She laughed lightly and tied the mask around her head, arranging the veils so they hid every thread of her plaited hair.
"How do I look?" She asked, twirling so her dress caught the swing of her movement and sparkled dangerously.
"Like the fire that burnt the stables to crisp last year, beautiful but deadly." He replied mechanically, lazily stretching back and raising his brows. "Why does it matter so much? It's not like there is going to be any one important to impress, they wont even know who you are." He glanced down; looking bored, and flicked a piece of dust of his white coat.
"That is exactly the point, that horrid Paris won't bother me, he thinks I'm home ill and so does everyone else. I won't have to bow and scrape and act exactly as the unmarried only daughter of a noble should act, I can be myself, finally…" Drifting off slightly she gave a happy sigh before her eyes focused again on him, "Who are you meant to be by the way?"
"Ice, I guess, or me. Whichever works." There was a gleam in his eye that told her that he knew exactly how much he annoyed her.
She threw her hands into the air, "You're hopeless!" she cried and turned, leaving the room muttering under her breath.
"Don't mutter, Juliet. It's not ladylike." He called after, laughing.
"I don't care!" She yelled back.
Music played with twinkling sounds and couples spun smoothly in unison on the marbled floor.
"Are there no women at all that you must mope your way about in corners? This is meant to be the party where you meet your true love." Romeo jumped as Mercutio came up to him and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
Romeo snorted, "I wish! My heart is sore, how can I love at a time like this, this was a silly idea." He sighed deeply and stared back towards the dancers.
"Don't despair cousin!" a new voice joined in, "You do know that Rosaline is here? This is your big chance to make her fall in love with you!"
Romeo sighed, "I no longer pine for her, Benvolio, she is cruel and cold-hearted." Another sighed issued from his mouth but he did not elaborate.
Benvolio and Mercutio shrugged and one of them pushed a goblet into his hands, "Then drink up, my friend, for it shall be a cold and lonely night for you. We at least shall enjoy the Capulet company." The two laughed and left him.
He gazed at the dancers once more as they whirled, then heard a sound that didn't quite seem to fit in.
"Paris, stop it, leave me alone!" the voice came inside from one of the outdoor balconies and was immediately swallowed by the mellow music. But Romeo was near the balcony and heard the words clearly, not wanting to be mistaken he crept closer to listen.
"Why? Your father already promised you to me, why not sample the goods before I buy?" Romeo shuddered; he hated Paris, an obnoxious horrible man who had far too much power.
Straightening up Romeo left his wine on a nearby table and stepped out onto the darkness of the balcony; Paris and the woman were by the edge, Paris trapping her with his long arms.
Romeo slid up behind him and grabbed the horrid man by the back of the neck, "Leave her alone. There are penalties for assaulting women as I'm sure you know very well." He hissed, "Get out."
Paris shuddered as Romeo tightened his grip, and then whimpered. The man was a coward and took off quickly as soon as Romeo released him. Romeo clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to spit on the ground.
A small noise made him start. The woman he had saved had been about to say something before he looked up, she closed her mouth.
"Are you okay?" Romeo asked, stepping forward and reaching out to her. She sighed then smiled and stepped forward out of the shadows, "Yes, thank you, I'm fine."
His eyes widened slightly beneath the mask, she was by far the most beautifully dressed woman in the room and what he could see beneath the mask promised much more.
Her dress was like fire, from pale yellow to burnt blackened red with a red mask and black and red veils over her hair.
"Thank you" she repeated, her eyes looking steadily at him through her mask, eyes of stormy grey met with deepest blue and her mouth quirked up in a smile.
Taking her hand Romeo bowed low over it while not letting his eyes leave hers, "You are I think the woman I am looking for. Would you care to dance?"
She continued to watch him, "I would like that very much." She took his arm and he led her onto the dance floor just as a new dance began. Slow and smooth they picked up the step and glided round the dance floor, staring into each others eyes as if there was no one else there.
At the sound of her name she stood up and walked to the window from whence it came.
"Who is there?" She called back, staring down into the shadowed garden that her window overlooked.
"The Midnight Man." back came the voice, "Can you join me?" Juliet's heart beat faster at the words and she ran to the stairs without hesitation.
Through the doors she ran and fell into his arms, he greeted her with a kiss a sweet as the one they had secretly shared the previous night.
"Midnight Man, are you here to tell me who you are?" she gazed up at him but had not thought to bring a light, shadows obscured his face.
"Other than the man who loves you most I have but one name and I fear that it shall cause a rift between us if I speak it."
"I am Romeo, only son of Lord Montague." He waited in silence for her to speak and when she did not, continued.
"I don't know how or why, but last night I knew from first sight that I love you more than anything in this world, Juliet Capulet, knowing who I am would you marry me?"
"Romeo! Nothing in this world would stop me! I too love you more than life itself."
In the dim light she saw his face light up, "Then there is no time to waste! Our families may not stop us if they do not know!"
A joyful laugh escaped her throat, "Why not? We cannot stop how we feel, why try?"
He gazed lovingly at her, "Really? Then let us make haste!" he took her hand and together they laughed and ran away, to the church where no bells would ring on their wedding day.
"I shall not duel you Tybalt, cousin to my wife, I wish only to make amends." Romeo stood with Juliet at his side, Tybalt facing them, his face dark with fury.
"Coward!" he accused and turned away in disgust. "The whole rage of the Capulets shall come down upon you and your family, watch your back, dog."
Nearby Romeo heard Mercutio hiss and step forward, "You are the dog and the coward, to fight a man on the day after he was wed to your kinswoman."
Tybalt turned back to Mercutio, "If you want a duel then you have it, dog!"
"With pleasure." They drew their swords and faced off while Romeo and Juliet watched in horror. Both were good swordsmen, but Mercutio was young and let his emotions overflow too much. Romeo saw the thrust that would kill him and shouted futilely.
Even as Mercutio fell to the floor Romeo rushed forward and grabbed his sword before it dropped and advanced on Tybalt.
"You killed him!" he screamed and stabbed the sword forward. Tybalt died without a sound.
"Romeo! You shouldn't have!" Juliet cried running to Tybalt to hold his hand as he choked his last breath. Romeo understood, the man may not have been pleasant but they were cousins. He dropped to his knees on the floor beside Mercutio.
"I'm sorry." He whispered, to both, "I'm sorry."
Guards ran into the room with Paris at their head. Seeing the bodies on the floor and the naked sword in Romeo's hand Paris' eyes rolled back and he pointed at Romeo.
"Seize that man!"
"Count Paris shall be your husband by the next week, and that is final!" Juliet's father stormed as he paced.
"That man is horrid, father, and I am already married, I married Romeo." She sat tall and stared at her father stubbornly.
"That marriage was not blessed by me or any of the elder family members, and that man is now an outlaw and exile making the marriage void." His face was red as he yelled at her and he never stood still.
"You can't change how Romeo and I feel about each other! I'll kill myself before I marry Paris!" she got to her feet and clenched her hands, her father just sighed and rolled his eyes.
"You will be locked in your rooms till the wedding; food shall be brought to you. If on the day you are not smiling and happy then I shall disown you and you shall join the Montague scum with which you seem so familiar!" Apparently sick of the conversation he upped and left the room. The click that the lock made echoed through the room.
Juliet ran to the window that looked down on the garden, she scanned her eyes around, looking for any sign of her beloved. But he was not there.
Food came at regular intervals but Juliet was starting to waste away, she watched out the window almost constantly and even the lively chatter of her nurse failed to cheer her up. Worried, the nurse sent for Friar Laurence, Juliet had said his name various times and she maybe another familiar face might help.
The Friar came just after noon when Juliet had finished not eating, a man with a kindly face and a girth that was starting to widen after years of priesthood.
"Juliet?" he asked softly, the girl was sitting in a chair and staring out the window. When the Friar called her name she looked up and smiled.
"Hello Friar Laurence, have you any news of Romeo?" she asked hopefully, when he shook his head she sighed and stared back out the window.
He waited and tried to analyse her blank face, she interrupted his thoughts when she began to talk. Her voice was no longer bright but forlorn.
"I love Romeo, more than anything and I can't bear to be away from him. Mother and father have both gone against me and if I stay here then I will be forced to marry Paris. I can't do that so I am going to have to die." Her mouth turned down at the edges and she seemed to have aged many years as she said this.
"No! Daughter you must not! It is a sin to kill yourself." He burst out, shocked.
Her lips quirked, "Sorry father, I did not mean it like that. I have a plan that will let me be with Romeo and escape my father and Paris at the same time. My plan is to fake death, and you are going to help me achieve it."
Friar Laurence slowly realised what she was implying, "Mandrake root, if the right quantity, can cause a deep death-like sleep." He suggested tentatively, hoping she would back away.
"Exactly." She replied, disappointing him.
The Friar watched as Juliet sank into sleep and her breathing and heart slowed down so much she seemed to die. A messenger was on his way to Romeo and so the first parts of her plan were now complete.
Faking shock, but not pain, the Friar cried out, "Juliet! She's dead!"
Her kind nurse ran into the room and screamed 'No!' at the sight of the almost lifeless girl. More people were running and the door was hastily knocked open, her father stood shocked in the door frame, blocking the people behind him.
"Is she…is she…?" he stuttered. The nurse collapsed on her knees beside Juliet and felt her wrist with shaking fingers, when she felt no pulse she broke out in sobs. Watching sorrowfully the Friar truly regretted not telling the poor woman who was distraught with grief, but Juliet had insisted, saying that she would be questioned and may be thought guilty.
Her father ran to Juliet's side and collapsed, throwing his arms around his daughter and crying like his heart had been torn out. No matter what Juliet had thought, her father loved her deeply as his only daughter but had just never understood her the same as he did his sons.
His heart in his throat the Friar closed his eyes and prayed for the girl that they all thought was dead.
Romeo sat staring out the window towards the city from which he had been banned, he had been waiting all day for a message from the Friar but had yet to see a single horse on the horizon except that of his servant Balthasar who had rode up two minutes ago.
Romeo rolled his shoulders back and rubbed his neck before getting to his feet and wandering down the short hall to where Balthasar had just entered.
Hope grew in his heart, "Do you bring news from the good Friar?" he asked then looked closely at his servants face, its grimness warned him.
"My lord…I am sorry, Juliet is dead. The Friar found her lying on her bed when he went to her for her prayers. I don't know the cause." He looked sadly at Romeo as the news struck, Romeo's face crumpled.
"Did you get the news from Friar Laurence?" he asked, tears already beginning to leak from his eyes. The servant shook his head and his look changed to pity.
"No my Lord, but there was no doubt. I was there for the funeral procession; she is lying in the north crypt."
"No…" Romeo shook his head and ran out the door. His servant's horse was still saddled at the stables and Romeo didn't hesitate, leaping onto its back and racing off down the road. Off to find his Juliet.
The crypt was dark and dank and smelled of naught but rats and mould. Romeo, with a bottle of poison clenched in his hand, followed the petals scattered on the floor to the tomb where Juliet lay.
"She was vibrant with golden hair fanned out around her face and dressed in a flowing white gown. Romeo could almost believe she was sleeping as he laid his head on her breast and sobbed for the love that he had but found then lost again. A noise alerted him to company.
Staggering to his feet, his face a mess of tears, Romeo stood and faced Paris who had apparently come to morn and looked truly saddened.
"You!" he yelled, startled at the sight of Romeo, Romeo just gritted his teeth at the sight of the man he hated most.
"You killed Tybalt and Mercutio!" Paris cried and without warning pulled out his sword and launched at Romeo.
Ducking the first swing Romeo pulled out his owned sword and, fueled by grief, dueled Paris and gave it everything he had. "Mercutio was more of a brother to me than he ever was to you, Tybalt killed him and paid with his own life!"
Paris, older and more indulgent made a mistake and stumbled on a loose stone. Romeo took his chance and thrust his sword into the gap, Paris dropped with a cry.
Pausing just for a second to watch as his rival died upon the cold stone floor, Romeo swayed in fatigue. "Now, sweet Juliet, I can finally join you." He moaned and stumbled back to her.
Laying a kiss on her brow, he uncapped the poison and let it drain down his throat.
"My love…I am coming." He lamented once more, and then closed his eyes for good.
The tomb laying still with two dead men, both dead over the same maiden who merely slept.
But an hour passed before the stirrings of the living world reached Juliet and she sat up, ready to embrace the freedom and love that came next. When she saw Romeo slumped against the stone slab that she lay upon she cried out.
"Romeo, my love!" She pressed her hand to his cheek and felt the coldness of his skin. "How cruel life has been to us! That it grants us no time to revel in the freedom and joy we could have had together…my love, wait for me, I am coming!"
Reaching down she took the dagger from his belt and gave him one last kiss upon the lips, whispered, "I am coming," and then drove the dagger into her heart.
Led by Balthasar, Romeo's family ran into the tomb, crying when they saw the scene. The Capulets came seconds later shocked and distraught in black robes.
The scene of the lovers, entwined even in death, touched the heart of even the most bitter. They saw the love that caused their children to give up their own lives for the other and saw finally the meaningless hatred that had surrounded their families for decades.
"Never again!" Lord Capulet swore, placing his daughter once more onto the stone slab, with Romeo beside her. "Never again!" Lord Montague agreed, holding his wife in his arms as he stared at his son.
The families mingled as they mourned the two children they had loved so much, one, an only son and the other, an only daughter.
The Prince of Verona himself soon joined them, mourning his kinsman Paris and listening to the haunting tale of the two lovers.
And forever after, every time he told the story, and he told it often, he would quote just once at the end,
"For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo."