I steeled myself, and I lied.
According to them, I gave in. I told them what they wanted to hear. I repeated their words, echoed their hopes, succumbed to their dreams.
The clergy man declared me free of evil spirits.
I was sent to my room to “recuperate from the exhaustive experience”.
I was nursed back to health. As my physical strength grew, so did my mental clarity. And I grew both proud and ashamed of what I’d done. I hated the clergy man. The thought of my father or Costas grated against my nerves. Part of me was even mad at my beast. If he hadn’t turned me out, I thought, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have gone through that. I would have been safe and happy in his castle with him.
But with isolation, my hatred cooled. I knew why everyone had done what they had done.
I only wish I had been given a voice in the events.
Actions speak louder than words. It was a simple phrase, embroidered on a pillow in my room. The Assassin’s choice to defy his voices was louder than the voices themselves. Costas’s actions of duplicity outweighed his sweet words. And my actions would scream where my voice was silenced.
I was finally permitted to be reintegrated into my old life. A few breakfasts with the others. A formal dinner. A supper.
“I’m so glad that you’re better, Adalina,” said my father with a kindly smile on one occasion. I forced one of my own. It was hard to smile at my father and what he had allowed. But it could be coaxed with the thought of the Assassin, and his reasons for sending me away.
“Thank you, Father,” I said.
Costas was not so pleased. If I had proved to be incurable, he had little doubt that my father would have named him heir. Neither did I, for that matter. It sickened me; lies, planning and even abuse for one’s own gain. It made me feel ill.
I longed for simpler days. Days I was determined to have back, despite the protests of any royals or assassins.
Leaving proved to be a difficult matter. Though I had been declared pure once more, I was still watched closely.
I needed help. But the servants that I had left in the place of now mistrusted me. My father did not believe in me, and Costas was... well, Costas. So I went to the one man I had always trusted.
Dear Peter, the royal advisor, had been a tutor, a friend, a disciplinarian, and even a surrogate mother to me. I knew telling him could very well result in my plans failing and being sent back to the torturous weeks before. But I had the feeling that Peter would be enraged if he knew what they had done to me.
“Peter?” I asked. The tall, thin man turned. He was perfectly bald and cleanly shaven, dressed in robes that were regal enough to show his status, but not royal enough to outclass my father.
“Yes, Princess Adalina?” he asked mildly.
“I need your help.”
“So you have for many years, Princess,” he said.
“It’s a little more than a scraped knee, I’m afraid.”
“Leaving will be considerably more difficult than applying a bandage.”
“Princess, I have seen you both be honorable in the most agonizing of situations, and I have seen you attempting to cover up a theft from the kitchens. I daresay I know you better than your own father.”
“That would be saying little these days,” I said sadly, and perhaps with a little bitterness.
“Can you help me leave?”
Peter sighed. “Must you go? I cannot imagine you being happy there.”
I looked down at the ground, feeling not unlike the younger me attempting to explain the reasons behind her pastry theft.
“He needs me. And...” I could have sworn I heard the chipped cup in my mind. “I care for him.”
Peter was silent as his quill scratched on a letter.
“There have been rumors,” he said after a moment. “Of Queen Snow of the White Kingdom relying on a supernatural force to defeat her step mother’s armies in the weeks you were recuperating. It would be wise-” he folded the paper and sealed it with drippings of wax. “-of your father to send an emissary to ensure she does not turn her rage towards Tearian, and to offer our support.”
He handed the letter to me.
“And of course, I advise looking into the matter of her supernatural warrior,” he said in a deadpan. “Some minor reconnaissance would be most prudent.”
The letter was addressed to Queen Snow, titled with the subject of a coming ambassador.
“Thank you, Peter,” I said. Tears pressed to be released, but I held them at bay.
“You are not the first love-sick princess I have had to help,” he said evenly. “Your mother was every bit as persistent as you.”
“My mother?” I asked, looking up from my letter.
“Your father was not considered the most advantageous husband for her. But your mother was quite set on making him her husband, and therefore the future king. I daresay I taught him all he knows of ruling a kingdom.”
That, I thought, explains much about his skill at running a kingdom.
“Your mother loved him dearly, for all his faults,” continued Peter. “She was quite content with the future he offered her. She would run the kingdom, her loving if slow husband supporting her. It is a shame that she did not get to live that life for long.” He pressed his fingertips to my arm, permitting himself a small familial gesture. “I only ask Princess Adalina if she will be content with the life this Assassin can provide.”
“I already was,” I whispered, tears in my eyes.
Dinner was, as ever, an awkward affair. Prince Costas, though not a family member, was still treated as such. But now that I was declared free of all evil spirits, I was heir to the kingdom. A fact that no doubt made him a little less inclined to be a part of my family.
And my only true family left was not one I had any wish to be near. I still loved my father, but I didn’t like him. He had refused to have faith in me, and sentenced me to those beatings and prayers at the request of a foreign prince. And if personal grievances were not enough, he was running Tearian towards ruin.
“Father, I have a proposition that may save the kingdom from further misfortunes,” I said.
Both my father and Costas looked up, one in delight and one with suspicion.
“What is that, dear?” asked the King.
“Queen Snow is building up her armies to attack her stepmother’s, and defend the White Kingdom,” I said. This was hardly news; the gossip was one of the main topics in any court. “We ought to send an emissary to ensure that Queen Snow knows she has Tearian’s support and alliance. Tearian has little to offer to the White Kingdom, but securing trust will ease any fear over growing forces.”
“Adalina is quite right,” said Prince Costas. He quickly swallowed a bite of food. “I shall set out at once.”
“Actually,” I said, voice growing cold. “I think that would be unwise. You are a dear friend and your country is our ally, but a citizen of Tearian should propose Tearian’s alliances.”
“It is said that Queen Snow is using a mystical warrior to aide her. If it should be the Assassin, I think it would be even more unwise to send you into his Oath again,” said Costas.
“That is the silliest thing I’ve heard!” I cried.
“Do you think I will sabotage your alliance proposal?” Costas demanded. “That I might conveniently forget to mention it? What ulterior motive could I possibly have, princess? I know that you wish to see evil in all my ways, but I assure you that this is for your own safety!”
“I don’t know what your plan is,” I snapped. “But your motive for anything is always yourself!”
Then Peter, dear Peter, stepped in.
“Ulterior motive or not,” he said evenly. “It would be unwise to send only one ambassador. The princess for Tearian, and the Prince of Charmyn.”
“Yes,” said my father in his definitive voice, happy to have a solution handed to him. “Both shall go.”
And one return, I thought happily.