Chapter 34: The Politics of Marriage


“I won’t ask you about Averly,” Hana said softly as she settled Carina down on the edge of the bed and went to close the door. “I can tell how awful it must have been just by looking at you.”

Carina offered a tired smile and exhaled. “It has been—a very long day.”

Hana nodded sympathetically. “I heard about your bravery this morning. Chasing Lady Sabella and all those knights out of the palace.”

‘Oh, right—that was also today.’ Carina slumped back across the bed and shut her eyes. ‘I have to figure out how to get back to Hawthorne Manor soon so I can talk to Jade. I have so many questions.’

“Tsk. Don’t lie down yet,” Hana admonished gently as she took Carina’s right arm and pulled it firmly. “Get changed first. I’ll have the servants bring up some supper in a bit so you can turn in early.”

Carina grumbled as she sat up and then left the bed. “Before that.” She moved to the single bookshelf in the bedroom and pulled out several books, which she stacked neatly on the desk.

Hana watched curiously as Carina cleared space on the shelf then slide her fingers against the bottom base of the ledge above. Her finger found a small smooth hole, which Carina pressed. A faint click followed, and a lid popped open as a small vial dropped into Carina’s open palm.

“What is that?” Hana asked, intrigued.

“Something Eleanora asked me to make,” Carina answered honestly.

Hana’s expression grew troubled as she crossed her arms over her chest. “What did she ask you to make?”

“An aphrodisiac.”

“Aph—” Hana covered her lips as her eyes widened. She quickly hid the vial in Carina’s palm with her hand and whispered, “Maura, you can’t—if you are caught with something like this—you have to get rid of it. Give it to me.”

“It’s alright.” Carina shook her head and pulled away. “I’m giving it to Lord Percy in a moment.”

“The Earl?” Hana’s turquoise eyes widened in dismay, and she shook her head firmly. “Maura, I don’t trust him.”

“Percy has more political power than either of us and is more than capable of dealing with this,” Carina replied as she shut the secret compartment and placed a few books back on the shelf. “Besides, if it weren’t for the Earl’s insistence, Eleanora wouldn’t let me get rid of this aphrodisiac so readily.”

Hana tilted her head in defeat and sighed as she rubbed her throat. “If you’re sure you can trust him, then I won’t protest.”

A knock on the door made Hana jump as Carina hastily slid the vial inside her sleeve.

“Lady Maura,” Percy’s voice called from outside.

“It’s the Earl,” Carina said as she moved to open the door.

“Maura,” Percy greeted as his gaze slid past her to Hana. “Eleanora and I are headed to the Ministry. Nicholas and the House of Lords have summoned her.”

“I see. Please look out for her Highness,” Carina replied tensely.

Percy frowned at Hana again. “Can you—give it to me?”

“I’m well aware of what you came here for, Lord Percy,” Hana replied as she crossed her arms and gave him a cold stare. “Be sure to get rid of it and leave no trace.”

Percy raised an eyebrow at her as he held out his hand. Carina glanced up and down the hall, then pulled out the vial and placed it in the Earl’s palm. His fingers wrapped around hers and held them as he raised her hand to his lips. “Thank you for trusting me,” Percy whispered against her skin.

Carina flushed as she pulled her hand free and took a step back. “Thank you for your assistance today, Lord Percy.”

Percy offered her a devilish smile as he slid the vial inside his jacket. “I look forward to your next visit to Hawthorne, Lady Maura. Good night.”

He nodded to Hana, then turned towards the steps before Carina could manage a reply. She shut the door swiftly behind him.

Hana stared at her with raised eyebrows and a questioning smile.

“It’s not what you think,” Carina said quickly. “I rescued a woman and her infant from the witch hunters in Averly today. I’ll be returning to check on them and see they are properly placed in a house of their own—once the danger has passed.”

“A baby?” Hana echoed, shocked.

“The witch hunters were going to—throw it in a well—” Carina shook her head.

“Those vicious dogs,” Hana seethed with surprising anger. She quickly smiled and wrapped her arms around Carina. “You were brave to rescue them. A true Baroness.”

Carina laughed as she accepted Hana’s hug and laid her cheek against the woman’s shoulder in weary defeat. “I didn’t have a choice.”

‘I wanted to avoid the church’s attention all together—but I never expected to meet Jade again in this world.’ She thought of the white-haired woman in red and Viktor. ‘Was it just good fortune that I was made Baroness of Averly and happened to be there when Jade needed me? Or was this all orchestrated by some deity?’

It had never occurred to Carina that the gods briefly mentioned in Lafeara’s mythology and history might actually be real. If she had not seen Viktor nor had that dream in Anthraticus, she would probably deny it still.

‘If they truly exist—will they stop me from changing the future? How am I supposed to outwit a god?’


“Your Majesty, this cannot be a coincidence,” Borghese protested as he rose from his seat without waiting for acknowledgment from the Prime Minister.

‘As always, Borghese does what he likes with no regard to rank or hierarchy,’ Attwood thought darkly as he resigned himself to another foolhardy lecture.

“Only a few days after the Pope’s Emissary arrives, the Emperor sends his Ambassador to our border ahead of schedule with five-thousand soldiers!” Borghese glared along the table as if his gaze alone would add weight to his somber words. “If this is not an invasion, then it is a show of intimidation meant to remind us of the Emperor’s position against the church.”

“The Marquess has a point,” Lord Caldwell muttered as he raised his hand.

‘I should be grateful Caldwell at least tries to follow protocol, but I can’t let Borghese control the momentum of this meeting.’

“Marquess Borghese,” Attwood ignored the noble’s signal for recognition and remained focused on Borghese. “It takes nearly a week to travel from Ventrayna to our borders. You know that. Which means the Ambassador had already left Ventrayna before the Church’s Emissary reached Lafeara.”

“I would not be so hasty to exclude a connection between them, Prime Minister,” Caldwell interjected impatiently as he dropped his hand. “It is possible the Emperor was made aware of the recent witch attacks and changed the dates of the Ambassador’s visit accordingly.”

“Surely the Prime Minister is not so naive as to believe that the Emperor has no spies among our fair city,” Borghese added with a hint of ridicule.

Attwood didn’t bother replying. ‘Sometimes the only way to beat an overconfident opponent is to let them dig their own grave.’

“Your tone is not appreciated, Borghese,” growled Marquess Winifred, whose seat faced his political opponent. “It is wise to avoid jumping to conclusions without any evidence to support these wild claims. Paranoia and quick assumptions will only lead us to make unnecessary choices that bring about more harm than good. Or would you have us call up Lafeara’s armies and start a war on your word alone?”

‘Marquess Winifred, ever the voice of reason. And a master of the art of speaking only when necessary.’ Attwood kept his expression neutral as several lords rumbled their agreement behind Winifred on both sides of the table.

“I would not be so dramatic nor hasty,” Borghese countered sharply.

“And yet, strangely enough, your actions and words do not match up,” Winifred replied in a tone of incredulity. “Perhaps Marquess Borghese should learn to govern his emotions and words with a bit more care if he does not wish to appear hasty or dramatic.”

Borghese appeared unable or unwilling to combat Winifred’s cutting words and took his seat with a sullen expression.

Attwood tapped his fingers softly against the table as he waited to see if any of the other lords wished to voice an opinion. He let the tense silence lengthen for a good five minutes before rising from his chair to speak.

“We do not know why the Ambassador has arrived ahead of schedule. Nor should we jump to conclusions as to why his entourage of guards has been strengthened to such numbers. It may be because of the presence of the church—” Attwood nodded reluctantly to Borghese “—it may also be a show of force since the terms for renegotiation under Nicholas’s reign will be discussed during this visit.”

“Perhaps the court rumors have reached the Emperor, and he is displeased with the progress the royal couple has made in the marriage bed,” Borghese replied with an indignant snort.

Attwood winced as a foot slammed against the floor behind him.

“Perhaps the Marquess should remember that I am present when he chooses to voice his opinions on my marriage so openly,” Nicholas replied coldly from the throne upon the dais which faced the noble’s table.

“Ah,” Borghese turned and inclined his head politely to the crown prince. “A slip of the tongue, your Majesty. Although the matter remains a valid concern for us all with the Ambassador already at our border.”

‘A slip of the tongue? Any other noble would be in fear of losing their head after such an offensive slipup.’

“Borghese,” Winifred growled, clearly offended on behalf of the crown prince.

“Can you find fault in his words?” protested Lord Bennet.

“It’s a well-known fact that the marital bed has become a source of popular gossip among the court attendants,” agreed Lord Kendall. “There are even rumors that commoners are placing bets on whether Princess Eleanora will ever become queen.”

“I never thought I’d live to see the day the House of Lord’s resorted to listening to gossip,” protested old Lord Gladstone with a derisive snort.

“We cannot just disregard gossip and rumors since they provide the best insight into the public’s opinion,” Caldwell countered somberly. “Nor can we ignore the impact such rumors may have on the upcoming negotiation—especially given the current status of the royal couple’s marriage.”

‘And yet it was likely someone from Borghese’s party who spread those rumors to ensure it would become a matter of concern before the Ambassador’s visit,’ Attwood seethed quietly.

“Why was it your Majesty failed to consummate this important political marriage on your wedding night?” Borghese inquired quite pointedly as the House of Lord’s ten members turned their attention towards the crown prince.

Nicholas glared back at them with evident displeasure before waving a hand to Attwood.

‘Like a Master commanding his dog to speak.’ Attwood sighed but stood to address Lafeara’s body of government. “As was recorded in the royal diary, the Crown Princess felt unwell, and so, to avoid contracting any foreign illness, his Majesty slept alone.”

“Foreign illness?” Lord Enfield protested scornfully. “The Crown Princess has been living in the royal palace for over a year now. Surely the royal physicians would have noted any—”

“Eleanora was unwell,” Nicholas snapped as he smacked his hand against the throne armrest. “Or does Lord Enfield wish to imply there was some other reason?”

Attwood sighed as Enfield, one of the lowest-ranked members of the House of Lords, wisely bowed his head and remained silent.

“Whatever the reason,” Marquess Winifred said gravely. “You have been married for several weeks, your Majesty. Has the Crown Princess remained unwell over the last twenty days of your marriage?”

Whatever protest Nicholas was about to fire back, it was cut off when the knights opened the door, and the page announced, “Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Eleanora and his Lordship, Earl Percy Hawthorne.”

‘Speak of the devil,’ Attwood thought as Nicholas’s expression darkened and the House of Lords turned their accusing gaze towards the Emperor’s adopted niece.

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