A chill went down my spine when I heard a voice whispering to my right ear. Before I could move, Yva had already gotten a hold around my neck, and the next thing I knew, I was thrown hard to the ground, streaks and orbs dancing right in front of my eyes.
Hindi ko alam kung sumigaw o umiyak ba ako, but my body that was supposed to resist pain, was aching all over.
Suddenly, I felt a strong bloodlust, and even Yva got distracted by it. Agad akong napatingin sa direksyon kung saan nanggagaling iyon at nakita ko si Sigrid na nakatingin nang masama sa kanya.
Yva smirked; excitement written on her face. “Heh. You have some loyal but cheeky retainer out there, Your Highness.”
Her grip on my neck loosened. Ang sabi ni Roesia ay kailangan lang na maiwasan kong mahawakan o maabot ni Yva ang leeg ko para sa training na ‘to pero tatlong beses na niya akong natalo. All within two minutes.
“Well, I guess you still have a long way to go, Your Highness,” Roesia remarked.
Baldric stroked her clean-cut beard. “Perhaps it was still too early for her to face Yva.”
Dahan-dahan naman akong tumayo at pahapyaw na lumayo mula kay Yva. Her attention was already on Sigrid.
Her dry and scarred lips curved slyly. “Never thought you already have a retainer who can use Intimidation.”
As if on cue, Sigrid swiftly positioned herself between me and Yva, her eyes brimming with resentment.
“Pardon me, Kir Yva, but I shall not allow any further act of impertinence toward the princess,” she seethed.
Her action almost made me beg for mercy.
Alam kong malakas si Sigrid pero siguradong matatalo siya laban kay Yva. Sure, I was kind of humiliated, but she didn’t need to get angry for me. What’s worse was she was ready to take on the greatest assassin of the kingdom because I lost. There must really be a thin line between bravery and foolishness.
The three looked at us with curiosity, and somehow, that made me more nervous.
I forced a snicker and pulled her back. “S-sorry, she didn’t mean that.”
“Oh, she does,” Baldric retorted, and even him looked quite thrilled. “So, you have already gotten the loyalty of your royal maid, Your Highness. Impressive.”
“Lady Vyrka needs to rest now,” Sigrid sternly said. “If you may excuse us.”
I wasn’t sure if leaving was the right thing to do, but Sigrid was already waiting for me to follow her. Fortunately, the three did not look offended. In fact, they seemed more amused.
“We’ll go ahead.”
Halos binilisan ko ang lakad ko para makasabay kay Sigrid. Despite her impassive face, I could tell she was still annoyed. Pero magkahalong pagkamangha at takot ang naramdaman ko sa ginawa niya. She was ready to fight Yva for my sake. She hasn’t drunk my blood, has she?
Sa kinikilos niya ay para siyang si Kei noong nainom nito ang dugo ko dahil nasa top priority niya ako. Though, Irus also said vampires were usually extremely loyal if they found the master they deemed worthy of their service.
Pagbalik namin sa kuwarto ko ay agad akong pinagbihis ni Sigrid. I couldn’t believe the dress had become frayed and was soiled with dirt and mud in just a short amount of time.
She picked a nightgown as my outfit for the rest of the night. It was a laced, loose-fitting, black dress, which I hadn’t seen in my closet before, much to my delight.
“Uhm, Sigrid,” tawag ko matapos makapagpalit.
“Yes, my lady.”
“Are you sure about serving me?”
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay parang gusto ko na ulit bawiin dahil sa reaksyon niya. She looked upset, and even touched her neck as if my words were a fatal blow. Being with Sigrid these past few days made me realize she was quite dramatic at times.
“T-that’s . . .” She suddenly walked toward me and knelt.
“Wait, what are you—”
“Am I, perhaps, not worthy to be your servant, my lady?”
Okay, she totally misunderstood that.
“No, that’s not what I meant,” I quickly replied. “I mean, I feel like I’m not worthy to have such loyal and strong retainers like you.”
Saying it out loud made me doubt myself even more. Noong patungo pa lang kami sa Vrivarya ay ilang beses kaming nalagay sa sitwasyon na muntik na kaming mamatay. I wasn’t strong yet to be worthy of such respect and loyalty.
“Lady, strength, and battle prowess can improve through time and experience. I chose to serve you because of your potential as a powerful leader . . . and I am certain you will be one.”
Her certitude put more pressure to me, but I also didn’t want to disappoint her. Kahit sina Kei ay nanatili sa tabi ko kahit na ang daming pagkakataon na muntik ko na silang mapahamak.
Speaking of those three, they were still nowhere to be found. Sabi ni Sigrid ay kadalasan, isa o dalawang araw lang ang kailangan para sa debriefing pero mag-i-isang linggo na ay hindi pa rin sila bumabalik sa akin. Sana ay ayos lang sila.
Pagsapit ng gabi ay tumungo ako sa kuwarto ni Zaria. Ito ang unang pagkakataon na makakapasok ako rito dahil laging siya ang bumibisita sa akin. She told me I should visit her, too.
Olga, her royal maid, stood dignified in front of the door. She had the same imposing aura and maid outfit as Sigrid, but she was a few inches taller, and her silver—almost white—hair was neatly trimmed just above her shoulders.
“Lady Vyrka would like to enter lady Zaria’s chamber,” Sigrid notified. “Please announce her presence.”
Olga, being taller than her, looked like she was sneering down on Sigrid, especially since they shared the same deadpan look on their faces.
“Lady Zaria,” she announced after a few seconds, “The younger princess would like to have an audience with you.”
Tatlong segundo ang nagdaan bago bumukas ang pinto ng kuwarto at agad na sumalubong ang nakangiting mukha ni Zaria.
“Vyrka!” she beamed as she gently pulled me inside while the Sigrid and Olga remained outside.
Namangha naman ako nang masilayan ko ang kuwarto niya. It had the same motif as mine, but her walls were decorated with more tapestries. However, what caught my interest were the board games and piles of books and scripts at the expansive mahogany table at the right side.
We went to her balcony and settled on the small tea table. Ikinuwento ko sa kanya ang mga nangyari at nagulat siya nang marinig ang tungkol kay Yva.
“I am surprised that you did not lose consciousness despite being in close proximity with her,” she said. “Although, it must be because you have already been awakened.”
My eyebrows knitted. “Lose consciousness? Why? Is that her skill?”
An amused smile escaped her lips. “Besides Father, her Intimidation is the best among its users.”
Intimidation . . . I heard Yva mentioning it when Sigrid looked so annoyed at her after beating me three times.
“Intimidation is a unique skill among high-tier undeads,” she explained as if she had already known I was going to ask it. “We normally do not feel fear, but those who possess that skill could incite it. It’s like releasing an aura of bloodlust to show the gap of power between you and your enemy.”
I see. So that was why I felt extreme fear when I faced her. But wait, ibig sabihin ay may ganoon na ring kakayahan si Sigrid? That was amazing and terrifying at the same time.
I took a mental note not to do anything that could piss her off.
“Besides Father, Yva is the best undead that has that skill,” Zaria continued. “In her case, her Intimidation is so developed that it already became a powerful passive skill. Weaker creatures can die just by being in her presence. That is why only select individuals can go to her cave.”
The fear that I felt a while ago creepingly returned upon hearing that. Somehow, I felt like it was already a miracle that I came back alive.
Nagtanong din ako ng ilan pang pangyayaring patuloy na bumabagabag sa akin at isa ro’n ay ang existence naming dalawa.
“We’re undead, right?” I queried. “Why do they need offspring if they can just monopolize the power by themselves?”
She said before that some vampires chose not to create descendants since we were already given a long lifespan, but the royal family seemed determined to sire their heirs. The king was already the most powerful undead in the kingdom, and he surely would live for a long time. I could not understand why he needed me here.
Zaria gave me a thoughtful look. “We may be considered immortal since we’re undead, but we can still experience true death if one cuts off our head. Besides, a royal bloodline may be powerful, but it also has a weakness.”
“It needs continuity,” she explained. “That kind of terrifying power will make an undead formidable, but through time, it also damages their core and body. If he dies without an heir, the bloodline and its power will disappear with him, too.”
At noong gabing ‘yon ay nalaman ko ang dahilan kung bakit ako nandito.
The next afternoon, I was summoned to the royal court.
“The nobles are here, lady,” Sigrid responded.
Apparently, the nobles would always gather in the presence of the king once a month to discuss societal and political matters.
Agad namang pumili si Sigrid ng damit na susuotin ko at halos mapanganga ako nang ipinakita niya ang pinakamagarbong damit sa closet ko.
I was just about to protest when she started striding toward me. “You will be seen by the nobles, lady, so you need to dress accordingly.”
Curse these royal etiquettes!
The dress was beautiful, but it was difficult, and on top of that, embarrassing, to wear. There were layers of petticoats that made the skirt bulky and heavy, but that also highlighted my slim waist, thanks to the corset. The black and white motif also made the laces more noticeable. I thought that was it, but Sigrid draped a crimson mantle lined with white fur and gold embellishments over my shoulders.
She also did my hair and put some cosmetics on my face. After what seemed like hours, she finally stepped back and stared at me for seconds.
Her eyes twinkled in pride. “You look great, lady.”
I let out a dry laugh, but upon looking at myself in the mirror, I could say Sigrid did a miraculous job on making me look like a proper princess.
Nagtungo kami sa royal court pero sobrang bagal ko maglakad dahil sa bigat ng suot ko at may takong din ang sapatos ko. Para akong bata na natututo pa lang maglakad dahil pakiramdam ko ay matutumba ako anumang oras.
Sigrid announced my presence, and the guards promptly opened the door.
The royal court was as huge as the assembly hall. Our family emblem and Vrivarya’s flag hung between the white pillars on each side of the walls. A red carpet ran down from the small dais at the far end of the room to the doorway where I was standing. On each side of the carpet, there stood five chairs currently occupied by ten people whose eyes were all on me.
The nobles continued watching me as I walked through the carpet. Some quietly seething; others no longer hiding their anger.
On the dais, the king—my own father—returned my gaze, his expression frigid. Suddenly, Zaria’s words last night echoed in my head. “The nobles are powerful, and they have been waiting for the right time to control the throne. Because I am powerless, they thought they can usurp the power from Father, but . . .”
As presumptuous as it might be, I glared at the king, and sneered down at the nobles giving me dirty looks. Anger started to course through my body.
The reason why the royal family was desperate at getting me back, and why the nobles seemed to loathe my existence . . .
I finally knew the reason of my return, and how I would be used as a pawn in this looming political turmoil.
I was brought here to continue the bloodline and to protect the royal family’s power.