Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Finding Nerissa part 2

My computer was out of commission over the weekend, but here is the next section. There's been a total shift of setting, but I'm sure anyone would be able to pick up on it. These two introductory sections have, between them, most of the background that I need? The rest will be revealed as is appropriate. If you want to start at the beginning, go here. Please comment so I can make it better! Thanks!

Having just finished his fourth perfect waltz with his third perfect partner (his second partner’s nose was minutely too large and round for her otherwise elegant face), Sir Gilroy Innes approached the punch table. This was going to be, by all appearances, an excellent night, and the girl of honor had yet to be brought out.

Gilroy loved coming-out parties, for the simple reason that he loved innocent, naïve young girls. They were invariably so beautiful, and invariably so quick to fall madly in love. This one would be no exception, he thought, although the feats of daring and valour that he would have to go through to win her might be more perilous and strenuous than the everyday woes that afflicted more everyday maidens. She did come from the Zephyr family, and they had a name to uphold.

But what was the purpose of holding a coming-out party if you didn’t want your daughter to come out? Or rather, to be brought out.

Gilroy was very good at getting young, rich, and beautiful girls out of, well, just about anything. Which was why he simply adored coming out parties.

“A little heavy on the glitter, don’t you think?” asked Carey Douglass, Esquire, the latest of the rich money-lending and generally meddling family who without exception was found in the wreckage whenever a tragedy brought a great house down. He was referring, of course, to the décor, which was a young girl’s fantasy – all snowflakes and dewdrops and altogether too much glitter. But such a thing only befit a coming-out party, which was more about which family could spoil their little girl more rotten than any of the other families, and less about any pretensions towards adulthood. Everyone knew that a girl couldn’t be called an adult until she had been kidnapped, threatened with death, valiantly rescued, and possibly ravished soundly a few times.

Gilroy said as much. Carey laughed. It was a slimy, cocky laugh that implied he or one of his descendants would still be laughing when you or one of your descendants were destitute, driven towards insanity, and a shadow of your former grandiose self. The scary part, Gilroy thought, was that it was probably entirely true. Carey smirked at his acquaintance, and said “Well, then, we’ll all just wait for the little princess to come down the stairs, shall we? And then let the kidnapping begin?”

Even Gilroy had to smile at that, and pushed the more macabre thoughts from his mind (such thoughts were certainly unbefitting such an occasion). “I should hope to have more patience than that, sir, although being a businessman you probably never have event to show anything of the sort.”

Carey’s smile pinched at the edge, but he quickly regained his cool. “I assure you it is the opposite. You’ll see my patience. I intend to marry this girl.”

Gilroy laughed out loud. “You? How laughably absurd! A Douglass? Your family is blacker than black, eviller than evil, and has been for centuries. You are only tolerated because you have so many good, loving people under your thumb. Why, you’ll probably be the one she’s rescued from, when all is said and done. And a good thing too, if I do say so. In any case, the Douglasses have propagated themselves through slavery and adoption since longer back than anyone can remember, so I doubt that you’ll be the first in a long line of bachelors to get a wife. Your own father said that women were good for nothing except trade and to be dressed as dolls. Besides the idea of Lord Kenton Zephyr hitching his daughter to anyone not from one of the four estates? What sort of heroics do you intend to do to win the fair maiden’s hand? Hah!” Gilroy shook his head gaily. “No, I simply do not believe you.”

But Carey’s face was utterly serious. “Believe me, Innes. This has been in the works for a long time.” His voice was cold, grim, completely unlike his joking tone before. But he grinned and, as quick as a ghost, his serious manner was gone. “And what makes you think that marriage isn’t just a matter of trade?”

Gilroy tried to laugh, but he couldn’t get the image of Carey’s serious face out of his mind. If this had been planned for a long time, it certainly wasn’t a good thing for the only child of one of the four estates to come under the control of the Douglass family, not if Gilroy was behind the aristocracy (and since his lands and family connections paid for his various exploits, Gilroy was firmly behind whatever aristocracy was still left). A few moments passed in awkward silence, and when Gilroy finally was capable of looking back towards his companion with a smile on his face, Carey was gone.

Really, it wasn’t worth thinking about. The Innes family fortune was far from running out, and Gilroy’s older brother was hard at work in enlargeing it by any means possible. No matter what the Douglasses could do to other, less secure families, Gilroy was in no danger. No, certainly not. And there were other, pleasanter things to think about. Such as that beautiful young girl over there. Or that one. Or, really, the one who was trying to get past him to get to the punch bowl.

Two more dances later, and feeling much more himself, Gilroy was ready to take on a world full of freshly entered-into-society girls just begging for his attention. The petty machinations of Carey Douglass were pushed firmly from his mind, and he set himself towards the noble goal of finding which of these silly little things would be suitable for the type of liason that would end up with her locked up at the top of a tower and him knocking down the door to rescue her. His search was interrupted by a coughing from the staircase, and the middle-aged and rather paunchy Lord Kenton Zephyr stepped forward. Ever since his wife’s death, that man had really let himself go. There was no excuse for it, not in Gilroy’s mind. There was grief, and mourning, but after twelve years, well, the loss of a dearly beloved wife was no reason to let yourself grow fat – that would severely lessen the chances of finding another.

“My dear friends,” Lord Kenton shouted, to get the attention of the crowd. The noise died down and the music had stopped long ago. “My dear friends,” he began again in a less strained voice. “It gives me unspeakable joy that you have all gathered here today. After my wife’s death, it was hard for me to face society and the life that I once loved, the life my daughter deserves and is finally ready to enter. But with your help and support, I was able to understand that life goes on, no matter how much we want it to stop. Life goes on, through grief, and it is beautiful and wondrous for it. My daughter, well, it is long since time that this should have happened, and I can only thank my daughter for her patience and perseverence through a family tragedy. She has returned to me the hope and the joy that I thought was taken away forever, and I can only hope that she will soon make someone else that happy as well.” Was a tear running down the old man’s face? How unheard of, how unbecoming. “But! In the mean time, we can all do with a little more celebration, of the joys of youth, and beauty, and love!” There was a smattering of polite applause – what was he thinking, bringing up his long dead wife at a happy occasion like this? – and Lord Zephyr stood aside, among the other three heads of the four estates.

The doors opened and, presumably, Nerissa Zephyr stepped forward and began her descent down the stairs. The girl was beautiful, tall and regal and smiling happily, with perfectly done long blonde hair, large crystal blue eyes, the palest and smoothest skin, and an exquisite silver-shot dress. She was probably the only regal, mature, and elegant part of the whole party, as Gilroy could clearly see. There was something about her that was simply more serious than the other girls in the room.

That would probably be the tragic death of her mother when she was only six years old, and the surrounding controversy, said a small voice in Gilroy’s head. He ignored it. All the men in the room were thinking only of how they could be the lucky one to win her hand, and all the women were waiting for her to mess up.

She walked, slowly and smoothly, down the stairs to her father, curtsied nicely to each of the four Lords, and slipped her arm in her father’s for the remainder of the descent. She whispered something to him and they both laughed in a joyous, but not raucous, manner. She was leaning perhaps too heavily on her father’s arm to be absolutely perfect, thought Gilroy, but she was the closest approximation he had yet seen.

Then, tragedy struck. She wobbled, her eyes widened and her face cleared to one of panic, and she fell away from her father, reaching out but unable to catch herself by holding his hand. Her head whipped and hit the stair below. There was a terrible ripping noise, the sound of that beautiful dress tearing in two. She bounced several times before landing at the bottom of the stairs, a limp pile of glitter, fabric, and silvery blonde hair. The room was struck silent. A few excruciating moments passed, and she didn’t move. Not even the most ambitious women had hoped for something of this severity. Another family tragedy – the girl paralysed, killed, or even deformed – that was the last thing lord Zephyr deserved.

And then, seeping through the crowd slowly but assuredly, his step silent and calm, Carey Douglass approached her and bent down. He measured her pulse, declared her alive. The room breathed a sigh of relief. The girl stirred, looked up at the man who had come to her rescue. Her eyes went even wider, she screamed, and she ran from the room, her dress, in shreds, trailing behind. If this was the beginning of the courtship, she had been hoping for a different knight in shining armor.

But, almost appropriately, and just like Cinderella, she left behind her shoes. They were the most exquisite pair anyone in the room had ever seen. It was the talk of the town for weeks thereafter – how beautiful they had been, and how very tall.

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