We entered the Great Hall and immediately fell silent. The tension in the room was almost unbearable as the gathered suitors waited for our arrival. I bent my head and allowed Helena lead me past the crowd of men and up to my father’s throne at the opposite end of the hall. We were the last to arrive and as soon as we had taken our places next to our father, we began.
‘My lords,’ my father announced, spreading his hands wide. ‘I welcome you to this, our second challenge. This is a very different challenge to the one you faced last night. Today we are looking at your strength, not your perceptiveness.
‘You have the rest of the day to prepare for a tournament. Last man standing will gain an advantage in the next challenge.’
The room filled with mutterings as my father finished speaking. Excitement filled the faces of many of my suitors, the others looked terrified. I caught sight of Lucian’s face in the crowd and he smiled reassuringly at me, nodding his head.
Unfortunately my father saw me and linked his arm through mine so I would have to follow him out of the Great Hall.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ He hissed at me as he half-dragged me into our private dining hall. ‘You are supposed to be showing your attentions to Prince Markus, not the son of an insignificant lord. He isn’t worth it. Don’t you want to marry well?’
‘Of course I do,’ I insisted.
‘Then the matter is settled. Prince Markus will be your choice and you will stop talking to this Lukas, Luke-‘
‘His name is Lucien,’ I said firmly.
‘I don’t care what his name is. He won’t bring you prosperity and a title. Markus will make you a queen.’
‘What if I don’t want to be a queen?’ I flinched as my father set his burning gaze on me.
‘What did you just say?’
‘What if I don’t want to be a queen?’
‘You’re a silly little girl, who doesn’t know what she is talking about. If I say you want to be a queen, that’s what you want.’
‘Who are you to tell that to me?’
‘I am your father and your king. You will do what I order you to do.’
‘I thought you wanted me to be happy? As my father surely that should be your priority.’
‘But I can’t be just your father. I have a kingdom to worry about too and if you marry Markus you will ensure the safety of your country. Markus has a very powerful family and will be able to protect us if we need it. We are a small country, but being allied through marriage to the Birke family of Basedow would stop other armies thinking we’re a pushover and unprotected.’
‘How can your country mean more to you than the happiness of your daughter?’
‘I am not having this conversation with you Liliana,’ he said, throwing his hands up and turning back towards the door. ‘You don’t know what pressure I’m under.’
‘Then tell me,’ I said, running after him and taking his arm. ‘I want to understand.’
There was a horrid moment of silence where our eyes locked and I had no idea what my father would say. He broke our gaze and looked away, moving towards the door.
‘It’s not your job to question my decisions. You will do what I say. If I see you talking to Lucian again I will have no choice but to discipline you.’
‘What more can you do to me?’ I shouted, surprising both my father and myself. ‘I can’t go out of the palace and I am watched every hour of every day. I am practically a prisoner in my own home. What can you do to make my life even more miserable?’
‘I can keep you here.’
‘You wouldn’t dare.’
‘Don’t push me,’ he said, staring at me for a few seconds before leaving the room, slamming the door behind him.