Lila awoke to the mid-morning sun shining onto her face. At first she sighed into her pillow, enjoying the warmth of the sun's rays. Suddenly, Lila shot up in her bed, realizing the time. She looked at the empty beds surrounding her. How far into the morning had she slept? Lila scrambled out of the bed, stepped into her shoes, and ran out of the servant house. She ran up the path that led to the back door of the kitchen. Lila wrenched open the door, almost running into Karmella in the process.
"Ah, awake now, are we?", she said curtly.
"Karmella, why didn't you wake me?", Lila asked. Karmella pursed her lips and turned away. She walked through the kitchen, grabbing a cleaning cloth along the way. Lila followed her through the next door and into the dining hall.
"Karmella, what's going on? You know that I could be severely punished for not being on time - why didn't you wake me?", Lila asked quietly. Karmella began to wipe the dining table as she spoke.
"Lila, you know as well as I do that it's not my duty to wake you every morning. Besides, you're usually pretty good at doing that yourself," she replied. Lila furrowed her eyebrows curiously.
"I know that. I was just saying that if you knew I was still asleep and would be late, why didn't you just wake me up?", she asked. Karmella looked up, her dark hair falling out of the messy bun that was piled on top of her head. Her eyes were darker and more accusing, something that Lila had never seen before.
"I think the better question is why didn't you wake up by yourself?", Karmella said with a dash of annoyance in her voice.
"What are you talking about?", Lila asked cautiously. She didn't like where this was going. Karmella rolled her eyes and threw the cleaning cloth at Lila, who instinctively caught it.
"Oh, drop the act, Lila!", Karmella said, her voice raising with every word, "I know what happened! I saw you two! I know what you did - I saw you."
Lila felt her mouth open slightly while her cheeks flushed red. She wrung the cleaning cloth in her hands and simply continued to stare at Karmella, who did not avert her gaze. Instead, she walked briskly towards Lila and grabbed her by the arm, pulling her to the far corner of the dining hall.
"What are you thinking, Lila? Kissing the prince! Do you have any idea of what kind of trouble you could get in? Or have you forgotten your stay in the dungeons?", Karmella hissed. Lila winced at the mention of the dungeons.
"You don't understand, Karmella", Lila whispered, "Things are different. Dimitrius helped me find my parents' graves! I know it seemed like I hated him to begin with, and maybe that was true at some point, but it's not anymore. We've grown to understand each other so well, Karmella. I really think I might-"
"Don't even finish that sentence!", Karmella said, "Don't go down this path, Lila. Please, just think about what you're doing! Not only is he a prince, but he's betrothed to Giselle! And don't think for a moment that our friendship with her comes before her royal duties. Plus, she loves him! I mean, honestly, Lila, what did you think would come of this? Did you think that he would give up everything that he's ever known? And for what? To live in the servant's quarters? To be disowned as the Prince of Enderth? Lila, please, think rationally!"
Every word hit Lila like a slap in the face. She wanted so hard to believe that she had found someone that truly loved her, that maybe things could work out between Dimitrius and herself. But as Karmella went on, it became abundantly clear that she was right. Lila put her hand over the necklace that Dimitrius had given her. She felt herself flaring up with anger and hurt. How could she have been this stupid? Tears welled up in Lila's eyes, and she tried her hardest to blink them back, but to no avail. She looked up at Karmella.
"Oh, Karmella," Lila whispered, "What am I doing?"
Karmella's expression softened, and she pulled Lila into a hug. Lila let her tears fall freely now, her head resting on Karmella's shoulder. She patted Lila's hair, soothing her to the best of her abilities. They stood there for a few moments, until they were approached by Ulric and Fendrel.
"Oh, look here, Fendrel, two muskrats in an embrace!", Ulric laughed while jabbing Fendrel in the arm with his elbow.
"That didn't even make sense," Lila muttered, wiping away any stray tears. She wouldn't be caught crying in front of them. In response to her comment, Fendrel grabbed Lila roughly by the arm and pulled her away from Karmella.
"Why weren't you at breakfast or lunch today, little Lila?", he sneered.
"I felt like sleeping in," she said. Fendrel tightened his grip on her arm while Ulric leaned in far too close to her face.
"Always the joker,' he said, an ugly smile crawling across his mouth, "Well, you can have fun joking while you spend the rest of the day preparing the castle for the celebration ball tonight."
Lila jerked her arm out of Fendrel's grasp. Fighting the urge to mouth off once more, Lila simply nodded her head, grabbed Karmella's outstretched hand, and headed to the ballroom.
Lila and Karmella spent the rest of the afternoon helping the other servants decorate the ballroom. To say that the ballroom was large was a severe understatement. It was the largest room in the castle, even larger than the throne room. Of course, the castle itself was colossal, but the ballroom really was a sight. It was golden in color, from the floor up to the walls. The ceiling had a magnificent mural that depicted the creation and foundation of Nouvelle. It was a blend of different colors that offset the gold below. One wall was filled with stained glass windows that, when lit correctly, flooded the ballroom with color. The windows showed the stories of the most famous heroes of Nouvelle. From Bilsa the Brave to Fionn the Fleet, each window had its own decorated hero. Lila wished that she had more room in her mind to fully admire the ballroom, as it really was beautiful. However, she was preoccupied with more pressing thoughts.
How could she even begin to think that she and Dimitrius stood a chance? They were from completely different worlds. They were brought up with opposite values. But, most of all, one of them was irreplaceable, and Lila knew exactly who that was. She let out a small sigh of defeat. Karmella was right. More than right. Karmella was sensible and didn't let herelf be swayed by a chiseled jaw and a pair of brooding eyes. Suddenly, Lila felt chills run down her spine. She immediately understood why Dimitrius was drawn to her, why he pursued her, and why he had seemingly chose her over the princess. It wasn't because her temper and personality differed from Giselle's. It was because Lila was exactly the same as Giselle. She was the superficial, temperamental princess, only she didn't wear a crown. In fact, that made it better, because there were no strings attached. There were no kingdoms to merge or treaties to sign. There was absolutely no responsibility that came along with her. That's why Dimitrius showed any interest at all in her. Once the wedding got closer, he would drop any bonds that he had formed with Lila and would eventually become the king of Nouvelle and Enderth, while Giselle reigned as his queen. Lila felt as if someone had hit her over the head with a brick. How could she be so gullible, so...so stupid? Lila stopped her task of pinning weaved flowers around a stained glass window. She felt sick and dizzy, and needed to get down from the ladder she was perched on. Once she reached the floor, Lila decided to get some air. She took a quick glance around to make sure that no one was looking before she quietly slipped out of the ballroom.
Lila carefully knocked on the large door. She had been absent from decorating duties for about half an hour when another servant informed her that Giselle was looking for her. In fear that she was going to be reprimanded, Lila hurried to the princess's main dressing room. After a few moments, Karmella appeared with a small, supportive smile, but said nothing as Lila entered the room.
"Oh, there you are!" Giselle said as she practically skipped towards Lila. She already had her face painted with rouge, powder, and lipstick, and her cherry hair was twisted into a fancy updo. Lila had to admit, she looked beautiful. However, that didn't stop her from holding back when Giselle wrapped her arms around Lila's shoulders.
"Now that you're both here, I have a surprise for you," Giselle said once she had let go of Lila. While she walked to her armoire, Lila and Karmella shared a curious look. Giselle pulled out two large boxes and turned to face the girls, lightly closing the door of the armoire with her foot. She set them down on the round table in the center of the room.
"Well, go on then!" Giselle said exasperatedly, "This is your surprise!"
Karmella and Lila took a tentative step, just to make sure that they weren't dreaming. Once they realized the world around them wasn't dissolving into blackness, Lila and Karmella hurried to the table. The boxes were decorated in a plush, ivory fabric. Lila ran her hand across the top of the box; it was soft as a flower petal.
"Come on, you two, I'm dying of excitement!", Giselle practically shouted. Karmella wasted no more time, and soon, Lila followed suit. They lifted the lids off of the boxes to find their gifts wrapped in a delicate paper with gold flecks. Lila gently pulled the paper off to the side to reveal a folded garment of lilac. She felt the color drain slightly from her face. She lifted a shaking hand to the fabric. Satin. Lila pulled her gift out of the box, letting it tumble down to her knees. It was a dress. She held it out in front of her and took a good look. The dress had medium length sleeves that puffed slightly at the hem, and had thread woven into the shape of jasmine at the shoulder. The empire waist left the rest of the fabric to fall gracefully into a twirling skirt. Lila felt like she couldn't breathe. She had never owned anything so lovely. Lila looked up to Karmella who was having a similar reaction. Her dress was sea green with similar flowers threaded at the shoulder. They both looked at Giselle in amazement.
"Oh, do you like them? Please say that you do!" Giselle gasped with excitement.
"Oh, Your Highness, they're...they're astonishing," Karmella whispered. Lila could only nod her head in agreement.
"Oh, I'm so glad that you like them! I had them made for you when I went to pick out materials for my dress. When mother surprised me with a fitting instead of only materials, I knew that I couldn't leave you two out," Giselle said happily, "It took a lot of convincing, but I got mother to agree to it. Unfortunately, since you two weren't there, Mavelle and I has to guess at your measurements. I told her that we were all similar in size, so I hope that they fit! Go on, try them!"
Karmella slipped into her dress first. It looked lovely with her skin tone. She twirled around and laughed while Giselle clapped her hands in approval. When it was Lila's turn, she wasted no time pulling the dress over her head. Lila looked down at the dress, and felt that she might cry. It was the most elegant garment she had ever worn. Lila looked up at Giselle, the girl who had everything. The girl who, at the fitting for her own ball gown, had thought of her two hand maidens. The girl who, right now, seemed to care more about her two servants than her own upcoming marriage. It was then that, for the first time, that Lila felt she had severely misjudged Giselle for the past weeks. When Giselle cheered in approval at the sight of Lila in her new dress, Lila didn't feel a bit of bitterness or anger. And when Giselle reached for a hug, Lila didn't hold back.