1 The royal decree

Marriage sure was the last of my worries.

Father promised he would allow me to choose my partner. He married mother out of love, and he would always point out that he was not as hypocritical as to force his children to follow his will.

Duke Bursio is famous in the capital as a countryside noble, and as a man of his word. Regardless of his immense fief and impeccable pedigree, he married the woman he loved and retired from the social life for good.

Our family never once came to Mavale. I'm not sure anyone even knows of my existence in the capital.

The plan was simple: build my life somewhere far and have a simple existence, so that the need to travel would never arise. I would have found a mountain or a lake where to live, and my people would have found me if they needed. It seemed reasonable to me.

Yet, something went terribly wrong.

It all started with a decree.

All of a sudden, I was declared the next Queen of Alba.

It was a shock for me as for everyone else. Out of nowhere, the new King decided I was the perfect match for him.

Soon after the declaration, before I had time to organise my flee, that man sent the Royal Guards to fetch me and accompany me to the capital, Mavale.

Father didn't have time to hide me anywhere because those soldiers barged in and just showed me the carriage. I didn't have any choice but to follow them.

As such, I've spent two weeks alone in a carriage without permission to talk to anyone. Then, I was locked in this luxurious room.

And now, I wait for my fate.

There are two maids only that serve me, and they don't interact at all. They just follow my orders.

The guards aren't any better. However, they do change from time to time. For example, I heard that a new one was assigned yesterday.

«When is this going to end?» I wonder while observing the flourishing gardens from the large window of the room.

I sigh. It's not that I loathe the new King because he's a tyrant that slaughtered his own father and brother. I'm not afraid of him because they say he's cruel and unpredictable. My problem is another one.

There's a reason why Duke Bursio spent his life far from the capital.

Yet, here we are... His first daughter is now imprisoned in the very place he was set to avoid.

«Why me, by the way?» How did that madman even hear of me? Did he throw a dice and decide to get a bride from the countryside?

My father is still a Duke, and he's not in any political faction, so I guess there was some thought behind it. However... I'd have preferred not to be the one to pay the price of the King's games.

And also... «When is he going to meet me?»

I've been here for two days. How busy can he be?

If I meet him face to face, I can try talking him out of this crazy idea. I'm not good at being a Queen.

I haven't studied hard enough for this. Not to mention that I'm a country bumpkin. Well, it might actually be a bonus, believing in the voices that run about our new ruler.

He was crowned a few months ago; he barely stabilised his position...

A light knock wakes me up from my considerations. Is it already time for lunch?

The only moment I am allowed to see people other than the maids is during supper. One of the guards brings the food and stays nearby for the whole time while I eat.

I tried convincing them not to look at me since it's creepy, but there's no way they would listen to a nobody like me. I am not their Queen yet, even though they call me like that for some reason.

«Here is your meal, my Queen,» says the one appointed today. «I hope the food is tasty.»

He leaves everything on the table, and I sit to munch a few bites.

Will the rest of my life be like this? Locked alone in a room except for some brief moments with people awkwardly staring?

I'm not married yet, so my heart refuses to yield. I can still try to run.

But... how? I would expose myself if things went out of control. And I would lose my head if I were caught.

Moreover, I'm sure a normal man wouldn't react lightly if his soon-to-be bride tried fleeing before the wedding. I can't start imagining what a crazy one would do.

«What have I done to deserve this?» I murmur.

«Is it not good? I can bring something different,» the guard says.

Oh, being alone brings one to lose some sanity. I was actually talking to myself.

However, it's a first! Someone finally replied to me.

I'm sure he will be sent away if someone finds out about it. But I need some hope; I need some human warmth.

«The food is good,» I say. «It's the room that isn't fit.»

«Shall I report something in particular? Does your majesty prefer a bigger room? Or is the furniture the problem?»

«The furniture is precious; the place is plenty. However, I will become crazy without seeing anyone. My family must have come too... Can I ask something from his majesty? Will he meet with me?»

«His majesty is currently busy. He ordered us to take good care of his betrothed.»

«When will he be less busy? When will I meet him?»

«Soon, my Queen.»

Oh, my last few days of freedom.

«What's your name?» I ask. If anything, I have someone to talk to.

If they don't change guards again.

This one is very talkative, and someone will notice sooner or later. With some luck, not before I collect some information.

«My name is Ignis.»

«Ignis? What an interesting name...» I once knew someone with that same, unusual name. «Have you ever been to Narith?»

A bell rings in the back of my brain, and memories start to resurface.

Why didn't I notice sooner? It's not like many have such a vivid hair colour. As rare as to make people believe it's the product of a curse. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to become a guard.

«Yes, my Queen, I have been there in the past. I thought you forgot...» he replies. His eyes spend a few moments on the floor, longing for childhood memories.

Oh, how small of a world.

«You don't remember my name anymore?» I say, a bit concerned. I remembered his, even though I didn't recognise him immediately.

My memories are still clear as day, a token of the early years of my life. Some of the happiest days were spent with him. But he... Does he remember?

Luck might have looked my way. If this man is the Ignis that I met when I was a child, the same I played with a few times... If he is him, then I might have a chance to escape this dangerous marriage.

His reply makes me sigh in relief. A smile appears on my face at his words.

«How could I forget you, Veronica Bursio?»

Next chapter