In the opulent ballroom of Buckingham Palace, the Queen reclined upon her ornate throne with an air of timeless elegance. Her regal presence, an embodiment of grace and authority, cast a commanding aura across the room. This was not her first time presiding over such gatherings, it would hardly be her last, and her poise exuded the calm confidence of one well-accustomed to the grandeur of high society.
As she awaited the debutantes, her thoughts danced through the annals of history. She had witnessed countless seasons, each unveiling a new tapestry of ambition, desire, and societal intricacies. This season, like those before it, held its own promises and secrets. But one thing remained the same - her art of picking a diamond. Usually, these diamonds had favorable matchings - proving the queen’s keen eye in such matters. Sometimes…. Only sometimes they disappointed her. But that was a rare occurrence.
The Queen’s gaze, though serene, concealed a keen and discerning spirit. Behind those ageless eyes lay the wisdom of a monarch who had navigated the intricate waters of the ton for decades. And now, as the young women readied themselves to approach her throne, she prepared to meet them with the same grace and composure that had defined her reign with her King.
It wasn’t long from the moment the queen took her throne - surrounded by members of the ton eagerly awaiting the start of the presentation - from when the first name was announced to meet her presence. After all, it was never wise to keep the queen waiting. For a second, her eyes graced the announcer, and then her ears were met with the girls who would be judged by her first.
“Miss Maisie Rutherford, and Miss Priti Mehta. Both presented by the right honorable Countess Addington.”
The Queen wasn’t dense - she had done her due diligence in learning about all the girls who were to be presented to her this season. And while usually, two girls being walked down by someone who was not their mother might raise eyebrows, it did not for the Queen. She, of course, knew all - and she knew that neither had a female family member to present them. Sorrows and prayers for their mother - hence relying on a family friend. Was it proper? Perhaps not - but was it understandable, yes. Especially with the respect the queen held for Countess Addington.
The queen’s eyes first fell upon a young lady, Maisie Rutherford, who was the daughter of an Earl. She watched as Maisie approached her throne with a sweet smile, one so infectious that it may have threatened to coax a grin from the Queen herself, if, of course, she wasn’t trained not to make any slight movement. After all, the ton was watching - as they should. But they weren’t privy to the Queen’s thoughts and opinions until she allowed them to be.
Maisie’s curtsy was executed with practiced precision, a testament to her upbringing. Something that even the layman’s eyes would have noticed. The Queen, ever keen on details, couldn’t help but notice the cream-colored dress Maisie wore. It was a dress that whispered of memories, of days long past. Her Majesty’s brow quirked slightly, but she made no comment, understanding the sentimental value such attire held. Especially if the dress had been her mother’s - a nod to a lost woman. But also an indication that perhaps this girl wasn’t ready to be on her own yet.
As Maisie began to speak, there was a momentary lapse, a fumble, an apology. The Queen’s observant eyes caught the subtle reddening of cheeks, the quiver in her hands, a sign of genuine nerves. She appreciated the display of vulnerability. It was a reminder that, despite the grandeur of the court, these were but young souls seeking approval and acceptance. But was she going to be her diamond? No. There was no doubt in her mind that this girl, while very trained, was not even close to receiving that honor.
“Breathe, my dear,” the Queen observed, her words soft yet commanding, commanding the rapt attention of all present. “Your mother, I am quite certain, would have assured you of your readiness for the season. Though youth may grace your countenance, there lies a great expanse of learning ahead. And I dare say, she would have been correct in her counsel.”
There was a sparkle in the girl’s eyes as she responded, a small voice indicative of the child she was.
“I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to find a husband who looks at me the way his Majesty looks at you.” And with the smallest of smiles - one that likely only Maisie could note - the queen turned her attention elsewhere.
Turning her attention to Priti Mehta, a name that hinted at a different culture, the Queen observed the confidence in her approach. Priti carried herself with poise and eloquence. Much like her name, Priti’s attire wove a unique blend of cultures, a tapestry that intrigued the Queen. She herself had always been an advocate of embracing differences, having paved the way for her people during what had been long forgotten as “The Great Experiment.”
Priti’s attire, a dark blue and gold dress, stood out amidst the more traditional gowns of the ton. The Queen admired this deviation, a celebration of diversity and a connection to Priti’s heritage. With her keen sense of curiosity and appreciation for various cultures, the Queen welcomed the fresh perspectives that Priti brought to her court.
As Maisie had done before her, Priti executed a flawless curtsy, though her voice held a distinctive quality as she addressed the Queen as “Your Majesty.” This deviation promised a refreshing change for the upcoming season, a subtle but welcomed shift. However, the Queen’s gaze lingered on Priti’s exposed scar, peeking out from the top of her glove on her right arm. It was a silent testament to an untold story, sparking the Queen’s curiosity. Despite this, Her Majesty refrained from prying, instead offering a warm smile to acknowledge the unspoken strength behind that scar.
“Such as your companion, I look forward to witnessing your presence in the ton this season, Miss Mehta,” the Queen remarked, her words carrying a subtle but unmistakable note of approval.
Then came the gift, a purple and gold dress - or, as she soon learned, a “saree” - from India. This thoughtful gesture did not escape the Queen’s notice. She expressed her gratitude with a nod, recognizing the profound bridge that such a gift represented between two distinct worlds.
Honestly, this was a good start. both presentations were a blend of tradition and individuality, each with its unique charm. As they departed, the Queen couldn’t help but appreciate the diversity of her court and the stories that each newcomer brought with them. While neither debutante had captured her heart entirely, they had made their mark, and the Queen would remember them as the evening’s festivities continued.
“Miss Belle Rose Fleur, presented by her aunt, the right honorable Duchess Raunch.”
There was a faint hint of distaste that passed over the Queen’s features at the knowledge of Belle’s mother’s absence. The delay by the French royal family had left an unsavory taste in her mouth, and the notion of choice weighed heavily. Nevertheless, as Belle entered her view, the Queen’s countenance remained composed, her expression as regal as ever. Belle’s beauty and grace were undeniable, a testament to her impeccable breeding.
The Queen appreciated the warm and respectful curtsy that accompanied Belle’s introduction, a reflection of her family’s aristocratic upbringing. But, as Belle bowed, a small mishap occurred – her bracelet catching on her dress as she uttered the words, “Your imperial grace.” It was a minor stumble, promptly acknowledged and brushed aside as Belle moved past it with admirable grace and candor.
“Even in the most seemingly perfect situations, it seems that nervousness can create imperfections that are out of control,” Belle offered, her words laced with humor and a touch of self-deprecation. The Queen couldn’t help but appreciate the candor and recovery, although she noted a slight downturn of her lips at the use of “Your imperial Grace,” a title not typically used for her over the years.
The Queen’s eyes then shifted to Belle’s attire, a handmade dress that bore evidence of care and attention to detail. It was a dress that whispered of individuality and a spirit unconfined by societal norms, qualities that both intrigued and raised questions. The Queen respected the audacity but harbored reservations about a Duke’s daughter designing her own attire.
Looking at Belle, the Queen inquired, “I do hope young Josephine is doing well? She was a testament to the charm of your family. Your debut has been much awaited, and I hope the future holds similar promise for you.”
The time came for Belle to present her gifts. Her Majesty accepted them graciously, acknowledging Belle’s offerings, which included a collection of poems and prose celebrating her reign’s elegance and grace, as well as a French amethyst and pearl necklace, each amethyst bearing her name - Queen Regina. The Queen’s eyes shimmered with appreciation as she spoke. “Your thoughtfulness and talent are most commendable, dear Belle. I shall treasure these gifts as a testament to your admiration.”
With a nod, she signaled for her staff to take hold of the offerings. Belle’s presentation, though not without its quirks, had left an impression. The Queen couldn’t deny the allure of a young debutante who dared to be different in a world that often demanded conformity. However, the question remained whether Belle could successfully navigate the fine line between daring and abhorrent.
"Miss Lilly Grace Axbridge, presented by….” The Queen listened, her attention waning as the procession continued. She subtly signaled her maid, indicating the need for a refreshing sip of water before her gaze returned to the front of the room.
Lilley entered the room, clad in an elegant dress that melded tradition with personal preference. Her poised curtsy and respectful address, a simple “Your Majesty,” garnered the Queen’s approval. Clearly, Lilley had been meticulously trained in the intricacies of such formal occasions, and her demeanor reflected her upbringing.
The young debutante was flanked by her mother and aunt, a display of familial support and unity that did not go unnoticed by the discerning eyes of the Queen.
Lilley’s attire was intriguing. Her dress, crafted from fabric steeped in history, featured delicate gold and silver roses and scholars intricately embroidered upon it. Hints of pink adorned the sleeves, while lace-trimmed hems added a touch of delicacy. The ensemble, while elegant, conveyed a sense of modesty and simplicity that seemed at odds with the grandeur of the occasion, raising an eyebrow in the Queen’s discerning gaze. Was it a prod from the girl that this was not the most important occasion of her life? Hm.
One detail, however, did catch the Queen’s interest—the vibrant color of Lilley’s hair. Its striking hue, in stark contrast to her mother’s, seemed to draw inspiration from her aunt’s rich locks. It was a striking and memorable feature.
Yet, despite Lilley’s grace and poise, she did not quite reach the status of the Queen’s diamond. Her presentation was flawless, yet it lacked the captivating allure required to leave a lasting impression. With a nod, Her Majesty gracefully acknowledged her and prepared to greet the next debutante.
“Miss Abigail Flora Brantley, presented by her aunt, the right honorable dowager Baroness Fitzroy.”
The Queen’s attention was piqued as another young lady, not known for her status, made her way to the throne. The Brantley family’s rapid rise from the working class to newfound wealth had stirred the Queen’s curiosity. It was, in a way, an experiment in social adaptation - a test of how seamlessly they could transition into their newfound station.
There was a discernible nervousness in the girl’s demeanor, something the Queen, with her seasoned gaze, could easily detect. As Abigail approached, a mix of nerves and something else, perhaps admiration or even fear, flickered beneath her smile.
With a practiced curtsy and the words “your majesty” on her lips, the Queen observed every move.
Abigail continued to speak, “I feel lucky to be presented to you today. It’s not often one has the chance to meet strong willed women in powerful positions, and there’s even less of a chance to meet one in such a powerful position as your own. I’m sure you’ve inspired many before me, and would continue to do so, I just wanted to express my gratitude. Thank you Ma’am.”
While it wasn’t entirely proper to speak without being addressed first, the sincerity in Abigail’s words resonated with the Queen, prompting a subtle nod of acknowledgment.
The Queen’s gaze then shifted to Abigail’s attire. Her pink amaranth dress, adorned with a distinctive cross-stitched pattern, was elegant yet modest—a fitting choice in the Queen’s eyes. The double pearl choker and white feather headpiece added a touch of refinement to her ensemble.
However, Lady Whistledown’s rumors about Abigail’s family lingered in the Queen’s mind—stories of cheating to gain wealth and power, whispers of embezzlement, and a clandestine affair. Despite this, the girl before her appeared sweet and innocent, embodying the qualities of a proper lady.
“I’m intrigued to observe how a young lady of your grace will navigate the season’s opportunities," the Queen stated with regal poise, her words carrying a subtle hint of approval tinged with a touch of reservation, “and possibly establish a foundation for your family’s presence at court in the years to come.”
Ultimately, Abigail’s presentation left an impression, but the Queen remained mindful of the shadows cast by the rumors.
“Miss Lydia Ophelia Ellis, presented by her sister, Miss. Aurelia Juliet Ellis, and their mother, the right honorable Dutchess Ellis.”
Now, this was a girl that the Queen was quite interested to see - and perhaps even the ton noticed, with her stature changing so that she could watch more closely. What could she say? She despised being wrong with her diamonds, and last year’s diamond was about to walk through those doors with her little sister. Of course, the Queen understood that misfortune could not be planned - and her diamond had sustained injuries that resulted in her early release from the season. But perhaps, if this child was as elegant as her sister had been the previous year, The Queen would have her diamond - one that she had yet to find as of yet.
Watching the doors closely, the Queen met her eyes on the previous diamond - a subtle smile on her lips and an elegance that rivaled her first presentation. She looked no longer hurt and recovering as the Queen had heard; rather, in front of her was a composed young lady who had grown yet another year.
Her sister, on the other hand, was another issue, however.
As Lydia made her way towards the Queen, her presentation was far from ideal. Unlike others who meticulously planned their introductions, their bows, their words, Lydia seemed to approach the Queen with an air of nonchalance, displaying an almost defiant attitude. The queen could sense it - see it in her eyes - and it brought a distaste to the queen’s lips - especially seeing as their mother was a close friend of hers. The Queen had expected better from her daughter.
Dressed in a striking emerald green gown that set her apart from the rest, at the very least, she looked the part of a diamond, despite not acting like it. With a subtle frown, the Queen leaned back on her throne - her previous interest diminished as she continued to watch the girl. Soon meeting the front, Lydia curtsied with a regal “Your Majesty,” with confidence… or perhaps a tinge of indifference. Walking by her side were her mother and Aurelia, the latter likely beaming with pride, while the former might have been concerned about Lydia’s unconventional approach. The Queen couldn’t help but feel a tinge of annoyance at Lydia’s lack of regard for the significance of the moment.
So, instead of directly talking to her, the Queen allowed her eyes to settle on someone that was far more interesting at the moment. Her sister - her former Diamond… and technically, she still partially was a diamond as her hand was not yet taken.
“Miss. Aurelia Ellis, your grace and poise continue to shine, despite the challenges of last season. It appears your injury has healed, and you shall serve as my former diamond in the quest for a favorable match this season,” the Queen acknowledged, her tone regal and appreciative.
Aurelia responded with a subtle yet graceful smile. “Of course, your majesty. I hope to bring honor to both you and my family this year.”
The Queen’s gaze then shifted to Lydia, her demeanor cool and composed as she delivered a subtle remark, “I do hope your sister’s impending marriage might inspire you towards a more… conventional path,” her words carrying a hint of disapproval. With a nod, she signaled for the two sisters and their mother to move along, making it clear she expected a higher level of decorum from Lydia in the future.
As Lydia’s unconventional presentation concluded, the Queen couldn’t deny the lingering annoyance. It was clear that Lydia had a rebellious streak, and her indifference toward societal norms might prove to be a challenge in the season ahead.
The grandeur of the presentation hall hung heavy in the air, anticipation mingling with the soft strains of classical music. Perhaps people understood that they were down to their last few debutantes, and the Queen had yet to choose her diamond. Though it was not unheard of for the Queen to delay her decision until the first ball, people were likely wondering when the announcement would come.
“Miss Adeline Grace Delaney, presented by her mother the right honorable Marchioness Delaney.”
As the next name was announced, the Queen waited in quiet anticipation and found Miss Delaney—a vision of grace and charm. Adeline made her way down the aisle, her every step imbued with a quiet confidence that commanded attention. Her emerald-green gown flowed with her movements, intricate lace and embroidery enhancing its already mesmerizing beauty.
Walking alongside her was her mother, Amelia Delaney, a prominent figure of her own debut season years ago, who had also been a debut diamond in her time. The weight of expectations likely rested heavily on Adeline’s shoulders as she followed in her mother’s prestigious footsteps, and it showed in her eyes. There was an unmistakable sense of determination that the Queen could see in the girl, and truly, the Queen liked it. Perhaps it was how lackluster the previous presentation had been, but Adeline was exuding an aura of “utter perfection” to her.
As she approached the Queen, the Queen observed for any missteps. However, with a graceful curtsy, her movements were elegant and respectful. The Queen heard her confidently address her as “Your Royal Highness,” and with a gentle smile, her voice was clear and respectful. Adeline’s eyes held a mixture of admiration and gratitude, meeting the Queen’s gaze with genuine appreciation for the honor of standing in the royal presence.
Adeline’s demeanor remained poised and confident as she rose from her curtsy, and there was an air of composure around her, perhaps a testament to her upbringing and her ability to handle the pressures of the Ton. A feeling welled up within the Queen, as it did every year, and she just knew, as she always did, that this was her diamond.
No words escaped her lips; instead, for the first time, the Queen rose from her throne, walking toward the girl as her staff attended to her gown. Approaching Adeline, the Queen locked eyes with her, a knowing smile playing on her lips as her hand gently lifted Adeline’s chin. “Flawless, my dear,” the Queen murmured in a tone audible only to the two of them. And with those words, the Queen brought her lips to her diamond’s forehead, placing a delicate, reverent kiss upon it—a gesture that spoke volumes to the Ton: the Queen had found her gem in Adeline.
While the Queen had found her diamond, that did not mean that there weren’t still girls to be seen. And, as for all ladies, the queen’s words mattered. Her simply brushing them off and waving them away meant that they were of no interest to her. Her talking to them meant that they meant something - at the very least, intrigue. And what she said in those words - those were gems themself - usually indicating who would have the best matches were met with who had the best words from the queen.
As the hall brimmed with the elegant rustle of silks and the soft murmur of hushed conversations over the diamond choosing, another name was read out - quieting the ton.
"Miss Bridget Willoughby, presented by her mother, the right honorable Vicountess Willoughby.”
The name caught the Queen’s attention, for it was a name she had heard much about - particularly for the one thing she lacked. A disability that, in the eyes of both the Queen and the Ton, did not make her the ideal debutante of the season. Nevertheless, the Queen remained open-minded, reserving judgment until she had seen the girl for herself.
Miss Willoughby stepped forth to present herself to the Queen, moving with a unique grace that suggested her body had memorized the path through countless rehearsals. Likely, it had. In a sea of radiant debutantes, Bridget’s attire and demeanor set her apart.
Her gown was not the typical opulent creation favored by most. Instead, she wore flowing, loose attire, a stark contrast to the tightly cinched corsets and voluminous skirts adorning her peers. Her choice of clothing seemed to echo the Queen’s own experiences in Greece, although this was far from Greece.
However, Bridget possessed a unique feature that was hidden from casual observers. Her seemingly ordinary eyes held secrets beneath their surface. While there was no glossiness or scarring in her irises, they retained a quiet, unspoken depth, indicating that the young lady could not see. It was a testament to her resilience, her ability to navigate a world she couldn’t see, or perhaps a challenge she would never truly overcome.
As Bridget approached, the Queen noted the soft quiver in her hand, a sign of hidden nervousness. Perhaps it was this nervousness that led to an omission, a subtle breach of etiquette as she bowed her head without addressing the Queen as “Your Majesty.”
The mystery in Bridget’s eyes stirred the Queen’s curiosity, a hint of intrigue and perhaps a touch of unease. She took a moment to observe, looking into those eyes with a depth of scrutiny that few would notice. A flicker of something passed through the Queen’s expression, a mix of intrigue and empathy.
In the end, the Queen offered a gentle, understanding smile and nod to the girl’s mother, before ushering Bridget along. It was clear that the young debutante stood apart. A brief moment of curiosity, a whisper of intrigue, and Bridget Willoughby continued on her path, leaving a subtle impression on the Queen’s mind. The Queen knew that this season would be filled with surprises, and Bridget might just be one of them.
"Miss Donatella Bianchi, presented by her mother, the right honorable Baroness Bianchi.”
The grand hall was still filled with an air of anticipation as Donatella Bianchi, adorned in a splendid green gown, walked gracefully towards the Queen. Her attire, a testament to her impeccable taste, was a vision of silk and elegance, long sleeves cascading gently down her arms. In her ensemble, she carried herself with poise and dignity, reflecting the upbringing she had received.
As she approached the Queen, Donatella performed a perfect curtsey, her eyes respectfully lowered. “Your Royal Highness,” she greeted, her voice soft and reverent, clearly displaying her respect for the Queen.
She was beautiful, possibly fit for a diamond. Her features, her hair adorned with flowers. Flawless in her own right. However, the Queen didn’t feel the same connection as she had with her chosen diamond. Yes, so far, this girl was flawless in her execution.
The Queen watched as the young lady presented a gift – a one-of-a-kind perfume from Florence, Italy. Described by the mother as a luxurious fragrance with delicate notes of gardenia and rose, a sensory experience that bespoke elegance and refinement.
However, fate took a different turn as the Queen graciously accepted the gift. Unbeknownst to Donatella, the perfume had taken an unfortunate turn during its journey. As the Queen took a whiff, her senses revolted, and her expression shifted from one of anticipation to discomfort.
She fought to maintain her composure but couldn’t hide the trace of disgust that crossed her features.
The Queen didn’t allow the girl to speak - to apologize, to even make note of the disgust on the Queen’s face for the mere second it was there. Rather, with a delicate wave of her hand, she ushered Donatella along, trying to maintain her dignity even as her queasy stomach rebelled against the noxious scent. As she turned her attention to the next debutante, her thoughts were dominated by a singular, overwhelming desire – to escape the overpowering aroma and find solace from the nausea that gripped her.
"Miss Phoebe Florence Willoughby, presented by her mother, the right honorable Baroness Willoughby.”
As Phoebe entered the grand hall, adorned in an elegant, red evening gown with exquisite embroidered floral motifs adorning the hems and bodice, she exuded grace and poise. The maroon red ribbon that adorned her hair was gorgeous, a flourish that added to her overall charm.
But the Queen was still dealing with the aftermath of a terrible whiff of perfume gone bad, and her mind was muddled. The scent seemed to cling to her senses, overwhelming her thoughts. She struggled to focus on the girl before her.
Though, taking a deep breath, the Queen forced herself to concentrate on Phoebe. With every step, Phoebe exuded confidence, her eyes locked on the Queen as she approached. She wore a gentle but unwavering smile, one that showcased her optimism and cheerfulness. The Queen noted that the girl’s hands were subtly intertwined, an oddity she didn’t question.
As Phoebe reached the Queen, she performed a perfect curtsey, her movements fluid and graceful. “Your Royal Highness,” she addressed the Queen with respect and formality, her voice clear and articulate.
She was perfect - similar to her diamond. And if the Queen had been in the right state of mind, perhaps she would have felt that same connection she had when she initially picked her diamond. But the only feeling she had was the nausea that still lingered in the hall from the earlier girl. Despite this, the Queen pushed through.
“Tell me, girl, I have heard whispers of your musical talents - a gift possibly passed on by your mother. I hope to hear you play sometime this season. What is your favorite composer?” She listened as Phoebe expressed her admiration for Franz Schubert, known for his lyrical and melodic compositions. And, she also mentioned her fondness for his “Impromptu in G-flat Major,” describing it as a charming and graceful piece.
Phoebe’s response was eloquent, and the Queen was intrigued. But with another whiff of the lingering, nauseating smell, the Queen abruptly stood, likely startling the girl. “Good, I will go now,” the Queen muttered, before swiftly exiting the hall.
The Queen’s departure was abrupt and left the staff in confusion, unsure of how to proceed with the remaining girls awaiting their audience with the Queen. The lingering scent of the perfume filled the air, and many speculated that it had contributed to the Queen’s sudden departure.