As soon as they entered the second level of Draoidh, the witch noticed Mozias patrolling the streets. She asked her accomplices to stay low. Aed Ruad started walking with a slight limp behind them as she curled her hand around the spy's arm. They crossed the Trading District, where they crossed a large fountain, the water in which had frozen. Sweet and salty scents hit their nostrils. Children were pulling their mothers to buy things for them, while hollers were shouting excitedly.
The witch stepped into a shady shop down the corner and bought small bottles of green oil.
"What is this for?" asked the spy when she gave it to him.
"Apply it all over your body," she said. "This will hide your scent."
Aed Ruad's magic burned and twirled in him, as excited as he was, for he promised himself that he would kill Iona. They walked past the guards and started walking uphill towards a winding alley that led to the private mansions. As they walked, he noticed how large and beautiful the mansions were. There was a layer of snow dusting off them. The trees were all lit with lights that were connected with copper wire wrapped in a material he didn't know about. They reached Aidan's house an hour later. The place was a buzz of activities. The witch asked them to stop at the main entrance where there were other servants also. All of them were getting a seal stamped on the back of their hand. She ambled to the front of the guards and asked them how long it would take for them to go inside. She pointed at Aed Ruad and said, "The old man needs to go to the loo on an urgent basis. Can you please let us enter before all?"
The guard peered at the two men with her. He saw that the younger man was supporting the other one on his shoulders. He nodded, muttering something under his breath. He stamped her hand and then allowed the three to go inside. Inside, it was chaos. Darla was shouting at the servants to start working fast. Aed Ruad and the witch immediately hid themselves in a different room.
She was expecting over fifty guests. The party which started small only for the friends, turned into a bigger affair when Liam and Fleur insisted on inviting their relatives and friends. Darla's pregnancy was so exciting that Fleur was over the top. She came to her daughter and asked her not to be so anxious. "I will look at all of them, don't worry," Fleur said with an affectionate smile.
"Thank you, Mother!" said Darla and hugged her. She gave her a tired look and then walked to a flight of stairs that led to the first floor.
The trio came out and busied themselves with the work, thankful that they escaped the guards.
Towards the evening, the two girls were abuzz with a lot of fervor.
"Why are you wearing this dress, Iona?" said Anastasia. "This is so old fashioned."
"I don't have anything else!" Iona lamented. She had emptied her wardrobe and there was nothing that Anastasia liked.
The fae princess reached for a large blue box that was wrapped in papers and ribbons that she had brought with her and then gave it to her. "Wear this and see how you look."
Iona jerked her head back in surprise. She took the gift box and opened the ribbons. When she unpacked it, she lifted the red dress that was neatly folded inside. Iona bit her lip as she giggled. She placed the dress back in the box and then hugged Anastasia. "Thank you," she said in a breathy voice.
"You are most welcome," Anastasia replied and patted her back. She hadn't seen Iona this happy in a long time. "Now wear it."
Iona nodded and Anastasia went to her room, leaving her with the maids. She had to get ready for Darla's party. But she decided to stop at Adrianna's chamber to see if she needed help.
"I think I am doing fine, Anastasia!" Adrianna said as she picked up an ochre yellow gown. "How is this looking?" she asked nervously.
"It is fabulous," Anastasia said with a smile. "It accentuates the golden color of your eyes." She was in love with the eyes of her mother-in-law and her husband and her sister-in-law. She hadn't seen a single Lorean with such beautiful eyes. And she wished that her child also had the same eye color.
"Then it is decided," Adrianna replied cockily. "I am wearing it." Anastasia chuckled. "What are you waiting for Anastasia?" Adrianna asked. "Now, go and get ready. There's a lot to do!"
"Yes Mother," Anastasia said. She gazed at her father-in-law who was struggling with his jacket that a servant was making him wear, and then walked out. As she walked, she stopped in the garden of the east wing and looked up at the skies. Stars were shining brilliantly across the black velvety sky. She had controlled the weather of the kingdom that day with her mood, and she was in a great mood. Reason—her husband was very happy. She let out a soft laughter and then almost bounced while she walked back to her room. Finally, things were turning out nice.
The banquet hall was being readied for the guests. Beautiful, embroidered linen was spread on the tables. Flower vases were filled with white and red roses. Small candelabras were placed in the center. Silverware was spread for the guests.
A stage was created for entertainment. There were dancers on the stage who were rehearsing their steps as the musicians were toning the strings of their instruments. The evening started maturing and the guests, in different colors and fashions, started pouring in. Since the royals were also coming, there were elaborate arrangements of security. Aed Ruad and the witch kept themselves to the kitchen mostly. The spy had already seen where Iona was going to be seated. He had conveyed it to his Master.
The guests looked at the names inscribed for them. The names floated in the air just above their chairs, and as soon as the guests sat on them, the names disappeared. Soon the hall was filled with chatter and laughter of the guests over drinks. Aed Ruad took a tray of drinks and walked amongst the guests to serve. He scanned the room for his target, but none of the royals had arrived. He pursed his lips as the guests picked up the glasses from his tray and ushered him to get more. He came back with refilled glasses, and they were all taken immediately. He must have made at least ten more rounds, but the royals hadn't arrived. He grew impatient. He grew tired of the fake limp with which he was walking. When he stopped in the kitchen to rest, the chef ordered him to go and give pastries to the guests. Aed Ruad gritted his teeth but he picked up the tray of pastries and went back to the banquet hall.
And this time, when he came in, he saw that all the people had stopped in their activities. He saw Ileus and Anastasia walking in, but—