There was a final court meeting to wrap everything about the royal parley.
I nominated Kei and Sigrid to be my attendants along with Zaria. Of course, announcing my choices to them didn’t end up peacefully.
Sigrid was overjoyed that she started mocking Moria. “As expected, only the strongest are chosen.”
One thing that I learned while staying in Vrivarya was that mages, despite their cheerful and alluring demeanor, were frightening when angered. They hold grudges and make sure to exact revenge even if it takes thousands of years.
A sweet smile spread over Moria’s face, and I already knew what that meant. Irus instinctively hid inside my shadows while Kei retreated behind me. Even I wanted to run away but it would look ridiculous if her master feared her retainer.
What was more frustrating was that Sigrid would always retaliate. Napabuntonghininga na lang ako habang pinapanood sila. These women will surely cause trouble if I brought them together or if both were left behind.
I couldn’t bring Irus, too, since we’d be sailing the sea and there wouldn’t be enough shade to cover him when the sun is up. He could stay in my shadow, but the other kingdoms might misunderstand our intention if we brought an experienced assassin in concealment.
“Her Highness is just kind. She didn’t want to hurt your ego even if your presence weren’t even needed in the first place,” Moria retorted with a smile on her face.
“You described envy wrong,” Sigrid returned.
Sparks flew between them, and I knew my room would turn into a maelstrom of chaos if I didn’t step in.
“Enough, you two,” I warned. Fortunately, they both stopped coming at each other’s throat and stayed silent for a while.
If I told anyone that the tamest among my retainers was a freaking assassin, they surely wouldn’t believe me. I get more and more exhausted when I’m dealing with them as they continue to compete for my praise and validation.
Kei, Sigrid, and Zaria went with me to the court meeting to finalize our tasks for the royal parley. The royal council started discussing about our journey to the island of Katur.
“The voyage usually takes a day, but it may take longer if there are hindrances along the way,” Troian explained.
As mentioned before, the Sea of Mirovia was teeming with mermaids and they would attack anything they see moving on the surface. Most sailors would use sonars and flammables to keep them away from their ship, but because of their incredible speed, some could still evade those measures and drag people into the depths of the water.
“The ship has been prepared, Your Highness,” one of the council members said.
“Will it reach Katur safely?” tanong ko.
“You need not to worry about its durability, Your Highness,” Dmitri Estrei chimed in as he placed the blueprint of the ship on the table. “It is made from a special type of oak wood only found in the Sybaris Forest and cupronickel metal acquired from Tuzkan. Artificial sonars were also installed around the hull. I assure Your Highness that the ship will bring you to Katur without any problem.”
Zaria leaned toward me. “The Estrei clan is known for their exceptional skills in craftsmanship,” she whispered. “Records said that the first head of the Estrei house built the royal palace as an offer of fealty to the throne.”
Bumalik ang tingin ko kay Dmitri at nakita ko ang pagngiti niya sa akin. He always had an impassive expression on his face so seeing a smile from him was quite a surprise. Was I just imagining things?
The Estrei clan had been neutral for two generations of monarch. I thought it was because their choice could break the balance between the royal house and the alliance between Kuzlav and Dvorach clans, but it looked like Dmitri just didn’t see Father as someone worthy enough to offer the complete support of the Estrei clan. Or was he planning something else?
“I see,” sagot ko. “And the supplies?”
“You shall be provided with emergency blood and life force supplies in case something happens,” replied Troian.
Tumango naman ako. “Then that shall conclude the meeting.”
I thought the nobles would have something to say, but surprisingly, they were silent. Perhaps they knew they had already lost the chance to sneak in their spy to report on what would transpire during the parley.
The meeting was quickly adjourned but Zaria stayed to talk to Alexei. They needed time to talk about things, I guess.
Maging sina Sigrid at Kei ay nagpaalam para maghanda. The two seemed psyched and wanted to train more before the journey. Inspired by their eagerness, I also went to the dark mountains to test my skills, but before I could reach the peak, a subtle yet ominous presence pricked my nape.
My reflexes kicked into gear and avoided Yva’s ambush.
“You have avoided it for the first time,” she chuckled as she pulled back the blade that made a huge hole through the dried tree trunk behind me. “Dare I say you have improved, Your Highness.”
My body must have been used to Yva’s presence that it moved on its own to avoid any damage. If it weren’t for those reflexes, my neck would have already exploded.
We started training again and fortunately, I could already keep up with Yva’s normal speed. I had also mastered corrosion—a technique where I use blood to wear away any kind of tangible matter. A drop of my blood could rot a whole tree in a few seconds and can cause toxification within a person’s body within a minute. The darker my blood gets, the more toxic it is to a living matter.
My skill was terrifying enough, but what sent shivers down my spine was Yva’s reaction after seeing her arm quickly decaying.
“Ah, how long has it been since I last felt pain,” she murmured as she tore her own arm from her body with a satisfied grin on her face. “You really are His Majesty’s heir.”
Yva’s flesh started regenerating while her severed arm shriveled up quickly and turned into a dried piece of skin. My hands tingled upon witnessing my own capability. A single user of a bloodline skill was powerful enough to destroy a kingdom, hence, each bloodline could only produce one heir to maintain such balance. Yet here I am, a twin, wielding the same terrifying ability.
Days seemed to pass quicker after I decided to stay in the dark mountains to hone my skill with the help of Yva. Nagulat na lang ako nang sunduin ako ni Kei mula rito dahil kinabukasan na ang pag-alis namin.
The look on his face was one of absolute shock after seeing my current state. The fancy dress I was wearing had been torn and tattered. My hair was tangled and filthy, and I was covered in blood, dirt, and mud. Anyone would be appalled if they had seen my appearance.
Naglakad ako papunta sa direksyon niya. Fortunately, it was only Kei who had to witness such an unsightly view.
“Forgive me, Your Highness…”
His cloak fluttered as he wrapped it around my shoulders. He pulled the hood over my head to make sure my face was hidden.
“…there are a lot of watchful eyes in the royal grounds right now,” he whispered.
I couldn’t help but snicker at his remark. Right. I am a princess. And it was my responsibility to look like one. It would definitely cause a stir if I went down looking like this.
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” he said while taking a step closer to me.
I gave him a confused look. “What?”
“I am imploring for your forgiveness once again, Your Highness.”
Before I could finish what I was about to say, he gently reached for my shoulders, and suddenly, everything turned dark.
Isang matalim na tingin ang ibinigay ko kay Kei nang makabalik kami sa kuwarto ko. He was kneeling in front of me, asking for forgiveness while the three stood quietly on the side.
Kei just night-traveled from one of the highest peaks of the dark mountains to my own chamber. It would have been better if he informed me before using it so I could prepare myself, but he just went and pulled me into the shadows.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as nauseating as before. In fact, it felt like I could see the shadows moving along with us instead of just getting extremely disoriented. Was it due to my improvement?
Muli akong napatingin kay Kei at nagpakawala ng buntonghininga. He would be reprimanded had anyone saw him casually touching a royal blood. Fortunately, Yva didn’t care about etiquettes and nobody would dare set foot on her territory for questions. I just wished he was careful enough since the noble houses were just waiting for them to mess up so they could assign a “more capable” retainer for me.
“Stand up,” I ordered. “Surely, you did that in my best interest, but be careful next time. I do not want to lose any of you as my retainers.”
Their eyes suddenly twinkled in pure admiration, and I almost regretted saying those words.
“My loyalty is eternally yours, Your Highness.”
“As expected of Her Highness, you really are a worthy master.”
“I will gladly die for you, Your Highness.”
“Worthy of perpetual service.”
My cheeks would have been beet red in embarrassment if I were still a human if they continued looking at me like that. I get that they enjoy serving me but why couldn’t they act normally?
I dismissed them before they could utter more cringey remarks, and I started preparing for our journey.
After cleaning myself, I wore the dress that Zaria had prepared beforehand.
“They said the former queen Veradis, the fifth ruler of Vrivarya, wore this dress for the royal parley,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be fitting for the second woman to assume the throne to wear it?”
It was a scarlet gown adorned with gold and black embellishments—the colors of Vrivarya. It was on the simpler side compared to my usual dresses, but it had leather straps that looked like a knight’s armor.
A single glance and one could already discern its purpose: it was a dress for a royal warrior.
I was about to head out when I felt a strange presence nearby. But before I could do anything, Irus popped out with his rapier drawn toward someone in the balcony.
“How dare an assassin point his blade to a noble’s neck?”
Walking out of the balcony was Alexei Revali who was about to unsheathe his sword.
“My retainer is only doing his job,” I said. “You dare trespass a royal chamber, Sir Alexei?”
Tension heightened between us but it immediately subsided when he let go of his sword’s hilt.
“I apologize for the unannounced visit, Your Highness. I just have something to discuss,” he said while glancing at the right wall.
Was it something related to Zaria? Moria, who was standing outside my room, would have to announce his visit if he followed the usual protocol, but that would have alerted Olga and Zaria, too. Perhaps he was here to discuss something he didn’t want Zaria to know about.
I glanced at Irus. “It’s okay. Leave us alone for a moment.”
“As you command, Your Highness.”
Irus disappeared in a blink of an eye, and I gestured Alexei to settle on the table.
“Your impertinent action is pardoned,” I said while sitting across him. “What is it that you want to talk about?”
He started fumbling with the hilt of his sword. “I am concerned about Princess Zaria’s safety,” he murmured. “As Your Highness already know, she does not possess the Stryzyga’s ability, but the neighboring kingdoms do not know that. On top of that, she’s the adviser for the royal parley. Any argument can escalate to a fight that may endanger her life.”
I could only stare at Alexei’s worried expression as he voiced out his concern and I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. Both of them were saying they were only betrothed for political purposes, but I could see that they care about each other, perhaps, more than what they thought of.
His eyebrows twitched upon seeing me smile. “Are you listening, Your Hi—”
“Worry not, Alexei, my top priority is her safety,” I said.
Hindi naman agad siya nakapagsalita nang sabihin ko ‘yon pero nakita ko ang pagkawala ng tensyon sa mga balikat niya. “Your Highness, isn’t reprimanding the Lilith clan your priority?”
It was kind of funny to see him suddenly getting concerned about the objectives of our attendance. He must not have expected my answer earlier.
“It is, but Zaria’s safety is equally important,” I responded. “I need her as my royal adviser if I want to rule this land without problems.”
He was unable to speak for a few seconds but managed a smile afterwards. “Now I see why she likes you,” he murmured.
Alexei stood up and offered his respect to me with a deep bow. “I wish for your safe journey, Your Highness.”
Naglakad siya pabalik sa balcony pero muli kong tinawag ang pangalan niya bago pa siya mawala.
“Aren’t you going to visit her?”
He stopped short and flinched upon the mention of Zaria. “I don’t think she’d want to see me after I…”
Oh, right. During the royal court meeting, Zaria glared at him after he recommended Olga to be one of the attendants for the royal parley.
I stifled a snicker as his shoulders hunched in dismay. “I’m sure she’s waiting for you. But please, do not enter through her balcony. Olga might have beheaded you already before Zaria could confirm your identity.”
He instinctively reached for his neck. “I know that already,” he muttered.
Before I could reply, he had already jumped off the balcony. Hah. What a guy. But now I’m reassured that he’d treat Zaria right.
Makalipas ang ilang oras ay tuluyan na akong lumabas. I was escorted by my retainers to the courtyard where a royal coach carriage was waiting. Nagulat naman ako nang makita ko si Sheriff doon kaya napatingin ako kay Kei.
“He started harassing the grim assigned to pull the carriage. I guess he wanted to do the honor.”
“But didn’t he dislike being a coach horse that’s why I could only mount him?”
“Perhaps it’s because the passenger is you, Your Highness.”
My gaze shifted back to Sheriff, and he was looking at me with a proud expression on his face, as if he was saying, ‘Be honored. Someone like me is going to carry you.’
What an arrogant yet quite cute death horse.
Zaria also arrived at the courtyard. We boarded the carriage while Kei and Sigrid sat on the coach box outside.
“Finally,” she beamed while looking outside the window.
The visible excitement on her face made me smile, too. She looked like a kid who was about to attend her first field trip, and in a sense, it was the truth.
“Now, I’m getting excited, too.”
She smiled at me. “Right? I cannot wait to see what’s beyond Vrivarya!”
Natawa naman ako sa expression niya. Technically, we were only going to see a lot of water since we’re sailing the Sea of Mirovia. Still, it was funny to see how thrilled she was.
“I cannot wait, too,” I said.
I wonder what’s waiting for us in the place called land of peace.