Roesia escorted me to a chamber inside the castle while my retainers were summoned by an officer, probably someone under the royal family. She said I needed to wait here until everything settled down. Agad naman akong pumayag dahil kailangan ko ng space para i-take in lahat ng nangyari.
The room was just as impressive as the castle’s exterior. Grand windows with elaborate traceries were spread across one side, framed by black drapes with gold embellishments. Tapestries were also hung on the walls, depicting wars, culture, and the culmination of the country’s long history. The high-sloping ceiling were adorned with fancy chandeliers, a stark contrast to the few polished mahogany furnishings strewn all over the chamber.
Napanganga rin ako nang makita ko ang higaan. It was a king size canopy bed with crimson silk drapes tied on each post. After sleeping on the cold, hard pavement or on the forest ground for weeks, seeing a bed this size felt surprising and a bit uncomfortable. Pakiramdam ko ay lulubog ako kapag humiga ako rito.
Wandering around the place, I realized it was tidy and organized but it seemed like nobody had lived here for a long time. Maybe this was meant to be my room, hence, it was left untouched?
I heaved a deep and long sigh as I scrunched down on the floor. Being alone in this huge room after traveling in a group made me feel lonely and vulnerable. I just hope the three of them were okay.
My body stiffened when I heard the door creaking open. Agad akong napatayo at nakita ko ang isang babaeng dahan-dahan pumasok. She was wearing an ankle-length, sleeved black dress overlaid with a white ruffled apron. Her pale complexion complemented her blond wavy hair and cold demeanor. She must be a lady’s maid, but I thought she could pass off as a royalty because of her elegance and beauty.
“Lady Vyrka,” she called, and hearing that name sent shiver down my spine.
I remembered the king addressing me by that. All my life, I had been using my birth name, Victoria Estrigo, but the moment he uttered that name, mind and body acknowledged it without any hesitation . . . as if my subconscious was yearning for it.
“Lady?” the woman repeated, her voice snapping me back to the present. Her dress billowed as she walked toward me. “The king and queen want to see you in a few hours. I am tasked to help you prepare for your audience with them.”
The mention of the royal family suddenly made my head fuzzy. “Oh,” I blurted out, unsure of what to reply.
“But first, I think you need to take a bath, my lady,” she said.
She gestured toward the massive mirror on the opposite side of the windows. I reluctantly followed her and for a second, I was scared to see my reflection after our arduous journey to get here in Vrivarya.
Wait, weren’t vampires supposed to not have any reflection? That was how they were always portrayed in books and films. Bigla tuloy akong kinabahan dahil baka hindi ko makita ang sarili ko sa salamin. But I was normal until my retainers showed up. Would it be possible to lose my reflection upon awakening?
“Lady, inside this room is an array of clothes you can chose from,” she beckoned toward the door beside the mirror.
Naglakad ako patungo sa kanya at napawi ang kaba ko nang makita ko ang sarili ko sa salamin. But that relief turned into embarrassment after realizing my piteous appearance. There were holes and soot on the dress I was wearing. My hair and face were a mess.
I scoffed upon seeing myself. What a princess I was.
“Uhm,” I looked at her and realized I hadn’t asked her name yet. “W-what should I call you?”
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang lumuhod sa harapan ko at agad kong naalala ang ginawa nina Kei noong tinanong ko rin ang pangalan nila. Was this the usual way of introducing yourself in Vrivarya?
“Sigrid, of Mazir bloodline, tracker and loyal attendant of Vrivarya,” she introduced. “And now, I am your lady-in-waiting.”
“N-Nice to meet you, Sigrid,” I hastily said, getting anxious at how she was almost bowing to the floor. “Uhm, you can stand now.”
Mabuti na lang at agad siyang sumunod. Pagkatapos no’n ay dinala niya ako sa bathroom at muli akong napanganga sa laki nito. It was twice the size of our house, and the tub could fit at least three persons.
“I will wait for you outside your room, lady,” Sigrid commented. “Enjoy your bath.”
Agad namang lumabas si Sigrid at nanatili ang tingin ko sa bathtub. The sight of the clean, hot water melted my worries and doubts. I removed my clothes and started washing myself. After a nice shower, I soaked in the tub and for the first time in weeks, I felt relaxed.
Hindi ko namalayan na nakaidlip pala ako sa bathtub. I immediately grabbed the towel and wiped my body dry. With careful steps, I got out of the bathroom and walked toward the walk-in closet but gasped upon seeing the array of clothes. Renaissance, Gothic, and Victorian dresses were neatly lined up on one side while heeled footwears on the other. Vintage accessories were also displayed on glass drawers, together with perfumes . . .
Napakunot ang noo ko nang makita ko ang perfume stand. The content looked strange, so I went closer and gasped upon realizing that the pretty bottles didn’t contain luxury fragrances but blood.
Agad akong lumayo ro’n at namili na lang ng damit na pwede kong suotin. However, the dresses were either too formal or too extravagant. Wala bang casual wear dito?
After contemplating, I wore the most comfortable dress I could find—a simple black Victorian dress with high neck and long sleeves. The others were just too flamboyant and would take me a lifetime to wear. Pinili ko rin ang may pinakamababang heels sa sapatos dahil siguradong hindi ako makakalakad gamit ang iba.
“Okay na siguro ‘to,” I murmured after leaving the closet. Tiningnan ko ang itsura ko sa salamin at hindi ko alam kung dapat ba akong matawa o maawa. Formal dresses didn’t suit me at all.
The only thing to do was to wait for Sigrid to return.
Dahil wala naman akong magawa ay tumungo ako sa bandang bintana. From here, I could clearly see the different areas in the castle. The keep and the barbican, or the defense perimeter, looked smaller from my room while the towers became more intimidating. I could also see the main and smaller courtyards where castle knights and staffs walk around. As I watched the undead doing their own business, I noticed some familiar figures walking together . . . no, someone was being dragged away.
Two guards were restraining both of his hands while Moria and Irus wore scowls on their faces. Still, they were just quietly following behind. Walking in front of them was a new face, but he looked like a mage.
Despite not knowing what was happening, my gut was telling me that it wouldn’t be good.
My gaze shifted toward Sigrid who just opened the door. I scurried toward her and asked how to get to the courtyard.
“Why do you want to go there, lady?” she asked.
“My retainers . . . they are being taken somewhere.”
“Are you perhaps concerned about the cursed tracker?”
Napatigil naman ako nang tanungin niya iyon. “Y-yeah. Do you know him? What’s going to happen to him?”
She lightly shrugged. “Those who are inflicted with blood curse are often killed for defying the laws, though it is my first time seeing one in centuries.”
My eyes widened in horror upon hearing that from Sigrid. No way. He wasn’t even in his right mind when that happened!
“Now, lady, let me escort you to the throne ro—"
“Take me to them,” I ordered. “Now.”
Sigrid had no choice but to lead the way. I didn’t even know how many times I had almost tumbled while running in this dress and shoes. When we arrived at the courtyard, they were already heading toward a tower, prompting us to run faster.
“Wait!” sigaw ko pero mukhang hindi nila ako narinig . . . until Kei turned around.
He had that worried look on his face but it melted into relief upon seeing me. Maging ang mga kasama niya ay huminto rin at lumingon sa direksyon namin. I rushed toward them and Irus and Moria looked at me with concern.
“Lady,” Moria called in a whisper. “What are you doing here?”
“I . . .” My voice faltered but quickly gathered the courage to continue. “What’s happening? Where are you going?”
They both averted my gaze in return.
“Lady Vyrka,” the man that was with them greeted with a bow. “I am Rurik, and I am honored to meet you.”
I could tell in a glance that he was a mage. He had that same allure of Moria and Roesia. Despite the long shaggy hair that covered his left eye, it couldn’t hide the beauty of his face. He was wearing a white linen tunic underneath, and a white silk cloak with blue and gold motifs.
“N-nice to meet you, too.”
He smiled at me, and if my heart was still beating, I was sure it would have fluttered. “Lady, if I may ask, to what do I owe this encounter?”
“Oh, uhm, I . . . I just want to ask if where are you taking them. I think I have the right to know since they are my retainers,” I responded.
He glanced at Kei who I just realized had his collar chained to the guards’ hands, and then shifted to my wrist. “He has defiled the royal blood, lady, and that is a crime of high treason.”
“As an arcane mage, it is my responsibility to purge him before his death, to preserve the honor of his clan.”
My eyebrows knitted. “You are an arcane?”
There was a visible confusion on his face. “Yes, lady.”
Agad akong napatingin kay Moria. I remembered her saying that arcane mages could heal anything. Then perhaps . . .
“Don’t kill him,” I said, which earned appalled and baffled expressions from them.
“Lady,” Sigrid whispered with a hint of concern and warning, but I ignored it.
“He was on the verge of death after saving me from three mages,” I started explaining. “The poison slowly got into his brain, and I was wounded that time. It was my fault for being too close to him despite knowing how enticing my blood was to them. And since he wasn’t in his right mind . . . that happened.”
Tears started welling up in my eyes. I realized the guilt had been weighing on my chest since that time and all I wanted was for him to return to his normal state. I knew how much he valued his freedom, his free will, and I didn’t want him to be a mindless protector forever.
With a deep breath, I bowed my head to him. I heard a chorus of gasps, probably from my retainers and Sigrid, as well as those who were in the vicinity. As a royalty, I knew bowing to someone with a lower rank was absurd, but I was desperate.
“Please,” I said, my voice wavering. “Please save him.”
Few seconds later, I heard Rurik sigh. “Seems like you both want it.”
I immediately craned my neck after hearing that. Kei’s impression softened but what surprised me was when a single tear fell from his right eye.
Rurik stared curiously at me. “High clans usually discard their retainers once they become weak or worthless. You are quite different . . . Your Highness.”
He suddenly bowed deeply which surprised me. Rurik also addressed me as Your Highness, which was both uncomfortable and hair-raising.
He drew a deep breath. “What can I say? A mere mage cannot refuse a royal’s order.”
My face immediately lit up. “Then . . .” Rurik smiled. “Follow me, Princess. Let’s see what we can do.”