- Project: Inbetween
- Chapter: Fifty six
- Word count: 1,857
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The announcement of the impending nuptials in Detreya had the ruling house in Vaisha turned upside down. Ciel knew the news was significant. Anything involving Erramun was significant enough to draw the attention of the world, but the reaction here seemed to be blown out of proportion.
She might wonder about this if she was not regularly in the presence of the ones responsible for stirring everyone else into a frenzy. Saras’s reaction came as no surprise. She was constantly full of energy and wanted to be the life of the party, but Gorane’s interest seemed more than a little out of character for someone who took pleasure in rebelling against orders to rest with books and opened windows so she could hear the birds.
The subject of discussion in Gorane’s secluded room had shifted completely to the upcoming nuptials in Detreya. Ciel found it strange how invested Gorane was in the affairs of nations so far abroad. Before Saras brought this news to her, her primary interests seemed to be in books and the more mundane discussions regarding the goings on within her home.
Now she wanted to talk of nothing else. Ciel did not have the heart to question her choice of topics. Likewise, she did not have the heart to point out that Gorane would be unlikely to attend the wedding that had rapidly become her obsession.
Ciel knew little about pregnancy and childbirth, but even she could tell that Gorane’s time was close. She would not be traveling anywhere anytime soon. That did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm. None of the topics that were now of interest to her were the sort that Ciel felt equipped to discuss.
She knew nothing about the latest fashions for dresses or what flowers would be in season that could be used for a wedding and she certainly had no idea what colors would best compliment the bride and groom. Without ever leaving her chambers, Gorane seemed to have an opinion on all of these matters and more. She spoke of them often to Ciel while they spent their days together, but the real discussion did not begin until Saras came to visit.
With the wedding on their minds, the similarities between these two women really began to shine through. Ciel fell back nearly into the shadows and became little more than part of the scenery as she silently observed their intense discussions and debates.
She smiled to herself as she listened to Saras describe a neckline that had come into fashion in the west and theorized that it would be the cutting edge of fashion at the wedding. Saras was aware that Gorane could not attend the wedding, but she helped bring it to life for her with these detailed theoretical descriptions of every aspect of the event. It was not dissimilar to the way Gorane kept her mind occupied with the vivid descriptions of life in her books.
The conversation tended to go around in circles with slight alterations of their guesses each time, making it easy for Ciel to tune them out and allow her mind to wander. Because of this, she nearly missed it when Saras mentioned her name. She perked up in her seat and started listening carefully again.
“You’ll only have Siva for company so I hope you’re ready to listen to him drone on about administration paperwork. Maybe you can start wearing him down so he’ll read with you while I get Ciel fitted for a new dress.”
She shifted suddenly in her seat and tilted her head. She had not paid attention to the start of what Saras said and now she was startled to hear that she would be getting new attire.
Saras noticed her sudden movement and smiled over at her. “You can’t be by. my side at the wedding in any old thing. I want my companion to dazzle.”
The combined force of Saras’s and Gorane’s eyes analyzing her appearance froze Ciel to her seat. Being scrutinized by both women at once caused her heart to race with apprehension. Knowing them as she now did, she trusted that they bore her no ill will, but she could still tell that they were up to something and that made her more than a little nervous.
Saras jumped up from her usual spot on Gorane’s bed and moved closer to scrutinize Ciel. She did her best to keep her face unreadable. It would not do after all this time to give away just how capable Saras was of throwing her off her game.
“What do you think?” Saras asked her wife while leaning uncomfortably close over Ciel. “Would a dusty pink or lavender work better for our friend’s complexion?”
Gorane hummed and furrowed her brows as she gave this question more thought than it could possibly warrant. “I think lavender suits her.”
“I agree. It’s just a shame that she doesn’t have a warmer shade of blond in her hair. We could really turn some heads if she could pull off aqua.” Saras’s eyes were still trained on Ciel’s face.
“She’ll look spectacular regardless.”
Ciel was frozen in place by anxiety. Returning to Detreya to attend Erramun’s wedding was little more than a suicide mission for her. She wanted to trick herself into believing she would be safe while in the company and service of Saras, but the thought of purposely drawing attention to herself through flashy, fashionable clothing made it seem like she would not be able to blend into the shadows. She felt confident that Erramun would not try to do anything to harm her since she managed to escape to Vaisha after her disgrace, but coming into his presence again was practically asking for him to make good on his threat.
“I wonder,” Saras drawled. “Would Ciel prefer a more traditional style of dress or something more modern. It’s going to be a struggle to determine which will win out at this wedding. The bride usually sets the tone for such things, but Duchess Nyura hasn’t been out to any social events ever so it’s all a shot in the dark.”
Both women were watching her again, expecting her to answer. She still felt strange being included in their conversations and felt off balance each time it happened. She had no opinion one way or the other, but out of all the times they left openings for her to jump into the conversation, this was the first time she felt compelled to speak up. “None of it matters to me.”
As soon as she spoke she broke eye contact, shifting her gaze down to the floor a few feet in front of her legs. She knew there would be protests to her disinterest and in the end, her voice would not matter, but for the sake of her own peace of mind, she had to say something in way of protest against going to this wedding.
“Well then,” Saras replied with a huff. “Leave all matters regarding your wardrobe to us. All you have to worry about is being ready to leave once I have everything arranged.”
Ciel bowed her head in acquiescence. Arguing with either one of these women on their own was more than she could handle. Now both of them were on the same side and appeared to be an unstoppable force. Instead of putting her objections into words, she thought that her time and energy would be better spent coming up with a strategy for surviving the days ahead.
She able to resign herself to being dragged along with Saras to this wedding, but she was not going to resign herself to whatever punishment Erramun could cook up for her once he knew she was returning.
If she had been ready to die she would have faced him when she returned without completing her last mission to kill Yuri. She did not even allow herself to consider the possibility that he was unaware of Yuri’s return. If he believed she had succeeded, he would not be marrying Nyura. There would be no need. He would be able to continue to manipulate her and allow her to rule as head of her own nation if he believed that her rule would continue uncontested.
News of this wedding proved to her that he knew Yuri was out there and could easily return and reclaim his rightful place. His marriage to Nyura would cement her position and place him right next to her. With the might of Erramun’s empire to back up her claim, Yuri would not stand much of a chance even if his people wished for him to return.
Ciel was almost positive Yuri was out there somewhere. She just could not understand why he had not returned to the palace immediately. Somehow, he must have known that it was not safe. Now, the question became: would he risk coming forward now that it might be his last chance?
She felt almost certain that he would. She could not say that she actually knew him, he had caught her by surprise too many times during her pursuit of him for her to assume that she knew much of anything at all about him. Nonetheless, she felt with nothing more than a gut instinct that he would be there.
The next step was to figure out what that meant for her. Part of her still wanted to kill him. She never went so long without finishing a job and the thought made her itch. A tiny part of her still believed that she could reenter Erramun’s good graces if she just managed to finish the job. The rest of her wanted to know why she would even bother.
She killed because it gave her a place in this world. She would be feared and distrusted by most of society no matter what she did so she made it her mission to be of use to the people that were too powerful to see a reason to be afraid of her. Saras, Gorane, and Siva were the first of such people that met her and welcomed her into their lives without demanding that she do things that were considered immoral by nearly anyone’s standards. She had learned to tolerate a lot and kept herself from being mired down with guilt by placing the responsibility for the people harmed by her on the people who employed her and asked these terrible things of her.
She found herself on edge, expecting at every turn to discover that her current hosts would turn out to be just like the others. So far her fears remained unjustified, but attending to Saras when she went to this wedding felt a lot like some of the missions she had in the past. She could be briefed about the real reason for their trip to Detreya on the way there.
All the details of the trip were being handled by others which made it easier for Ciel to play around with possible scenarios in her mind. No matter what might happen, she wanted to be sure that she had a plan.