Nadine was on the verge of sobbing by the time she was seated back at her table. Her mother was holding her hand and dabbing her face with a kerchief so that her tears would not ruin the makeup.
“Never you mind him,” Sathira was saying. “I’m sure whatever he said, he meant nothing by it.”
Nadine was inconsolable, though. “He meant everything by it, mother. In his eyes, all their eyes, I’m ruined. A laughing stock.”
Sathira took a very long, slow breath, and let it out again. She risked a glance at her husband, who was equally inconsolable in his rage. Just when she thought she would drown in the inevitable meltdown between the two, her saviour arrived in the form of a very fine looking nobleman named Rodger.
“Excuse me, your highnesses,” he said in a gentle voice. “I could not help but see that abhorred display, and would like to offer the princess a dance, if she would allow me the chance to prove that not all men are so vulgar.”
Nadine opened her fan to hide the potential mess below her eyes and looked up at the noble. He smiled at her with a genuine smile and kind eyes. She nodded and said, “Yes, just allow me a moment to adjust my powder, please.”
Roger bowed. “As you wish, my lady. I will await you over there.” He gestured off to the side and took his leave.
It didn’t take long for Nadine to make herself presentable again, once her servants arrived to assist her. She joined Roger just as an announcement came that the final dance would soon commence. Attendees were lining up on either side of the dance area, men on one side, and women on the other. This was the dance that truly captured the spirit of the event, as partners would change so much that naga and draconian would find themselves paired up at least once. Nadine and roger joined their lines. She looked down the line of men, appreciating those who could stand beside their opposites without even a sideways look, and taking the opportunity to enjoy all of their costumes. Old and young were there, as well as some attendees who seemed less than steady on their feet, but joined the lineup all the same. The music began, and the two lines approached each other with rhythmic movements. The pairs bowed to each other, then took hands and circled. Afterward they turned and bowed to different pairs and circled with them. The pattern varied occasionally with twirls and extra movements, but a consistency followed the paths of the dancers as well. Nadine smiled and enjoyed her time with each partner, familiar faces and strangers. She turned away from a handsome nobleman to face a bearded draconian. He wore a mask with fine detail and jewels, and a well-tailored suit. When he bowed, he seemed unsure of his balance, and the movement seemed to pain him. He offered her his hand, and there was a scar on his palm. She looked carefully back at his eyes as she took his hand, and on the way up she caught a glimpse of a blue, translucent stone set in gold.
“Jack?” Nadine mouthed with the faintest whisper.
The dancer said nothing as they circled, but seemed to have an indecipherable mis of emotions in his eyes and mouth. Then they turned and went to different partners. Nadine’s heart was ready to pound out of her chest. That was him. Why was he masked? The next few partners became a blur, then she was back with Roger.
“Are you alright, my lady? You seem distraught.” Roger asked as they moved through the final motions of the dance.
“I’m fine. I just… saw someone I thought I knew.” she replied. Once the dance had finished, Roger bowed to the princess and kissed her hand.
“Thank you for giving me the honor of this dance.”
“I should thank you, sir, for being such a gentleman.”
Roger escorted the princess to her table and took his leave. Afterward, Nadine was still thinking about seeing Jack. The words of the human gypsie came back to her as well.
“Love’s betrayal comes full circle. Beware the blades unseen, and the wounds unknown.”
The events of the dance did little to make the warning any more clear, but she knew it had something to do with Jack.
Jack couldn’t sit still when he was back at the table. He kept fidgeting with everything he could lay his hands on. The lightheaded feeling was coming back, and the world was dropping away to the point that he could only see her face as it was during that dance. All he could smell was her scent. It was still the same. Everything about her was still just as he remembered. There was an ache deep inside him, punctuated by the visions of her with those other men. He ran the tips of his fingers over the scar on his palm. There was only the sight of her and the beating of his heart in his head.
There was as sharp kick to his leg that brought him back to reality. A man across the table was looking at him expectantly. Apparently a question had been acked of him. Jack muttered an apology and gave an excuse to leave. Cathy offered to go with him. She seemed concerned. Jack said something about being fine and needing air, and made his way out of the crowded area and around behind the nearest tents. Once he was well out of sight he tore the mask off his face ant took a very deep breath. He wanted nothing more than to run. It didn’t matter where. Just to run, or scream, or throw his fists to the ground. Instead all he could do was stand alone in the dark. He felt his eyes well with tears, but what little pride he had left kept them from falling. On the other side of the tents he could still hear the party, but it felt like it was miles away.
A careful voice behind him asked, “Jack?”
Jack stared and turned to face Nadine. She was moving slowly into the darkened space toward him. Her face showed surprise, and maybe hope? Jack took a step forward and said, “Nadine.” In that moment he wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms, to kiss her as if the past few months hadn’t happened. It was like his whole body ached for her touch. They moved to each other quickly, but just before the could embrace, Nadine stopped. Her gaze moved to the pendant around Jack’s neck, then down to the ground. She moved back a touch and placed her left hand onto her right arm in an insecure way.
“I see you got your necklace back.” she said.
Jack made himself stop when Nadine stopped. It took all of his willpower not to close the gap. “My friends found it in my flat, with the rest of my things.”
“They did?” Nadine asked with an incredulous look.
Jack took a step and closed the gap. “Nadine. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.” He reached out and took her free hand. She let him, and seemed to relax some. He laced his fingers in hers, brought their hands up to his face, and placed his lips gently onto her hand. Her skin was just as soft as it had been. When he lowered their hands he looked into her eyes. He couldn’t read the mixture of emotions behind them. He moved his hand to her waist.
She turned away suddenly. Jack froze. After a moment of silence she asked, “What happened, Jack?”
“What do you mean?” Jack couldn’t think through his heart pounding. She was so close.
Nadine turned her head, but didn’t face him. “You made a promise.” She lifted her hand to show the scar on her palm. “And you broke it.”
“I broke it?” In a snap Jack was back in reality; the reality in which he had been a prisoner, turned in by the woman who had made him love her.
Nadine continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Were you ashamed? Or did you just come to your senses?”
“What are you talking about? You broke your promise. If anyone should be answering questions here, it should be you, your highness.”
Nadine turned to face him fully. “I didn’t want you to freak out.”
“Or you didn’t want people to know you were slumming it up with some thief. Was I a joke? A phase? Or did you come to your senses?” Jack was leaning heavily on the cane now, gripping the dragon’s head on the top with all the corn that was flooding back to him.
Nadine moved back from him more. “I didn’t-”
Jack pulled the necklace off and held it up to her. “Is that why you abandoned me?”
“Hey!” someone shouted from the edge of the tent line. The man held up a lantern, the light of which glinted off the necklace. “Stop thief!” The man drew a knife and began moving toward them.
As he came closer Jack recognized him as the man who had partnered with Nadine during the final dance. Nadine gasped. Jack looked down and realized that he had drawn the sword from the cane without thinking. The man did not slow his pace and began shouting for the guards. Jack began a retreat, but without the cane to steady him he lost his balance. Chaos began as the guards started rounding the corner. As he was falling he caught a glance at Nadine.She had started to cry. Suddenly he was scooped up and over the broad shoulder of a tall man, and they were rapidly retreating. The scene of the princess and her guard shrank into the night. The last image he saw was the man placing his arm protectively around Nadine.
“Ah knew ya’d do somfin like dat,” Fred said breathlessly as he ran, carrying Jack tightly.
Jack had no return quips, and just let his friend take him away to the safety of the slums.
“Are you hurt, my lady?” Roger asked Nadine once the guards had left to chase the dragonians.
Nadine only shook her head. She didn’t want to risk speaking, for all her will was spent on not openly sobbing. A task at which she was failing.
Roger took his arm from around her to bend down. He came back up holding the necklace. “At least he didn’t make off with your jewel. He certainly a foolish their, if I do say so myself.”
Nadine could not take her eyes off the necklace.
Beware the blades unseen.
“Yes,” She whispered. “Very foolish indeed.”