An hour later, Kaden had retreated to his room while handmaiden’s were attempting to fasten a corset around Lusa’s waist. The full-length mirror in front of her reflected the exquisite hairstyle the eldest woman had managed to create with her thick ebony hair. Lusa gawked at herself, almost not recognizing the other face staring back at her. She’d never looked so . . . grown up. Rouge powder colored her cheeks, bringing life to her pale features.
“Ouch.” Lusa swatted at the hands behind her attempting to tighten the corset. “That hurts!”
“Hold still child. You’re only making it worse.”
“I’m no child, woman!”
“Oh, honestly, just hold still!”
Lusa glowered. She clenched her fists and sucked in all the air she could manage. Her ribs felt crushed, like her life was being squeezed out of her, not to mention the fact her lungs were as flat as a lizard tongue.
“Holy stars, I can’t breathe!” Clutching her chest, she shot a desperate look to one of the handmaidens.
The girl spun the other way to fetch the gown. Was this what noble women had to go through everyday? She’d never last through the first course. Why she had to wear such things and appear so noble right now was beyond her.
On the verge of tearing the corset and undergarments off, she contained her temper. Seeing the look on his face when he realized how much of a woman she could be was worth it. She had to keep reminding herself the other reasons she was doing this. Not just to impress him, but to prove to herself she could do something genuinely good. Selfless . . . and against the control of the Magics.
The handmaidens struggled to lift the velvet gown over her head without undoing her hair. She stood on a small pedestal, striving for balance, wondering why they couldn’t have just done her hair afterwards. Either they had a strange way of doing things, or were in a hurry. Swaying a bit after standing for so long, she wished they’d hurry up.
A gust of air from the falling fabric blew a few wavy tendrils of hair from her face. After a few tugs here and there, and several pinches of the buttons holding it together in the back, Lusa could finally step off of the pedestal. She admired herself in the mirror, noticing how her eyes seemed brighter against the light blue fabric of the gown.
“Come now, Lady Lusa, your shoes. We mustn’t be late.”
Lusa snorted to herself at the idea of someone calling her a Lady. She stepped down from the pedestal and the floor turned abruptly into folds of material. Her feet slid, searching for sturdy ground as her arms flailed wildly about, hoping to grab onto something for support. The hard wood floor rushed to her face, and with a quick reflex of her hands, smacked against her palms and knees.
Grunting, a noise at odds with her regal attire, she resisted the urge to push the oncoming women away. Quickly, they helped her to her feet. She was no Lady. She couldn’t do this.
She batted at their hands. “Stop it.”
They tried to fix her wrinkled gown but stopped at her command . . . they feared her. Lusa smiled. Recalling the way the empress managed her gown, she lifted her hem and began a slow, steady walk. Much easier.
“Here we are, Miss.”
Lusa slipped her feet into the heeled slippers, noticing how they made her seem taller. It may be a pain and nuisance to get ready like this but she had to admit she enjoyed the way she looked.
The handmaidens curtsied and left. Would they not tell her where to go? She went to follow. Her ankle rolled under the improper step of her heeled foot. She caught herself on the bedpost to keep from falling once again to the floor. “Bloody toads!”
“I hope that’s not what we’re having for dinner.” Kaden opened the door attached to her room and stuck his head through. He refrained from looking directly at her. Perhaps he wasn’t sure if she was completely dressed yet.
Lusa pulled herself upright faster than a lightning bolt. Nervously, she brushed the front of her gown for wrinkles.
“Kaden! Are we supposed to leave now?”
He stepped in her room, tugging at the corners of his long navy blue sleeves and looking a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure, my lady.” He bowed dramatically.
Lusa laughed. “Please. Spare the formality. I can hardly handle being dressed up like this.” She smiled inwardly, his eyes on her.