Chapter 60: Letters
Emma glared at the stubborn villagers who refused to bulge. For them, she pulled a tiny black blade from her pockets, throwing them on the gossipmongers' feet until they finally took a hike. She then ushered the elders in and slammed the door shut.
Upon entering the catkin’s house, I, along with the village elders, took our seats. Not wasting time, Astolfo took out two letters from his wife. He gave me a long look before putting it in my hands.
“Letters from someone you know,” Astolfo sighed as he pushed the letters, treating them like a cursed object. He looked like he couldn’t wait to get rid of it.
“Someone, I know?” I asked, flipping the two letters to glimpse at their respective seals.
The first letter was indeed from someone I dearly know. It had an intricately patterned white staff shrouded with thorny vines as a seal to the letter.
From Saria. I smiled. How could I even forget the family seal I designed?
The second letter had a griffon engraving whilst having a complex, intricate silver pattern. The pure silver powder circling the edges of the letter made it stand out. It wasn’t cheap. After all, it had the Carmandy’s royal family seal. Magical engravings enshrouded the letter like a protective ward, probably crafted through alchemy, assuring only the addressee, no one else, could open its content.
The dusty books in Saria’s Grand Library taught me a lot about it. However, this was the first time I saw one myself. I’d lie if said I wasn’t curious who had given it to them. And for the looks of it, it’d need my blood to open it. What a perverted spell.
I glanced at Astolfo and the rest, playing like I didn’t know. “Who’s this from?”
“The man didn’t tell us his name as he mourned at your, er, grave.” The giant priest Astolfo scratched his bald head, only to be nudged by his wife. “B-But the great magus called him Elric.”
“And he cried at your grave...” Astolfo said as he coughed. "... he also called daughter."
“Elric, huh?” My hands froze as I heard the name. I played with the royal letter, wondering if I should even open it.
“Now that’s a bad omen.” I winced.
I stared at the conspicuous letter and sighed. The royal family. Why would those people even write a letter for someone dead? Perhaps they hoped I was still alive. Anyway, I'll read Saria's letter first.
Curious, I picked the letter and parsed through its contents. Scrawny letters of different sizes showed themselves. Saria’s crappy handwriting greeted me. Call me cruel, but it was ugly. Worse, it was full of inkblots and erasures. She wasn’t keen on learning this formal stuff, but I could see she had put genuine effort into this. The thought itself pushed out a grin onto my lips as I read.
You’re not dead, right? Anyway, I believe in you.
There’s no need to worry about me. I’m perfectly fine and well. Your plan for Carmandy had succeeded. There were a few variables that popped out. Like Elric, who is supposed to be dead, is alive. He’s so well I almost killed him.
I’ll wait in the Black Rock Tower for five years. If not… I’ll kill him. Elric.
“What an opening greeting.” A giggle broke out of my lips, catching the attention of the elders. “Of course, I’m not dead yet.”
She was still as impatient and frank as frank. Reading Saria’s stiff-sounding letter calmed my worries about her. Still, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow on the end parts. The letter's tone, along with the creases and erasures, revealed her struggle. Her threat at the end made me worried. Knowing her, Saria was dead serious.
“Astolfo, can you tell me something about the Black Rock Tower?” I asked Astolfo, pointing at the letter. "Someone I know asks me to go there to see her."
“It’s a school for all magical practices in the Madlands,” Astolfo said, his eyes shining with pride. “Hild and I graduated from there. I also worked as an instructor there before I settled here. If you plan to go there, I can give you a recommendation.”
“I’ll also give mine,” Hild, the half-ogre, added. She looked spirited.
“Then I have to thank you two in advance.” I smiled at the couple before turning my attention back to the letter.
“No worries. I mean, you can enter even we don’t give you one,” Astolfo quipped, winking at me. “All the schools within the Black Rock Tower will surely welcome somebody like you.”
Causing tornadoes, traveling from realm to realm, and time-traveling will surely pique interest over there.
After deciphering Saria’s muddled writing, I fiddled with the royal letter on the side. Honestly, I had this urge to not open it and just throw it away. My gut feeling is screaming no.
However, I still had to read it. Not for me, but for the real Victoria.
I could sense the eyes of the villagers resting on me. I ignored them. Are they curious about this letter?
I bit my thumb and blood trickled out from the tiny wound. I wasted no time and pressed my thumb onto the griffon seal. Seconds passed, and the royal seal glittered like gold, and before I knew it, the golden hue crept into my wound, dyeing my blood, gold. Soon enough, the light receded along with the golden color as mysterious purple flames burned off the seal.
Astolfo, along with the elders he had brought, stood and bowed their heads towards me, their eyes flickering with respect and curiosity. My hunched was right. Saria or Victoria’s father had probably announced my real identity. The letter betted for it. Still, I didn’t like it. The fawning.
“Just call me Victoria,” I said, staring across the room. “I’m not a princess anymore and I don’t plan to become one again.”
“No buts.” I waved my hand and immediately ended the topic, refusing any rebuttals from the elders. “I stopped being a princess long ago, so there’s no use even if you butter me up. And is being a princess of a tiny kingdom even a big deal? Wait until you meet the delegation from the true powers in Endramion.”
And those words shut a few elders up. That’s right. Sucking up wouldn’t bring you any spit.
I focused on the letter, pulling out its contents. I gripped the letter and began reading.
Suddenly, I saw double and immediately stopped reading midway. It was a strange sensation.
I creased my brows, trembling as I continued to read. My heart suddenly lurched as my eye sight blurred.
Huh? Tears? I wiped the warm trickles. I took a deep breath and pressed my chest. A wry smile slipped out of my lips. These emotions. It isn’t mine, but from the real Victoria.
I slowly read the letter, word by word, ignoring the wild thumps echoing inside me.
To my little Victoria,
First of all. I’m deeply sorry.
My little one, you have suffered so much and now you rest. My heart lurched, guilt-filled, as I write this letter. Wherever you are, may you find peace. This letter’s nothing but an old fool’s try to lighten the load. My selfishness. A letter of confession. A pleading for myself.
I’m nothing but a failure of a father, especially to you. You might not know, but I and your mother loved you. I always watched you from afar. But why did we treat you like that, right? Daughter of mine whom I loved. It was because of prophecy. A prophecy from a sage of the old I was so obsessed with.
Let this worthless father recount it for you.
“One magicless shall rise from the royal line and destroy the kingdom. Thus, the kingdom’s life shall be forfeited. Unless the lilac flower bloom and ties her fate with the shrew, her blood shall end the kingdom… or make it rise anew.”
Victoria, my beautiful lilac flower. I thought you’d be the demise of the kingdom I swore to protect before the ancestors. I wasn’t able to make you bloom. I feared that you’d end everything that I had.
Thus, I had to push you away, but daughter, now I regret it. I pushed you too far, and now for you’re so far away, in a place I couldn’t reach. If only I hugged you back then. Would everything else have a different end?
Another secret you must know.
I staged my death whilst thinking everything was running all according to plan. I didn’t trust anyone, not even your mother. But I was wrong. As I slept, all my plans spiraled down. Problems cropped up one after another and not even my trusted dear friend, the prime minister, could control. The kingdom was far more rotten than I had ever imagined. Even my blood brother betrayed me in the end. He sold the kingdom to the foreigners, the Empire and the Union.
His plan pushed you and the young Clove to the cliff of no return.
My child, I plead. Please believe me. The death of the young Clove wasn’t of my intention. And the death of my old friend Clove was of his own volition. For his son and Carmandy. A stuck-up and stupid sacrifice. But now I owe them a debt of a lifetime, especially to the brave youth.
But how would I return it when both of you are already gone?
Child, I also heard about you from the archmage. It seemed your mother played tricks on me. I’m glad she didn’t fully follow me and still asked for the archmage’s help behind my back. Her far cousin. I heard of your feats. Unbelievable. I am proud of you. But do I even have the right to be proud? Isn’t it all too late? Worthless?
Still, I had done what I must do to keep the kingdom survive, as its king. As I write this before your grave, I realized something. I never thought it would be this painful. I feel like I am going mad with grief and guilt. It haunts me even in my dreams.
My fleeting little lilac. Hear me. I regret being born king. If only I could turn back time. I’d forsake the kingdom just to save you. Dear daughter, your father regrets it. I deeply regret.
The first letter brought me joy. But what the hell is wrong with this letter?
I didn’t know how I should handle the bloody emotions that suddenly flooded my heart. Two contradicting flows of thoughts filled my head. One was of empathy and it was mine. Of Leonora. The second one was a mixture, and it wasn’t mine. I could only attribute it to the lilac-haired lady sleeping inside me.
It was happening again. Just like when I had first met Saria. However, the outburst this time was far worse.
“Victoria.” I huffed as I put all my effort into controlling her already bottled fury from bursting forth.
But I could already tell that my expressions had already twisted to a certain degree. Hatred. Disgust. Melancholy. Helplessness. I slumped back onto my seat as I burrowed my fingers into my palms, so hard that blood trickled freely.
Worried gazes landed on me. Emma and the rest of the villagers had noticed it. They knew something was wrong with me, but I was too busy to even explain anything to them.
I clenched the letter left behind by that dear father of a king. Maybe ripping this piece of paper would be the best course of action. Though he wasn’t my real father, I still had this tingling urge to punch a hole in his guts.
This letter was more of a confession of sins and regrets.
I pressed a hand on my chest whilst taking deep breaths. Though I was not the real Victoria, my heart still hurt. It hurts so much that it’s getting hard to breathe.
Random tidbits of memories slowly flowed akin to scenes into my mind, flooding my soul with agony. It wasn’t the life of mine, Leonora. But of Victoria Rothfield Rosenberg, the Witch of Rothfield. Memories I had forgotten. Something I shouldn’t have.
A little lady’s days of joy when her entire family was still treating her like a treasure. The days of loneliness when her entire family suddenly had a change of heart, treating her as nothing but a mere nuisance. The brief hope she held when she discovered she was indeed a mage. The days of loneliness as she stayed alone in the empty castle. Her days of dread as she witnessed the death of the youth she loved, dying in her arms, pierce with cold steel like a traitor. The freezing dungeon. Her deep sense of hunger. Hopelessness and dread ate her bones as she heard people dying because of her. Tragedy.
I stumbled as the visions continued to flow like a movie clip. Headache accompanied each passing panel. Victoria suffered so much and even died for a mere prophecy.
Now a letter strutted out of nowhere, telling me it was nothing but a mistake? Treating everything as inevitable whilst providing excuses. That the king was still alive? Who the hell cares if Carmandy survives or not? Is a sorry ever enough? The dead? Will a sorry return everything I lost?
I stared at the magic-imbued letter that required the blood of a royal to open. I glanced at my bloodied palms and clenched them further until the crimson beads flowed like open springs.
A hollow laugh slipped out.
“Alistair,” I called the Tempest, cold and callous, and then threw the parchment midair, letting my blood sprinkle like rain. I let the cursed letter float as I glared at it. Soon enough, the muffled sounds of paper getting shredded into tiny pieces entered my ears.
“F-Father?” My lips moved on their own as the taste of salt dampened its tip. “W-Why?”