Her hand trailed gently down the railing of the grand staircase; the magnificent terrain of her dress flowing out with each step. Nothing was out of place; not the tight corset around her waist or the beautifully crafted gown on her body.
Appearances were everything and she had exceeded them tonight. Graced with her mother's beauty she was considered a fine choice. She was well breed and trained to be just what her mother desired of her.
Tonight she would meet him, the man to whom she was betrothed. Nothing said success more than marrying someone above your status. Nothing said happiness more than being trained to be obedient and mindless. Rather nothing said be a good girl more than the threats her mother held over her head. Yet her mother had failed so dismally in her tirade to make her the perfect daughter.
Winry stifled the laugh that almost escaped her perfectly composed façade. Remarkable as it might seem to others, on the inside she was nothing like that. She wanted so much more.
A careful glance out of the corner of her eye confirmed her previous thoughts. There in all his glory stood the Duke of Amestris, Roy Mustang. One look at his smug smile made her cringe with distaste. Being surrounded by men like this her whole life had taught her that she would never find comfort in such a personality.
Men like him played with the notion that women were objects of desire and molds of perfection. They were not to think or act as anything contradictory to their role as a sub servant partner to them. The blatant lie that reeked through such thoughts made her even less attracted to the men around her. How could they explain the wanderings of her mind? She was being forced to hold her thoughts and ideas as prisoners in her own head. As her mother often told her, 'Silly dreams have no place in a woman's head but as words they are the sword to her throat.'
Perhaps her mind was dysfunctional; well that wasn't a thought but rather a statement of truth. Her mind was in fact dysfunctional because the idea of marrying this well to do man could be compared to the decision to jump off a cliff. Both decisions seemed to lead to her impending death.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs she watched the duke as he rounded the corner in time to graciously take her arm. A handsome gentleman with such a title should make her swoon. In fact it appeared that half the girls in the room were ready to do so; but all she wanted to do was scream.
His voice was rough with power but was laced with charisma that made her skin crawl. "My lady your mother did not do you justice. She said you were a fine young woman, but she did not mention your incredible beauty."
Something told her this should make her blush or faint, but all she wanted to do was run. The painful restriction of her corset made a mockery of her thoughts on running. Her mother must be beside herself with the duke's obvious interest and desire for her as he held onto her arm.
Such years of training under her mothers guidance had her mouth captivated before her thoughts could reach it. The words came out a symphonic twist of pose and sweetness. "Why you are too kind dear sir."
He motioned to the dance floor, "Shall we?"
It wasn't a question because she was sure he never dreamed in a million years that anyone would ever answer with anything but yes.
Her head nodded as she followed him in a graceful glide over the shiny marble floor. The scene before her eyes unfolded with a bleak despair. The empty expressions and the false happiness along with the soft rumors followed by the knowing smiles were smothering. All of it whirled around her in one sickening prison of fate. Winry felt the blood flow out of her face as he spun her around in a dizzying spectrum of colors and dancers. At least the music could cancel out the need for them to speak. In order to keep her silent rebellion a secret she knew she had to avoid conversation as much as possible. Her mother had made it clear just what was at stake. Their lives rested on this one man, he had the power to either make or break them.
One glance at her mother was enough to confirm her suspicions. Once she was married and had produced a male heir she was confident that her mothers love for her would return. More than ever she did not want to think of what kind of future awaited her. All that was expected of her in this life was to marry this man and give birth to a son. After that she could fall off the face of the earth and no one would care. She half believed that even her own son might claim she had accomplished her duty in life.
Minutes turned into hours and soon enough the duke had taken to playing cards and drinking leaving her for the first time that night. The girls her age wasted no time as they greeted her in their half hearted brainless way. They pried about her and the duke; each smile even more fake than the one before it. The intelligent conversation she so desired seemed so far from her reach.
Rose placed the cup in her hand to her lips before speaking in a rather soft yet horrible grace. "Goodness, did you see the dress Elizabeth is wearing? Why it's practically an antique!"
Winry kept her lips closed as the girls laughed in their obnoxious simpering way. Everyone knew everyone's business and the women in this circle had filled their meaningless lives with gossip and rumors. Elizabeth was the latest target and Winry found it far from amusing. Money had become tight for the estate ever since the death of the Count Hawkeye. Personally Winry thought that the natural beauty of the woman was more appealing to look at than all of the snobs and their lavish gowns around her. Yet her mouth remained shut. One word of opposition would place her on thin ice.
Another girl stuck her nose up her eyes judging, "She is rather old; her prospects must have run out by now."
Winry fought to keep her mouth shut. Elizabeth was merely twenty and already they had labeled her old. Well her world did have different rules…she was seventeen and already engaged so it couldn't be helped. She had barely become a woman before she had lost her dreams.
How she had once dreamed of love and adventure was truly a mystery.
"Why Winry you have barely spoke two words tonight are you sure you're alright?"
Winry instantly put a small smile on her face to advert their attention from any rumors formulating in their minds. If word got around that she felt discontent with her engagement it could mean trouble.
"Oh no I'm just rather tired, I suppose all that dancing has worn me out."
The sympathetic nods made her uneasy. How could they not see what a blatant lie that was? If they had seen her the night before running through the forest in her dressing gown they would have know better. The smile on her face became easier to hold. If they had seen her run around like that they would have thought more about her disgrace than her stamina.
The night smoldered like the dying flames in the fireplace. As she bid each guest goodnight she felt envious. They were not bound to this prison like she was.
The men continued to drabble in their cards and their politics leaving Winry alone with her mother. Her father would surely want to hear about her performance the next day.
Before she could escape her mothers prying eyes she was cornered by the duke.
His hand grabbed hers as the smell of gin on his breath radiated between them. Mustang placed a hard kiss on her hand his eyes slightly unfocused. Winry pushed the feelings of fear down, she had to remain calm in his presence.
"I leave you with my proposal for marriage."
As if on cue Sarah came rushing forward. "Oh my duke this is wonderful!"
Roy didn't look over at Winry's mother his eyes were glued to the young woman's. "What do you say?"
The same rehearsed fake smile mirrored itself at her through his eyes. She had always dreamed of marrying the man she loved, but she had yet to feel this so called love. Everything was riding on her answer and she could think of no reason why she was worth anything other than this role.
Her voice sounded sincere and beautiful to the ears of the people around her. Yet all she heard was the resounding of defeat in her head; she would regret these words.
"I am yours."