“I, Crown Prince Claris, declare my engagement with Lady Neve Rosentine is to be officially annulled.”
Prince Claris’ clear voice echoed throughout the grand hall. Immediately, the bustling room was plunged into silence, the courtiers looking amongst themselves in shock. The Crown Prince scanned his Royal Court, daring anyone to oppose him.
A pretty young woman stood behind Claris, her hand clutching the edge of his suit jacket. She was Lady Gemma Henmar, the daughter of a baron. The courtiers could only speculate–she must have been the reason behind Prince Claris’ sudden declaration.
Despite the humiliation, the proud Lady Neve Rosentine maintained her composure. Her head held high and her expression stony, Neve embodied the noble and unyielding ducal House Rosentine.
“Explain yourself to me, Prince Claris,” Neve demanded coolly.
Not a single courtier risked reprimanding Neve for her impolite address of the Crown Prince. The Lady herself was as regal as the Royal Family. In this moment, she was a mirror image of her father, the fearsome Duke Fallon. Though she was a woman, she still instilled both fear and awe in the other nobles.
However, her childhood friend and long-time fiancé, Prince Claris, was not intimidated like his courtiers. He stepped forward, so he was standing almost toe-to-toe with Neve.
“It has become clear to me that your poor character makes you unfit for the Royal Family,” Prince Claris said, his chilly grey eyes pinning Neve in place. “Your continuous cruel treatment of Lady Gemma demonstrates both your arrogance and your inability to serve those ranked beneath you.”
Neve briefly looked away from Prince Claris, her eyes darting to Gemma. She was a petite girl, younger than Neve by a few years. Due to her age, Neve assumed that Gemma’s flirting and incessant mockery of Neve’s engagement was due to the girl’s naivety. Neve wondered if she had plotted this, but the shock on Gemma’s face indicated otherwise.
“As such,” Prince Claris continued, “our longstanding engagement has been annulled at the council of my closest royal advisors and Queen Consort Elise.”
Closing her eyes, Neve took a moment to compose herself. She was slowly being consumed by a bitter, fiery rage.
What a line, Neve thought incredulously. She recalled the cheap romance novels her younger sister, Blanche, often indulged in. It is like I’ve woken up inside of one of those ridiculous books.
After taking a steadying breath, Neve opened her eyes. She regarded Prince Claris before speaking, amazed by what she saw. She had known the Prince for almost two decades, and had been engaged to him for one. But standing before her, he transformed into a stranger. Claris was as handsome as ever, his fair skin complemented by golden hair and distinct features. But the warm boy Neve once thought resembled the Sun was nowhere to be found.
“I see the support of the House of Rosentine means very little to the Royal Family,” Neve began coldy, “seeing as you have chosen a public forum to slander my name.”
Prince Claris’ eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to speak over Neve. But she continued her address, refusing to be silenced.
“Your accusations are unfounded,” Neve continued. “You condemn me in front of your Court, yet this is the first time I’m hearing of any of this.”
By this point, the courtiers had begun whispering to each other. They were unsure of who to believe. While the Court was loyal to the Royal Family, many of the courtiers present were allied not with Prince Claris, but with King Lucius–who was too ill to rule.
“By annulling our engagement, you’re breaking a decade-old agreement made by our fathers. Don’t forget that our marriage was for the benefit of the Royal Family, not House Rosentine,” Neve said. “I must assume you no longer require the support of the duchy.”
Prince Claris took another menacing step forward, forcing Neve to step back.
“Don’t you dare speak down to me,” Prince Claris hissed. “You may be the daughter of a Duke, but I am the future King of this country.”
Suddenly, Neve’s older brother, Vale, burst through the crowd of courtiers. He strode to his sister’s side, placing a comforting hand on Neve’s shoulder. Neve glanced up at him. Vale was as white as a sheet, but he glared at the contradictory Crown Prince defiantly.
“My sister is right,” Vale interjected. “Ending this engagement will have great political ramifications on the empire.”
“I am not a fool, Vale,” Claris sneered. “I am not breaking this engagement easily. But you are a fool if you believe my rule depends on the support of a single duchy.”
Neve began to speak in defence of her brother, but a shrill voice overpowered hers.
“Everyone, please!” Gemma cried, clutching her hands to her heart. “Claris bears no ill will to House Rosentine. P-perhaps we can talk about this separately, at a later time.”
Every head turned to look at Gemma. Not only had she spoken out of turn, she had improperly addressed Prince Claris.
“Gemma, do not speak for me,” Prince Claris said tiredly, pinching the bridge of his nose.
At these words, Gemma appeared to be hurt. Despite the situation, Neve sympathized with her. She was maybe sixteen–too young for the Royal Court. Neve herself had been thirteen when she entered King Lucius’ Court, though she had been intensively educated on all matters of the empire throughout her childhood.
Someone cleared their throat.
Neve scanned the crowd, searching for the source of the noise. Though she did not have to look for long, as the courtiers parted to reveal the individual.
It was the Queen Consort, donned in luxurious clothing and jewels that were worth more than some small nations. One of the empire’s treasures, a dazzling blood-red ruby necklace, was draped delicately over her collarbones.
“Enough,” Queen Elise ordered. Her voice carried throughout the hall, cutting through the noise with ease. She commanded respect. “I was unsure of how the Royal Family and House Rosentine would move forward, but I have made my decision.”
“The House of Rosentine would do well to remember its duty to the empire,” Queen Elise said coldly. “The empire is surely owed noblesse oblige from Lady Neve Rosentine, in light of her objectionable behaviour.”
Neve frowned at this, unsure of what the Queen Consort was implying. The House of Rosentine had provided the Royal Family with boundless support after King Lucius fell ill. Prince Claris once again looked triumphant, and Neve feared what Queen Elise was about to say.
“The war wages on at the border between Asteria and Bluhera. As I recall, the House of Rosentine has yet to serve in battle,” Queen Elise said.
The Queen Consort turned to address Neve directly. Neve’s heart began to pound in a mix of fear, anger, and apprehension. Vale’s grip on her shoulder tightened, almost painfully.
“Surely, your talents would be more valuable on the battlefield than in the Royal Court where you are no longer welcome.”