Chapter Eighteen: Roxy

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"Why are we here? We're not doing anything. None of this is for real anyway - and I could be out shopping!" Avery complained in a barely audible whisper from the seat beside mine. We were sitting by the window, a little back from the imposing state table where my grandfather and the Realm delegates were engaged in a heated debate.

"Shhh!" I hissed by way of response, trying very hard to focus on the spectacle before me.

"We're here to show support and the meeting itself is crucial - the delegates would get incredibly suspicious if we invited them here to talk then left them alone in their rooms all day, wouldn't they? Plus, it's a good way to learn more about the other Realms and how they're run." Cin leant across me to whisper his response, yet with the uproar coming from the table he could probably have shouted it without being overheard.

"But why-" Ave began again before I cut her off with another "shhh!" and a glare.

"Keep quiet and listen - it might help you to work out what's actually going on here. Besides, some of us are interested in the proceedings and you're making it impossible to concentrate."

"This is stupid."

Cin opened his mouth to respond and I tried very hard to ignore the inevitable argument that was about to start beside me, focusing instead on the battle raging round the table.

"But surely you cannot still be so prejudice? The other Realms have been trading for centuries. Why are we the only ones to be excluded? We have opened our borders to you - for the duration of this trip at least - it is now time for you to return this courtesy."

"And cause a mass panic all across the Brizan Realm? My people will see the colours of your ships and believe the Occupation has come again. I will not put them through that," Rowan proclaimed angrily, his face turning red with passion.

"But it is time to move on. The invasion was years ago-"

"Hardly! You were still in power at the time after all. I myself remember it as though it were yesterday, as do well over half the population. It was a long, hard decision to take the risk of sending anyone here at all - you certainly won't be going anywhere near us for a very long time to come."

"And do you keep us out for the same reason?" King Nero asked the Sephan and Arcan delegates accusingly.

"We see no benefit for us in allowing you to sail through our waters," Brae replied, meeting the King's gaze steadily. "We have open waters with the Sephans and Brizans because it allows for valuable trade routes and for us to gain from the Brizans' expertise in sailing. Our contact with them is crucial for our economy. What advantages could you bring us? You're far too secretive about your produce to ever offer to trade fairly." He spoke with great confidence, sounding much older and more experienced than he really could have been. Even the King looked a little taken aback by such a bold response. He clearly hadn't been expecting the Arcans to put up much of a fight during the negotiations.

"How do you know if you never give us a chance? I'll have a trade proposal written up for you by the end of the day - then you will clearly see your benefits."

"Well that would be a start. I look forward to reading it. But you must remember that the so called exclusion you keep mentioning is largely self-enforced. You've always kept to yourselves. How can we know we can trust you when we don't have anything to go by?" Brae moved his hands emphatically as he spoke. I shuddered slightly, feeling as though a wave of coldness had gone through me.

"You need to give us a chance. You are all fixating too much on our behaviour in the past."

"But what else do we have to judge you by!" Brae replied. He slammed his hands onto the table and the cold air grew worse.

"But this meeting is all about starting a fresh and forgetting the past." This remark caused Rowan to scoff. "We're trying to tell you that your prejudices are long out of date. It is time for us all to move forward, as four united Realms - that is something we can all benefit from."

"Well stop trying to tell us and actually show us some proof! I still haven't seen any reason why we should trust you." As if to prove Brae's point, at that moment the door opened and four Helian Protectors, accompanied by my mother, entered the room. She shook her head almost imperceptibly at the King before taking a seat: the test had failed, again.

The others were all focusing too intently on the King to notice the Helians' entrance. He sighed. "Very well. You have made your opinions of us only too clear. I can only hope that our warm hospitality during your stay lessens your unfounded prejudices. Perhaps seeing more of our culture would also help alleviate your fears, to show that we have nothing to hide. You will all be given tours of the city over the coming days, but for now, I believe it would be best if we came to a pause. It is nearing time for lunch, anyway. I hope you all have pleasant afternoons." He rose and left the room, my mother hot on his heels. I decided to get up and follow too, eager to find out what had gone on.

They made their way towards my grandfather's private rooms, only noticing me when they reached the door. "What are you doing here?" my mother snapped. "Shouldn't you be keeping an eye on the Arcan brat?"

"No - it's good that she came. I need a word with her," the King replied and began to go inside. "But you can wait out here," he added to my mother when she tried to follow him. "I already know that you have failed - I can wait for the specific details." I didn't bother to hide my smug smile at the look of rejection on my mother's face as I followed the King inside, shutting the door firmly behind me.

"How can I help you, Your Highness?"

"The Arcan's proving trickier that I had expected, Roxanne." He said, lowering himself into a chair. "He's far too suspicious."

"Can you blame him?" I shrugged slightly and took the seat opposite his.

"Perhaps not. But we need to convince him to trust us. Keeping an eye on him isn't going to be good enough - you are going to have to pretend to befriend him if we are going to keep him from snooping around." He noticed the look of disgust that appeared on my face immediately. "It's the only way. Just for a short while. We need to blind him with a little smoke, so to speak."

"Can we choke him with it at the same time?"

He smiled. "I need you to play nice, Roxanne, we need him alive - for now at least. And to make it up to you, I'll make sure you get to get rid of him when that's no longer necessary. But in the meantime, I'm going to need you to take him on a tour of Halia tomorrow morning. Take him to places where he won't come across anything too important, but still let him feel like he's learning a little as he goes. If you can, try and find out more about him at the same time."

"You want me to babysit? Can't I do something a little more fun? Like help with the tests?"

"You are of more use to me for this. Anyone can help with the tests, but you are a similar age to Brae, so he'll be more likely to open up to you."

"So are Cin and Avery!"

"Neither of them are as reliable as you are. I trust you - you are more like me - you will not fail."

Oh, so he was going down the flattery route, trying to appeal to my vanity. He was right though: I was more reliable and I definitely wasn't going to mess this up. It looked like I was going to have to play babysitter, since I was the only one who could. "Fine. I'll do it."

"Of course you will. You never had a choice in the matter anyway. Now go back and keep an eye on him. Send your mother in on your way out."

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