“If you keep an open mind to the possibilities,” the queen said, “you may not even need to use your veto.”
Prince Nenvari didn’t like it. He didn’t trust her. But he could risk a single conversation.
With a smirk, he said, “Very well. Try to convince me, but don’t bother with your previous statements as I’ve heard and dismissed those already.”
She took another sip of her tea and gestured to his. “First, why don’t you drink your tea? It’s quite magnificent. You’ll regret it if you don’t at least take a sip.”
As if he’d trust anything she gave him. “I politely decline.”
She shrugged one shoulder as if it didn’t bother her. “I understand that you’d prefer to use mercenaries, but they are not loyal.”
“They are trustworthy enough.”
“But not as devoted as people we train up ourselves. We can coerce them through kindness, respect, and freedom.”
“And if that doesn’t bind them to us?”
“In the rare instance, it doesn’t work? Well, there are other ways. Harsher ways that still leave them connected to us.”
“There is a cost to those ways.”
“Yes. People who are charmed are never quite as adept as those with a clear mind. They often forget things. It’s like they have a concussion. That’s why I wanted so badly for you to agree with me without resorting to this.”
“Pardon?” He said, but that was when it hit him. He turned his head, and the world spun. What was this? There was a strange slightly chemical and herbal scent to the air that he only just now picked up.
“I did tell you that you would regret it if you didn’t drink your tea.”
Of course. They’d been searching for magical means to charm people, not chemical.
He reached for the tea, but Federico grabbed it first and pulled it away.
“You!” He glared at her gold glowing eyes.
His head hurt.
When the memories had finished playing, I wanted to smack myself. It had been so obvious that he was under her control. I really should have seen it earlier, but I’d let my prejudice against him blind me to that fact.
Of course, now that I’d seen the truth it changed what I needed to do.
The chests were gone, and I found myself alone in the crystal room. Whatever had been in that last chest also healed my body and replenished my missing armor charges.
To my left, I saw a flash of white. I turned towards it, but there was nothing there.
Breath touched my ear as I heard the familiar voice. “So, another human child has found their way to the entrance of my kingdom.”
I jerked around, but no one was there.
“Hmm. You. I remember you.”
Another flash of white appeared to my left, and I jerked towards it. Nothing.
I turned and stared into the beautiful face of Prince Nenvari Esreth. I recognized that there was something off about him now compared with how he was in the memories I’d lived through. But he was the same as when I first met him. The same oily smile. The same glassy eyes. He wasn’t the thoughtful and powerful prince within his memories.
“Miss Knight was it? Have you come to attempt to defeat me? It won’t work, you know.”
I swallowed. The way he spoke was different as well. Like a scripted character within a game, not an actual person.
“What the hell did Queen Fedreicio do to you?”
He frowned. “My queen hasn’t done anything to me.”
“I want to renegotiate the terms of our challenge.”
He rose a brow and let out a slow deadly, “Oh?”
I swallowed because to me that one syllable said that I walked on dangerous grounds.
“I have captured Princess Yoishay, beloved heir to the monarchy of Seirei Vohinthaslan. But I have to negotiate with both you and the queen because what I need, I need from her.”
Suddenly he disappeared leaving me with only a whispered voice in my ear. “Wait.”
What the hell had I gotten myself into?
I stood in the bare room for maybe 2 minutes before my world spun. When it stopped, I stood in a throne room with black marble tiles and walls made of ebony wood. Gothic windows trimmed in gold leaf let light into the overly dark room. There was only a single throne made from a live tree. The room had no scent, from that I realized that this was an illusion. Prince Nenvari appeared next to her and bowed deeply. She ignored him, her calculating eyes stared into mine.
I stood up straight. “You’re not really here.”
An explosion sounded in the distance which caused both her and me to turn towards it. From that, I realized that she was under attack at this very moment. I smirked.
“You don’t have a lot of time, do you? So I’ll make this quick.”
Yelling sounded, and she raised a hand. The noise cut out. “You will, will you?”
“I have Princess Yoishay of Seirei Vohinthaslan. You can use her to call a many-year truce between you and her country.”
She snorted. “If her mother sent her anywhere near where you could capture her then she’s likely the next child she’s planning to off. She’s not worth negotiating for.”
“I think you’re underestimating how much her people love her. But considering what you have to do to get people to side with you, I’m not surprised that you don’t understand.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you insulting me, human brat?”
“On Earth, we have dictators, and the one thing they fear is that the people will rise up against them. As far as I can tell, Queen Ruler Vasena is a dictator of the worst sort, and the reason she wants to get rid of her child is because she’s so beloved. If you spread the word throughout her country that you’re willing to negotiate her safe return in exchange for a long-term peace agreement I’m positive that you won’t need children from my world to be your army of mages.”
“You think you have this all figured out when you don’t know anything.”
Nenvari had a frown on his face like he was trying to work through something.
Queen Fedreicio clutched at her armrest. “What do you want in exchange for Princess Yoishay? The release of your people?”
“What I want is three things. The first is the return of my people, the second is a promise from the ruling family of this country that they will never steal children from my realm again. The third is that you immediately release Nenvari from your thrall.”
He stepped toward me. “I’m not under my queen’s thrall.”
I looked at him. “The fact that you call her, ‘my queen,’ should be proof enough.”
The queen stared at me with hard eyes. “I decline. Seriously, child. As soon as you fight Nenvari, you’ll be mine, and if you’re mine, the princess will be as well.”
“No. If you don’t agree to my terms, I will release her and her retinue right here.”
The queen glared.
I closed my eyes and breathed. I had hoped to negotiate, to avoid fighting altogether but… I hardened my resolve and opened my eyes. “Then let’s make changes to my challenge instead.”
“Then, if my son wins I will receive Princess Yoishay, I will keep taking children for my army, and I will get you. Nice attempt but no, thank you.”
“No. If I lose you get to keep Prince Nenvari, the children and myself, but I will release Princess Yoishay. If I win, you will release Nenvari from whatever effects you have him under, free the children, and Goraitheshselan will never kidnap more kids from my realm again. But, Goraitheshselan will get Princess Yoishay.”
“So I win either way? I admit that you’re close to having me say yes.”
“How about I add in a dozen metal dragon eggs? Wouldn't dragons would make better weapons than an army of mages?”
“Fine, but Goraitheshselan receives the dragon eggs whether I win or not. And instead of 3 chances to defeat Nenvari, you only have one.”
What! Only one chance. I racked my brain for what to do next, and I thought of something crazy. “Then, in keeping with the law of three, let’s say on his third death I win.”
“Relax, my queen. No one has hit me more than twice and lived. The likelihood of her victory is inconceivable.”
That information staggered me. Just how powerful was this guy?
“Very well, if you’re certain.”
A paper and quill pen appeared in front of me with the terms we’d agreed on. It already had her signature and the King’s. I read through it carefully, not trusting her to stick to our agreement as stated. When I was satisfied that it said what I wanted, I used my altered reaper pen to sign. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw me do that, but she didn’t stop me.
“With that done, Nenvari, fight, and win!”
“As you will it.”