By: Lillabeth B.

Duke Everlark's room was twice the size of Lady Hermione's, with high ceilings and an elegant silver chandelier with diamonds embedded into its arms. The walls were barely visible, for before them were shelves and shelves of books, books of every size, shape, and color. Dark oak ladders attached to golden rods that ran around the room, allowing access to the highest shelves. In the far right corner of the room, a cushioned leather chair sat beside a tall lamp. In another corner, a large bed with a carved mahogany headboard and shining tan covers. The gleaming oak floor was clearly visible.
            In the center of the room, with his back to the door, was Duke Francis Everlark. He wore shiny leather shoes under pristine navy blue pants, and a white pinstripe shirt peaked up from behind a slim red velvet vest and stretched along his arms. His light red hair with streaks of white was neatly parted to the right.
            Her skirts gathered in her hands, Lady Everlark walked elegantly into the room, her chin held high, a delicate smile gleaming in her face.
            "Still awake this late?" Duke Everlark said as he turned to face her, revealing crystal blue eyes, a small nose, a light red and white beard, and a warm smile.
            Hermione lowered her head and curtseyed low. "Yes, your Grace. Speeding through the air, the view is amazing. What a sense of bliss and serenity."
            The Duke's smile disappeared and he turned his back once more. "Hermione, I've told you many times before that there's no need to curtsey or use 'your Grace' in my presence. I am your father after all."
            The Duke's daughter rose, her body more relaxed, but her expression was one of indignation. "I was only practicing, Father. I would like my etiquette to be impeccable when I stand before the king."
            "That is not why you curtseyed," he contradicted her, "but I won't waste my time on adolescent quarrels. I called you here on account of a different matter." Expressions of astonishment, anger, great annoyance, and defiance passed over Hermione's face in an infinitely surprisingly short period. Duke Everlark was not, unfortunately for him, looking, and so when he glanced over his shoulder he saw only an expression of intent curiosity plastered on his daughter's face.
             “This is not the first time Ive flown on this airship,” Duke Everlark explained, his back still to Hermione. “I did so many years before, and it was on that flight that you were born.”
“So my mother was on the ship!” Lady Everlarks brow furrowed intensely the gears of her mind beginning to turn.
Indeed,” her father responded, “Ill admit that there are some signs of her presence on board; but I must insist that you not look for them.”
Needless to say, Hermione was more than a little startled.
She rushed toward Duke Everlark. “How do you mean?”
Despite the fact that Lady Everlarks mouth was mere inches from his neck, he did not flinch. “Ive instructed the captain to make sure you dont go beyond the residential area of the Crowned Tawny, and do not stray into the engine room, the airmens or servants quarters, and especially not the Observation Deck.”
            “Not the Observation Deck!” Hermione took another step. “Father, you cant!” She was yelling now, obviously intensely angered. This show of ferocity did cause the Duke to move, turning to face her and backing away, a stubborn glint in his cold blue eyes, once warm and gentle.
“Hermione Harriet Francis Everlark, you will not raise your voice to me and you will respect my personal space!” With that the Lady hiked up her skirts and rushed forward. Duke Everlark made a gesture to his guards, who wore black pants and bright red coats emblazoned with a golden coat of arms.
“Indeed I will! You cant take away my liberty, Father. This has gone on long enough!” Hermione hurried toward her father with raised fist, and was preparing to strike him when his guards reached out, took both of her arms and pulled her back toward the mahogany double doors.
            Most would expect a lady to scream or faint, but Hermione only grunted and attempted to kick the guards, but to no avail, as her short legs could not reach far enough to make contact. But her voice would not be silenced “Father! Stop this madness! I just want to live my…" but she was cut off as the guards opened the doors with their free hands and thrust her out into the hallway.
            Lady Everlark fell on her knees and turned to just in time to see the doors close with a bang. "Whoa there, Hermy," a voice with a cockney accent, and Hermione saw Madeline Hinny, the cook's daughter and Hermy's new friend, running down the hall toward her, a silver tray of lemon cakes teetering dangerously in her hand.
            "Maddie! Just who, I need! Here," the Lady wheezed, short of breath, and her long, delicate fingers reached around to the back of her dress, where she began to undo the bow that held a white rope in place. The rope wound through the fabric of the dress, making it tight, but as she pulled on the bow, the rope loosened just enough to reveal another winding on another piece of fabric wrapped around her stomach. The fabric was obviously suppressing her breathing. "Undo my corset."
            Maddie looked shocked as she set the tray on the ground with a clatter. "Hermy... It's not ladylike."
"Do it!" Hermy commanded on her last breath, and the servant girl hurriedly knelt down and untied the bow, then laced her short, stubby fingers through the rope and pulled the two parts of the fabric away from each other. Lady Everlark reached back and pulled the rope clean out, and then removed the entire corset. She began taking deep breaths.
            "I really don't understand the use of those horrid things," Hermy said as she recovered. "Certainly not the thing for your everyday girl on the town."
"Well, you're no everyday maiden, if I may say so, Hermy," Maddie replied, as confused as her friend was relieved. "You could hear the racket all the way in the kitchens! Did your father just throw you out of his room? What in the name of the sun and the moon is happening?"
            "Well," Hermy began, "It started a long time ago. When I was very young I would be allowed to play in our backyard, which is about an acre in size; but that all changed on my seventh birthday, when my father forbid me to ever leave the house. I now only leave the house when Father goes on a trip and takes me with him, and even then, it's straight into the carriage, straight onto the boat or the train, and not a step outside until we arrive. And now, we're on an airship, the trip I've been waiting for my entire life, and what does he do? He forbids me to leave the residential area! He forbids me to go on the Observation Deck!" With each phrase she threw her hands in the air in frustration. "He stuffs me in a cage for the billionth time. This is not the first time I've lashed out at him before. Sometimes this life just gets unbearable."
            Maddie sat down on the floor next to Hermy. " had no friends?"
"Oh, I had friends, good friends, but I didn't see them often. I'm very good friends with the Cardinal of Southbay's eldest daughter, Rosianne, and the Prince of Netla's sister, Michelangela, and even King Rona's youngest, Helga, but I only see them about once every two years."
            "Well, I don't mean to be rude, but there is another reason I came here," Maddie said gingerly. "I thought you said, when you were yelling, that your father told the captain not to let you on the Observation Deck?" "            Yes," Hermy said, cocking her head in confusion, "Why?"
"Well," the young servent girl said carefully, "the captain said he wanted to talk to you. He said he wanted you to come meet him." She trailed off.
"Meet him where?" Hermy pushed on.
"Well," Maddie began, "He said for you to meet him on the Observation Deck."
            At this, Hermy cracked a most unladylike grin. "He's on my side! He wants me to be able to go outside, and he's willing to disobey Father to do it! Oh, this is brilliant!" And her smile was so contagious that Maddie couldn't have resisted even if she'd wanted to.
            "Here, I'll show you how to get there," she said, grabbing Hermy's hand and pulling her up.
            And off they walked together, two unlikely friends smiling together, leaving behind two objects that marked the life they had and the life they would soon leave behind; a corset and a tray of lemon cakes.

To find out what happens next for Hermy and Maddie, read chapter 3.

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