Monday the 27th
Lunar 4, Luka 16
The Palace at Lumena – Herb Garden
The Queen wasn’t at the Senate building that morning–great news, as the flight home gave me the chance to cry in private. Eddy had me wear a thick pair of purple sunglasses to hide my face as we left the building. The happy tears excuse from last time wouldn’t cut it today, and apparently, a fashion faux pas was less of a crime than public emotional vulnerability. The best news was that after this dreadful meeting, I was free. Eddy knew I needed the time, and she’d granted my request in spades. That would come in handy in the evening, when Jane wanted me to sneak out…
Within the hour, I was back at the palace and strolling off to meet her in her mother’s herb garden. The Queen was there already waiting for me, with a lace parasol laid over her shoulder to shield her from the suns high above, with three of her Admirals watching over her from the distance.
“I take it you’ve accepted the challenge?” The Queen called, from across a row of peonies and stick-like plants I couldn’t identify, each surrounded by little wire cages to separate themselves from one another.
I nodded to her and took off my glasses, holding them down at my side. “Yeah. Should be leaving next month.”
The Queen held out a tiny plastic gift bag, wrapped with orange ribbon. “Take this with you,” she said. “It’s a gift for Prince Lucien.”
My face must have shown that I didn’t realize who that was off the top of my head. I reached out to take the bag, keeping my distance. It appeared to be nothing more than dried, loose herbs.
“Your brother, Miss Fenn. His physicians and him live in the Royal Residence on Aryavarta. He finds the weather there more suitable for his…fragile condition,” she said, watching the bag in my hands closely. “It’s a jasmineberry tea from the Palace Herb Garden. His favorite.”
“Oh. Thank you.” The idea of her doing something kind for someone else was startling.
“You realize this will end in tears for you, don’t you?” The Queen said, a cruel smile enveloping her lips. “You won’t succeed, not in the least.”
“But what if I do?” I asked, without thinking. “You never know.”
The Queen’s face softened, her smile fading. “You would do well to remember that while you may be untouchable, Miss Fenn, those around you certainly are not.”
A warm breeze blew through the still-budding lavender plants around me, wafting their delicate scent my way. Maybe I should’ve buckled at her threat, but for some strange reason, I chose to show her no fear. What else could she take from me? I had nothing left.
“Quick question, Your Majesty. Why would an innocent Queen need a fake princess, anyways?” I paused, waiting for any indication on her face that I might be onto something. None came. “Sounds fishy to me.”
“I already told you that.”
“Yeah, but there’s more to it, huh? You’re hiding something.”
The Queen smiled again, this one just as big and unsettling as the first. “I assure you, Miss Fenn, I have done nothing wrong,” she said, before turning back to her admirals. “Vepar! Malphas!” she called. “Come here.”
A surge of fear went through me, seeing them, but the two of them walked slowly and not as if they were about to pounce me. While they were still out of earshot, the Queen added:
“The galaxy is a dangerous place, Miss Fenn, one full of pirates and all sorts of undesirables. For your protection, these two will be accompanying you now at all times,” said the Queen, without looking back to me. “You’ll find the two of them difficult to lose. And don’t worry — they don’t know the truth… yet.”
Swallowing my fear, I waved to the two of them awkwardly, like you might if you saw someone in public and you weren’t sure if you knew them or not (don’t tell Eddy). Eddy and I hadn’t gotten to protocol for military affairs yet. As they grew closer, however, it became apparent these two Admirals were quite the sight. While Orias looked like a regular person beneath those sinister eyes, under closer suspicion, both of these two did not, more monstrous like the ones the Queen sent to video call me back when all of this began.
The first was a quite elderly man, one who made Senator Marsh look young, although he was comparatively trim in his perfectly tailored suit. His skin was deep brown and sagging in places, but with patches of rock-like plaques unlike anything I’d seen before. I couldn’t be sure what his ancestry was. His features were different from any golin person I’d seen, and he had breathing slats on his wrinkled, old neck, like an Ambin or a Koibito. Between the two admirals he was the more decorated, his purple suit covered in badge after badge and medal after medal. It was a wonder he could even stand under the weight of it all.
“Your Highness,” he said, bowing between both the Queen and I, before he raised his hand in salute. His voice was quick and sharp, but with the slight wheeze of a man past his prime. “Admiral Sargasso Vepar, Princess. It’s an honor to continue to be of service.”
“N-nice to meet you,” I said, a bit worried I might knock him down if I moved too fast in his general direction. I smiled at him, and he returned the favor, showing all his teeth. He didn’t give me the creeps like Orias. He seemed gentle, kind.
“Hmph. You really want to put us on babysitting duty?” the other admiral interrupted, standing there with his arms pressed firmly across his chest.
He appeared to be a fen, like Jack, but like the other admiral, some of his features were unexpected. While Jack had a tail and two, big floppy ears, this admiral’s ears–or whatever they were–came down as ten long tendrils. I’d mistaken them for hair from a distance. His uniform was dark green. While he wore all the dignified stars and stripes on his collar, he didn’t have all the badges that Vepar did, which didn’t come as a surprise. This admiral didn’t look that much older than Legato or Quail, and the way he acted, Eddy would’ve had a field day with him.
“Now, now, play nice,” The Queen said to him. “Protecting Lucasta is quite the honor.”
“Well, alright then. I guess,” the younger admiral said, giving me a smug, quick nod. “Hey. I’m Malphas,” he said, and gave me a thumb’s up.
“As I said, these two will watch over you from now on,” the Queen said, grinning deviously at me. “You couldn’t be in better hands, Princess.”
That was exactly what I was worried about.