Chapter 2

Just as they arrived at the houses, an anxious soldier shouts out to them. “Crown princess! Vanguard Tyler ordered me to find you. He wants to have a meeting prior to the negotiations.” He stopped to catch his breath, his chest heaving with exertion. “Officer Steve, at your service. Here is his letter and seal.”

After verifying the seal, Alexander nods and accepts the letter. After spending a minute to read it, she brightens.

“It looks like we are on the same page. I’ve already requested that Warrior Paige join us for the upcoming negotiations.”

Steve bowed slightly to Paige while Alexandra continues reading the letter in her hand. “I was also supposed to find you if possible. This saves me from running to the city gates to see if you have arrived. Sir Tyler requested that you be directed over to the keep if you were in the city.”

“We’ll both go to the keep. Carry on.” Alexandra stated calmly.

As the three of them headed toward the keep, Paige noticed that the soldier’s eyes were trained on them. Alexandra showed not the slightest hint of nervousness.

‘That’s good, she knows how to project authority. The queen always said that first impressions are key to diplomacy.’

Talking a second glance at her surroundings, Paige realized that even the officers were evaluating Alexandra as they passed by.

‘The rumors about the royal family must have already spread through the army. This is getting troublesome.’

“You or Vanguard Tyler will need to address the officers as soon as possible. The Generals will need to know who is in charge, issuing the orders, and ultimately whose orders are more important.” Paige quietly tells Alexandra as they follow Officer Steve. “Mercenaries like me coordinate through the local Guild hall. Besides your father, who did your mother appoint as the overall commander for the army?”

“Before father died, he reorganized the army so that the commander’s position will fall to the officer with the most experience and records.” She explained carefully. “People with Classes are generally exempt from service as you know, but he had hoped that a few retired heroes would rise to the occasion. For the most part, he was correct.”

Alexander smiled sadly as she thought about her late father.

“General William is leading the army, and Strategist Merrik is coordinating the logistics.” Officer Steve supplied helpfully.

As they arrived at the keep, Officer Steve stopped and saluted. “The general is in Sir Tyler’s office, third floor, second door to the right. It was an honor to meet both of you. May Alcudia’s light shine through the darkness!”

Alexandra accepted the bow and did a small curtsy in return.

“Thank you for keeping us company. May Alcudia’s light shine through the darkness!”

Officer Steve went inside the gatehouse to relieve the guard stationed there. As they stepped over the threshold and went into the keep, the temperature and humidity dropped noticeably. Alexandra sighed with relief. “We had to get the royal court mage, Mrs. Everest, to enchant the rooms leading up to the negotiating table. Castle Molt was chosen due to its proximity to the frontlines, not for its amenities. The keep has seen better days.”

Shouts could be heard as logistics teams were coordinating the war efforts. No arguing, but plenty of passion abounded as people ran between rooms and delivering messages.

“In some ways, the army needed this war,” Paige said quietly. “Although there are a lot of classes, the army itself has seen a shortage of people with a Class holding leadership positions. It is far easier to get rich by becoming a mercenary. I kept telling your mom that she should stop handing out titles unless they were willing to serve a few years in the military.”

“It’s a double-edged sword. We have a lot of people affiliated with us, but we can’t willingly force them to protect the country. We’ve been blessed that most have stayed around and are doing their patriotic duty.”

“You should say that they are earning their titles now.”

Alexandra smiled, a fierce light in her eyes. “Mother said it would be a good indicator of who is loyal to the nation.”

As their conversation died down, they opened the door to Tyler’s office. Two men were staring at a map laid across the table, as people around them reported the latest news from the frontlines.

“Tyler! We haven’t fought each other in ages!” Paige shouted, the room quieting down while Alexandra waved down the guards.

“Paige, about time you’ve come.” Tyler laughed as he strode toward the door, the other officers leaving to continue their discussions in a side room. He still looked the same as she remembered, his light brown hair and broad shoulders. ‘The only difference is his eyes.’ Paige thought to herself, noticing the way he shifted in response to her own movements. ‘Must have gotten a few new Skills since our last duel.’

“[Greater Intuition] or [Battlefield Sense]?”

Tyler hesitated midstride. “Bah, curse your intuition. At least have an air of prestige in front of my peers. Don’t randomly guess my skills the same moment you see me.” He sighed loudly. “You?”

“Neither, chalk it up to experience.”

Chuckling, Tyler turned to address the noticeably older man staring at the map. “Shouldn’t have taken that bet. I’ll get you your wine by sunset. How did you know?”

“Her reputation precedes her. Full name: Paige Alduit. Assumed Job Class: High Warrior; Guild assigned level: two hundred. Unmarried, age assumed to be around two hundred fifty; true age unknown. Left-handed, favors sword and shield style. Rumored to have a Class Blessing. Is suspected to have as many as fifty skills. Not contracted to any single party, but has many connections in the Guild hall and has a wide social network.”

“I’d appreciate it if you could amend the report to say ‘many friends in the Guild hall’. And go right ahead and state that I am friends with the queen.” Paige said unabashed, noticing how Alexandra’s eyes went wide at the confidential report the kingdom had on her.

“Two hundred fifty years old? You hardly look over thirty.” Alexandra said poutingly.

“Haha, of course that is what you would focus on. Some battle job classes tend to age slower than others. It just depends on fate.” Paige said sadly, remembering some old friends. She looked pointedly at General William.

When she had first met William, he had not even received his Class yet. Now he was noticeably older, an indicator that although he had received a battle oriented class, either his level was not high enough or he received it too late to overcome the body’s slow decline of age. His hair balding, skin tanned with age and his body bent forward, but his eyes still clear.

“Ms. Paige probably started off as an Apprentice at a young age, crown princess. Enough about that, it is good to see you again little Paige.”

“Bah, call me that again and I’ll call you Grandpa in front of the whole army.”

“Haha, with my looks I can guarantee at least half the army will believe it,” William said jokingly. “You look and act young enough to be one of my great-grandchildren. Jenny says to come over and have dinner with us sometime.”

“I’ll stop by and say hello to your wife sometime. I forgot about her birthday for the past couple of years. Does she still like white wine?”

“Red wine nowadays, but she’ll appreciate the gesture.”

While Paige and William talked about the past, Tyler performed a full bow towards Alexandra, an unspoken acknowledgment on where his allegiance lied.

“Crown Princess Alexandra, a pleasure. I’ll have to request that you keep Capt. Riley near you in the future. As the next in line to the throne, the Royal Guards are required to keep a guard escort at all times.” Tyler admonished slightly. He had been the former Captain of the guards, prior to him receiving his Class some ten years ago.

“I saw Ms. Paige and decided I would be safe enough with just her around. The only way I would be safer inside a castle is if a Knight was following me.” Alexandra teased, knowing full well that Paige had bested Tyler at every duel before he received his Vanguard Class. She hesitated, “I didn’t know Ms. Paige was that well known. Or that accomplished. Mother just said she is a good friend and we could trust her.”

“The report is a bit conservative in my opinion. In some circles she is well known, but she doesn’t like to be in positions of authority. She could probably give the Demon Lord himself a run for his money.” He said proudly. “Without his party of course. She is the only one I know foolish enough to not have a party. Or maybe she is just that confident in herself.”

“Regardless that makes me feel more confident for the negotiations. What did you want to talk about?” She asked politely.

“You need to decide right now what is important for the future of the country,” Tyler said, waving his hand to catch Paige and Williams attention.

‘What is important for the country?’ Alexandra thought to herself. Everything was important to the country! The war effort, reclaiming the homeland, pacifying the civil unrest plaguing the country. Getting revenge for her father.

“Leit Confederation and Appealte will join in the war effort, of that I have no doubt. But it will cost us. Be it in terms of resources, land, or reputation. We can take the country back ourselves, but the cost will be too great a burden for our nation.” William quietly spoke.

“They know that if our nation collapses, their own countries will be in jeopardy. As such, it is far easier for them to assist us now rather than risk war on their own borders later.”

“The first prince has already talked to us about organizing a united suppression army to fight against the demons. We have already agreed to limit the number of soldiers and resources the other countries will be providing us. Our only fear is if they want to make a puppet nation out of us at the end.”

Tyler picked up talking after William was done. “To that end, we have decided to go ahead and allow him to lead the army. I know the throne is unstable right now, with the void left behind by your father’s death and coupled the queen’s injuries, but I am sure that civil war will not happen until we have reclaimed the country. All of the nobles agreed to an oath on this. No one will place their own interests first before the kingdom has been restored. Besides, the queen is not dead, so there is little the nobles or your brother can do to the throne.”

“We cannot afford to fight on three different fronts. Since the queen and prime minister is injured as well, I will coordinate with Mrs. Gale to decide what the royal court is willing to do.” William interjected.

“Hold, I am the crown princess! I will decide what the royal family stance is. Mrs. Everest can coordinate with me on what the royal family’s official stance is. Her position of royal court mage does not supercede mine!” Alexandra’s head started to spin. ‘No! I can prove myself. I have to prove myself.’

“True, but you also do not have the knowledge nor experience she has. You are barely twenty years old. Trust your mother’s confidante. She has been with your mother ever since she has ascended the throne fifty years ago. Apart from the prime minister, she is better suited to coordinate the official response for the royal family.” Paige said soothingly. She knew from experience where the young girl’s thoughts were heading. “Alexandra, a leader must learn who to trust, and when. Trust your mother. You have the training, now it is time for practice. Ask Gale Everest to guide you.”

She shot a look at Tyler. “Sir Tyler is taking up the prime minister’s duties; Sir William was appointed by your father to lead the war efforts, so let him deal with the first prince; Mrs. Gale will help you with your new duties. Others should be teaching your younger sister Beatrice on how to reassure the masses. Everyone in the royal family must play a part, otherwise, morale will decrease if the population thinks a civil war will follow.”

“Everyone except your youngest sibling Isabella is being guided. You know her position is …unique. Just relax and focus on what is coming next,” Tyler spoke up.

Readjusting her emotions, Alexandra looked at Paige suspiciously, “I thought you said you hated politics?”

“I do, but it doesn’t mean I can’t see the bigger picture,” Paige responded quietly. “You will decide on the terms; Tyler and I will help you realize them, and Gale will help you draft the official document.”

An officer waiting by the door walked in and handed a new report to the general. Scanning the document, his brow started to wrinkle. “We’ll leave you alone princess to sort your thoughts out. Tyler, Paige, a word.”

They step toward the table holding the map as he handed them the new report. “Our scouts may have found the Demon Lord’s location.” He whispered, wanting to let the princess organize her thoughts for the upcoming meeting. “He was headed toward Mount Terst.”

“The prayer grounds?” Paige responded, confused as to why he would head there.

“The royal mausoleum is there,” William said, his brows arching. “The royal family has typically placed all historical relics in the vaults there. Although, the royal keep should have had the most powerful artifacts.” He looked toward Tyler.

“All of the moveable relics were moved prior to the capital being taken. Theoretically, there should be nothing there that could move a Demon Lord.”

A knock on the door ended their conversation. Officer Steve poked his head through. “The diplomats have arrived. They are waiting in the main conference room.”

Glancing at each other, they nodded as the princess adjusted her breathing.

Alexandra headed toward the door. “Call Capt. Riley over. He can announce us and check the room for threats. Let’s go.”

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