Chapter 2: Courts and Tyrants
“My lady, your father wishes to see you.” Byron said as entered the room.
I sighed and placed the book back on the bookshelf. “I’m coming.”
“He is in his study. I will escort you to him.”
My eyebrows rose and I crossed my arms. “You know you don’t have to. I’ve lived here long enough to know where Father stays.”
“Yes, well, you know I cannot leave you without a bodyguard.”
“You’re my bodyguard!”
“Precisely, now come, we do not want to keep him waiting.”
I rolled my eyes and walked out of the library. The servants kept out of my way and the guests that stayed in the palace used over exaggerated greetings such as “good day to you” and “duchess, how marvelous it is to see you”. I knew they were only being pleasant because I was the daughter of the emperor. If I wasn’t, they wouldn’t even bother to give me a second glance.
“What does Father want anyway?”
Byron rubbed the back of his head. “I do not know. I believe it has something to do with your marriage tomorrow.”
A chill ran down my spine at the mention of that word. Marriage. “I can’t believe it.”
“Neither can I, duchess.”
“You don’t think it is too late to hire the next available carriage and travel away from here, do you?” I asked seriously.
He shook his head. “You can’t get out of this, you know. We’ve talked about this last night.”
“I know but you’re the only one I can talk to in this place, Byron. If I don’t complain to someone I fear I’ll go mad.”
“Are you sure you aren’t already there, my lady?” He laughed though most of it was muffled by his beard.
I huffed and turned the next corner. “Thanks.”
“Duchess Joplin, it’s good to see you again after all this time.”
“General Caldwin,” I said in surprise, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He wore his navy regimental coat with slightly rusted gold painted buttons and I noticed that there were hints of mud and dirt under the cuffs. His beard had been close-trimmed and his hair was the usual mess. Across his blind eye down to his left cheek was a scar, weathered by age and blackened by the element. It's broad size and many cross ridges betrayed the truth that he had been in another battle for his country and yet his smile made it seem as if he was unaware that it existed.
He chuckled and bowed his head. “Come now. It’s an important occasion. I couldn’t miss it.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
He must have noticed that something was wrong because his smile faded almost instantly. “Is everything alright, duchess?”
Before I could answer, Byron interrupted. “Everything is fine, general. She is just in a bit of a hurry to see the emperor.”
“Oh, then please forgive me. Until we meet again.”
“Of course, goodbye general.”
It had been a long time since I had last saw him. General Caldwin was one of the leading supporters of Blackdell and was the commander of the royal army. I had known him for most of my life, but because of his position I never got to see him around court. It was a shame. Unlike some of the people, he was genuinely nice to me, and not because of my position.
The wooden door to Father’s study was in sight and I tried to ignore my legs as they shook. I closed my eyes for a few brief moments before pressing my hand against the handle. The door clicked and parted.
“That is enough! I will not talk about this again, Genetivi, and that is my final word on the subject.” Father shouted.
Both men were surprised by my intrusion. Father stood by the fire with a book in one hand and a chalice of wine in the other. A man I had never met stood on the opposite end of the room. He scowled while Father gave me a broad smile.
“Delilah, we have much to discuss.”
“Of course, Father.”
The other man said his farewell and left the room without giving me another glance.
Bryon took off his tricorne hat in respect and headed out of the study. “If you need me, I will be outside.”
The door closed behind him and the room was left in relative silence. The only sounds that could be heard were from the debates in the next room and the static of the fireplace.
Father eyed his wine and I kept my gaze focused on the wall.
“I know you well enough to know you are not looking forward to your wedding.”
My eyes met his and I couldn’t help but frown. “Why do I have to marry this man? I haven’t even met him! There are many other wealthy women in this city. Why couldn’t one of them take my place?”
His eyes narrowed and he placed his chalice on the desk. “You know I cannot. This wedding had been arranged long ago. You know Blackdell and Redcliff have been at each other’s throats for as long as we can remember. This is to ensure peace for both cities.”
“Isn’t there an alternative?”
“No!” He roared and threw the book to the ground. I jumped back and stared at him with wide eyes. His features softened and he held the bridge of his nose. “No. You must understand that the arrangement was not an easy decision. You think I would want to send my only daughter away with some prince from Akye? No. But the truth of the matter is that Blackdell is crumbling and we need this alliance.”
I nodded and lowered my gaze.
“Daughter, I know this is hard for you.” I looked up and he gave me a smile. “You have your mother’s stubbornness. I know she would not agree with what I am putting you through, but it must be done.”
There was a long pause before I whispered: “I miss her.”
“So do I. She was taken from us far too quickly from that blasted plague. If only she could see you now.”
If only. “I don’t want to marry this man.”
A thought crossed my mind. “What if-”
The tone of his voice was low and I knew it was a warning. “Delilah.”
“You don’t even know what I was going to say!”
His frown deepened and I decided that the best option was not to argue. “Never mind.”
“Good. Now, you may leave.”
A knock from the door startled us both. Father cleared his throat and turned to face his desk.
“You may enter.”
Byron opened the door and stared at the two of us for a moment. “Is everything alright, emperor?”
“Yes. My daughter was just about to leave.”
He nodded and motioned me out.
I took a few heavy breaths when I entered the hallway and the nerves I had felt soon disappeared.
“How did it go?” Byron asked.
My silence gave him his answer.
“That bad, huh?” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “He is only doing what he thinks is best.”
“For who? Me or his people?”
“Duchess, you do not know how hard it is for him to decide between the two of you. He loves you, but he also has a duty to his people. Someday you will understand.”
“I hope not.” I whispered and headed back to my room.
I never thought I would understand. Perhaps I didn’t want to. It had only been a few days ago that I had heard that I was to be married. No one apart from my Father had met the prince. Sometimes I wondered if Father put his people before me. He probably did.
Once I was back in my chamber I slammed the door shut and slumped to the floor.
I couldn’t do this.