Eleven (1)

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"Now please remain still, my lady."

Izzy's smile froze and she followed the photographer's instructions. The middle-aged man busied himself behind his tripod while she stood in front of a huge panoramic background scene mounted on rollers. With the plaster bust next to her, one could have thought she was indeed standing in the Buckingham Palace Throne Room.

"Hold still for me, please," the photographer repeated.

The bright flash of a lamp blinded her as the smell of burning magnesium powder filled the studio.

"One more," the photographer warned.

She looked straight at the camera and waited, her chest filled with pride and delight. The flash lamp popped again.

Behind the photographer, Vita and Izzy's mother chatted in low voices, sat in a row against the wall. They were at Bassano Photographic Studio, a few streets away from the Mayfair house. It was the mandatory stop for any fashionable debutante, between her Court presentation and her ball. Izzy didn't care that beads of sweat were forming along her back in the spotlights' heat. This was where royalties got photographed, and this was where she deserved to be immortalised in her Court presentation ensemble.

"Let's take a couple of pictures sitting down, shall we, my lady?"

The photographer's assistant, a boy no more than sixteen, brought her a gilt chair and she arranged her white tulle gown and her train before staring at the camera again. Vita's dress was a complicated design made of silk and lamé with net, sequins and rhinestones. Izzy was quite happy with her more modest choice. She held her ostrich feather fan, which matched those of her headdress, in front of her chest in a demure pose.

"Beautiful," the photographer muttered to himself, bringing a shy smile to her lips.

He had said the same thing about Vita, but still. Izzy appreciated the compliment. This was just such a perfect day.

She'd been floating on a cloud since that morning. Despite nervousness tying her stomach in knots and keeping her from eating anything, she'd managed to make it through the entire day without fainting or making a fool of herself.

The wait on the Mall had nearly finished her, though. Sitting in the back seat of her father's car for two hours with her mother, as the vehicle moved forward on the red tarmac at a snail's pace, hadn't been exactly fun. However it was part of the tradition: one couldn't avoid the long string of cars taking the day's debutantes to their destination – Buckingham Palace. The gathered crowds of sightseers and reporters had distracted her for a while, before the nail-biting prospect of being presented to the King had sent shivers of stress down her spine again.

At last Izzy and her mother had been allowed inside the Palace. She held her precious presentation card between tight fingers as they both ascended the grand staircase and waited in line in the antechamber, before the double doors of the Throne Room opened and their Majesties appeared.

The ceremony itself had been over in a flash, though. Izzy barely remembered handing her invitation to the official in livery who shouted her name, walking along the red carpet, stopping and sinking into two graceful curtsies to the King and Queen who sat on a low dais, and finally walking on. The great appearance before their majesties, which she had dreamed of for years, had been extraordinarily brief after all. Only a couple of minutes had sufficed to officially turn her into a woman eligible for marriage.

As usual, Vita had somehow managed to play her cards better than anyone else, and the King himself had spoken to her instead of only nodding like he did with every other debutante. He had talked about her father's bravery in the war and had offered her his condolences.

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