I had already lost count of the days I stayed awake. Not that sleep mattered any longer, but still, I was working nonstop since they announced that I’d be formally introduced as a princess. But one of the advantages of being an awakened undead was I no longer need to feed.
“Are you alright?”
I was lying on my bed when Zaria’s face came into view. Groaning, I forced myself to sit up. “No. This is exhausting.”
She chuckled at my complaint. “Oh, this is just the beginning, my dear sister.”
My room was illuminated by the silver moonlight filtering in through the glass windows, a sign that I should get ready for whatever Zaria had prepared for me for this night.
“You’re going to visit the cities and the nobles’ fiefs after your induction, so you need to familiarize yourself with their customs and tendencies.”
I had to suppress the urge to roll back my eyes at the pile of papers sitting on my table. It would be much easier to visit the places while she was giving a rundown about their respective customs, but after what happened few weeks ago, I was banned from setting foot outside the palace until I got formally introduced as a member of the royal family.
Halos hatakin na ako ni Zaria papuntang table dahil hindi pa rin ako umaalis sa kama ko. I swear, even in the world of the undead, paperworks are much more draining than physical labor.
Wala akong nagawa kung hindi harapin ang mga ito lalo na noong nawala ang ngiti sa mga labi ni Zaria. It would be disastrous to anger someone as patient as her.
There are five big cities in Vrivarya, and each one is overseen by a noble family living in their respective fiefs: The city of Arska by the Revali clan, city of Calista by Dvorach clan; city of Kalech by Kuslav clan, city of Ruzan by Estrei clan, and city of Yura by Sereka clan. Each city has their own customs and practices, but all yield to the rule and laws of Vrivarya.
Humans do the menial tasks for the undead and donate their blood in the blood banks in exchange for shelter, food, and protection. According to Zaria, this mutualism has been going on for millenia, and even now, I still couldn’t believe it was possible.
“How are the other kingdoms’ relationship with humans?” I asked out of curiosity.
She thought about it for a while. “We do not have much information about what’s happening inside their kingdoms, but the Moroi clan is indifferent to humans, while the Lilith clan is notorious for their disgust and hatred toward them.”
Huh. So, our kingdom is the only one who has good relationships with humans. For a country who views strength as the pinnacle of honor and veneration, the undead are surprisingly lenient toward them.
It took me days to read everything about the cities and fiefdom, and before I knew it, the day of my public induction was here.
The palace had been busy since yesterday. Its usual dark grandeur turned into a resplendent state for the royal celebration. This was one of the rare occurrences where everyone was allowed to enter the royal grounds, hence, the elaborate enhancement of the palace’s exterior.
A temporary dais was set up in front of the palace where the induction would happen. Two velvet highchairs were situated in the middle while a third seat was placed right in front of them.
I was quietly watching everything from my balcony when someone knocked on my door. Gliding through the room, I nervously opened it and Zaria, along with several attendants, came into view.
“It’s time,” she remarked.
Hindi ko na kailangang gumalaw at magtanong dahil sila na ang gumawa no’n para sa akin. A black-and-red extravagant dress, which probably weighed twice or thrice my usual dresses, was put on me. My hair was styled in curls, adorned with white pearls and crimson jewels.
I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but by the time they were finished, my body had already become numb, and my mind was drifting away.
“Oh, look how lovely you look,” Zaria remarked while looking at me.
I scoffed, thinking she was just teasing me, but I let out a gasp when she pulled me in front of the mirror.
The only thing I could do was stare. Standing beside Zaria, I realized how we looked eerily similar, except her hair was embellished with white ornaments and her eyes did not have any crimson linings. I couldn’t even recognize the face I had known when I was still posing as a human anymore.
“Now, you only need the crown to complete the look,” she said, feeling proud of what I had become.
Hindi naman ako agad nakasagot dahil muling may kumatok sa pinto.
“Lady, your retainers are here,” said a familiar voice and my face immediately lit up.
Pagbukas ng pinto ay bumungad ang mukha ng apat pero napahinto ako nang makita ko ang estado nila. They were covered in soot and scratches, and their clothes were tattered. For a second, I feared what was happening in their training.
The four knelt in front of me and paid their respect and greetings. I terribly missed them even though they were only gone for about two weeks.
“What happened to the four of you?” tanong ko pero nakatitig lang sila sa akin. I figured that wasn’t the question they wanted to answer. “Uhh, so . . . how do I look?”
I had to stop them before they enumerate every adjective they could think of and listening to that was too embarrassing.
Matapos ‘yon ay tumayo sila at akmang aalis na kaya agad ko silang tinawag. “Wait, you’re leaving already?”
“Oh, no, lady,” Kei answered. “We’re going to get dressed, too. We can’t show ourselves to everyone as your retainers looking like these, can we?”
He looked somehow amused at how I misunderstood their action. “We will see you later . . . Your Highness.”
Natulala na lamang ako nang marinig ko ‘yon at wala akong nagawa kundi ang pagmasdan ang pag-alis nila. It was only when I heard Zaria chuckling that I realized I had been staring vacantly at the doorway.
“You seem attached to them,” she commented. “That, I can understand.”
She shrugged at my pathetic attempt to recover my nonexistent regal demeanor. “Sure, you aren’t. Anyway, we must go, too.”
People were already gathering inside the royal grounds, and I must say this was the largest crowd I had seen since I arrived here. Humans and undead were highly expectant of what was about to happen.
“Nervous?” asked Zaria who was sitting beside me.
I wanted to say yes, but ever since I had been awakened, my nerves had been awfully calm even in this kind of situation. The only time I had felt genuine fear was when I was in the presence of the king and queen.
“Kind of,” I said.
“You are a terrible liar,” she snickered.
Zaria nodded. “Not an ounce of fear on your face.”
“It’s frustrating because I want to be nervous,” reklamo ko. “Just look at the crowd.”
“You will do well. I’m sure of it.”
“I hope so.”
The event started with a showcase of strength between assassins, mages, and trackers. There were also ceremonial dances performed by humans. Meanwhile, the nobles had their own space where they could show off their intricate clothes and accessories while talking to each other.
Everyone fell silent when Troian announced the presence of the king and queen. People and undead knelt as they walked toward the dais.
Father and mother were wearing their formal attire, with crowns resting on their heads, and they looked much more intimidating than they were in the throne room. He made his way in front of the people and stood with an air of superiority.
“I have gathered you here for an important announcement.”
Hushed voices filled the air. There had already been rumors about the subject of this gathering, and surely, most of them went here out of curiosity.
“Years ago, the queen and I were bestowed with two younglings,” he announced, and the crowd erupted in gasps and murmurs. “A rare occurrence in a royal bloodline, it is, hence, we had to keep it a secret or this kingdom will fall.”
I wasn’t sure if the fall he meant was because of the probable internal conflict between royal house and nobles, or because of the other two kingdoms once they knew Vrivarya had two heirs. Either way, both were happening upon my return.
“But now, the second princess has returned, and I’d like to formally introduce her to you.”
Heads turned toward my direction, and Zaria lightly pushed me to walk up the dais.
If it weren’t for the practices I had with her, I would have tumbled the moment I had my first step. Kahit papaano ay nagbunga rin pala ang paghihirap na iyon. At least I could walk confidently now even in this heavy dress.
Everyone’s gazes were following me. I could hear some talking about the rumors surrounding us while others looked proud they knew about it even before the announcement.
Upon arriving at the dais, I curtsied at mother and father before facing the crowd. Mother nodded at me while father just stared coldly.
“Pay your respect,” he thundered. “This is Vyrka Stryzyga, the second princess of Vrivarya, and the rightful heir to the throne.”
“Hail Your Highness!”
Agad akong napatingin sa pinanggalingan ng boses na iyon at nakita ko sina Kei sa harapan kasama si Rurik. The five knelt to the ground and everyone followed their lead.
“Hail Your Highness!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause that I had already forgotten the speech I was about to give.
The celebratory atmosphere certainly lightened the burden on me. I glanced at Zaria’s direction to express my gratitude, but I paused when I saw her yearning look toward mother and father.
Before I could do anything, she turned around and retreated in the shadows.
I wanted to go to her, but father’s gaze met mine. “You will stay here,” he subtly threatened.
The burden I felt a while ago was replaced by an unbearable guilt. Zaria had been here longer, but the people had already forgotten her the moment I was announced as a princess and an heir.
Because for them, she was a defect. A mistake. A child that shouldn’t have been brought into existence.