Lady Sienne bustled down the long stone corridor that separated the chambers of the King and Queen of Ipille. The hallway was empty except for a lone guard standing outside the entrance to the Queen's chambers. She was accustomed to the quietness of this hallway, but still lamented that it was.

In the days of Queen Miraesia this hallway had been a flurry of activity during the day. It had been filled with the Queen's many visitors and servants waiting on their needs, and as the Queen's sister, Sienne had been a frequent guest to this area.

The Queen's Chambers however had been mostly unoccupied since the death of Miraesia five years earlier. Sienne's niece, Amaranthe, had been in residences there since the death of the King, her father, one month earlier, but she was still in mourning so she stayed secluded in her chambers and had very few visitors.

As Sienne arrived at the ornately carved double doors that marked the entrance to the Queen's Chambers she greeted the guard posted at the center of the entrance way, "Good afternoon, Captain Kaile, how is our Queen faring today?"

Captain Rune Kaile, was young, extremely young to be given the responsibility of captaining the Queen's Guards. At eighteen, he had only finished his knight training the previous spring, and had not even a year of experience as a knight behind him.

It had caused quite a scandal when they newly coroneted Queen Amaranthe had announced him as her choice for Captain of the Queen's Guards. The popular speculation amongst the gossips was that the young Queen and her Captain were having an affair and Amaranthe had wanted to have him close at hand. Sienne could not say for sure that Amaranthe and Rune had not had a relationship of sorts before she was crowned Queen, but Sienne was certain at least that since Rune had been made Captain the relationship between the two young people had been nothing but professional.

"She has not been out yet this morning. Sariss and Tashe are in with her now," Rune reported.

The older woman nodded as Rune stepped aside to grant her entrance to the chambers. Sienne liked Rune. He was a nice young man, tall, narrow and handsome, with light brown hair cut just below his ears and remarkable blue eyes. What he lacked in experience he clearly made up for in devotion to his Queen and country. She almost hoped that there was truth behind the rumors about Amaranthe and Rune. It might be just what the Queen needed to draw her out of her mourning. A month of near seclusion was not healthy for a young woman.

Of course Sienne liked King Garvin, Amaranthe's husband as well, but he had his own troubles trying to run a kingdom the size of Ipille with the threat of war ominously near. Not to mention the added duties from his appointment as temporary Luminary of the Vaneyn Council that he had unexpectedly also inherited from King Ryland. Garvin was left with very little time to attend to his new wife.

The ante-chamber was dark as it was set away from the exterior of the palace and was so deprived of light from outside. No one as of yet had bothered to light the sconces. The only source of light came from the doorway to the Queen's bedchamber where the door had been left slightly ajar. Hushed voices could be heard on the other side.

Three women turned towards Sienne as she entered the door. The scene before her was not unusual. Her niece was seated in a large upholstered chair near the window. Tashe, the Queen's personal attendant and close friend was kneeling in front of her. Sariss, Amaranthe's former nurse, and Sienne's own former personal attendant, was standing nearby looking perturbed.

Amaranthe did not look at all like a Queen. Like Rune, she was also much too young for the position she held. At barely fifteen she was hardly more then a child. She was still dressed in her night clothes, a long linen gown that covered her from her throat to her toes, with a slight frill at the edges. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks damp with tears.

When she saw Sienne she sniffed and wiped her palms across her cheeks, "Aunt Sienne, I don't think I'm ready for this."

"Nonsense," Sienne countered crossing the room. She took her niece's hands in hers and pulled Amaranthe to her feet, then kissed both her cheeks in greeting, "You've been mourning too long already. I know your father would not want you to waste away in here on account of him. Young women should be out having fun and attending balls. Besides, as a Queen you have a responsibility to your subjects to entertain them."

"But I don't feel happy. I'll just bring everyone down tonight. It's your ball, you organized it. You should be hostess and entertain everyone."

"My dear, you won't always want to do what you have to do. You'll go to the ball tonight, and if you don't enjoy yourself, you'll just have to pretend to enjoy yourself. Tashe go and get the ball gown I ordered for this evening."

Tashe jumped to her feet and curtsied to Sienne, "As you wish, m'Lady."

"Will Garvin be there?" Amaranthe asked as Tashe hurried away into the adjoining dressing room.

It pleased Sienne to see that the tears in her niece's eyes had been replaced by a hopeful expression, but she regretfully answered, "I do not know, darling. He is very busy these days." The corners of Amaranthe's mouth sank, and her gaze dropped forlornly to the floor at her feet. "But I'm sure if he hears that you are out and about he will make time to come see you as soon as he is able," Sienne added trying to lift the air of depression from the young Queen.

"I'm sure it will be a relief for Garvin too if he knows you're starting to feel better," Sariss offered, "He's got a lot to be concerned about these days."

Sienne nodded earnestly, "It might not seem like much to you, but something as simple as hosting a ball could help Garvin out with his work a lot. Keeping your subjects entertained will help keep everyone's minds off of all this talk of war, and that will take a lot of pressure off your husband."

"I suppose you are right," Amaranthe affirmed after a few moments of thoughtfulness, "I'll try my best tonight."

"That's all we are asking of you," Sienne assured. She waved over Tashe who had just returned with an armload of scarlet satin. Reaching over she pulled the gown from Tashe's arms and shook it out to display for Amaranthe, "What do you think?"

The dress had a long full skirt with gold beading starting heavy at the bottom, and got lighter as it moved upward. The bodice was fitted with a square neckline and was embroidered with gold thread. The sleeves were fitted to the elbow where they were tied with a gold ribbon. The rest fell from the arm into a deep V shape.

"Red?" Amaranthe questioned skeptically, but she could not help but reach out and touch the brilliant material, "I am not sure," she said slowly, "Perhaps my dark blue gown would suit me better today."

"No," her aunt stated firmly, "This is the dress for tonight. I will not have you hiding in some drab colour. A Queen must stand out at her first ball."

"But it is your ball, Aunt Sienne. You organized it."

"I organized it for you, my dear," Sienne assured, handing the gown back to Tashe and patting the back of Amaranthe's hand, "I did the work because I want you to have all the fun."

The young Queen's eyes strayed back to the vibrantly coloured gown, "It's beautiful Aunt Sariss," she paused for a moment looking longingly at the material draped in Tashe's arms, "No, no, I really cannot wear it tonight. It is too soon," she shook her head, "What will people think? I am in mourning for my father."

"Your people will think exactly what I do. That a month is long enough to mourn for a King. Why the nobles started throwing parties again before your father had been dead a week."

"But I am his daughter," Amaranthe protested.

"That is exactly why no one is objecting that you have continued to mourn him until now. However, if you keep it up much longer they will begin to wonder if you are using mourning your father as an excuse to avoid your duties as Queen. Why I already heard someone suggest that you were locked up here with young Captain Kaile having a torrid love affair."

"They are not really saying that are they?" Amaranthe's eyes widened with alarm.

"Indeed they are," Sienne grinned at her niece's apparent distress, "I for one would prefer that story to the truth. A wild affair is just what you need right now."

"Sienne!" Sariss exclaimed with dismay, forgetting to address her old friend with the formality required of her station, "Don't you be filling her head with that nonsense. That kind of attitude is exactly why King Ryland kept you away from his daughter as much as he could while he was alive. I don't want to think that he was right to do so."

My attitude," Sienne retorted, "was a blessing for Ryland. If I had not run off with Iyan he would have been stuck with me for a wife."

Sariss looked horrified, "Miraesia is dead," she whispered hoarsely.

"Do not dare blame that on me," Sienne snapped, "Miraesia had a far better life because of me then she would have otherwise."

"Otherwise?" Amaranthe asked looking confused. She had been told by her mother when she was young the little known story that it had been her Aunt Sienne who had initially been engaged to her father, but Sienne had fallen in love with a commoner and ran off to elope with him only a few days before impending nuptials. Sienne and Miraesia's grandfather, the current King of Desaille, had been in a panic. The future of their Kingdom was at stake. In a desperate move he had Sienne's twin sister Miraesia step in for the missing Princess and did not tell the groom of the switch.

As it turned out, Miraesia had been impersonating her sister around Ryland several times before and had fallen in love with him, and Ryland, although confused about his different feelings for what he thought was one person, had fallen in love with Miraesia as well.

Sienne turned to her niece and realizing her tone had made Amaranthe question the version of the story she had been told quickly responded, "Nothing, dear, just that your mother might not have found the love she had with your father had I stayed and married him as was planned."

Sariss gave a muffled snort that caused Amaranthe to look from one woman to another in confusion.

"It is really nothing dear. Sariss just always thinks the worst of me," Sienne said with a slight laugh turning her niece slightly so her back faced her old nurse. Amaranthe missed the piercing look Sienne shot Sariss over the Queen's shoulder, "Now, let these ladies get you dressed and I will see you downstairs later. I have to go get ready myself, but I expect you there to help me greet our guests."

She turned to Tashe and Sariss, "I expect you two to make our little Amaranthe here radiant for her first ball as Queen. If she does not meet my approval, I will be looking to you two for answers."

"We won't disappoint you, m'Lady," Tashe said giving Sienne as much of a curtsey as she could manage with her arms filled with the scarlet gown.

Addressing her niece a final time before departing Sienne advised, "I know you miss your father darling, but try to have some fun tonight."