The carriage rocks and bumps along the dirt path toward the King’s palace. The Lord and Lady sit on the padded bench across from us. It’s not terribly uncomfortable, but it’s not nearly the same as a car or a bus in our time. The journey is relatively pleasant.
There are small windows mostly covered with bright curtains which shield us from the sun and prying eyes. I peer outside to find a great river running along the side of the road we are travelling. Lord Halsey calls it the river Thames. It sounds familiar.
All four of us are dressed to the nines; it took the maids over an hour on my outfit and hair alone. By the look of it, Lady Charlotte’s attire is even more extravagant. I wonder if this is the norm, or if she’ll stand out. They’ve dressed Andrei in a similar colour to my dress so that we match. He seems a little on edge, fidgeting with the cuff beside me and scratching at his neck. I thought he would be used to this kind of thing, but I guess even Mr. Hero gets nervous sometimes.
“I thought I was supposed to be the nervous wreck,” I joke, laying my hand on his. “What’s wrong?”
He jumps at my touch. “Oh, sorry. I just…” He leans in close, so the Lord and Lady can’t hear him. “I haven’t really been to the Palace before. I’ve been to balls in France and what not, but I’ve never attended the King’s ball,” he whispers a little sheepishly. “What if I screw up?”
I glance at the couple across from us. “How would you screw up? You don’t really have to do anything if you don’t want.”
“And how would you know that? When did you become an expert in court customs?” he asks skeptically.
“I used to read a lot,” I shrug. “I liked these kinds of stories. Never really expected to be in one though.”
“Well,” He hums, thinking. “I guess it can’t be much different from the French courts in the seventeen-hundreds. You’re right… maybe I shouldn’t worry,” He leans back with a sigh.
I smile and squeeze his hand. “You’ll be fine. Just do like you said; observe and mimic.”
“Right. Observe and mimic. It’s not like King Henry would murder us for slipping up…” He gulps nervously.
“You are our guests,” The Lord chuckles. “The King would not dare.”
Andrei nods, rubbing his neck over the collar where the scar is. I catch his hand and pull it away from his neck. “It will be fine,” I repeat. He nods again, squeezing my hand.
He turns to the Lord and asks, “What kinds of events will the King have planned for this afternoon?”
“A feast, of course, followed by dancing,” Lord Halsey answers simply.
Andrei seems to visibly relax. “Oh, that’s sounds lovely. Dancing is one of my favourites,” He gets a distant look in his eyes. I turn my gaze away, back out the window. I would rather pretend I don’t know where his mind has drifted to.
Lady Charlotte’s hums, “You know how to dance?”
“Oh, well, to some degree. I learned the polka when I jumped to the Czech Republic, and I learned the Waltz while I was in France.”
“I am not sure what those are,” The Lady frowns. “However, this dance is fairly simple.” Andrei blushes at her remark. “I am sure you will have no trouble.”
“I think I’m better suited to hunting than dancing,” I muse, watching curiously as we pass peasants on the side of the road. They stop and stare at the carriage, probably in awe.
The Lord starts to explain how the dances work, while Andrei listens and his wife corrects him. None of it really makes sense to me. I find the people outside much more interesting. I wonder if we’ll be allowed to go out and mingle among them. How different is life for the commoners from the opulence we’ve seen already?
The sound of the horses’ steps changes signalling we’ve hit a stone paved road. As the carriage turns the river disappears and I see vast fields with beautiful gardens, fountains, and even, what I can only assume is a jousting court. Not terribly surprising considering who lives here. We pull up to the main entrance of the palace and the carriage shudders as it stops.
Lord Halsey gets out first, holding his hand out to help the Lady climb out. Andrei follows a moment later, mimicking the Lord as he waits for me. I take my time, struggling with the oddly shaped hoop skirt, trying not to fall on my face. Behind us, servants unload a couple of large trunks, having called a couple of palace servants to help carry them in.
“I feel bad for them. I wish I could help, but…” I sigh. I know that would definitely not go over well.
“Well, it is their job,” Andrei says softly beside me. “You don’t have to feel bad. When you go to a store and someone has to get something from the back, do you wish you were the one going back there?” he asks.
“Um… Yes, I do,” I mumble. “Especially if it’s heavy.”
Andrei gawks, unable to speak. “You’re insane! No!” He finally coughs.
“I know,” I sneer at him. “I’m not going to. It’d probably just embarrass them. Besides, this dress is too restrictive and fancy to carry stuff.”
“I never thought I’d be thankful for such an old fashioned dress then,” he says with surprise. “Remind me to get you one of these back in our time so Gwen doesn’t have a chance to murder me,” The corner of his mouth lifts in a crooked smile.
I pinch his arm, making him jump. “She’s not going to murder you. I’m not that fragile.”
“I know that, but…” He suddenly stops speaking, looking around with wide eyes.
We walk into the entryway, passing through a couple of jaw-droppingly large rooms before entering an absolutely massive grand hall. It’s decked out with all sorts of decorations, an area for musicians to play their instruments later, and a throne at one end. I almost forget to breathe, I’m so shocked. It’s hard to keep walking but we don’t want to get left behind.
When the Halsey’s stop, we find ourselves in a magnificent dining room with many long tables covered in silk and silverware, all going vertical except for one at the very end of the room. That must be the King’s table. It only has chairs on the one side, facing the rest of the room. They cross the room and sit at the end of one of the long tables, furthest to the right, close to the King’s table. A prominent place, I think.
There are several other people already here, seated sporadically along the tables. More people file in after us, all of them are dressed in similar fashion as we are, but not quite as decorative. The Lord sits at the very end of the table, his wife on his left and he motions for us to sit across from them.
Andrei pulls out the chair at the end across from the Lord, and gestures for me to sit. I maneuver my skirt, trying to do the same as Lady Charlotte. Once I’m settled he sits on my right with one other empty seat beside him. I’m grateful for his overprotectiveness. I really don’t want to sit next to a stranger for however long this takes.
I’m not sure how long it takes for the room to fill up, but soon the air is buzzing with the conversation of nobles and aristocrats sharing gossip. Several men come to greet our hosts before they sit down. I start to get a sense that they’re more important than they’ve let on.
As the last of the guests enter, a door at the other end near us opens. Two men walk out, followed by a third who’s much taller than the others; about six feet tall, with deep brown eyes and red hair. His face is clean shaven and he looks quite well built with wide shoulders and a strong jaw. He looks nothing like the famous paintings of him in the future. He smiles at the guests, waving as he welcomes them. As soon as he and his closest courtiers sit at the head table the food is brought out by servants.
Not surprisingly, the feast consists of mostly meat. There are a few dishes with vegetables and a lot of bread and pastries, but every dish has some kind of meat in it. I hear the men down the table talk about which nobles provided which beast and how many were hunted by the king himself. It’s no wonder they had so many health issues in this time period.
Andrei leans in close, a spark in his eye. “You know, I watched a documentary once that said only the wealthy had access to meat in this time, which is why it was considered not very fad if they ate vegetables with their meals. I always wondered if that was really true, or if the rich people just couldn’t stand the taste of healthy food. Which do you think it is?” He asks me.
“I think the first is true, pride coupled with a lack of nutritional understanding. I bet the peasants are healthier, aside from their living conditions,” I muse, tearing a bread roll apart carefully with my hands.
“It seems like an awful lot of prepared meat if you ask me, even for the amount of guests present. I doubt they’ll be able to finish it all,” he hums. I think I detect a hint of scorn in his voice or is that disappointment?
“Isn’t having excess a sign of wealth too? They probably do that on purpose,” I scoff under my breath. Such a waste of good food when so many people are hungry.
“Oh, of course it is, but they don’t care. It’s just a way to assert oneself politically, I suppose,” he adds. “So far, everything I’ve read about this time seems pretty accurate. Besides, well…” He waves subtly to the Halsey’s sitting across from us. “You know who.”
“Yea, I agree. Well, I didn’t think the King would look… like that. I guess I forgot he wasn’t always huge and angry,” I tilt my head toward the table where the King sits, eyeing him with surprise.
“Yes, you’re right. We are not at the end of his reign, but meals such as these certainly won’t help that matter,” Andrei chuckles lightly.
“No kidding,” I smirk. “He must be active all day to keep that figure. That’s impressive, to say the least. It’s kind of a shame it won’t last.” Andrei nods in agreement, taking what vegetables he can while making sure to fill his plate with meat so as not to look like he’s avoiding it. I try to do the same, though I chose to supplement with bread and avoid the fattier meats.
After several hours of feasting the courtiers are released to go back to the great hall. Lords and Ladies take positions all over the hall, somehow knowing where they need to be without talking. Andrei moves to the wall where some of the nobles hover – the obese or elderly, mostly, I notice. I follow him, clinging to his arm. I catch some of the men’s gazes following me and it makes me nervous.
We watch as the others on the floor form two lines facing their partners. The music starts, a gentle tune on the lute and recorder in the corner of the room and everyone does a simultaneous bow. The tune is slow and simple, a two-step melody. I watch carefully as Andrei points out their movements.
“That there, it’s a double step. They’re moving in short steps, probably because of the gowns,” he points with his finger. I see the two lines of dancers inch toward each other, as they meet they bow slightly. Then, they step back and repeat. After they do this a couple time, they link arms with the person on their right and exchange spots in the line. Their partners move left while the line of people closest to use move right, away from each other.
“That there, it’s called arming. In our time, they use that a lot in line dancing and country songs,” Andrei whispers in my ear. The two lines of people repeat the first step again, facing a new partner and bowing, exchanging glances with the person opposite of them in a flirtatious way. I gulp nervously.
I glance at Andrei, noticing how his eyes light up as he studies their steps. It seems easy enough, but I’d much rather dance with only him. I wonder briefly if the dances in France were anything like this. He points excitedly and I return to facing the rows of dancers to see what he’s looking at.
“There, that step, I think it’s siding! See how they are nearly shoulder to shoulder with their new partner?” I nod, seeing just that. “They don’t quite touch, but then, yes, there it is. They turn and glance over their shoulders!” He points out. Such a simple movement, yet it seems to speak a thousand words between the two dancing.
The rows arm again, changing partners and then repeat the same steps we’ve just seen. It seems very repetitive. The dancers repeat the sequence about six more times before the music comes to an elegant end. Everyone applauds lightly and their faces brighten with smiles.
“I wonder what the musicians with play next,” Andrei whispers in my ear, patting my arm. I glance over at the musicians and their unfamiliar instruments. Curious, they don’t have music. How do they remember it all? Everyone returns to their respective partners, this time forming a double circle. The ladies stand on the outside while the men stand in the centre facing out. Andrei pulls me into the crowd as everyone lines up, a giddy smile all over his face.
“Let’s try it, shall we?” He asks, facing me from the inside of the circle. My body tenses with the anxiety of just thinking about the dance. I don’t know the steps! I’m just going to look stupid. Andrei seems to pick up on my feelings as he spares me a subtle wink and says, “Don’t worry! It’s slow and easy. If you don’t know, watch Lady Charlotte,” He waves a hand to my left where Lady Charlotte stands facing Lord Edward.
The music starts again, another two-step melody. Andrei whispers the steps to me as everyone moves forward beginning with their left foot in a greeting manner. When we stop everyone bows again, eyes trained on their partner. I feel slow and behind the beat as we move. At least the steps are small, as Andrei said they’d be. Still…
He smiles as we all step back, spinning slowly on our own. The ladies raise their hands, long sleeves draping at their sides as they turn. The men do a slight kneel and then slide to the left as we slide to the right. In front of me stands a man in a dark blue outfit, hair greased back and a primed beard. His brown eyes stare at me in an alluring way. I’m not sure if it’s the dance or his thoughts that make him seem frightening to me.
The ladies double step forward and curtsy to the men who bow without turning their eyes. We step back, arms raised and turn before sliding again to the next partner. Is it just me or does the music never end? I feel I’ve nearly seen every man in the circle before the music shifts and everyone takes a double step forward, shoulder nearly brushing each other. The music glides to an end and we all applaud.
I look around wildly for Andrei when I spot him shuffling through the crowd toward me. His eyes sparkle and he excitedly takes my hands in his. “Wasn’t that fun? What did you think?” He asks quickly, pulling me away from where I had been rooted to the spot.
“I survived,” I reply with a smile, relieved to have him back.
There’s a brief time to rest before the people move again. I reluctantly let him pull me back onto the floor. This time, the couples stand next to their partners, forming a circle but not standing apart. They raise their left hands and touch their fingers, holding them there until the musicians begin.
Andrei grins at the melody and I watch nervously, not knowing what to expect. The tune is different, in triple time. The men bend at the knees while the ladies curtsey in a similar fashion. We begin on the left foot, stepping two times before we bend again, and repeat.
My hand trembles against Andrei’s as he counts the steps loud enough for me to hear. After we step, turning left about three times, everyone spins, switching hands. I’m behind and I feel my cheeks flush red as I scramble to keep up. Andrei, on the other hand, seems to be a natural. He glides seemingly effortlessly with the music. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought he’d done these dances before. How does he learn so quickly? His eyes never leave mine, so how can he know what they will do next?
We switch hands again and the steps change to my disappointment. With one hand behind our backs, everyone steps backward three steps, then turns and steps forward to the right, changing partners. My feet falter and I stumble toward the new partner embarrassingly. I’m only slightly relieved when I look up at see that it is Lord Halsey and not another man.
He smiles at me encouragingly and I glance over my shoulder with apprehension, looking for Andrei. A lady in a yellow gown is now partnered with him, but his eyes are still on me. The lady looks slightly annoyed by this. I bite the inside of my lip, wishing he’d not annoy the other guests like that.
Before I know it, we’re sliding again but to my surprise, it’s to our original partners. I let out a sigh as my hand meets Andrei’s.
“You’re doing splendid,” He whispers to me.
“Don’t lie. I nearly tripped,” I hiss back.
He chuckles and I recognize that mischievous gleam in his eyes. I can only wonder what he’s planning next. We repeat the same moves again and this time the song ends abruptly. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding as everyone applauds.
My knees feel weak and I want to sit, so Andrei pulls me to the wall for a rest. As we make our way through the throng of people preparing for the next dance we are intercepted by the King himself.
“I do not believe we have met,” His lips part into a broad smile. “Would the lady be so kind as to have a dance with me?” I feel my stomach sink and flashbacks of Camelot run through my mind as I look into his deep brown eyes. I glance at Andrei. Do I have to?
“Your Highness, we are flattered by your offer, however, we were just about to take a short rest,” Andrei starts.
“Rest? Nonsense!” The King lets out a hearty laugh. “Come, my lady. Dance with me,” his tone is sharper this time as he holds out his hand. I remind myself that this is a man used to getting his way. I’d rather not upset him.
“It’s okay, Andrei,” I smile. “One dance won’t hurt,” I try to sound confident.
Andrei’s eyes follow me, a worried longing look in them. His excitement is suddenly gone as the King leads me back out onto the floor, the other nobles move out of his way quickly. I feel nauseous at the idea of trying to keep up with him. Getting embarrassed in front of Andrei is one thing, but Henry the eighth…
The tempo slows and the dance turns to pairs. Henry takes both of my hands, leading through the simple steps as we walk in circles slowly, stepping forward and back. I find myself looking down, praying I don’t step on his feet.
“What is your name, fair maiden?” King Henry asks sweetly.
“It’s Kaitlyn, though, I don’t think I’d be considered a maiden,” I mumble in response.
He laughs heartily. “How very forward of you! I do enjoy a lady with a sense of humor,” He says with a gruff tone.
I blink at him, confused. I wasn’t joking. I’m pretty sure maiden means virgin. “Thank you, your Highness.”
He grins. “Tell me… I heard a rumor that you were the one who slew the boar that Lord Halsey brought to the feast. Is this true?” He exclaims with disbelief.
I blush. “Yes, I did.”
“And tell me, is it true that you were able to lift the beast with only one hand?” His brows raise quizzically.
I stutter. “N-no, your Highness. I am just a normal woman. You flatter me,” I try my best to use proper language, so I don’t confuse him.
His eyes narrow skeptically. “I do not believe for a moment that you are an ordinary woman,” He insinuates in a hushed tone.
I gasp as he pulls me closer to him. This isn’t part of the dance, I’m certain, as no one else seems to be this close to their partner as I look around in alarm. In almost the same moment, I’m pulled back. His grasp falls away and I panic.
“Andrei- ” I stop. He’s halfway across the room with another noble lady. The dancing has paused, with everyone staring at us in awe. I glance up at the figure beside me, surprised to see it is Lord Halsey.
“Forgive my interruption, my King. I must remind you that the Lady Kaitlyn and her husband are my honored guests. Perhaps you would turn your attentions to the other ladies of the court,” The Lord smiles thinly, a strong warning in his eyes.
King Henry glares back at him for the briefest of moments, then clears his throat. “Yes, I believe I shall,” The King strides off to find another dance partner while the Lord leads me to the wall.
“Are you alright?” He whispers. I nod, still shaken. “Good. I would hate to give your beau a reason to assassinate the King,” The Lord smirks playfully.
“It would not be Andrei you would need to worry about,” I reply bluntly, glancing back out to the crowd. Andrei stares at us, despite the objections of the lady he’s supposed to be dancing with. I wave to him and smile to let him know I am alright and hoping he’ll relax and enjoy the rest of the dance. Thankfully, nothing happened.
The Lord coughs and scratches his head, “I am quite glad you left your pet at the manor then.”
“She’s not my pet,” I correct him. “She’s my kin.” His eyes widen slightly and the smile grows.
“I see. My apologies,” He bows his head.
By Krystyna Yates