Amaranthe was not having fun.
She was however doing her best to make her aunt think that she was. Perhaps if Sienne thought she was having fun, she would stop meddling in Amaranthe's affairs and making things worse. Amaranthe had done a good enough job of mucking things up all by herself.
It was a stretch for the young Queen to agree to wear the vibrantly coloured gown to the ball. Amaranthe had to admit it was a beautiful gown, and she knew that she looked stunning in it, but scarlet was hardly the colour for someone who was still mourning her father.
However, the gown was hardly the worst of it.
As if learning that their were rumors going around that she was having an affair with Rune was not bad enough. No, Sienne had to send Rune up to be her escort for the night.
She would be trying to convince Garvin there was nothing more between her and Rune for a long time to come even without everyone else thinking there was. If people were speculating about her having an affair with Rune, she wanted to do everything she could to dispel the rumor. Being escorted to her first ball by him after her coronation and the death of her father was not going to help matters.
She wished Garvin was able to make the ball.
Taking another long swig of wine from the glass flute in her hands she smiled and nodded at the Ladies who were gathered around her talking. She was only feigning attention, and had not the faintest idea what they were talking about other then that they were gossiping over something or other. As long as she nodded her agreement, and laughed when the rest of them laughed, no one noticed that she was not paying attention.
"Could I steal our Queen away from you Ladies for a moment?" Sienne asked, suddenly appearing at her side and taking a hold of her arm. Without waiting for a response, Sienne drew Amaranthe a few steps away and spoke softly, "My dear, you are doing a fine job of mingling, but you simply must dance as well. Ask your Rune for a dance, I am sure he would be happy to comply."
"No!" Amaranthe whispered forcefully trying not to draw attention, "It was cruel of you to send him to be my escort. What will Garvin think when he finds out. There is enough gossip going around about me and Rune, I will not do anything to make people think there is anything between me and Rune that is not strictly professional."
Sienne looked slightly hurt by this but quickly recovered, "Well if you will not dance with Rune then dance with someone else. I am sure that any of the handsome young men here would be happy to take their Queen on a spin around the dance floor."
"I do not want to dance with any of the," Amaranthe said stubbornly, "I want to dance with my husband."
"You may get your wish?" Sienne answered with a smile.
"What?" Amaranthe's eyes widened in surprise. Her aunt grinned and pointed over her shoulder. Amaranthe spun around her eyes searching the crowd until she spotted Garvin standing near the entrance on the far side of the room. She could not contain the huge smile that spread across her face, and she took a step towards him.
She was halted by and hand on her arm. Sienne spun her back to face her pulling Amaranthe close and speaking quietly into her ear, "Do not look too eager my dear. Remember, you do not want people to think there is anything amiss between you and your husband. You do not want people to know that you have barely seen each other since your wedding," she warned.
"But it is ok for me to show up with Rune?" Amaranthe asked sarcastically with a roll of her eyes. She stepped away from Sienne and pulled her arm from her aunt's grasp. However she did curb her enthusiasm and tried to make her way towards Garvin as casually as she could, giving a nod to guests when they wished her well as she passed by."
As she crossed the room she kept a close eye on Garvin, watching his path through the throng of guests, as he greeted them. He did not notice her though, and she stopped when she was only a few feet away, "Hello Garvin," she said tentatively as he moved on from the latest person he greeted.
He looked up at her. His gaze froze her to the spot. The pain she caused him was clearly written on his face, and she hoped no one else read it for what it was. After what seemed like forever of silence, Garvin said simply, "Hello Amaranthe."
Awkwardly aware of how public their exchange was, and with Sienne's warning still fresh in her mind, Amaranthe tried act natural as Garvin stepped towards her and took her arm possessively. He drew her close and kissed her cheek lightly, "You look lovely tonight."
"Thank you," she answered, looking up at him with wide eyes searching his face trying to read his emotions. It seemed natural for her to return the compliment, but as she took in his appearance at close range she could not. He looked tired and worn out. His formal wear was impeccably pressed and fit him so perfectly he could have been born into it. However his combed hair was slightly awry and he had dark circles under his eyes.
As she swallowed uncomfortably she tried to think of something to say, something that a happy wife might say to her husband so that those watching them would not know how awkward this exchange was.
Garvin's gaze shifted and focused on something over her head. His jaw tightened.
Instinctively she turned and followed his gaze, and found Rune at the end of it. He was standing in the crowd not far behind her, his eyes were locked with Garvin's.
Amaranthe's heart pounded. She needed to do something, and quickly, the crowd around them had silenced and was watching Garvin and Rune closely. She could feel Garvin tensing before her and she did not want him to make a scene. Turning back toward Garvin she reached up and put a hand on his cheek and pressed his cheek away from Rune forcing him to look back at her, "Come Garvin. Dance with me."
The crowd parted reluctantly as she pulled Garvin towards the dance floor. He followed reluctantly, but he did follow.
It was only then that she noticed the entire room had fallen silent. The orchestra had stopped playing, and everyone had been watching them. She stopped when they reached the middle of the dance floor which was now nearly deserted. A piercing stare in the direction of the orchestra conductor quickly started the music again.
There was now music, but Amaranthe and Garvin were still alone in the middle of the dance floor, and all eyes were still on them. It was nerve-wracking to be under such scrutiny, but Amaranthe was determined to act as though she had nothing to be ashamed of, which she feebly tried to convince herself she did not. There was nothing between her and Rune, anymore. The only person who had any reason to think otherwise was Garvin, but she would just have to work on winning back his trust. For now she needed to keep up the pretense to the court that nothing was amiss.
She had Garvin focused on her now, and not Rune and she intended to keep it that way. There would be time enough later to worry about Rune. Garvin was her husband, and she wanted to dance with him. So she would.
Garvin stood motionless before her, but she took his hands and place one on her waist and the other on her shoulder and pulled him into the dance steps. She only needed to lead for a few moments before years of training kicked in and Garvin took over.
They spun around the dance floor elegantly. Amaranthe forced herself to concentrate closely on the steps, even though they came to her naturally. She did it to block out the feeling of everyone watching them, focusing simply on dancing with Garvin.
Eventually the guests returned to talking amongst themselves, and other dancers joined them on the floor, and Amaranthe was able to relax. She looked up at Garvin, trying to read the expression on his face. His eyes were fixed on the floor visible over her shoulder.
Feeling her gaze on him, Garvin turned his head slightly and looked down at her, "You came here with him," he stated sadly.
"I did not want to," she protested softly, "That was Sienne's doing. I wanted to come with you, but they told me you were too busy."
"I am," he agreed, "I have only come for a few minutes. I felt obligated to come at least for a little while. It is the first ball here since…" his voice trailed off.
Amaranthe's eyes dropped down to the space between them. Of course he had not come to see her, she had knew that already. However, to hear him say it, that he had only come because he felt obligated as King, stung.
Of course it was her fault that he did not want to see her. She had caused this tension between them. All she could do now was try to make it better.
After a long moment of silenced, Amaranthe looked back up at Garvin, "I am sorry about everything that is happened. I want to be a good wife and a good Queen. I want things to be different between us. I hope someday you will be able to feel the same way."
"I do not think I can," he answered bitterly. Tears stung in Amaranthe's eyes, and she bit her lip to keep it from trembling. Garvin continued, "It is a cruel position I am in. You are my wife, but that very fact makes me King and keeps me away from you. On the other hand you gave him the one position that gives him all the access to you he wants."
She shook her head, "It is not like that Garvin. I gave Rune his position because I trust him with my life, and he is my friend--"
"The best," Garvin cut in angrily.
"No," she protested, "It is not like that. It may have been before, but it is not now," she realized that they had stopped dancing and were now standing still in the middle of the dance floor, but everyone was still dancing around them, "We are married now, for better or for worse, and I do not want us to be little more then strangers," she looked up at him intently and said quietly, "I want a husband."
He stared down at her for a long while, but finally shook his head, "You should have thought of that before," his hands dropped away from her body and he stepped back.
"Wait, Garvin," she reached out for him, but he reeled away from her touch, and she dropped her hand back, "Please," she begged, aware of people beginning to stop and watch them again.
Garvin shook his head, and turned and walked away, leaving her abandoned in the middle of the floor. He slipped into the crowd without so much as a look back at her. She tried to follow him, but the crowd closed in behind him, impeding her.
Finally she gave up, stopping and thinking sadly that this was her Kingdom, and her people were already siding with Garvin. How poorly they must think of her.
She grabbed another flute of wine off the tray of a servant passing by. Then she turned and headed in the opposite direction, heading towards the doors that lead out to the patio and into the garden. This time the crowd parted easily for her, and she was quickly outside.
The night air chilled her skin but she ignored it. She deserved to be uncomfortable after the mess she had made of everything. Amaranthe turned and looked back through the glass doors at the guests inside. No one was watching her, they were all partying and having a good time without their wayward Queen. This was certainly not they way she had imagined things would turn out.
"I am sorry I have made such a mess of everything, Father," she whispered into the darkness, "I just want to be a Queen that you would be proud of."
Why did he have to go and die so soon? Amaranthe wondered angrily. She was too young to be Queen. If only she had a few more years, things would be so different. She and Garvin would have been married and have had time to build a relationship before the stress of being King and Queen. There would be no threat of a war to worry about. If she had still chosen Rune to be the Captain of her guards, it would not have caused such a scandal. He would have been more experienced, and less people would think him unsuited for the job.
Her eyes snapped up at the sound of the glass doors opening, and she saw Rune stepping out towards her. He opened his mouth to speak but she shook her head and cut him off, "No Rune, I cannot speak with you now. I need to be alone."
"But it is my job to watch out for you," he protested, "It is dark out here."
"It is the palace grounds. I will be perfectly safe. Please Rune, I just need to be alone for awhile."
He stepped back from her, but he did not leave, trying to give her space while still looking out for her safety.
Amaranthe stepped away from the palace and headed down the steps into the garden and slipped amongst the bushes.
She knew he would follow her, but she did not want to see him, as long as she kept moving it would be ok.
It was unfair to Rune, and she knew it. He was only trying to do his job, and she had given him that job. She had thought it would be better to have someone she liked and trusted in the position, and perhaps it was. Any of the men her father had suggested for the position would have likely forced her to go back inside, but if she had chosen any of them instead of Rune she would not be in this position in the first place. She would still be inside happily dancing with Garvin. He would not have any reason to hate her, or to feel betrayed by her.
Why did she have to tell Garvin about Rune? If she had not told Garvin that she was in love with Rune he might have suspected something when she had made Rune her Captain, but as long as he never had any proof he could do no more then suspect.
However, she had told him. So now, even though there was nothing more between her and Rune since she had married Garvin, he would always wonder about them.
Amaranthe wandered through the gardens berating herself for the mess she had made of everything, until the cool night air made her shiver enough to want to go back inside, and her wine glass was drained.
She turned to head back to the palace and was surprised to see how far she had walked. The lights from the ball were a distant glow, and she was shrouded in darkness.
A shiver ran down her spine, with a feeling that someone was watching her. She looked around her but she could see nothing in the darkness.
"Rune?" she called out softly. It was only him. He had followed her into the garden, and he would be keeping an eye on her.
A rustling behind her made her jump but when she turned around she saw nothing.
"Amaranthe, where are you?" she heard Rune call out. He was not near her, but it comforted her to know he was out there and trying to find her.
She was about to call out in answer when a gloved hand snaked from behind her head and clamped over her mouth muffling her cry of surprise. A damp cloth in the gloved hand covered her mouth and nose, and a sharp smell filled her nostrils. She tried to shake her head free from the hand but she felt her muscles relaxing and her vision blurring.
The glass flute fell from her limp fingers and shattered on the ground.
I am here Rune. Help me! was her last thought as she crumpled to the ground.