Ah, that's better, I'm thinking much more clearly now, thought Anne. Also I am definitely super drunk.
Anne couldn't remember anymore how many glasses of champagne she'd had. Enough, she thought. Well, maybe not enough. No, definitely enough. Don't get another glass. But what if it wears off and I end up sober again? I don't want to be sober.
The next time a waiter passed by, she got another glass.
She was only half paying attention to the party happening around her. Noble after noble approached her to introduce themselves, and Eva coached her on politely turning away the ones who asked her to dance. Anne really hoped she wouldn't be asked to remember any of these names later.
It felt like everyone was staring at her.
The noises of the crowd and the band were overwhelming, and the multiple chandeliers made everything too bright and hot. The dress was uncomfortable and her head itched from all the pins stuck in her hair. But Anne noted all these discomforts from a sort of pleasant distance. She took another sip of champagne.
"I see the Grand Duke," Eva whispered to her. "We should go and introduce ourselves."
Anne nodded, and began to follow Eva across the room. As they approached, the Duke began to come into focus. First, Anne could see his crisp dress uniform, with its epaulets and various medals. Then his carefully styled hair and his stiff bearing. Finally, when they were close enough, she could make out his glowering eyes, staring down the poor man trying to talk to him.
Anne was filled with a sudden sense of dread and familiarity, like she could almost remember something, perhaps from childhood, or perhaps from a dream. She didn't know what it was, but she didn't want those eyes to look at her.
In the back of her mind, a voice said Are you just going to play your role, then?
Then Anne caught a glimpse of purple hair and a purple gown slipping through a doorway.
The Grand Duke was standing at the side of the dance floor, vaguely listening as some Count or another was telling him something about his estate's orchard yields for the year.
Eva approached him carefully, waiting for a lull in the conversation to step up with a deep curtsy.
"Grand Duke Marshal, I am Sister Eva, Cleric of the Church of Coris. I'm pleased to present to you the Saintess, Anne Coris, chosen of the Goddess."
The Grand Duke looked down at Eva, and then looked up, and then looked left and right. "And where exactly is this Saintess of yours?"
Eva stood up straight and spun around. Anne was gone.
Lady Corvina sighed and leaned against the balcony. The darkness of the night and the cool breeze made a welcome break from the bright, overcrowded ballroom.
People tended to avoid these balconies during big events. Or rather, they couldn't figure out how to get to the balconies, since the doors were designed to look like windows and that confused people. That suited Corvina just fine. It gave her a chance to find moments to herself, no matter how crowded the palace was.
Corvina seemed to have been more-or-less right about the Saintess. She was dressed very impressively, and she was pretty enough, like a doll, but she was clearly overwhelmed by the event. Just a simple country girl unused to the pressures of the noble social life. As expected.
It might have been nice to be surprised for once.
Corvina turned around to see Saintess Anne, cheeks flushed from drink, stumble onto the balcony.
Corvina's eyes widened in surprise.
Anne leaned against the railing next to Corvina, and Corvina put a hand on her shoulder to steady her. "Saintess, you don't seem well, perhaps you should—"
Anne waved her away. "No, listen, I have to tell you something. A lot of things."
Corvina stepped back, ready to listen.
"You're my favorite," said Anne. "And you're so beautiful. But you were my favorite even before I even knew you were this beautiful. You're so smart and cool. And you deserve better. You deserve so much better than what you get."
Anne was talking animatedly, waving her hands wildly to emphasize her points. "But I don't know what to do! Ever since I got here, I've just been trying to fill the role of Saintess because I thought that was the safest thing to do. Because if I started changing things, I couldn't predict what might happen. But if I don't change anything, then I can predict what will happen and what will happen is terrible! But I don't know how to change anything. I'm not that smart. And I'm no good at social or political stuff. I can't even dance right. I don't know how to save you! I'm so useless."
Anne was beginning to tear up as she spoke. "But then I thought, if only it was you changing things instead. You're the best schemer ever. You would definitely know how to save yourself, if you knew what you needed to save yourself from. You're smarter than all those assholes." Anne waved her arms vaguely towards the ballroom. "If you wanted to, you could do anything. You're so smart. Sorry, my hair is driving me nuts—"
Anne started pulling pins out of her hair, shaking her head to dislodge it further from the styling. Her chestnut hair tumbled down her back as it came loose.
"I don't even know why I have all this hair," said Anne, running her hands through it. "I hate it. Agis keeps making fun of me for it. I have to brush it every day and it takes forever. And it's so heavy and annoying. But I thought I had to keep it because the Saintess has long hair and now I'm the Saintess and I just have to put up with the things that come along with that role, but that's such bullshit. Corvina, hey Corvina—"
Anne leaned forward suddenly and grabbed Corvina's arm. "Do you still carry that knife, that really sharp knife, in your boot?" she asked.
Corvina's hand went to her knife, that was indeed in one of her boots, but Anne beat her to it.
It was a long knife with an intricate handle and a very sharp blade. Corvina always made sure it was very sharp. It was important to maintain your tools in case you ever needed them. But now she was regretting being so prepared.
Corvina took a step back as Anne waved the knife around.
"Fuck The Foundling's Wings," said Anne. "Fuck the empire. Fuck the church. Fuck everyone who's ever mistreated or used either of us. And fuck fitting into roles."
Anne gathered all her hair in one hand at the nape of her neck, and with the other hand wielding the knife, she cut it all off.
As the bits of hair fell down around her, Anne grinned. The way she was standing, with her back to the ballroom, made the lights of the distant party shine around her head like a halo. "It doesn't matter if I'm a saintess and you're a villainess," Anne said. "We should both just do whatever we want."
After a moment of stunned silence, Corvina carefully reached out to take the knife from Anne's hand.
"Whoops, that's yours, isn't it?" said Anne, swaying slightly. "Sorry."
Before Corvina could respond, a woman in cleric's robes burst onto the balcony. "Anne!" she shouted, rushing over to her. "What in the goddess' name are you doing? Your ears are showing! Here." The woman pulled Anne's shawl from around her shoulders so it covered her head instead. "Come on, let's get you out of here."
As Anne was pulled away, she called out behind her. "Bye, Corvina! It was good to see you! I love you!"
In the quiet that followed, Corvina realized that she could feel herself blushing.