"My dear Arnesse, where have you been? We absolutely can't be late for this dinner, you know, it's such an important one, with the ambassador no less, and King Claudio has been immensely generous in inviting us, you know, I'm certain that I wouldn't warrant an invitation if it weren't for his generousity, quite sure of it!"
Arnesse smiled. Duchess Helga del Imraven had a disturbing tendency to talk in run on sentences. She reminded Arnesse rather a lot of the matriarch of a family of partridges she'd known in the forest; Duchess Helga presided over her household rather than her offspring but they both had a slightly absentminded, breathless air.
"I was in the Library, my lady," Arnesse said soothingly. "I found a new book and I can hardly put it down it's so wonderful."
"Oh, you and your books! I declare I have never met such a pretty girl who was as caught up in books as you, why the only person I know who pays nearly as much attention to them as you is my cousin's son Geoffry and he's as dull as stone, and not very attractive either --"
Arnesse let Duchess Helga chatter on as she set about preparing them both for the dinner that night. One of the things Arnesse loved about living in the city was books. The only one she'd had to read was the ancient family Bible and anything she could beg or borrow from those inhabitants of the forest to which reading was something of value.
Arnesse was excellent at her job and so both she and Duchess Helga arrived at the party on time and suitably attired. The Duchess was not one to waste time at parties not socializing and, after their requiste attendance on King Claudio and Queen Hero (which included gushing thanks on the part of the Duchess and a polite smile on the part of Arnesse), Helga descended upon her particular group of friends with gusto.
This was one of the first formal full court dinners that Arnesse had attended with Duchess Helga since they had relocated to the castle and so she knew very few people beyond the Duchess' friends and a few of their children. Duchess Helga prevailed upon her cousin (the mother of the unfortunate Geoffry) to introduce her "lovely niece" around to some of the "young people" which was swiftly achieved by merely passing Arnesse off to the cousin's daughter and setting them both free to mingle.
The purpose of the dinner was ostensibly to welcome the Utrecht Ambassador to the Villanovan Court but, like a great many of these sorts of functions, had another purpose altogether. In the interest of an alliance between Utrecht and Villanova the possibilty of a state marriage between Princess Claralinda and the second son of King Perseus and Queen Andromeda of Utrecht was being considered. (Marius and Andromeda's eldest son had disappeared rather mysteriously when he was only 10 years old and nothing had been heard of him since, consequently their second son, Albertus, had taken his place in the line of succession.) The Utrecht Ambbassador was more than used to being welcomed into various different courts and was really only at the dinner to chat up Claudio and Hero about what they could bring to an alliance. He did vaguely hope to get an impression of their daughter but this did not seem nearly as important as understanding how trade agreements would potentially play out. (Unfortunately for both Claralinda and Albertus, the likelihood of their getting along with each other did not rate high on either the Utrecht or Villanovan Ambassador's lists.)
I am sorry to say that the Ambassador's first impression of Claralinda was not a praticularly good one. Arnesse shared his point of view. Claralinda was nearly an hour late for the banquet which was quiet awkward and resulted in a good number of the dishes served being not quite the intended temperature. Claralinda, who was under the impression that there was no one around that could possibly be as important as her and that everyone lived to see her again, cared very little about the constraints of other people's time.
The unfortunate Geoffry's sister was one of Claralinda's ladies-in-waiting and was currently in the princess' ever-changing favour. Claralinda gravitated towards people who flattered and admired her and found people who didn't to be boring (if they were lucky) or offensive (if they weren't). Unsurprisingly, she had no interest whatsoever in the Utrecht Ambassador and left rather abruptly after being introduced to him for more interesting pass-times. Arnesse's introduction to the princess came as a result of her being in the company of Geoffry and his sister at the close of the banquet.
"Why did you bring Dull Geoffry with you? I don't like him. He's dull. Go away, Dull Geoffry, I want to talk to your sister without having your bore me to death going on about books." (The only sorts of books Claralinda was interested in were the ones that explained to her how to become more beautiful.)
"My lady Claralinda, what a pleasure, as always," responded Geoffry, only just managing not to sound sullen or sarcastic. "As is happens I was just about to go speak to the Minister of Finance. I would hate to bother you." Geoffry did not manage to keep the irritation out of his voice at the last comment but Claralinda did not seem to notice as she had tuned out everything he said after "Minister of." She did not even look at him, simply waved him away with a muttered "whatever."
Arness was shocked at the princess' behaviour. Of course she had heard that Claralinda was vain and not particularly concerned with anyone but herself but she hadn't realized how pronounced the behaviour was. She considered disappearing before Claralinda acknowledged her presence but before she could make up her mind she found the princess' attention focused on her.
"Giselle, who's your pretty friend?" Claralinda's expression indicated that she was not particularly pleased at Giselle being around a friend or someone who was pretty. Giselle looke horribly nervous and flustered as the best way to make sure you got in Claralinda's favour and stayed there was to flatter her when she noticed you and never, ever upset her.
"Oh! She's - she's not my friend!" stuttered the poor Giselle glancing apologetically at Arnesse. "I only just met her tonight. She's a friend of my mother's cousin. You know, Duchess Helga del Imraven. She's very boring, she like books more than Geoffry!" Giselle added with a look of slightly panicked inspiration. "Arnesse Delmar, this is the most elegant and beautiful Princess Claralinda, Jewel of Villanova, most beautiful lady in the world."
"Oh Giselle, you forgot Peerless Embodiment of Timeless Beauty." said the mollified Claralinda, quite cheerful now that Gisele had flattered her and rendered Arnesse a less threatening person. "I imagine you wear awful spectacles most of the time, don't you?"
"Actually --" Arnesse began but was cut off quickly by Giselle.
"Yes! She does! Nearly all the time. They're horrible, aren't they Arnesse?"
Arnesse looked at Giselle with raised eyebrows. Giselle looked back at her with a look that simply begged her to go along with it.
"Quite horrible," said Arnesse with a sigh "I avoid wearing them in public if at all possible."
"Oh, such a shame," Claralinda trilled, sounding delighted. "You like books too?"
"Yes, I love books --" Arnesse was interrupted again, this time by Claralinda.
"How nice. I find books immensely dull. Have you seen the son of the Minister of Agriculture lately?"
After a moment or two of listening to Claralinda describe why every young man in the kingdom adored her Arnesse mentally checked out of the conversation. It wasn't until another person approached that Arnesse started to pay attention again.
"Princess Claralinda, your parents and the Utrecht Ambassador request your presence."
"I'm really not interested in that bore. He knows I'm beautiful, what else does he need to know? There are thousands of people who would be honoured to marry me."
Arnesse, who had a much better grasp of international politics than the vain princess, found it a little amusing that Claralinda had unwittingly spoken the truth. She was beautiful and as long as that didn't interfere with her ability to produce heirs there wasn't much else she would be required to contribute.
"Yes, of course Your Highness but the Ambassador would like to present you with a gift, a token of Prince Albertus' affection for you."
This caught Claralinda's attention.
"How delightful!" she cried with a smile, "I should be thrilled to accept! Giselle, Annette, or whatever your name is, you must come with me." And with that she swept off after the messenger, Giselle trailing nervously in her wake. Arnesse followed, more out of curiosity and a desire to be polite than because she actually wanted to spend more time with the princess. And it was well warranted curiosity.