It was hard to take my eyes away from the reflection in the mirror. The black gown was the most beautiful dress I had ever worn. It was made of silk and flowed down to the ground pooling around my feet. The sleeves of the dress were made of a thick lace that covered my marks. There was no beading or jewels on any part of the dress but the way the silk caught the light was enough to make the dress sparkle. Even though Carena was able to convince me to wear the dress and wear makeup, I would not budge on my hair. My natural hair fell in waves down my back helping cover the marks that spread across my shoulder blades. I watched as Carena put fragrances into my curls and the brown that usually looked like mud had turned into a warm chocolate color under her hands.
“You look beautiful Aurelia.” Carena came up behind me and rested her hands on my shoulders. I shifted my eyes over and looked at her. For once, I think I may have to agree with her. She had said I would love the dress and I hadn’t believed her, but once again she had proved me wrong.
” You didn’t do too bad.” I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her up beside me. She was shorter than me, with the top of her head reaching only my nose. She had curled her red hair earlier in the day and allowed her hair to fall free, the afternoon sun catching the red strands turning it to flame. She was wearing a cream-colored strapless dress that made her crystal blue eyes shine. I could already see the line of men waiting to talk to her at the banquet tonight. She practiced her smile in the mirror.
“You’re sure you can control yourself tonight?” I watched as she applied lipstick and then checked her teeth in the mirror, scratching at some invisible mark on her pearly teeth.
“I can control myself, but try telling that to the men downstairs.” She laughed as I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t flatter yourself.” She batted her eyes and grabbed her purse off the table next to the door.
“Are you going to be able to control yourself? I can already see a faint glow coming through your sleeves.” I looked down and sure enough, my marks were starting to glow. I calmed my nerves and willed the light away.
“I hope so.” I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the long night ahead of me. Tristan had stressed the importance of me being there tonight. Officials of the COuncil would be making an appearance and if I didn’t show up for at least a few minutes, too many questions would be asked. It would be strange if Tristan’s eldest granddaughter didn’t make an appearance at this Kingdom-wide recognition.
“Lia, don’t worry about it. I’m sure it will be fine.” Carena pulled me into a quick hug calming my worries. She had that way about her, a calming touch Tristan always called it. “Your shoes are in the closed, so when you’re ready, put them on and I’ll be downstairs.” She gave me a quick kiss on my cheek and walked out of the room, her confidence practically floating her down the stairs. I took one last look at myself in the mirror, Marilla’s words echoing in my ears. Would mom really have been proud of me? A pit formed in my stomach as I tried to slip my feet into the shoes Carena had left. My hands shook from pent up nerves making it difficult to maneuver the straps of the heels. I stood, which took a little more work than I would like to admit and walked to the door not sparing a glance at the mirror.
I made my way down the grand staircase to the main ballroom of Tristan’s manor. This room had has always been my favorite. Everything was coated in gold that lit the room up from the grand pillars that held the ceiling to the ornate curtains that lined the windows. Even the setting sun that shone through the windows bathed the room in golden light. I could feel eyes watching me as I made my way down the staircase, whispers following my wake. I scanned the faces as I passed, plastering a smile that probably looked more like a grimace as I walked around the room. In the corner I found Marilla talking with a gentleman wearing a military uniform, medals pinned to his chest. He looked far more interested in the conversation that she did. She smiled and nodded her head to me, but continued on with her conversation. Our interactions were to be kept to a minimum, no one was to know that she knew me or let alone was helping me master a gift.
I stood by the wall watching the dancers in the center waltzing to the music. A swirl of color as each dress swayed to the waltz. I closed my eyes and focused on the music. I didn’t recognize the composer or the piece, but it was enchanting. I felt my body swaying to the tempo wanting to join in the dance, my nerves calming with each beat.
“Shouldn’t you be out there dancing?” The smooth voice came across my thoughts blocking out the music. The young man stood next to me watching the couples dance. He turned and smiled, nodding his head in acknowledgment. His smile was warm, but his blue eyes chilled me to the bone. I nodded and looked back toward the crowd.
“Ouch, a cold rejection.” He muttered leaning back against the wall. He was the perfect picture of ease as he leaned back, his arms crossed over his chest.
“I don’t recall you ever offering me anything.” I turned back towards him and the way the corner of his mouth quirked set my heart off a little faster. Had I said something wrong?
“Well, would you have this dance with me?” He reached his hand out and I stared at it. Out of all of the events Tristan hosted, all the banquets and balls, no one ever noticed me. Primarily because I didn’t want them to, but also because most of the young men were so enthralled with Carena.
“Ah, Aurelia, there you are.” The blonde stranger stood straight and bowed low in acknowledgment. Tristan came to my side placing his hand against my back tapping it three times. Something was wrong.
“Grandfather, it is good to see you.” I leaned in and gave him a hug squeezing his shoulder three times in acknowledgment. Where was Carena?
“I see you have met August?” The blond hair boy smiled at the mention of his name. Tristan reached out and shook his hand, “I hear you have made great achievements at Tricine.” I couldn’t help but notice the forced smile on Tristan’s face.
“Yes, but none as great as your’s sir. The cure of the disease still has a long way to come before it is perfected.” August’s shoulders straightened when he spoke to Tristan. My heart clenched at the words. I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth, there was no more disease. The Plague had been eradicated for over 100 years.
“The Marked Ones will be very thankful when you have cured them of their plight.” August glanced over at me and smiled. I was sure he could hear the pounding of my heart. My hand went to my sleeves making sure they were still covering my marks. Tristan continued, “I commend your efforts august. I’m sure the kingdom of Ilya will remember you for all your contributions and the Marked Ones will forever remember your name.” The last part of Tristan’s forced compliment held more venom than what was comfortable. August scrunched his eyebrows in confusion, unsure of how to take Tristan’s words.
“Come, Aurelia, I believe Carena is waiting for you in the lobby.” The safe words rang in my ears as I crossed my arm over my chest and bowed to August, a formal departure.
“It was a pleasure to meet you.” I looked up gazing into his face, trying to capture every detail so I could remember him forever. It was because of people like him that I was being hunted, that my people were murdered. I smiled, thinking about how easy it would be to make him see his worst nightmare, and then I followed after Tristan leaving August on the side of the room.
Tristan led me out of the ballroom and through a series of hallways, trying to make our route as confusing as possible in case someone was trailing us. He opened the door to the library and pulled me inside.
“You have to leave.” His voice was low as he walked over to a bookshelf and pulled a book down. It wasn’t really a book, but rather a lever that caused the bookcase to swing open.
“What’s going on?” I asked grabbing my coat from a closet by the shelf.
“I caught wind of someone visiting that I would prefer you not to be around.”
“Who’s coming?” Tristan hesitated by the hidden door, watching me. His hair was in a silvery heap on his head and his glasses magnified the concern in his soft brown eyes. He looked wise and old, yet I knew the fire that he still held within him.
“Fero is surprising me to honor my achievements tonight.” Everything stopped, my heart, the music from the party, everything. Fero, the Princep of the Kingdom, the man who is responsible for the deaths of thousands, is coming to Tristan’s manor, my home. “He’s coming to push his agenda more than honor me, but Marilla said he was bringing his hounds. He is searching for you, or rather, your kind. I need you to lie low for a few days. Go to the safe house in Abberton and wait until Carena comes and gets you.” He pulled me into a hug and held me close.
“Please be safe,” he whispered into my hair. I nodded and stepped through the threshold of the hidden doorway. He seemed apologetic as he closed the bookcase encasing me in darkness.
I visualized light on the walls of the stairwell that led out of the manor. The path before me lit up as I made my way down, trying to not trip over my dress. Fear’s claws wrapped around my chest as I thought about being so close to Fero, but a hint of curiosity shone through. I came to a stop on the bottom stair and loke back up from where I had come. I could see the bookshelf door at the top, beckoning to me. Maybe getting one glimpse of the man who was threatening my existence wouldn’t be so bad. It could be the only chance I have to see him, to study him. If I used my gifts no one would even have to know I was there. I had the ability to look like anyone in the world.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I tried to imagine every detail of the person I wanted to look like. She had to be the opposite of me in every way. I imagined bleach blonde hair that was cut close to the chin, bright blue eyes that were perky. I thought about the details of the way my body looked, the straight lines with not a hint of curves. I thought about the red, strapless dress that fell in waves to the floor, a glittering train that flowed behind me. I slowly opened my eyes and glanced down. I didn’t feel any different, but the red dress shone brilliantly under the torchlight. I made my way up the staircase and opened the hidden door. I paused listening for anything that moved in the library, but everything was exactly where it belonged. I smiled as I slipped out of the door and into the cool library. I checked my image in the reflection of the library window. I looked exactly as I had imagined I would. I couldn’t hide the smile that lit up my face. If only Marilla could see me now.