Chapter 18

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"Of course it would be my sister who stops an otherwise endless string of losses against the Dans," Victoria grumbled. Alex couldn't think of a sensible reply and nodded. The gesture clearly irritated her.

The map, which Queen Victoria was pacing in front of, projected onto the large wall in front of them was covered with green and purple dots, representing Dannic and Angleyan forces respectively. Every change of color on the map no doubt cost blood and lives. Yet here he sat, sitting in a velvet chair at the back end of a spacious palace conference room and sheltered by a roof lined with gold. Not bad for a half blood, he thought to himself. While full blooded Angleyan women bled and died on the mainland, he got to go to sleep in a bedroom inside the Royal Palace complex.

"Something funny?" Victoria asked, halting and swiveling to look Alex in the eye. He was forced out of his own thoughts and realized a grin had come onto his face. "I know it's amusing to watch your mentor consistently one up and embarrass me. But try to have a little more tact and hide it."

Alex stammered out a reply to recover his dignity. "Apologies, Your-"

"What did I say about titles?"

"Sorry Victoria."

Victoria grinned and shook her head. "Goodness. Don't look so grim now. I was just teasing. I suppose a lifetime of being taught formality and submission is hard to shake off. I'm just wondering how of all things, Charlotte failed to deprogram that part of you."

"Lady Charlotte..." Victoria raised an eyebrow at Alex. "I mean, your sister was a Knight who frankly was the closest to a true mother figure I had."

Victoria nodded knowingly. "Right. But enough banter. My sister seems to have a good enough handle on military affairs. What I want to know is how negotiations are going with the Church."

Alex's lips fell into a frown.

"I can see this is going to be quite the conversation," Victoria said.

"It's going fine. In spite of some... less than friendly conversations it seems the Priestesses are respecting your authority."

"They're not going to openly defy me. However, if they want something they'll come up with some way to manipulate public opinion to the point that me defying them would be tantamount to abdicating the people's support. Don't believe my propaganda writers. Queens can be made and unmade as easily as any flimsy building."

Alex nodded. "The women they gave me are... capable. Though I'm not sure how well they'd be fit for the frontlines."

"I don't really expect them to be of much use really. I just wanted to see how the Twelve would respond."

"What?"

Victoria raised an eyebrow. "You didn't think I was scrambling for the Church's help this early in a conflict did you? The Royal Fleet doesn't need help to attack the Federation. I just needed to see what the priestesses would do. Don't get me wrong, the Paladins are highly adept warriors, they just tend to make better bodyguards and public security officers than soldiers. The fact that you were immediately offered 200 women to command confirms one of my suspicions."

"That they started this war?"

"Or at least they were hoping for it," Victoria said.

"Well they're competent if not... annoying." Alex let an irritated frown fall onto his face. Victoria's curiosity was visibly piqued.

"Really? I know the priestesses are an unpleasant lot but the Knights are for the most part competent and even tempered."

"Oh they're competent. I'm not worried about that."

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