I wanted to stay in Rurik’s tower to look after the three, but Sigrid said Zaria was waiting for me.
Halos makalimutan ko siya dahil sa gulat at pag-aalala ko sa kanilang tatlo. I was hesitant to leave at first, but Rurik reassured me that they would be back in action tomorrow.
Medyo nakaramdam naman ako ng pagkailang habang naglalakad kami ni Sigrid. That exchange we had earlier made me see her in a new light. I thought she was just looking down on them, but she seemed to have high expectations on them instead, although I hope she could improve how she treats them.
Nang makabalik kami sa palasyo ay naabutan kong nasa labas ng kuwarto ko sina Zaria at Olga.
She heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing me. “Vryka! What happened?”
We stepped into my room and settled on the center table. Sigrid and Olga prepared a cup of tea for each of us and stood outside the room right after.
Ikinuwento ko naman sa kanya ang nangyari at kita ko ang lungkot sa mukha niya. I saw her taking a quick glance at the doorway, and promptly realized that she must not be unfamiliar to this kind of treatment. I wanted to ask her about it, but I was scared I’d offend her.
As if she were reading my mind, a forlorn smile came across her face. “The expectations toward royal servants and retainers are incredibly high. You need to prove yourself to be worthy of such position.”
Based on her words and expression, it was safe to assume that her royal maid, Olga, must have been punished before, too. And that made me more frustrated.
“But it was because I was weak myself,” I mumbled, recalling how helpless I was during the journey, but those words might have been so inconsiderate in front of Zaria, who was completely powerless.
At huli na para bawiin ang nasabi ko. Her lips contorted into a pained smile, and I felt so sorry. However, apologizing would just add insult to the injury.
“A-anyway,” I intoned, trying to shift the topic. “Don’t you think the punishments are a bit too extreme?”
“I am actually impressed that they are still alive.”
Halos masamid ako sa iniinom kong tsaa nang marinig ko iyon. “W-what?”
“The ministers of defense are merciless when it comes to defense and security missions.” Her pursed her lips; uncertainty painted on her face. “Although, they may have other motives.”
My brows creased. “What do you mean?”
“The ministers are from Kuslav and Dvorach clans.”
Bigla ko namang naalala ang nobles sa royal court. Orell and Florian Kuslav disrespected Zaria so much earlier, I lost my cool. And Kamilia Dvorach . . . she seemed to have some ill feeling toward the king.
“Do they hold that much power?”
Zaria’s face darkened. “Father is undoubtedly the strongest and most powerful creature here. He’s a great commander and everyone follows his lead during wars, but as a king, he’s lacking,” she said, and I was quite surprised that he criticized him. “He does not care nor respect politics at all.”
Tahimik akong nakinig sa salaysay niya. It turned out the nobles acquired more power when it comes to state affairs because of his negligence. He would always say yes to their demands because those did not interest him. The only time he would listen attentively was when fighting or war was involved.
“Wow, that’s . . .”
She snickered. “He’s frightening, but seriously, his preference of strength and power over political strategies reduced the royal family’s power and influence. Fortunately, Mother is different. That is why she appointed me as a secondary adviser in royal court meetings.”
I was starting to learn a lot about the country’s political tug of war, and how both of us were guaranteed to be involved because of our existence. We would be used as pawns by the nobles against the throne, and vice versa.
Iniisip ko pa lang ang maaaring mangyari ay sumasakit na ang ulo ko.
“But I am curious about the case of your retainers. Maybe this is their warning,” she surmised.
“They cannot directly hurt a royal, but surely, they can punish those who are loyal to you.”
“Can they do that?”
She forced a smile. “They have attempted to relinquish me as a royal princess before using Olga. They want her to announce that I am not worthy because I am weak, but . . .” Her voice cracked, but she swallowed back whatever feelings were starting to overwhelm her. “My ever-loyal Olga remained faithful to me despite being tortured several times.”
“Olga is still with me now, so everything is alright, but I cannot forgive them for what they did,” she said. “I hope yours are fine, too. It’s hard to find loyal servants and retainers in this lifetime, so if you have, treasure, and protect them.”
“Of course. I will.”
Hindi ko alam kung ilang oras kaming nag-usap tungkol sa mga bagay na gusto kong malaman. She told me things I needed to learn and things and people I should be careful of. Nagulat nga siya dahil bigla raw akong naging interesado sa Vrivarya pero napagtanto kong kailangan ko iyon. I didn’t want to be used by those who were in power for their own benefits, nor my retainers to be involved in their schemes.
Natigil ang pag-uusap namin nang magsalita si Sigrid. “Lady Vyrka, your retainers want to have an audience with you.”
“Oh, my. It’s already morning, I guess?” sabay tayo ni Zaria mula sa kanyang upuan.
Pareho kaming napatingin sa balkonahe. It was hard to know the time in the palace since the dark mountains behind completely block the sunlight. It was always dark unless you turn the lights on.
Nagulat din ako dahil hindi namin napansing pareho ang oras.
“Apologies for consuming much of your time. For now, just meet your retainers.”
Ngumiti ako sa kanya. “Alright.”
She sashayed away from me, and Olga opened the door for her. At the same time, I saw Moria, Kei, and Irus waiting for my confirmation.
Dali-dali silang pumasok habang nakasunod si Sigrid pero nagulat ako sa sumunod nilang ginawa. They all knelt and bowed at me.
“We apologize for causing you concerns,” Moria said, her head almost touching the floor already.
“We failed you,” she continued lamenting, “but please give us another chance to serve you, lady—!”
Napalakas nang bahagya ang pagsigaw ko kaya natigilan si Moria. They finally stopped groveling and met my eyes, although they seemed to misinterpret that because now, they were looking at me with miserable expressions.
Now that I think about it, they must have had a hard time during the journey because they knew who I was while I was left in the dark. Of course, it was part of their mission, but ordering and talking casually to a royal must have been a challenge. Still, they protected me, and they were with me since the start.
“You three are still my retainers, that I want to say first.”
The despair on their faces was replaced by relieved grins, though I could really not see Irus’ lips. Muli silang lumuhod kaya agad ko na silang pinatayo. But after hearing some stories from Zaria, I wanted to know what they went through, too. And as expected, they were tortured because of what had happened to me throughout the journey.
Several thoughts weighed on my chest and after a few seconds, I faced them again.
“Tell me honestly,” I said. “Did they threaten you? Are they planning to use you against me?”
They decided to avert my gaze. I knew there was something wrong.
Sigrid suddenly stepped forward, and I stifled a gasp as a double-edged scythe got conjured on her right hand.
“Pardon me, lady,” she said as her gaze shifted toward them. “If you allow yourself to be a tool against lady Vyrka, then I don’t have any mercy to spare. Now, answer her.”
For someone as innocent looking like Sigrid, her sadistic and draconian ways were surely such a sight. Pero mukhang naging effective ito dahil nawala ang pag-aalinlangan sa mga mukha nila.
“Indeed, they tried to use us to monitor you, lady,” Moria explained, “but we swore not to betray our liege.”
Muli niyang isinalaysay ang mga detalyeng iniwan niya kanina. Zaria was right. The nobles, who thought they could seize the throne because she was not in their way, found a thorn in their side with me. And because they couldn’t hurt me, they turn their anger toward my retainers.
Mukhang maging si Sigrid ay naniwala sa sagot nila kaya agad ding nawala sa kamay niya ang scythe. Para naman akong nabunutan ng tinik sa dibdib. This girl really needed to loosen up.
But also, I was glad that they were still loyal, and I had to repay them with worthiness. Besides, I needed to be careful from now on, or else, those nobles would use every opportunity to relinquish my position, too.
That was why I needed to be strong. Strong enough to protect myself and everyone around me.
“I have a favor,” I announced.
The four bowed their head and as I relayed what I wanted to do; their faces were slowly filled with apprehension.
There were two things I learned after my retainers agreed to my desire. First, I realized how physically weak I was; and second, I was lucky they were loyal to me.
I requested them to train me because I wanted to be a worthy lord for them. Sigrid said I had a unique skill through my bloodline, but I couldn’t count on that every time.
We marched through the dark mountains, but away from where Yva was. I didn’t want to disturb her at all. That woman was a monster in a league of her own.
Akala ko ay kahit papaano, nag-improve ako dahil ilang malalakas na kalaban din ang nakaharap namin bago kami makarating sa Vrivarya. In addition, I got awakened upon seeing the king, hence I developed some kind of fear and pain resistance.
However, being awakened was nothing against them.
“Lady, your defense and instincts are getting better,” Kei casually commented while I was parrying his attacks.
Among the four, he said he was the weakest when it comes to offense, but I was still being pushed back. His weapon, a djall or dragon’s tooth, was making it worse. As far as I could remember, the stronger the bloodline of the opponent was, the more effective it was. And I could feel my strength getting sapped by it.
Pagkatapos ni Kei ay si Moria naman ang naging kaharap ko. Moria wanted to focus on magic more, but I didn’t even know one.
“Oh, lady, please use your bloodline’s power against me,” she beamed. “This way, we can test your real strength.”
Before I could protest, the ground rumbled and roots as thick as my arms started whirling at my direction. Without any knowledge about magic, I couldn’t even produce a barrier, so I did the best I could do—run away. But there were just too many roots, and I was cornered.
“What will you do now, lady?” she taunted.
Hindi na ako nakapag-isip at mariing tumingin sa kanya. I focused my desperation in her and felt the rush of blood and heat around my eyes. The next thing I knew, dark purple blotches were starting to creep up her right arm.
I inaudibly gasped as she severed her right arm with her left, forcefully stopping the blotches from spreading through her limb.
“S-sorry—!” sigaw ko pero isang matamis na ngiti lang ang isinukli niya sa akin.
“Oh, my,” she coyly remarked, pretending to be surprised. “Is this a punishment, lady?”
Why was she suddenly blushing? And it definitely was not!
Dahil ilang minuto pa bago tuluyang bumalik ang kamay niya ay pinagpahinga ko muna siya. Kei and Moria were certainly strong, but the last two were merciless monsters.
When Irus stepped in, he immediately disappeared, and I could not sense his presence at all. He would appear anywhere, and it was hard to guess where he was coming from because he wasn’t even exuding any bloodthirst or killing intent.
Hindi pa siya seryoso niyan pero halos mamatay ako kada pag-atake niya. If it weren’t for my honed instincts, I would already be headless at his first attack.
Sigrid was his exact opposite. Her attacks were straightforward, and she was overwhelming me with nothing but physical strength.
As an awakened, physical attacks should have little to no effect on me due to my pain resistance, but I could feel my bones cracking at the impact of her punches and kicks.
The heck was with her monstrous strength?! And she wasn’t even using any weapon!
Just when I thought of that, she suddenly conjured the scythe she was holding a while ago when my right foot didn’t land properly. She didn’t even miss that detail.
My eyes almost fell from their sockets when she did a fast full swing at my neck. Few inches before it could graze my skin, the strength on my legs and knees completely disappeared.
If my heart was still beating right now, I would have died of a heart attack. Her scythe missed me by a hair’s breadth, and I was extremely lucky my head was still intact, although she wasn’t giving off any killing intent.
A grin grew on Sigrid’s face. “That was a magnificent dodge, lady. As expected from my master.”
All I could do was heave a sigh. She looked so proud of me, I didn’t even have the heart to tell her that I just collapsed in fear, and it wasn’t a choice. Maging ang tatlo ay nagsimulang pumalpak sa akin na para bang isang secret move ang ginawa ko.
And once again, I was painfully and embarrassingly reminded how lucky I was that they were my subordinates, and not enemies.