The Queen had started a trend. Actually, she was following her culture’s tradition of drinking tea. At Urcis, however, this was becoming a fad. She always drank either ginger tea or crimson tea for they were the most expensive and supposedly the most delicious ones. They had to be imported from Kosei and due to high taxation laws in Urcis and Kosei, they were prized items. The King had wanted to profit from the tea industry in hopes of providing other services for the people, but instead, he received more complaints than welcome. Still, the nobles insisted on drinking tea, just like the Queen.

      “Ginger or green tea today?” the Queen inquired her favourite lady-in-waiting, the Duchess of Minon. The Duchess of Minon was like her husband, the King’s elder brother. The two were made for each other; they were both flatterers.
      “That would depend on your disposition, Your Highness,” the Duchess of Minon suggested with a smiling face that only highlighted her round, pig-like face.
      It was clear what her hobby was, overindulging in sweets galore. In fact, she had been eyeing the scones with clotted cream, Battenburg cake, and mini sandwiches stuffed with smoke salmon, fresh cucumber, egg and cress, and fish paste. Sure, I adored food, but never like that.
      The Queen cackled, “Is that not what you always say? Please Emiliya, humour me instead of boring me.”
      I couldn’t wait to see that pig be entertaining or at least attempt to be. For once, I wasn’t the one being tested. Yes, Duchess of Minon, humour us, I thought.
      “Why do we not . . . try the scones first for once?” she blabbered. 

     I would have snickered aloud because even the Queen was laughing aloud, but I only clenched my fist, knowing that I had to behave. My weakness could not be captured by the Queen or else, my plan would not succeed.
      “You always find a way to amuse me after all, Emlyn," the Queen added.
      “That would be complimenting me too much.” the Duchess of Minon lowered her head, spurring laughter from the Queen. I understood why the Queen kept this lady by her side now. The Queen needed a simpleton to tease, one that didn’t even recognize himself or herself as the victim. What a pitiful sight on behalf of the Duchess of Minon, but then again, a pig should have been treated like one. Perhaps, pigs were better than her, and with that thought in mind, I had to tug on my skirt to refrain from grinning.
      “Nonsense.” the Queen puckered her lips and then dangled her porcelain bell to signal for a maid.
      Within seconds, Marie had appeared. “You called, Your Highness?”
      “Yes,” the Queen noted, “green tea for all of us.”
      “What sort of green tea would you like to try today, Your Highness?” Marie gently asked.
      The Queen glanced at me, and then answered in a special language, Chugo, from the province of Ryushi in Kosei, “Bi luo chen.”
      Ryushi was once a nomadic, independent country located in between Slianvwi and Kosei. Ryushi’s warriors were known as the fiercest cavalry, but after the Hundred Years of War, Kosei had conquered this mighty country. The nation was spared and allowed to keep its culture and language with a few conditions, including a royal marriage between a Ryushin Princess and a Koseian Prince, and trained cavalry.
      Now, we were all seated to a round table that had rose vines dangling from above. We were at the centre of the Queen’s favourite garden, where all of the scented roses blossomed. I remembered feeling overdosed by the rows and rows of roses arranged like a maze. We would turn sharply at one corner, and then promenade in a semi circle before walking down a path to the heart of the roses. Gazing back, I could see that familiar veranda extending from the Queen’s chambers.
      I would have tried to identify all the types of roses if Marie had not disturbed the scene by wheeling in a cart of ceramic jars, each labeled with a specific name and each contained the respected tea leaves. I was never a tea expert; I had always been the consumer. When Marie had poured the kettle of boiling water into a white, porcelain cup, I leaned my head forward and saw the tea petals dying the clear liquid olive. I could also breathe in a slight woodiness and a hint of pine. A truly memorable scent. Now, one gulp and I remembered too well that I almost broke my promise.
      “Ha, you keep yawning,” Thayne croaked from behind.
      I was shaping the handle of my cup and had almost dropped the newly formed clay piece to the ground. My hands, luckily, were stuck with the wet clay.
      “Sorry about that,” he mumbled before snatching a seat beside me, “but, I think I have the perfect use for that future cup of yours.”
      Grimacing at him for sitting in the wrong direction with the back of the chair pressing against his chest, I muttered, “What’s your idea?”
      He showed one of his gentlest smiles, making it impossible to even yell at him.
      “Drinking tea. I’ve got the tea for you.”
      “A-a-and what is that?”
   “Green Spring Snail.” He then quickly added once he saw my frown, “I can’t pronounce the Chinese name.”
      “Wh-why is it called that?”
      He cleared his throat before saying, “There’s this legend that a man had fallen in love with a woman, but she was abducted by a dragon. Now, he fought for her, and of course, became badly injured. The girl saved him by gathering all these herbs. Sadly, she died since the journey proved to be too difficult for her. The man cried and cried, and miraculously, she became a tree. He named that tree after her, calling it, “Green Snail”, and every year, he was rewarded with tea leaves from that particular tree.”
      “So, why—“
      “Why is this relevant to you?” he asked what I had in mind. “Well, you reminded me of the young man who wanted to be comforted.”
   “Does this tea not please you, Jiyuna?” the Queen interrogated in a snobbish tone. 
      I just smiled and added, “No, this tea is just too lovely, but it would be lovelier to be drinking this tea during the King’s birthday.”
      She banged her cup on the table, jeering, “You are not ready for such events. Heavens, Emlyn, please educate my silly daughter.”
      The Duchess of Minon lifted me from my seat and placed me on her lap. I was forced to balance on her disoriented figure. Acting as if my mother, she advised in my ear, “Oh you poor sweetheart, you shouldn’t distress your darling mother like that. It is best if a maid were to look after you during the King’s celebration. After what you did last time, who knows what might leap out of your little mind, Princess?”
      “Yes, who knows what you might do,” the Queen snubbed.
      To my luck, no, to my precise planning, the King had arrived and noted, “Ah my Queen, forgive our youngster’s mistake. After all, she is still a child. Children are bound to be foolish.”
      Before meeting the Queen, I had requested Marie to deliver a message to the King and had told her to claim that it was imperative that he came to the Queen’s tea session. I had forged the message by imitating the Sorcerer’s writing. In the note, I mentioned that the King had to be careful of the Queen’s tea sessions for there would soon be rumours of her courting a secret admirer. Of course, whatever the Sorcerer said was believed to be true. Moreover, it wasn’t as if this information was a complete lie. The Queen did have admirers and complex relationships with a few nobles. Knowing the King, he would never confront anyone or even discuss with the Sorcerer about this. It was shameful for a man to have a potentially adulterous wife. Of course, only a few knew who she truly loved.
      “What brings you here, Your Majesty?” the Queen wondered.
      The King chuckled and lifted me in his arms, allowing me to lean my body on his shoulder. “Why, I cannot visit my Queen?” the King rebutted.
      “That was not what I meant,” the Queen attempted to correct herself. “It is because we never receive such a delightful visit from Your Majesty.”
      “Who else my King? Just my ladies, myself and our princess,” she clarified. 
      I could see the tension from his eyes. My note was working. This was to return the kind favour the Queen handed me, two years of seclusion. Surely, I didn’t just want anger to be fueled. My purpose still hadn’t been attained, so I sweetly interrupted, “Papa, do not be mad at Mother. Mother was simply too delighted that you are here. She wasn’t prepared to see you in such short notice since she was thinking of how she should ask for your permission to allow me to attend your celebration!”
      “Is that so?” His tone had adjusted for the better.
      The Queen’s eyes glared at me, knowing what I was intending to do. “Of course, but her mistake earlier has made me waver.”
      Before she could create a fraudulent mistake of mine, I whined, “But . . . I have been caged here for such a long time. I have learned my lesson and I always listen to my governess’ commands.”
      The King glanced at me and then laughed wholeheartedly. “Caged you say? Is it awful to be living in the palace?”
      “It is only bad when I can’t even see you, Papa.”
      I noticeably displayed my disappointment by pouting my lips and looking downwards. I knew that the Queen would learn to hate me after this, but I didn’t care. If I had the support of a stronger candidate, then that was what would matter. It wasn’t as if I could rely on the Queen anymore. After that adventure of mine, she was being as cautious as she could ever be.  She thought children wouldn’t understand the inner workings of an adult’s mind. It was too unfortunate that she gave birth to me then. I knew what she thought. There was no need for mind reading. Observations were clues to thoughts. Knowing. Knowing her, knowing him, knowing me . . . I could make decisions.
      My decision was proving to be right for the King grinned and patted my head. “You are a real darling. Now, why would not Papa show you off to all those incoming imbeciles?”
      “Oh, Papa! I can’t wait to meet your ‘imbeciles’!” I took the opportunity to jeer at the other royal families.
      He chuckled too loudly. “Remember not to share their secret nickname to them!”
      “Do not worry! I shall say Your Majesty or Your Highness.”
      “Ah, I do not know what we’ll do with you,” the King joked.
      Who said jokes were merely jokes? Jokes masked the truth, and we laughed because we adored running away from the truth. Then again, who cared about the truth when all that mattered was survival?      

Chapter 15                                                                            Chapter 17