Diana hesitantly turned into a building adjacent to the Queen’s castle where she knew that her aunt had been staying for the past few months as a visiting diplomat. Diana was a bit excited: it wasn’t often she got to visit her aunt. While her aunt lived in the nation a couple of kingdoms west of her father’s dukedom, it was actually to the far east of this kingdom, fully implying exactly how far away Diana’s actual home was. Receiving a reassuring look from Howard, she knocked on the door upon which a plaque read [Baroness] Lillian Yuer Thilther of Rigrath. A tall [Butler] in a suit opened the door before she could knock a second time. With a curt bow, the man said, “Follow me through the foyer. The [Baroness] has already heard of the news.”
Diana was a bit surprised. How had her aunt found out about her problem so quickly? Stepping past the door, she followed the [Butler] through a short hallway that led to a larger room. As she entered, the [Butler] announced, “My lady, your guests have arrived.”
A figure rose from a couch parallel to the roaring fireplace. Diana examined her aunt. She looked almost unchanged from how she had last looked two years ago when she’d last visited Castle Howderwhit. She was a pretty woman, fit and with a striking gaze. Unlike Diana’s brunette hair, her aunt’s was a lighter brown, signifying that she was actually Diana’s aunt from her mom’s side. With a beaming smile, the [Baroness] gushed, “Aw! If it isn’t my favorite niece!” She turned to face Howard. “And if it isn’t the ever welcome Sir Howard.”
Gesturing toward the many couches lining the room, she said, “Please, please. Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you any drinks?”
Diana was about to reply when Howard said rather tersely, “Enough of this, Lillian. I warned you the last time you tried to spite the [Count] that you shouldn’t get us involved in your games.”
Lillian pouted, “You can’t really be saying that, my dear [Knight]. Where’s your gallantry?”
Howard snorted. “I lost that pretty quickly after fighting in one war or another.”
Eyeing him with interest, the [Baroness] gracefully settled into a plump couch. “Oh, is that so? From my understanding, most of those wars were fought on behalf of your brother, the ex-ruler of the dukedom that my favorite brother-in-law now rules.”
Howard grimaced. “I left that to my son. I wanted nothing to do with my fool brother who rode off to challenge the Dark Lord.”
“Thank you, Dear.” Lillian took a snack from the platter the [Butler] offered all of them. Howard waved him off before he could approach the invited pair sitting on another couch facing the [Baroness]. Diana looked on with disappointment: some of the treats had smelled really good. Lillian conspiratorially winked at her pair of guests. “Servants are so useful. I don’t know why you don’t have more of them in your own dukedom… Back in Rigrath, well, I’m getting ahead of myself.” She chewed on a cracker. Swallowing she mused, “The Dark Lord, ay? Now, what would make Duke Richard Howderwhit do a fool thing like that?”
Giving her a stern look, Howard sighed. “I don’t have time to play your games. I have strong reason to suspect that you know what’s going on right now. What’s been happening with the [Count] of Mononge? More specifically, why has Lady Lloyd been looking into my granddaughter?”
The [Baroness] paused and wiped her hands on a napkin the [Butler] procured for her. Daintily dabbing it against the corner of her mouth to wipe away a non-existent crumb, she complained, “You never visit me just to talk about family. Well, if you must know, that so-called [Lady] Lloyd is just a two-timing [Wh*re] who managed to snuggle her way into the [Count]’s bed. Sooner or later, she’ll be discarded, and she knows that. Thus, she’s been engaging in some vain fight against anyone and everyone she perceives as a threat.”
Diana quirked an eyebrow. If she didn’t know better, she’d have assumed her aunt was slightly jealous. Setting the napkin down, Lillian turned to face Diana. “Don’t give me that look!”
Diana shrugged her shoulders. “What look?”
Before they could descend into squabbling, Howard interrupted, “Diana, don’t antagonize your host, and Lillian, stop avoiding the damn question.”
Lillian sagged in her seat. “Okay, I might have implied in court that the [Count] had started sleeping with her in some stupid attempt to make me jealous, which by the way, Diana, did not work as he had planned. Well, anyway, that woman is out for a grudge, not to mention that the [Count] isn’t currently particularly pleased with me and is all too happy to let her go at it. Just as I keep tabs on her, she keeps tabs on me. I have no doubt that she was well aware of not just who you were but also where you would be on that day. I suspect every piece of that little play was staged.”
Diana opened her mouth, about to explain what had happened when Lillian held up a hand. “I already know of all the details. My [Informant]s told me of it almost the instant it happened.”
Diana crossed her arms. “Why didn’t you come to talk to me yesterday then?”
The [Baroness] sighed. “Would you have believed me if I said that I couldn’t?”
Diana stared at her incredulously, pointing at the [Butler] who had retreated to the entrance of the room.
“Well, you see, both Ingress and I have rather limited pawns in this game as it is absolutely vital that it escapes the notice of the Queen. After all, a foreign diplomat and a mistress would both be easily expendable if it came down to it. If I had tried to warn you, well, let’s just say that my people might not have returned alive, and more importantly to you, it would’ve shown that you are a valid target to attack because I cared enough about you to risk my assets…”
“Are you saying this is all part of some skirmish between you and this [Lady]?”
Lillian weakly nodded. “To be honest, before all this, the two of us got along fine. However, ever since she’s gotten with the [Count], she’s viewed me as a potential love rival and sought to curb my influence. I’m afraid to say that the strongest defense I currently have is to keep my head above this mess and nudge the pieces from the shadows.”
Diana frowned. “What will she do with us?”
The [Baroness] paused, tapping her chin. “Nothing, I suspect. She lacks the courage to attack a high-ranking foreign noble. The Queen would gladly give her up if it came to that. I think your best strategy is to ignore her, thus proving that she cannot harm you.”
Howard drily commented, “I can’t help but notice that that also seems to help you out by basically leaving us out to fend her off all on our lonesome.”
Lillian smirked. “My dear Howard, you’re always so mercenary.” Her voice rose and a flicker of anger appeared on her face. “Do you think I want to stay on the sidelines? Yes? No, of course not! But, sure, I’ll just throw away everything I’ve spent the past five years working toward to save my niece who actively assaulted a [Guard] in the middle of the city.” She glared at Diana. “Honestly, what were you thinking? Do you know how many people I had to pay to cover up the fact that you’re not a citizen of the kingdom! This could have ended up as an international incident.”
Howard raised his hands. “Alright, Lillian. We get your point. I apologize for overstepping my bounds.”
Lillian took a deep breath, folding her hands over her lap. Giving a nod to her [Butler] she said, “I’ll allow Herman to see you to the exit. You have my assurances that I will try my utmost to protect you two. You are, after all, family. If you two want to help, the best thing you can do is stay out of trouble.”
With a curt nod, the pair got up and left the room.
As they were retrieving their things from the foyer, Lillian called out, “And whatever you do, do not miss your trial, or we’ll all be in deep sh*@!” Diana was mortified, Howard chuckled, and the [Butler] rolled his eyes.
Stomping up to her room, Diana stewed in her fury and… helplessness. So that was the glorious advice her aunt had given her? Wait and see? She huffed in annoyance before sinking against the wall, accidentally knocking against the suit of armor hanging on the stand. She took a long look at it. A glint of sunlight passed through the window, catching the edge of the scroll containing the Quest she had received. With a smile, she hurried back downstairs for dinner with James, Howard, and Kira. Come morning, she knew what she was going to do.