Euphemia arrives with all the pomp and circumstance that a royal birth receives. A few generations ago, a daughter would be perceived as less than a son and heir, but times have changed. The Emperor does not care so much about the gender of the child, only that the child is healthy, strong and a champion. She is a few weeks early, no doubt in part due to the poison that her mother received from the emperor’s newest concubine, causing her to go into immediate labor, but she is alive.
The same cannot be said of her mother.
Her mother, the daughter of one of the oldest dukedoms of the empire, receives a royal burial the following week. The concubine, Christine, attends the funeral in skimpy, scarlet red, smirking silently. She has failed to kill the child, but without a mother to protect her from the court, it is unlikely for a baby, so small and defenseless, to survive for long.
Cornelia, the full-blooded sister of the empire’s newest princess, watches her with narrowed eyes. She is eleven years old, in a place where no one who wishes to survive remains a child for long.
A month later, the concubine Christine, three months pregnant with a potential heir to the throne, is found dead in her bedchamber. Suicide, the court physicians murmur. It would be suicide to suggest anything else.
There is a small debate as to her funeral. She is of commoner birth, and thus was denied the status of even Imperial Wife. However, she was carrying the flesh and blood of the Emperor…
In the end, she receives a commoner’s funeral. Everyone agreed that it had been quite appropriate.
There are no assassination attempts on Euphemia, called Euphie, for a few years after that. For one thing, Cornelia removes herself and her sister away from court, surrounding them both with loyal servants from her mother’s family, and with the people she has cultivated from military school, loyal to her.
For another, no one has quite forgotten Christine’s sudden death.
When Cornelia is eighteen and Euphemia is seven, they are summoned back to court by Imperial command. Cornelia is to be sent to one of the Empire’s many Areas. It is time for the Emperor to test out his second oldest princess.
It is time for the court to test out the third.
There is an assassin in Euphemia’s bedchamber, and Euphemia knows it.
She pretends she is still sleeping, and listens hard. It seems to be one man only. She tries to remain calm; one man she may be able to take out with the element of surprise. She slides her hand under her pillow surreptitiously, shifting as if she is moving in her sleep. The footsteps pause.
Then they continue.
When he is close enough, just next to her bed, she draws out the dagger she has slept with under her pillow for as long as she was old enough to lift it. Thrust upwards, under the ribs, she remembers Cornelia drilling into her; Euphemia is no warrior by nature, but Cornelia has taught her self-defense for as long as she can remember. She is not very good, and will never be a great fighter.
Still, her objective has never been to win.
All she has to do is survive.
Euphie has aimed truly, stabbing the nameless assassin in the heart. She knows that she will remember the awful way he gasps, in surprise and with his last breath, for the rest of her life. Knows she will hear the echoes every time she closes her eyes. He slumps on the floor, in his hands the knife that would have ended Euphie’s life.
She wants to cry or throw up, maybe both. Instead, she stabs him in the heart again, just like Cornelia taught her to, just to make sure.
Then, detachedly, as if she were watching this all happen to someone else, she crosses the room to the adjoining room where her new maid, who joined her when she arrived at court, is sleeping.
Who is supposed to be sleeping.
Euphemia looks at her with a white face, and sad, betrayed eyes. “You should leave now,” she tells her; the maid is obviously alarmed to see that she has survived. “Before my sister comes back and finds you.”
The maid flees into the hallway. Euphie doesn’t bother chasing her.
Then, when she is sure both rooms are empty, she gives in to her tears. And throws up repeatedly.
The next morning, she is paid a visit by her father, a man she has never seen before. Her eyes are still puffy, and she doesn’t want to see someone she doesn’t know at all, she wants her sister or her old nanny...
Still, she manages the usual niceties. He has news of her sister; Cornelia has named her knight, a birthright granted to the Princesses of Britannia since time immemorial when Princesses did not fight, but had Knights do so in their stead. Cornelia has chosen Gilbert Guilford. Euphie remembers him as one of Cornelia’s only friends. Euphie had known he was in love with her sister, but did not, until that moment, know that Cornelia knew it too.
There is nothing like love for ensuring loyalty.
Then Euphie forgets to wonder if Cornelia loves him back, because her father has just asked a question that sends chills down her back, and makes her wonder if she will ever be warm again.
He asked her how she slept last night.
And then Euphie knows, even though she will never be able to ask, will never be able to confirm anything, that her father sent the man to her room last night. As nothing more than a test. And maybe he wouldn’t have killed her, maybe all he wanted to do was scare her and then she would have been cast off for being weak and useless…
And maybe she needn’t have killed him.
Euphie bites down hard on her cheek. Do not cry, some sixth sense tells her. Do not say anything. Do not ask for protection. Do not seem weak.
Her voice wavers, but she manages to say, “I slept well, your Imperial Majesty.” He smiles and seems pleased, promising to send his servant later in the day with an increase in living expenses, “as befits a Princess of Britannia.”
It is the last morning she thinks of him as ‘father’.
There is a game that Euphie likes to play. Most girls her age pretend to be princesses; she pretends she is anything but.
Maybe she could be a vet; she likes animals. Or a fairy that lives in the woods and drinks flower nectar for food.
Her favorite game is when she pretends she is nothing more than a regular girl, because then she could have a mother and a father that loved her, instead of just one sister.
And maybe then she would be allowed to get to know her brothers, instead of barely speaking to them.
At sixteen, most girls dream of their first kiss. At sixteen, Euphie’s dream is to stay in school, instead of being pulled into military duty, however honorary.
But she can’t have that dream, so she gives it away to a boy who was kind to her, and treated her like a Princess before he knew she was one.
Though Euphie isn’t sure how, she knows that the Empire needs to change. It is cruel, it kills, and it robs its own children of their childhood.
More than her own, she mourns Cornelia’s childhood. Cornelia, whom she loves, who gave her a short reprieve, before the empire claimed her too.
Cornelia, who does not see that what they are doing is wrong.
Soon, Euphie will need to choose a knight, as have all the princesses before her. She knows she must pick someone who shares her views, who understands that there is still something that can be salvaged from the world her own flesh and blood have created.
And she already knows that she will choose Suzaku Kururugi, pilot of Lancelot, to champion her cause. Because he was born an eleven, she predicts her choice will be met with much resistance, but it will not stop her.
She is a Princess of Britannia, and this is her birthright.