“Wow,” Midnight said more to herself as she looked out from the viceroy building in the centre of Authos. The city stretched out for kilometres before succumbing to the grassy plains to the south. Midnight took in every tall spire, every market stall, and every person walking to and fro in the city square.
“I forgot,” a voice from behind her stated, “This is your first time outside the Palace, isn’t it Midnight?”
Midnight turned to see Duchess Stone standing before her, smiling as she looked at Midnight with her brown eyes. She wore a navy blue gown and let her brown/black hair fall freely down her back.
“Yes,” Midnight replied while nodding. “It’s a lot different than Astraea, and it looks more beautiful than the pictures in the royal library.”
“Well,” Nikz spoke up from across the room, sitting in an elaborately designed lounge chair. “You are the best artist in the family, so it’s no wonder you see it differently to the rest of us.”
Midnight and Stone turned to face Nikz and Riku, who on the far side of the room, also looking out the window. Midnight imagined that he was thinking of strategies to use should the worst happen.
“So Stone,” Nikz went on, “How have things been up here?”
“Not as well as I would like,” Stone replied, the smile slightly fading from her face. “Some of the citizens are getting restless.”
“I would assume the border dispute has something to do with that.” Riku interjected, not taking his eyes away from the windows.
“Yes,” Stone sighed, “Some are angry that we aren’t taking a side, but there is another problem.” The other three all looked at her to continue.
“There are elements of the commoners that think they could do better ruling the country than us royals. They’ve been spreading anti-royal statements and starting small anti-government rallies. I’ve heard from Lydia that there were some rallies further east from her along the shoreline.”
The room went quiet as the other three royals considered what this meant. The silence was broken, however, by a knock on the door, after which a soldier walked in.
“Excuse me,” he spoke to all of them, “But the ambassador from Allisia has arrived.”
Riku nodded, leaving his spot before Nikz, Stone and Midnight followed him towards the door. But before Midnight was about to leave the room, Riku placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Midnight,” He said, looking her in the eye. “I would prefer it if you would stay here for the meeting with the Allisian Ambassador.”
“But why,” She asked, her voice rife with confusion.
“You volunteered for this trip to serve as a translator with the Imperial ambassador, but those from Allisia speak the same language as us so-”
“It means I’m useless,” Midnight interrupted, her gaze falling to the floor.
“That’s not true,” Nikz nearly shouted as she moved past Riku to be face to face with Midnight. “You are not and never will be useless Midnight. Remember that.”
“I tell you what,” Stone interjected. “How about you take a walk around the town to make up for it? I’ll have some guards escort you, but just to be on the safe side I think you should dress like commoners.”
“Really,” Midnight asked, looking at all three of them for their reactions. Nikz and Stone nodded before turning to Riku, hand on chin while considering the proposal.
“You’re not going to be a spoil sport again, are you?” Nikz asked as she gave Riku a sneaky look.
“Very well,” Riku agreed. “But I agree with Stone. You don’t want to attract attention from this anti-royals group.”
Midnight’s face lit up with a smile. “Thank you,” She said, “All of you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Stone replied, walking down the hall in the opposite direction to the negotiation room. “I’ll help you get ready. Riku, Nikz, you two can start without me.”
“Okay,” Nikz said with a wave two the two before turning to Riku. “So Duke Riku, shall we continue?”
“I guess so,” He replied, a small smile emerging on his face as they walked down the hallway, being led by the soldier through the winding halls until they eventually came to the Conference room.
Through the large double doors was a room with bright white walls, which in some places held paintings off the floor. All of them were depicting beautiful scenery, and Nikz recognised at least one of them had been painted by Midnight.
The wooden floor had a large, elaborate rug laid out on the floor, while on it were two lounges facing each other, and a glass-topped table stood in-between the two lounges.
The ambassador stood from one of the lounges to meet Riku and Nikz. He wore a black suit with a flower – most likely one from Allisia – poking its head from the breast pocket. His black hair was cut close to his head, and his dark brown eyes now looked directly at the royals.
“Thank you for your time,” He said with a bow. “I am ambassador Hopman from the Foreign Ministers office. It’s an honour to make your acquaintance.”
“I am Duke Riku,” Riku introduced himself, “Defence Minister of Incasta. And this is Princess Nikz of the Incastan Royal Family.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Nikz said while giving a small curtsey.
“The pleasure is all mine, Your Highness.” Hopman said with a smile, his bright teeth standing out against his dark skin. “I didn’t expect to be meeting actual royalty. Come, please sit. We have much to discuss.” Riku and Nikz sat down as the ambassador placed papers on the table.
“I shall dispense with the pleasantries,” Hopman continued. “The conflict with the Empire looks to become one the likes of which this continent has not seen for centuries. The President of Allisia has realised that while we will fight to the last in this war, we cannot prevail alone.
“To that end, it is with great humility that on behalf of President Varott, I ask for Incasta’s assistance in the conflict.”
Silence fluttered through the room before Riku broke it by speaking up.
“Ambassador,” He said, arms crossed. “With all due respect, you do realise that one of the key components of our kingdom is our Act of Neutrality, which forbids us from engaging in war unless it is in self defence.”
“Of course,” Hopman went on, not faltering in his speech. “We do respect your position and therefore would ask for alternative means of assistance; means such as humanitarian aid, or safe passage through Incasta on our way to the frontlines.”
“But,” Nikz interjected, “If the Empire was to see your soldiers advancing through our borders, they would think that we had sided with you and would attack us.”
“And we would offer you the full co-operation and protection of the Alliaisan Military.”
“Let’s say we do side with you,” Riku asked. “What would become of Incasta?”
The ambassador smiled. “Well,” he began, standing up while giving his speech. “We would offer Incasta the invitation to become a member nation of the Allied States of Allisia. Should you accept, it would accelerate your economy and infrastructure, not to mention you would become one of the major nations of the Alliance.”
“Would the Royal Family still be in control of Incasta and its affairs?” Nikz asked.
“Yes,” Hopman replied, “but your military would have to fold into ours.”
“Meaning we’d lose control of the army,” Riku finished his sentence. “And what would happen should we refuse this invitation?”
“We would respect your decision to remain a sovereign, independent nation,” Hopman replied again. “However, with the current political situation, I would suggest that Incasta should join the Alliance.”
Riku placed his hand on his chin, weighing up the offer. “Nikz,” he asked. “What do you think?”
Nikz thought about it before standing to meet the ambassadors’ gaze.
“While it would benefit our economy,” she stated, “We are sworn to uphold the laws passed by our forefathers. This includes the Act of Neutrality.”
“B-But Your Highness,” Hopman stuttered.
“I agree,” Riku said with standing up. “Ambassador Hopman, on behalf of the Incastan Royal Family, Incasta and all her citizens, I must respectfully decline your request for assistance.”
“You don’t understand,” Hopman stated, his frustration starting to seep through his mask of professionalism. “The Empire will strike you whether you side with us or not. Only with our army can you stand against them!”
“We shall see,” Riku stated, his tone signalling the end of the negotiations. “Good day, ambassador.”
“Fair well, ambassador,” Nikz said while giving another small curtsey before joining Riku on their way out of the room. Hopman just stared at them before falling back onto the lounge.
“Well,” Nikz said with a smile, “That went well, didn’t it?”