Mireia dropped the sandwich back into the trash. I had the sense she was suppressing an outburst.
“I think I shall stay here,” she told the head guard in a frigid voice. “The First Prince ordered me to observe My Lady receive her food.”
“We’ll remain here with you, Miss,” Cord stated.
Ferna looked uncertain what she should do, but Esrene told her, “We stay here. Mr. Basil told us to stay until the Young Mistress finishes her meal.”
I asked, “Basil the gardener?”
She nodded. “We went home after Miss Mireia told us you weren’t getting any food. Mr. Basil became angry after he heard us arguing with the housekeeper, because she was supposed to have sent food for you. The other maids were also saying we shouldn’t help you. Mr. Basil had to order them to stay out of our way and let us use the kitchen.”
Ferna shook her head. “I don’t understand, My Lady! Why is everyone acting so strangely about you?”
“It’s… something like a curse, I think,” I answered. I couldn’t come up with a better way to describe Fate magic in terms understood on Huade. Not that I understood it myself.
“The other girls in class were asking if we were safe living with you,” Esrene stated. “They thought your thralls might attack us.”
“There is no such thing as a thrall,” I told her. “But you two stick close to Cord. Something very dangerous really is attacking young women and I’m worried about you.”
“Yes, My Lady,” the two maids answered in unison.
Miss Mireia joined them, concern wrinkling her brow. I think her suspicions of me had completely vanished now. Maybe something had happened outside, or maybe she simply now understood that I was a victim of something very bizarre and wrong.
“Your attendants had to come back to me because the guards wouldn’t let them into the tower,” she explained. “Since the headmaster was unavailable, I brought them to His Highness to complain.”
“If Ged is still willing to help me, I wish he would visit,” I muttered.
“I don’t think His Highness can, My Lady,” Mireia answered.
“His Highness and the royal knights been in front of the tower, standing off the provincial guard since this morning.”
I blinked. “The provincial guard?”
“They’ve been here most of the day, wanting to take you into their custody. His Highness and the Royal Knights have been blocking them. They’re waiting for the Minister of the Guard to arrive now.”
My skin crawled. This runaway train was accelerating.
“What about Prince Roderick or Princess Amelia?” I asked.
“Their Highnesses are not in school, My Lady. Their leave notices were waiting for us in the student council room this morning. They both cited ‘Royal Business’.”
# # #
No supervisor ever appeared, but when the clock tolled Mid-afternoon, the head guard couldn’t stand Cord’s condemning glare anymore and unlocked the cell so Ferna could at last give the basket to Genette. Concerned about the vampire attacks, I overruled Basil and told my attendants to walk Mireia back to her class first before returning to Pendor House.
We were still eating when Lady Niaela appeared, along with two faculty members.
One was Instructor Andor, my homeroom teacher. All three were taken aback when they saw me in my tub.
“What are you doing?!” Andor demanded.
I ignored him for the moment. As Genette got out of the way, I stood, clutching my dress to my chest with one hand while grasping the water-logged skirt with the other. I gave them as formal a curtsey as was possible under the circumstances.
“Cvedhiur til dhyn, Frue Niaela,” I greeted her. “This favor you’ve done me has become somewhat troublesome.”
“I asked you a question!” my homeroom teacher barked.
“Attempting to preserve my life, Instructor,” I responded, not bothering to hide my disdain for his rude attitude as I settled back into the water. “I am currently being starved of Water mana by this jail cell. This tub is not big enough to sustain my body.”
Lady Niaela frowned at me with a distrusting stare. “What are you playing at?”
Angered, I sprang back to my feet and stepped out of the tub, then strode to the bars and formally executed a royal knights about-face to display my fully-inflamed back. From the feel of it, my skin was beginning to crack again.
I turned again to face her. To my disgust, I didn’t see much in the way of sympathy from any of the three.
“My front is just as bad,” I told them. “My arms are getting bad as well, you might notice. As are my legs. If you know as much about my birth mother as you claim, then you should be aware I am not playing at a single thing.”
“I gave orders…”
I interrupted her, finally letting my anger reach my voice. “This is your guards obeying your so-called orders, Lady Niaela!“
Yep. I was pretty fed up. Andor retorted with a sharp town, “Mind your tone! You are a student of this school!”
Staring him in the eye, I replied, “My Lord, by the evidence of my current treatment, this school does not consider me a student at all, and I am very curious to know what exactly you people do regard me as.”
He looked ready to retort, but I wasn’t finished. “I shall insist upon an unqualified and direct apology from this school and you instructors, not only to myself, but to my ducal house, to the Royal Knights and to His Majesty whom I represent, before I ever agree to again attend your class, or any other in this school. At the very least, at this point, you all have committed criminal contempt against a superior noblewoman and house, My Lord!”
For some reason, I had thought there might be a hint of discomfort from at least one of these three, but I should have known better. I was seeing disgust from my homeroom teacher and the other instructor. Niaela’s scowl had simply deepened.
They seemed to be deaf to what I had just told them. How could they possibly not be able to see the serious mistakes they were making? Was it really this stuff called Fate magic at work, or had they seen me this way from the beginning? Was my father’s legacy at work here instead?
“It’s a moot point. You’ll be leaving with the provincial guard,” Niaela declared. “The Minister of the Guard has ordered your imprisonment.”
“Excuse me?” I retorted. “There’s been no investigation, no trial…”
At last, I saw a troubled look in my homeroom teacher’s eyes. Lady Niaela looked at least a bit uncomfortable as well as she replied.
“Lord Parna invoked wartime necessity as giving him the right to have a threat to the public safety detained by decree.”
My skin crawled. “Duke Parna?”
“Lord Parna is Minister of the Guard,” she affirmed, although I had just put that together for myself.
“So a man who hates my very existence has found himself an excuse to get rid of me,” I said, my voice probably now dripping with disgust. I looked Lady Niaela in the eye and asked, “What happened to locking me up to prove my innocence? I’ve heard the attacks have not stopped.”
“Of course not, with your underlings still on the loose!” the unnamed instructor retorted.
“Your thralls!” he declared.
I gawked at him.
“A Royal Academy teacher should not spout such superstitious nonsense! There is no such thing as a vampire thrall!”
“Then who is still attacking students?!”
“Rather obviously, the person unrelated to me who was attacking them before I was locked up!!”
“Enough of this,” Lady Niaela snapped. “My Lady, the provincial guard is outside the door to take you. I suggest you fix your gown.”
“Now?!” Genette yelped. Becoming flustered, she scrambled to gather up the few things she had brought with her when she came to join me in the cell.
As the provincial guardsmen filed in, I turned my back to the male eyes and began working on putting my tea gown in order. I really couldn’t manage it with all the wet cloth, so Genette dropped her armload of things on the bed to come help me. They at least had the decency to wait for her to finish.
Genette finished helping me step into my shoes, then went back to gathering her things while the provincial guardsmen came into the cell. They had brought a set of manacles and a heavy collar.
“Make no attempt to cast mana while you are wearing these,” the sergeant of the guard warned me as he manacled my wrists behind my back. “They have strong anti-magic charms placed on them, and will inflict severe punishment.”
The other guardsmen were taking the opportunity to ogle my bust up close. I realized, thanks to their leering, that without the support cups built into the chemise, the contours of my breasts would be visible through the wet cloth. I overrode my urge to check.
The heavy metal collar closed around my neck next. “Make no attempt at using your vampire skills. This tool is designed to punish you if you attempt it.”
“Punish me how?”
He didn’t answer. Genette stepped up next to me as he finished, carrying the wicker basket she’d brought everything in. I looked over at her. She clearly planned to stay with me.
I told her, “Genette, take our things and go home.”
I couldn’t have her present for what I planned to do. She was going to be in danger once I began moving. And I would certainly be moving when the moment came. With my experience in this place, I knew it would be suicide to actually enter whatever prison Parna had planned for me.
Did he know that? The possibility gave me a chill.
“Young Mistress…” Genette began, but I interrupted her.
“Your mistress gave you an order,” I said. “You will obey it.”
She walked out of the cell with her ears laying back and her head drooping. I followed the sergeant out. Others flanked me after they walked me out the door and over to the spiraling stair case that filled the center of the tower. I glanced down the open space as we descended single file
“This spear is silver-tipped. Don’t even think about trying to fly, monster.” the sergeant warned from behind me.
“Sergeant, from this height I could just fall to the ground. You wouldn’t have time to stab me.”
“Shut your yap.”
“You’re terribly rude, you know?”
When we exited the tower, a crowd of onlooking students and faculty, a large number of soldiers and an ugly black carriage with barred windows were awaiting me. The onlookers weren’t making a lot of noise, but they didn’t look particularly friendly toward me either. They were there to see me hauled away.
The soldiers weren’t all on the same side though. Ged and most of the Royal Knights I had met, plus Cord and a couple members of the demon patrol, were facing provincial guards and house knights from Parna. Directly facing Ged, with his arms crossed, stood the same Duke Parna I had spoken to only three days before.
The duke grew a smug smile as he turned and strode my direction. My escort halted and we awaited his arrival.