Return to the Gala

by GentlemanJ


Chapter 11

Chapter 11

“A lovely evening, isn't it?” Prince Blueblood commented with a casual flip of his golden forelocks. The young lady at his side returned a small nod.

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

Bemused couldn’t even begin to describe how Rarity was feeling at the moment. Confused didn't fit the bill either. Utterly, mind-blowingingly befuddled and flabbergasted? Mmm... yeah. That was more like it.

Just minutes ago, she’d been seated on one of the side benches in the grand ballroom, resting her feet for a moment and waiting for Graves to return with drinks. That’s when the handsome Prince Blueblood, Canterlot’s most eligible bachelor, had abruptly appeared and said hello.

Looking back, Rarity realized that what she should have done was politely, but firmly snub him like any proper lady would; after all, their last ball together had shown just what an utterly incorrigible lout he was, an utter narcissist and self-centered boor. Except, when he’d glided up to her, flashing that dazzling smile of his and calling out in his honey-sweet voice, the most she could squeeze out was, 'what a pleasant surprise.'

That was how she now found herself strolling through the immaculately manicured gardens, arm in arm with the beautiful man who had given her nothing more than grief and heartache.

“You seem distracted,” he said, his mellow voice bringing the young lady out from her internal musings. “Is something wrong?”

“No, not wrong,” she answered, her own tone much less composed than she would have liked. Considering the veritable maelstrom of emotions roiling within her, it was a wonder she could speak at all. They had no connection, so why had he approached her and asked for her company? There was nothing between them, so why did she find herself so wound up, so confused with butterflies blowing gale force winds in her stomach? What was going on?

“Ah, I know what you’re thinking about,” he replied with a roguish wink. “You’re still preoccupied with that marshal back there. Grims, was it?”

“Graves,” she corrected, more by instinct than thought. “And yes, perhaps I was.”

Ah, poor Graves. He’d come back at the most inopportune time, a crystal glass of punch in each hand just as Blueblood had laced her arm into his and led her towards the door. She’d wanted to tell him it wouldn't be long, that it was just a brief chat and she’d be back momentarily. But tongue-tied as she was, all she could do was give him an imploring look, hoping the stoic soldier would understand.

From the way he'd watched her leave, silently watching with eyes like polished granite, she wasn't sure he had.

“Well, put it out of your mind,” the debonair prince said with another dazzlingly nonchalant smile. “Let’s not allow idle thoughts spoil this wonderful moment.”

And so they walked, winding a bit deeper into the garden's maze of hedges, her arm still in his, her heart beating faster with each step. Before long, they came to a small, moonlit pavilion, its weathered marble columns all wrapped with ivy and surrounded by a spectacular collection of rose bushes.

“Magnificent, aren't they?” Blueblood breathed as he approached to pluck one and inhale deeply of its scent. “I doubt there a place in the world where you could find roses such as these.”

“No, I suppose not,” Rarity murmured.

“Yet marvelous though they are,” he continued, “they are but a pale comparison to the beauty of an even rarer flower."

"Oh really? And what flower might that be?" the young lady asked in obviously cooler tones. Foul memories of their last encounter surfaced in her mind, and it was all she could do to refrain from smacking him across that much-too-pretty face of his.

Yet to Rarity’s greatest surprise yet, Blueblood merely smiled once more.

"Why, you of course." And with that, he pushed back her violet tresses and gracefully slipped the thornless bloom into her hair.

“But- Wha-?” Rarity stammered, her wits completely blown as her cheeks flushed a scarlet to match the blossom that now adorned her coiffure. Blueblood just laughed, a musical sound that rang out like the peal of brass trumpets.

“You seem surprised,” he said with one of those elegant smirks only the most upper of society's upper crust could do. “Surely a lady such as yourself must know how lovely you are.”

“It’s... it’s not that,” she choked out. “It’s just...” Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she began again in a much calmer voice, despite the fact her mind was still a mass of confusion and questions.

“At our last significant encounter," Rarity began, "I recall there being such roses involved, though with a much less... satisfactory outcome.” A momentary grimace marred her lips as she relived the unpleasant moment. “So I will admit, I find myself quite taken aback to be in the same circumstance, only with a very different result.”

A look of consternation passing over his statuesque face. In the pale light of the moon, he looked almost... noble.

“Ah yes. That is in large part why I wish to speak with you this evening, Miss Rarity. If you would join me?” With a graceful sweep of the arm, he motioned to the stone bench under the pavilion. Curious to his intent, Rarity took a seat, after which he joined her but a few inches away.

“When last we met,” the prince began, “I was young and brash, a foolhardy foal of a boy too preoccupied with myself to be concerned for others.”

“You can say that again,” Rarity muttered. Fortunately, the blonde noble didn't hear and continued.

“When I met you that evening, I believed you only to be a pretty face that could compliment my own, and as such I treated you as I would a... a hairpin, or a corsage. But instead of simply accepting it, like so many others before you, you... well, the only way I can describe it was you threw a fit.”

“Yes, about that,” the young lady coughed, a faint blush of embarrassment coloring her cheeks, “I have been meaning to–”

“It was mesmerizing.”

Rarity blinked.

“... Come again?”

“You, the way you raged, the way you stormed, it was... magnificent.” The golden haired noble reached down and took her hands in his, staring deep into her eyes with his cobalt blues as his voice rang sonorous with passion and eloquence. “Never before had someone stood up to me like that. It was a breath of fresh air, a moment of clarity in an otherwise dull and dreary word.”

“Prince Blueblood,” the young beauty stammered, her eyes shining sapphires of pure surprise. “What are you–”

“After you left, I looked for you. Truly, I did. When I met you at the christening of the airship E.A Meadowlark, I thought my chance had for us to be reunited. But alas, I was a caitiff, too much of a coward to speak with you and let you elude me once more. Well, no longer.”

Getting to one knee, Blueblood reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, black velvet box. Pulling it open, the young man revealed – in all its glittering glory – the largest diamond ring Rarity had ever seen. And considering the rings she’d seen, that was definitely saying something.

“Rarity," he breathed, "you are the sun that lights my brightest day, the moon that illuminates my deepest nights. Will you accept this ring and be my bride?”

This couldn’t be happening. There was no way this could be happening. Right now, as Rarity sat in the moonlit gardens of the Grand Galloping Gala, a handsome young prince was proposing to her and asking her to be his wife. It was everything she’d ever hoped for, everything she’d ever wanted. Everything she’d ever dreamed.

And she felt...

...

Nothing.

Slowly, she turned to look up at the sky. She looked down at the rose bushes. She looked at him. Nope. Nothing at all.

It was strange. Only moments ago, she’d been quivering with nerves and tension, wondering just what in the name of all things chic was going on. He’d been behaving so unpredictably that in all honesty, she’d half expected him to try and publicly humiliate her, maybe call the royal guards out and have her arrested, or something equally unpleasant. Never in her even her wildest dreams would she have expected him to propose.

But he had, and the violet-haired beauty found that the confession held all the impact of an inquiry on whether she preferred wheat toast or rye.

Maybe it was the same feeling as finding out how a magic trick works; the nature of the secret revealed never matters nearly so much as satisfying that niggling feeling of perplexity in the back of your head. Maybe it was the proposal gave her some kind of validation, provided some finality and closure to her feelings with Prince Blueblood. Maybe it was simply relief of not facing imprisonment or even worse, the death of her social life.

Whatever the reason was, once the prince had revealed his hand, played his cards and revealed his big secret, Rarity found that it was just didn't matter anymore. It was over.

“Well?” he repeated, his smile faltering for a moment at her long silence, “What do you say?” Mustering up the kindest smile she could, Rarity made her reply.

“I’m sorry, Prince Blueblood, but I'm afraid that I cannot accept your offer.”

“... What?!” the stunned noble cried out, his voice cracking in an oddly pubescent way. “But... but why not?”

“Frankly, my good man,” the young lady said with a prim nod as she stood up and dusted herself off, “you’re just not what I’m looking for.”

“Not... not what you’re looking for?” he sputtered. “I’m handsome! I’m rich! I’m... I’m a bucking prince! What more could you want?” For once, the young lady gave him a genuine smile, albeit one rising from sympathy that shined bright with pity.

“If you really have to ask," she sighed, "then I’m afraid it’s something you simply don’t have.” Looks were good, money was nice, and rank was certainly a plus, but they were simply not enough. A man needed to have something more, something that men like Prince Blueblood didn't have and probably never would.

Fortunately, the pretty young lady knew where she could find a man who did. So with a giggle on her lips and a skip in her step, Rarity made a quick retreat from the gazebo and left an incredibly surprise Prince Blueblood standing by himself for the second time, still confused and still the most eligible bachelor in Equestria.

*****

Despite the large number of attendees filling the hall, Graves had a good several feet of free space in all directions around him. Not that he particularly noticed; he was much too preoccupied with his own thoughts to pay it any mind.

He was in a decidedly foul mood. Upon returning with drinks, he’d found Rarity speaking with some dandy in a white suit. It had taken all of one glance, from the top of his coiffed blonde hair to the tips of his manicured fingertips, for the marshal to instantly dislike him. After all, when self-satisfaction and smugness roll off a person like miasma, how could he not?

Still, Graves had no quarrel with the man, and so he kept his peace. The problem began when the smarmy noble had taken Rarity’s arm in his and – sparing a triumphant smirk at the marshal – led her off to the gardens for ‘a little more privacy.’

That’s when his mood had really taken a turn for the worse. Of course, Rarity was free to choose the company she kept. But that boy? Really? And the way he held her arm, his hand resting over hers like a sea lizard squatting on a rock, Graves had half a mind to to follow them out and give him a sound thrashing. He hadn’t. Rarity had chosen to go with the man, and so Graves chose to respect that decision. After all, it wasn’t like he had a right to stop her.

He’d wanted to, though. He’d wanted to take her by the hand, pull her away, and tell that man, whoever he was, to take a hike. It was a completely irrational thought, but one that he couldn’t ignore or forget, which made his mood worse. And so he brooded, leaning with arms crossed against one of the large marble pillars, his face a thunderhead and eyes flashing like silver lighting at whoever was unfortunate enough to cross his gaze.

“Well that kind of behavior isn’t going to win you many friends.”

Looking up, Graves found Rarity standing before him once more, the beautiful young woman smiling in obvious amusement as she crossed her arms in a fair imitation of his stance.

“You’re back early,” he commented, a faint trace of sullenness in his tone.

“Aw, were you lonely without me?” she giggled, quipping with him in a decidedly light-hearted manner. Unlike Graves, the time with the uppity noble had left her in a very good mood, which in turn made his worse. He didn’t like the thought of that man making her so happy.

“I’m fine,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “What concern is it of mine if you and that pretty boy are strolling around arm in arm?”

“That ‘pretty boy,’ as you call him, just happens to be Prince Blueblood, a member of the royal family,” she replied smoothly. If anything, her smile grew wider as she picked up on the marshal’s uncharacteristic petulance. “And for your information, all we did was talk.”

“Oh?” the marshal intoned, arching an eyebrow. “What about?”

“He made a request that I was in no position to fulfill,” she replied vaguely with an airy wave of the hand. “That was all.”

“I see,” Graves nodded slowly. “And just what kind of request was this?”

“Hmm... I don’t feel like telling you,” she giggled once more in decidedly playful tones. “But... I might be willing to reconsider if you make it worth my while.”

“And how would I do that?” Graves asked hesitantly. A playful Rarity was a creative Rarity, and a creative Rarity could – and probably would – ask for anything and everything under the sun.

Instead of answering him, however, the violet-haired girl simply turned and looked out towards the middle of the ballroom. There, under the stage where the orchestra played, a large space had been cleared for a multitude of couples that spun across the floor in an intricate foxtrot.

“It really is a shame,” she said idly to no one in particular as she joined him in leaning against the stone column. “We’ve been here all evening and nobody has asked me for a turn on the floor.” The cogs turned slowly, but a light finally sparked behind the marshal's gunmetal grey eyes.

“... Are you saying you want to dance?” he blinked. Of the many things he’d considered, dancing had never crossed his mind, and for good reason. He hated dancing.

“Graves, don’t be silly,” Rarity laughed in her wonderful, crystal-clear tones. “A lady never says she wants to dance. She is merely gracious enough to accept the invitation of a gentleman who asks.” Here, she merely looked up at him, her sapphire eyes twinkling in amusement as gave him a coy, little smile.

The marshal stared for a moment, just a moment, before hesitantly reaching out a hand.

“May I... have this dance?” he asked with a crooked, self-conscious smile. Quite the awkward invitation, but Rarity beamed nonetheless.

“Why yes,” she replied as she gracefully placed her hand in his. “It would be my pleasure.”

As soon as her hand touched his, fireworks exploded.

No. Literally. Fireworks actually exploded as they crashed right through the windows and set the grand hall on fire.

**********