The Last Dance
This piece is a short story about my character, Princess Amantdeiylaia. It’s her 15th birthday, and an old friend pays her a visit. But is his presence welcomed?
And so it was that time again, the castle was bustling with unfamiliar voices, and royals of all shapes and sizes roamed around the palace halls as they gushed about tonight’s event. It was rare to see different walks of life joined together in one place like this, but tonight was the social event of the season. Princess Amantdeiylaia was throwing a ball to celebrate her 15th birthday. While this might seem typical for someone of her status, this was the first time the court would be seeing her since she was a young child.
Typically, the royal family hid her behind a plethora of excuses that involved her ongoing battle with her poor health or something convenient. However, rumors began to spread that she had died and the King and Queen were trying to pull wool over the eyes of the court. When the invitations were sent out, most believed this to be a joke of sorts. However, as more people began to receive invitations, it seemed like this supposed party was bound to occur. Since this was a ball thrown by the King and Queen of Upworld, if you were anyone worth talking about, you’d be attending. For some, there was nowhere else they’d rather be, eager to see if the princess was still alive or if they had managed to get a decoy to fool everyone. But for the guest of honor and birthday girl, the princess was anything but. She begged and pleaded for her parents to change their minds but every attempt was futile. It was only a matter of time before Amantdeiylaia would have to face the royal court once more.
There was one person the princess was interested in seeing attend, the Lord of Downworld: Verrdonsei Voulneir. Despite coming from warring countries, the two seemed to get along in the past. They met in her father’s library where she was forced to reside while her adopted sister, Myriideiya, was having a tea party. Verrdonsei had run inside, trying to hide from the other children in attendance only to find the princess climbing up the bookshelves to reach a book. Ever since then, the two had grown quite close. Despite his cold exterior and dry manner of speaking, he’d always come to visit her in the library. The princess had even taught him how to read and kept his closest secret, the fact that he wasn’t biologically born a male. Even when he would tell her that their friendship was strange and didn’t make sense, she assured him that she would remain at his side and be faithful to him.
“Doesn’t the fact that I’m from Downworld bother you?” he asked one day while resting his chin in the palm of his scaly hand.
The princess shook her head, her pale white eyes looking upon his masked face with pure adoration.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter… We’re both masked freaks,” he scoffed “Still, it probably won’t last. You’re the heir of Upworld and I’m the heir to Downworld. We’ll be at each other’s necks soon enough-”
“Don’t say that!” her voice echoed through his mind as she slammed her hands on the table. She shook with anger and her eyes began to water. Despite being forced to wear a mask, her pained expression spilled through the porcelain that concealed her face.
“You’re only avoiding the inevitable. You’ll understand what I mean soon enough…”
I foretold the destruction of your kind, How I mourned it so. Down a most dreadful path, They were beyond saving. There was one being that stood above the rest. A creature; Fierce, blood-curdling eyes, Serrated, needle-like teeth. You glare at me with contempt and yet– I am utterly infatuated with you. I cannot help but stop and stare into your eyes. Are you upset by how I pity you so? Does it tear you apart to see one so revered by your kind? You cannot push me away. “This creature is not tamed!” “This creature is exceptionally wild.” “Does my presence make you shiver? Does it?” It asks me questions like these regularly, but surely it knows the answer.
Despite his pessimistic attitude and quick temper, the princess found herself falling for him. She enjoyed every single moment he was around her. Every glance made her heart skip a beat, every smile set her skin aflame. She was lovestruck and there was nothing she could do but wait until she could build the courage to confess her feelings.
However, that day never came. As her 12th birthday crept closer, Lord Voulneir stopped visiting her altogether and seemed to terminate their friendship. The princess feared that something horrible had happened to him, but caught him a couple of months later spending time with her older sister and brother. Since then, she never had the heart to face him again, not that she could even if she wanted to…
Her lady-in-waiting, Rhettna, combed through her platinum blonde locks, the silence between them suffocating. Her lithe fingers patted down any loose strands that strayed from the others. All the excitement that came with this event was nowhere to be seen inside these four walls. Despite her best efforts, the princess was inconsolable and refused any form of affection or flattery.
“You look lovely, your royal highness.” Rhettna hummed quietly, her words seemingly forced.
There was once a time when things were different. Ever since the princess was younger, the two of them were able to at least converse without it being forced. Despite their class difference, Amantdeiylaia never minded her company. The princess remembered when the two of them were first introduced, Rhettna had been taken in by the servants when her family had been killed during one of the many wars Upworld and Downworld had. Despite going through so much tragedy, Rhettna was kind and never burdened the princess with her problems. Her kindness was always welcome and appreciated especially because she was often sick growing up and her older siblings spread rumors that she was a ghost haunting the castle. None of the children would want anything to do with her and so the only friendly faces were the servants that attended to her. Although their benevolence seemed forced due to the position she held over them, she still appreciated whatever time they spared to humor her.
Whatever memories they shared in their youth seemed to have been wiped from the mind of the princess […]. There seemed to be a shift in the princess’ mannerisms after she left with her grandmother a couple of years ago. She returned colder and more timid. Her composure was that of someone wracked with guilt and her appetite had shrunk marginally than what Rhettna could remember. The most apparent change was when the princess locked herself away in her room and would seldom leave. The only time she allowed company was for her meals and when it was time to be woken up and put to sleep. There was this strange aura surrounding her, like she had been cursed during that trip and no spell could break it. It wasn’t as if Rhettna had given up on the princess, if anything it seemed to be the other way around.
Rhetna was interrupted by a sudden visitor at the door. Given the number of knocks, it seemed to be an urgent matter. Without announcing herself, the Queen appeared before Rhettna and the princess, who both got up and bowed to greet her. She waved to the both of them and they both lifted their heads.
“May I speak to my daughter in private, Rhettna?” The queen held a neutral expression but the tone of her voice was anything but.
“Yes, of course, m’am.”
Princess Amantdeiylaia’s eyes watched her lady-in-waiting’s steps as she bowed and then left the two of them in the room. The door closed behind her and then the room filled with the nauseating silence that was present before.
“You look beautiful, my love,” the queen walked over and caressed her daughter’s cheek, “how have you been holding up? Today is a big day.”
The queen was met with no response, which was expected from the princess. An audible sigh left her lips as she leaned against her daughter’s vanity. The sudden movement made Amantdeiylaia shift in her seat, her eyes darting up to see what was happening.
“I know today isn’t easy for you, my love. But we must remember that as the legitimate heir to the throne, your subjects have a right to see you. How will they take you seriously if you refuse to make an appearance?”
“I am not ready mother. Please, don’t make me go out there. I’m fine with celebrating as I always have.” Teary-eyed, the princess pleaded to her mother with hands stretched out, only to let them fall to her lap, “I am not ready mother. Please, don’t make me go out there. I’m fine with celebrating as I always have.”
“I understand you’re afraid, but you can’t stay here forever, Amantdeiylaia. If this is about our… secret, then I assure you, you have nothing to worry about. Your grandmother placed those rings to prevent any accidents from happening.”
The princess looked down, slumping into her chair. The very thought of being around so many people at once was a terrible one. She had grown to loathe her birthday since there was nothing to celebrate. Her grandmother had made it clear that she was an abomination; a stain on the family legacy. Her powers were abnormal and she would be cast aside if anyone knew. Sometimes she wondered if she could just… disappear and leave behind all of her royal duties. Her status was meaningless if no one respected her.
The Queen took her daughter’s mask off, revealing a devastated expression. She seemed helpless, not knowing what to do with herself now that the reality that she’d have to attend the ball dawned on her. A pity-filled smile spread on the Queen’s lips as she planted a kiss on her daughter’s forehead.
“Please smile for me, my love. It’s your birthday after all.”
Amantdeiylaia faintly smiled, accommodating her mother so that she would stop worrying about her. She knew her mother only wanted what was best for her, but couldn’t help but feel slightly betrayed. Surely her mother knew how anxious she was by nature. It was already hard enough for her to maintain a conversation with her family given her speech disability…
It was one of the only good things about having magic, she could telepathically communicate. While her parents had a difficult time explaining this to her older siblings, the problem had been swept under the rug for now. But how would she be able to explain this to the entire royal court? The mere thought of it gave her a headache.
The Queen stood up straight and handed her daughter’s mask to her. Her expression was still uneasy but she tried to give her daughter a reassuring smile.
“Remember to smile. Even with that mask, people can always tell!”
Amantdeiylaia stood up and bowed to her mother as she left the room. The Princess sucked in a sharp breath, trying to calm her nerves. Now that she was alone, she turned to the mirror and put the mask back on, her hands trembling.
“Remember to smile…” the princess repeated to herself.
As day turned into night, the ballroom slowly filled with its eager attendants. The stars were exceptionally bright as they danced through the windows. No expense was spared to make tonight something worth talking about. Music poured through and the first dance commenced. Excited chatter filled the air as people began to partner off and dance to the orchestra playing.
As its name states, the kingdom is mountainous and so many of the villages are located on elevated land. The castle is no exception and sits atop the largest mountain in Xaerie. Given the kingdom’s national colors, all attendants wore an assortment of blues and grays. The ladies wore luxurious ballgowns with fur trims as the climate was typically colder in Upworld. Despite the occasional chill that entered the ballroom through the balcony, the guests were in high spirits. The music kept them on their feet and those who weren’t partaking in the dance were socializing and enjoying each other’s company.
The only place where someone could find a moment of silence was escaping to the balcony which was exactly where the princess of Upworld hid. Their figure was masked under a large winter coat that was elegantly draped against a snowy white gown. A small smile danced gracefully against her lips as she felt completely at peace. She held a hand out as if to grab one of the stars and it was at that exact moment when Princess Amantdeliaya realized she wasn’t alone anymore. A large, warm hand intertwined his with hers, causing the princess to quickly turn around to who she least expected to appear; Lord Voulneir. A soft gasp left her full lips as the lord bowed before her.
Your very presence sends shivers down my spine. I hide behind my quivering lips and bated breath. You’ve captivated me wholly but… I am still your enemy. I didn’t know what you meant that day. Or perhaps I did and chose to ignore their meanings. To you, your warnings were as clear as cellophane. To me, your warnings were abstract and up for interpretation. I wished to console you and shield you from harm but… ‘Twas I who needed protection.
“Humor me, will you?” his voice was barely above a whisper.
The princess’ hand shook in his grasp as he pulled her in for a dance. His actions made Amantdeiylaia’s heart flutter, her cheeks slowly heating up. How was she expected to react? He had spent the last three years ignoring her existence and now he was dancing with her? Still, she remained cautious and tried to pull her hands away from him. However, his grasp was firm and he wouldn’t budge.
“You… You shouldn’t be here. Aren’t you worried what others will think if we’re seen alone?”
“Princess, I’m hurt. You should know me well enough to know that I hardly care what anyone thinks. Was that your way of telling me you don’t want to dance?” he tilted his head as his eyes twinkled with mischief.
“No, that’s… What are you doing here, my lord?”
“I came to give you this,” Verrdonsei hands the princess a red velvet box wrapped in black ribbon, “and to dance. Is that so hard to believe?”
The princess pulled away from him, her hands trembling as she tried to hold her resolve. She was determined to speak her mind, it was her turn to get the last word in.
“So that’s just it? You stop spending time with me for three years and then come back and try to act as though nothing happened?”
“You’ve every right to be angry with me, Amant. But,” his voice sounded slightly hurt by her words, but he masked them with his typical snarky tone. “I’m here now, right? Doesn’t that mean anything?”
The lord tried to pull her back in but was met with Amantdeiylaia slapping his hand away, her eyes narrowing in annoyance.
“You don’t get to do that! I’ve waited years, Lord Voulneir. You can’t just waltz up to me and pretend as though nothing has happened. Now… Please, leave.”
His eyes searched hers, hoping that she’d change her mind but it was clear she remained unfazed. She turned away from him, opting to put her attention into the stars. Letting out a deep sigh, he retracted his hands and stepped away before bowing to her. It was unlike him to wear such a wounded expression, but he quickly disguised it with a neutral one.
“Happy birthday, princess,” his voice emotionless.
Within seconds, he had disappeared into the crowd, her heart sinking into her chest. She looked at the red box, her eyes tearing up. It was better this way, or so she managed to tell herself.
Amantdeiylaia regained her composure and placed the box on the balcony’s railing. Leaning against the banister, she let the cold night breeze calm her down and regathered her thoughts. His voice lingered in his head for another moment before she closed her eyes and forced herself to forget it, forget him.
I foretold the destruction of your kind- but it seems you’ve outgrown me. What was once a fearsome creature beyond saving… became a pitiful fool like me.
I wrote this piece back in September/October of 2022 for a peer review meeting. I was swamped with a bunch of thesis papers and I wanted to go back to my roots and write a short story about my characters. I received a lot of great feedback and honestly was hoping to publish the piece as is but it seemed too short and like there was something missing. Because I was still in my fall semester of college, I needed to focus on my classwork so I decided to put the piece on the back burner and hoped I would be able to finish it at some point. However, I recently wrote a poem that felt like it covered a similar topic and I got inspired to pick up the short story and finally finish it so I could submit it.
Shamu Ward is an aspiring writer and artist from Bronx, New York. She’s currently a senior in high school but is aspiring to become a novelist. In her free time, she writes and draws—when her cat lets her.