"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man*-"
"Charlotte, dear. You know how much I adore your reading, but I am not sure that book is quite suitable," said Calnia. Her gaze was stern under her soft brow as her skilled hand's looped yarn around a pair of wooden needles, her pace never faltering.
"Quite suitable for a Dwarrow who has been mature for many moons now?" teased Charlotte, her brown eyes full of mirth.
Though she was by now well used to her mother's disapproval of many aspects of her life, she found it hard for it to dampen her ever-bright disposition.
"Do not torment your mother, Charlie," admonished Harte. His eyes did not leave the freshly opened letter resting on his lap. "Though I do not know for the life of me where you find those books…" His voice trailed off distractedly.
"What is it, dear?" asked Calnia, peering questioningly at the letter.
"An invitation, it would seem."
"Oh? From whom?"
Harte notably straightened in his seat, as though preparing himself for what was to come. "From the King." He winced as a piercing gasp filled the air and the invitation was ripped from him.
"The- the King?" stuttered Calnia. "Thorin Oakenshield?"
"Aye, the very same," said Harte, "It seems he wishes the whole of Erebor to celebrate the finishing of the restorations."
"How wonderful," said Charlotte, her heart lightening at the very prospect of dancing and dining.
"Wonderful, indeed," breathed Calnia, fanning herself with the invitation, "It is the perfect chance for you to meet new-"
"Friends?" suggested Charlotte. At her mother's pant of frustration, she laughed, her smile wide and bright. "Mother, you know very well it is all but impossible to find a man who will suit the likes of me."
She rose from her seat, straightening her dress as she did so.
"I'm off. I'm meeting Darla."
"But we haven't finished discussing this Ball!"
"We can discuss it all you like when I return."
And upon hearing her mother's familiar exasperated huff, Charlotte left; book in hand and eyes still sparkling.
"A Ball! Oh, I've all but dreamed of attending a Ball of such splendor!" said Darla, twirling dreamily.
"How do you know it will be of such splendor?" asked Charlotte, taking her friend's arm in hers and leading her down the corridor they were strolling along.
"Do you think the Royal Family of Erebor would settle for anything less?" said Darla, "What do you think they are like?"
"I have never set eyes on any of them," said Charlotte, "A bit odd don't you think that we have been settled here over a year now and yet none of them have shown themselves?"
"Perhaps this is what this Ball is for? A sort of coming out party," thought Darla, "I hear that the Princes are quite dashing."
"And quite too young for the likes of us," smirked Charlotte, catching Darla's eye and bursting into fits of giggles. "And what of the King? Is he as fetching as his nephews?"
"That I am not certain of… In fact, I have not heard much of the King at all," Darla lost herself in her thoughts for a moment, before sighing wistfully once again. "Just think of the dancing and all the handsome dwarves that will attend. Oh, but you must be excited, Charlie!"
"I certainly am, I will not deny," said Charlotte, "For the dancing, however, and that alone. The handsome dwarves I could do without."
Darla stole a wise glance at her. "One of these days you will meet a dwarf who will rid of every last drop of prejudice you carry in your veins."
"Prejudice?" tested Charlotte, "I rather like that. Lady Charlotte, the Prejudice!"
"Don't be such a tease, Charlie," laughed Darla, "Mark my words, this Ball will change your opinion on dwarves. I am sure of it."
"Men, men, men, that's all I seem to hear about," exaggerated Charlotte, "I want to hear more of adventures and rocks and mountains!"
"Mountains?" snorted Darla.
"Yes, mountains!" said Charlotte, joining in with her friend's laughter, "Oh Darla, what are men compared to mountains*?"
*Quote Reference: Austen, Jane. 1813. Pride and Prejudice. United Kingdom: T. Egerton, Whitehall.