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Normally Ciel liked her days to be orderly. She preferred to be the one throwing other people’s lives into chaos. Her life was meant to be completely organized and when the order of her days started to fall apart she became more than a little uneasy.
Today she felt more than a little uneasy. On her morning walk she encountered more people in various degrees of agitation than normal. Their mental state made them unpredictable which made her feel less than comfortable.
The day started out with rumors flying around that only confirmed what she saw with her own eyes the day before. Yuri was back int he palace. Of course, none of the rumor mills had anything to report about his companion, but it was unlikely that any of them were even aware of the sort of destructive power that woman possessed. Without that knowledge, she seemed insignificant. They would be more interested in the return of the one that was hand-picked to rule over this country.
Ciel had her own concerns about Yuri’s reappearance, but she did not allow herself to be dragged into the growing cyclone of hysteria being stirred up by everyone around her. She had questions, of course. Unlike everyone around her, she preferred not to spend her time trying to guess the outcome of something that would soon play itself out. She knew she would be safer if she watched and waited, prepared to react to any danger that might come her way. Guessing what might happen could close her mind off to the actual danger and she could not afford to allow that to happen.
Milling about int he hallways did her no good. With everyone talking about only one thing, she was not getting any new information from walking in the shadows and observing. Instead, she sat in Saras’s parlor sipping particularly heavily perfumed jasmine tea.
Saras sat across from her silently sipping her tea while picking at a pastry. As concerning as the target of her former mission reappearing might be, the lack of reaction from her current mistress alarmed her far more.
She expected gossip and incessant chattering. The pensive look and the tight line of her mouth revealed her deep concern. Considering she had expressed her eagerness for some drama at this wedding, the promise of some serious upheaval should make her giddy.
As bad as Ciel suspected this would be based on what she knew, Saras’s reaction made her wonder if it might be worse. For the first time in a long time, she found herself hoping for her mistress to be her usual talkative self.
She refused to lower herself to beg for conversation so she watched and waited instead. More often than not silently watching someone eventually got her answers. She felt the oppressive weight of every lost second now that time seemed to be of the essence.
Life in the palace was disorderly enough, now it was building up to almost chaotic levels. Once everyone discovered that the rumors were true, Ciel struggled to imagine what would happen.
She finished her cup of tea. The clink of her cup settling back into its china saucer was painfully loud. She considered herself lucky when the sound seemed to bring Saras out of her own head.
“Well,” Saras said as a small smile forced its way onto her lips. “It looks like we’re going to get some of the good old fashioned drama I hoped we’d see at this wedding.”
Ciel nodded and waited for her to continue. The lack of apprehension in her voice might be considered a good sign by someone who had spent less time with her. After weeks spent seeing her on a near daily basis, Ciel had learned Saras possessed an innate ability to say one thing while thinking another. More often than not, she kept her conversations frivolous and silly while carefully observing her surroundings and planning her next move. For her to speak so plainly on the subject that was on everyone mind revealed just how heavily it weighed on her mind.
“It’s a shame it’s the sort of revelation that is probably going to ruin it all.”
Ciel knew how to play this game. Saras wanted someone to ask a question so she was not stuck monologuing even though she was more than capable of doing so. Although she hated doing it, Ciel had gradually learned to respond to her pauses for her own sanity.
“How will the return of the bride’s brother ruin the wedding?”
Saras grinned. “Highlord Erramun is here to marry a duchess. Nyura was never meant to be int he line of succession. With Yuri back, she won’t be in charge anymore and somehow I doubt Yuri would want to accept Erramun’s proposal in Nyura’s place.”
She nodded. What Saras said matched her knowledge of Erramun. When she saw him with Nyura before she was sent on her mission, she saw a lot of flattery but not much int he way of mutual attraction. Nyura obviously enjoyed the attention and Ciel had resented the amount of time Erramun spent with him. Now it seemed to matter very little. When she failed her mission she became worthless in Erramun’s eyes. Her loyalties were elsewhere now and she found the twinge of jealousy she felt months ago was missing now.
“Yuri is otherwise romantically involved,” she added.
That tidbit of information got Saras’s attention. “Is he now? That’s why I like having you around. Just when I think I know everything I need to know, you provide me with some new bit of information that adds to my plan.”
She bowed her head. There were a lot of variables to consider and she knew she would not get the time to process them fully any time soon. She did not want to be caught in the middle of this chaos. She was used to leaving before the chaos really got started. Now she needed to figure out how to weather the storm.
As much as it bothered her, she needed to accept that she needed to rely on Saras in this situation. She might be more interested in being entertained by the unfolding drama than self-preservation, but she had the power of Siva’s empire to back her up and as long as Ciel remained in her favor, she was fairly certain she would be afforded similar protection from the fallout of events unfolding in Detreya.
No one seemed to know exactly what was happening or why. Saras had instructed her maid to dress them both in their finest gowns. Ciel had assumed these gowns were for the wedding, but now that there was a real chance of the wedding being canceled, she had to wonder why they needed to dress to impress.
That question was answered as soon as they started encountering other wedding guests a short way from Saras’s rooms. Everyone was dressed to the nines and although there was a lot of milling about, everyone seemed to be gradually moving toward the balconies overlooking the grand front entrance to the palace. Like everyone around them, Ciel and Saras stopped once they had a view of what was happening on the ground two stories beneath them.
Once in the open air, all the cheerful discussion of unfolding events ceased. No one dared to speak in more than a hushed whisper while they looked on and tried to figure out the nature of the spectacle below. Retainers of various ranks all wearing the Erramun’s livery were preparing a caravan’s worth of carts for departure.
Saras sighed heavily and pouted as the conversations around her died down. Without being asked, Ciel knew what she needed to do. Her dress might be obnoxiously lavender and made swishing noises at the slightest movement, but it was nothing she could not handle with her magic. She began to chant under her breath, cloaking herself in magic.
She moved away from Saras and drifted over to a nearby group who was whisper among themselves. She listened in on a few more groups before circling back to Saras and letting her know about all the idle gossip she could not hear herself.
Nothing that was being said was of any significance, but for some reason, Ciel could not fathom, her mistress was entertained. Ciel could not complain since she would be bored out of her mind otherwise. She did not find the topics she was relaying to be of any interest, but having something to do right now was better than standing around and watching.
She knew there were many more people within the palace, but looking over the balcony it was hard not to imagine that the whole place was emptying out. That was enough to fill her with apprehension. With so many people leaving, she found herself hoping to find an explanation in the conversations she overheard, but it was a pointless wish.
Instead, she waited for the deductive reasoning of Saras to do its job and provide her with an explanation. It felt like she was waiting an eternity while more people and goods assembled in the space down below. The more the people brought out to load onto the carts, the worse the feeling in the pit of her stomach became. She could not explain it, even to herself, but her instincts warned her that she was in the presence of the start of a disaster.
Saras leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “Erramun is leaving. This should be interesting.”
She shook her head. “This can’t be good.”
“Maybe not for the people involved, but for those of us on the sidelines, we’re going to get a good show.”
Ciel could not bring herself to share that particular belief. She felt wound up and ready to spring at any moment. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up in anticipation of disaster.
Whatever might be happening, she knew it was the sort of thing she usually preferred to avoid if at all possible. There was no escape now, not with Saras watching her and expecting her to stay and feed her gossip from her neighbors.
The energy continued to build in the air as they all watched and waited. Every second seemed as though the tension had reached an unbearable level, but she persevered and somehow bore more. The air was still and the hushed whispers of the gathering crowd only made the silence feel all the more oppressive.
The silence receded as a wailing sob echoed from within the grand entranceway to the palace. Everyone stopped whispering theories back and forth. All their eyes were trained directly below them in front of the entranceway leading to the front lawn below.
First Erramun came into view. He walked with purpose but appeared unconcerned by the anguished echoes following him. A few seconds later, after Erramun was well within view the duchess appeared, moving at a much faster pace. She ran right at Erramun, slamming into his back and clinging to his right arm.
The impromptu audience on the balconies collectively leaned forward to watch the drama they had so eagerly anticipated. Her words were obscured by her crying and Ciel could not make out the words but understood perfectly the desperation in her voice.
Everyone stood watching the duchess—or had she already stepped aside for Yuri?—humiliate herself. Ciel felt slimy for continuing to watch, but she could not bring herself to look away either. They were all transfixed by the scene below.
Erramun shrugged her off and Nyura dropped to her knees. One of her ladies rushed forward to help her back to her feet but ended up restraining her from chasing after Erramun again.
While Nyura continued her hysterics behind him, Erramun did not spare her so much as a backward glance. He did not appear to feel rushed by the unexpected exchange and took his time inspecting the cargo that had been packed away. Then he climbed into his carriage at the front of the caravan and without any further fanfare, they were off.
With a bit of coaxing and petting from her lady in waiting, Nyura returned to the palace. The crowd on the balcony quickly dispersed. Within a minute it was hard to believe they had all stood to watch the sad exchange together.
Saras continued to watch as the rest of the now-canceled wedding guests went back inside. With no one left to listen in on, Ciel shifted her attention back to Saras. Her prior eagerness to see the drama unfold had dissipated. If she did not know better, Ciel might think she was worried.
She did not think it was her place to question her mistress about her worries. For now, she needed to deal with her own concerns. Knowing Erramun was gone was a relief, but she could not consider herself safe just yet.
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