Survival of Me
Wild Horses and Ball GownsTWO-Wild Horses and Ball Gowns
"Izzy! Wake up!" Jason’s voice sounded close to my ear and I jerked awake.
"What?" I gasped, sitting up.
"Easy. It’s ok, you just need to get up. You need to see the tailor before I can tell my parents you're here," he replied.
“Why? I brought clothes,” I told him.
“Don’t you remember anything from the galas and feasts and parties I dragged you to? You are not going to wear breeches at these parties. You don’t have to wear petticoats or those crazy heeled shoes but could you at least wear a dress tonight?” he told me.
“Tonight? Oh no, it’s tonight?” I cried. He just nodded, amused. On the full moon of Harvest Moon, the kingdoms celebrated the Harvest Festival. At the palace, this meant a royal feast and ball. This was also the first big event of the Royal Court’s social season, which ran from the month of Harvest Moon to Snowmelt Moon. Knights chose squires during this season, and it was a way to learn the news from around the kingdom that hadn’t yet reached the Royal City. It was also when young men and women who had come of age were presented to the Court for the first time. I was one.
“Will you let me escort you?” he asked softly.
“Well, if we are courting then yes, I think I shall,” I teased, smiling.
“Iz, be serious, please,” he pleaded.
“Alright. Yes, you may escort me,” I said.
He grinned and kissed my fingers. Then he leaned over and kissed my cheek before standing and walking out.
I sighed and walked into the dressing room. Using a damp cloth from the wash basin, I scrubbed my face clean, and then washed my teeth with a smaller cloth and a mint flavored soap paste. I brushed out my long hair until the unruly honey colored locks hung down my back. A young maid carried in a large basin of steaming water to pour in the tub against the wall. She nodded to me as she left and I looked in. The basin was nearly full; she had been filling it while Jason woke me. I pulled off my night dress and loincloth, and then stepped into the tub.
I sighed happily as the warm water loosened several tight muscles in my shoulders and back. Using gel like hair soap, I scrubbed the forests grime from my hair. I used a bar of scented soap to scrub my body and rinsed away the soap bubbles. Climbing from the tub, I tied my hair up and wrapped it in a towel. I wrapped another around my body and took up the loincloth and breast band the maid had laid for me on a rack in the corner. A white shift and under skirt followed, with a simple blue dress on top. Soft leather boots went over stockings.
I hung the towels on a second rack and reentered my temporary bedchamber. Running a brush through my hair again, I heard a soft knock on the door. Opening the door, I found the young maid. “His Highness, Prince Jason, sent me to care for you, my lady,” she said, curtsying.
I stepped back from the door and smiled. “Please, come in,” I replied.
“I’m Tara, my lady,” the girl added as she banked the small hearth fire. She opened the shutters on the large windows, revealing the Moon Garden. As I was on the fifth floor of the keep, I could see the whole thing perfectly. The Moon Garden was the Queen’s garden, she and her guests and friends often sat on one of the benches or in one of the flower covered gazebos. The gardens centered around a small pond and willow trees, with beautiful arrangements of white pebble pathways through beds of roses and lilies, tulips and violets, peonies and cherry blossom trees. Most visiting ladies preferred room with a view of the Moon Garden, as did I.
Royalty and nobles had rooms on the fifth and sixth floors, and many had balconies. The fourth floor was the rooms for knights. The third was free squires, pages, and servant quarters. The second floor was palace craftspeople, such as tailors, scribes, or clerks. The first floor was ballrooms, the Great Hall, dining chambers, parlors, and such. The palace not only contained the main keep, but also several courtyards, practice yards, guest houses, several stables, and barracks. The whole thing was surrounded by a curtain wall of stone. The Royal City spread around the palace, about a hundred paces from any point on the wall.
I was recalled to the real world as the door to Jason’s study opened. From the corner of my eye I saw Tara curtsey deeply; it was royalty. Jason’s hands touched my shoulders, light and gentle. “Ready?” he asked. I nodded and let him guide me from the room. I walked not on his arm, as was proper, but independently beside him.
Jason led me through the quiet castle; most nobles were taking the opportunity to sleep before a very long night. When we reached the tailors’ chambers, we found the seamstresses and assistants all hard at work. “Your Highness, my lady, welcome and good morning,” one woman said, coming from one of the several adjoining rooms.
“Good morning, Mistress Farna,” Jason replied. “This is Lady Isabella of Silverwood,” he introduced me loudly, earning himself a quick glare.
Farna curtsied and took my hand with strong fingers. She pulled me gently into a fitting room and closed the door on Jason. Grinning, I looked around. Stands lined two of the four walls, each holding a dress or gown. “His Highness told me you’re not one for petticoats, my lady,” she said, taking my measurements. “Ah, good, the same. His Highness got us measurements from your Midsummer’s gown,” she added.
“He did? Hmm. He must have been planning to sneak me away for a while,” I mused softly.
“From what I hear of palace gossip, he’s been planning this since Lord Finnegan proposed to his Grace that you marry his son,” she told me.
“I don’t understand how such a great man can have such an airhead of a son,” I replied as she helped me out of the blue dress. A forest green gown trimmed with gold and silver settled in its place. The gown needed no petticoats or full skirts; I liked the simple, elegant style that fit so nicely. I twirled and Farna clapped delightedly.
“I think this shall be the only one you need try on. The others were made with the same measurements and adjustments. Which do you think you will wear tonight?” she said as she helped me from the dress.
I turned and examined each dress. There were eleven in all; the green with gold and silver, silver with pale blue, lilac with dark gold, sapphire blue with white, maroon with pale gold and white, light gold with pink, light pink with cream, light blue with dark blue, silver-blue with dark purple, ivory with pale green, and blue-violet with silver. “I think I’ll wear the silver-blue one,” I told her.
She nodded and tied the back of the simple blue dress for me. “My lady, just for fair-warning, the Queen knows you’re here, and has already had several rooms prepared for you. All the matching jewelry and shoes are waiting for you in there,” she whispered.
“Oh, lovely. Who else knew Jason was planning this?” I asked.
“Very few knew, but everyone heard the rumors,” she replied, her eyes twinkling.
I sighed and said, “How much do I owe you for the dresses?”
“Nothing, my lady, they have been paid for. Two by Lord Tomas and Lady Liliandell, two by Lord Taylor and Lady Susanna, one by Lady Christiananna, one by Lord Ian, one by Lady Rosanna, two by Lord Finnegan and Lady Celia, one by Prince Jason and the last by their Majesties. It seems they all know you would not bring any gowns with you,” she replied.
“Perhaps it is that they all know I have no dowry,” I murmured.
“My lady has no dowry?!” Farna gasped.
I nodded and explained the dowries and inheritances of my brothers and sisters. Most noble dowries were land and money while the lady brought her belongings to her husband’s home. The dowries for the common folk were a bit different. A common dowry consisted of small amounts of money as well as things her husband needed, such as servants if they could be afforded, food, animals, or tools of his trade. If the woman was the owner of a shop before she married, she brought the business with her when she married. For a woman to have no dowry was rare, even more so for a noblewoman. It meant her father didn’t have the money to spend on his daughter, which was far from true. Before my mother had died, I was going to share Silverwood with Taylor; the castle was plenty large enough for several families. But when Father remarried, the Duchess decided it wouldn’t do, and I was left with no dowry. I was considering buying my own townhouse for a dowry, but Father wouldn’t let me spend the money when I had a perfectly good home. I shook myself back to the present as Farna led me from the fitting room.
There, I took Jason’s hand again as Farna called servants to bring the gowns to my new rooms. “Thank you for paying for the gown,” I whispered as Jason and I strolled towards the Throne Hall. Now that the palace was waking up, the King and Queen would be greeting the most important guests. People bowed and curtsied as we moved through the Hall, heading from the raised dais where the thrones sat.
We waited until the King and Queen greeted the heir to the Pioni Islands’ throne, Prince Jacana, and his wife, Princess Guinevere, their daughter. Jason greeted his eldest sister, and then spoke softly to his mother. The Queen stood and came down to stand before me. “Your Majesty,” I murmured, curtsying.
“Izzy, please,” she smiled and I straightened. “I know of your troubles at home, dear one, and wish to welcome you properly, but I’m afraid that will have to wait. I had a feeling you would not wish to be near your family or Duke Finnegan’s family, so your rooms are in the east wing instead of the west wing,” she said.
“Thank you, and thank you for the gown,” I replied softly.
“Consider it a gift from an aunt, my dear,” she advised me. I curtsied again, smiling, and she returned to her throne.
“Come on,” Jason urged, taking my hand again. “People are watching,” he added. I smiled as he led me up to the fifth floor of the east wing.
There, Tara met us and led me to my new rooms. “Here’s the key, my lady,” she said, handing me a silver key. I opened the door and stepped into a lilac and cream sitting room. Couches and armchairs encircled a marble fireplace. A beautiful chandelier lit the room from overhead. Purple lilacs, roses, lilies, calla lilies, orchids, hibiscuses, hydrangeas, and lavender decorated the windowsills and tables, as well as the mantle and in pots in the corners.
To the left was polished redwood door that opened into a bedchamber of blue. Blue Calla Lilies, blue orchids, blue hibiscuses, and white lilies adorned windowsills and tables in here as well. The four poster canopy bed was made up in pale blue sheets with a darker blue comforter on top. The curtains on the frame matched the comforter’s dark blue color. A redwood chest of drawers held three large drawers and two smaller ones on the top level. The small one on the left held shifts and breast bands, while the other held loincloths, underskirts, and under breeches. The top large drawer held shirts, tunics, jerkins, and night shirts. The middle was empty; I assumed I would put dresses in it. The bottom one held breeches, leggings, and skirts. A jewelry chest, several brushes, and jars of makeup covered a vanity table. A large wardrobe held cloaks, coats, and over robes. A large chest on the bottom held far too many shoes.
I turned from the bedroom and reentered the sitting room. Directly across from the doorway was another door, this one made of heavy oak. Inside was a study; a large oak desk with a drawer containing parchment, another containing quills, pens, ink, and jars of wax for seals. A third contained sheaves for filing. A large bookcase contained five shelves; each shelf held different kinds of books. The top was filled by several thick reference books, the second held copies of history books from each of the six kingdoms; the third was copies of tales and legends, the fourth held copies of poetry and play scripts, while the bottom held books of purely leisure reading.
The walls of the study were covered in maps from the six kingdoms. A vase full of peach roses and black calla lilies sat on the desk, while vases of yellow, orange, and brown roses, mixed with vases of orange and tiger lilies, lined the sills of two large windows. “My lady,” Tara called. I walked back into the sitting room and found her holding shut a double door. When I moved to stand at her side, she pushed open the doors, revealing the most amazing view of the Moon Garden. Standing on his balcony across the garden was Prince Jason.
I stepped out onto the balcony and raised my eyes to the sky as a shadow fell over me. A winged horse swooped over the courtyard and landed on my balcony. The magnificent blood-bay stallion tossed his head and trumpeted a neigh to the clouds. I moved forward, my hand out stretched. The stallion pushed his nose under my fingers and I smiled. “Hello again, Amberfire,” I said.
“My lady, are you alright?” Tara asked. I looked over and nodded, smiling.
Amberfire tossed his head and nickered. “Yes, yes, alright, hold on,” I laughed, running inside. I pulled on a pair of breeches under the dress and slung my newly delivered quiver and bow over my shoulder. I ran back out to the balcony and jumped onto Amberfire’s back. The stallion leaped into the air and glided over to Jason’s balcony.
Jason backed up as Amberfire landed on his balcony. “I’ll be back in an hour or two,” I told him.
“If you’re not, I’ll send out searchers,” he promised. I rolled my eyes and Amberfire took off again. Within a few wing-beats, we were soaring over the forests that stretched forever to the north of the Royal City. They went all the way to the northern border of Corson, on the edge of the continent. Five of the six kingdoms were on the continent of Safi; my own kingdom: Areni; Corson to the north, Twyla to the northeast, Baren to the west and west of Twyla, as well as Jak to the north of Baren and Twyla and east of Corson. The Pioni Islands were to the southwest of Areni, but were considered part of Safi.
Safi was one of three continents in the world. Freest was to the far north; so far that it was just frozen tundra. No one could live there. Coeur was on the other side of the world; all we knew of it was that tribes of dark skinned natives ruled the land. The Sapphire Ocean stretched between Safi and Coeur to Safi’s west while to the Safi’s east was the Winged Sea.
Living in Areni was far better than it was to live in Jak. My father had once been the ambassador there, requiring us to live there for five years. Jak was a savage country. Their king, Rumani, had tried to enslave the Seiko. The Seiko were nomad tribes of the Gods’ Reach Mountains. The Gods’ Reach stretched along the northern and eastern borders of Safi, forming an upside-down and backwards L. In Corson, the Seiko became the Seino, while they were called the Seibel in Baren.
My mother had been killed in an attack on the King’s City in Jak, as had my younger twin brothers, Esmond and Edmund, and my baby sister, Annabelle. Annabelle was two, the twins only five, when they were killed. I didn’t celebrate my seventh birthday that year; it was four days after the attack. That was nine years ago. The war wasn’t over yet, but the Seiko were winning.
If they won, they would probably pick one of their own to be king. That would be alright, since the Seiko, Seino, and the Seibel all had peaceful trading treaties with Areni, Corson, Twyla, and Baren. The Seibel and Seino were currently negotiating treaties with the Islands; the Seiko were too busy with war to bother with treaties at the moment. The Seino and Seibel were peaceful people who recognized the kings of their native kingdoms as the “King of Seismes.” A Seism was a chief, the leader of a particular tribe. Each Seism was considered a lord by their King.
Amberfire nickered, startling me out of my thoughts. Answering knickers told me we had reached his herd. When he landed, I slid off in a mass of horse flesh and wings. Three long eared, wobbly legged foals nuzzled me as the mares backed up to give me room. I sat down on the grass and the herd lay down around me. “Have you given them names yet?” I asked.
“No, Moonbright, you know we wait for you,” Amberfire replied. The winged horses had a secret; they could speak in the human language. They could speak all the languages used on Safi; Common- taught to everyone, Si-used by the Seino, Seiko, and Seibel, Sawn-used in Areni, Corson, Twyla, Baren, and the Islands, Jocko-used in Jak and Abba-used by the Kappa nomads of the White Desert in southern Baren. I preferred to speak Sawn, I was best at it.
I ran my eyes over the three foals. Two were bay fillies, one lighter than the other, the last a gray colt. The boldest of the foals was the colt, the tallest the dark bay filly and the calmest the other filly. “Their mothers?” I asked. A black mare I had named Nightstar claimed the colt as hers. The dark filly was claimed by a red roan mare called Sweetberry. The light filly’s mother was Snowfoot, a sorrel mare with a white sock. Foals couldn’t speak human until they were yearlings, so I quizzed the mares of the herd on the foals.
I ended up naming the gray colt Stormwatcher; he enjoyed watching lightning storms. The dark filly I named Bravewings; she was a bold flyer. The other filly I named Snowblossom; she had a blossom like patch of white on her forehead. By the time the herd agreed to the names, it was time to leave. I climbed onto Amberfire again and returned to the castle with a new wristlet of dark bay, light bay, and gray horsehair to add to my collection. I had wristlets from every winged horse I had ever met. I made them simply by combing my fingers through their manes and tails for loose hair until I had enough for three braids to make a wristlet.
Winged horse hair had special properties; secret properties. Someone in contact with it was able to see in the dark and run as fast as a horse. Other rare creatures also had special properties, all hidden. Large dragon scales made unbreakable shields, while the smaller, softer ones made a person undetectable by sight, sound, smell, or feel. The tears of a unicorn had healing powers, while a horn did as well, horns made unbreakable swords. Unicorns shed horns, just as dragons shed scales or birds shed feathers. They went through one every two years, taking about a month to re-grow them completely. Phoenix feathers made one immune to fire, while sunbird feathers caught light during the day and glowed in the dark, making great lamps. Griffins couldn’t be lied to, and the trait carried in the feathers. I had a griffin feather, a sunbird feather, a phoenix feather, a vial of unicorn tears, and a small blue dragon scale, plus the wristlets.
It was a crime that was punished by death in all the kingdoms to kill such a creature. None hunted humans, and many had silent treaties with humans. Krakens and sea dragons were legendary as well, but I had yet to find proof of their existences. I would someday, I knew it.
By the time I had put the wristlets in a chest locked by six different keys, it was time for me to get ready. I pulled off the breeches and dress and undergarments and climbed into another steaming bath. After scrubbing again, I shaved and let Tara brush out my hair. She then put in several large curlers and a gel and spray she said would hold the curls in place once she took out the curlers. While they were in, she helped me into a clean loincloth, breast band, shift, underskirt, and soft leather boots. I slid the silver-blue gown over my head and raised arms and sighed happily at the sound it made as the skirts settled. Tara tied up the back of the gown and turned me towards the mirror as she fastened a simple sapphire necklace around my neck. Sapphire eardrops followed.
When I reached for the curlers, she pushed my hands away, warning me that to do it myself now was to be dissatisfied. She carefully let out each curler, adding more spray as she did. When the last curl fell into place, I gasped in amazement. The Duchess had always done a mass of tight pin curls, so the light, loose curls floating around my shoulders were astonishing. Although it was considered proper for a lady to wear her hair pinned up, I hated it, and made do with a simple ribbon most of the time. Tonight I decided not to wear it. I liked the way my hair looked, and knew Jason would, too.
Tara reached for the jars of makeup and I sighed. I let her trace my dark gold eyes in dark blue pencil and color my eyelids with silver powder. She added a faint rosy color to my cheeks with a pale pink powder she called blush over a cream she used to even the color of my skin. I was a lucky teenager; I didn’t get acne the way most people did, and Father said once that Mother never had either.
The end result was stunning. I saw the girl I’d always thought Jason would like in the gentle curves, full lips, and wide eyes, but I saw her other side in the cat-like grace, strong shoulders, watchful eyes, and quick words. I loved her.
I just hoped Jason did, too.