This is all still "unofficial" while I work out the scenes and how exactly to order them and look for much-needed help on getting it together.
Characters: Natalia, Ingobert (this section); Guy/Natalia (overall)
Part 2 of ?
Natalia was not usually suspicious when she was excluded from the Royal Council sessions. Such instances were rare, and she knew her father would share the pertinent details with her anyway. At present her attendance was not mandatory, but this would all fall to her one day, and the more she understood the Council’s workings, the better prepared she would be when it was her time to rule.
Most of it came down to simple politics, balancing the needs of the country against the overbearing personalities of the Council members, each with their own ideas and agendas. What could seem so clearly right to her was not as obvious to a room full of men twice her age and often resulted in debates and deadlocks. She had learned just how many ways there were to view a situation, how many angles and perspectives were hidden below the surface of any issue. The final decision rested with the monarch, but the opinions and recommendations of the Council were invaluable, once one had the experience and discernment necessary to parse all available information.
It was crucial to learn who could be trusted, and who could not. This she had observed firsthand, and she was determined not to repeat her father’s mistakes.
The antique clock in the private dining room struck the hour, each chime echoing to underscore the empty chair at the opposite end of the table.
One of the kitchen maids appeared in the doorway. “I beg your pardon, but would Your Highness like us to serve now?”
Natalia ran her finger along the engraved handle of her silver soup spoon. “His Majesty will be along shortly. Please wait until then.” Dinner was their special time together, to talk after their separate days, and their unspoken rule was to give the missing party half an hour to appear. Unless she was suffering from spectacular hunger, she tended to give her father as much time as he needed.
“Of course, Your Highness,” the maid answered with a demure bow of her head. The staff always asked the same question, and the princess always gave the same answer. “Would Your Highness like the wine poured?”
“That would be lovely, thank you.” There was no unspoken rule about drinking.
Since she was a child, she played a little game and tried to guess how many sips it would be before her father joined her. However, as a child, she played the game with milk, not alcohol. This adult version required more moderate sipping.
She had only made it halfway through her first glass when he appeared.
“I apologize for the delay,” the king said.
“Ten minutes is not a delay,” she replied. “How was your day, Father?”
He shook his head and sighed. Plates were quickly and quietly placed in front of them, almost as if they had appeared by magic, so unobtrusive was the staff. “Tell me of yours first, Natalia.”
She did so, relaying her meetings with the hospital board. “We discussed the budget and while the board has requested additional funding, I believe there are some spending cuts that should be made as well. They will be preparing an amended proposal for our next meeting.”
“Good, good.” Her father seemed distracted, and she wondered if he had heard her fully. “I trust you to handle that as you have.”
“Yes, Father.” He had heard her, but he wasn’t looking at her. “Is everything all right?”
“I don’t quite know.” Still exhibiting proper, regal manners, he somehow finished his entire glass of wine before setting it down again. His dinner remained untouched. “The Council is worried about the order of succession, and to a point, I must agree.”
“Let me finish. To that end, it is the will of the Council that your betrothal to Luke be reinstated.”
No. No, this could not be.
“He is of royal blood, and no one can deny that the best course is for the line to continue through the two of you. Together,” he added unnecessarily.
“Luke has chosen his path, Father.” Despite his instruction, she couldn’t help interrupting. “We owe it to him to let him have that. He does not want this.” And neither did she. She loved Luke dearly as her cousin and friend, but she did not want to marry him.
The path Luke chose led to Daath. He had joined the Oracle Knights after all, in honor of Ion and Asch, and even Van, he’d sometimes admit. His parents had supported his decision with the understanding that when the time came, he would return to Baticul to inherit his father’s title.
Luke’s decision also allowed him to remain with Tear. Natalia would not come between them. She wished them the greatest of happinesses and would never take that away.
“I know,” her father answered. His sigh was weary, his eyes tired. “Thus I have issued an alternative. You will be allowed to choose your own husband. However, to obtain the Council’s support, you must do so by your twenty-fifth birthday.”
“But that’s next month!”
“Yes. If you have not made an acceptable decision at that time, you will marry Luke.”
She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t. “Father….”
“I understand, Natalia. I would not ask you to do this if I did not agree that it was important. The order of succession must be secured. Some would say I have been too lenient in not insisting before now, but I knew I had to allow you to come to terms with your grief in your own time, and to decide for yourself when you would be ready. But so far, you have made no attempt to consider an alternative.”
The suitors that had been put in her path were hardly what she would call alternatives, unless the alternative was death, and even then, it would take more than a moment’s deliberation.
“If not Luke,” the king continued, “there is still Duke Creemore’s son.”
Natalia made a face that suggested her roast duck had been replaced with a plate of live worms. “Alfred Creemore is a complete… twit.” She substituted a more polite but less accurate word than the one that came to mind when she pictured his insipid face. “He’d just be his father’s puppet. You know that.”
“The Creemores are ambitious, it’s true.”
“Not ambitious. They’re vile.” Her father may have been able to forgive and forget, but it was not a virtue she shared in this particular case. She knew that Duke Creemore did not like her, and no matter how he publicly regretted and renounced his part in encouraging the execution of her and Luke as imposters, she was sure that privately, his feelings had not changed. Even if Luke did have royal blood, Duke Creemore would never support him as her husband when the chance to make his own son king was right before him.
Like hell she’d give him the opportunity.
“Natalia.” Her father had to have sensed her thoughts, and she tried to school her features into a more pleasant display. Her scowl should not be directed at him. “I trust you to make the right choice, and I will ensure that the Council stand by it.”
“But I only have until next month?”
“This is the best solution I can offer. I need to know that the succession is secured.”
Something in his tone startled her. He was not an old man, or in ill health, that she was aware of. “Father?”
“No, don’t worry, my dear. I’m not going anywhere yet. But it is every parent’s desire to know that his child’s future is settled. In our positions, such knowledge is even more imperative.”
“Yes, Father.” On that level, she understood. If anything were to happen to the king, the order of succession needed to be in place, in stone. She knew there were still those, such as Duke Creemore, who believed she had no right to the throne, and without her father here to keep them at bay, she could find herself presented with another poisoned goblet, if not something much worse.
She had to marry while it was still her choice, while her father was still here to support her.
A parade of faces floated through her mind and swirled around in the fig sauce on her plate. Yes, she had rejected every prospective suitor presented to her at balls and other functions. It wasn’t that she was holding out for true love. She just wanted someone she could stand.
With that limited criterion, the field of prospective grooms was reduced to two, and one of them was Luke.
This made her decision quite easy.
The next day, she left for Malkuth.
My pertinent questions about this section:
1. I know next-to-nothing about real world internal royal workings, but is this at least plausible enough that you'd go with it for the story's sake?
2. Have I made Natalia too old? (I mean, this puts Guy at 27, and, seriously, no woman's snatched him up yet?)
3. Does what I've done with Luke make sense for his character?
4. I feel like I took the name "Creemore" from somewhere, but I'm drawing a blank. I kinda like the sound of it, though. Have I stolen it, and should I change it?
5. My initial thought was for this to come first, but the exposition isn't very intrigue-y and fun for a first chapter, so I'd rather have the Guy part first and then this as flashback before Natalia explains to Guy. Does that work, or should this in fact be the first chapter?
6. I know the first few paragraphs seem like they're going somewhere and then don't. I wrote a bunch of other stuff but ended up not using it because politics are just so damn dull. Should I expand on that, or save it for another part of the fic? No sense using up all the exposition up front, right?
I'm also giving this and the previous posts a new "untitled Guy/Nat project" tag for easy reference.
I want to have a good bit of this under my belt and worked out before I go posting it anywhere else.
All feedback is wanted and appreciated.