The girl in front of me -- Olivia ... Eliza, wasn't sure which yet -- had just finished telling a wild story, one that wouldn't make it in the theater at the moment, but perhaps after the war, no matter what the outcome, it would be a smashing hit. Audiences love espionage, and strong willed women hadn't been tackled that much on stage -- thus, new material that could change the theater forever.
"Please say something," she said, which jerked my mind back to reality. She hadn't been joking, and I didn't believe that she could make up such a story on the spot. Perhaps my initial impression was correct; she could be the best actress in all of Handrin. I had a way of finding out, though.
"What would you have me say?" I asked, leading her on a little bit. I didn't want to reveal my cards so soon.
"Anything," she replied, her eyebrows furrowed. She looked down, closing her eyes and mouthed something that I couldn't hear. Finally, she looked back up, speaking softly but louder than before. “I'm sorry. My words were misplaced.”
“On the contrary,” I retorted, grasping her by her shoulders again. She twitched a little at my touch. Now was the time to bring out a bomb of my own. “What would you say if I told you that I wasn't from Handrin, either?”
She took a step back, her eyebrows furrowed again, her mouth gaped. I let my arms hang in mid air for a second or two, lowering them slowly as she began to speak. “I would say you are mocking me, making fun of my sincere story.”
She paused and darted her eyes away from me, yet her head did not move at all. “So, let me guess. You are from Ibera as well. Perhaps we played together as children.”
“No,” I said, smiling slightly at her humor. I wasn't sure of who she was, but I knew she had a future in the theater. This situation was so abnormal; all I could relate to was a piece of fiction on the stage. Testing her acting skills was the only thing I could think of, so I decided to test her with some truth.
“I'm from Fandora.”
Her stare was mostly blank; no emotion except perhaps a little curiosity showed. When I didn't say anything else right away, she asked me where that was, which is exactly what someone from Ibera would ask, I thought.
“It's a province on the east coast,” I explained. “It is ruled by Handrin, but we don't consider ourselves full blood Handrin. Did you not learn this from your tutor or tutors?”
She frowned again, an expression that kept coming back during our conversation. I apologized, realizing that a lady wouldn't learn such things. Geography was meant solely for boys. When I said as such, she pointed a finger in my face, saying, “Perhaps that needs to change.”
My hands went up in a reflexive apology of their own. “I'm sorry,” I said. “I believe you. No one could keep up this charade for so long.” Lowering my hands, I continued, “What have you learned in your spy game?”
“It's no game, and I'm not telling you anything else,” she replied, her tone still harsh. She let out a sound of disgust and continued, “I should never have said anything.”
“Well, how about I share some information with you,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “Did you know that the queen is Iberan by birth?” Her changed expression told me that she hadn't known that. “Yes, and obviously, she doesn't favor this war anymore than you do. In fact, she is doing her best to combat it from within.”
“Don't speak in riddles or be so general,” Eliza said, raising her cheekbones in an expression of annoyance. “Tell me exactly what you mean.”
“I'm trying,” I replied. “There's a lot more to this conflict that simply Handrin Proper and Ibera. The outlying provinces do not want this conflict to continue. I've even heard word that some of the neighboring kingdoms are becoming anxious. It doesn't matter who wins at this point. Another major conflict would destroy either Handrin or Ibera, perhaps both. That would affect the rest of the world.”
“What is the queen doing about this?” she asked, giving me a chance to take a breath.
“She is trying to gain support so that more people openly voice their concern for this war than have done so in the past. I am suppose to be here in the capital to find a wife. That's what my mother thinks, anyway. But, I came for another reason.”
My next words were slightly more dramatic. “I was sent here to find support among the Handrin army.” Then, my tone on the lighter side: “But it seems I found it in court, instead.”