The Fireborn Road: Chapter 1 (a sneak peak)

The ballroom glowed with soft, golden light from the thousand floating glass lanterns that hovered, in a complex pattern a few feet from the ornately vaulted ceiling. Dozens of mirrors around the walls and ceiling reflected the magical light, amplifying it and enfolding everyone in a rich, warm blanket. Along the whole length of the room a white clothed table groaned with the weight of delicacies piled high on silver salvers and arranged around the centre piece of the whole roasted boar. Fresh white roses, the Queen’s favourite, stood amongst the food in exquisite designs. Liveried footmen with blank expressions were poised with bottles of the finest vintages and cordials of exotic fruits. A twenty seven piece orchestra, composed of some of the most gifted musicians in all Albion, played a lively reel. The music swelled and tumbled carrying the dancers with it as they spun and trotted through the intricate steps of the set. The women, bejewelled and pink faced in their tightly corseted fine silks, smiled demurely at the dashing military captains and the elegantly suited politicians whose arms they graced. The young queen, a vision in eau de nil, charmed her partners with her beauty, warmth and wit. It was a perfect tableau of the restrained and civilised opulence of Royal Albion.
From his place at one end of the gargantuan buffet table, Derek watched with lacklustre attention. He could just about see Iona in the centre of the crowded floor, paying polite attention to a tall and handsome Colonel, who in spite of his apparent poise continued to tread on her feet. He yawned languidly, without covering his mouth and reached out for a small pastry thing that looked quite tasty. As the light of the chandeliers twinkled and glinted from the black jet fluting on Iona’s hair piece, he shoved the whole thing into his mouth and chewed vigorously. He could tell from the fixed smile on Iona’s face that the gentleman with whom she was dancing was both an ungainly dancer and a bore. The little fold of a grimace that appeared momentarily on her otherwise serene countenance every time he trod on her foot was perhaps the most entertaining part of the evening so far. In fact, all the amusement he had garnered from this ridiculous occasion had been from watching Iona parading herself around as though she had been born Albion nobility and everyone else falling for it.
Lady Iona, the Dowager Duchess of Pringle was quite a name amongst minor Albion nobility and the diplomatic corps. Little was known publicly in Albion of Iona’s beginnings, and as far as Derek, who knew the whole sordid tale could tell, this was very much to her credit. She had been an adventurer of no significant standing when she had married the guildmaster, a renegade Albion Duke, Dakarn Pringle III and that far her credentials were unimpeachable. The fact that she clearly knew how to dress and behave had never been questioned by the aristocracy. They were not aware how she had come by her stunning grasp on Albion etiquette and how it differed from social convention in other countries. They had not spent enough time with her to find out that she could be surprisingly violent and extremely blunt.
It was only when the stories of her exploits during the Summer of Fire and the following years had begun to filter through the court had she become a source of intrigue in her own right. The foolish women of the Queen’s court were enamoured with the romance of a brave and elegant widow who set aside her grief and the comforts of her rank in the pursuit of Justice, and Iona did not disappoint them. At one point, she had become a tea-parlour heroine and would have remained so had she been prepared to make house calls. The fact that Iona had never set eyes on her Dukedom, nor experienced the so-called comforts of a noble life was so far beside the point it was not considered. Certainly, none of the fawning politicians and simpering débutantes who sought her attentions realised that she was nothing more than a grubby parvenu from the Elven Territories with one eye on Frisia and one hand in the pocket of anyone who could buy her a controlling share of Aberddu. The Dowager Duchess of Pringle was a construction that the Bard’s Guild would have been proud of, a real piece of performance art and one Derek never tired of watching.

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