Auriel De La Rosa was often said to be the prettiest girl in the court. Flowing black hair and porcelain skin, steel blue eyes, and full red lips, she was the envy of every girl at the ball. Her ball. Today was her fourteenth birthday and she was now officially a lady of the court.
Her dark blue dress billowed around her as she entered the ballroom. People turned and stared as she was announced. But her eyes were focused on the one person she cared most about - Crown Prince August. He wore a dashing white coat, his brown eyes shining as he smiled at her. She loved that smile. She loved everything about him, but with a pang, she shoved the thought from her mind. The Queen had mentioned that the King had chosen a bride for the Crown Prince. Auriel couldn't afford to love someone who would marry someone else.
But still, her heart leaped as August approached her and asked to be the first to dance with her. She accepted and they took to the floor.
"You look... lovely tonight." August's ears turned red as he said it. Auriel smiled. August rarely complimented, and only when he truly meant it.
"Thank you, your majesty."
"It's been a while since you called me that."
"We're in public. And this is a formal occasion. It would be improper for me to call you anything informal."
"I suppose. I hope you don't make a habit of it though." He gave her a mischievous smile. She felt her cheeks warm, this time she was the one who blushed. They had been friends for almost ten years, first introduced when her oldest sister became a Lady in Waiting for the Queen. Only a year apart, they were the closest in age to other children of the Court.
A year ago, Auriel's parents tried to draw the two apart, telling Auriel that it was becoming improper for a girl of her age to spend time with a boy, especially not the Crown Prince, who would soon be betrothed to someone else. Her parents made it abundantly clear that the Prince's fiance would not be her, as their wealth and power would cause an imbalance should they join with the royal family. The Crown Prince would marry someone wealthy or someone powerful, but not both. The House of Lords would surely not allow it.
So Auriel buried her feelings deep, trying to ignore the pain in her chest she felt when people gossiped about who the Prince's betrothed would be.
"What are you thinking about?" August asked.
"Hmm? Just the party. It's so lovely." Auriel hurried to give an excuse.
"You've been doing that more lately you know. Drifting off into thought."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude..."
"I don't take offense. I just wonder where you go to."
The music ended and August let go of Auriel's hand. She gave a quick curtsy and mumbled a thank you before hurrying off. She practically ran to the refreshment table, her cheeks burning again. She couldn't believe she had been lost in thought so often lately that August had actually noticed. She would die of embarrassment if he ever knew it was him she thought about.
"Did August stick his foot in his mouth again?"
Auriel jumped at the sound of Alexander's voice. His voice and appearance were so similar to August's, she couldn't help but look at him fondly. The main difference was August had hazel eyes whereas Alexander had eyes so dark, they were almost black. Alexander was older than August by two years, but his illegitimate birth meant he was not a candidate for the throne, not when August was born of the lawful Queen.
"No. No, this time it was me."
"That surprises me. You always behave much better than him."
Auriel smiled, "Are you speaking ill of the Crown Prince? Tsk tsk, don't let the King hear of your treachery."
Something flashed in Alexander's eyes for a moment, perhaps hatred, before he smiled at her.
"Of course, I would never speak ill of my brother. Crown Prince or no." He nodded to her and left without another word. Auriel wondered if what she had seen was real or just imagined. Something frightening certainly seemed to cross his face.
"Lords and Ladies, members of the Court. I have a wonderful announcement to make." The King's booming voice scattered Auriel's thoughts.
"Tonight we celebrate the birth of Lady Auriel, the flawless Rose of House Rosa." People snickered at the king's joke. Auriel blushed even harder than before.
"Even though this is her formal introduction into society, I'm sure most of you already know her. She has been an ornament at the palace for years and a true friend to my children, indeed I have looked upon her with the same affection I feel for my own. And it is with the deepest pride that I get to announce her betrothal."
Women around the room gasped, but none gasped louder than Auriel.
"Auriel, your father and I have discussed it with the House of Lords and it has been decided that you will be the future Queen of Tora. As of today, you and Crown Prince August are betrothed to be married."
Auriel thought her heart would stop. People applauded and those around her bowed to her. She searched for August and found him already making his way to her. He bowed to her and offered her his hand. She smiled and took it and as a show of respect and affection, he kissed the back of her hand. Women around them 'awwed' and cooed. Auriel felt tears sting her eyes, but she refused to let them shed, she wouldn't let anyone see that she had foolishly fallen for a boy who should have been unobtainable.
But now he wasn't. Now they really would be together. She was going to be queen. She almost pinched herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming.
"Would you like another dance?" August asked and Auriel nodded. She wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life dancing with him.