‘I need to speak to you urgently before you start getting ready for the ball later,’ my mother said briskly, striding into my room and sitting on the chair near my bed. I said nothing, perching on the edge of my bed with my hands folded neatly in my lap as I had been taught. ‘You may leave us now Duchess,’ my mother directed at Elisabeth who was loitering by the door. She nodded and curtsied before leaving the room, shutting the door behind her.
‘Was there anything in particular you wanted to say to me Mother?’ I asked, my voice very clipped and uninterested.
‘Don’t speak to me like that Lili,’ my mother said, slightly shocked by my attitude. ‘You’re in enough trouble with your father as it is without getting on my bad side too.’
‘I’m always on your bad side,’ I muttered to myself. If my mother heard that comment she chose to ignore it and moved on.
‘Your father has informed me that you are having an inappropriate relationship with one of your suitors?’
‘What do you mean by an ‘inappropriate relationship’? I’m assuming you are talking about my friendship with Lucian d’Arco.’
‘You are clearly showing him to be your favourite, something you cannot afford to do. Your father and I have already made a decision on this.’
‘You mean I’m going to marry Markus?’
‘That is the decision your father and I think is best,’ my mother said in her stone cold manner, sitting straight-backed in her chair, no emotion on her face.
‘What about what I think is best? I don’t want to have to marry Markus because you say I should, I want to marry him because he’s my choice. But he’s not my choice, Lucian is.’
‘I know you’ve had this conversation with your father, but it looks like I’m going to have to remind you of what he said. We are your parents and we know best. This was never about your choice Liliana, your father and I were always going to choose your husband and as a dutiful daughter you should respect that decision.’
‘But I’m sick of ‘respecting your decisions’.’ I stood up and stormed across the room, feeling like a bird in a trapped cage, desperate to get away from the crushing presence of my mother. ‘You can’t always be right. What if this time you are wrong and I’m miserable for the rest of my life because I’m stuck in a bad, loveless marriage.’
‘People do not marry for love Liliana,’ my mother spat disdainfully, watching me from her seat. ‘Do you think I married your father for love? No. I married him because he was the heir to the throne and my beauty and money meant I was the most desired woman at court. You are the daughter of a King, marrying a politician’s son is beneath you.’
‘So being completely miserable is a mark of our class. The more unhappy you are the higher your status? This world is sick and twisted if two people can’t marry because they love each other.’
‘Are you saying you love him?’
‘What?’ My brain came to a screeching halt, not expecting my mother to be perceptive enough to think of asking that question.
‘Are you saying you’re in love with Lucian d’Arco?’
‘Of course not,’ I lied. ‘It was a hypothetical situation.’
‘Good,’ my mother said, standing up and walking over to the door. ‘Because if you were in love with him I would have to tell you to stop now. It can only end in heartbreak, because come the end of the final challenge, you will chose Prince Markus as your future husband. It is the wish of your father, both as a parent and as a king. You cannot refuse him.’
‘Father cannot say he is making this decision as a parent. He’s only ever cared about his country, I can see that now. His children were just bargaining chips to make stronger alliances and create bonds with rich and influential families. Why should I be any different?’
‘You can’t say things like that about your father when you don’t understand-‘
‘Everyone keeps telling me I don’t understand, but no one will stop and explain it to me. Why can’t I understand?’
‘I will see you at the ball later,’ my mother said, skimming over my last comment. ‘I do not want to see you breaking your father’s orders. You will not speak to Lucian d’Arco, is that clear?’ She took my silence as a yes. ‘Good. I’m glad we understand each other.’