The Masquerade: Part Three
A new website, a new chapter! Here is an update to celebrate the wonderful LovelyLocks.org! Duchess RavenWaves causes some mischief at the masquerade engagement ball and Strongheart lands himself in a spot of trouble that leaves Lady vulnerable...now read on!
The afternoon before the ball commenced, whilst most people were in good cheer at the prospect of a ball at Castle LovelyLocks, a strained wail came from Castle RavenWaves.
"Hold him down, you bums!" Hairball commanded the two Comb Gnomes to restrain a struggling and snarling Snags. Hairball grabbed the wiry pink tuft of hair on Snags head, trying to hold him still. Snags thrashed about and protested.
"Get your hands off me you nasty brute!
For I will scream until I am mute!"
Snags tried to kick at Hairball who brandished half a flask of his sickly potion.
"No one will care if you scream, you lazy bum! And stop with those stupid, stupid rhymes!"
Snags gave another cry, but as he opened his mouth Hairball poured the green liquid down his throat. Snags gagged and coughed, spluttering and spitting. The two Comb Gnomes retreated to watch the transformation. Snags leaned upon the leg of a table, choking and coughing at the revolting taste of Hairball's concoction. Hairball reached into a tattered sack, pulling out an ivory satin costume of a footman with a starched ruff and a pale lavender sash, along with black boots.
"Here, put this on him you two." He tossed it over to the pair of Comb Gnomes who did as they were told, wrangling it onto a very annoyed Snags. Snags practically swam in the costume, the lace ruffled sleeves falling to the floor. But then Snags started to change, suddenly growing upwards and filling out the clothes, his appearance becoming human-like. Snags looked about in wonderment as he transformed into a stout little footman with large ears and grey tufts of hair sprouting out of them. He wore an expression of alarm as he looked about at his new form.
His two comrades sniggered at his new appearance. Snags glared at them.
"It is not fair that it is only me,
This humiliation should be for all three!" Snags the footman protested angrily.
Hairball reached into his sack, pulling out two identical costumes to the one Snags wore. The remaining Comb Gnomes exchanged worried looks, resigning themselves that there was no escape and voluntarily climbed into the sagging costumes and gulped down the vile potion. Snags wore a smug look of satisfaction. Sure enough, all three Comb Gnomes looked strikingly similar- odd little men with pug-like noses and strangely large ears with hair poking out of them. Tanglet grumbled irritably whilst their female companion was in stunned silence. Hairball stroked his moustache, satisfied and amused.
"You three clean up very well- now don't rip those clothes!" Hairball barked at Tanglet who had started gnawing on his sleeve. An outraged shriek from downstairs caused Hairball's eyes to pop out of his head and the three footmen to look alarmed. It was the unmistakable sound of a furious Duchess RavenWaves.
Duchess RavenWaves, still her dark self, barreled up the stairs to tower over a terrified Hairball. The three footmen burst into laughter once they laid eyes on their mistress. To them, RavenWaves looked absurd. Dressed in a pale lavender confection of elaborate frills, drooping pale violet bows and overbearingly large puff sleeves, the Duchess was not impressed with the disguise her sidekick had arranged for her.
"What is this Hairball?! I look ridiculous!" She balled her fist up, threatening a cowering Hairball. RavenWaves attempted to pull off the huge bow at the front of her bodice, trying to wrangle herself out of her sleeves. She only managed to get her pale lavender heel caught in the frilly petticoats of her costume and fall over. Pushing her black hair up from her face, she glared at Hairball.
"I am not wearing this Hairball! I have had enough of you making a fool of me with your botched magic tricks! I am not letting you make me a clown!"
Hairball could not help but snigger with amusement.
"Huh-huh, you are already half-way there Duchess..."
"What did you say...?!" RavenWaves grabbed the scruff of his neck violently, seething.
"Nothing!" Hairball squeaked and was swiftly dropped.
RavenWaves continued to kick and wriggle, uncomfortable in her costume. Hairball picked up the lavender half-mask RavenWaves had dropped.
"Well, it is too late to change things now, Duchess..." He offered the mask to RavenWaves who swiftly snatched it, tying the pale purple ribbon at the back of her head. RavenWaves merely grumbled.
"Well? Where is your costume?"
"Right here Duchess..." Hairball pulled out a pale lavender outfit similar in style to the Comb Gnomes, but with an ivory sash across his front. He wriggled into it.
"Master HeartyFleece at your service, Countess..." He bowed. RavenWaves glared, her hands on her hips.
"You look foolish Hairball- as do they!" She pointed at three very awkward looking Comb Gnomes.
"Hey! I don't see you coming up with any ideas!" Hairball protested, slipping on his purple half-mask, "Now drink up Duchess, the carriage is ready."
Hairball and RavenWaves pulled out the corks to their flasks, gulping down the potion with sickly grimaces upon their faces. Duchess RavenWaves transformed into the auburn-haired Countess RubyTresses, whilst Hairball shot upwards to the height of his mistress' shoulder, morphing into a dapper looking assistant, a ginger moustache tied with lavender bows curling under his nose. His piggy, Hairball-like eyes remained the same.
"Huh-huh, it worked!"
"Come on Hairball, we don't want to be late for the Lady's masquerade engagement ball!" RubyTresses dragged Hairball by his newly transformed ear, the three footmen following begrudgingly.
"A masquerade for her engagement- what could be more perfect?"
Fireworks exploded above Castle LovelyLocks, illuminating the sky. Lady LovelyLocks, wearing a dress of shimmering pink with tiny rose-tinted crystals crisscrossing her bodice in a lattice design and sprinkled over her flouncing skirts, sighed as she walked out onto the balcony. She wore a half-mask of soft pink bordered with pink crystals. Her golden streaked tresses were coiffed up elaborately, shimmering with the Pixietails' hair magic. The orange light exploding from a soaring firework bathed her features. She smiled up at the falling colours, her gaze trailing down to the bridge leading to the entrance of the castle. The shapes of carriages containing royal guests were lined up, back to back. Her engagement ball would be a night to remember.
"My love...?" Prince Strongheart's voice distracted Lady, causing her to turn around. She walked to her fiancé, who was dressed in a striking outfit of shimmering moss green velvet. A brown cape fell from his shoulders, secured by a fancy gold brooch in the shape of a dog. A brown mask covered his features. These colours made his pale blond hair look all the more striking.
"Maiden CurlyCrown and FairHair were wondering where you went to." Strongheart informed his beloved in a concerned tone.
"Oh! They must not be so worried- I only want some air...and the fireworks are enchanting." Just as Lady LovelyLocks spoke an iridescent pink firework exploded behind her. Lady led her prince over to the edge of the balcony.
"Look at all the people Strongheart- it is going to be a night of nights!"
"That is what Maiden FairHair has been saying all day- she is quite frenzied with all the last minute preparations..."
LovelyLocks lifted a finger to her mouth thoughtfully.
"Sometimes I think she worries a little too much about things, she really should be enjoying herself tonight...but I must thank her for having the idea of making the ball a masquerade- it will be quite splendid!"
Strongheart smiled warmly, taking Lady in his arms. They looked into each other's eyes.
"I do not need a ball to make me feel splendid." He commented softly. Lady LovelyLocks tenderly rested her head upon his chest as they embraced. She gave a dreamy exhale.
"Neither do I." She whispered.
However the couple's moment was not long interrupted.
"Lady! Lady LovelyLocks- Prince Strongheart!"
FairHair's voice echoed from inside. The brown-haired Maiden caught her breath at the balcony door, pushing up the pale blue feather that bobbed from the top of her cornflower blue mask.
"Come quick, you must receive the guests- the doors are about to be opened!"
Both Lady and the Prince rolled their eyes at the Maiden's urgency, following her into the ballroom.
At the back of the ballroom, upon an elevated podium, two throne-like high backed chairs were stationed under a glittering gauze canopy, awaiting Lady LovelyLocks and Prince Strongheart to take their seats by each other's side. A runner of red velvet at the foot of the thrones rippled down the small steps and stretched across the ballroom to the grand entrance. The betrothed, arm in arm, climbed the small stairs and sat under the magnificently draped canopy, Lady on the right, Strongheart on the left. The two Maiden's were on either side of the royal couple. The Pixietails hovered atop the glittering draping. Two upright footmen bowed as they opened the looming ballroom doors, gilded with the LovelyLocks insignia. Lady LovelyLocks smiled excitedly with expectation, whilst Prince Strongheart picked lint off his shoulder. He had had visitors from other kingdoms presented to him throughout his youth before he was cursed, his enthusiasm had waned somewhat. But the eagerness in his fiancée's eyes caused him to smile, placing his hand atop hers. ShiningGlory bowed to the pair, standing besides Lady LovelyLocks, holding a roll of parchment. The first guests approached with their mouse-like entourage, attired in colours reminiscent of wheat fields across seasons.
"The Marquis and Marquise of HeatherBracht." ShiningGlory announced.
Meanwhile, towards the back of the line, the royal pretenders of Crimson Lakes were causing a fuss amongst the other royal guests.
"Move it! Out of the way! The Countess RubyTresses is coming through!" Hairball disguised as Master HeartyFleece shoved aside other royal parties for a place closer to the Lady and her Prince. RavenWaves as RubyTresses walked in regally, her chin held high, her three footmen close behind her. Hairball stepped aside, bowing low with a flourish.
"A prime position, my Countess."
RavenWaves pushed her way in front of a rather put-out Lord CurlyBeard without any consideration. The three Comb Gnomes bumped into the entourage ahead of them, the Earl and Earless SilverCoiffe. The Earless glanced behind her and sniffed at the commotion.
"How rude!" She declared in her plum tones, her drooping eyelids glaring at the Countess. Tanglet the footman growled at the Earless, causing her eyes to widen and turn away. RubyTresses was still uncomfortable with her costume, flattening her pale lavender bodice and pulling at her outlandish sleeves. She huffed and stood on her toes to see how many royals were ahead of her to be presented to the ruler of the land of LovelyLocks and her Prince.
"Oh!" She exclaimed, annoyed, "This is going to take forever Hair- I mean, HeartyFleece- couldn't you have made those horses go any faster?!"
"I went as fast as I could Du-, ah, Countess!" Hairball replied, disgruntled.
RubyTresses' sweet mouth curled into a look of distaste as she twirled her auburn locks.
"Well these fools had better hurry up!" She declared sourly, causing Earl SilverCoiffe to look over his shoulder, offended.
"Oh what do you want, old man?" Countess RubyTresses demanded ill-temperedly, her hands on her hips. The Earl raised his eyebrows and turned to his wife.
"Frightfully rude indeed!"
Snags the footman spoke up quietly, pulling at RubyTresses' elaborately frilled pale-purple skirts.
"The Countess had better display some sweetness and respect,
For her bad-temper may cause the Lady to suspect..."
RubyTresses glared down at him, her arms folded.
"Fine!" She sulked, "And I do not want to hear another word from you Sn-, oh, whatever your name is!"
"Carmine is my name,
Remembering it is causing you quite the pain." The disguised Snags replied. RavenWaves stroked her auburn ringlets, composing herself into a pleasanter disposition with a forced smile.
"I can be sweet, I can be nice, can't I?" She demanded in a saccharine tone. Her henchmen exchanged doubtful looks.
"Of course Countess RubyTresses..." Hairball and the disguised Comb Gnomes grumbled in unison.
Royal party after royal party presented themselves to the newly betrothed couple with their compliments and gifts. By the fifteenth presentation, Prince Strongheart was decidedly bored, however his fiancée continued her duties with genuine kindness and warmth. CurlyCrown vacantly stared off into space, FairHair looked about distractedly to make sure that all the decorations were correct and the three Pixietails were slumped on the canopy, their ears drooped.
"The Earl and Earless of SilverCoiffe." ShiningGlory announced.
The pair bowed and curtseyed.
"Earl and Earless, it has been so long, we are honoured by your attendance." Lady smiled sweetly, Prince Strongheart smiled tiredly in agreement.
"Such a match could not be bettered across all kingdoms, Lady LovelyLocks and Prince Strongheart! It heartens us so to hear of your impending marriage!" Earless SilverCoiffe chortled in her refined tone.
"We present you with a rare gift- a bejeweled egg from the rare SilveryFeather, a bird that lives only in the Misty Mountains."
Prince Strongheart and Lady LovelyLocks barely had time to say thank you when the Earl and Earless were pushed aside. ShiningGlory's silver brows drew together at this impatient display.
"The Countess RubyTresses of Crimson Lakes."
Prince Strongheart suddenly became attentive, as did the two Maidens. RavenWaves shoved her two Comb Gnomes aside, dropping into a low and elaborate curtsey.
"Countess RubyTresses, we are honoured-" Prince Strongheart began but was cut off by an impatient HeartyFleece.
"Huh, huh, the honour is all ours!" The transformed Hairball chuckled.
Prince Strongheart's brow furrowed, trying to think of how he recognized that distinctive laugh. RubyTresses' eyes widened and she clapped a hand over HeartyFleece's mouth, roughly shoving him behind her bell of skirts. She laughed nervously.
"It is an honour to be in your presence, Lady LovelyLocks." Countess RubyTresses curtseyed again, her tone sugary but her smile false. Snags the footman coughed distinctively. RubyTresses glared at him.
"Oh, and Prince Strongheart." She added hastily.
Strongheart wore an expression of suspicion towards this entourage. He met gazes with Maiden FairHair, who merely shrugged her shoulders. She did not seem concerned at this strange behaviour. Strongheart still could not shake the feeling that something was amiss. Lady LovelyLocks received the Countess as she had all previous parties.
"I am honoured to make your acquaintance, Countess RubyTresses." She said cheerfully, "Is this your first visit to the land of LovelyLocks?"
"Oh yes!" RubyTresses lied, "And it is such a beautiful kingdom..."
Soon to become mine, RavenWaves thought.
"We hope that you enjoy your stay, Countess, and I hope to be getting to know you further."
"Oh, I am sure you will." RubyTresses stated, her voice superficially sweet but with a distinct tone of malice under her words. She reached behind her to push forward a wide-eyed Tanglet.
"Present the lovely Lady and the Prince with their gift, Garnet." RubyTresses ordered sharply then looked up at the Lady with a sweet smile. Tanglet, as Garnet the footman, bowed and presented the royal couple with a claw-footed silver box.
"What a delightful little box! Thank you ever so much."
RubyTresses gave a simpering smile and HeartyFleece a soft chuckle as the Crimson Lakes party were forced to move on.
The ball passed magnificently, as expected. The fireworks amazed the guests, the townspeople put on a show with sparklers and LongCurl dragon, with her three children, delighted the royal guests with their fire tricks. Lady and the Prince laughed and clapped as LongCurl blew flame figures of them in a tender embrace to celebrate their engagement.
"Well done!" She declared.
There was feasting to be had, the band continued all night and a great many couples danced. Lady was dazzled when ShiningGlory caused the grand ballroom chandelier to glow and shatter rainbow shards of light through the crystal droplets, causing the entire ballroom to sparkle. Lady LovelyLocks danced with ShiningGlory and once with Lord CurlyBeard. Her step was light, she moved with the utmost grace, always the centre of attention. Prince Strongheart, meanwhile, danced with her two maidens. When Lady LovelyLocks was not dancing she made a point of conversing with her guests. Just as she finished speaking to the SilverCoiffes, Maiden FairHair approached.
"I think everyone is having a wonderful time, Maiden FairHair, don't you?" Lady sighed, pleased with the progression of the night.
"Oh yes, tonight could not be more perfect! But remember Lady, in half an hour you are to have the Grand Dance with Prince Strongheart." FairHair reminded her friend. Lady smiled dreamily.
"I do not think I will ever forget...I have been looking forward to it all night..." Her lilting tone was wistful with romance as she gazed upon her fiancé, waltzing with Maiden CurlyCrown, "He is such a fine dancer..."
"As are you, Lady LovelyLocks." FairHair stated honestly. The pair sighed in unison. The night could not have passed in a better fashion.
But there was one guest who was not content and had the intention of making the evening miserable for everyone, especially Lady LovelyLocks. RubyTresses glared out of the shadows at Lady LovelyLocks, impatient for her plan to come into action.
"How long until this Betterment potion wears off Hairball?" She demanded. RavenWaves was now sick of her new appearance after an hour.
"Only an hour more, Duchess." HeartyFleece remarked. He heard the footman Garnet grumbling, itching all over, "But the Comb Gnomes are due to wear off any minute."
RubyTresses' eyes widened with alarm.
"Well then what are you doing letting them stand around here! Hide them quick!" She hissed. Hairball did as told.
"Come on you bums! Let's make this ball a real spectacle for the Lady LovelyLocks!"
"Fools!" RubyTresses huffed, turning around. She almost jumped with surprise as she realized someone was behind her.
"Lord CurlyBeard..." She laughed nervously in her falsely sweet voice, "You surprised me there!"
"Countess RubyTresses, may I have the honour of asking you to share the next dance with me?"
The Countess blinked, a look of utter disregard upon her face.
"Why would I want to do a thing like that?" She retorted harshly, turning her back on the dejected Lord.
The dance finished, couples switched or returned to the outskirts. Prince Strongheart bowed to Maiden CurlyCrown, thanking her. He looked around for his fiancée, but could not find her. Perplexed but not worried, he found ShiningGlory.
"Have you seen my fiancé, ShiningGlory?" Prince Strongheart enquired, looking about the room at the masked guests.
"I am sure I saw her with Maiden FairHair not long ago- perhaps they went upstairs. Remember Prince Strongheart, the Grand Dance for you and Lady is approaching."
Strongheart smiled at his wise friend and guardian for so many years.
"How could I forget ShiningGlory? I have been waiting for this moment ever since I met Lady LovelyLocks."
"I know you have, now go and find her. I am sure she is missing your company."
"Thank you ShiningGlory." Strongheart smiled at his mentor, giving him a small wave as he turned about on his heel, his cape flaring. ShiningGlory could not help but chuckle to himself.
Prince Strongheart weaved through the guests, striding towards the staircase. His thoughts were only for his love for Lady LovelyLocks, how beautiful she looked tonight, both fair in appearance and radiant in heart. He smiled wistfully to himself as he ducked into a shadowed area of the ballroom. Approaching the grand staircase, a noise coming from a door left ajar behind some colonnades distracted him. It was the unmistakable sound of voices. Prince Strongheart paused, his brow furrowing as he thought he recognized them. He withdrew into the shadows, pressing himself against the wall besides the door.
"Curse this wretched itch!
This ridiculous costume is making me twitch!"
Strongheart's brow creased, quickly stealing a glance of who was inside. His breath caught in the back of his throat.
"Comb Gnomes!" He whispered to himself, balling up his fist, "I should have known!"
Prince Strongheart looked about, discreetly surveying the guests in the LovelyLocks ballroom.
"If there are Comb Gnomes here, then Hairball and Duchess RavenWaves must not be far off- I must warn Lady!"
Just as he was about to set off to warn his love, he heard Tanglet snarl from inside and Snags snigger.
"That's right Tanglet- we shall have the control we have craved for a long time since..."
Prince Strongheart stopped, suddenly torn between two plans of action- to tell his Lady, or confront Snags and his companions himself...? He took a breath, turning back to the slit of light that came from the door.
"I must protect my Lady." He said quietly to himself as he opened the door to reveal himself.
"Stop! I know what you are-"He began but gasped when a net was dropped on him. Snags chuckled as Prince Strongheart fell to the floor, entangled in the net.
"...and it seems we have ourselves a Prince!" Snags proclaimed triumphantly.
"The Duchess was right, he came right on cue,
Now it is time for some revenge that is long overdue!
No longer a dog of mind and shape,
We are certain, Prince Strongheart, there will be no escape!"
The other two Comb Gnomes lunged upon the protesting and writhing Prince, making quick work of gagging him and then setting to the task of binding his hands and feet. He tried to call out, but he could only produce a weak muffled sound. The three Comb Gnomes crouched down, their tails waving as they snickered sinisterly in unison at the plight of the Prince.
Time passed, meanwhile, for Lady LovelyLocks and her friends. Lady and the Maidens were enjoying the ball so immensely that they did not realize that Prince Strongheart was, strangely, not present. Maiden FairHair briefly looked up at the clock.
"Lady- there is only ten minutes until the Grand Dance!"
"How time has flown!" Lady remarked as she took a sip of her sweet wine. She looked about for any sign of her fiancé, "I wonder where Prince Strongheart is...? He has been wandering off an awful lot lately."
"Look! There is ShiningGlory, I am sure that he will know where the Prince is." CurlyCrown pointed out.
"ShiningGlory, have you seen my fiancé? The Grand Dance is only ten minutes away and I have not seen him for some time." Lady LovelyLocks approached the wise sorcerer. ShiningGlory, instead of reassuring the ruler of the land, only added to her concerns.
"That is very mysterious indeed, Lady LovelyLocks..." He pondered, his silver brows drawn together in confusion.
"Why so ShiningGlory?" Lady asked.
"He came to me looking for you about twenty minutes ago and I was sure he was with you." ShiningGlory explained.
"How could that be? I have not seen my love for over half an hour...I hope he has not forgotten about our dance." Lady's expression became a little worried.
"Do not worry Lady LovelyLocks." Maiden CurlyCrown comforted her cheerfully, "I am sure he has not forgotten! Perhaps he went outside to see LongCurl dragon. I will look for him- where did you see him last, ShiningGlory?"
"Over there, by the colonnades."
As Lady LovelyLocks watched her friend with strawberry curls wander off in search of the Prince, Maiden FairHair touched her shoulder briefly.
"Do not worry Lady, I am sure Prince Strongheart is somewhere close by." FairHair offered comfortingly. Lady gave her Maiden a gentle smile.
"I do not think my Prince has forgotten, he would not do a thing like that....but somehow something does not quite feel right."
FairHair nodded understandingly.
"I have been feeling that way too..."
Lady sighed and shrugged.
"I am sure it is nothing...perhaps I am nervous! I have never danced in front of so many people!" Lady LovelyLocks and Maiden FairHair laughed in unison. Lady's blue eyes stared out towards the balcony where LongCurl dragon watched over her three little ones who let royal children climb onto their backs. Lady smiled contentedly at the merriment enjoyed by everyone. FairHair suddenly exclaimed when MerryCurl's flames got too close to the ribbons dangling from the doorframe.
"Oh no! They shall set fire to something, for sure!" She gasped and hurried off. Lady LovelyLocks laughed to herself at her friend's concern. Now left alone, Lady wandered the ballroom basking in the atmosphere of fun and celebration. But something in the pit of her stomach did not feel right....all was not well. Forever the optimist, Lady shook off this strange sensation for the second time that night.
"It must be nerves." She whispered to herself, flicking her luxurious hair.
RavenWaves smiled to herself as she finally found Lady LovelyLocks alone...and vulnerable. In the shadows she composed herself into the sweet Countess RubyTresses, tossing her hair back over her shoulders and smiling.
"Why Lady LovelyLocks, you should not be alone...! It is your night of nights!" RavenWaves' voice almost faltered from its false sweetness as she approached the Lady. Lady's blue eyes blinked, a smile of genuine warmth lighting her features.
"Are you having a good evening, Countess RubyTresses?"
"Oh, goodness, it is simply splendid...and it can only get better."
Lady LovelyLocks gave her a small smile, her gaze falling to the floor. RavenWaves smirked with pleasure as she saw Lady looking discomforted with the conspicuous absence of her Prince. And RavenWaves was not about to be sensitive about the matter.
"I must remark, Lady LovelyLocks, as to the absence of your fiancé! Does he not realize that the Grand Dance is but a few minutes away?"
Lady LovelyLocks smiled bravely, looking up from the floor.
"Prince Strongheart will return any moment...I am sure of it."
"Oh yes...we would not want him to be caught up in anything, would we?" RubyTresses simpering laugh slipped into RavenWaves' sinister chuckle for a moment. Lady looked concerned. Somehow she recognized that voice. RubyTresses was suddenly fearful, pretending to cough.
"I must be coming down with something!" She exclaimed nervously. Lady LovelyLocks relaxed.
"I am sure ShiningGlory will have something to fix that, he is the wisest wizard in all the land."
"I know." RubyTresses almost sneered with displeasure. And too many times he has foiled my plans! RavenWaves thought.
A flourish of the band signaled the commencement of the Grand Dance. All the guests murmured excitedly as they retreated to the outskirts of the ballroom, encircling the dance floor. Lady LovelyLocks swallowed, putting on a brave face as she entered the wide open space left by her guests. Her blue eyes searched the crowd of faces for that of her Prince...for Maiden CurlyCrown...but neither was to be seen. The music started. Lady's delicate eyebrows drew together with concern as her fiancé did not appear. She gave a searching glance to Maiden FairHair, who only shrugged her shoulders, as at loss as her mistress was. The musical introduction was repeated once, repeated twice and after the third time the conductor thought it best to let the instruments fade away. It only took several minutes for the royal guests to realize that Prince Strongheart was not present for the dance and Lady LovelyLocks began to burn with humiliation as a chorus of concerned murmurs surrounded her. The voices became louder, concerned voices, wondering voices, outraged voices, gossiping voices. Lady LovelyLocks could only smile bravely at her disappointed and confused guests. She could feel the hundreds of gazes on her, the hundreds of words spoken about her.
"I am sure he must be somewhere." She said quietly, more to herself than to the surrounding people.
The thought of being forgotten by her own fiancé at their own special dance caused her heart to ache, her eyes to water slightly and her chin to quiver. She shook her head, bravely swallowing her tears and pretending that she was unconcerned. Maiden FairHair approached her with an anxious look on her face.
"Lady, are you quite right?"
Lady smiled sadly, taking FairHair's hand in hers.
"I am fine, Maiden FairHair...the ball must continue, even without a Grand Dance. Prince Strongheart...will be here soon."
FairHair was unconvinced at her friend's optimistic opinion but gave her a comforting smile, as not to worry her any further.
"I...should find the Pixietails, perhaps they will know where Prince Strongheart is." FairHair offered. Lady smiled and thanked her friend, following her as she returned to the banquet table.
Lady LovelyLocks could not help but hear the guests speaking of her, and of her Prince, even though they trailed off mysteriously as soon as she approached.
"The poor girl! Barely engaged and already he has forgotten about her..."
"He was no good that Prince Strongheart...did you hear about that young Duchess he snubbed at a ball when he was younger...?"
"Yes, yes I did! Shocking, poor Lady does not deserve this!"
Lady smiled and nodded at the surprised and disappointed guests cordially, disguising her internal tumoil. Prince Strongheart would not abandon her, for he loved her, he had told her himself! The ball resumed, couples returned to dance or converse, however the air about the ballroom was uneasy. All eyes still remained on the solitary Lady LovelyLocks.
"My poor dear..." A saccharine tone came from behind. Countess RubyTresses held Lady LovelyLocks' shoulders gently, her fingers softly brushing the coveted lock of hair, "Such a disappointment..."
RavenWaves' pleasure at this humiliation of Lady LovelyLocks could barely be contained as she pretended to be sympathetic.
"Prince Strongheart will be here soon." Lady maintained, looking away from RubyTresses' pouting look.
"How can you be so sure?" RubyTresses commented sinisterly, planting seeds of doubt in Lady's mind.
"I-I..." Lady stuttered, "I just know."
RubyTresses scoffed at Lady's unwavering confidence in her Prince.
"I am sure that he will be back, my Lady...but he has already forgotten his most important appearance..."
"There must be a reason." Lady LovelyLocks stated definitely.
RubyTresses sighed sympathetically, tilting her head to the side.
"Poor child, to be forgotten at your own celebration...! Why don't we find someplace private to talk...?"
Lady gave RubyTresses a relieved and trusting smile.
"I would like that very much, Countess RubyTresses, thank you."
"Oh, it is my pleasure!"
Meanwhile, at the mercy of the Comb Gnomes, Strongheart struggled and squirmed. His heart had sunk as he heard the music for the Grand Dance commence once, then twice, then peter out the third time as he had not appeared. He had heard the murmur of concerned voices, strands of conversation had wafted in from the ballroom...he could imagine her humiliation, her bravery in the face of embarrassment. Prince Strongheart felt sick to the stomach. He had let her down in what was supposed to be their moment of glory! But being bound and gagged, and watched over by Hairball's Comb Gnomes...he was useless! Just then, as he lay tied up on the floor, a shadow darkened the doorway, followed by a gasp. Strongheart looked up to see a shocked Maiden CurlyCrown.
"Comb Gnomes!" She cried. Snags sprung into action.
"Quickly, quickly do not let her escape,
Such a fuss she is bound to make!"