The main suite looked entirely different from when she lived here, Greta thought as she looked around the room.
She was in the Great Sage’s apartment, on the other side of the wide hall of her parents’ chambers.
She remembered how frantic the builders and servants had been in converting the furnishings and interior design before the wedding after her father’s surprise proposal to the Great Sage.
Uncle Murata (she had used that title way before the marriage and it was more fitting these days) had personally come to apologise to her over the fact that the childhood toys she had left behind had to be removed and set up in a guest room a floor down.
Greta really didn’t mind. The guest room faced the north and she preferred the view of the mountains over that of the city when she stayed at the castle.
She looked at where her room used to be. They must have knocked down one of the walls to the store room that used to be on the other side to make the suite bigger for the Great Sage.
Strictly speaking, this was where her uncle was supposed to live in between the days he spent at the temple. The king was meant to visit his second husband here to fulfil his…spousal obligations. Greta, purposefully, didn’t think too hard on that.
The king should only share his chambers with the first spouse, a consort’s privilege. But it was no secret where the Great Sage really lived and slept when he wasn’t at the temple. If that was the king’s wish, then nobody would say anything against it. But the polite fiction was continued and the Great Sage’s apartments remained cleaned and unused.
Well, most of it. She looked at the solid door on the left.
The office was used. It was where Murata worked when he didn’t want to be distracted or was under a heavy workload. She didn’t think she’d ever seen her father or Papa there. Normally, Greta wouldn’t disturb him, but this was the only place she could think of to talk to the man privately while Papa and Yuuri were preoccupied with spoiling Huber.
This had taken her a little longer than she’d planned. Her baby had come a little earlier than expected, but she was older now and she had plenty of people to help look after Huber.
Setting her shoulders in a determined set, she knocked on the door.
Greta was bored to tears.
As a princess in the castle, she always had plenty to do: with studies, assisting Anissina, playing with Gwendal, playing dress up with Celi and horse riding with Papa Wolf, not to mention all the adventures in the castle and out in the country.
Her husband’s family lived very differently. She now lived in a lovely house in Farrington, a well-off district high up close to the castle. Joseph’s family even had servants, some of whom were mazoku, a sign that her human in-laws had done extremely well. Joseph’s two sisters lived in the rooms below, one with her wife, and the other alone and they were both well invested in the family business.
Yet, when it came to the business, Greta had very little to contribute.
Few of the skills she had been taught translated well into running a luxury trade for the merchant family. Greta wasn’t taught bookkeeping or tax regulation. And she really didn’t know that much about exports and imports. These things she could learn, but she didn’t think there was anything left over for her to do in the family. Greta certainly didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
She loved Joseph, so earnest and desperate to please her. He was an honest man who loved her dearly and nothing had changed her feeling. Not since the day she’d seen him at a reception, his genuine interest a beacon amongst all the flattering attentions of foreign ambassadors and minor nobles.
She’d even gotten a proposal from a foreign prince from Small Shimaron.
“He is certainly good looking. I have even heard tell that his looks are comparable to your papa,” Anissina had said cynically as she studied the engraved silver calligraphy of the prince’s proposal and the miniature portrait that had been sent with it.
If the portrait was to be believed, the long blond haired prince did look almost as beautiful as her Papa, and, at least, as pretty as Günter. But she agreed with Anissina’s next statement which was said with finality.
“I doubt he looks anything like this. Artisans always flatter their patrons.”
Back then, at seventeen, Greta wasn’t interested in some pretty foreign prince whom she never met, or in political alliances. Instead, she had set her heart on Joseph. Joseph got her quirks. And she loved his passion for the family business and his tales of travel. Not to mention, he was very pleasing as a lover.
Her step-children were a delight but not taxing on her time, for they had their own nanny. And there was a close type of connection that Greta had with the servants when she lived in the castle. She was loved well enough. But the household was sedate and she missed the whirlwind dramas of the castle, the gossip.
It was too quiet.
In the early days, before she fell pregnant, she’d not been permitted to travel, something Joseph did at least once a year for the business.
This fact still made her angry.
Nobody had seen fit to tell her of this until Joseph had applied for a visa for her to go to Cavalcade only to have an apologetic Yozak and Conrad on her doorstep telling her that it was considered unwise for the daughter of the Demon King to journey outside Shin Makoku without a military escort, or even outside the capital.
That left travel out of the question. Joseph’s business could hardly prosper with a retinue of mazoku guards staring down customers and it was then that Conrad told her that Gwendal had appointed surveillance of her street and her house, for her safety.
She’d marched up to the castle in a fury, not even bothering with a horse, followed warily by the captain and the spymaster.
Gwendal had been in the middle of signing documents. Greta had slammed the door shut on Conrad’s relieved face, almost certainly glad he wasn’t going to be part of this particular meeting.
It was Gwendal who had ordered this. Though, she was in no doubt that he was the only person who knew.
“Gwendal, why in Shinou’s name aren’t I allowed to travel? And why have you been spying on my family?”
She stood up straight and glared down at the man who had helped raise her.
Gwendal considered her words silently, sitting back in the chair with steepled fingers. He did not seem surprised at her accusation.
Apparently, coming to a sudden decision, he got up and went to a side cabinet and pulled out a box of letters, dumping them on the desk between them.
She sat down and picked up one letter and read, and then another, while Gwendal waited patiently.
They were letters that the Demon King had received over the years, death threats, which included threats against her life and things they would do to her if the Demon King didn’t follow through with whatever it was they wanted. Some of the threats against her person were…very detailed.
Greta felt ill.
“Do my fathers know about these?” Greta asked as she dropped one of the letters onto Gwendal’s desk like it was poison.
As indeed some of them had been, they were kept elsewhere as evidence if the culprits were found.
“Most of them,” Gwendal had said abruptly, placing the letters back into a more orderly pile and then putting them back into the box.
Greta didn’t take offence at Gwendal’s abrupt manner. She knew the man well.
“They never wanted you to feel afraid,” Gwendal explained. “I believe now, as you are older, you can see the reality of your station. The king has enemies and they wouldn’t hesitate in using you to blackmail your father. Some of them are mazoku separatists who hate humans, some are human who hate mazoku, and many are from abroad.”
“Am I safe?” Greta asked, frowning down at the letters, thinking of her step-children.
“Where you are now, yes.” Farrington is heavily patrolled; many of the aristocrats have estates there. I have the place checked regularly. Yozak was personally in charge of setting up surveillance and there are a number of charms in position which give warnings for anyone who enters the area with ill-intent. It’s not just us; other nobles also have cause to keep good precautions. You live in an easy area to monitor.”
Greta had a queasy feeling that she’d probably been followed when she went to the markets or out for a ride. It made her furious to think that this had all happened without her knowledge.
“And what if I had decided to live elsewhere or marry someone else?” she asked, her voice tight.
Well, other than that foreign prince, if her memory served her right, Gwendal had been rather positive on the potential of that match.
Gwendal looked uncomfortable and didn’t answer her.
“I…see,” she said unhappily.
She sighed and unclenched her hands.
Perhaps, she was fortunate to have had the illusion of safety all these years, and the illusion of choice. She really should have known better considering her youngest years before she was adopted. But it was easy to find happiness at the castle.
“What about…any children we might have?”
“They will always be looked after, as will their children. There are always placements in the castle. They will have great opportunities.” She could almost hear the next words, implicit ‘for humans.’
Once again, Greta was reminded of how small her life was compared to her fathers. In some ways, she always took comfort that they would be there for her, for as long as she lived. To think that, one day, her father would be playing with her great-great grandchild the way he had with her when she was long gone. It was both painful and comforting. How she could maintain those two contradictory feelings were beyond her.
“As long as they are important to the king they will always be a target,” Gwendal spoke again voice flat. “It is the same for all of us.”
Greta could not dispute that logic. She’d always known that there were people who hated the king. Some of them were powerful mazoku. One thing she knew without a shadow of a doubt--Greta never wanted to be kept in the dark again. She wanted to know and, more importantly, she wanted to help protect her father and her family. She wasn’t a soldier but, perhaps, there would be some way to help.
It was at that moment the idea occurred to her.
Murata looked up, the mild look of annoyance quickly changing to a concerned half-smile when he saw her.
“Hello, Uncle. Sorry to bother you. I have a request.”
She closed the door and looked around the office. The room was cluttered; every surface covered in papers, scrolls and books. There were piles haphazardly thrown on shelves, on the floor and on the two desks which occupied the room.
“Greta… of course. Take a seat. Errr, sorry.”
Murata quickly pulled a pile from one of the chairs and shoved it on the back desk to give her some place to sit.
Gingerly, Greta took a seat. She felt a little nervous but this was what she wanted and, she knew, out of everyone, Murata was better placed to help her.
Unlike her father, Greta didn’t have any vocation. Greta was not blessed by a god. She was twenty-two years old, an adult by human standards but only thought of as a child by mazoku. And she didn’t think they had caught up with that fact. Even Anissina, who was much more perceptive behind her energetic personality, was shocked when she had become pregnant. “You’re only a child, Greta!”
Murata’s hair was in disarray as if he had pulled at it a few times and his hands were covered in ink. She knew that Murata’s workload had increased since marrying her father and she suspected he had also taken on some of Papa’s paperwork when he went out on his patrols. Greta could see the proof all around.
Even with Gwendal and Günter carrying a huge workload, there was still so much to do when it came to the running of the kingdom, most especially with intelligence gathering and the coordination of covert operations.
Greta had long suspected that espionage fell under Murata’s authority, too. Yozak had always gone to Murata first after his long absences and she had overheard enough growing up. It was amazing what an eleven year old girl could learn if she was silent like a mouse hiding under a desk. Though she always had the feeling that Murata was aware of her presence, very little escaped his notice.
That was the major reason she was here.
Another pile of papers toppled over on Murata’s desk and her uncle gave her a sheepish look.
“Things have been a little hectic lately,” Murata explained pushing his glasses up and leaving behind an ink smudge on his face.
Greta had to refrain from a nervous giggle at the silly look. For, what she was here for needed a serious demeanour though he must have noticed her expression as he looked at her quizzically.
“Your face… There is a smudge…” she told him, pointing at her cheek to give him an idea of where the smudge was...
It was just then, as Murata pulled out a kerchief to clean himself up, that it struck Greta how young he looked. In her mind, Murata always seemed so much older, with a shock she realised that Joseph was a number of years older than him.
Murata was not yet thirty. He looked older than her father and Papa. And Papa was only ninety-five. By mazoku standards, he hadn’t even fully grown and looked barely eighteen in human years and her father, well, he looked the same age as her.
Perhaps, it was a little unfair for her to get so offended at the mazoku who still saw her as a child. Greta could understand a little how they felt. Mazoku lived a great deal longer and perhaps, their denial of her maturity was a denial of her transience in their life.
As sad as that thought was, it made Greta even more determined. Raised around mazoku, she was more aware of how short life could be. Greta wanted to make a difference, if not for others, at least for her family and, more importantly, for herself. To find her own way, and her own meaning in the time she had, those were her goals.
This would be just the beginning, an opportunity. A way for the inner circle to see her in another light, a way to prove herself.
Looking Murata in the eyes, what came out next sounded much more like a statement than a request.
“Uncle Murata, I think you should appoint me as your assistant.”
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