It is broken into two parts and Part 1 runs to 2,335 words.
“Excuse me, miss, but are you all right?”
The foreign accented male voice was unfamiliar, so Millie opened her eyes to find out who was speaking to her. He was at least five years older than her, had very blond hair, and his clothes had a military cut. That, however simply meant that two years after the Great War had ended he was dressed like half the men on the continent, or so it appeared to Millie.
“Thank you. I get vertigo and I find that sitting down with my eyes closed helps.” Millie smiled up at him because he was being kind and it never hurt to be nice.
“Airships are perfectly safe,” he assured her with a responding smile, “especially since the war is over and no-one is shooting at them. You don’t need to be worried about how high we’re up.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid of heights,” Millie assured him. “Vertigo is a type of dizziness, although people can get it when they look over the edge of somewhere tall. Or if they have a cold, as I do, or with travel sickness.”
“You seem to have a multitude of reasons for your vertigo, miss. Might I be so bold as to ask your name? I am Uladzimir Piatrovych Ramanchuk, formerly of the Rossiyskaya Imperiya.” He bowed neatly.
“I’m Millicent Hedges.” Millie hazarded a little boldness. “Would you like to sit and talk for a while, Mr Ramanchuk? I suspect you may not care for dancing if you’re here on the observation deck and not at the tea dance in the salon.”
“Thank you, I will.” He sat down on the bench beside her but with a good hand’s width of space between them. “So, are you travelling alone, Miss Hedges?”
“No, I’m with my family.” She pulled out her handkerchief, blew her nose and put the handkerchief away again. “We’re going to two weddings in the Terrencian Empire, and you?”
“I’m returning to Terrencia after a visit to Cadlera. Unfortunately, the business opportunity I was investigating didn’t come to anything.” He looked at the view for a moment. “If you’re travelling with your family, I’m surprised you’re on the observation deck alone, Miss Hedges.”
“But I’m not alone, Mr Ramanchuk.” She had dimples when she smiled. “The elderly ladies two seats down on our left are my grandmother and my Great-Aunt Mabel.” She turned her head towards them and smiled while her companion leaned forward a little so he could see them too and tipped his flat cap to the two white haired ladies who waved back.
“You are well chaperoned,” he agreed. “So whose weddings are you going to?”
“Two of my second cousins, who are also second cousins to each other, are getting married but first we’re going to another second cousin’s wedding to the daughter of a family who are relatives on paper.” She fiddled with the bracelet on her wrist.
“These are long standing attachments?” He was gazing into the distance in front of him.
“I don’t think so. John was the first of us to meet the relatives on paper; they were kind enough to let him convalesce in their home when he was injured during the war. Evelyn and Max knew each other before, of course, but they met up again on the Western Front.” She considered for a moment then asked, “Are you returning home to your family, Mr Ramanchuk?”
“I’m afraid not. I haven’t seen some of them for a very long time. You’re lucky to have yours.”
“Yes, I know.” She was subdued. “We lost people in the war but so many lost everyone… I’m sorry if I was maladroit.”
“Not at all,” he waved a hand dismissively. “We were talking about your family, it was most reasonable for you to ask about mine.”
“So, what do you think the weather is going to be like when we arrive in Terrencia, Mr Ramanchuk?” The weather was always an acceptable topic, or so she’d been told.
“As we’ve been over Terrencia for the last hour, I believe I can safely say that the weather is fine,” he smiled at her, “but if you mean when we arrive in the capital, I expect that, being spring, it will be cool.”
“Cooler, do you think, than when we left Cadlera? I haven’t visited Terrencia before,” she confided. “Great-Aunt Samella and her family always came to us, before the war. Then there was the war and now Great-Uncle’s arthritis means he can’t travel that far anymore. Great-Aunt Samella puts it down to too much jumping off airships and blowing things up when he was younger.”
“What?” She had his full attention. “Excuse me, what did you say he used to do?”
“Blow things up and jump off airships. It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?” She gave him a wry smile, “But apparently my great-aunt and uncle used to run around having adventures on opposite sides of the Détente Freundlich.”
“I know some of the things my father told me that he and his brothers used to get up to don’t bear believing,” he shook his head, “and although I think they played with explosives at one time, I don’t think they ever jumped off an airship.”
“I don’t believe that our brother-in-law ever played with explosives,” interrupted the shorter of the elderly ladies who had been two seats down but now stood in front of the younger couple. “I’m given to understand that he was always in deadly earnest.”
As the younger couple stood Millie made the introductions. “Grandmother, Great-Aunt Mabel, this is Mr Uladzimir Piatrovych Ramanchuk who was kind enough to enquire if I was feeling ill. Mr Ramanchuk, this is my grandmother, Mrs Hedges and her sister, Mrs Bennett.”
“Ladies.” He doffed his cap and bowed.
Both ladies smiled approvingly and murmured, “A pleasure, Mr Ramanchuk.”
Mrs Hedges went on, “We’re sorry to interrupt your conversation but the tea dance will be finishing soon and we should be getting ready for dinner before the others get back from that.”
“Yes, of course.” Millie turned to her companion. “Thank you for your company, Mr Ramanchuk. Perhaps I’ll see you at dinner?”
They shook hands as he answered, “Perhaps.”
As it happened, they met again before dinner. He was making his way to the first class dining room from his decidedly poky cabin, the cheapest available that was still in first class. She was clinging to a corner as if her life depended on it. “Miss Hedges, may I be of assistance?”
“Yes please.” She smiled at his offer. “We were on our way to dinner and this damnable vertigo suddenly came back. I don’t think anyone else noticed and I got left behind. I feel like I’m going to fall over if I let go of the wall.”
“Would you prefer to go back to your room or on to the dining room?” A quick glance told him that the corridor was empty except forthe two of them.
“If we could go on to the dining room, please?” Her face was looking paler than it had on the observation deck he noted, and it did not seem to be due to face powder. “John has something planned after that old man was so rude to him and his friends about dressing for dinner last night, and I want to see it.”
“I was annoyed at the Baron’s comments myself, as I believe the Captain was. You’ll note that he’s issued an order that we’re dining formally tonight, hence the regalia,” he indicated the sash across his chest and the medals pinned to his dinner jacket. “I’m rather looking forward to tweaking the old man’s nose myself. So, may I offer you my escort, ma’am?” He extended his arm for her to take it.
“Thank you, yes.” She transferred her cling from the wall to his arm. “If we could walk slowly, that would help.”
“Certainly, a leisurely stroll it will be. Now,” he tucked her hand more securely into the crook of his arm, “aside from meeting a riff-raffish, unemployed Russki, how has your journey been?
After maybe five minutes of polite conversation, they reached the queue to enter the first class dining room and soon realised that there was a queue because everyone was being announced by the Chief Steward as they entered. “Mr John and Mrs Felicia Roberts,” he boomed out into the dining room.
“Are they really doing that?” Millie looked apprehensive.
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt,” he assured her, patting her hand on his arm. “He’ll announce you as Miss Hedges, everyone may look at us for a minute and we’ll just take you back to your family.”
“But I’m a younger sister,” she whispered. “Miss Hedges is my eldest sister or one of our cousins!”
“It won’t be a problem,” he assured her. Then, eyes narrowed, he asked, “You haven’t been presented yet, have you?”
“Of course not, I won’t be eighteen for a month yet. Besides, people didn’t get presented at all during the war so I might not be presented either.” She confided, “This trip is the first time I’ve been treated like a grown-up.”
“A milestone in itself,” he acknowledged easily. Then he added, “It appears that the captain is receiving. All you need to do is give him your hand and make a small curtsey.”
A few minutes later and he was speaking quietly to the Chief Steward who then boomed out, “Major Knyaz Uladzimir Piatrovych Ramanchuk and Miss Millicent Hedges.”
For a moment Millie thought the room went quieter and most of it was looking at them, but then she was being presented to the captain so she gave him her hand and bobbed a curtsey. “Delighted, my dear,” and the captain, resplendent in a braided uniform with two rows of medals, bowed over her hand before he moved on to her escort. “Prince Ramanchuk, an honour to have you aboard, sir. Might I have the pleasure of your and this young lady’s company at my table this evening?”
“For myself, I would be delighted,” Millie’s companion bowed slightly, “but I was about to restore Miss Hedges to her family, so I would need to consult her parents before replying on her behalf.”
“Of course.” The captain smiled benevolently. “I look forward to your company, and hopefully that of Miss Hedges.”
As they walked away, Prince Ramanchuk said quietly, “You handled that very well, Miss Hedges.”
“I was too flabbergasted to say anything. You never mentioned a title.” Millie was concentrating on walking despite being dizzy and the crowd of people sipping pre-dinner drinks didn’t help.
“I didn’t think it was relevant. There are no lands or money to go with the title anymore.” He steered them carefully round a knot of people to see an elderly man, with a group of people who were obviously his family, being approached a young man in evening dress resplendent with dress medals. “Ah, we’re in time.”
“That’s John,” commented Millie as the young man with the medals bowed punctiliously to the eldest lady of the group.
Having done that, he turned to the elderly man and said, “Baron von Ulwald, I trust I’ve satisfied you that I do know how to dress for dinner?”
“Indeed.” The Baron’s eyes were fixated on the younger man’s chest. “That is the Adamantine Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, isn’t it?”
“With Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, yes.” The younger man made the correction without heat. “I’m not surprised you asked, there are only three of us after all.”
“You’re obviously not Otto, Count Dannerveld.”
“I’m not red haired and over two metres tall, so obviously not. I’m also obviously not Klaust Manfred because I still have all my fingers. That must mean I’m the nasty one.” The younger man’s expression hardened without changing. “May I suggest, Baron, that in future if people wish to maintain a relaxed façade and not ram who they are down other people’s throats, you let them without passing unpleasant comment?” He bowed again to the senior lady, “My apologies, Baroness, for the unpleasantness.” With that he turned on his heel and walked away.
“And that’s your cousin John,” commented Ramanchuk quietly to Millie.
“Yes, although I haven’t seen him quite like that before. It makes what they said he did in the citations I translated seem, well, realer. Before I thought the things he’s done didn’t sound like him at all, but now…” She trailed off and didn’t know where to start again.
“You’ve seen the wolf with his mask off and now you know what he really looks like.” Ramanchuk gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Let’s go find your parents.”
They found the Hedges and Bennett families gathered near an observation window with their aperitifs. There seemed to be a lively discussion going on among the ladies, directed, it seemed to Millie, by her mother. When that good lady caught sight of her youngest daughter she came bustling over exclaiming, “Millie, where have you been? We were just trying to work out where we lost you!”
“I’m sorry, Mother, but my vertigo came on again on our way here and you were all gone before I could say something. Prince Ramanchuk was kind enough to rescue me.” Millie didn’t let go of her escort’s arm.
“Well, you’re back with us now,” her mother said firmly, “so thank his highness and we’ll find you a chair to sit until they finalise tonight’s seating plan.”
“As to that, Mrs Hedges,” interposed Ramanchuk, “the captain has graciously invited both of us to dine at his table tonight. With your and Mr Hedges’ permission, I would be very happy to have your daughter Millicent as my dinner partner.”
Millicent’s mother blinked rapidly. “I’ll just extract my husband from the conversation and introduce you, if you don’t mind waiting, your highness?”
“Of course not, Mrs Hedges,” and he gave her the same neat bow he had given the captain.
Part 2 is here.