The princess-to-be let out a tiny groan, furrowing her brow. Her pinky nail was uneven and it was bothering her to no end. It was to be expected, of course; the rabble they designated as caretakers had no hope at keeping up with her standards. It was shocking, to say the least—The Officers Academy was always hailed as this elite housing of nobles and the rich, but seeing as they freely let the rabble join in if they can fish the coin, she should have known better.
Either way, her nails were vastly more interesting than running along with the bold Knight of Seiros. ‘Strength in numbers’ sounded like a good idea, but she was all too aware that the students were more likely to be fodder than anything else. Considering ‘Professor’ Michail wasn’t of any renown, she wouldn’t have gone along even if they didn’t have a choice.
Only one other was smart enough not to go: Lienna Orhneaht. She had seen her a few times lingering around Professor Malathice, but she was a little more interesting than others. For one, nothing about her said ‘highborn’ but the way she walked around would have anyone assume she thought she was someone of importance. It wouldn’t be the first time some pretty thing managed to wrap up a baron or a count around her finger to elevate her position, but it did surprise her that she was at a military academy of all places.
When she spoke, at the very least Veronica let out a hum of acknowledgement. “If the Knight does his job, then there won’t be anything to worry about,” She replied. “Assuming he isn’t too busy dragging back corpses.”
Lienna had turned her attention back to the wand, crossing her legs under her and removing the thing from her waist to examine it in her lap. Holding silver in her hands was still novel to her—even after learning that apparently every single piece of cutlery in the dining hall was made of the stuff—and the crystal on top, the way its many facets captured the afternoon sun and broke her reflection into a thousand pieces… well, it what could she say? It was breathtaking.
The other girl’s voice pulled her head up from admiring the wand, Lienna looking over her shoulder just enough to catch the Queenling in the corner of her eye. Sitting on a log looking dissatisfied, absorbed in her nails or something. Typical. Not that Lienna herself was doing much more, but this girl had a way of turning any little tick into something irksome. Lienna had to wonder if Veronica ever had to worry about birds flying up her nose, walking around like she did with it held up so high.
Still, she was talking more sense than any of the other students had, and Lienna had to surrender a grunt of agreement. That being said, she couldn’t resist a little jab.
“I’m not worried,” she offered offhandedly, crossing her arms and straightening in her carriage seat. She caught Veronica in the corner of her eye again, raising an eyebrow. “Aren’t you, though? What happens to you if our favourite Princeling doesn’t manage to limp his way back?”
“Then I don’t have to go through a marriage with a cowardly prince that I was against in the first place,” Veronica replied without skipping a beat, although she finally lifted her head to level a look on Lienna. She looked like she was inspecting her, eyes searching for something. “It’s not every day a noble speaks of such a thing so casually, especially since if that were to happen, it would throw the Empire into chaos.”
“So? I’m not Adrestian,” Lienna shrugged, “I’ll be spending my life about as far from the Empire as you can get, go nuts.” Throw the Empire into chaos, please. What made Veronica think she’d care? Or was that sort of arrogance just bred into her the same as her black hair and blue eyes? Lienna wasn’t sure she could even recognize Adrestia on a map before she came here, and this girl thought she’d quake at the idea of some faraway foreign country falling to shambles. It had once already with that plague, hadn’t it? Sure, her world might come crashing down if their precious Prince killed himself on some bandit’s lance, but it seemed a lot of these highborn fledgelings didn’t realize just how small their worlds really were.
Speaking of which… “Though, I find that puzzling,” Lienna continued airily, pointedly tapping her finger against her chin. “You were very careful to tell us all about your position on the first day here, remember? But if Kayden dies, how will you become the new Queen?”
Veronica stared at her for a moment, raising a finger to her chin as she narrowed her eyes. An understanding came over her, and she ended up rolling her eyes as she crossed one leg over the other.
“My sincerest apologies, I misunderstood you,” She stated airily. “After hearing your conversation with Professor Malathice on the first day, I found your line of questioning odd. Having a sheltered and naive noble isn’t uncommon—in fact, those with crests find themselves hidden away more often than not. But after what you just said about not caring about the Adrestian Empire, now I realize you aren’t naive, you’re just an idiot.”
A derisive snort escaped Lienna, the white-haired girl equal parts amused and livid. Oh, how the claws come out! Honestly, Veronica would be better off picking a side early: she could be either the dutiful damsel trapped in an unwanted betrothal, or the opportunistic future Adrestian Queen, but not both. It seemed she must have struck a nerve, though; an argument with a stuck-up wannabe Princess wasn’t what Lienna had planned while she waited for her peers to return, but apparently it was what she was going to get.
“If you’re so worldly, I’m surprised you weren’t tipped off sooner,” Lienna retorted sharply, turning in her seat. “Honestly, highborn rose you are, have you ever heard the name Orhneaht listed among the ranks of Faerghian nobility? Do the math, darling.” She couldn’t lie and say she wasn’t doing her best to fit the noble mold here—if nothing else, it would be good practice for her life after her wedding—but she’d be cold in the ground before she let some doe-eyed, soft-handed little shit make her feel inferior for the accident of her birth.
“My sincerest apologies for treading my peasant filth all over your pristine noble tapestry,” she snapped, “but given I managed to live most of my life without needing to know the colour of the Emperor’s underclothes, I’d hazard a guess that the affairs of Adrestian nobility aren’t as vitally important to the whole of Fódlan as you’d like to believe.”
“So quick to defend, oh my…” Veronica couldn’t help but giggle, taking a second to collect herself. “I know only of the major families, there are some that escape my memory—I suppose you think it’s a mistake to have given you the benefit of the doubt?”
She didn’t linger too long on that, however, letting out a tiny sigh. “You’re wrong about one thing, however. The Adrestian Empire collapsing would affect everyone on Fódlan, from high to low-born and both Faerghian and Leicesteran,” She stated plainly. “But tell me, who have you decided to use to improve your life?”
“Count Francis Gautier, younger brother of the current Margrave,” Lienna replied proudly, raising an eyebrow. What, did she think the question would sting? There was no way arrangements like hers weren’t common, and it was a win-win for the both of them: the Count got a Crest freshly injected into his family line, and Lienna got to live a warm, comfortable life of personal and financial security for the rest of her days. Her only regret was that she hadn’t done it sooner.
She did have a fleeting thought that the accusation of “using” her betrothed might offend the Count if it reached his ears via… whoever he’d sent to keep an eye on her, but she quickly dismissed the thought. Even if they weren’t openly using each other in equal measure—to quite the agreeable conclusion, she might add—she wasn’t so sure the conversation would be overheard. Not only were they desolately alone at the moment, but she hadn’t felt the weight of eyes on her since they left the Monastery; a welcome change, and perhaps the only pleasant thing about this entire farce of an excursion. Even after just three days, the inescapable feeling of being watched was already grating on her, raising goosebumps on the back of her neck even in her dormitory, where she should have been sure to be alone. Lienna wouldn’t deny agreeing to the Count’s terms of a chaperone—it was fair enough for him to make sure she didn’t take his tuition money and run away with it—but was it really so necessary that he keep her stalker’s identity a secret? At least then she might finally be able to relax out of his view.
“But yes, alright, the whole realm will fall into disarray if your betrothed bites an arrow today. The whole world, in fact. I bet the mice and the birds will each shed a bitter tear for your loss.” Lienna continued at last, already bored of this conversation. Were catty insults the way noblewomen settled their disputes? Maybe they’d all be a little less stiff if they had it out the peasant way. Children slinging dung at one another was certainly how a lot of the noble snits she’d witnessed looked from the outside.
“Except you, that is,” she continued. “I suppose you’ll just be relieved, because obviously the notion of ruling Adrestia by proxy never appealed to you in the first place. Hence, of course, why you make your future Queenship abundantly clear every chance you get. I understand now.” Lienna made a face of mock enlightenment, spreading her arms for effect.
Veronica looped a lock of her hair around her finger, absentmindedly toying with it. Even the hairdressers left much to be desired, judging from her less than impressive ends. As Lienna stopped speaking, she let out a small giggle, leaning back slightly to look up at the sky. "Do you?" She asked rhetorically, eyeing a cloud above them as she shielded her eyes from the sun, free hand dismissing the question. "Ah, why bother asking, you don't seem like the type to read between the lines."
Instead of continuing, however, she decided to turn back on a more interesting subject. "Count Francis Gautier...he just made a generous donation to the Academy, too. I assumed his contribution had come because the Margrave's son had long since graduated," She thought out loud. "Just low enough to take the apple off the tree. I'm impressed, most would try giving empty promises or seduction, but you seemed to have come out of the deal relatively intact. Do the two of you get along, or will you settle in a cycle of complacency?"
“I thought you only knew the major families,” Lienna retorted boredly, leaning back in her seat. A soft breeze blew past, and she watched lazily as it rippled through the grass of the surrounding field like a wave over water. Alright, this was fun, but with Veronica insisting on running her in circles like a guilty child, she was quickly growing bored. And exhausted. Indech’s teeth, was this how noblewomen spent their days, in the throes of catty pissing contests? She didn’t know how they could stand it.
“Anyway, if you don’t want to answer my question, fine; but could you at least do it quietly and spare me the shrill pitch of your voice?” she asked, though it sounded less like a question and more like a statement as her eyes wandered back down to the wand Michail had given her.
Veronica couldn’t help her laugh that time, standing from the log and brushing off anything that chose to cling to her skirt. "Have you considered that I simply find the prince insufferable?" She asked as she plucked a leaf off her sleeve. "If he lives or dies, as the princess consort, it would be a terrible thing. Personally? I couldn't care less if he got himself killed playing hero to a village that isn't even worth the time. Only fools go out of their way to bleed for people that don't matter."
She put on a smile as she turned to Lienna. "Contempt is common between husbands and wives—since you decided not to answer my question, I'll assume that's where you stand with your betrothed," She stated. "Now, to properly welcome you to the noble life, I shall do my part and impart some unwanted wisdom."
Lienna had to wonder if Veronica wouldn’t even admit to herself that she’d weep shameful tears if her precious royal future was taken away, insufferable fiancé or not, given the enthusiasm with which she dodged the question. Maybe it was something the little Queenlet just couldn’t bear to consider; in any case, it wasn’t Lienna’s problem. She assumed she’d get her answer regardless, when the professors came back dragging the Prince’s battered corpse.
“On what, the finer points of seizing some nobleman’s co—” she paused for a second, letting out a very loud and intentional cough for effect, “—oinpurse? Thanks, I’m good,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
Wrinkling her nose in disdain, Veronica needed to take a second to compose herself to return to something resembling neutral. Of course, she wasn’t going to be forgetting that anytime soon, but that wasn't what she was trying to say.
"No, no...as an unmarried woman, I haven't the foggiest idea to manage a man's...finances," The word came out uttered, albeit she cleared her throat before she continued with, "However, more important than pleasing your husband is navigating the nobility and their long time tradition of verbally tearing down anything they dislike. I won't bore you with lessons or lectures, but I can at least warn you, from one woman to another: be wary of wearing your heart on your sleeve. This doesn't manifest in weeping maidens, it manifests most in those quick to prickle at the first word uttered negatively in their direction. I'd so hate to see your engagement canceled simply because you took offense to something said and didn't know how to properly combat it."
Mhm, how convincing. Little spots of light glittered across Lienna’s face as she turned the wand in her hands, the crystal at its top breaking the sunlight into a scattered rainbow as she half-listened to Veronica’s “advice”. Yes, because Veronica cared so much about her success in the noble world. How considerate. Lienna would have assumed it was all garbage and done the opposite if not for the… ooh, was that embarrassment in the poor Adrestian flower’s voice? With a name like Gerth Lienna found it very hard to believe she hadn’t jumped on every nobleman with a connection to the Imperial family to work her way up to the Prince, but that was neither here nor there. What actually shocked her was that Veronica’s little tidbit didn’t sound that stupid. Sure, it was cute that saving face was the biggest thing noblewomen had to worry about, but she supposed she’d be lying if she claimed keeping her distaste under her hat didn’t make a bit of sense.
Still, she wasn’t about to give Veronica credit for that. “Mm, I’ll keep that in mind the next time one of you glowing mountain flowers dodges a question with a cutting remark; must mean I struck a nerve,” she answered absently, turning the wand once more before finally sitting up straighter.
Tossing her hair, she finally turned to look at Veronica, her gaze icy as ever. “I’m not one for favours, though, so I’ll trade you this: Li vra vrako; vrako balai jo erenj,” she stated proudly, crossing her arms. Surely a highborn scholar like Veronica could figure it out. “It’s simple, but it’s true. You’ll probably find it applies to any challenge you might face, Queen or not.”
Openly rolling her eyes, Veronica returned her attention back to her hands. No one could say that she didn’t try. She’d have to keep an eye to see how that turned out; no doubt it’d be greatly entertaining, at minimum. The conversation ended and the pair were plunged into silence, the vague sounds of nature and an extremely muffled sound of steps in the distance if you strained your ears enough.
After a while, the princess consort stood, smoothing out her skirt as she looked towards the forest. She shifted in place, eventually making a decision. “I’ll be back in a moment,” She stated, already departing.