Ace among Jokers

Suitor in Rags

I remember hating the few times my father summoned me to the throne room. The long walk to the main palace where he resides and the endless stretch of his room seemed so suffocating to me. I was an outsider in the family, like my mother was. But I never complained. As long as he doesn lay a hand on me or my mother, everything will be alright.

At the front, I knelt. Both knees on the cold marble floor. My maids used to say that the throne room where my father grants audiences actually has a carpet for his vassals that come with long reports and discussions. But for the times when I am summoned, he commands that the carpet be removed.

”Its time for you to do your duty as a princess of Ostulia, ” he said. ”Eveothus Kingdoms Prince asked for your hand in marriage. ”

Is this what he called me here for? This wasn an unfamiliar meeting to me. After all, this might probably be the fifth time hes called me to his throne room to sell me off to another kingdom. Not that those engagements actually went through.

I was fifteen when he first called me to his throne room. As a child abandoned by her father, I had no expectations of the meeting to go happily. He wasn a father who would embrace the daughter that he scorned. I remember feeling nervous and scared at the same time while I walked to his throne room. The moment I arrived there, all I could hear were whispers from the people who my father sold me to. Sure they liked how I looked since I am the splitting image of my mother, minus the eyes of an imperial that I inherited from my father. But other than that, they looked at none of my other qualities. Not that I had any others to begin with.

I did not respond to my father. And it certainly did not look like he needed to hear a response from me anyway.

He cleared up his throat and the sound reverberated around the empty throne room. ”It would do you good to marry into the Eveothus Kingdom. At least there, demon children like you will be cherished. ” Strangely enough, it was only me and him in this vast throne room. Whenever he held audiences with me, he always made sure to have three or four knights with him as well as his secretary beside him. It was shocking to see him alone on his cold marble throne.

”Its such a shame that your engagement to the Prince of Arosebia ended, ” he sighed heavily as he looked at me with disappointment. ”You should be thankful that you look at least decent enough for these princes to fall for you despite your cursed birth. ” He complained. He always does whenever I am around. And Im not around that often, but when I am, he makes it a point to blabber about my unwanted birth.

”I want you to accept the Princes proposal, ” he continued. ”Not only would I be able to get rid of something like you, Ostulia will be able to get a powerful ally. Its a win-win situation for both of us, is it not? ”

So how is it a win-win situation exactly? I thought unkindly

I kept silent because if I opened my mouth, I might say something unpleasant. Father probably already knows what I want to say since I never fail to tell him when these things happen. He never listens to what I have to say though. I was just lucky that every time I get engaged to a foolish prince who wants this pathetic body, something happens and the engagement falls through. I thought father would finally lay off the engagements since he thinks I am bad luck, who wouldve thought that hed keep going.

Its not a surprise though. He hates me after all and he would do anything in his power to get rid of me, the black stain of his rule. My father cleared his throat, ripping the suffocating silence in the massive room. ”The prince will arrive in three weeks. By the time he gets here, be on your best behaviour. You should be glad someone in this world still wants a child like you as their bride. ”

Ah yes, Ive been hearing the same comment over and over again since I was born. And they all came from the mouth of my dear father. The person who planted a seed in my mothers womb.

”Get out of my sight. ” He looked at me with disdain and clicks his tongue.

Have I ruined his day again?

*

The walk to my room was the same. Still excruciatingly silent and humiliating. My palace was far, far away from the main palace where my father resides. It was small and humble unlike the magnificence of my fathers home. The people who worked at my fathers palace all look at me differently. Some look at me with disdain, some with mockery and some with pity. They all whisper among themselves as I walk by. The words they utter were loud enough to reach my ears. I knew the intention behind it and yet I pretend I don . Perhaps they thought of me as foolish.

Hah! How accurate. I also think of myself as foolish.

A foolish and pathetic princess, unloved by her own father because she was unfortunately born first. Such a tragic tale it is. If some other pampered young lady were to tread in my shoes, they wouldve taken their lives because of the palaces suffocating atmosphere. Im surprised I lasted this long without my father killing me and without me taking matters to myself.

”You
e here again. ”

I looked up ahead of me and spotted my younger brother, Cedrin, with two of his personal knights following closely from behind. He was clad in a luxurious white suit adorned with gold jewelries.

”Cedrin, ” I muttered.

”Why are you surprised to see me, sister? ” He asked. A smirk playing on his lips as he got closer.

I shook my head and paid my respects, like I always do. And everytime I look up after lowering my head, I always see his grin. It was as though he was mocking me for being someone useless to the Empire.

I do not disagree with him though.

”What are you doing here? ” He asked before shifting his attention to the long corridor to the Kings throne room. The ends of his lips curled up into a smile and his eyes became half-moons. He looks at me and chuckles. ”Ah… ” he said as though he just understood why our great father called for me.

”Its about time, ” he said as if he knew. I looked at him in confusion and worked up the courage to ask. ”What do you mean by that? ”

Cedrin cleared his throat and alternated between me and the throne room. ”I mean its about time father decided to sell you off again. ”

…Ah. So thats what he meant. Of course thats what he meant.

”Theres nothing new, ” I answered plainly.

Im used to this. Im very used to this.

”So who is it this time, sister? ” Cedrin was speaking close to me and yet his voice sounded so far away. His tone had a hint of mockery in it, like usual. ”Id love to share it with you but Im afraid I might take up too much of your time. ” I said before lowering my head again and giving him a small curtsy. ”You better go on your way brother, ” I continued. ”You wouldn want to make father wait. ”

I acknowledge him one last time before sauntering to the detached palace where I belong. It was the only place where I could be safe from the eyes of other people and from the eyes of my father. After all, my father never really cared to look at how I was doing in the palace. And for that I am grateful.

The relationship between me and my brother wasn always like this. As children, because both of us were raised by our mother, we both got along pretty well. Before, Cedrin used to live with me and our mother in the detached palace, until he was taken away at the age of fourteen by one of my fathers knights. He was given a separate place closer to the main palace where he officially started his lessons and his training. He would always come to visit us whenever he had time on his schedule and our father gave him permission to do so. That was because Cedrin begged him to at least let him visit the woman who birthed and raised him.

Miraculously, our father granted him his only wish.

However, that happiness didn last long. One day, while we were having tea together in the detached palace gardens, one of the kings aides came by and forcefully dragged him out. Cedrin tried to reason with the aide and fight him, but he was nothing more than just a scrawny young boy trying to fight a full grown adult. He had no choice but to follow. Hed sneak out when he had the time just so he could meet with me and mother, but that also didn last very long. Because one day, Cedrin changed and the times when he came by became less and less. Until he stopped coming to the detached palace altogether.

As if that wasn enough, father decided to put mother in another palace that was also closer to the main palace and far, far away from where I was. He came to our place in person with four knights treading the road behind him. His head was held high with confidence as he entered the palace doors. Mother, at that time was having teatime in the garden with me when my father came by to pick her up.

I remember the words he uttered very clearly.

Come, woman. You have to fulfil the role that was given to you, as High Queen of the Empire. That is the only use you have, someone like you who cannot even birth properly.

The last sentence was uttered as he took a sharp glance at me who was sitting in front of my mother. I remember my mothers expression as she looked up at my father. It was a face full of hatred and affection–both are feelings directed to only one person and feelings that shouldn coexist for one person.

At this point, I was old enough to understand that mother still deeply yearned for the love of my father but she was too tired to direct those feelings. So she pretended to be numb. She both loved him and hated him.

Shes a foolish woman. My mother.

And yet I stay by her side like this, hoping she would finally let go of the feelings that were so harshly rejected and unreciprocated.

The palace I stayed in only had two maids and one head butler. Both were from my mothers side of the family and they were the only servants who my father allowed to stay with me. I should be glad he isn cruel enough to leave me and my mother alone like this. It would be a lie to say that I wasn relieved to hear that my mother is definitely still treated as High Queen in her palace. Although I am forbidden to even stay near her. That is what pains me the most.

The two people who I could lean on, my brother and my mother…all taken away from me by the man I call my father. How pathetic.

But what can I do? I am but a powerless princess in this harsh battlefield called the Imperial Palace.

”You
e back, your highness? ” My personal maid, Jane, came to me with a smile on her face.

Jane was given to me by my mother and stayed by my side ever since I was a young girl. Shes another precious existence to me as she took care of me without any prejudices despite me being called a demon because I was born first.

”Welcome back, your highness. ” Bennet, the palaces butler, came holding a piece of dirty white cloth. He was probably spending his time cleaning the palace again even though I told him not to. ”Alice prepared some snacks for you to enjoy, you
e just in time for tea. ” He said with a smile.

”Were you cleaning the fireplace in the parlour again, Bennet? ”

I looked at his dirty appearance. Bennets eyes were slanted with wrinkles adorning his face. His curly brown hair gleams under the light of the afternoon sun as he shakes his head. He had a slight slouch but that was because of his age. Which is why he should really leave the cleaning to someone else rather than do it himself.

”I know you
e a very meticulous man, Bennet, but please watch your health. ” I said with a frown. ”What would happen to us if you suddenly became sick? ” Bennet lowers his head and sighs. It was an act he often did when he wanted to explain something but couldn find the words to.

”Did his majesty call you again for the same reason? ”

”This is nothing new. ”

Jane, Bennet and Alice all knew the reason why my father despised me so much. And despite them living in an Empire where first born girls are condemned and stoned to death, they accepted me for who I was. And they all hated my father for his mistreatment. Not that I cared. If anything, Im happy he gave me a place to stay and minded his own business.

Bennet sighed. ”How many times has this been?! ” His bushy brown eyebrows knitted together and he looked at me with a frown. ”You have to do something about this, your highness! ”

I chuckled. This is what it feels like to be cared for. ”Well, all we can do is obey the High kings wishes, Bennet. ”

”But, your highness! ”

I cut him off with a shush and placed a hand on his shoulder. ”You don have to worry about anything, Bennet. I knew this time would come. ” I looked over to Jane who now donned a worried expression.

”Can you please prepare a bath for me, Jane? ”

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