The servants of the Kingdom of Hessenguard had spent the last few days preparing a grand banquet for this very occasion. The banquet hall was so rarely used that there had been a lot of tidying up to do. The chandelier had to be dusted and cleaned, the decorations had to be changed, and the curtains had to be taken down and replaced with something far grander than the everyday wear. With a lot of time, and the hard work and diligence of the staff, the room was once again glowing with its former splendor.
A cool breeze blew in through the half-opened window, cooling those inside and wafting the smell of strong alcohol around the hall.
The Kingdom of Hessenguard always liked to do things on a grand scale, right down to the food that had been specially prepared with ingredients imported from all over the world.
The people of Haband were tired and hungry after their long journey, and shamelessly tucked into the food spread before them. Sitting among them was Marquis Canavan. Thus far, he had remained perfectly silent and hadn’t dished a single item of food onto his plate.
“The Marquis hasn’t commented on the food yet… I don’t think he’s impressed with Hessenguard’s cooking,” someone sitting near him whispered to their companion.
Marquis Canavan heard, and just gave a wan smile. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the cooking, he was just very surprised.
“Ignore them, my queen. Thank you for your courteous treatment,” he said to Erna
“Marquis, you still seem to think I’m a little girl,” Erna said in reply.
Marquis Canavan immediately bit back whatever else he’d been about to say.
Erna rested her chin in her hand and balanced her elbow on the table. She stared intently at him in an almost challenging way. Because of this, all those sitting near the Marquis were curiously watching the two of them interact.
“I don’t blame you though. It’s been a while since the two of us saw each other last,” Erna said with a warm smile and a shake of her head. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her, she had to make herself look good in front of them.
After she’d said this, the delegates went back to happily enjoying their meal, relieved that a volatile situation wasn’t brewing.
“It’s not that,” the Marquis said in a friendly manner, more to himself than to those around him. He paused when he thought back to when he’d left the Kingdom of Haband.
During the last decade, the Kingdom of Haband and Kellon had continued with their cold war. Neither side had gained anything, and neither side had won. They’d only recently signed a peace treaty when it became apparent that the damage to the Kingdom of Haband was becoming severe. The Kingdom of Haband had taken great blows to capital cities and farmlands, the likes of which were either slow to heal or impossible to overcome.
It was only thanks to the tributes from the Kingdom of Hessenguard that the royal family of Haband was able to continue with their grand life of luxury.
The Kingdom of Hessenguard had finally had a good harvest since the death of the former Great Prince. For years they’d struggle with weak, poor, or failed crops. But since the establishment of their new Great Prince, their harvest had been bountiful. However, it was strange that they’d suffered so much. Hessenguard was one of the countries on the continent that wasn’t often plagued by natural disasters.
Once the war had stopped and circumstances in the kingdom itself had stabilized, the royal family of Haband turned to the Kingdom of Hessenguard for aid. They didn’t think it would be a crime to steal a bit more from them to help revive their kingdom. After all, Hessenguard had spent the last 10 years rebuilding themselves and stabilizing their economy. For the briefest of moments, the Haband royal family had felt guilty about their plans. But after they’d heard rumors about how rich and peaceful Hessenguard had become, they felt much better.
Technically speaking, Hessenguard was a subordinate country to Haband, and in that sense, a place that was worth the sacrifice when it came to Haband’s revival.
The war was the main reason Marquis Canavan had applied so passionately to be part of the delegation this time. His estate had been devastated by the fighting as it was on the border between Haband and Kellon. He hadn’t been able to pay property taxes and the only way to rectify this seemed to be to take over Hessenguard. Granted, it was in his own personal interests, but in his eyes, it would ultimately be helping the Kingdom of Haband.
But Marquis Canavan wasn’t the only one here seeking the abundance of the Kingdom of Hessenguard. To try and get a leg up on the rest of them, Canavan reached for a story from the past.
“Princess Erna, I took you with me last time, am I correct? I must admit, I have missed you terribly. It’s been difficult to be away from you for long. I still remember how you used to follow me around everywhere… I’m sure you didn’t miss me half as much as I did you. In fact, I’m certain you’ll be quite delighted when I leave again.” This of course was a lie. But no one sitting there knew that.
Just as Canavan had hoped, the King of Haband appointed him as the representative of the delegation again. But what the king didn’t know was that Marquis Canavan hadn’t yet collected any of the promised information on the Kingdom of Hessenguard. Canavan was under the impression that it would be an easy enough task to accomplish once he arrived in the kingdom. A task, he thought, that would be made easier once he got to speak with Erna.
Intimidating her should be easy. He remembered her being a young, ugly princess that not even the maids would attend to. He didn’t know how Hessenguard had managed to keep her a secret, because the aristocrats who sometimes delivered letters always told him how beautiful she was. Even more laughable were the stories of how she’d gone on to create a wizard’s group.
It was difficult enough to get even one wizard out the tower. They were constantly holed up in there like a bunch of hermits. Canavan couldn’t understand how they’d managed to create what could be called a group. Did they really consider a handful of beginners a group?
But now, sitting in this banquet hall, Marquis Canavan realized he’d been terribly wrong. He thought he’d be able to control her without any problems.
He thought she would be the person he remembered her as; that crying, sniveling girl who clung to him. He thought she’d be scared. But he’d been so very wrong. He barely even recognized her now. She was beautiful and talented… Until this very moment, he’d thought she’d be unloved, isolated and hated; no matter how much magic she possessed. After all, who was she but an invader in the Kingdom of Hessenguard?