It’s been ten years since Josef became King of Verdan, and a lot has changed in that time.
First, Queen Marianne died. It was the second year after Joseph became king. Her kingship announced that after she lost her child, she couldn’t get over the aftermath. In accordance with her wishes to spend her last days in peace, her funeral was held as a family affair, not as a state funeral.
The death of Queen Marianne and its aftermath were not the only major events in Verdan during the decade. In his seventh year on the throne, King Josef of Verdan allied with the Greenards to attack Ashakal. A long, hard war began, lasting three years, and after fierce fighting, the allied forces succeeded in capturing Ashakal.
That’s what happened last month.
Barklen, capital of the Grinard.
The carriage of the ambassador from Verdan pulled up in front of Greenard’s royal castle.
‘We must get as much as we can.’
The ambassador looked up from his carriage and vowed to himself.
‘This is my last chance.’
The ambassador from Verdan was named Count Brett.
He was a survivor of the purge ten years earlier.
It was only because of Count Brett’s foreign connections that Josef had not sent him into exile or prison.
Thus Count Brett was spared his life and his title.
But things would never be the same. He spent the next ten years moving from one position to another in the castle under Josef’s watchful eye.
His moment of reckoning had finally arrived.
* * *
Fierce negotiations began between Verdan and Greenard over the distribution of the spoils.
Their main concern was the lands of Ashakal, and in particular, who would get the land of Hildette.
Hildet is a rugged, mountainous terrain that was abandoned and unwanted during the days of the Imperial Renbato, but now it is wanted by all. This was because it was later discovered that the rugged mountains were rich in gold and iron.
With so many plains and no viable mines, it was a must-have for Verdan, and it was for this reason that Greenard wanted to prevent Hildette from being handed over.
Now that Ashakal has fallen, it is inevitable that Greenard and Verdan will share a border. Having already been a vassal of another nation, the mighty Verdan proved to be an unwelcome presence.
The royal family of Greenard knew Verdan’s temperament very well, and knew that just as they had united with Greenard to attack Ashakal, they could do the same to Greenard. Greenard’s deputies tried to protect Hildette at all costs, but they were inevitably outnumbered, for Verdan deserved most of the credit for this victory.
The chairman of the council, Count Brett, argued with an air of triumph.
“We, Verdan, have borne most of the munitions for the past three years. Not only have we imported arms from Pietro, but we’ve fed, clothed, and housed the allied troops with an astronomical amount of money that has cost the country dearly. What on earth is wrong with Verdan wanting to take a piece of rugged mountain land?”
Predictably, Greenard’s nobles protested.
“You are exaggerating. Didn’t Verdan give us the goods without strings attached, half of which the royal family of Greenard agreed to pay back over time?”
“Then would you like to pay it back now?”
The nobles of Greenard held their tongues, fearful of provoking an outcome they could not afford.
The tide was turning in Verdan’s favour.
Count Brett spoke up.
“Of course, I won’t ask for the land for nothing. I’ll give you back the Greenard estate that Verdan has.”
One of Greenard’s old nobles spoke up.
Verdan’s holdings in Greenard were given to them by Ashakal. Ashakal had forcibly subjugated Greenard, and it was only right that it should be returned. He was angry that he had stated the obvious.
Count Brett asked meekly. Again the nobles of Greenard fell silent. They knew that Greenard’s power was no match for Verdan.
A smile of satisfaction crossed Count Brett’s face. It was because he could steer the negotiations to his liking. The taste of power for the first time in nearly a decade was indeed sweet.
“To make a long story short, we’ll start with Hildette, with Verdan taking the bottom and Greenard the top.”
He summarised the situation simply.
It was then.
The door to the conference room opened and a tall woman in a black veil appeared.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I’m Elizabeth Rossi, and I’m here to negotiate for Greenard.”
All eyes turned to the woman.
She wasn’t very tall, but her presence seemed to change the air in the room.
Count Brrtt studied her face. The colour of her veil was so dark that he could not make out her features. All he could make out were red lips.
‘…I feel like I’ve met her somewhere.’
A strange sense of déjà vu gripped Count Brett.
Realising that most of the nobles in the room were concentrating on the veil she was wearing rather than on her, Elizabeth gestured to it.
“Don’t mind this, I only wear it to cover up the burns on my face from my childhood.”
Elizabeth walked with graceful strides to the centre of the room, found an empty seat, and sat down.
She gestured for him to go on with his business, never mind hers.
“Let us continue our negotiations. Oh, and before we do, I must ask what you were saying earlier.”
One of the Verdan nobles beside Count Brett replied in a somewhat condescending voice.
“There were talks about taking over the land of Hildette to Verdan.”
“Ah, I see.”
Elizabeth Rossi shook her head as if she understood what was going on. There was a strange air of ease about her, and the problem was that it was intimidating.
‘What the hell? Where have I seen her…’
Count Brett wanted to find out who Elizabeth Rossi was, and though he hadn’t realised it, his body was becoming overly anxious.
As Count Brett’s legs trembled with unexplained anxiety, the corners of Elizabeth Rossi’s mouth twitched upwards.
Soon, she said.
“I speak for Greenard, I don’t like it.”
Verdan’s ambassadors winced at the ridiculous arrogance.
“This negotiation is already over.”
“Then we can do it again, but we haven’t stamped it yet, have we?”
She shrugged as if it didn’t matter.
‘That voice, that gesture…’
While Elizabeth Rossi was tearing through the conference room, Count Brett was trawling through his memories. He was driving himself crazy trying to find the source of these visions. When he came to his senses, one of Verdan’s lines stabbed him in the side.
The Count, suddenly aware of the reason for his presence, coughed in embarrassment.
“I see it’s customary here to stab people in the back while pretending to hold hands, though I turned a blind eye to that ten years ago.”
He let slip a secret that only a few of Verdan’s nobles knew. That Greenard’s ambassador was involved in the kidnapping of the princess ten years ago. Of course, he hadn’t intended to reveal all of the information, just enough to scare them into silence.
But somehow it didn’t work out that way.
“Ten years ago? Ah, the witches of Farni?”
Elizabeth Rossi recounted the events of the day in a rather light-hearted voice.
‘The inside story… does everyone know?’
Count Brett’s pupils widened at her words.
The fact that the kidnapping of Princess Marianne was a collaboration between the royal family of Greenard and the witches of Farni was known to only a few in Verdan.
Several Verdan and Greenard nobles gasped at the news.
Elizabeth Rossi paid no heed to the fuss. She said what she had to say in a grim manner.
“Well, that was their fault, but I’m a little surprised that Verdan still brings it up. I thought it was Greenard’s work with the witches of Farniy that gave him the key to breaking the curse on House Derschabach.”
Count Brett returned the dumbfounded look. He was momentarily taken aback by the outpouring of royal matters he didn’t know about from the mouth of a woman he’d never met.
Elizabeth pouted her lips and spoke. Her tone was somewhat grumbling.
“It wasn’t done out of the goodness of my heart, and I won’t be thanked for it, but I suppose I can at least pass it off as something that didn’t happen.”
Count Brett looked fed up.
He could feel it in the conversation.
The energy of a man who can’t speak at all.
Count Brett realised that it would be useless to try to drain the energy out of her. He thought of another way.
The Count counted the number of acquaintances he had left in Greenard, most of whom lived in the shadows.
‘Firstly, we must ensure that this woman, Elizabeth or Elise, is not present at the negotiations.’
He was going to get someone to kidnap her or cause an accident.
‘Let’s retreat here for the day.’
He shamelessly interrupted the meeting with a straight face.
“Today I… I’m not feeling well, so if you don’t mind, we can continue the meeting tomorrow.”
Elizabeth Rossi said nonchalantly.