It was early into breakfast the next morning when a telegram arrived at the door. Ursa had gone to retrieve it, while Isabell remained in the dining hall to attend to her family’s breakfast. Most likely, it was from Lanceton, Rachel’s betrothed.
“Mistress!” Ursa called, rushing back into the room very suddenly.
“What is it?” her step-mother snapped.
The woman then held out a very richly decorated letter, one with the king’s own signature on it. Her step-mother snatched it away in an instant and read its contents quickly. In a matter of seconds her face grew big with shock and astonishment.
“What is it? Hurry up and tell us!” Rachel demanded impatiently.
The woman turned to both of her daughters with the biggest smile any of them had ever seen.
“The king, he is throwing a ball in honor of his eldest son, Prince Tristan. They mean for him to choose a bride, the future queen-to-be!”
Everyone was silent for a moment, letting such odd news register. Although, such a daze did not last long.
“I cannot believe it! Who cares about some old duke? I am going to be a princess!” Rachel squealed.
“No, perhaps I shall be made princess and not you!” Lucille hissed.
“You were no match for me against Lanceton, what makes you think the prince will be any different to my charms?”
“Girls, girls!” their mother snapped.
Then she calmed her voice and spoke softly. “Now, now. We must work together. Both of you are beautiful, and perfectly capable of winning over the prince.”
Her daughters glared at one another angrily, but dared not argue any further. Isabell for her part, remained as she was while the rest of her family continued to discuss such an opportunity further. Then, once all of them had left, she started cleaning up the plates and eating her share of the leftovers before moving on to other chores.
A ball? For the hand of the prince? Twas a waste of time. He was sure to choose a woman of higher birth than her step-sisters. A woman who was rich, and beautiful, and full of influence the kingdom could utilize to their advantage. Honestly, this whole ball was surely a gimmick meant to heighten the event and add an air of intrigue.
The rest of the day flew by relatively smoothly for Isabell. Her step-mother and sisters were preoccupied with their new prospects, leaving her to go about the day peacefully. Although, she was not as content as she would have liked to be. Isabell, as hard as she tried not to, could not help but wonder what a ball of this stature would be like. It was to be held at the king’s castle for a whole month, so she imagined all the girls being treated as royal guests. Dancing with the prince, eating from the banquet tables, and spending each day without a care in the world. Why, it was enough to make even a simpleton jealous.
But why did she feel the need to care? It wasn’t like she was the only servant girl being left out. Only noblewomen had been invited to this event, which meant there were many women like her sitting the event out. And rightfully so, as Isabell had no right to go anyways, being of only humble birth. So why could she not stop thinking about it, knowing all of this? It wasn’t like she admired the prince, or even wished to make his acquaintance. He was sure to be less than spectacular, just like any man of noble birth. She assumed the man held a measure of good looks perhaps, but mostly he was sure to display arrogance, and ignorance, and selfishness. It was simply the way of people with money. But perhaps it was the freedom of the ball that had her dreaming. Tossing your cares to the wind. Being whisked away to the castle for a once in a lifetime opportunity. Enjoying the courtship of a man who could make any woman swoon. Having the chance to escape one’s current life, for a new one filled with luxury and ease.
Isabell sighed, imagining herself in the arms of a man who would treat her like a lady, rather than a scullery maid. Would the prince converse with her in a state like that? Charm her? Entertain her thoughts and opinions? Treat her to a ride in a carriage, like Lanceton had for Rachel? Was he the type to show manners, and treat women kindly? The type to make even someone as boring as her experience what some called ‘love’?
With a frown, she shook such silliness away. Indeed, a ball like this held appeal, even to her. She supposed that made her no better than her greedy step-mother and sisters though. They too were only in it for the money and prestige. Maybe even reasons darker than that! It seems marriage among the rich was never meant to be sincere or meaningful, which left a sour taste in her mouth.
Without another thought on the matter, Isabell quickly let her worries go and returned to her daily tasks. Thankfully, supper that night was relatively easy, since her family was deeply engrossed in the same talk as earlier that day.
“Now then, since it is to be a month long occasion, well shall have to gather up the necessary funds. I want to purchase enough dresses for you both to wear something new on each night of the ball,” her step-mother stated.
Isabell frowned with worry. Gather funds? How much would this be costing exactly? They had plenty of clothes to use already, didn’t they?
“Yay! New gowns!” Lucille giggled.
“I say we sell anything that holds value, and cut out the two kitchen servants,” Rachel suggested.
“Agreed. They are hardly even useful these days,” her mother replied.
“What!?” Isabell suddenly gasped, allowing her thoughts to be voiced.
In an instant, she regained her composure and covered her mouth, but the damage was already done.
“You heard us, those two servants have to go! Honestly, we do not even need them when we have you. There is no reason you cannot pick up the slack for a short month,” her step-mother said coldly.
Isabell only nodded, unable to do or say much else.
“Now, on the matter of selling useless articles. We should clean out that attic upstairs as well,” the woman added.
Her head snapped up once more. “No! Anything but father’s things!” Isabell begged.
All three women turned to her without mercy or pity in their eyes.
“And who are you to speak of such things? Have you forgotten how I have kept you here under my roof, feeding you my food, and letting you mooch off of my family?” her step-mother hissed.
“But this is my father’s house! I deserve to have a say in what happens with his things!” she shot back.
The woman rose out of her seat, her eyes full of anger and even hatred. Isabell instinctually flinched back, fearing a strike as she came over to face her in the corner.
“You will do well to remember your place Isabell. Without my generosity, you would have long ago starved out on the streets! No one would bother to take in some dead man’s title-less daughter. I have let you work here as servant out of the kindness of my heart, sparing you from a worse fate. Though, now I wonder if that was simply a mistake.”
Isabell wanted to fight back, to speak in her own defense and her father’s, but it was useless. And not only that, but this whole situation was simply hopeless in the end.
“F-forgive me, my Lady!” she whispered.
Just what did she think speaking out would accomplish? Her step-mother was right. She had nowhere else to go. Ursa and Johnathan, now jobless, could not even afford to put her up in their house for even a short length of time! True to her fate, Isabell was trapped in a home, subdued by the very family she once wished to love.
If only this ball was not taking place, then none of this would have happened. It was all the King’s fault that her last two friends in the whole world were being sent away. All because he wanted to make a showy display of his son choosing a bride! Prince Tristan, he was the one ruining everything!
As soon as supper was finished, Isabell made quick work of the dishes, though her appetite held no desire for the scraps left over. Instead, she raced off to find the aged servants, hoping to spend what little time was left with them.
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