“Peace,” I announced with assurance upon entering the King’s court. “That is what you have been searching for, Father.” The King who was reposed in his mighty throne had now awakened from his slumber. I had waited in line for a while for others to propose their answers and one by one, they exited, leaving the King in a rather distressed position.
          I had wondered if this answer could be too simple, too idealistic, yet it was an answer for a King. Utopia for a King was not without reach. In an indifferent manner, he stretched his hands and then began to applaud. This was a rare standing ovation from the King, himself. His laughter prompted everyone to gaze at him and at me. We were truly the centre of everyone’s attention.
          “I never expected you to disappoint me,” he publicized. “Tell me then, what would you like as a reward?”
         Reward? I never expected to be rewarded. There were too many things that I desired, rendering me speechless. In the end, I settled on saying, “Nothing.”
          “I already have everything I need,” I explained further. “If you speak of desires, then I believe we all have them. However, they are merely temptations.”
          “So do you suggest that we should be without goals or aspirations?” he interrogated.
          “We should not be consumed with greed. That is all.”
          These were words to ease my own mind. I couldn’t possibly be grateful although I knew I ought to be. There were simply too many tasks to complete, mysteries to solve, and obstacles to overcome, that I couldn’t be happy. I would be happy if I could have my life back, but that . . . that would never come true.
          “You mean that I, the King, am promoting greediness by rewarding you and my subjects?” the King argued.
          I should have known that he would detect faults in my speech. There were great and foolish Kings. However, the journey of becoming a King and maintaining that status were enduring and thorny that it would be wrong to say that foolish Kings were truly foolish and that great Kings were truly great.
          “That was not what I was implying,” I clarified while kneeling down. “Of course, rewards motivate people and are needed to show distinction between those that have proved their efforts and those that have not, but of course, there are those that do not seek rewards. Some may serve out of loyalty or friendship. I . . . am your daughter. I serve out of filialness and love.”
                      “Love, you say?” He now walked away with a condescending look. “Then, do what you love to do. Foolish daughter.”
          I was perplexed as to how I had enraged him. I truly believed my reasoning was not flawed. I had already used those words that I wouldn’t have said, but dire circumstances propelled me to do so. The things people did to survive . . . I knew too well what those things were. Still, he was displeased. Why?
          A messenger then announced, “The game is over! The banquet will resume after sun down!”
          With my knees glued to the ground, I could not believe what was happening. I heard the shuffling of footsteps and I looked up to see Saburo staring at me with a sympathetic look. Then, he lulled me upwards with a tug. “You’ve really infuriated the King and not to mention, embarrass him,” he remarked.
          “Why?” I blinked, smoothing my ruffled dress with my palms.
          Saburo, as usual, pinched my cheek and cackled. “Stupid. You said you ‘served’ him. Daughters do not serve fathers. Only vassals and lords serve their masters.”
           “That was just a word. How can a man be so petty about one word?”
          “Hahaha!” Saburo ruffled my hair, exclaiming, “You are too amusing!”   
          Amusement, I provided, in the form of a dance dedicated for the King. Of course, for some, this was not amusement. This was either astonishment or fear, astonishment for Saburo and fear for the Queen. Everyone, except for those two, was clapping to the beat of the dancer’s exotic moves. She was basked in the centre of the dance hall, radiating her youth and beauty for all of us. She was like . . . the Queen’s younger self.
          “I cannot wait to watch your play,” Kuro whispered beside me. We were part of the crowd, standing around the dancer to form a boxed border. This was an Urcian tradition for dance performances. People were expected to stand to view the show, and sometimes even joined in to dance.
         “A shame that you have no major roles,” I murmured and kept my gaze ahead. Across from me was the Queen, whose petrifaction was exuding from the deepening of the wrinkles around her mouth. With that in sight, I felt a smile creep from my lips. Splendid, I chuckled to myself.
          Kuro murmured, “I prefer to be part of the audience, so I thank you for your consideration. I just pray that you will, at least, create a surprise. So far, your scheme is rather mundane.”
          “You need not worry.” I whipped my curled ponytail towards him and added, “I am aiming for comedy, not tragedy.”
          “Very well, then,” he cautioned, “I shall wait for your ending.”
            As soon as he had finished his sentence, the miraculous dance had also concluded. The King commended with a grand ovation, “Absolutely ingenious! I have never witnessed anything like this!”
          The dancer with her head still hanging low and her body kneeling, proclaimed, “Thank you, Your Majesty. It was my pleasure to delight you.”
          “Heavens, please stand and let us see your face,” the King ordered and then glimpsed in my direction. “I was told by someone that you were from Kosei, so I thought this would also be a splendid performance for Emperor Koyagi.”
          “Indeed,” the Emperor chimed, “this was an interesting piece. I have not seen this way of dancing for a while now. I believe Her Highness used to dance to this masterpiece.”
          “Is that true?” The King’s eyes widened as he focused on the Queen. “I believe I have never had the opportunity to witness such a feat.”
          The Queen grimly smiled before answering, “Yes, Your Majesty. I used to perform this piece until I be-became enchanted by painting.”
          “Such a shame for me then,” the King grumbled. “I shall award this lady . . . say, what is your name?”
          The dancer, who had been kneeling in front of the King with her head low, answered, “People call me Chrysanthemum.”
          The King ordered, “Lift your head up and stand, so everyone can see you.”
          As she obeyed his commands, the King almost gasped. Of course, I knew exactly why that was so. I couldn’t resist grinning, but luckily, I saw Saburo’s frightful gaze, and the thought of chuckling had vanished. I had never seen him so stunned, yet so concerned. He was concentrating on Chrysanthemum and the Queen.
          The King was still taken aback by the sight of her face, and it was Emperor Koyagi that had remarked, “Why, young lady, you are the living replica of Her Highness. Your Highness, wouldn’t you also agree with me?”
          The Queen forced a grin while answering, “Yes, I . . . do believe you are correct.”
          “Then, I shall remember this as a dance by you,” the King said joyously. “Chrysanthemum, you may ask for your reward. What do you wish to have?”
          Chrysanthemum should have been elated, yet she had to have been the most desolate woman I had ever witnessed. Her hands were pinching her thighs, her teeth pressed against her bottom lip, and her shoulders tensed. Still, she replied confidently, “What I wish for is something that I can never have.”
          “Nonsense!” the King argued. “What is unattainable for a King to reward his subjects?”
          Chrysanthemum sighed, “I wish for my love to be requited.”
          “Ah, so a marriage is what you wish for?” the King scoffed.
          She shook her head, answering, “Marriage is already too much to ask for. My love, too, will never be fulfilled, and so, I ask for nothing. Dancing for the King is already a gift to me.”
          The King, whose face had grown rather stern, stated, “Very well then. Let us continue the banquet.”
          Even when her musicians had carried their instruments away, she still stood in the centre of the room. It wasn’t until Ichiro had motioned the King’s ensemble to play did Chrysanthemum disappear from the scene. She had been lulled to a corridor by Saburo and I would have pursued the couple if the Queen had not captured me.
          Her fingers clawed my shoulder, beckoning me to speak to her privately and once we were away from the others, she instantly slapped my cheek, causing it to flare in redness. “You senseless, useless girl!” she screamed. “First you enrage the King. Now, you summon a whore to perform in court! You think I would not know of your gift for the King? You think even if Marie did not report to me about your activities, I would never know about them?” I glared at her, only recalling how audacious she was to hit me. “How dare you stare at me in that way!” she yelled and raised her hand to strike me again, but this time, I caught hold of her wrist. “You dare defy your mother?” she shrieked.
          I scoffed, “I never thought you were my mother.”
          I didn’t care if I offended her anymore. There was no use to be polite to her. She was the one who had trampled on my boundary. She was the one, who had reminded me that being nice did nothing good to anyone.
          “Where have you learned this ungrateful manner?” she roared as she struggled to break free from my grip. “From Cael?”
          Upon hearing his name, I frowned. “You do not deserve to criticize Cael. At least, he did not desert a lover for his reputation.”
          I didn’t understand why she despised him, why she always had to vilify him. Somehow anything negative was associated with Cael, no matter how remote or preposterous the claims could be. I still remembered that time when Cael had introduced to her a new type of tea he had experienced during his trip to one of the states in Kosei.
          Cael and I had arrived at the King’s court, where the king held his meetings with his advisors and councilmen. Once we were granted permission from his noble guards, the mahogany wooden doors opened. The first thing I saw was a floor thanks to my size. The floor was paved with aquamarine, royal blue, and sea green mosaic pieces except for a long, golden carpet that led to the King’s throne. There were steps leading to the throne, which was tucked in a separate, half dome-shaped cave, a treasure that had to be coveted.
          Scrunching my eyes, I could completely admire the King’s throne, along with the Queen’s seat, which indicated that there was certainly a difference between a King and a Queen. I couldn’t allow myself to deem that spot as the Queen’s throne. It seemed too significant for an inferior chair. The King’s throne was as tall as the domed cave-like structure could allow and was infused with a white, marble pedestal. It was also constructed in white marble, except for the cushion and the back of the chair. Those were probably graced with a silk covering and the softest stuffing from the most prized animal’s feathers. The Queen’s seat too was made of marble, but it was placed further away from the audience, and was overshadowed by the King’s throne.
          If only I were a man, then I would have had the chance of becoming King. How glorifying would it be to sit on a throne with worshippers at my feet? Did I really want to this status though? There was much glory, but not much sincerity. To be the puppet or the puppeteer had to have been the question, and in that case, I would be the spectator. Not much energy would be wasted and I would be thoroughly amused by the court drama.
          Then, I had just watched.
          “Your Majesty, Your Highness,” Cael announced while presenting a red, velvet box. “This is the Tamaryokucha. Prince Saburo reco—“
          “I know what tea that is,” the Queen scoffed. “I do not need to be taught by you.”
          As soon as I uttered that sentence, she sank to the ground, completely out of form.  She pointed her finger at me, shrilling, “W-what do you know about my life?” She burst into tears, yet she never blinked once. “W-what do you know about Rin? You have only met him a few times!”
          I had never seen her so exasperated. It was as if she had returned to her teenage self, throwing a tantrum for no apparent reason. Although I already had a feeling as to what had caused her behaviour, I still wanted to test my hypothesis. I decided to emphasize, “No, that is not true. Rin and I have gone on a few excursions.”
          She began guffawing with her head hung high, demonstrating her superiority. “It’s only because you’re my daughter that he has taken a liking to you.” She then approached me, rashly pulling my chin so her gaze would meet mine. “Your face, your hair.” Her other hand now stroked through my hair. “Your everything . . . came from me. Never forget that.”
          She glared at me once more before marching away in laughter, leaving me unaccompanied. Pondering about what had happened, I knew I had the last laugh. Jealousy was dominating in that woman’s veins to rightfully confirm my notions. So, this was her weakness, I smirked. Saburo Rin. What a perilous name.     
          This could be my key to regaining the King’s favour. The first step was to exacerbate my already swollen cheek and so, I slapped my own cheek. Staring at the golden mirror ahead of me, I grinned before exiting the meeting room. It was time to reacquaint with Saburo. No, Rin.
Chapter 23                                                                            Chapter 25