“May I present, her royal highness, Elleithyia Celeste, Duchess of Antoweif and Crown Princess of Sierra.”
After hearing my name, I slowly walked towards the isle of the Grand Hall. I am going to welcome an important guest from Lutrania, so formalities like welcoming him in the state’s Grand Hall is necessary.
Ever since I came back from that country, it was my first time to hold such an important event like this. Unlike my usual days in Antoweif where I can let my face be seen by my family members, close friends and servants, I have to follow the protocol in this palace – Veils for unmarried ladies. All of my ladies-in-waiting are also wearing one today. This is required for them too because they represent me.
I didn’t like wearing veil before. When I was seven, father ordered the revival of wearing veils for unmarried ladies in the court. The commoners and servants were the exception. His reason – he wanted me to keep out from the eyes of the nobles. I am my father’s favorite child, so I will be the target of his enemies. His method was effective; someone can replace me to attend important events or when I stroll in the palace. Because of this, the nobles never knew my face. I was attended by mother and accompany my little brother all the time.
But I was thankful at this very moment. When I went to Lutrania, I have to restrain myself and let my face be seen in public. The reason – I was in disguise as Erin. So everyone in the Lutranian nobility had seen my face and Lord Maverick is no exception. He was with the prince the whole time and knew me very well. Now I thank this protocol to let me hide my face from him.
When I reached where our visitor stood up, he immediately gave respects to me.
“I am Maverick James, Count of Franneu and King Freidhelm’s trusted advisor.”
“Welcome to the Kingdom of Sierra, Lord Maverick.” I sweetly said to the man in front. As a princess, I was trained hardly on etiquette and refinement classes so I can use them in this kind of situation. But when I was in their kingdom back then, I was labeled by him as a harsh woman because of the way I respond to conversation.
“Thank you for your warm welcome, your highness.”
“I expect you had a peaceful journey on your way here.”
“It was indeed peaceful. Sierra’s security on its borders is really tight. I felt secured by coming here.”
I smiled wickedly at his response. Due to the strength of the Knight Order, Lord Niklaus was able to deploy such skilled black knights at the borders in order to protect the Kingdom. Reports reached me that two travelers were chased out when they did not present valid documents before they were allowed to cross the borders. When the sketch of the travelers arrived, Auguste confirmed that it was Freidhelm awnd Maverick.
“Well, reports reached me that there might be spies entering the kingdom. Since the High General of the Knights is a friend of mine, I asked a little favor.”
I saw his face twitched. He must be surprise that I had taken a move on the kingdom’s security. Tsk… Tsk… How unfortunate for him.
“The King and Queen must be waiting in the throne room. Let me lead the way, your highness and Lord Maverick.” The Lord Chamberlain interrupted. We both followed him.
While walking towards our destination, I started up the conversation.
“I will be accompanying you in your stay here, Lord Maverick. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I am deeply honored, your highness. To be escorted by the future Queen… I don’t think I deserve such treatment.”
“You are the representative of the King, which means every act that you do and the words come out from you is equivalent to what would his majesty do and say. We can’t disregard your position as well. You are his right hand. It is inappropriate for us not to prepare for your arrival.”
“But unlike me, you are the crown heir. There’s no need for you to give me such importance, especially I’m lower of rank.”
“Nonsense. It is the crown heir’s duty to meet guests from another kingdom. It is also my duty to keep them entertained. If you’re thinking I’m giving you such attention, then banish that thought. I am just doing my job. So, you don’t need to worry yourself from what I’m doing.” I sharply told him.
He stared at me for a short moment and looked away. I bet he sensed my dislike for him. We reached the throne room in no time and we entered.
Everyone in the nobility gathered inside to get a glimpse of the rumored Count and also welcomed him. These people… They will be making rumors about this arrival and spread them in the entire court. How unlucky of you, Lord Maverick, you’ll be the center of attention in the duration of your stay.
Many nobles approached him to say their welcome; I talk to him when I had the chance even I don’t like it. Because if not, this will create a shameless rumor, I can’t let my reputation plunge down in an instant.
When he was finished in giving his respects to the King and Queen, father let him retire to his designated room to have a rest. I also decided to go back to my room to check on some reports.
I just arrived in my study when my cousin, Princess Beatrix, came in unannounced.
“Why are you here, Princess Beatrix?” I coldly asked. I lifted up my veil to breathe in some air. I thought I would die of suffocation a while ago.
“Your highness. You’d been rude to the Count of Franneu a while ago. What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Beatrix, if you are here to scold me about that. Just leave. I have some important matters to attend to.”
“I won’t leave. I need to give you some lecture about respect.”
I rolled my eyes. “Seriously? Princess Beatrix, I did no harm by my statements. I have the right to say that.”
“Right? Just because you’ll be crowned Queen you had the right to look down on him. Remember, he is the representative of the King.”
I chuckled. “Oh my dear cousin… You are way older than me. I thought you knew better.”
“What?! Are you looking down on me as well?”
“Of course not, Princess Royal. Don’t you know that being rude to men at first meeting will make them want to see you more? Men want some thrills as well. By what I did, he will pay more attention to me later on.”
I saw her jaw dropped. “I can’t believe it. Am I that naïve with men?”
“Yes.” I answered honestly.
“You are brutally honest! Hah! How about you? Telling me such things… I’m sure you are NOT!”
“I grew up with men, my dear Beatrix. I knew better because of my brothers, while you have female siblings. So I was surprised by the news of you getting married. How did you have him anyway?”
Her face became so red. Uh oh. I had angered the Princess Royal. This is no good. I remember when I angered her when we were still young; our grandmother, the Queen Dowager summoned me to explain my side. I was detained in my grandmother’s chamber for hours and lectured me for my behavior before letting me out. Bullying her favorite grandchild let me suffered while I was in my tender age. My father just laughed his heart out whenever I was punished. What a cruel childhood.
“Hmpfff!!! You are mean as ever!” She stormed out of the study. I followed but I didn’t catch up with her. I just told my ladies-in-waiting to go with the princess so I can find peace in my room.
When everyone was nowhere in sight, Erin locked the door of my room just in case someone might barge in.
I sat to my chair in my study, I blew out a huge sigh. “ That was tiring.”
“Tiring? Which one? Your cousin or Lord Maverick.”
“Ugh. Both of them.”
“ I saw that you are not that attentive to what the Lord was talking about a while ago, your highness.”
“He was talking about Lutrania, Erin. I don’t want to hear anything related to that country. I pretended to listen with everything he said.”
“Your hatred towards them can be clearly felt. The Lord must have noticed it before we entered the throne room.”
“Well… I am not denying I was rude that time. My words just slipped out of my tongue before realizing what I really said. My reasons to Beatrix were obviously lies. She’s right. I am also not good with men, my experience with love can attest to that fact.”
“You just loved the wrong person, your highness.”
“Love has no luck for me, Erin. Unlike you, you found that genuine love on my brother. I am envious.”
I saw hurt in her eyes. Yes, she found her one true love. But it disappeared with just a short span of time. He died in her arms.
She shifted the conversation. “What will be your move?”
“Oh… I nearly forgot. I want an afternoon tea with Lord Maverick tomorrow. Please tell the Lord Chamberlain immediately so he can do the necessary preparations. Also, please tell my courier to go here. I need to send my apologies to Princess Beatrix. I can’t go personally to the Northern Chambers because of my sore feet.”
“Princess Beatrix seemed sensitive, isn’t she?”
“A childish tomboy doesn’t suit a princess.” I told her. “Her personality may cause problems in the future. She was spoiled too much by my grandmother and did not teach her much of court manners. I can accept her for who she is, actually. But she is going to be married to the crown prince of Asyantia, where they put etiquette and protocols to greater importance than their law.”
“Let’s just hope for the best for the princess.” Just like me, Erin was worried about her. “And besides, the crown prince seemed madly in love with her. I bet he’d protect her at all cost.”
“Hmmmm… I hope so too. I think you need to get going. Don’t forget my orders.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“No need for thanks. We are family.” She curtsied and left the room.
“Her royal highness, Crown Princess Elleithyia Celeste.” The Lord Chamberlain announced as I reached the grounds where Lord Maverick and I will meet. I arranged that our tea party will be held at The Golden Pavilion where it lies at the end of the vast garden of the palace. I preferred this place because it is far from the prying eyes of the nobles and more importantly, I want to talk with Lord Maverick privately.
When I arrived at the pavilion, Lord Maverick came to me and kissed my right hand. He helped me have my seat and I started to talk.
“Thank you for coming for my afternoon tea, Lord Maverick. I specifically made efforts so you won’t be bored in your stay here. I also want to warm you up before the party this evening.”
“I am grateful to receive such efforts.” He slightly bowed down.
“Please. Have a seat my Lord.”
The maids made themselves busy and started serving us our sweets and tea. While they were moving, my eyes caught a man beside the post. He was wearing a full armor as if he was ready to go in a battlefield. I got curious. Why wear such armor while it is an event made by a princess?
“Lord Maverick, a little question to you. Who is this man? Is he your companion from Lutrania?” I pointed out the man with the full armor.
“He is Lord Andraste, your highness. He is my knight. He insisted in wearing his full armor in coming with me here so he can protect me.”
“Is that so? What a benevolent knight.”
Hmmmm… Lord Andraste, you say? I am no longer the fool that you met a year ago, Lord Maverick. I had known Lord Andraste. He should be complaining right now about his outfit. He is a vain man. His consciousness about his self-appearance is very disturbing when I was there. He wouldn’t go to such extremes to wear a full armor just to protect you. Whoever is in that full armor wanted to hide his face from me.
“ Oh. Let me introduce to you my companion as well. She’s Lady Erinnia. She’ll be with us until the end of our tea party.”
“Nice to meet you, Lady Erinnia.”
“Nice to meet you too, my Lord.”
“Now that we are done with pleasantries, shall we go straight to business?” I elegantly lifted the cup and sipped my tea after saying such statement. I saw him stiffened for a moment.
“All the servants leave us alone for now. Make sure nobody will interrupt my precious conversation with the Count of Franneu. It’s not all the time that I have a very special guest with me.”
“As her highness ordered, we will submit.” The Lord Chamberlain replied.
The four of us were left alone. The man with the full armor still didn’t make any movements to where he stood.
“Lord Andraste, why don’t you join us for tea? It is very lonely if only the three of us enjoy such party.”
Lord Maverick and the man looked at each other. Although his helmet covered his entire head, his eyes and part of his mouth area were not. I can see that both of them were in hesitation.
“Come on. I am just a mere princess. I promise you, I won’t bite.”
Sierra is also strict with etiquette and protocols. Now that both of you are in my domain, guests are no exception. Refusing a gracious offer from a royal would be considered very rude. If this person refuses, he will face a very unfavorable consequence. He and his master will never be allowed to enter the royal court for offending a member of the royal family.
“Thank you for the offer, your highness. Lord Andraste, come here and join us.” Lord Maverick answered for him. He let the man be seated at my side.
“Lady Erinnia. Why don’t you serve our new companion a tea?” I ordered.
Lady Erinnia is actually Erin. She volunteered to be with me instead of Beatrix because she said she can protect me. Just in case they will do anything unpleasant, Erin can easily draw a sword at them.
“I had a feeling that this is not just a normal afternoon tea party, your highness.” Lord Maverick started the conversation.
“Your feeling is quite right.” I slowly placed my teacup on the table.
“Then what is this event for?”
“You are being too straightforward, my Lord. Why don’t we enjoy our tea first? Your tea is getting cold. It won’t be as tasty if you let its temperature go down.”
He paused for a moment and looked at his tea. Haaa… That frightened expression… I am enjoying to see my enemy look like that.
“Go on. I didn’t put anything in it.”
He took the cup and sipped its content. After drinking it, he sighed. I suppressed my laughter from coming out. He was relieved that I didn’t put poison in it.
“This tea… This is delicious.”
“I am glad that you like it. It’s one of the finest teas in this kingdom. You can bring some when you get back to Lutrania.”
“Thank you. I am sure the King will like it as well.”
“Which reminds me… I want to extend my condolences to your kingdom. I heard about what happened to King Tristan.” I said casually. That king doesn’t need any sympathy and emotions from me. He doesn’t deserve it, so I won’t give it.
“I want to give thanks, in behalf of our King.”
Silence prevailed for a moment. I continued drinking my tea. When I finished, Erin refilled my cup. I noticed that the knight in armor also started drinking. He removed the steel covering his left hand in order to grab the cup. I immediately noticed his ring. Hmmmm… Now I know who is the person wearing that armor.
“So why are we here, your highness?”
I gently pat my mouth with a handkerchief. After doing that, I responded.
“It appears that Lutrania is not stable at the moment.”
“Ye… Yes. You are right, your highness.”
“Is that the reason why you are here?” I asked.
“It’s not what you think. I am – “
I cut him off. “ Answer the question, my Lord. Mind you, I am not a patient woman. You just need to answer ‘yes or no’. That’s it.”
I heard him sigh. “Yes. We are here to ask for your gracious help."
“Helping has a variety of meanings depending on whom you ask.” Erin butted in. “To ask for help, how bad is the situation in Lutrania?”
“We are now on our difficult times. The treasury is now lacking funds to rebuild our kingdom ruined by civil war. Because of the people injured, we also don't have enough manpower. On top of that, parts of our country were suffering from famine. If we do not seek help, our future will be at stake, my lady.”
It must have been a very bad situation. I know Lutrania is my enemy, but the people. I am not that inhumane to refuse the help they need.
“We are grateful to His Majesty, King Edgar to let me negotiate about these matters of our kingdom.” He added.
“Negotiate? I thought you're asking for help." Help can never be negotiated. We are allies. He doesn't need to negotiate it because the treaty stated that we will help each other in times of need.
He remained silent. I heavily sighed. "I had a feeling that it is about my engagement to your king, Lord Maverick.”
“That…” He was shocked that I guessed correctly.
“Seems I was right. Asking our kingdom for help is a good idea. We are one of the wealthiest, after all. But to push my engagement into marriage is something I would refuse to.” Extending my help to their people is already enough. But this marriage? They are asking too much already.
“Your highness. Let the king decide on that matter. Besides, we need to honor the treaty made between our kingdoms. You can’t do anything about it.”
I narrowed my eyes in disbelief. Is he thinking that I am powerless? Let me prove you are wrong.
“Ohh… I had forgotten. I was entrusted by the King, my father, about this matter.”
Erin showed the royal edict with the royal seal indicating that the crown princess has the final decision about the engagement and the help that they were seeking. He was taken aback by what I showed. He didn’t see it coming.
“The decision about the engagement lies upon me. Whatever decision I made will be honored by the King. Just because I am the princess I cannot have the power. Then you are wrong, my Lord. I am the future Queen, remember? I think I need to remind you of that fact.”
“ If you don’t accept the engagement, you will breach the treaty. Are you aware of the consequences?”
“I am. War is one of them. Your kingdom will wage a war against us. We can give you the war that you want. But as of the moment, your kingdom doesn’t have the capabilities and resources. It will not be a fair fight, right?”
“Princess Elleithyia!! Baring your fangs against –“
“Did I just hear fangs? Let me remind you again. Who bared their fangs first?”
He lowered his head after what I stated. “Your highness, we do not want war. Our people suffered enough.”
“Then just accept my decision to the treaty. Sierra’s help comes with a high price. Why don’t you pay it by accepting my decision? It is priceless, anyway.”
I saw his fists clenched. “Why are you doing this, your highness?”
“Ohhh… Let us see… Let me give you a situation. I have entrusted you two keys. After a very long time that the keys were with you, you lost them. Now they were lost, I came back. Can you guess how would I react?”
“You’d be angry.”
“Yes, you are right. The keys that I am talking about were Erin and our kingdom's trust. The moment I received the news of her death, our trust were also gone. Erin is a member of the Royal Family, and letting her die in your territory was unacceptable. Lutrania was very lucky that we did not wage war.”
He was silent for the moment.
“You cannot blame me for my decision, my Lord. Erin was my closest confidante and also my brother's widow. I am angry for your negligence in protecting my sister-in-law. But I still believe that war is not the answer. I hope you understand where I am coming from, your majesty.” I looked at the man with the armor. Erin gasped and Lord Maverick turned his head to the armored man.
“I understand it very well, Princess Elleithyia." He removed his helmet. I was correct. It was really Freidhelm the moment I saw his ring.
"Ho-how did you?" Lord Maverick asked.
I inhaled deeply in order to answer his question. "His ring... I knew it very well. It was the family heirloom of the royal family before. The first princess sent to Lutrania inherited that sapphire ring. She became Queen of your kingdom and gave it to his son who was the heir. That became a tradition afterwards. To pass the ring to the crown heir."
"Yes, you are correct. Queen Florieanne was the first one sent to Lutrania for the treaty. She owned this ring. I never thought that you knew this."
"Your majesty, I may look like a naive and typical princess. But I'm more than that. I knew everything. Not all, but almost."I sharply told him.
"You are just like what Erin told me about you." I saw him smile.
I ignored his words. I don't want to hear anymore from him about the past. So I changed the flow of the conversation. "What are your thoughts about my offer?"
"We badly need your help. We will honor your decision. I don’t want to risk the lives of my people anymore.” Now that I persuaded them to annul my engagement, I should be happy. But I was trembling. I was trembling because of anger and anguish. I suddenly felt a hand holding mine. It was Erin. She’s comforting me.
“I… Ahemmm… I hope you wouldn’t tell the others about this, princess.”
“Of course, your majesty.” Erin answered instead of me. She knew I wouldn’t respond. I was fortunate to have her at this moment.
“I… I am not feeling very well. If… If you’ll excuse me.” I suddenly felt that I need to go because I cannot stand his presence anymore.
“Thank you for coming to this tea party, Lord Maverick, your majesty.” Erin said while following me.