Ch. 11.6 A Banquet and a Ball —
Janine’s maid, Helga, scolded her as she shoved her into a plain, floor length gray silk dress and then braided her hair into two stiff plaits, with no ribbons or bows. Helga didn’t bother putting any soothing creams on the scratches and bruises on Janine’s face and arms.
Janine didn’t resist. All she could think about was poor Freddie.
When Janine was ready, the maid marched her downstairs and deposited her beside her brother, Derrick, who stood with the rest of the royal family.
Zelda now wore a frothy blue ball gown that glittered with jewels, and the slight bruise on her cheek had disappeared. Her hair was perfectly coiffed. Lily perfume floated around her. Janine tried hard not to gag.
“Finally.” Queen Persimmon glared at Janine and turned back to her husband. “We’re all here now. Shall we?”
“Happy faces, everyone,” said King Henry.
The page announced the royal family as they entered the ballroom. Trumpets blew. The guests cheered and clapped. Janine curtsied when introduced and tried to pretend she didn’t see the revulsion on their faces.
Then it was time to sit at the lavish banquet table. First came a soup with large chunks of beef. She ignored it. The next course came. She eyed the food on her plate — dainty meat-filled swans made of pastry, which swam in a pond of blueberry sauce surrounded by green fronds. Her fork stayed on the table.
One of the servants set a plate of roasted chicken before her.
She looked up at him. “Please,” she whispered. “May I have some bread?” The cook and her staff knew Janine didn’t eat meat.
“Sorry, Highness,” the servant whispered back. “His Majesty’s orders.”
Her stomach clenched.
“You’re not eating, Janine. Is something wrong?” Zelda smirked and then took a large bite from her chicken leg.
“I’m not hungry.” Janine looked away and folded her hands in her lap. She refused to cry.
When her oldest sister’s wedding date was announced, Janine clapped politely. Karen looked radiant, and Prince Oswald beamed at his bride-to-be as he took her hand and kissed it.
Janine hoped that Karen would truly be happy. And why not? Soon they would escape this castle. Janine thought of the years she would need to endure until Zelda got married. How was she going to survive until then?
Later, Janine sat stiffly in a shadowed corner and watched as the royal musicians played a waltz and the couples twirled about the ballroom. Karen and Oswald danced by. They only had eyes for each other. Everyone was having a good time. Everyone but her. Janine’s stomach grumbled.
Janine knew that soon her maid would come and take her upstairs to bed. She was, after all, only ten years old. The maid would be under orders to lock Janine’s bedroom door. Freddie would spend the night alone in a cage in the kennels, and in the morning he would die.
When she thought no one was looking, Janine escaped.