Chapter Thirteen - Roxy

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"You must remember to keep your posture straight at all times; you are a princess, not an old woman. You must also dress with the utmost care, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem, since I will be selecting a number of outfits for you to choose from each evening."

"I can dress myself," I retorted, not bothering to keep the venom out of my tone.

"That is questionable." My mother flicked her eyes over me in distaste, but I paid her no attention. I actually thought I looked pretty amazing today, considering that I hadn't even been allowed up to my room to change since I had arrived.

"Are we done here yet?" Vincent had warned me about her desire to go over the ground rules of how I should be behaving during the visit, but I hadn't anticipated being accosted the second I walked back into the palace.

"Almost." She looked at the clock on the wall of her parlour. "But don't even think about going off anywhere - we are expected down for dinner in ten minutes."


Her eyes burned as she glared down at me. "Things work differently here to what you have been used to for the past few months. You may see fit to eat whenever you like at the camp but here that is not a luxury you can afford. You will do as you are told the second you are told to do it. Is that clear enough for you?"

"I'm not six, mother. I think I can grasp standard sentences." Whether I chose to pay attention to them however...

"You have ten minutes, Roxanne," she continued as if I hadn't spoken, moving over to the door. "Do not be late."

I rolled my eyes at her receding figure and then decided to go and find my room, or at least find someone who knew where it was. All I wanted to do was take a scalding shower and process what Vincent had told me last night.

It took a matter of seconds to find a servant who could take me to my room. I was on the third floor of the palace; a section I had never really been allowed in when I was younger. It looked as though Avery and Cin would be up there as well. There were two other empty rooms, but the servant couldn't - or wouldn't - tell me who was going to be using them and I was too worn out to try too hard to find out.

The shower was gorgeous. I didn't come out of the steaming water until quarter of an hour later, feeling more like a goddess than a human. I strolled over to the enormous mirrored wardrobe that took up almost a whole wall and opened it to choose something to wear for dinner. The clothes I had taken to camp with me had already been hung up while I had been downstairs. My mother probably wanted me to dress smartly for my first meal at the palace but that wouldn't have been any fun. Besides, it was baking, as usual, in Halia. Her choice in formal attire would have made me too warm.

I was wondering what sort of clothes my mother would want me to wear while the delegates were here. If we were going to try and Control them, did that mean that we had to make them trust us a little bit more? If that was the case then what Vincent had said about dressing might prove useful.

By dinner, I presumed my mother had meant me, her and my aunt, possibly my father if his desire to see me could override his distaste for being in the same room as his wife. However, the scene as I entered the dining room was shockingly different.

The room had been decorated with arrangements of deep red lilies on each wall. Every candle in the giant chandelier on the ceiling had been lit, creating a glittering contrast with the darkness which surrounded us through the glass walls on each side. It was a perfect fish-bowl effect. Anyone walking past could observe the meal and admire at the splendour, but we could see nothing beyond our impenetrable black backdrop. The table - the state banquet table - had been laid and sat around it was the entire court, every last one of whom looked up at me as I entered the room. And all of whom were in formal attire.

But blending in is boring, right?

Their gaze quickly shifted, anyway, to the figure sat at the head of the table, eagerly anticipating the response to such an interruption.

"How good of you to finally join us, Roxanne." My grandfather's deep voice filled the entire room, causing a few of the newer dignitaries to shiver.

"Dinner was rather earlier than I had expected."

"Hurry and take your seat and we shall begin. You see, we showed you much greater courtesy than you did us and waited for your arrival."

There was nothing I could say to that, so I went silently to the only spare seat at the table. He was trying to humiliate me but I wasn't going to let him. Thankfully I had been sat next to my father, who gave me a small smile in the way of a greeting as I sat down.

"Now that we are all accounted for..." His gaze fell on me again as he spoke and I could feel the strength of my mother's glare from across the table. "We may begin."

Unfortunately, the downside of sitting next to my dad was that he was the only thing separating me from my grandfather, which wasn't something I particularly wanted at that point in time.

"Your training went well?"

"Yes, very well. The-"

" 'Very well, Your Highness' if you don't mind, Roxanne. While our guests are here we must be careful not to let any rules of decorum slip and it is imperative that we practice now. Tomorrow, for example, you will not be late to dinner."

"I'll bear that in mind... Your Highness." This was odd: my grandfather was usually formal, but never like this. We had always gotten on well in the past and I had got the impression that he liked me - until now anyway. Perhaps it was the stress of the impending mission, or whatever my mother must have been saying to him while I was away...

"I've heard pleasing reports from your time in the camp, Roxanne, though it seems that your Control could use a little more work, which is... disappointing. Practice as much as you can over the next few days."

"Yes, Your Highness."

"I will be relying on you and your contemporaries for a fairly important task over the coming months."

"Oh, Your Highness?" Would that be helping you to Control and kill the most powerful members in the other Realms?

"The Arcan Prince will be arriving with three other Protectors and they are all about your age. I'm going to have them stay on the same floor as you in the hope that you will keep an eye on them. Try to make sure they feel at ease and see that they don't go wandering around the castle alone." Babysitting. Yay. "You know what's going on, Roxanne and you know what is at stake if it fails."

I tried very hard to prevent the shock from registering on my face - how could he know that I knew? "Your Highness-"

"There's no need to lie to me, Roxanne. You are my granddaughter and I know how you think; you'll have learnt our plans through any means possible. And don't worry, Vincent won't come into any trouble over it. I wouldn't have told him anything if I didn't want you to know. It's a pity. He'd be our most promising Protector if he wasn't so... weak."

I could imagine Vincent's disappointment at such a comment and, since he was sitting only a few more people down the table with the other Protectors, I knew that he couldn't have missed it any more than they did.

"This will be your first mission as a Protector and it will probably be the most important one you will ever have. There will be no room for error, so no more of your childish games. You will do exactly as I say the second I say it." Now where did those words sound familiar from? "And the same goes for your friends - I trust you will pass on the message when they arrive in a few days." So I was the only one receiving direct instructions? Nice, it looked like I was in charge. Cin would not be happy about that.

The remainder of the meal passed without mishap and I was allowed to return to my room to think over what I had learnt. My grandfather was nervous about the trip, I could tell that much from the change in his behaviour, but I wasn't sure why - it all sounded so simple, so straightforward, so perfect.

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