Chapter 7.1: The Rose Sisters

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Five Years' Fair. The White City

Cambria swept into the room trailed by a bevy of servants, sycophants and admirers. Her hooped emerald dressed brushed both sides of the doorjamb. Numerous diamond-studded artifacts decorating her ears, wrists, and neck glittered and shined with every changing angle of the light. Cambria's Lady-in-Waiting, Stephenie Geolding, entered last, dressed almost as ornately as the Princess herself.

"Sister!" said Cambria in a theatrical tone. "Isn't it a lovely night? This is so exciting!"

The servants held her dress, offered her a crystal of wine and whisked it away as soon as it was empty. Allison watched through the mirror. Suddenly, dimmed by the appearance of the bright star that was the Princess Cambria, her own reflection was far less attractive. Allison shoed off her servant and faced her older sister, who refused to sit in fear of wrinkling her magnificent gown.

"You look lovely, Allison," she said and pinched the fabric of Allison's gown between gloved fingers. "You could be so beautiful with a little effort." 

"Effort?"

"You know, if you stopped wearing all of those boy clothes and dressed like a princess of course."

Cambria ordered out all of her servants except for the Lady Stephenie and landed in front of the mirror to gush over her own reflection.

"Your wedding with Lord Marshall was one of the greatest events in Seldor for a decade," Lady Stephenie said, nipping at her goblet. "Imagine if Allison marries a Bromberg. The two richest families is the Union! What a glorious celebration it would be!"

Allison hated how her sister's stupid lady-in-waiting constantly talked around, though, and over her. In fact, the whole concept of a servant whose entire point was to entertain, admire and praise you was ridiculous.

"So glorious!" agreed Cambria and pecked Stephenie on the cheek.

"How is Lord Marshall?" Allison asked, pointedly ignoring her companion.

"How is he?"

"A charming and dutiful husband?"

"As much as any woman could ask!" 

Allison frowned. Her sister had become so accustomed to lying, to playing a role, it was hard to tell anymore what was the truth. She remembered when they were young girls, how sometimes they would cower together at night during a bad storm, or after a metaphorical storm of their father's tyranny. 

The night after her mother's execution, the prime example, had been one of the worst of Allison's life. Her father had forced Allison to watch as her mother, disgraced into the rags of a mere common, scaled the steps to the guillotine. Sans make-up, sans jewelry, sans dignity at all, really, she wouldn't meet Allison's eyes. That night Cambria had snuck into her bedroom, as she often did, and allowed Allison to lay her sobbing head in her lap.

As far as Allison cared, Cambria Rose was the most beautiful princess in the Union. Not that Galia Roberts bitch. No matter how much Cambria aggravated her, especially since her coming of age two years earlier, Allison would love her not matter what. Cambria was the only one who knew what it was like to be the offspring of Greggon Rose.

Well, those stupid twins will know too, someday.

"And he performs his, you know, other duties well, too?"

Lady Stephenie gasped, placing a horror-stricken hand over her left breast. Allison loved to annoy her. Dammed to the possibility that that was why Stephenie so pointedly ignored her in return.

Cambria was less fazed. She smiled pityingly at her younger sister. "It is not proper, Allison, for a princess to speak of such things. Or any wife of her husband. Especially not in good company." She smiled at Stephenie who, apparently placated, dusted off her gown and exhaled deeply, the trauma survived.

"We are all grown women here, sister. What do we have to fear?"

"You are just two months a woman," said Cambria pedantically, "and still have so much to learn. You should take more care guarding your reputation. You have been far too reckless."

"I don't care what anybody thinks!" said Allison. She knew the songs the tavern idiots sang about her. Most of the hurtful bullshit was utter nonsense. The stuff that was true, however, stung the deepest. How they knew some of it, she could never guess.

"Don't be a child, sister!" Cambria giggled, again, too fake to be sure if it was authentic. "All that matters is what people think!"

"And how will people judge me for marrying Enrick Bromborne, I wonder?"

Stephenie gasped again, making Allison smile. It was fun to embarrass her. She wished she could do it more often. Maybe I need my own Lady-in-Waiting just for the sport of mortifying her. Of course that wasn't how it worked with these things. Had she her own lady, certainly she would dote on Allison's every word regardless of how it really made her feel. Such was their duty, after all.

"It is not proper to speak of your betrothed in such a way!" Cambria looked genuinely concerned. She shook her head slowly.

"He isn't my betrothed! And besides, everybody knows it is true. He's a dunce and an embarrassment. He looks like some sort of lanky  forest creature."

"My Princess," Stephenie said to Cambria suddenly, practically leaping to her feet. "If you don't mind I will be back in your royal chamber getting ready for the feast."

"Of course, my lady," Cambria responded and the two pecked each other on the cheek once again.

Allison sneered at Stehpenie's back as she retreated from the room with haste.

"You embarrass me!" Cambria said once they were alone. "Why must you act like such a girl all the time!"

"Relax, sister. Your little puppet is nothing more than a lowblood servant."

"House Geolding is one of the most respected and ancient noble houses in Seldor. Lady Stephenie is a highborn woman, Allison, and is to be treated with respect."

"Whatever." Allison waved her off with a flick of her hand and returned to the mirror. "Her father is just some worthless duke nobody's heard of. No one of consequence."

Allison decided she hated how they'd done her make-up. Looking like a porcelain doll didn't make her feel important. It made her feel fragile, the worst of all possible ailments. Roses aren't fragile. They have thorns that will take your damn finger off.

"Remember who the real enemy is, Allison."

"The dumb cunt, our mother-in-law?"

Cambria stared at her for a moment then suddenly broke into hearty laughter. There! The real Cambria! The older sister that let me cry on her lap.

"I was going to say Duquesne Thomas!" She glanced at herself in the mirror. It seemed she couldn't help it. "You made my make-up crack! I'll have to go fix it." She leaned in and kissed Allison's cheek and patted her shoulder tenderly. "Just enjoy your special night. And don't worry about Enrick. He is as highborn as they come. To tell you the truth, I'm a bit jealous. I'm sure you can make up for the rest of his short comings."

She swept out of the room, leaving a trail of perfume in her wake.

Allison stood in front of the mirror for a long moment, conflicted in her mood. The glimpse of her old sister, how she used to be, had indeed brightened her spirit but only so briefly as to make the loss of what they used to share that much more keen.

"Enrick Fucking Bromborne," she mumbled. "We'll see about that."

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