Fifty Shades of Crimson

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Story by T.Charters copyright (C) 2017.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, Gods or Demons, living, dead or imaginary is purely coincidental.

Chapter 25

By midday the next day the palace looked as though a florist had exploded inside it. There were flowers everywhere. They were elegantly arranged in the entranceway and up the grand staircase, through the throne room and ballroom beyond. There were large and small vases as well as huge ornate structures which towered to the ceiling. Their scent could be recognised throughout the palace. Much of the palace was now locked off, with velvet ropes and guards securing access to private areas. There were more guards outside scouring the perimeter and others prowling the corridors while searching for anything suspicious.

Amanda and Jane were in their quarters. Protocol dictated that they should not be seen by the guests until later in the evening. The Queen had suggested they get as much rest as possible, though she'd said it without much conviction, while rolling her eyes and obviously believing that rest was the least interesting thing on their minds. Amanda and Jane meditated for a time then feel asleep in each others arms. Together they were actually looking forward to the evening.

Originally it had been planned that Amanda would be there to greet each guest as they arrived, but now that she was so much more, and no longer just a ward of the royal house, the Queen had insisted she be introduced with them as one of the royal family. Amanda was a little unsure what to feel. She'd almost gotten over her initial misgivings of meeting everyone face to face.

Jane was simply happy that Amanda would be at her side.

By late afternoon Jane was pacing their quarters like a caged animal.

Amanda chuckled while remembering how Jane had suggested she'd be happy living in Amanda's small apartment. It was easy to take the freedom for granted until it was gone.

They went and sat in the kitchen and watched with interest as the staff hurried back and forth preparing hundreds of meals and different dishes for not just them but for all the guests. Amanda imagined that the staff must look forward to the challenge each year. The vampire diet was very limited in comparison.

Pop came and sat with them.

"Feeling a little trapped as well?" Jane asked.

Pop nodded.

"Where's Mum?" Amanda quipped.

Jane smiled and squeezed Amanda's hand under the table.

Pop chuckled. "In our quarters," he replied. Before sitting down he'd selected a piece of fruit from one of the many platters spread out on tables about the room. He cut it in quarters then sliced off a thin wedge which he popped into his mouth.

Jane stared in horror.

Amanda gagged just watching. "You, you can eat that?" she stammered in some shock. The last solid food she'd tried to eat was the steak while she'd been sitting in her car out the front of Bob's. It had almost killed her.

"Blood peach," Pop explained. "We can eat them," he advised, "but it takes a little practise. Would you like to try some?" he asked.

Amanda quickly shook her head.

Jane did the same while placing a hand over her mouth. She'd been so terrified by what had happened in the hospital it had even taken some prompting from Amanda to get her to try some blood. Just like Amanda she was unlikely to ever eat anything solid again.

Pop smiled. "I usually try one each year at the anniversary," he explained. "I like the texture," he revealed, "but the flavour can be a little tart."

Romana came a stood beside them. "It's time my ladies," she advised.

Amanda and Jane returned to their quarters. They washed and changed, helping each other to dress then prepare their makeup and hair. Afterwards they stood staring at each other. Their royal blue uniforms looked amazing and though a little masculine in appearance were cut perfectly to complement their similar figures. Jane's jacket had a laurel wreath pattern embroidered in gold around the high collar. Amanda's uniform, though simpler in decoration, had a golden, braided rope, looped beneath the epaulet and under her arm as well as a decoration on her breast pocket. Their boots and belts were polished to a mirror shine and the numerous gold buttons and fastenings glinted in the light. They were everything Amanda imagined a royal dress uniform to be.

Jane stared. "I just want to rip that uniform off you and take you right now," she said.

Amanda smirked. "I'd be okay with that," she replied. Really she would. "But I think Mum and Dad might get a little upset if we're late and I'm looking a bit wrinkled."

Jane chuckled.

They walked with Marc back through the kitchen then along a number of smaller corridors so that they could meet with Pop and the Queen without being seen by any of the guests. None of the staff had ever seen Amanda or Jane dressed in such a way. They all stood and stared then bowed as they passed. Even Marc and the other guards were outfitted more formally, in dress uniforms which seem strikingly similar to Amanda's own. Marc was even wearing a similar braided rope beneath his arm and amongst others had a familiar decoration on his breast pocket.

To Amanda's eyes the Queen looked spectacular and as regal as she should. She was wearing an ornate crown of silver and gold and was dressed in a flowing golden gown that was both elegant and practical without being difficult to manage.

She smiled as they arrived. "My girls," she said while trying her hardest not to cry. "I am so proud of you both."

Pop nodded. "You do look very smart," he suggested quite simply.

The Queen turned and stared. "Ever the master of understatement," she said chuckling slightly.

Both Amanda and Jane grinned.

Pop's uniform closely matched Jane's with the same decoration surrounding the collar. He wore a silver crown which highlighted his features and complemented his hair and beard both being flecked with grey.

The Queen signalled to a page standing nearby. Unlike any of other staff he was dressed in a rather elaborate uniform and was carrying a velvet pillow with a simple circlet of gold nestled on top.

He nodded respectfully then held the pillow up.

The Queen carefully lifted the circlet then gently placed placed it on Jane's head. She smiled and brushed Jane's hair aside. "Now you really look like a princess," she said.

The page returned with another pillow holding an ornate circlet of silver.

Amanda stared at it. "But I'm not crowned yet," she said sounding a little unsure. "Is it right for me to wear that?" She really didn't want to offend anyone.

The Queen smiled and was obviously pleased that Amanda cared so much for their traditions. "This is the White Crown," she explained. "It is traditionally worn by the person betrothed to the crown. I can think of no one better suited."

Amanda nodded respectfully. "Thank you, Your Majesty," she said.

The doors were thrown open and they were introduced to the room. Everyone stood and briefly bowed. Even though Amanda had spent weeks planning the dinner and knew exactly what to expect she still stared in awe at all the gold and finery and spectacular clothing on display. If anything she actually felt a little underdressed.

The Page banged his staff on the floor. "I present to you their Majesties, Queen Amelia Valencia and the Prince Consort Victor, grand marshal of the seven armies. They are accompanied this evening by her royal highness the Crown Princess Jane Elandra and her highness the Lady Amanda, the Princess Ward, Consort to the Crown Princess and Patron of the royal guard."

Amanda was stunned. She quickly turned and glanced at Marc.

He just smiled and nodded respectfully.

Now Amanda understood why their uniforms looked so similar.

The Queen briefly chuckled. She leant closer and whispered to Amanda. "We all wanted it to be a surprise," she said.

"Oh it really is," Amanda whispered in reply. She stared straight ahead and tried not to succumb to the panic that was building in her chest. She could feel hundreds on eyes on her at that very moment. She was glad that she was wearing more conventional boots and not towering heels like the Queen. The Queen was used to walking in heels and being on display. Amanda was simply worried about trying to pull this off in a dignified manner.

She slid into her seat as gracefully as she could manage. Jane squeezed her hand under the table. She looked just as uncomfortable. They smiled and each other and slowly began to relax.

Amanda glanced around and smiled and nodded to all she could.

Bob caught her eye. He nodded approvingly, sat back in his chair and looked extremely proud.

Amanda had never seen him wearing a suit before and she was glad to see him sitting with Jessica. She wondered who was looking after the store. Grent, Meshia and her mother were also sitting nearby.

Meshia waved excitedly.

Amanda whispered to Jane then they both smiled and waved in return.

Meshia was so pleased that she almost fell off her chair.

Grent boomed with laughter. His wife frowned at him and looked a little embarrassed.

It was amusing to see Grent and Bob sitting so close together. Their difference in size was startling. Even Meshia was taller than her father and so was his wife. They were both so proud that Grent was one of the shortest adult dwarves there was. It was considered a huge honour.

There were speeches to be given. The Queen stood and welcomed everyone then again stated how proud she was of both Amanda and Jane then she spoke of her hopes for them and the future. In the end she lamented the failure that was Allegra and her wish for the matter to be quickly resolved without any further loss of life.

Pop expertly lightened the mood by recalling almost everybody's name as well as some light-hearted historical information about most of the races. He also delighted in including some amusing stories about Amanda and Jane. Like most parents he seemed to relish the chance to embarrass them in public.

Bob seemed delighted by this as well.

The banquet was even more impressive than Amanda imagined. There were twelve courses and countless dishes and more varieties of blood than she could count. She mostly kept to her favourite, which she'd learned was considered very common, but she again tried some venison for its richness of flavour. She couldn't bring herself to try human blood no matter how ethically it had been obtained. She felt quite proud of the staff and thought they performed amazingly. She planned to congratulate them all at their next meeting.

She whispered to Jane and the Queen then stepped around the table to join Bob and Jessica. They all stood and hugged. She no longer cared who was watching.

"Wow!" Jessica said while standing back and gushing like a school girl. "You look amazing!"

"Yeah she does clean up okay," Bob agreed.

Amanda smiled and shook her head. She introduced them to Grent and his family. Meshia and Jessica became best of friends immediately.

After dinner there were more speeches and exaggerated retellings of the myths about the creation of the Fey and the construction of Arden. There were in depth discussions and light-hearted arguments. Some of the Dwarves boisterously banged their mugs on the table while others tried to prove things on napkins. Amanda found it fascinating to watch and enjoyed it all. One of the Elven delegates stood and suggested that the headline in the paper regarding Amanda's abilities was clearly exaggerated, but he would still be interested in learning more. A silence fell on the room as everyone looked up expectantly. Clearly they were all just as curious but no one else had, had the courage to ask.

The Queen smiled. She turned to Amanda. "Feel like giving a little demonstration?" she asked. She wouldn't have minded if Amanda had said no.

"What do you think?" Amanda asked turning to Jane.

"Only if I can help," she replied while smiling broadly.

They both stood and stepped around the table.

Pop and the Queen frowned uncertainly. They were aware of Amanda's skill but had no idea why Jane insisted on joining.

The numerous tables were staggered in multiple rows down the left and right. Amanda and Jane stepped into the large space which had been left in the centre.

They smiled at each other then in absolutely perfect synchronisation worked through their normal meditative stances they practiced each day.

Everyone, including Pop and the Queen, just stared.

When complete Amanda and Jane took a step back. They faced each other and stood more defensively then suddenly leapt into a series of punches, kicks, sweeps and blocks. They were moving so quickly it was difficult to tell who was attacking who and how they were not being injured. It was completely choreographed and neither of them was in any real danger. It was really just another training exercise. To everyone else it looked incredibly impressive. They finished the way they had started only this time to the sound of clapping and cheering.

They smiled and nodded to everyone around the room.

Amanda turned to the man who had made the suggestion. "Would you like to join us?" she asked.

He smiled and quickly shook his head. "No, thank you, your Highness," he replied.

The room immediately erupted with boo's and some good-natured ribbing.

Amanda and Jane returned to their seats. They both smiled and briefly hugged each other. They didn't care that everyone was still staring at them.

The Queen looked a little confused and lightly tapped a finger on the table.

Amanda smirked. "I wanted Jane to be able to protect herself," she explained.

The Queen smiled. "That I can understand," she replied.

Later in the evening there was music and dancing. Amanda hid behind Marc at the side of the room. She may be a quite good at Aikido but when it came to dancing she still had two left feet.

"Patron of the palace guard?" she said. "I am honoured that you would consider me for this."

"No," Marc replied. "We are honoured."

Amanda sat with Meshia and Jessica. She seemed to have spent the entire evening moving from table to table and place to place. Bob and Grent were still sitting and talking nearby.

"I need your help with something," Amanda said to Meshia.

Meshia frowned. "You do? What?" she asked.

"Jessica," Amanda replied.

Now Jessica frowned. "Me?" she said.

"Jessica has grown up in the human world," Amanda explained. "It has been a little difficult for her and she really hasn't spent that much time with Fey her own age. Other than her father she doesn't really have anyone else to talk to. If she's going to stay here at the palace with me and join Fey like yourself at school then she's going to need a friend to show her around."

"Really!" Jessica exclaimed. She quickly spun around and stared at her father.

He just smiled and nodded.

Even Grent chuckled with laughter.

Meshia stared at him. "You knew as well?" she said.

"So what do you say?" Amanda asked, looking at them both. "Would you like to help and do you want to stay here?"

"YEAH!" both girls squealed excitedly. They threw themselves at Amanda. She disappeared beneath a flurry of arms as they hugged her tightly. "Why don't you show Meshia your room," she suggested to Jessica.

"Can I?" she said.

Amanda nodded. She signalled to Romana and had her take the girls to Jessica's room and back.

Jane came and dragged Amanda to yet another table.

Apart from just being the anniversary the celebration seemed to have also become Amanda and Jane's engagement dinner. There were so many people who had travelled from so far away it would be difficult and selfish to expect them to return again so soon. They'd both spent much of the evening kindly thanking guests for their fond wishes as well as their gifts. At the side of the room there was a table piled high with parcels for not just them but also the Queen and Pop and the palace as a whole.

Meshia and Jessica returned in a rush then dragged both Amanda and Jane onto the dance floor.

The Queen watch bemused from side of the room. "I've missed this," she said as Amanda and Jane swung around the girls while the four of them laughed uncontrollably. "The palace used to be full of laughter," she added. "I never thought I'd hear it again."

Pop nodded. "Allegra was always so serious," he agreed.

"Do you miss her?" the Queen asked. "The two of you were once very close."

"I miss my daughter," Pop replied. "I don't miss what she's become."

Later they all made their way onto the balconies surrounding the palace. Fireworks erupted into the sky from all over Arden and lit up the cavern like never before.

In the human world it might have registered as a minor earthquake.

As the guests slowly said their farewells Marc had Amanda and the others join him to one side. He led them to the gifts table where he carefully revealed an ornate wooden box with a spectacular ceremonial dagger nestled within.

"Wow!" Jane quipped, "that looks sharp!"

"It's deadly," Marc responded. "It's been impregnated with nightshade," he explained. "If any of us had even so much as pricked our fingers on the blade we'd be dead before we hit the floor."

"Allegra left this?" the Queen asked sounding worried. "She was here?"

Marc shook his head. "No," he replied. "Not her."

"Then who?" Pop inquired.

"It was left by the Elven party," Marc revealed. "Specifically the one who wished to see your abilities," he said while turning to Amanda. "He only placed the dagger here after watching you perform."

"Why would he do that?" she asked.

Marc shook his head. "I'm not sure," he replied. "Though I do believe it was meant as a message."

"What sort of message?"

"Well it is Elven," Marc suggested.

"That's all history," the Queen said. "The Elven race is not what it once was."

"What do you mean?" Amanda asked. "I thought the Elves were a peaceful race."

"It's ancient history," Pop explained. "Before the last great Fey war," he revealed, "the Fey were ruled by the Elves, but they had no real interest in peace. Eventually the other races of the Fey aligned against them and the Elves were all but wiped out. As the strongest race in the alliance the vampires where chosen to lead. We've been at peace ever since."

"You think the Elves want that to change?"

Pop shook his head. "No," he replied. "I think Marc is right, it's a message. They certainly never tried to hide it and they've provided us a weapon that will kill a vampire like no other. I think they're telling us to stop Allegra before they do, and I believe they're suggesting they would like Amanda to do it."


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