“The Vandagan Waltz is a dance of utmost trust, Miss dul Alberti. Which is why I need you to trust that I’m not going to let you fall. Now. Again.“
Francesca obeyed, moving back into position – her left hand barely resting upon her dancing tutor’s upper arm, her right hand delicately clasped within his. And then there was his left hand, hovering a mere inch from her lower back. He waited. She stalled.
“Do lean back into my hand, Miss dul Alberti,” the tutor sighed, clearly running out of patience. “I promise I’m not going to drop you.”
“Miss dul Alberti. Your Father has demanded that you be tutored in the dances of the Vandagan Court. Chief among these dances is the Vandagan Waltz. Shall I inform him that you are refusing to learn these dances?”
“No, of course–“
“Then please, please for the love of the Lord. Do lean back into my hand.”
Finally did Francesca obey, though her discomfort was apparent as she leaned back on her heels, placing herself off-balance and at the complete mercy of her tutor. He could simply remove his hand at any moment and she would be upon the floor.
Surely the waltz had been designed as a way of torturing young women.
“Thank you, Miss dul Alberti. Though I fear very few men would be taken by their dance partner indulging in such a grimace. Might I suggest a smile instead?”
Francesca merely flicked the man a quick glance from beneath the sweep of her dark eyelashes. He would be getting none of her smiles this day.
“Very well. Chin up then at the very least. Back straight. Weight upon my hand. And now…”
The tutor took a step toward her and the security of his hand at her back disappeared, forcing her to take a step backward so that she might fall into his hold once again. It was a terrifying sensation. She couldn’t help it; a sound of distress escaped from her.
“Madame dul Alberti!” the tutor roared, drawing a bubbling laugh from Vannossa dul Alberti who had been watching the debacle from her perch against the nearby wall. The man released the young woman with a ‘tsk’ of disapproval, his hands on his hips as he began to stalk along the floor, pacing. “You must talk some sense into her,” he declared to the dul Alberti matriarch in the midst of such pacing. “Lest she embarrass us all! Just think. Everyone knows I am dancing master to your family. They will see her dance and I will never have another patron!” His words tumbled out in an agitated Vavardian cascade, each syllable blending into the next.
But Vannossa merely laughed, shaking her head as she glided toward the man. “Shhh,” she soothed him. “Come, come. Let us try again.” And thus did she move to stand behind her youngest daughter, a mere breath from Francesca’s back. “You will not fall with me behind you, Cesca. You are safe,” she reassured the girl even as she rested her left hand atop her daughter’s where it perched on the dancing tutor’s arm. Her right hand was light upon the clasp of theirs.
“The Vandagan Waltz teaches us much about life, my pet,” Vannossa whispered in her daughter’s ear as the trio began to move through the steps – slowly, but without any further interruptions on Francesca’s part. “There are many types of women in the world. With the Decree of Sodality, there are heiresses who will inherit in their own right. There are warmaidens who will lead men into battle. And then there are women like you and I, my darling – beautiful yet delicate, like a rose vine. But a rose vine cannot flourish on its own. It must have a trellis to cling to – a trellis to offer it the support it needs to grow to its full potential, to put it on proper display for all to admire.”
Vannossa continued as the lesson continued, explaining to her daughter, “In this dance, your partner is your trellis. You must trust that he will support you. Look to his strength to hold you up, to guide you. And in turn, you will beautify his world.” She smiled then as she felt Francesca relax a little as she began to fall into the rhythm of the steps. “Without you, he is nothing more than a mere trellis, unadorned and without color. But with you, he is something much more. Together, you create something of true beauty… and so it will be with your future husband.”
“My husband, Maman?”
“Yes, my pet. Your husband shall be your trellis and you shall be his vine,” Vannossa confirmed as she finally pulled away from the pair of girl and dancing tutor so that they could continue drilling the steps without her offering further security for her young daughter. But still she lingered, circling about the pair as she continued her lesson. “Some women would balk at such an arrangement. But the heiress? She will always have to fight to keep her position safe from scheming relatives. The warmaiden? She will always have to fight for respect for a man will not follow one he does not respect. But the rose vine? Her trellis will protect her, support her, lend her strength, allow her to bloom to her full potential. Truly, there is much power in being such a woman.”
“Power, Maman?” the girl questioned, though her attention remained upon the dancing tutor. She was not yet comfortable enough with the steps to allow her mind to wander overly much.
“The power of pure femininity,” Vannossa confirmed with a little smile. “For within your delicate grasp, you will hold the power to inspire, to awaken within a man a true desire to protect – to protect you and the children you give to him. You will awaken within him a desire to achieve – to be the best version of himself so that he can be a trellis truly worthy of such a beautiful vine. You will awaken his own masculinity, my darling.” Indulging in a little sigh, the woman went on to confess, “There are some who do not see the power within such a position. There are some – other women – who see such a creature as being weak. But I tell you now, my pet, you will hold more power than the heiress or the warmaiden ever could. But only if you submit to your trellis. Only if you trust in him to embolden you even as you enrich him and his life. That is enough drilling for now, I think.”
“Yes, Madame,” the tutor declared, releasing young Francesca from his grasp. He bowed, then, excusing himself from the presence of the two gentlewomen. The pair of mother and daughter were left quite alone.
“And there is great power in submission, my darling,” Vannossa confided to her daughter in a little whisper, her hand cupping at her cheek to turn her gaze upward so that their eyes might meet – azure against sapphire blue. “For no man can force you to submit to him. That is something you give freely – a gift from a beautiful vine to her one and only trellis.”
Francesca frowned then, her pale brow furrowing. “But, Maman… if he is so much stronger than I… how could I refuse him if he demanded my submission?”
Vannossa smiled – a little smile, a dark smile, a smile which managed to leave her brilliant eyes quite cool. “If a man ever tries to force you, my pet, then you are to use the dagger I gave you for your tenth birthday upon him. Aim for his thigh, if you can, so that you might both distract and slow him if he tried to pursue you. And then you are to seek sanctuary within the Cathedral…” She trailed off then, love within her eyes as she caressed her youngest daughter’s cheek. “But your husband will protect you from such dangers. It is one of the benefits of being such a woman. Look to your trellis, my darling, and all will be well.”