ll be a sad day to see you go.”

“Please don’t talk about that,” Julietta told her. “I don’t need any reminding.”

“You’re right, Julietta. Very right, of course. I’d best be going now. You ought to be heading downstairs. Good night.” Raya moved to the door.

“Good night,” Julietta watched her go. Once the door had closed with a muffled thud, she turned to the window again. Sure enough, the line of carriages was trickling away, and fewer were arriving. She’d have to make her grand entrance any time now. Yay. She couldn’t wait.

Before leaving the room, Julietta paused in front of the mirror that stood next to her bed. Was it too late to call the whole thing off? She stared hopelessly at her reflection. Thick golden hair had been twisted into a long braid, then woven into a bun at the back of her head. A few loose strands had been curled into perfect coils, and they hung about her face. Her porcelain skin didn’t need any powder to make it whiter, and her sparkling blue eyes stood out without any paints to help them. Her cheeks were rosy and her lips plump and red, also without any assistance. Her styler had announced her as a natural beauty, but she wasn’t sure about that.

A final look outside the window confirmed that everyone invited was inside; if she wasn’t down soon a guard would be sent after her to make sure everything was all right. There was no delaying the inevitable anymore. She couldn’t keep putting it off in hopes that it would vanish all together. Leaving her room, she practiced taking dainty, ladylike steps as she descended the stairwell. Her feet were dying in the tiny slippers they were forced into.

Outside of the banquet hall, her father awaited. He broke into a smile as she appeared. “Ah, there you are, Julietta! I was getting a bit worried. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, now would we?” He laughed, his round belly shaking.

“Of course not, Father,” Julietta managed with a respectful smile. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, and he frowned, deep lines creasing his face.

“Come, now, Julietta. You must stop that fidgeting. It’s awkward, and...and unacceptable,” he instructed firmly. “Nothing bothering you, I hope?” he sneered, and suddenly Julietta felt very small in the corridor, empty excluding her and her father. She also felt very angry.
“No, Father, just that I’m getting married,” she spat.

He looked surprised at the defiance. Good. “Julietta, stop that nonsense this instant,” he scolded. “The excitement must be getting to your head.”

“Why pretend? No one’s here. We both know I despise the whole idea of this marriage. You’re only in it for the money...and the fame. If Mother was here, she’d put her foot down,” I replied.

“You’re mother is dead, Julietta!” her father hissed. “Stop right now or I’ll...”

“You’ll what?” Julietta snarled, fire running through her. Her fists were clenched, fingernails digging into skin. The entire argument was whispered, as not to alert the guests, but Julietta wanted to roar with rage. “Stop the wedding? Well, go right ahead. Be my guest.” She crossed her arms and smirked. Her father was dumfounded and stood in silence a few moments. The sudden sound of a trumpet nipped of the quarrel, and they sprang apart.

Even from the other side of the door the herald could be heard. “Announcing, the Lord of the Manor, Sir Theoralatus Aster Corrinthial!” Two butlers reached and opened the doors from the inside, allowing her father to enter among polite applause. Julietta caught the sight of people craning their necks to see her as the doors closed. “Now, presenting to you, his daughter, Lady of the Manor, and your future queen, Lady Julietta Sophia Anastasia Marie Corrinthial!”

“You can call me Julietta,” she muttered to herself as the doors opened again. Her mouth broke into a winning smile as she entered the room to a standing ovation. People near the walls stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse as she walked to the front banquet table, set with golden plates, goblets, and silverware. She sat beside her beaming father, all signs of any disagreement erased before this audience, and as she did everyone else plunked into their seats again. Only her father remained standing.

“Thank you all for coming,” he boomed. “I’m very proud of my beautiful daughter, future monarch of the kingdom. Her memory will live on forever. Future bride of the prince,” he didn’t mention what he had said to her in private, and what everyone knew. The current king was ailing and in very poor health. It was only a matter of time before he left this world, and left kingship to his son. “Plus the future mother to a future king!” Of course, they’d be expected to have many heirs. The current king and queen had eighteen children! Eighteen! “Let the feast commence,” he finished with a broad grin. As the courses were brought before them, Julietta felt sickly; not from the food-she barely touched it-but from everyone staring at her. She knew they were all talking about her.

The prince, Prince Tybelt was called the most handsome in the kingdom. He attracted all sorts of duchesses and foreign princesses. If it wasn’t for Julietta’s noble status he hardly would have glanced her way. Beneath his polished surface he was arrogant, spiteful, and unlikeable. They had met two months ago during marriage planning, and she never wanted to see him again. She couldn’t stomach a bite thinking that she would soon be pledging her life to him.

Afterwards came another torturous affair. Dancing. Julietta had learned all the ball room dances by heart to the point that she could do them in her sleep, but tonight was a different matter. Her first dance was with her father, and after that a long trail of dukes, earls, counts, and lords came to dance with her. As she spun around the room keeping up the false facade of pure bliss and beauty, she could feel the stares penetrating her. After midnight the event was over at last. Julietta paid no attention to the carriages departing outside when she returned to her room, exhausted. A small package lay on her bed, and she looked at the note.

Lady Julietta Sophia Anastasia Marie Corrinthial,

Here is a model of the wedding dress. It is positively delightful. You will look gorgeous at your wedding, no one will be able to look away from you.

Sir Isodoro Gladis

Isodoro Gladis. That name struck a bell. Oh, of course. The designer from the capital. Julietta was filled with dread as she opened the box. Inside was a small doll, made of china, and she was wearing a dress. Julietta's wedding dress-in a miniature version. A thick lace veil shrouded the face. The dress itself was made of silk, lace and velvet. A tight corset with long, lacy sleeves squeezed her chest and stomach. The hoop skirt was massive with a long lace train. The doll even held a bouquet of pink roses.

Julietta stared at the doll with a combination of shock and horror. It was her worst nightmare come to life. In less than a month she would be wed-wearing this dress.

“No!” Julietta shrieked, throwing the doll at the ground. It shattered into a million pieces, the frail dress shredded on the sharp edges. She didn’t stop to think. Julietta strode to the window and pushed it open, inviting the downpour to wash over her face and arms. As an afterthought, she yanked off the corset and threw it into the mud below. It was followed by the hoop skirt. She hauled herself out the window, and onto the vines that crept up the manor. Quick as a spider she scuttled down and tore off. Thank goodness all the carriages had left, she thought as she sprinted down the drive that led to the main road. Stopping at the gate, she tore a piece of fabric from her dress. Julietta scraped her thumb against the bar, and smeared the small trickle of blood against the fabric.

There. Let them think she was taken by a gang of robbers, or a wild animal. She tangled the fabric among the bars. Raya was the only reason that might hold her back, but she knew the maid would understand. She might even figure out Julietta’s plan. Running away, ignoring the cold rain, she gave a real smile for the first time in a few months. She didn’t know where she was headed-as long as it was away from here. She would change her fate.



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