“Well, I would probably make attempts to kill you.”
Her words caught me by surprise but there were no ill intentions behind it. And knowing her, I knew she came up with it after a lot of deliberation.
“Why?” I asked back.
A chuckle escaped her lips as if she was already expecting my reaction. “You are too calm for someone who had just got a threatening remark.”
“I know you have a reason. What is it?”
She grinned at me proudly. “You’re right. I am and will always be loyal to the throne, but if I were named heir before you were retrieved, chaos would befall in the kingdom. Do you know why?”
Saglit akong napaisip. “Because of my power? And the nobles?”
“Precisely,” she nodded. “The nobles would take advantage of that and destabilize the royal family. They would use you against me and Father. They would surely make us fight for the throne.”
“But I could just ally myself with you.”
“Oh, Vyrka, that would be very difficult.”
I cocked my head in confusion. If we were to combine our forces under the name of the royal family, the nobles wouldn’t have the power against us.
“Father might not rescind the heirship from me because of his pride but he would also want you to take the throne. You would be the pawn of both the royal family and the noble clans. Because at the end of the day, you inherited the Stryzyga’s power, hence, the true and rightful heir.”
Napaisip ako sa sinabi niya. Both factions would want to control my power because that meant controlling the kingdom in the future. Thinking about the chaos and bloodbath that could ensue during that time sent shivers down my spine.
“Besides, I won’t accept your allyship. I told you, I would make attempts to kill you.”
I grimaced at her remark. “Why?”
“So that you would be forced to retaliate. That way, you could claim the throne through your ability. To show that you are worthy. After all, strength is all that matters here. And if that happened, the nobles would offer their support since in their eyes, you were their puppet. Of course, the royal family would also have your back because you were the rightful heir. If you’re wise, you could use that to your advantage. Instead of them using you, it would be the other way around.”
I could only watch her with my mouth hung open as she explained the details of her plan. She was only given a situation, yet Zaria had already concocted a grand scheme that would benefit me.
“W-why would you do all of that for me?”
Muli siyang ngumiti. “I told you. I am loyal to the throne because whoever sits there must serve and protect the land and its people. As someone who grew up among humans, I knew you would lead the kingdom in its best interest.”
“But your plan would do nothing good to you.”
She let out a soft chuckle, but her eyes gleamed with melancholy. “I would rather be remembered as the greedy princess who failed to secure the throne than the pathetic heir who stepped down because she knew she didn’t deserve it. I’ve had enough of being pitied and stomped on.”
Zaria reached for neck and fumbled with the collier covering it. The atmosphere turned heavy, but she smiled at me as if she was saying we should move on from the topic.
My heart had already stopped beating, but ironically, it breaks for her. Zaria was truly a strong yet pitiful one. From now on, I hope only good things would happen to her.
It had been a week since Zaria and I talked about heirship, and we had not seen each other since then because the palace was too busy.
My training was also put to a halt because several court meetings were held to finalize the details of the upcoming royal parley.
“Your Highness, it’s time,” Kei informed me as Sigrid adjusted the lace on my dress.
The four seemed to be restless but it was understandable. After all, the court meeting’s agenda tonight was to determine the retainers I would bring to the parley.
I also noticed the healing wounds on their bodies, but I decided not to ask about that since I could already picture what had transpired.
After checking myself on the mirror, the four escorted me to the royal court but they weren’t permitted to enter.
“Wait for me here,” I said before entering the hall.
“Yes, Your Highness,” they replied in unison.
The air in the royal court was noticeably heavy upon my arrival. Everyone had their eyes on me, but my gaze focused on Zaria who was smiling in my direction. We settled in our respective seats and the king nodded to Troian to open the discussion.
“Princess Vyrka must now determine her attendants for the royal parley,” he announced.
Hindi pa ako nakakapagsalita ay agad namang sumingit si Kamilia. “Are Her Highness’ own retainers worthy?”
My eyebrow arched at her question. I was about to retaliate when Orell seconded. “Perhaps it would be better to send those who are more deserving.”
I failed to fight the urge to roll my eyes at them upon hearing their attempt to influence the court decision. It had already been finalized months ago that was why my retainers diligently trained themselves. Clearly, they wanted to delegate someone from their side.
A chuckle escaped from my lips, earning confused expressions from everyone. “Surely, you jest,” I taunted. “My retainers have entered the final round of the tournament held during the festival. If there was more deserving than them, it would be Olga since she was the champion. Is she, perhaps, the one you wish to recommend?”
Bringing up the tournament changed the trajectory of the conversation. If they were to suggest a name who performed terribly in the tournament, or worse, did not even participate, it would raise doubts among the council, especially in the presence of the king and queen.
There was a hint of foreboding in Orell and Kamilia’s faces. They probably did not expect me to retaliate during the meeting unless it was about Zaria.
I cocked my head in contempt. “Or were you about to mention names who are yet to show their worth?”
The representatives of the noble houses remained quiet after my question, and I could feel the heightened tension in the room. It definitely felt like I just sent a warning to the noble clans, and I wasn’t sure if it was too early to do that.
Just when I was about to regret my words, Alexei raised his hand. “May I, Your Highness?”
“Go ahead,” I replied.
“The Revali house would like to recommend Olga as one of your attendants,” he announced, earning surprised and displeased looks from his fellow nobles.
The neutral clans—Estrei and Sereka—looked rather curious. Dmitri Estrei seemed to be weighing his options while Laci Sereka looked amused, probably because she was rooting for a female attendant to be chosen.
I thought the odds were turning in my favor when Zaria finally joined the conversation.
“I don’t think Olga is the right choice, Vyrka,” she said. “I will not be Vrivarya’s representative, but you. It is only appropriate to let your own attendants fill the remaining spots.”
She glanced at Alexei’s direction and for a second, she looked serious. I immediately understood Alexei’s intent after he recommended Olga. He wanted to make sure Zaria would be safe during the journey, but she didn’t seem to like that.
The royal parley requires each kingdom’s delegate to bring at most three attendants. Zaria was already included as one of my attendants, and that meant I could only select two more.
I was contemplating on who to bring with us when Father suddenly shifted in his seat, getting everyone’s attention. He rested his chin on his palm and looked down on the court table.
“Why don’t you make Olga your own retainer? She’s the strongest after my own subordinates, isn’t she?”
His suggestion was probably the right decision objectively, but Zaria and I rejected it at the same time.
“I cannot do that, Your Majesty.”
“I’m afraid she cannot do that, Your Majesty.”
“Why is it?” he asked.
This kind of situation reminded me of my visit to his chamber. The king only trusts an undead’s strength. Beyond that, he was ignorant.
“Your Majesty, forgive me for my impudence, but loyalty is something you shouldn’t trifle with.”
Audible gasps could be heard across the royal court after my remark, but I did not break my gaze.
“Olga is a loyal vassal of Zaria. I do not want someone who serve two masters, and I have my own loyal retainers to begin with. Surely, you wouldn’t like it too if, say, Yva renounces you as her master and declares her loyalty to me, Your Majesty.”
Terror crossed everyone’s faces after my retaliation. I knew I was out of line, but he needed to know how it would feel. He might not even realize it himself, but Father values his three retainers greatly. If he were in our shoes, he wouldn’t want that to happen either.
I was ready to receive his full-blown intimidation as punishment for my insolence, but instead, the king grinned as if he just heard a good joke. Honestly, it was more terrifying than his intimidation because I didn’t know what it meant.
“This brazen brat,” he remarked as he continued snickering. “Fine. I will allow you to go with your own retainers. I’d like to see the regret on your face once you return.”
He got up from his seat, prompting everyone to pay their respects. Father was done with the court meeting, and he marched toward the door.
“I shall make sure that you won’t, Your Majesty,” I added before he exited the room.
Nang tuluyan na siyang makalabas ay nabaling sa akin ang atensyon ng lahat. Sereka started chuckling and she stared at me amusingly.
“You surely are an interesting character, Your Highness,” she commented. “I am looking forward to your reign.”
Maging si Laci ay naglakad na rin palabas ng court room at sinundan naman iyon ng Estrei clan. With the king and two noble clans leaving, the court meeting was adjourned.
Napasandal na lang ako sa upuan nang makaalis ang nobles. Besides Zaria and I, only Troian and the queen remained in the room. Akala ko ay aalis na rin sila nang biglang may inilabas na scroll si Troian.
“Now, let us proceed with Her Highness’ goals during the parley,” he announced.
The queen, for the first time since she graced the room, moved. She stood up and sat on the king’s chair, much to my surprise.
“I commend your courage, but you shouldn’t cross the line with His Majesty, child,” she said.
Compared to the king’s imposing demeanor, hers was calmer yet more terrifying. Every word that comes out of her mouth felt like an order.
“Y-yes, Your Majesty,” I meekly replied.
She shifted her gaze to Zaria. “If you wish to be her adviser, you should have stopped her recklessness.”
Zaria’s shoulders flinched. “I will, Your Majesty.”
“Now, Troian, continue.”
Troian picked up the scroll at his side and started reading the missive.
“Her Majesty has investigated the mercenaries who trespassed the kingdom and found out that they were hired by an anonymous client during their trip in Tuzkan. In addition, the captive synders were tasked to kill a royal blood.”
Napanganga na lamang ako sa narinig. The queen’s network should not be underestimated. Kamilia had been trying to squeeze out information from the synders under her care, yet Mother managed to quickly get the important details related with the attack.
“I assume you know what to do,” she commented.
Zaria nodded her head. “The kingdom of Remis has violated the ancient laws of the vampiric clans. Thus, they shall pay for their crime.”
Their gazes shifted in my direction, and I just realized how big of a responsibility the royal parley would be.
My participation would either restore the peace among the kingdom…