“There’s nothing like a wedding for …” That phrase had dropped from the mouth just about every female in a five-mile radius since dawn. “There’s nothing like a wedding for seeing old friends,” Eilwen had happily sighed as she patted her hair into place that morning.
“There’s nothing like a wedding for getting all dolled up!” Delyth had giggled as she twisted and turned, surveying her reflection this way and that in the mirror.
“There’s nothing like a wedding for gossip,” Dindrane had sighed unhappily about halfway through dinner.
“There’s nothing like a wedding for making me cry!” Lady Guinevere had sniffled right after the ceremony.
“There’s nothing like a wedding for making me bletch!” Lady Leona had whispered behind her mother’s back.
And now, now that it was almost sunset, Dilys had a phrase of her own to add to the mix.
There was nothing like a wedding for making her wish she was somebody, anybody else.
She wished she could be Ravenna le Fay. Ravenna was so bright, so vivacious, so funny! She lit up any room she walked in to. And she didn’t even have to use magic to do it!
Look at the way her eyes went wide when she talked! Look at how her hands moved! Listen to each laugh that dropped from her lips! Watch her put her hand on her hip and cock her head saucily to one side! If you didn’t know it, you would never guess that Ravenna had such a family stain behind her, and was only allowed into polite society because her mother was the King’s sister and had managed to get her shame swept under the rug and erased with various legal proceedings and what-nots. If Dilys had such shame behind her, she would never be able to do so much as set foot out her own front door, never mind come to a royal wedding and own every room she set foot in. Dilys would never be able to hear someone mention her parents without blushing and staring at the ground. She would never be able to tell funny stories about her father that, while perhaps not entirely appropriate for the dinner table, nevertheless had every Sim sitting around it in stitches!
Why, oh why, couldn’t she be Ravenna?
Or if she could not be Ravenna, why could she not be Lady Garnet Orkney? Lady Garnet had style, she had panache! She was a bit like her mother, it was true, in the way she moved and the way she held her head high as she looked around a room, and that was a bit frightening. But in everything else …
Well, look at her as she listened politely to her over-enthusiastic cousin. Watch her as she swept into a room, eyebrows slightly risen, dark eyes flashing across the room, prouder than the Princess! But it was a justified pride. Any girl would be proud if she moved and walked and talked like Lady Garnet. Any girl would love to be able to laugh that sultry laugh, and flirt those sensual flirts, and lift that wonderfully expressive eyebrow the way Lady Garnet did. If you put Lady Garnet in sackcloth and dumped her on the docks in the worst part of Port Finessa, you would still be able to tell she was a lady, and a fine one at that. She would still have men rushing to perform her every whim.
And even if Lady Garnet did have to marry Dilys’s brother, well, at least the brother was Lamorak and not Aglovale. And if Dilys could be Lady Garnet, then Lamorak wouldn’t be her brother anyway. Maybe, if he wasn’t her brother, she could even see something mildly desireable in Lamorak. He certainly was the nicest of her elder siblings, at least as far as Dilys was concerned.
However, if she couldn’t be Lady Garnet — and, since Dilys was still hiding in the throne room in her too-flashy dress and too-pale hair and too-freckled skin, she assumed she couldn’t — then couldn’t she just be her sister Delyth?
Somehow or other, she and Delyth had shared the same parents, the same home life, the same womb even (well, at the same time), and Delyth had gotten away with all the good things that their parents and their home life had to offer. Delyth had their father’s outgoing friendliness and their mother’s playful spirit. She had the nobility of spirit that allowed her to overlook how messy a room was (including the room they shared) and wait for the servants to take care of it, while Dilys was so stupidly obsessive about such things that she often straightened up her half of the room before the maid could get there. Delyth’s complexion got to be rosier than Dilys’s, and it only freckled a little bit of her face, which made her look adorable and not just splotched. Delyth was kind enough to win her friends and keep them, but she wasn’t so stupidly sensitive that she cried whenever she saw a dead fawn by the side of the road. Delyth even got the red hair, which was so much more interesting than Dilys’s dull blonde! It wasn’t fair! Delyth got all the luck!
And if Dilys could be Delyth, then she wouldn’t have to marry her brother, and she wouldn’t be a nearly-bastard, and she would still have her wise father and her loving mother and her funny big brother Lamorak and her sharp big sister Dindrane and her … her … well, Aglovale had to have some good qualities, she just couldn’t think of them right now. (That was something else Delyth had over her. Delyth was brave enough to call their older brother a jerk and leave it at that, not dither like Dilys and promise herself to come up with some good qualities later.) If Dilys could be Delyth, then maybe Delyth could be Dilys, and Delyth would do a much better job at it than Dilys anyway, and everybody would be happy.
But Dilys couldn’t be Delyth — or Lady Garnet — or Ravenna. Or if she could be, nobody had shown her how. So for now she would just have to muddle through being Dilys and do what she could do best — namely, hide in the throne room and hope that, since it was getting late, her father would decide that it was time for all of them to go home.
She could look at the artwork on the wall while she was here, too. That was one thing she was good at. Everybody said she had a good eye. Even Mother Julian, who usually returned her papers dripping with red ink and sat stony-faced whenever Dilys had to do any kind of oral work, often blinked and gasped and announced herself surprised by Dilys’s “powers of observation” as she called them. Dilys also always got top marks in embroidery and sewing, especially — oddly enough — when she was allowed to design the piece herself. She could also paint better than Delyth could. She wouldn’t go so far as to say she was good, but maybe someday … well, maybe someday she would be better than she was now.
Though she doubted she would ever be good enough to produce something like this map on the King’s wall. But then again, cartography was different from mere drawing. To be a good cartographer, you had to be able to see the big picture — the really big picture — the biggest picture that there ever was, in the case of this map. And it helped to know at least some of the places firsthand; Dilys had never even been to Glasonland or Camford.
She could draw this map, though — drew it as she drew many other things, by copying it from life as it presented itself. It wasn’t very creative, perhaps — not like a real artist would be. But she could do it. Her mother in particular loved to show off Dilys’s little drawings to her friends, especially her portraits and sketches of other Sims. Then again, her mother was her mother, and mothers were supposed to encourage their children even when their children weren’t all that great at what they were doing.
“Well. If it isn’t déjà vu all over again.”
Dilys spun around, and she gasped, and for one minute, she forgot to do something very important. She forgot to wish she was someone else, someplace else.
She also forgot her manners. “P-Prince Kay!” she stammered and curtseyed.
“Lady Dilys,” he replied, with a bow that was so courtly that Dilys was certain he wasn’t attending Camford at all, but was going to sophisticated courts and meeting with sophisticated people in order to bow like that. And he called her “lady”! Like she was a true lady, and not some gawky girl in a gown that was meant for a girl two, three, five, ten years her senior!
Then, instead of making a polite apology and withdrawing to do or find or see whatever it was he surely meant to be finding or doing or seeing, he stepped into the throne room. As if he wanted to talk to her! “Wasn’t it about this time last year that you and I met here?” he asked, nodding around the throne room.
Could he still remember that? It was impossible. It had been incredibly significant to her, of course, since she had a prince paying attention — real attention! — to dull her. But surely Prince Kay had spent so many other nights flirting with and kissing and even just talking to young ladies so much more interesting than she, and surely he could barely remember their few minutes together at all. Or if he could, it was probably because he had been with her just before Sir Bors crashed the party with his ridiculous announcement (or rather, his ridiculous way of phrasing a very important announcement). Yes, surely that was it. Even if Dilys had been only doing something silly, like examining artwork, before Sir Bors waltzed into the palace, she would have always remembered that artwork.
“But where are my manners?” Prince Kay cried, gliding over to her before she could do more than nod stupidly in response to his question. “Greetings, Lady Dilys.” He took one of her hands in his and grinned.
“G-greetings, Prince Kay.”
He kept smiling. “You’ve probably heard this from so many men tonight that you’re getting sick of hearing it, but allow me to add my compliments to the rest. You look enchanting tonight, Lady Dilys.”
She blushed and couldn’t have stammered out a reply even if she had wanted to — and really, she didn’t want to. If she to reply, she would probably have to admit that the only man who had noticed how she looked was her father, and even he had just kissed the top of her head and told her that she was looking exceptionally pretty. He’d done the same for Delyth.
Yet at the same time, even if she had been so brave, like Delyth, brave enough to mention that and turn it into a joke against herself that everyone would laugh at — or was it with? — she couldn’t have. One needed breath to speak, and what Prince Kay did just then completely took her breath away. He took her hand in both of his own, drew it to his lips — and kissed it.
He kissed her hand!
Then Prince Kay lowered it and smiled down at her, not as if this was the sort of thing he did every day, but as if this kiss was special, as if he thought she was special. How amazing he was, to be able to do that!
But she hadn’t said anything! Oh, what was one supposed to say when a Prince told one that one looked enchanting? And how on earth would she be able to say it after he kissed her hand?
“You — you look very n-n-nice yourself,” she managed to say, and blushed.
“Now, you are too kind. I’m wearing the same type of outfit as Elyan, you know.”
She did know that, she had seen both the young men in church and it would be impossible for one such as she not to notice that. But they wore it so differently! Elyan slouched and stood behind pillars and waist-high tables to hide how his legs weren’t as well-turned in their hosen as they might be. Elyan also avoided her brother Aglovale like the plague, though the only things Dilys had heard him say to Aglovale had something to do with jewelry, and not his legs at all.
But Prince Kay! He strutted and practically pranced about the room, and he kept cracking jokes with Aglovale about jewelry, no matter how much Aglovale tried to put bite into the harmless words. And Dilys was sure hers were not the only lady’s or maiden’s eyes that were drawn, time and time again, to his well-turned calves.
“M-maybe,” she stammered in reply, “but you — but you — you wear it differently.”
What a good prince Kay was! The way he grinned at her, so silly and puppy-like, she knew he was only being so to make her feel better about being dull and shy and stammering. Dilys smiled back to let him see how appreciated he was.
“And who wears it better?” he asked, though now his grin was less silly and a little more — hopeful? But that was absurd!
Perhaps her puzzlement at the his hopefulness was the reason why she answered without thinking, “You, of course!” She didn’t even stammer, though she did blush as soon as the words left her mouth.
And Prince Kay’s mouth, already so wide and friendly, practically split his face in half, so wide was his grin! “Really?”
Dilys nodded, and then remembered herself. “Oh, but p-please don’t tell Elyan I said that! He doesn’t wear it … so badly …”
“Damn — er — darn. And here I was going to tell him that the prettiest girl at the wedding told me that I looked better than he did.” He pretended to sigh. “Oh, well, he’s spoken for and shouldn’t care anyway.”
The prettiest girl at the wedding! Prince Kay had called her the prettiest girl at the wedding! It didn’t matter that he was only saying it because that was what courtly gentlemen were supposed to say to whatever lady they happened to be with, he had still said it! To her! Now Dilys knew what it was to grin so wide you felt your face begin to split in two!
Since she probably looked as silly as anything, she supposed that Kay was regretting calling her that already. But she didn’t care. Oh, if hearts could really sing, hers would rival Sister Angelique’s voice!
Still — she had to be polite — she had to protest. “Oh, Prince Kay, I’m n-n-not the prettiest g-g-girl here!”
“Then who is?” he asked, his eyebrows waggling like a puppy’s tail.
Dilys already knew that; she didn’t even have to think about it. “Princess Jessica, of course!”
“My sister? Really?”
“Well — well –” She had to justify herself? But wasn’t it obvious? “She’s just so pretty! Her eyes are so big and d-dreamy,” and violet, what Dilys wouldn’t give for violet eyes instead of her own dull everyday blue, “and her hair was so pretty and curly today!” It was red, too, which was always a point in the favor of any young lady lucky enough to have red hair. “And — and you can tell that she wasn’t afraid of anything when she w-walked in, except of c-c-course she was a bit nervous, but it’s her w-wedding day. And that, t-too! She’s one of the b-brides!”
“Ah, well, she’s one of the brides, that explains it all!” Kay laughed. “Of course, the brides are supposed to be the prettiest. You’re right.”
He thought she was right! He thought she was smart! He was agreeing with her!
… And it meant that he didn’t think she was the prettiest anymore. Dilys felt herself begin to wilt.
“However!” Prince Kay continued, holding his finger up in the air like a scolding schoolmarm. He waved it about a bit and Dilys couldn’t help but giggle — which oddly enough made Prince Kay grin. “I still maintain that, of all the non-brides present today — and there are far more non-brides than brides! — you are the prettiest.”
He still thought she was prettiest! Now birds were starting to keep a chorus with her singing heart!
But she had to demur, because of course Prince Kay was just saying that to be nice. Doubtless he thought either Lady Garnet or maybe even Sister Angelique was prettier than she was. Or Delyth, certainly. “Oh, no, I can’t be.”
There had to be at least a hundred reasons, and many of them had names like Lady Garnet, Lady Clarice, Sister Angelique, Lady Leona, Delyth and Ravenna. But beyond that? There were so many young ladies here who were bright and sparkling, who drew the attention of everyone in the room. There were so many who knew how to talk and laugh and flirt. There were so many who were just — pretty!
But she couldn’t say that, he would find a way to tear down her arguments if she put it like that it. It was too — how did Mother Julian put it — subjective. She needed something objective, something factual, something he couldn’t argue with. “W-well,” Dilys stammered, “the p-prettiest girls always get asked to dance — and nobody’s asked me to dance.”
“Ah, Lady Dilys! If you wanted an invitation to dance, why didn’t you say so?” Prince Kay pleaded, his eyes big and wide. He held out a hand to her.
“Oh! Oh, dear!” She was blushing furiously now, she knew it. “Oh, I’m s-s-sorry! I didn’t mean to make you f-f-feel obligated –”
“You don’t want to dance with me?” If Prince Kay had not been Prince Kay, Dilys would have thought he sounded nervous, unsure, sad even.
“Oh, no! I mean — I mean yes! Yes, I would l-love to dance …”
She stopped speaking. He was touching her!
It was only his hand on her hand and his other hand on her waist, but still! He was touching her! It was with a feeling of wonder that Dilys brought her other hand up to Kay’s shoulder and felt the smoothness of the brocaded silk beneath her fingertips.
The room must have been unbearably hot; she could think of no other reason why Kay’s palm was faintly moist and why his hand on her waist was so warm. Or why he felt the need to spread his fingers, oh-so-slightly, and bring them back together in an almost-caress. He was probably desperately searching for some coolness on her.
He wouldn’t find it, and that almost made her duck her head in shame. But she knew why she was so warm and sweaty. It was because she was so close to him.
As they swayed in time to the — Dilys’s most agreeable train of thought veered sharply. “K-K-Kay?” she whispered, and blushed. He would be so angry with her for being so familiar!
He barely seemed to notice, or maybe he was just being polite. “Yes?”
“There’s no m-music.”
“No music? There’s plenty in our heads, Dilys. Or at least in mine.” Before Dilys could protest, he spun her gently, and Dilys could watch the world tilt around her in reality, and not just in her imagination.
“Or maybe it’s just in yours,” he whispered, drawing her near, “and I can hear it. You always do seem to bring your own music when you walk into a room, Dilys.”
Thump-thump, thump-thump. Her heart was going to come leaping like a frog from her chest at any moment now. She could have no more come up with a witty repartee for that than she could have put on a pair of wide shoes and walked across the broad ocean.
Kay, however, didn’t seem to need or expect one. He just smiled down at her. Returning that smile was something Dilys could do, and so she did it, even if she was sure her face would be sore the next morning. It was worth it.
Without warning — no — not without warning — he tilted his head a little to one side first. But this did not prepare Dilys, and still she gasped when he dipped her.
For a moment she could not breathe, she could only stare up into his bright green eyes. He, in turn, could only stare back down at her. He watched her face as she might watch a landscape or a flower or a flag she wanted to draw. What could he possibly see in that?
She swallowed. “K-K-Kay?”
“Sorry,” he whispered. “I was just wondering …”
He shifted his arm a little along her back so that he could support more of her weight. “Do you think you’re the prettiest girl at the ball yet?”
If he continued to look at her like that, she almost could. But still her traitorous skull shook itself before her brain could intervene.
Kay’s arm slid a little farther down her back. “Really?” he whispered, his face coming closer and closer. “Well, how about …”
He never finished that sentence. Instead, he kissed her.
Dilys had never known such fire could come from such a simple meeting of lips! Deep in her throat, she squealed, and then she moaned. Her feet scrambled along the slippery marble floor for purchase; her arm moved of its own accord to more tightly grasp Kay’s neck. And all the while, her lips moved underneath his, following where he led, never wanting to let them move away from hers, and for just a moment not caring that she’d never done this before and was probably doing it all wrong.
If she could have breathed, she would have gasped when Kay moved both of his arms behind her and swung them both upright. As it was, she was too busy grabbing onto him. She wanted to get closer, closer — she wanted it to last longer, longer — but if the pleasure continued like this, she would surely die of joy —
It didn’t continue. It cut off, sharp as a cliff on a mountainside, when Kay suddenly sprang from her.
“Oh — oh, Wright,” he panted. “Oh, Dilys.”
“Oh, Kay!” she gasped, clasping her hands before her in ecstasy.
“I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have done that!”
He’s … sorry?
“I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you like that,” he continued. Now his eyes were even more like a puppy’s, but a contrite puppy’s who knew he had done wrong even if he wasn’t quite sure what. But Kay knew — he ought to have known, to apologize like that! — it was Dilys who didn’t know. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“It … won’t?” she whispered even as his face became blurred and streaky, like her paints when she mixed too much water in them.
“No, no, you’re just a kid, Dilys! I shouldn’t have — I shouldn’t have pushed you like that. You couldn’t say no, even if you wanted to — oh, Dilys, are you going to cry? Do you want me to get one of your brothers? I’ll even let one of them beat me up if that will make you feel better.”
“N-no!” she gasped. “No, don’t!”
“It wasn’t your fault, you know. Don’t think it was. I didn’t give you a chance to tell me to stop –”
“But I didn’t w-want you to!”
If vision had been more like an oil painting and less like a watercolor, surely she would have seen the huge smile that suddenly bedecked his face and the absurdly happy light that leapt into his eyes. However, her vision was not what it ought to be, and that smile and that light were both gone before her eyes could clear.
“Oh, Dilys,” Kay whispered. His fingers came up to stroke her cheek. “Look — I know you — no — maybe I don’t know. But I do know this. You’re still just a kid, Dilys. Don’t spoil it by growing up too fast.”
His hand dropped. “Look — I’ll get — who would you like me to get? To make you feel a little better?”
“Lamorak,” she blurted out — and regretted it. Why couldn’t Kay just stay?
“All right.” He took a step back. “Would you like him to beat me up, too? I’ll let him or Aglovale do it, but not both.”
How could he joke at a time like this? Dilys pursed her lips together and screwed up her eyes to try her best not to cry.
Silence. “I’m sorry, Dilys,” he whispered. And he turned on his heel and was gone.
He left Dilys in exactly the same state he had found her in — wishing she was someone else. Only now, she would have been happy to just be somebody, anybody, that Prince Kay would like.