Having a Ball – Short Story

Ilona’s eyes roamed the ballroom as she moved gracefully with Duke Something-or-other. He had asked her to dance because, to the patrons of the ball, she was exotic and beautiful, and because she was a curiosity. Being seen dancing with her would allow the Duke to become the centre of attention for at least a short while. For Ilona it cemented her position at the ball.

Ilona’s eyes caught on the Deep Sea blue that everyone from the Ghost had been ordered or forced to wear in some aspect. It was vital that the crew were able to recognise each other at a glance, even if they wouldn’t have otherwise recognised them. Ilona met the eye of her so called ambassador, Giulietta. Giulietta had been in and out of these kinds of events in various capacities throughout her life. She was probably quite comfortable, at least as long as nobody recognised her. Ilona wished Giulietta had offered some advice beyond the dance lessons she had insisted upon during the journey to the ball.

Once the dance with the duke was done Ilona curtseyed and ascended the steps off the dance floor. Spotting another flash of blue Ilona made a beeline for it, desperate to speak to someone she knew if only for a few minutes. Ilona wasn’t exactly comfortable in high society. The Deep Sea blue trousers belonged to Celia, Ilona’s tactician. She wore an outfit based on a formal military uniform, Ilona wouldn’t have expected anything else from her. Celia smiled uncomfortably at Ilona, who had to squeeze her way through a gaggle of ogling suitors.

“Not breaking out onto the dancefloor?” Ilona asked

“Never” Celia laughed, the tension in her shoulders lessening slightly “I’m not risking encouraging anyone.” Her eyes flicked to the gaggle, somebody waved, Celia’s eyes snapped back to Ilona.

“Got any advice?” Ilona whispered

“Not even a little – I don’t exactly have experience with this, I was in the army until I joined you. Actually, mind your butt,” another glance at the gaggle of suitors “they like to pinch”

Ilona bit her lip hard to keep from laughing. “You’re not the only uncomfortable one” she managed. “Report?”

“Giulietta would be better for that, Cap. She’s picking things up from talking to people, not hiding in a corner trying not to get pinched” Celia took in the room: a General, gauging how battle might turn. “I think I saw her heading toward the balcony a little while ago”

Ilona bid Celia goodbye and good luck before moving off in the direction she had advised. The balcony turned out to be a huge outdoor terrace. It was busy with servers carrying trays of food and drink, guests in fanciful clothing milling about talking and laughing, and one shock of Deep Sea blue. Ilona made her way over to it. It was higher up than she would have expected until she caught sight of the tight jaw and glaring eyes.

“Hello Dany” she greeted, feeling her own tension lessen slightly. Dany was always a safe person to be around, at least if you were a friend.

“I hate it” Dany’s words were quiet “everyone is staring at me, they think I don’t notice. They’re all making comments, trying to converse with me just to trick me. They think I don’t know”

“Maybe if you’d come with a more natural hair colour” Ilona suggested, looking up again at Dany’s Deep Sea Blue hair.

Dany took a long moment to just look down at Ilona. She’d only seen that expression on Dany once before, when someone had foolishly challenged Dany to a game of No Holds Barred Poker, and the fool had been angry and confused about losing to such a ‘barbarian’ as Dany. Finally Dany spoke “Yup, the big scar, and prosthetic leg have nothing to do with it. Be realistic.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry. Fancy a dance later?”

Dany snorted “How would that work out? Giulietta would have quite the task ahead of her making us forgettable! – wait, are you serious? With me? Then…” a soft smile tugged at Dany’s mouth, making the scar on their cheek jump “Maybe once we’ve settled everything else. After all we’re not here to have fun. If we were…” Dany glanced around the room with malicious glee “I do have some Tiviary poison that I could slip into a drink”

“I will never understand how you manage to sneak around when you’re so huge and distinctive” Ilona muttered

“And that secret will go with me to my grave. You look lovely by the way, let me know when we need to move”

By the time Ilona saw the next flash of Deep Sea Blue she felt truly turned around. She knew she hadn’t gone back through the ballroom, but somehow she’d ended up in the entrance hall, the place people loitered before being announced. She guessed everyone would have arrived and been announced by now though. Her feet moved her toward the crewmate before she even thought about it. Sometimes having brawler reflexes could be irritating, she often found herself moving before her brain fully caught up. It was one of the many reasons she was glad to have people like Dany – the quintessential assassin who always had a plan and a thought even if they couldn’t stand the spotlight. Cassius too, who now stood in front of her looking far too comfortable.

“It is like being back home” he greeted

“It is?”

“So much so that I am half expecting my elder brother to pop up and pull me away by the ear for deigning to obey uniform requirements and not dressing as ostentatiously as possible”

“And if he did pop up?”

Cassius laughed “I think he would drag me all the way back home and you would be without a ships doctor”

“Oh is that all you are?”

“And wonderful friend”

Ilona laughed “Modest” she teased. “So, if you’re so experienced with this, tell me your top piece of advice”

“Mildly agree with everyone but not on anything that matters to you. Also stop looking like you’re searching, it draws attention – the wrong kind. What do you need of me captain?”

“Keep Dany company?”

Cassius grimaced

“You don’t like Dany?” Ilona asked, affronted

“That’s not what I meant” Cassius sighed “this isn’t going to be easy for Dany. Between no experience in such matters and being so… distinctive.” Ilona was sure he wanted to say ‘such a typical pirate’ but the P-word had been banished by Giulietta before they’d even agreed upon uniform requirements, something about the walls having ears. “That’s a lot of attention” Cassius sighed

“They’re contemplating poisoning people”

“Going!” Cassius was moving before he even finished the word “Giulietta is in the ballroom” he called back.

Ilona sighed heavily and moved to enter the ballroom.

“You were looking for me?”

Ilona only just managed not to punch Giulietta in the face for popping up so unexpectedly. “Status report” Ilona all but snapped.

 

The Duke of Suicors had been watching the lady in the blue dress all night. He had even secured a dance with her. It meant he noticed when she slipped away, hiking up her delicate ballgown and sneaking into the servants quarters, and into the library, and into the queen’s suite. She always emerged fairly quickly, looking only slightly dishevelled. At first he had shrugged it off as her having a little rough and tumble with one of the servants. It wasn’t until her foray into the library, returning with slightly bruised knuckles that he really took note.

He watched as she sought out what was obviously her spy master – it wasn’t supposed to be common knowledge that Giulietta was a spy but the Duke of Suicor was a well-informed man. It infuriated him that he wasn’t well informed enough to know who the lady in blue was, even if he knew most of Giulietta’s dirty little secrets.

When he watched her enter the queen’s suites he knew he needed to put a plan into place to stop this from going any further. She had obviously been sent here to ruin his plans and no matter what she did he needed to finish the task at hand.

 

“I will be right back” Dany said, touching Cassius’s arm lightly

“Oh no, don’t you –” but Dany had already sunk into the shadows “Dare” Cassius sighed. So much for keeping Dany company, which had inevitably meant keeping Dany from assassinating anyone.

Cassius searched the terrace for any sign of them. He cursed under his breath, how could a blue-haired, behemoth disappear at all let alone in a crowd like this.

Cassius tried to take his own advice and not look like he was searching for anyone. He walked with feigned calm across the terrace and into the ballroom. Celia moved up to greet him. “What’s going on?” she hissed, “the Duke of Suicor or whoever just collapsed and I can’t find Ilona anywhere”

“I have lost Dany also”

When Celia scowled she did it with her whole face, mouth scrunching up in a mirror of her eyebrows. Celia didn’t like not knowing things, it was one of the reasons she and Cassius clashed. He was inclined to keep his past to himself, especially the fact that it included a stint in the navy, as most young Lords did.

“Where’s Ilona?” Dany asked

Cassius was probably too proud to admit to the squeak that ungracefully exited him at Dany’s sudden appearance.

“We don’t know” Celia hissed, seemingly unperturbed by Dany’s sudden appearance

“You need to spread out” Giulietta said, walking past the group “it will draw suspicion if we all stand together”

“I could just…” Dany started

“Wait, no, don’t!” Cassius hissed but Dany had already slunk into shadow. “If you did anything you’re trained for your absence will be noticeable” he hissed at the air near where Dany had been standing but to no avail. He shot Celia a despairing look as they headed their separate ways.

Ilona had a newly forming bruise on her chin and a new appreciation for those of her crew who could sneak around unseen. Upon emerging from the queen’s suite she found herself face to – well chest with Dany. Ilona flinched from Dany’s gentle fingers on her newly forming bruise.

“I suppose if we dance now it will hide your face fairly well” Dany suggested “plus I poisoned the Duke of Suicor so I need to hide”

“You said dancing would draw attention” Ilona protested

“Hiding in a crowd always requires drawing attention. It’s about drawing the right amount of attention.”

*

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