It took me several seconds and a lot of willpower to hold pit against his intimidation. My hands and knees were still trembling, but I managed to stand up.
Zaria, on the other hand, quickly wiped the blood off her mouth. Most of the knights near us, who were standing motionless a while ago, tensed as they reacted to the scent of her blood. She must have bit her lower lip to pull herself back to reality.
“You barely survived that,” the king frowned, an utter look of dismay written on his face.
Zaria and I weren’t able to reply. The king had that overpowering aura that every cell on my body was telling me to yield. And this was just a fraction of what he could do. That thought terrified me to the core.
The throne room was silent for a while and the surrounding air was oppressively cold, until he beckoned us to move closer.
Napatingin ako kay Zaria at mabilis naman siyang tumango. I nervously followed her lead and we stood just a few meters away from the dais. Troian, the head royal advisor, emerged behind the nearby pillar along with bureaucratic officials from the royal court. The knights who were lined up on each side of the velvet carpet exited the room and were replaced by the officials.
The king nodded to Troian and he lightly bowed at us.
“Your participation in the royal parley has been decided,” he announced as the officials exchanged uneasy looks.
“And what’s the council’s decision?” asked Zaria.
One of the officials passed him a scroll and Troian carefully opened it. “Princess Vyrka is advised to proceed.”
I felt a distant chill upon the mention of my name. “Only me?” sabay turo sa sarili ko. “How about Zaria?”
“I’m afraid the princess cannot participate as her situation will put Vrivarya in a disadvantage.”
“But they will be more suspicious if I miss it,” she argued. “Besides, I can be a political aide to Vyrka. You cannot just throw a fledging in a den full of vultures.”
That was the first time I saw her frustrated and I was grateful that she wanted to be there, too. Parang hindi ko kakayanin kung ako lamang ang nandoon kahit na puwede kong isama ang retainers ko. Her presence would be a huge comfort.
Her words must have struck a chord, too, since Troian stole a glance at the king, but the latter remained expressionless. Zaria was about to argue again when the queen suddenly nodded, much to everyone’s surprise.
“Let her go, too.”
I was gaping the moment I heard the queen speak. It was the first time I heard her voice and it felt too compelling that I found myself nodding at her words. Queen Vinea’s voice was intoxicatingly sweet, but it felt threatening at the same time.
“O-of course, Your Majesty,” Troian uttered, his voice a bit shaken.
Shifting my gaze to the king, I saw him grimly nodding at her decision, too. That moment, I realized that perhaps the queen rarely speaks because her words weigh heavier than the king’s.
We were led to the royal court to finalize the decision regarding the royal parley. As expected, the king excused himself since the topic was about politics. Mabuti na lang talaga at kasama ko si Zaria na mas maraming alam tungkol dito.
The interior of the royal court was modified to suit the purpose of the assembly. A circular oak table was prepared, and the advisors sat around it while Zaria and I settled on the chairs in front of them. But I guess, what unnerved all of us was the queen’s presence.
She was sitting on the lone chair on the small dais just behind us, quietly observing the meeting. Unlike the king who had no interest in politics, the queen seemed concerned.
“I’m afraid the ongoing pressure from Slovar and Remis will continue until the parley,” Troian said.
“We have already stationed several knights and mages at the borders, but if this continues, they will exhaust His Majesty’s patience,” one added.
Zaria suddenly shook her head. “The attacks might be bothering, but father won’t bat an eye with such trivial thing . . . unless the other sovereigns make their own moves.”
Nakinig lamang ako sa pag-uusap nila at tahimik na namangha kay Zaria. She had answers to every question and could retaliate when needed. Her broad knowledge about politics and how the other kingdoms would move made me think how worthy she was to be acknowledged as an heir, too.
“The parley will take place on the next blood moon. We need to prepare both of you for that.”
Right. For a lot of advisors and nobles, both of us were still not good enough. Zaria wasn’t strong, and I wasn’t knowledgeable. It would be detrimental to Vrivarya if the two other royal clans find out about our weaknesses.
The assigned scribe recorded everything on a new scroll and handed it to the queen. Nang matanggap niya ito ay agad na tumayo ang lahat. They paid their respect by bowing and waited for her decision.
My shoulders tensed and I swallowed nervously when her gaze shifted to us.
“The two of you shall participate,” she announced. “Do not disappoint me.”
Just like earlier, her words felt like a powerful spell. I wanted to do everything in my power to keep up with her expectations. I was starting to wonder why I couldn’t resist her when she suddenly stood up.
“I shall see you at my chamber later.”
Her dress billowed as she walked out of the court with grace. The advisors followed suit and Zaria and I were the only remaining ones when I realized what just happened.
“What? What did she say?” bulong ko kay Zaria.
She sighed. “She wants to talk to us. And you should be careful around her.”
Napakunot naman ang noo ko sa narinig. “Come to think of it, I feel like I’ve been hypnotized the whole time.”
“For real?” I asked, gaping.
“Mother may not be physically strong, but I personally think she’s more dangerous than father.” She gave me an amused smile. “She’s a charmer, after all.”
Dumiretso kami ni Zaria sa kuwarto niya at agad ko siyang inulan ng katanungan. I had never been curious about the queen, but after what happened earlier, I wanted to know more about her.
“What do you mean that she’s a charmer? Is that her power?” I asked after we settled on the small table in her room.
“You could say that,” she replied. “Mother rarely speaks because she can make everyone do her bidding with just a few words.”
Halos kilabutan ako nang marinig ko iyon. That was why I could not defy her earlier, and I did not want to disappoint her. For her, words are literally power.
“Now that I think about it, both the king and queen are too powerful.”
I heard Zaria chuckling at my remark. “Of course, they are. Vrivarya would have fallen centuries ago if they weren’t.”
“It’s just . . .” We have some big shoes to fill, I wanted to add, but chose to remain silent. “Uh, anyway, when are we going to her chamber?”
“Oh, surely, her retainers will inform us.”
“I’m nervous,” mahina kong sabi.
“She’s frightening, too.”
Muli siyang natawa sa sinabi ko. “Indeed, she is, but I like speaking with her more than father.”
Contrary to her relationship with the king, Zaria seemed more comfortable with the queen. She hadn’t said anything bad about her aside from her being more dangerous than the king when it comes to her power. Perhaps she wasn’t bad as I thought she would be?
A thought suddenly came in my mind. “Does that mean we can inherit her power?”
I wasn’t sure if it was just the dark clouds casting shadow on the castle, but Zaria’s face darkened. “Unlike the royal bloodline whose unique abilities are entirely passed down to a single heir, noble bloods’ powers are inherited by everyone in the family, albeit they manifest differently. Mother is from the Dvorach clan, one of the oldest noble bloods in Vrivarya, and perhaps the most powerful among the five.”
Napanganga ako sa narinig at naalala ang nangyari noong unang beses kong makita ang nobles. Realization hit me. That was why I kept on wondering why Kamilia Dvorach, their representative, felt familiar. She felt like the queen even though they only shared a bit of physical resemblance.
“Wait, but from what I remember, the Dvorach representative seemed to have some ill feelings toward the king.”
“Oh, that. From what I heard, the oldest daughter of the clan head was supposed to be the queen consort when father was crowned. Kamilia, being the oldest, was expected to fulfill that role, but father chose the younger daughter instead, and that was mother.”
“It’s just a rumor since nobody but the royal house and the Dvorach head family know what happened but seems like there are some truths in it.”
Was that the reason why Kamila harbored such hatred toward the king? And by extension, to us?
Natigil ang pag-uusap namin nang marinig namin ang pagkatok sa pinto. We exchanged looks and immediately got up as soon as we heard that it was one of the queen’s retainers.
The woman was dressed in a white linen coat similar to Moria. Her red eyes gleamed amid the dimly lit place and the aura she was exuding reminded me of Roesia.
“I shall escort you to Her Majesty’s chamber,” she sternly said.
Agad kaming tumango at napatingin ako kay Kei na nandoon lamang nakatayo sa pintuan ng kuwarto ko. He and Olga had been looking frustrated since earlier as they couldn’t participate in the previous meeting, as well as this one.
“I’ll be back,” I assured him, and he just nodded somberly.
According to Troian, our retainers weren’t allowed to participate in any meetings about the royal parley until everything had been finalized. They couldn’t accompany us this time, too, since the queen didn’t like being surrounded by a number of people.
Halos tahimik lang kaming naglalakad papunta sa chamber niya. Hindi pa ako nakakapunta sa side na ito ng palace kaya nakadikit lamang ako kay Zaria.
The hallway leading to the queen’s chamber was lined with shallow alcoves and floating braziers that light up when people passed by them. It was much gloomier and darker than the rest of the castle as I couldn’t even see what was in front of me. All I know was my instincts were telling me to be alert.
Hindi ko alam kung ilang minuto ang lumipas bago kami makarating sa dulo ng hallway. The Stygian door looked like it was carved from darkness itself.
“Your Majesty, the princesses are here,” the woman who escorted us announced.
I stifled a gasp when the something suddenly moved from each side of the door. Doon ko lang napagtanto na mayroon palang naka-station na knights doon. I didn’t see nor sense them at all. Squinting my eyes to get a clearer look, I almost stepped back in horror upon realizing why. They were incorporeal.
The guards’ bodies were made up of black smoke. Their faces were devoid of anything, but gaunt black skulls full of scratches and holes.
“Those are her personal knights,” bulong sa akin ni Zaria nang makita niya ang tinitingnan ko. “The synders.”
Before I could say anything, the door creaked open and revealed a room that was such a stark contrast to the somber hallway. The marble floor was polished clean that it was reflecting everything. The golden pillars complemented the white and cream motif of the room. At the far end was a smaller dais where a lone highchair stood. There were also two doors on each side, and I was sure one of them would lead to her bedroom.
At the middle of the room was a lounge area where visitors could stay. A couch set and a table was set up along with a variety of . . . well, blood tea.
The queen was sitting on the middle couch, gracefully sipping her tea. She lightly nodded and the two of us sat right across her.
I couldn’t help but stare at her face. She had always been overshadowed by the king the few times I saw them, and it was always dark in the palace. Idagdag pa na hindi naman siya gumagalaw o nagsasalita. But here in her chamber, she was the main attraction. Her golden eyes and hair, and pale skin made her look glowing. It wouldn’t be impossible to believe if anyone would say she was the most beautiful creature in this land.
Marahan niyang ibinaba ang tasang hawak at tumingin sa akin. I wanted to avert her gaze, but I couldn’t.
“What do you think of me, child?” tanong niya.
Hindi agada ko nakasagot. Her presence was too overwhelming, and I feared what I might say.
“Uh . . . I-I’m honored to meet—"
“Spare me the flattery. Speak the truth.”
Suddenly, it felt like my neck was being held tight. It was as if my body was tied, and she was holding the reins. My reasoning was starting to fade away and I just wanted to do everything she wished for. Unlike earlier, her words this time weren’t a remark nor a comment. They were a command.
A command I could not dare resist.
“I am scared of you,” I uttered.
Matapos ‘yon ay agad akong napahawak sa leeg ko. I felt a wave of panic rising through my throat upon realizing what she just did and what I just said.
The queen quietly sipped her tea again while I watched in disbelief.
When I was still living as a human, people would always say I should be careful with my words as they are powerful. I never thought I’d witness it in a literal sense.
Zaria was right all along. She was more dangerous than the king. Even without him, Vrivarya was powerful.
The queen alone can rule and tear a kingdom down.