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It is going to be the most memorable night of my life.
I, Princess Fredericka, get to officially attend a royal ball and not be hustled off to bed before the dancing even starts, because today is a momentous day. On this day, October first, eight hundred years ago, our family founded Colsteinburg.
Mademoiselle Colette adds a jeweled circlet to my pinned-up red hair.
"You are much too young for a tiara," she frets, even as she makes sure it is straight.
"I'm twelve. Besides, tonight I need to look the part of a princess, wouldn't you agree?" I ask my governess.
"Georgiana didn't attend a royal ball until she was thirteen," Mademoiselle Colette points out.
Finally I get to do something that Georgiana didn't get to do!
"But how often does a country have an Octocentennial?" I ask. "I shouldn't have to miss out just because my birthday hasn't come around yet." I turn my head this way and that as I study myself in the mirror. I like the way the tiara looks. Perhaps I can convince Mam to let me wear one all the time.
I use my phone to take a picture of the full effect and upload it to social media with the caption, "Finally going to a ball."
Mademoiselle Colette sighs the put-upon sigh she's perfected over the years. "Far be it from me to tell the king and queen how to raise their younger daughter. I only work here."
I give her a hug. "But I love you, Mademoiselle. You know that. Are you going to the dance?"
"I am going to put my feet up and watch TV. That is as much excitement as I need."
So little imagination. "You should go," I say.
"Perhaps I'll go for the dinner," she says. "Now, go see if your mother approves of you."
"Mam always approves of me," I say, grinning at her.
She gives me a playful swat. "See if she approves of how you look."
I nearly get the heels of my shoes tangled in my red-and-white silk floor-length gown as I start to walk. Mademoiselle Colette steadies me and shakes her head in despair.
"You need to be in pinafores and saddle shoes."
I stick my tongue out at her and head down the thickly carpeted hall to my parents' suite.
I knock, and the door is opened by Matilde, my mother's lady's maid. "May I see my mother, please?" I say.
"The king and queen are speaking with Mr. Frank, but you may come in and wait." I go into the anteroom with its hanging tapestries and stained glass windows. "You look lovely, Your Royal Highness," Matilde says.
"Thank you." That's one vote of approval anyway.
I hear voices coming from the adjoining sitting room, but I know better than to barge in when my parents are in a discussion with Pap's top adviser, so I sit on a cushioned bench, swinging my feet and waiting.
"Frederick, I tell you there are people poisoning the atmo-sphere." Ivan Frank's raised voice comes through the closed door to me. "People who do not want another year of Mohr rule in Colsteinburg, let alone another eight hundred."
Pap answers him but keeps his voice low, and his words are indistinct.
"I don't know who!" Ivan responds, loudly. "There is someone behind the unrest though, but we haven't found out who."
I've seen the letters in the paper by people who aren't happy with the way things are run, but things are run the way they always have been, and there are always people who aren't happy about it. I've paid enough attention in history class to know that. One disgruntled rabble-rouser can cause a lot of problems. I hope they find him soon and put a stop to it.
"Watch your back," Ivan continues. "Perhaps this celebration is ill advised."
A shiver runs up my own back. What does he mean by that? Does he think that with unrest in the government, people will think the celebration is foolhardy, or does he think that something bad might happen?
The door opens, and they come out, my parents in their regal attire and Ivan Frank looking dashing in his tuxedo.
"Thank you, Ivan," Pap says, his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I do not believe canceling the ball is the answer. If we were to do that, we would look afraid. I am not afraid. It would look as if we had something to fear. And we don't. Let people talk. They always have." He glances at me and lowers his voice. "And double security around the palace."
Ivan nods his head. "Yes, Sire," he says, and with a smile and nod to me, he leaves the room.
"Let's have a look at you, Fritzi," Pap says, grinning as if his adviser hadn't just been giving him bad news.
I stand up and slowly turn around so Mam and Pap can see me.
Pap only became king of Colsteinburg last year when my grandfather died. Pap wears his formal uniform with a colorful array of ribbons and badges. I don't know what all of them mean, but I do know only the king can wear them. And he's the king.
Mam's auburn hair is piled artfully on her head. Her gown is form-fitting and worthy of a Hollywood red carpet.
Next to them, I feel like a little kid playing dress-up.
"You look so grown up," Pap says with approval.
"Too grown up," Mam says. She doesn't seem quite as satisfied. "What happened to my little girl?"
"I'm not so little anymore, Mam," I say.
"No, I suppose you're not." She has a wistful tone in her voice, but I can't help growing up. In fact, I can't wait until I'm as grown up as Georgie and everyone takes me seriously.
"Is everything all right, Pap?" I ask, trying not to sound too concerned, even though Ivan's words left a bubble of anxiety in my belly. "Ivan sounded worried."
"It's Ivan's job to worry," Pap says. "Everything is fine. Are you ready for your first ball?"
His certainty bursts the worry bubble, and I feel much lighter.
"Then let's see if Georgie's ready, and we can get this party started, what do you think?" Pap asks.
I grin back at him. "Sounds good!"
Georgie, of course, is not ready. She's eighteen and doesn't rush when she wants to look nice. When she is done, I feel like I should just fade into the woodwork. She's elegant and graceful and looks exactly how someone would expect the next-in-line to the throne to look: blonde, fresh-faced, and cheerful.CHAPTER 2
A flock of butterflies crowds my stomach while we wait at the top of the curving stairs for the master of ceremonies to announce us. Below us, the ballroom is awash in color. Images of the red dragon of Colsteinburg are everywhere, from the white flags on the walls to the centerpieces on the tables. With so many flowers — roses in red and white and yellow, orchids in purple and pink and white, lilies in white and orange — the ballroom looks like a garden, and their fragrance fills the air. Light glints off the crystals in the chandeliers, making the room sparkle. The ladies' dresses, most borrowing their styling from the Middle Ages, are a rainbow of silken colors. The men look stunning in tuxedos, though some look even more amazing in tight breeches and colorful tunics, taking the Octocentennial theme to its next level.
A trumpet plays a fanfare, and all eyes turn up to us.
"Her Royal Highness, Princess Fredericka."
"Go, Fritzi," Georgie whispers, giving me a tiny nudge.
Holding my head high and my back straight, in a way that would make my dancing instructor proud, I walk slowly down the wide, curved staircase. Photographers snap my picture, and I make sure to smile politely, not grin idiotically. I make it to the dais without tripping or making a fool of myself. Success! Now to wait for the rest of my family.
"Her Royal Highness, Princess Georgiana."
Georgie smiles brightly as she enters the ballroom. There's just something about my sister that makes her look regal. She joins me on the dais, and I take a deep breath. I'm not alone anymore.
"Her Majesty, Queen Cassandra."
Mam glides down the stairs, nodding acknowledgment to the people as she passes them, and joins us.
"His Majesty, King Frederick."
He smiles to the people as he strides across the ballroom floor. He was born to be king and is enjoying every minute of it.
A few violins play softly, a hint of the music to come. I'm ready for the dancing to start. That's the fun part of a ball, after all, and it's the part I always missed out on, but first the people need to come and make their obeisance to the king and queen, and by default to me and Georgie. They form a line and walk past us, bowing or curtsying as they do.
I shift from foot to foot, and my cheeks hurt from smiling, but Pap has reminded us over and over again that greeting the people in a respectful manner is part of the responsibility of being the royal family, so I nod and say hello and greet people by name when I know them.
Prince Etienne of Lothringen appears in the line, and I glance at my sister to see her reaction. There's not much that can fluster her, but Prince Etienne always makes her blush. Tall and slender, with light brown hair and eyes, he looks like he could be central casting's choice for Prince Charming. They're to be married in three years, when she turns twenty-one. It's been arranged since they were three. Sure, the whole thing is political, but they don't care because they are crazy about each other and always have been.
No one has bothered to arrange a marriage for me.
It's not as important, I guess, because I'm not next in line for the throne.
Prince Etienne smiles at me, and I get a strange weak feeling in the back of my knees. "You're looking very grown up, Your Royal Highness," he says. "Will you save a dance for me?"
Will I save a dance for him? It's more likely to be the other way around.
"Of course," I say and smile back at him, even though the light probably reflects off my braces.
Prince Etienne moves on, and I smile politely at more people as they pass in front of us.
My smile turns to a grin when I see the prime minister's family in line. Sophia Orcutt is one of my roommates at the Academie Sainte Marie and my very best friend. I want to rush to her, but protocol means I need to stay where I am.
"Well, Frederick, you've certainly captured a sense of history here tonight," Mr. Orcutt says to my father, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. "Maybe now we can concentrate on the future?"
"I'm always thinking about the future, Francisco," Pap says, giving the prime minister a jovial pat on the shoulder. "One does not happen without the other. Enjoy the evening."
"Indeed." He continues down the line, greeting my mother, then Georgie, and finally nodding politely to me, giving me the barest of glances, which is about what I'd expect from someone as important as the prime minister. Even if I am a princess, most people still think of me as only a kid.
"You look very nice this evening," Mrs. Orcutt says to me, with a slight bob that is almost a curtsy.
I thank her, but it's Sophia I want to talk to. Soon she's in front of me, curtsying. As soon as she stands, I reach out and give her a quick hug, even though that is totally against protocol. She looks so grown up in her long green dress. Her hair, instead of being in braids, is curled and styled and has a ton of hairspray keeping it all in place.
"As soon as we're done here, I'll find you," I say.
"I'll be waiting," she promises.
Then her brother Tobias is bowing to me and Georgie.
My heart does a funny little pitter-pat. Tobias is fifteen and totally cute, with curly blond hair and piercing green eyes. I think I'm a little in love with him, even though he barely talks to me. Tobias doesn't promise to save a dance for me like Etienne did, but I'll make sure I get one at some point. What's the point of being a princess at my first royal ball if I can't dance with the cutest guy in the room?
Finally, the end of the line comes into sight. Soon the fun will start, but before we are allowed to join our friends and dance, Mam and Pap turn to us.
"Remember," Mam says, and I know her remarks are directed at me, because Georgie never has to be told to remember anything. "You represent Colsteinburg tonight, as always. People will be watching everything you do or say. Do not do or say anything you'll regret."
I want to ask my mother if she's never been twelve. I do or say something I regret pretty much hourly. I almost wish I were back in my room with my governess, but I'm not going to miss my chance to finally stay for the whole ball. I wish they would think of me as someone who was important to the country, like Georgie is, instead of someone who constantly has to be watched for inappropriate behavior. I'm growing up. I can see that; why can't they?
"Fritzi could never disappoint us," Pap says. "Go and have fun." He gives me a wink, and I relax.
I hurry to where Sophia and her brother are waiting, as the full orchestra begins the traditional first song, a classical Colsteinburg love song, "Liebe und Blumen," featuring strings and horns and timpani. My parents take to the dance floor, gliding across the ballroom in each other's arms. They look so in love it gives me shivers. I want a love like that someday.
"It's like something out of a fairy tale," I say, gripping Sophia's hand. "I can't believe we're both here."
Sophia laughs. "So, which of us is Cinderella?"
I laugh too. "Is one of us a serving girl hoping to meet the prince?"
"Well, I wouldn't mind a dance with Prince Etienne," Sophia admits.
"We just have to watch out when the clock strikes midnight," I joke, though nothing will change for either of us at that magical hour. I'll still be me, Princess Fredericka, and Sophia will still be my best friend.
The king and queen have circled the ballroom three times, and now Georgie and Etienne join them on the dance floor. I see Ivan Frank heading toward me. Mam has arranged to have him partner me for this first dance so I can join them all on the floor. Now, I like Ivan Frank very much, but he's not my idea of an ideal dance partner.
I drop Sophia's hand and grab her brother's. "You must dance with me!"
"Is that a royal directive?" There is a hint of a twinkle in Tobias's eye.
"Yes," I say, grinning. "I'm the princess; you must do as I say."
He bows to me and smiles. "As you wish, Your Royal Highness."
Mr. Frank sees me take to the dance floor and smiles at me, backing away.
We dance, flawlessly, having both attended the same dancing school. I'm aware of eyes on us and pictures being taken. I certainly don't mind being photographed dancing with a cute boy. Tobias even kisses my hand when the dance ends, and my fairy tale is complete.
The ball passes in a rich kaleidoscope of colors and sounds. The orchestra makes the room feel alive with music. It should be easy to save a dance for Etienne, but one government official after another asks me to dance, making me feel very popular, at least with the middle-aged set. Finally, Etienne claims a dance for himself, and it's even more fairy tale-like than dancing with Tobias.
I'm jealous that Georgie gets to dance with him at balls for the rest of her life. She has all the luck.
When we sit down to eat, the array of plates and glasses and utensils is almost baffling even for me, and I'm used to formal meals. The first course features delicately molded Colsteinburg cheese, caviar, and cold cucumber soup. After that's cleared away, there is a salad, featuring, of course, Colsteinburg cheese. We make good cheese here.
"This is sure better than the food at Sainte Marie, isn't it?" Sophia whispers as the main course, filet mignon and a selection of vegetables, is put before us.
"Maybe I can bring leftovers back with me this week, and we can feast!" I answer. Not that the food at school is bad, but it hardly lives up to the dinner at a royal ball.
"Oh, you should," Sophia answers. "Then we can share with Claudia, too." Claudia is our other roommate.
"There will be no leftovers," Tobias says from the other side of me. "Because I plan to eat it all."
We all laugh. It's a night made for laughter.
The dessert is the most amazing of all — red spun-sugar dragons on a white cloud of meringue. It's almost too beautiful to consider eating. Almost.
After dinner, we dance some more. I don't remember a night I've had so much fun.
The orchestra hits the first notes of the Colsteinburg National Anthem, and the dancing stops. I stand by Sophia, our hands on our hearts, as we look toward the white Colsteinburg flag with its red dragon in the center. I have tears in my eyes. It's been such a perfect night, I don't want it to end.
The last notes of the song are still hanging in the air when Mademoiselle Colette appears by my side, looking out of place in her sensible shoes and cardigan.
"It's over, Your Royal Highness."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Once Upon a Princess"
Copyright © 2018 Christine Marciniak.
Excerpted by permission of CBAY Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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