In the looking glass . . .
My gown is magnificent. It is made with the beaded white silk crêpe that Ser Niccolo gave me. It is soft and clings seductively as I move.
My shoes are perfect. With tiny kitten-heels and covered in the same beaded silk crêpe and with toes so pointed that one could cut cake with them. And upon my thigh, held in place with a silk garter, is my stiletto. For a woman should always carry protection!
I am wearing long kid-gloves that button with pearls and I have a silk beaded reticule in which I carry a kerchief, smelling salts, some gelt to gamble with and my lip-stain. I carry a dance card on which every dance is signed by Ser De Fleury. I have no fan, for my hands are full enough and as always I wish to hold a glass of delicious champagne when I am thirsty.
My mask is very plain as it must be to blend with the splendour of my attire. It is a small white quilted mask across my eyes and trimmed in one corner with the crystals from my gown. It is tied behind my head with ribbons the colour of my hair so that it looks as if it sits magically, with no restraint. Perversely in the presence of magic this night, I must remain a creature with much restraint.
I am ready!
For the Masked Ball I have chosen a conceptual costume, inspired by a parure of opals that has been in my family for generations. It was extremely difficult to find appropriate fabric, but thanks to the kind offices of Niccolo de Fleury, I was able to obtain some very unusual material: silk so diaphanous as to be nearly transparent, with delicate, subtle coloration that moves and shifts according to the light. On the dance floor, whirling and swaying in the light of a thousand candles, my gown will shimmer and glow as a fading rainbow in the morning mist.
The bodice of my gown fits closely to my body, with a square decolletage that is just this side of danger (I am a Sponsor, after all! A degree of decorum must be maintained!) A narrow cobweb of lace, fashioned to stand upright forms a frame for my, er, attributes. I have chosen to have long, rather tight sleeves because I truly detest long gloves!
Flowing from the fitted bodice, the skirt comprises several layers of that translucent silk, each layer a different, whisper-pale shade: yellow, pink, green, apricot. I have consented to a modest train and must hope that it will not hamper my movements unduly on this night whose brilliance may well be shadowed by the danger that looms.
I will wear my hair down, in loose ringlets, ornamented by the opal studded hair pin from the parure. If all goes as planned, my neck will be adorned with a very special gold-framed opal pendant that I have been coveting.
Since I cannot entrely escape making gloves part of my ensemble, I will carry a short pair of kid gloves in the palest blush. My reticule, embroidered with lilies of the valley, will conceal my short dagger and… Well, enough about that. Some things must be private, after all.
The night approaches. For good or ill, events are in play. Yet, despite my dread of what might occur, a part of me quivers with excitement. For it is a ball. And Hugh will be present.
After due consideration, I discarded my initial attempt at a fashionable costume (so last century. I looked a complete Guy). Not only the mode, but that it was a costume at all was misguided. This time, with the help of my modiste, I think I have struck a balance between fashion and frivolity.
My notion of appearing as the Capitano holds, for I esteem him the most endearing of all the characters of Commedia delle’Arte, despite his secret cowardice — for who of us is completely free from that failing? I retain his mask and sword, but can easily put them by whilst dancing. I know few men who can dance a courant with an armed woman with any presence of mind.
My gown itself is a beauty, if I do say it. It is in the latest mode, but cut with a generosity of fabric very comforting to me, a lady of a certain age and all-too-certain size. The lack of a proper corset was at first alarming. Having started in my first at about the age of three, my person slumped alarmingly at first But the bodice worn underneath these new gowns has some little support, and is delightfully light. I suppose these energetic new dances require a suppleness of figure unknown to my generation.
The fabric is a yellow-gold figured velvet with a cut pile that reveals the peach-colored lining. The gown is without ornamentation, except for a fringe of embroidered organza pieces at the hem. An organza fill at the decolletage (I believe I lost my nerve a bit there) supports a small pearl covered lace ruff at the neck. I will wear my ruby diadem and earrings and carry a magnificent shawl of heavy ruby-colored silk with gold bullion embroidery and fringe, which should make up for the simplicity of the gown.
And so I am pleased at my preparations, at least in dress. If I can persuade Vittoria to abandon her idiotic unicorn notion, I shall feel ready to celebrate our social triumph!
The weight of the crystals means that the dress has a rhythm of its own as I begin to walk and so I must deport myself as if I were from the ballet . . . my head held high, my neck elongated and proud, my back straight but soft, my décolletage firm and polite.