Once we had finished greeting the guests, Father took me into the conference room. “Look, I know that you don’t like your duty. I’m sorry, but you must make a decision. I need you to take on a position as a queen or noble in a powerful land so that we can have a lasting alliance. Then you must bear or adopt some children to further cement that alliance.”
“Children?” I asked. “I’m not even married and you’re already on about children? Have you considered that I might not like children and may not want to have any ever?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Father declared. He put a hand on my shoulder and kept his voice soft. Trying to be comforting, I guess. “You have seven choices. If by the end of the third day you still don’t like any of them I want you to choose one of the vampires.”
“The… why do you want me to pick one of them?” I demanded.
“Because it could greatly aid us. Our relations with the trolls are degenerating quickly. War seems an inevitability. I’d prefer that you don’t wed the Lady Artura or Prince Reynard and drag us into the conflict between their peoples. If you were to choose Sir Thomas, you may very well be able to buy us peace but you could just as readily be slain in the attempt. Strecner is a strong nation and it’s situated within easy striking distance of Relna. Having a strong alliance with them would make a great asset.”
I changed into my tunic as soon as I got back into my chamber. Wearing a nice, fancy dress is all well and good on occasion, but it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear. Especially over a prolonged period of time. I considered my father’s words a little. Mostly I just thought of possible ways I might be able to escape. Of course, there was also the question of rescuing Michael. I mean, he was in trouble because he’d travelled with me.
That’s when I noticed it. A small piece of paper neatly attached to the back of my broach. It said “Meet me in the palace’s garden tonight while the sun is setting.”
I looked over at Lais. She was respectfully turned towards the wall but clearly alert. “Hey,” I said. “Take a look at this.” I handed her the scrap.
“Which one of your suitors left this for you?” Lais asked. “Not the most romantic message, is it?”
“It has to be from Callie,” I reasoned. After all, she was the only one who’d touched my broach. “But why would she want to meet with me?”
“Maybe she just wants to talk. Maybe she wants to gain an edge as a suitor. Maybe she wants to tell you that she’s not interested,” Lais paused for a moment. “We could spend all night guessing, but the only way to know the truth is to go. Of course, whether or not you do is your own affair.”
I stared at the note. It wasn’t unusual for a royal daughter to spend time alone with a suitor, not even during an event like this. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be an erroneous move. Like, if meeting her would be the same as declaring surrender to my fate. But, I was curious and Callie was beautiful. The thought brought a very slight flush to my cheeks. A very, very slight flush. Barely even noticeable.
“How are the preparations Professor Mord?”
I heard an exaggerated sigh. “Everything is proceeding smoothly. We have accommodations for earth moving Entrik, silver-winged Solan, strong armed Squen, clear minded Pran, and justice bringing Sadow.”
“What about far-seeing Larick?”
“Apparently this meeting is about Larick. The Magi have asked that the academy’s head sit in on the meeting.”
I considered it for a moment. I wasn’t entirely certain I could maintain decorum around Sadow. Even hearing Professor Mord call him “justice bringing” made me feel revolted. “Very well, I’ll do it.” Privately I hoped that Michael would come and face Sadow on academy grounds, disrupting the conference and granting me an excuse to interfere on his behalf. I couldn’t help but wonder how Sadow would fare against my Elemental Armageddon spell.
The elven guard was watching me in the same fashion that one scrutinises a curiosity. It was not a result of my draconian blood. He had gotten past that quickly enough.
No. He thought that I was mad. He had observed me gathering and arranging all of the loose stones within my cell. His gaze had shifted to the leech stones attached to the bars, preventing me from using magic. He had ascertained that there was no way for me to use the loose stones to loosen or even damage the leech stones. He had confirmed that they were still emitting a faint, crimson light at ten second intervals, signalling that they were completely functional.
I scrutinised one of the pebbles carefully. Holding it in my left hand while the guard gave me a pitying look. He was most definitely questioning my sanity. Good. I knew that as long as he dismissed my behaviour as the product of madness, I would stand a chance.
I simply had to locate the proper minerals and extract them from the stones. The amount of time it would take was irrelevant. That was one resource that I currently possessed in abundance.