Secrets of the Court: Chapter 12

 February 5th – Savoie's Estate

Behind a hill lay the vast estate of Otto Savoie. As part of the very upper crust of both Angloan and Burgundian society, he had vast experience in holding many events. Thus, the Burgundian had spared no expense for the annual winter ball.

Flickering torches lined the road, lighting it up all the way from the outskirts of Wessport, until his doorstep. A woven carpet made from hay had been extended from the entrance and placed over the icy stone steps. When guests descended from their horses or carriages, they would not have to soil their slippers and walk directly on the snow. The lower front of the house was decorated with greens, twigs of spruce, and evergreen that never wilted, even during winter.

As Tristan and Joseph arrived, their eyes took in the impressive splendor of the grand house. It was a tall building, sporting at least three or four visible levels. The original castle, from where the mansion had been built, had been greatly remodeled. It had been made more modern by removing the gatehouse and towers surrounding it. Instead, a fashionable park led up to the front of the house, with no inner courtyard, like the older buildings usually had. The first two levels of the estate were in a tattered, darker stone, probably old remnants from the castle that had once stood there. The upper two levels were constructed in more refined, and brighter stone, swirling patterns were carved into the façade, telling of the money that had gone into its design. The windows were tall and wide, allowing the lights from inside to seep out and illuminate the surroundings of the house. Empty ceramic pots painted and glazed in royal blue were placed around the building, probably filled with flowers or manicured trees during spring and summer.

The west end of the house was packed with several carriages and a vast array of individual horses. Drivers and servants alike sat by the corners of the house, around lit fires, keeping warm during the cold of night. Some more unfortunate souls had been tasked with guarding the graceful carriages that had been neatly stacked in rows next to the building annex.

When Tristan and Joseph arrived, some servants glanced curiously their way as the horses bore them toward the entrance. They descended on the carpet, promptly handing their mounts to a servant as a footman asked for their names and wrote them down, as to remember whom the horses belonged to. The short man's eyes trailed over the mask indiscreetly several times.

They climbed the small stone steps to the main door, made of oak, two stories tall with massive handles in iron, covered in faded silver leaf. To Tristan, Savoie’s demonstration of his wealth was registered as too extravagant. Another servant hurried up the steps behind them, bowing deeply as he opened the massive doors. Warmth showered over them as well as loud music and laughter.

"Remember, the moment you see him you have to inform me of it," Tristan said in Joseph's direction. And then we can leave, he thought as he took in the size of the crowd, already wishing he could return to the townhouse.

As they entered the first hall, Tristan reluctantly handed over his cape as he kept adjusting his attire and dragging at the snug collar. He rested his hand on the handle of his sword and sighed.

They were led up elegant marble stairs together with some other guests that had just arrived. The servant, a short footman, still young enough to be considered a boy, led them to the grand hall. It was a vast room that occupied most of the north wing of the manse. The doors leading to it were closed, standing two levels high and looming over the guests threateningly. The other guests in the group kept glancing at Tristan, just like the servant before. Some of them whispered, having recognized the General of the armies of the north, the man who had turned around the war and dealt the defeating blow to the English at Castell.

The elegant doors swung open as a man holding a large list kept announcing the guests one by one as they entered. Joseph walked in before Tristan, already diving into the crowd, commencing his search. The grip around his sword handle tightened as he held his breath. The cheerful laughter and general mumble decreased a little when Tristan's name was announced. Tristan stood in the opening, collecting enough valor to step out on this unknown battlefield, where he had no idea who was a friend and who was foe.

He recognized some familiar faces. Most of them belonged to members of either the war council or the Assembly. But he greeted none of them, for a lack of a general introduction. The crowd parted significantly as his tall form waded through. Elegantly dressed men and women arched their necks to get a view of the newest member of King James’ court.

Meanwhile, Tristan took in his surroundings. The room was high in roof. It had several frescoes painted on it. The Italian style was all too familiar to him as he kept glancing up discreetly. Troubadours and minstrels lined the north part of the room, playing a merry tune as people danced the pavane next to them. He spotted the king dancing with a young blushing woman. He knew as well as anyone that the youth would probably entertain in the king’s chambers for the night. Tristan's suspicions were confirmed when he spotted a sulking Queen Tabitha, sitting alone and neglected in a corner, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting.

Along the walls, Angloan flags were hung, and flags from different counties and dukedoms. Tristan could spot the flag of Cadherra, his province, stretched out on the wall. By the east end of the hall, he saw a secluded area, no doubt for James to get away from the pushing crowd.

"Hawthorne!" came the jolly, baritone voice of General Fawkes. The burly man waded through the crowd and made his way to Tristan. He signaled for a servant to bring them refreshments. "I am very pleased that you came!" he shouted merrily. Tristan could smell the alcohol on his breath and wondered how many drinks the general had already had.

"Of course, General Fawkes," said Tristan, bowing in respect toward his superior officer. Fawkes frowned.

"No, no, Hawthorne, just Fawkes. The time we fought together on the battlefield is long over and I was never much for formalities," he blinked, stroking his whiskers as a servant came bearing two metal cups filled with some sort of beverage. Fawkes handed one to Tristan and finished his in one big gulp.

"As you wish, my lord Fawkes." Tristan considered him quite harmless, indeed Fawkes was transparent enough and always had been. Tristan had always known him upfront as a patriot and an honorable man who would be the last one to be entangled in corruption and conspiracy.

"Where is Lord Athar?" Tristan asked, scanning the vast crowd.

"Probably lost on the way here. But he will come. That man would be late to his own funeral if he could." The remark managed to coax a chuckle from the masked man. He swept his gaze once more over the crowd, catching a glimpse of Joseph, who was hard at work, searching for the man who had met up with Fletcher.

"And what of your lovely fiancée?" whispered Fawkes as he finally noticed that Tristan was alone. Most of the guests had remarked that Tristan had come unaccompanied by Christine. The rumor that they were not yet married had already spread like wildfire and speculations regarding what had stopped the couple from their nuptials circulated the room.

People, of course, had already talked about Christine when she had attended court a few months ago. Speculations as to why she had come with her mother had floated through the city then. Never did they think that James had plans to marry someone like Christine off. People had not envied her then, for who would want to marry Tristan Hawthorne? Yet, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, many realized that perhaps Hawthorne was not so bad after all. Tristan was rich, he had a high title, and he was a war hero. His appearance and humble beginnings were bearable when faced with such a fact. Whatever the case, many thought that they could put up with a man like him; if it meant that they could have access to all that was now tied to his name.

"She was indisposed when I left," Tristan lied, taking care not to look too sour as he spoke. He was glad that Christine was not there yet, a growing sense of guilt extended within him as he felt that he had done her an injustice by not giving her the chance to speak with James.

"I understand her… reluctance in attending," muttered Fawkes in agreement. He turned serious as his gaze swept over the masses. "If I were her, I would not want to be in the same room as these wolves either," he snickered. He placed a friendly hand on Tristan's shoulder and gave the younger man a comforting smile. "Yet, I suspect that she would have felt more than safe by your side," he insinuated. Tristan shook his head and forced a smile as he took a sip of the beverage. He had to fight hard not to cough as the strong alcohol burned the back of his throat. He wondered if Fawkes had dumped a whole bottle of spirits in his cup before handing it over to him.

"Good stuff, eh?" blinked Fawkes as Tristan nodded while discreetly trying to force the rest of the substance down his throat.

It didn’t take long before a swarm of people drowned both Tristan and Fawkes, engaging them in stiff conversation that slowly sought to divulge useful information.

"I see the wolves have you," came a joyful voice behind Tristan. He turned around and saw Linahan smiling sheepishly at him. "Could I interest you in joining me in conversation… away from these charming people?" Linahan leaned in and whispered as the growing throng pushed further up on the uncomfortable general. Tristan took a final sip of his cup and gave a slight nod which was all Linahan needed to whisk him away.

"My lord Hawthorne, the king wishes to speak with you," Linahan said in a loud voice. It was enough to make the surrounding mass of people disperse and for Tristan to struggle out of the group, wading through the crowd, closely following Linahan. It was easy getting through as many of the men and women who saw the masked man approaching started parting like the red sea. Whispers and knowing looks followed as he passed for they were sizing him up against the ever-growing rumors that had emerged ever since Tristan’s departure from Wessport—rumors that Tristan Hawthorne was a recluse man who kept to the confinements of his chambers, with a gruff temperament and sour disposition. However, their received perception of him, while intimidating, was that the man attending Savoie’s winter ball appeared more sincere and grounded than the waging tongues of Wessport had whispered. In some strange way, a change of clothes had managed to humanize him.

Tristan neared the secluded section allowed for James. It was closed off from the surrounding crowd by guards and some screens in thin wood and silk in exquisite embroidered damask. Tristan, considering the thin line of guards, was disappointed in the lack of security. He noted how none of the guests had been searched upon arrival. The fact that he, and many others, carried weapons on their person was not frowned upon.

"Your Majesty," Tristan said, bowing in deep respect as he neared James. James, who was now speaking with an agreeable young brunette turned to greet Tristan, pleased that the enigmatic man had decided to join the party.

"Ah, Lord Hawthorne!" James uttered. He went over and coaxed the other to straighten up. He looked Tristan up and down with a widening smile.

"Your new attire suits you, Hawthorne," remarked James. He glanced at the sword on Tristan's hip and commended him on the fine craftsmanship of the weapon before letting his golden eyes scan the vast room as if searching for someone. "Pray tell, I do not see your wife, nay, shall I say fiancée anywhere," he added, the intonation of the word fiancée revealing his disproval of the missing nuptials. He stared at Tristan as if waiting for an explanation before deciding what to do with him—the tension within their entourage slowly rising.

"She is indisposed for the evening," Tristan said, happy Christine had not attended the ball with him. The crowd that had once disregarded Tristan as a stranger and commoner would shun and judge her harsher for the sins of her father and a growing part of him did not wish to expose her to such malice.

"I am indeed disappointed that a union has yet to be made…as I had commanded," condemned James. “The lands of Cadherra are tied to whoever marries that girl.”

“Aye, then she must have been swarmed by suitors before our engagement was announced,” Tristan answered dryly.

"I understand your reluctance in marrying a traitor's daughter. I would feel the same way," James hit back. The words caused Tristan's eyes to darken. Fawkes, who stood close to him, could feel him tense up. James grew uncomfortable under the severe stare.

"That is, and never will be, the reason for us postponing the nuptials, Your Majesty," Tristan added, his voice revealing the hint of a growl as he contained his irritation. "I have had to bring Adelton Hall back into its previous state as it had stood empty for a year. I had to take care of some bandits lurking in the forests by the village next to my lands," he added. He knew them to be weak excuses, surprised at having uttered them at all. “There was no time to plan for a wedding.”

James pursed his lips. "I did hear that Saxton had gathered a small group of men and ventured into the Grove. He must have given you a hard time. Yet, Raven's Grove is dangerous and only Saxton knows how to properly navigate it. I know many who have lost their men in trying to bring him down." It had been made clear, later, to Tristan by Joseph and Lucius why they had never heard any ill words about Saxton. They had all been away at war when Saxton’s demise had happened. Such news and gossip never reached the front, and the men were too occupied to distract themselves with such tales.

"He is not a threat anymore," said Tristan, savoring his victory as James and some nearby courtiers widened their eyes at the statement.

"Then he is vanquished?" asked the brunette, astonished. Saxton was well known in Wessport. He had once been one of them; walked amongst them before becoming a common thief and murderer, seeking shelter in the depths of Raven's Grove.

"He has been taken care of," was all Tristan said ambiguously.

"That is indeed good news!" said James, with glee on his face. It made Tristan wonder further if he could ever come to trust the king. He wondered if, in the case that Saxton was fully innocent, James was aware of it. "A toast to your victory over that blackguard!" exclaimed James, handing Tristan a cup filled to the brim with wine. Fawkes was handed another one, and they all toasted, satisfied as the rich beverage soothed their throats.

Before anything else could be said, James who had locked eyes with someone in the crowd spoke again as if suddenly remembering something that he had fought hard not to forget the entire evening.

"That reminds me," James said while gesturing for someone. Tristan sensed her presence before he saw her. A feeling of uneasiness settled in his stomach as the presence neared him from behind. She brushed past him to stand by James's right side, slender white fingers clutching a cup of silver in her left hand.

It was Victoria Fell, the older cousin to the king. Her deep, golden eyes sparkled dangerously, looking sultry and calculating as she swept her gaze over Tristan. She eyed him up and down several times, not hiding the fact. A small smile started spreading on her lips as she took him in. Her purple, velvet gown with matching brocade, clung to her curvaceous torso. She oozed confidence, her glossy black tresses were curled away from her face and braided into a thick, long braid, arranged in long ringlets that draped her back. All of her seemed strong, yet there was a touch of delicate femininity that added to her charm. It did not go past Tristan that, even though the woman before him was in her autumn years, she caught the lustful gaze of most men that she walked past.

"Lord Hawthorne, it is my wish to introduce you to my cousin, Her Highness, Victoria Fell," James said as he introduced the two. "Dear cousin, I barely think Lord Hawthorne needs any introduction."

"Of course not. We know all about him," Victoria said, a delicate smirk spread across her plump red lips. Her voice was smooth and deep, it might have seemed pleasant to most there, almost alluring. To Tristan, it slithered through his ears like the tongue of a serpent. The whispers and curious glances of the crowd were nothing in comparison to the penetrating gaze of Victoria Fell, who made her interest in him blatantly clear.

"Your Highness," Tristan answered with a brief nod, ignoring her comment. He was not the one to play word games. Before he could excuse himself, Victoria had already made a move. She grabbed his arm and moved to stand next to him as she discreetly let her hand run up and down his arm in exploration, her smirk growing wider in anticipation.

"Walk with me," Victoria ordered. Tristan, feeling the waiting eyes of James and the surrounding courtiers, reluctantly obeyed, just as Victoria had expected. When the couple grazed the floor, the way for them was cleared. The surrounding guests noticing them trailing down their direction did not think twice before stepping out of their way, as if on instinct, still casting discrete glances as the princess and the general passed.

"I hope you will stay long in Wessport," Victoria casually commented while ignoring the stolen glances. Yet, as she walked past them, she would acknowledge certain men or women in the masses—the gesture serving to brighten the dispositions of whoever had received a small nod from her. She had them eating out the palm of her hand. Tristan, however, paid little attention to her as he kept his gaze fixed ahead, remaining silent.

Victoria arched a thin eyebrow, always used to undivided attention. But, Tristan’s mind was somewhere else which only kindled more of her curiosity in him.

"I see that those pesky assemblies with my cousin must have fatigued you, my lord, for your tongue does not seem to be working," Victoria teased while locking eyes with him. Critical golden eyes analyzed every curve of his face until resting on his lips and she was delighted when they moved as he spoke.

"Perhaps." He did not seem moved nor irritated by her sly remark and Victoria was disappointed as his rigid posture did not falter. She wondered what might stir up some emotion in the man. Victoria let her eyes look him over once more and spoke again, her words spilling out of her mouth like soft silk.

"Is it true you never uncover your face in public?" she asked carelessly as they kept wading through the crowd. Some bystanders caught the remark, eyes widening as they registered what had just been asked. Anyone in their right mind knew not to ask such a question of Tristan Hawthorne. Yet, Victoria had been the first one to ever dare inquire about the mask. She could feel his arm tense slightly under her clutching hand.

"Aye, Your Highness," he replied while sneaking an irritated glance at her. Victoria smiled when he loomed over her as if warning her.

"Oh, well, that is most interesting," she continued, not at all deterred by his growing irritation and foul countenance.

"I suppose, then, that your wife… pardon… your fiancée," Victoria began in a relaxed manner, leaning slightly and casually on him as she continued sweetly, " has never…seen you?"

Tristan almost stopped their promenade at the mention of Christine. His jaw tensed under the mask and Victoria fought hard to contain the sly smile. She waited patiently for his response, wondering what wordplay he would use with her. If there was something that Victoria enjoyed, it was the game of the court, to see who could outwit whom first.

"She has not," Tristan answered stiffly and sourly, as if just having bitten into a lemon. It produced a lighthearted laugh in Victoria, drawing even more attention to them. Victoria had thought that he would lash out at her, pleasantly surprised at his level of composure.

She gently patted his arm in a caring manner. "Do not worry, my lord, I was only teasing. Alas, it was a tasteless question to ask on my part," she finally admitted, but never apologized for it.

Tristan’s fists curled together as they finished their turnabout of the hall and once more arrived where James entertained his ensemble.

"Hawthorne," said Fawkes as he saw him nearing together with Victoria, still prominently on his right arm. The older general smiled knowingly. "Managed to whisk away this beauty, have you?" he said while nodding at Victoria.

"Be careful, she has thorns," mentioned James as he joined.

"She has made me aware of that," responded Tristan. Victoria chuckled, soon joined by her cousin and Fawkes.

"I am afraid that my teasing on Lord Hawthorne’s behalf went too far. Yet, he took it like any gentleman would," Victoria responded in a silky-smooth voice.

"I can imagine." James’ eyes considered Tristan’s tense form, alas he might as well have tried to decipher the neighs of his own horse. "Might I steal my cousin for a moment?" James asked, looking at Victoria. Tristan immediately dislodged his arm from hers and bent over her hand, his mouth resting a breath away from her skin, never touching it.

"Your Highness," Tristan said in the same dark, neutral voice. "A pleasure."

"I am sure," she responded enigmatically. James led her away as she approached him and began whispering in his ear while glancing back at Tristan. Fawkes patted him lightly on the back.

"What a woman," he sighed as he saw her leave.

"Hm," muttered Tristan in response. Tristan crossed his arms which in turn produced a chuckle in Fawkes as an inquisitive eyebrow rose.

"I suspect then that she might seem a bit too forceful in your eyes. But she is a lovely creature. Be mindful of her, though. You never know what goes through her mind. She reminds me of you, in some sense," Fawkes said pensively. It managed to bring a smile to Tristan's lips.

"Really?" he questioned in disbelief. "You think me as outgoing and cunning as her?" he asked. Fawkes frowned.

"Outgoing? No, maybe not," he admitted in the end, snickering at himself. "But you cannot ignore that someone like her would suit you rather well."

"Sometimes, opposites attract even more."

As he kept speaking with Fawkes, Tristan noticed Joseph trying to get his attention. Joseph kept mouthing some words as discreetly as he could. He looked alarmed as he tried to point in one direction. Slowly, Fawkes' voice and the general mumble and music in the room faded away as Tristan made out the words Joseph was trying to communicate.

I found him!

Trotting horses made their way through the dim light of the torches that lit up the road to Savoie's estate. Inside the elegant black vehicle, Christine sat, her hands held together in a final prayer that all would work out well. Her thoughts lay with her father as she prepared to enter the lion's den. Her nerves were wreaking havoc on her system and the only thing keeping her stomach in check was the thought of her father. She stared out the window, spotting the estate in the distance. It stood radiant and beautiful, lights shining from its tall, wide windows. The faint music reached the carriage and Christine let the tune calm her as she kept playing with her skirts.

"I will be brave. I must be brave," she kept muttering to herself. She did not feel brave at that point, she was deathly afraid to return to court after having been away for a few months. Yet, as she kept repeating the reassuring words to herself, she started to believe them. She had survived Wessport’s court after her father had died, and she would do so again. Christine already knew that most of the courtiers would be aware that she was yet to marry Tristan. She was certain that rumors were already floating around about her and Tristan — not that public opinion mattered much to her anymore.

Soon the carriage came to a slow halt and Christine looked up, startled. The light from the mansion illuminated the whole courtyard. Her body was stiff, and she was unable to move and get out. After a few minutes, the driver got down from his seat and opened the door. The reassuring face of the young man came into view, and he looked confused at first as he noticed that the young lady had yet to step out of the carriage. But when he caught sight of her terrified expression, his features softened as he understood Christine's predicament.

"Come, my lady. It is time, we are here," he said in a northern accent, trying to sound as encouraging as possible. He did not understand the full predicament of the young woman, but he knew enough to see that the place she was entering was not a friendly one. A gloved hand extended into the carriage for Christine to grip, she hesitated, but one deep breath was all she needed before accepting it.

Christine slid gracefully out of the carriage and in the flickering torches that lined the façade of the manor, the driver got a first good look at her.

"If it serves to reassure you, my lady, you will indeed light up the whole mansion with your presence tonight," he stated with a creeping blush as he diverted his eyes to the frozen ground. The kind words coaxed a small smile from Christine who took another deep breath, heading for the stone staircase. Before ascending them, she turned around.

"Thank you."

Christine climbed the endless stairs, grabbing her skirts, her heart in her throat as her eyes widened.

All guests had arrived and thus, the steward was not expecting any late party to join the festivities. It was therefore that a look of confusion grew on the thin man's face at the young blonde before him as he opened the doors. He heaved the giant pieces of wood open wider for Christine to enter the hall and the warmth of the building. While inside, before he could say anything she spoke, her words calm and composed.

"I am expected," she started, hoping he would not question her. The man was so confused and taken with her that he did not argue and let her in. The driver stared with a frown as he saw that Christine was now outside of his reach. He had done all he could to help her. As the giant doors closed, he felt his chest weigh heavy as he wondered what fate might be in store for the girl.

"Good luck," he mumbled to himself as no one was listening before walking down the steps and toward the carriage.

Tristan had tried to move through the masses as quickly as possible toward Joseph. He was anxious to find out who the culprit was. It would bring him one step closer to revealing whatever was truly transpiring in Wessport. If the man Joseph was looking for was in the crowd, then he was of great importance. It served to worry Tristan for what could he, a mere soldier, really do?

It was not long before Tristan was intercepted by someone in the crowd and forced to remain. James had sought him out and Tristan was not foolish enough to ignore a summons from his king.

"What has gotten you so energetic, Hawthorne?" asked James in a merry tone as his cousin Victoria rested on his arm. They both had smug smiles on their faces as if they just had plotted something.

"I was seeking out an acquaintance," Tristan responded, trying to sneak a glance at where Joseph stood. Alas, the other man had once more disappeared into the masses. Tristan cursed under his breath, his jaw tensing.

"You will find them later, I am certain," James answered, pausing slightly, thinking something over before continuing. "But tell me, general… er, I mean, my lord," James quickly corrected, old habits were hard to get rid of. But Tristan did not mind. He immensely preferred being a general to a titled count.

He had been more kindly looked upon as a general.

"My cousin just commented how Angloa owns a great debt of gratitude toward you, yet we know almost nothing about you," he said. Victoria let her indifferent mask fall and Tristan saw genuine curiosity shine in her eyes. Her eyes glided along his face as they glittered, and Tristan's heart sped up. Would James ask him to unmask here? Tristan knew that declining such a request could cost him dearly. Yet, he knew the consequences unmasking publicly would entail. There would never be a way for Tristan to recover from such an endeavor.

"There is little to say about me that might interest you," Tristan commented stiffly, clasping his hands behind his back and thankful that his flickering eyes were not visible to them at that moment. However, his comment only served to further ignite curiosity in James and Victoria.

"Surely something of interest could be said about you?" Victoria asked, but she did not go as far as to inquire about the mask again. "Where are you from? Who were your parents? I think these are fair questions, seeing as my cousin has bestowed upon you a title, without questioning the purity of your lineage," she said coyly. The corners of her mouth curled into a small smile and Tristan could not make out if she said the last sentence in malice or as a genuine inquiry. James looked at him with curiosity now as well.

"I understand," Tristan answered, curling his hands into fists and leveling his voice. "I cannot attest much for my lineage. I never met my father and my mother scarcely ever spoke of him," Tristan continued, knowing fully well that what he said then and there would be known to all of Wessport in the morning, or even before the night was over. Thus, he guarded his words. "But know that I am Angloan. My decision to come here and aid my country in the war was of patriotic sentiment and love toward this land," he said, twisting the conversation in his favor. James seemed satisfied with the answer.

Victoria, however, did not.

"And thankful we are that you did," James adjoined. There was no more to be said and Tristan was not asked more about his past. As they were soon joined in by frivolous noblemen, his gaze sweep over the crowd in an attempt to find Joseph.

A foreboding started irking its way up his back. As Tristan scanned the room, his eyes were suddenly drawn to the entrance. Whispers rose to murmurs as the music diminished, signaling the end of a dance. Men and women turned curiously toward the entrance of the room that had previously been sealed as it was believed that all guests had arrived. A lone figure appeared at the entrance, dwarfed by the towering arch. Tristan's lips parted in surprise at the sight of her.

The skirts of her dress fell down in a narrow waterfall and trailed back behind her. The dress was fully adjoined to the bodice and each stitch was so carefully sewn that it seemed as if it had been made out of a sole panel of fabric. The seams blended into the fabric and remained unseen. The color was of a pale blue, so pale that it almost reminded of the frozen lake in the glade outside Wessport. The silk looked as delicate as a flower's petal and the silken fabric had a layer of sheer textile overlaying it, making it blurry as if it had stepped out from a dream. The skirts of the gown billowed gently whenever she moved, like ripples in still water. The gown had billowing sleeves slightly off her shoulders, showing the creamy white skin of the now-blushing woman. Her hair had been coiffed in loose ringlets and pearls had been woven into it. A silken ribbon, in the same color as her dress kept golden locks out of her eyes.

Christine’s eyes scanned the room until she finally found whom she was searching for.