Now, don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m the antagonist doesn’t mean my whole family and every one of my friends would also be the same. I, Larissa no-last-name, came from a family of wealthy, honest merchants—a gem in this world, really. For generations, we have done honest business and nothing but that. The downside to all this was the fact that we were merely humans, born without magical powers, and this not only put us at a disadvantage, but also intimidated the bluebloods. What we had was money and social networks, both of which they had to pay attention to regardless of their magic. They couldn’t possibly sit still and watch idly as our businesses expanded. We weren’t blessed by the gods of luck, we were simply diligent people with sound minds.
That’s what they feared the most.
As a result, I, the only daughter of the current master of the house, have been given to the Lord Remington of the bluebloods as a staff member in exchange for my father’s loyalty to the reigning monarch of this land. There is nothing to hate about it; I had known from the moment I learned how to speak that I would be used as a political currency. After all, what else was a girl good for?
On the day of the negotiation, Lord Remington himself sat in our conference room with my father, sorting out essential elements of the deal. In the duration, I waited outside. Half an hour later, my father opened the door and stepped out of the room. I walked in in his place, closing the door behind me as I did.
Lord Remington was younger than I had imagined he would be. He looked only a few years my senior, and it wasn’t often that someone this young would be master of a castle—even for a blueblood. He wore a cold expression in his blue eyes, its coldness somehow augmented by his blue-black hair, which served as a dark cloud looming in the sky. His skin was fair, almost pale; if I didn’t know better, I would say he was a vampire. He was dressed in a proper suit, his hands folded neatly upon the table over the documents that he and my father had just been discussing the details of. On his wrist was a polished watch.
I’ll bet none of that ironing was his own doing. Well, at least he’s showing some respect for the occasion.
He looked me over with a scrutinizing gaze.
Good. I’m not your concubine.
He was probably judging me, trying to read me, just as much as I was. I smiled to myself, knowing it didn’t make me look friendly.
“Good evening, Lord Remington,” I greeted, picking my skirt up for a curtsy. “I am named Larissa.”
“Good evening, Larissa,” he said, standing up and reaching out for a handshake.
It was business as usual for him, but for me, it was different this time. Instead of taking his hand as a normal person would, I walked to the seat on his left and pulled the chair out. “Please take a seat,” I said as I did the same.
My diplomatic smile was met with his as he sat.
He wasn’t going to ask, but I wasn’t going to wait for him to. Opportunities are created by those who are prepared; they don’t throw themselves at you.
“A handshake is for when a deal has been struck and an agreement reached. Certainly we can wait fifteen more minutes for that,” I explained.
Remington arched an eyebrow in curiosity. “That is true,” he said, “Are you sure about fifteen minutes, though? That is ambitiously fast.”
“I am aware,” I said, “But it should be enough.”
“Why is it that your father left in the middle of the negotiation?”
“You settled the basics, didn’t you?” I pointed out, “As representatives of two peoples. I come to negotiate on personal terms with you; those are two different deals. And just as I cannot negotiate on my father’s behalf regarding worldly matters, he cannot negotiate in my place regarding mine.”
“Very well.” Satisfied, he leaned back. “You aren’t just any other person who works in my castle, I understand that you are the next mistress of this mansion and the empire that your family has built over generations. Although the exchange is your freedom for peace…”
There he stopped for a moment, choosing his next words carefully. Is he trying to think of how much I know and can accept? What a considerate man, I mused in my mind.
“The nature of this exchange is you taking me as a hostage,” I finished his line for him. “Gaining magical powers doesn’t worth as much to me as my freedom.”
Remington sighed, smiling. “I appreciate your honesty. Is there a particular position you are interested in?”
Honesty? Honesty my ass. But that was one of the few traits Remington valued the most—I had learned, in my previous run, that he was a man surrounded by many people, many of whom would say only what they thought he wanted to hear, either for personal gains or just survival.
I wasn’t being honest, I was being blunt—and while those two words may be used interchangeably, they are by definition unrelated to each other. Ah, the inaccuracy of everyday language, how useful that is.
“I just thought that you and I are both sacrifices in this exchange, you see, neither of us willing; there is no need to waste one another’s time. Position, however...I do have a request, if you don’t yet have a librarian—which I doubt.”
Remington nodded, not specifying to which part of my speech he was agreeing with. “How did you know I even have a library?” he asked, not really needing an answer.
“The better question is, why wouldn’t you?” If he presented me with a rhetorical question, I would answer with one as well.
“The library is currently guarded, but not managed. The previous librarian only recently resigned. If you’re interested, you can have the position.”
“I would also like to be exempt from any social occasion that would take me out of the library, unless it would put me in danger to stay in there, or unless I am returning here.”
He looked up. “I thought you value freedom?”
“I do, and I value every kind of freedom: including the freedom to choose how to be confined when confinement is not a choice.”
“Alright,” the blueblood agreed, “I will have these written down in the agreement and sent to the master of this people.”
“Until next time, then, Lord Remington,” I said, standing from my seat. Just as I reached the door of the conference room, I turned back and looked at him. “Check what time it is, if you don’t mind.”
He looked down at his watch.
“Impressive,” he said, his smile growing ever so slightly. “Exactly fifteen minutes.”
“I would like to reserve our handshake for when I see the final agreement.”
This negotiation had not taken place at all last time. Like any other daughter, I had simply let my father arrange everything. After all, I was to be given to Lord Remington anyway; it was confinement anyway, and it meant I didn’t matter as much to the family as other gains. If that was the case, why struggle? Why fight for that tiny bit of rights? Ask a slave what she wants to eat, give it to her—that small act of leniency doesn’t change the fact that she remains a slave. A violent man giving you a single light pat on the head does not make him any less violent of a man; it does not make him a gentleman. An exception doesn’t change the overall situation.
“Are you selling me to the bluebloods?” Larissa questioned.
“No, Larissa…” the father began to say, “This is for everyone…”
“You sold me,” was her conclusion.
Last time, I had broken all ties with my family upon finding out about the agreement, convinced that I was worthless to them in the end. That left me isolated in the end. This time, I was determined not to make the same mistake.
After Remington left, I found my father in the hallway, pacing back and forth—just like last time.
“Larissa, do you hate me for this?” he asked, just like last time.
My answer would be different.
“I blame you for it, but I don’t hate you,” I said lightheartedly. “You’re still my dad. I remember that, and I hope you do too.”
He looked up, alert, at the last line. Deliberately, I let him see my stern expression before switching it with a light smile.
“Of course I remember that,” my father said, “Once you’re there, if you ever need anything, just find a way to let me know.”
“Thanks, dad,” I said, now leaving the hallway and heading back to my room. My business was done here.