Listen to Son Lux “You don’t know me”. If you grow tired of it, switch to Son Lux “Easy” (I really like the original video).
All of her siblings arrived a few days before the ball except her youngest brother. His wife sent a letter of apology. He was on a business trip and his wife didn’t want to travel alone with two small children. Namely, the trip to the empress was long and involved traveling through mountains which might be too hard for the children.
Laura brought her oldest daughter with her. Her dress wasn’t completely finished by the time they arrived but it will be finished by the ball. Laura’s husband was about to join them a day before the ball. He had some important business to attend to before he could come.
Empress let Laura handle the organisational details – she wasn’t keen on wasting her time on that and Laura absolutely loved being involved into events like these. Truth to be told, Laura was always meticulous over everything she laid her hands on so empress decided just to step back and let her enjoy.
Laura’s daughter occupied empress’ free time. They would giggle and laugh, make pranks or just go out riding. She reminded her too often of Laura when she was a child. She used to adore her older sister. Laura was her role model. She wanted to be a graceful lady like Laura, an intelligent woman like Laura, a great host like Laura, overprotective like Laura, Laura, Laura, Laura, Laura. Funny thing is, empress never wanted to BE Laura, she just wanted to have her social and organizational skills.
In the morning of the day the ball was about to befall, she decided to go for a ride. Choosing the wildest horse they had wasn’t the wisest of her choices because she got back muddy. Laura was shocked how reckless her sister was.
“You could’ve gotten hurt!”
“I fell only once and I landed in a muddy puddle. It wasn’t the first fall I had and it most certainly wont be the last.”
“What if you got injured? How would you attend the ball? You know all those guests expect you to be at the ball?”
“I know this horse, I am the only one that can ride it. There was never a serious possibility to get injured. I knew what I was doing. And yes, I know what they all expect and I will give them exactly that.”
“I am working so hard to make this happen and you behave like a little brat!”
“Please, mind your language. I am allowing you to help me because I m aware of all your skills but do not think for a second that you run this place. You will show respect to your empress!”
“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to patronize you. It’s just that I was worried about you.”
“I know sweet Laura, and I am grateful for all you have done here. I have been talking to my personal maid, this ball will be the best ever! Now, please, tell all the household servants to gather in front of the main entrance in 30 minutes, I want to talk to all of them after I change my clothes.”
Laura went to gather the servants and empress led her horse to the stable. She closed the box stall behind him telling him, “This was kind of easy, don’t you think?”, then she went to change her clothes.
She didn’t talk to the household servants for six months, ever since she was whipped, it was her way of punishing them. Now it is time to release them of their fears, to show them she holds no grudges. When they all gathered, she could almost see question marks written all over their faces.
“I am aware you all have your duties so I will be short. I talked to my sister, she is very pleased by all your efforts to make this ball become the ball of the year. This makes me very proud of you. I know you all love the emperor, I can see it in the way you are handling your duties. Thank you all for doing your job with perfection. You are now free to go. Shoo!”
If they weren’t sure what to think about this household servant’s gathering, her cheerful “Shoo!” and a smile showed them her true intentions and made them all relaxed. That morning whispers could be heard all over the mansion – “She forgave us, she still loves us, our dear empress!”
By the time the night came, empress was ready for the ball. She deliberately chose a dress with bare back. Her back scars healed already as in they didn’t hurt nor bleed anymore but they were still red, still visible, still very unappealing. Wrapping scarf around her back allowed her to hide her scars. She loves wearing evening dresses with bare back and letting her long hair fall on her back but this time she lifted her hair. It was a very formal ball and she needed to rise to the occasion.
As expected, they all greeted her very warm, she was as charming as always, ignoring all those looks women were trying to hide. All that curiosity about her back, was understandable. News about possessive and jealous emperor having his wife whipped echoed in all of the neighboring countries.
Laura’s daughter had quite a number of suitors. She was empress’ niece, she was beautiful, and intelligent. Her dress didn’t went unnoticed either. After the dinner, the empress made a toast. She thanked her sister Laura on perfect organization of the ball and praised her husband’s skill in governing the empire. Both of them were glowing for the rest of the evening. Well, they would glow if there wasn’t this thing that happened.
There was a dance in which women and men at the podium form a circle, then a man and a woman from the opposite sides of the circle step into the middle of it. A man embraces a woman, putting his right hand on her back. A woman puts her right hand on his left shoulder. They make two turns and go back to their places. After each pair met in the middle of the circle, people switch places. Then another round begins. This dance is over once all the women make turns with each man. People love this dance because it gives them the opportunity to whisper some well thought joke to the ear of a person you fancy allowing you to keep your dignity if that person doesn’t fancy you.
All of the dancers formed a circle, they were ready to begin. At this moment, the empress let her wrap scarf slip on the floor. A servant rushed to pick it up for her and she gave him a sign to take it away. Some women behind her were falling into a shock. It took all the strength she had to turn her smug smile into a lovely lady-like smile, to turn her contempt into meekness. She has been looking forward to this dance for months and it is finally happening.
All those men felt awkward when touching her back, their hand would glitch, their faces tried to hide disgust, their minds forcing their hand to get back there and touch her back. All those women showing contempt or feeling sorry for her, all those other guests thought she didn’t hear them whispering “What a disgrace!”.
As soon as the dance ended, people started to retire from the podium. In that crowd she felt a touch on her back. It wasn’t an accidental touch nor it was a touch full of disgust. That touch was full of respect and desire. She couldn’t decide if this desire was sexual or intellectual, but it was a desire, for sure. The empress didn’t turn to see who touched her, she knew it made no difference. Whoever that was, he or she had to be cautious enough not to reveal his or her identity.
“Another game begins”, she whispered, hiding her excitement.
As soon as he could reach her, the emperor came to his wife holding a scarf. He kissed her cheek and then lowered his voice,
“Here, don’t catch a cold!”
“What is a bigger disgrace for your guests my darling – me getting my scars or me actually showing them?”
“You know they are small minded, do not pay attention to them.”
“And you, my dear husband, know I did this on purpose.”, said the empress while wrapping her back with the scarf. He smiled,
“Yes, my darling, I know. You like to provoke small minds with even smaller souls.”
“Ignorant fools don’t know that it is much easier for a person to show and much more pleasant for the observers to see one’s physical scars than emotional ones.”, but her voice already blended with the crowd’s noise and the emperor didn’t hear her last sentence.
In the dawn even the most tenacious guests withdrew into their rooms. The ball was great, all the guests agreed on that and the hosts were satisfied too. Around the noon, the empress was still in her bed, enjoying sun rays that were falling on her face through the window. Suddenly, she heard a scream and people running around. Something happened. She got up and got dressed. Her personal maid knocked nervously on the door.
“Enter! What is it?”
Her maid barged in, “Forgive me, my grace, your sister, something bad happened..she..”
“Calm down girl, just breathe in and breathe out. Again, there you go. One more time…good…now, tell me, what happened?”
“Your sister, m’am, we found her in the stable, she is…she is dead m’am.”
“Which sister, my sister? Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Your sister Laura, m’am!”
Empress ran out, her personal maid was running next to her talking and talking and talking. She ignored her, she needed to get to the stables.
“It can’t be Laura, it can’t be!”
There were many people in the stable, too many. They all made a path for her. She was looking at them, afraid of what she will find. The path lead her to her wild horse’s box stall. Her sister was laying on the floor in a puddle of blood. Her head was crushed. Empress fell on her knees, emperor was right behind her to mitigate her fall. She couldn’t breathe.
“My sweet Laura!”
Emperor embraced his wife, “I am here, shhhhh….”
She buried her face in his shoulder trying to ignore servant saying
“I told her not to go near that horse, I did m’am but she didn’t listen, she said m’am she said she can ride it, she said she knows how to tame a horse. I tried to tell her m’am, I really did, that horse cannot be tamed, many people tried, even our empress tried…nobody can tame it, it is wild…I tried to stop her m’am…but she didn’t listen…she didn’t m’am…it kicked her in the head..she was dead immediately…m’am…I tried…”
This is when her husband let go of the empress and stood up.
“Yes, you did all you could, this is not your fault.”
He made orders for people to leave the stable, wake up Laura’s husband and daughter and then to fetch him when they get dressed.
“If they are to move Laura’s body, horse needs to get out. You wont be able to move her while it is in the box stall.”, he heard empress say, “I don’t want my niece to see her mother this way, her husband mustn’t see her either. Let me take the horse out of the box stall.”
They all agreed with her so she carefully overstepped her sister’s body and approached the horse. She whispered comforting words to the horse and slowly took him to the other box stall. While she was closing the door of the box stall, horse came to her and licked her cheek. She padded him and told him in a calming voice
“It was much easier than I thought it would be.”