Enraged would have been the exact word to describe Nestor’s mood. We were behind schedule and we were not even acting according to his scheme.
          He had first frowned. “Your hand.” After the three of us had arrived at Nestor’s chamber, Morganne had shared her idea with him. Just as we had expected, he had grumbled, “You do understand how preposterous this sounds?”

          “Yes, I do know that,” Morganne had jeered. “You do understand that I am not seeking for your approval? I am only seeking for your compliance.”
          “And if I were to disagree?”
          “Oh, you will,” Morganne had stated. “You would not want to be an impediment.”
          So, here I was, wandering the castle in search of the Tsarevich, while Morganne was investigating all the secret tunnels. Nestor was left with maintaining his mournful status and spying on the Countess. I had glanced at the Tsarevich’s portrait that Nestor had showed me. The Tsarevich was young, too young to reign. He had to be the epitome of innocence with his golden curls, and peacock blue, deep-set eyes. Not to mention, he still exemplified classic, rosy cheeks that reminded me of a plump pigeon resting on a branch.
          “And why would I have to encounter him?” I had questioned Morganne.
          “Because you have to befriend him,” she had replied. “Only he supposedly knows of the book’s location.”
          “It will not be an easy task,” Nestor had warned me. “Tsarevich Hendrick has not spoken ever since his parents were brutally murdered by the Kuyaza.”
          Although I was informed of Tsarevich Hendrick’s schedule, I had difficulty knowing where the rooms were located. I could not have carried a map; suspicion would have been aroused. I had managed, though, to go unnoticed due to the status of the kingdom. Everyone was too concerned with preparations for the funeral and for the coronation.
          I was, thus, free to roam and perhaps, too free. I had been walking down a secluded hallway with velvet red carpeting and gold encrusted wallpapers when I heard a woman’s voice echoing from one of the rooms. The woman uttered, “I know that you know where it is. Now, be a good child and tell your Auntie what your grandfather told you.” There was no reply, and so the lady’s tone grew sterner. “Do you not want to play? If you tell me where your grandfather hid the book, then you can always play.” Again, there was a pause before she persisted to argue, “I know you can speak! Now, tell me, where is that book?”
          Another female with a softer tone mumbled, “My Lady, I believe he would not be of use. It is impossible like they say. Perhaps, we should—“
          “No, we are not leaving until we receive an answer! Now, I understand that you are still upset over—“ I heard the sound of a wad of spit. “You insolent, ungrateful—“
          “What are you doing?”
          Yes, I should have asked myself that question instead. What was I doing? I should not have intruded. I should not have pushed open that door. I should not have shielded the little boy. I should not have stood in front of him. If I hadn’t, there would not have been four pairs of eyes ogling at me.
          “And who may you be?” The older woman with a terrorizing set of dark eyebrows and narrow, slender eyes grunted.
          It was unmistakable that this was Countess Barosa. She appeared exactly like Nestor had described: barbaric, podgy, and cruel. Her face was scrunched up with frustrated wrinkles as a younger lady, presumably a maid, wiped the Tsarevich’s saliva off of the Countess’ face. I glanced at the young prince, who sat beside the ogre, and another boy around my age at the other end of the couch. That other boy must have been Viscount Barosa, Dmitry. Although he looked nothing like his mother, he was the living replica of his deceased father, Count Barosa. Dmitry had his father’s almond eyes, wide, but straight nose, and thinly spread lips. However, Dmitry’s elongated neck, seemingly narrow shoulders and extreme fairness that only accentuated his matted, chestnut hair, made him feeble in comparison to his father, who sported a stout figure. I had probably taken a moment too long to examine him for I sensed a cautious glare from him.
          “I am . . . the daughter of the Sorcerer, Renata.” I curtsied at her and kept my head low. I prayed that she would not take notice of my face.
          The Countess’ laughter was petrifying and alarming as it possessed the ability to make anyone shudder. “Interesting how you have never appeared in court,” she noted.
          With my head still down, I explained, “The Sorcerer wishes for me to live a life of simplicity. I am only present this time to mourn.”
          “Then you shall do what you had intended,” she spitefully remarked. “You may leave now . . . to mourn.”
          I bit my lip, knowing that what I was to do would capture her interest or concern in me, but I knew I could not leave without the Tsarevich. Who knew what this wicked woman would do? So, I argued, “Please excuse my intrusion, but I believe it would be appropriate for Your Highness to accompany me to Ora.”
          Ora was a ceremony of prayers held every morning until noon during the days of grievance. It was expected for every citizen to attend one of the sessions within the time span, but for nobles, it was expected for them to practically be present at each gathering. Surely, it had to be outrageous for me to have carried the small Prince in my arms and surely, Countess Barosa objected, “How dare you touch the Tsarevich with your grubby hands! You foreigner!”
          The maid had already blocked my path. I would take one step, and she would take the other to impede me. I scoffed, “And how dare you defy the Tsarevich through interrogation!”
          The Countess had hurdled from her seat and was charging towards me like a buffalo in a stampede. “You . . . ill-mannered—“
          “Mother, leave them be,” a meek voice belonging to Viscount Barosa mumbled. “Tradition cannot be denied.”
          With that notion, I quickly scurried from the room with the Tsarevich now pinching my shoulders. Using a mixture of Slianvwish I had learned before and Urcisian, I uttered, “I know you do not wish to be in this position, but this is better than facing the Countess, right?”
          He seemed to understand what my words for his fingers had loosened to a dithering grip. When I felt that we were safe, I released him and he immediately bolted down the marble staircase leading to the main lobby of the castle. A woman with a tightly construed bun was screaming while pacing up the stairs. Even the guards who stood at the doors sprinted towards Tsarevich Hendrick. All of them had displayed their irritation at me. She was speaking too quickly that I could not even respond properly. I saw the boy bob his head up and down, and then the guards proceeded to capture me.
          “Release me. I did not commit any crimes!” I pled my case to no avail.
          Turning my head to face the two, I noticed a smirk swathed on Tsarevich Hendrick’s face. Nestor had been right. This kid was certainly a challenge.
          Ironic. That had to be the right adjective to describe my situation. Who would have thought that a princess would be imprisoned? Chains made of heavy metal barred me from escaping. I could not do anything, but wait. There was no sense in moping or whining. No one listened and I knew too well that no one would care. The only thing I appreciated was the glimmer of daylight seeping through a small window of my cell. At least, this was not eternal darkness.
          When the night began to replace the day, I felt weary and anxious. I didn’t need to relive the past, and so I hugged my body, hoping that I would soon sleep. Just as my head bobbed, I heard a discernable, polite voice mumbling. My eyes opened to a bold candlelit scene. Viscount Barosa, and Tsarevich Hendrick were standing side by side. A guard was unlocking my room with the jangling of keys.
          “I heard from Lady Petrov about what had occurred, and . . .” Viscount Barosa cast an apprehensive look at Tsarevich Hendrick, who glimpsed away, before saying, “I apologize for the inconvenience, Miss. Hendrick likes to play little schemes and Lady Petrov tends to react excessively to anything that could potentially exacerbate Hendrick’s condition.”
          “Hendrick is prone to bleeding. Even a small cut could result in death,” Viscount Barosa explicated. “We call it, ‘kletka’.”
          If my elementary knowledge of Slianvwish was precise, then that was the word for cage. It could, otherwise, have been known as haemophilia. Trying to divert the subject, I uttered, “Thank you for your help, and please do call me, Renata, my lord.”
          “Then, I by Dmitry.” He had flashed a willowy grin before noting, “You have an unusual accent. Where do you reside?”
          “Urcis,” I answered as the guard unfastened the locks. “My father, the Sorcerer, had acted as the Royal Advisor to King Klaus III.”
          “Ah, yes.” He now placed his hand on his chin and observed me from head to toe. “Say . . . you look nothing like the Sorcerer.”
          I chuckled, remarking, “And you look nothing like the Countess.”
          He too responded with laughter. “That I accept as a compliment.” Subsequently, he offered his hand like a true gentleman and I accepted it like a lady should have. “I believe I must return you to your dear father,” he noted.
          “I wonder what lecture I would have to endure this time,” I sighed. Hendrick now tugged at Dmitry’s sleeve, which caused Dmitry to kneel to Hendrick’s height. Hendrick then whispered a few words in Dmitry’s ear, causing Dmitry to smirk. “What amuses you?” I pondered.
          “Hendrick would like me to suggest a harsh punishment to your father.”
          “And what may that be?”
          “To be Hendrick’s maid.”
          This had to be a curse and a blessing.When I was told to befriend Tsarevich Hendrick, I had expected to have some hours of rest in between work. What sort of employee was forced to work all day without a break? Yes, I had overlooked one fact and that was that I was not even an employee at this stage. I was more like a slave.
Chapter 39                                                                            Chapter 41