Tina Gayle’s “Mating Rituals” – Rules of The Ball
“All right, ladies, please line up for the final event of the evening–The Ladies Parade,” a voice boomed from the speakers. “Give your partner a smile and a curtsy, and then ascend the stairs to the stage area.”
“Right,” Marohka reasoned, “like I need any man.”
Harold, the father presenter, liked to follow the old habit of bowing to one’s partner. The custom to him added romance and grandeur to the evening. She could’ve told him differently, but with him being an old stick from a bygone era and a hopeless romantic, he wouldn’t have listened.
“Now, gentlemen, here are the rules. Although, you might know them, I’ll restate them again so no problems will occur because you forgot what you’re supposed to do.” Harold paused a moment and scanned the crowd. “So listen carefully.”
Marohka and the other girls started up both sides of the twin staircases. Harold stood at the top of the landing, dressed in his usual green plaid suit. His cheeks colored with his excitement.
“Each one of these lovely ladies will be carrying a small placard with a number printed on it.” Harold showed them a sample card. “The number is not how many mates she desires.” The crowd broke into the expected laughter. Harold grinned.
She wished her sign displayed a zero. Even one man was more than she needed. All evening, she’d avoided them. If a man approached, she offered him a rude comment and walked away to prove her lack of interest in catching a mate.
“If you’re attracted to a certain lady and want to meet her in the mating arena, take note of her number. If you write down the wrong number, you’ll be matched with a different girl, which would result in an unwelcome surprise.” Harold released a small cough of humor.
“You can choose three women. In the end, however, you’ll only be mated with one.”
A good-natured roar of disappointment exploded from the men in the hall. Marohka rolled her eyes at the typical male response.
Harold sighed. “Sorry, boys, that’s the rule. The Council of Elders will determine which girl on your list will become your mate. Then it’s up to you to pass the next challenges. The first duel is at three sharp in the battling arena. Be sure to check the schedule. If you miss your fight time, you’ll be out of the running and will have to wait until next year.”
Turning to the girls standing beside him, Harold added. “Ladies, don’t worry. An escort will be sent to your room to make sure you arrive on time.”
As the oldest unmated girl, Marohka stood at the front of the line. Her future suspended on the edge of success. She’d led the other girls down the red carpet, along the edge of the dance floor, through the ballroom, and then back up the twin staircase on the other side of the room many times. She drew in a deep breath, preparing for her final steps to freedom.
Harold glanced at her and nodded. “At the top of the list from the Taunton family is our special princess, Marohka. A smart girl, she’ll offer any man a stimulating adventure, where life will never be boring. She works hard and . . .”
Stepping forward, she cut off Harold’s words by moving off the stage and out of the spotlight. She detested the Royal Presenter selling her to these men. With her job of finding qualtrilium and keeping her father’s company afloat, she had all the challenges she needed in life.
Lustralia’s law might require Royal girls to be present at the charade. But with this being her final year of mandatory attendance, victory stood in sight. All she had to do was navigate the man-infested waters between here and the staircase on the other side of the room. Freedom waited.
She reached the bottom of the staircase. Her path led her past a legion of men. From tall, dark, and handsome to fair-haired wonders, an array of eligible men lined her route. Dressed in fine, silk coats and tight fitted pants, they represented hundreds of Royal families across the great land. All showed excellent breeding and genteel manners. Any one of them would make a good mate to the girls behind her, but none tempted her to lose her freedom.
Staring straight ahead, she avoided eye contact with every man she passed. Moving along the edge of the dance floor, she wove her way back and forth across the assigned path. Her steps, jerky and clumsy, she hid her natural smooth gait. No man, in his right mind, craved an ungraceful wife. At least, she hoped not.
With the stairs a few steps ahead, she tasted victory and allowed herself a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.”
A masculine voice in front of her chuckled. “It’s not over yet, princess.”