It was getting irritating, listening to well-meaning statements about what was and was not possible. Lowri read it in Braelyn’s face while her little ring of advisor’s alternately offered their advice and slapped it into the dim, echoing hall. She listened to all of it in the same diplomatic silence, hands folded, back elegantly straight. But one corner of her mouth was tilting up, moment by moment, sharpening a crooked smile that Lowri loved and hated.
The hall was filled with silks and satins and sweeter fabrics, fluttering and snapping in the rush of the music. A heavy pull on instruments strings, and skirts belled and twisted. They moved, woven water, in all the colors of sky and ocean, but Braelyn wore a gown carved out of marble, swaying only at the quake of her step.
If she had smiled, any number of the men and women she stopped to speak with would have called her beautiful. She had been beautiful since she was very small, and had seen enough mirrors to understand the statement was half compliment and wholly fact.
And she had no need to be beautiful.
Stepping along the length of the room, deep in the music even while the party seemed to eddy around her, she wanted to be stunning. She wanted to be arresting.
She wanted to be powerful.
They gave her a suite of rooms, all her own, large, elegantly furnished, and with a guard stationed outside the door. She did not own the guard. She did not pay him or command him, but if she held his eye long enough as she passed in and out, he would bow his head, unsure.
The suite was a long sprawl of rooms: an outer parlor for receiving, a wide, private lounge for the business of her days, and a bedroom that was peacefully dark at night and blessedly bright in the mornings. It seemed small when she first stepped into it, used to the expanse of her own rooms. After a week, it seemed over-large with just her rattling inside it. After a month, they seemed perfectly proportioned, as she could count the hours she had spent outside them.
And she waited.
While the days turned over, one to the next, she forced herself to sleep in long hours if she couldn’t keep them restful. Waking, she dressed in fresh clothing, brushed her hair and braided it as if she expected extended hours of company. If she braided it too tightly at first, looked too small and uneasy, she learned to let the knots loosen just enough to hold in their elegance.
She read the books in the lounge, sitting upright as if she were still in her lessons with her tutors across from her, and paid just as much attention to the meaning in the words. She convinced the maids to sit a while when they came in to stoke the fires or change the bed. She spoke with them, smiling and easy, and she listened carefully, calmly. She invited others to eat with her when they brought up trays from the kitchen. When they grew comfortable enough, they brought extra plates, both for themselves and for her, bringing in the things they knew she liked.