Sasha leaned her head forward and smelled the drink. There was neither an odor, nor a fragrance. There was a faint scent, but Sasha was unable to identify it. She nervously took a sip and swallowed. Sasha squinted and puckered her lips a little. She didn’t want to share her opinion, but her expression revealed everything.
“Is the tea, not to your liking?” Lord Melvin asked. “We could add some milk or honey to make it less bitter.”
“I would like that,” Sasha nodded, as she placed the cup on the saucer.
Lord Melvin took the cup and added a bit of honey. After stirring the tea a few times, the nobleman slid the cup back to Sasha’s fingers.
“Try it now,” Lord Melvin said.
Sasha stared for a second, unsure if she wanted to taste it again. There was a slight change in color, but the smell was the same. She turned to Lord Melvin, who gazed at her with expectant eyes. He was like a child, waiting for his mother to taste his cooking. It was difficult to say no. Tightening her nerves, Sasha took her cup and sipped. She gave a lighter expression. There was still some bitterness in the tea, but it wasn’t as strong.
“It’s a little better,” Sasha said with a pressured tone. “What do you call this drink again?”
“It’s called tea,” Lord Melvin replied. “A cousin of mine sent it from his trip to the east. It’s apparently a common drink over there.”
“Many people drink this?” Sasha looked at the cup and raised a brow. “What is so special about this drink? It’s quite bitter.”
“Yes, but it supposedly is also good for one’s health,” Lord Melvin said. “Just because it doesn’t appeal to our taste, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. For that reason, I take two cups each day.”
“Is that so?” Sasha thought. Considering what she had just been told, Sasha took the tea and attempted to tolerate the harsh flavor.
Lord Melvin quietly chuckled at her change of heart.
Just as the she had gulped a bit of the tea, Sasha heard a small burst of laughter from a group of people. As spontaneous as it was, Sasha wasn’t too surprised. After all, she was at a party.
Nobles from around the city were invited to Lord Melvin’s manor for a casual gathering. Men and women were dressed in fine threads and golden accessories. They looked humbler than the regent, but were still able to catch the eyes of the common folk.
The nobles sat around white tables, enjoying wine and pastries, while talking about either the most serious of topics, or the juiciest hearsay. Everyone looked so relaxed and at ease. Sasha was quite used to this lifestyle of the nobles. There was even a time when she would receive at least three different invitations, every week. Being a princess, she had to show courtesy and attend them all. While it did get a little tiresome, Sasha did prefer these small gathering over Madam Crowley’s lectures.
Although Sasha was used to these activities, there was one thing that seemed out of place. While the nobles enjoyed themselves in the garden, Sasha and Lord Melvin sat under the shadow of the manor’s terrace. They weren’t hidden from all, but it did feel as if they were completely separated from everyone else.
Even Rosemary and the two knights – who had accompanied her from the castle – waited in the garden, out of ear’s reach. Lord Melvin could have moved their meeting inside the manor and it still wouldn’t have made a difference.
Lord Melvin was one of her father’s advisers and one of the few who had personally witnessed his death.
The man had wrinkles all over his face and no hair on his scalp – light could have easily bounced off. Under his nose was a grey mustache that must have taken hours to properly curl. Like the other nobles, he was dressed to display position.
“Lord Melvin, shall we get down to business?” Sasha asked. “If you wanted to speak with me, you could have just summoned me, rather than set this party.”
“We have been through a few rough days, my princess,” Lord Melvin said, leaning his elbows on the table. “This party is to help elate the pain of losing our beloved king. Also, I thought of it as a good way to speak with you, without drawing too much attention.”
“And sitting here in the shadows, in front of several nobles, doesn’t attract attention?” Sasha replied, spreading her hands.
“No, not too much, at least,” Lord Melvin snorted.
Sasha narrowed her eyes. “What do you want from me, Lord Melvin?” she asked.
The nobleman took a deep breath and frowned a little. “My lady, what do you think of our new regent?” he asked.
Sasha pressed her lips together. She had a feeling that he would ask something like this. “I don’t really have an opinion on the matter,” she said, as she took another sip of the tea. “However, I will not say that I am fond of her.”
“I see,” Lord Melvin mumbled. “My lady, do you have any idea who our regent exactly is?”
“No, I don’t,” Sasha answered, already guessing the next set of questions.
Lord Melvin coughed and cleared his throat. “My lady, I won’t waste any more time with these useless questions,” he said. “I do believe that the witch’s ascension was too convenient.”
“An opinion shared by many,” Sasha said.
“My lady, I do believe that the witch wasn’t the only one who benefited from this convenience,” said Lord Melvin.
Sasha’s eyes suddenly lit like flames, as she shot Lord Melvin with a glare. “What are you saying, Lord Melvin?” she asked, as she leaned forward.
The nobleman hunched down and checked both sides. “I do not wish to point names, my lady, but I believe that there are people who conspired with the witch,” he whispered.
“Where does this assumption come from?” Sasha asked.
“I’m not allowed to speak about this, but I feel it is my duty to tell you,” Lord Melvin said. “I’m certain that you know about Laurenfall incident, correct?”
Sasha jogged her memory. “Laurenfall is a farmland owned by Lord Dale” she said. “It was supposed to convert into a mining put, due to a large deposit of copper found underneath the land. However, the farmers were against it, as they have used the land for agriculture for several generations. Before any infighting could begin, my father intervened. Seeing greater passion and love from the farmers, my father made them the new owners of the land.”
“Indeed that is correct,” Lord Melvin nodded. “Unfortunately, our regent has overturned the decision. Reclaiming the land, she returned it to Lord Dale and ordered it to turn into a mining pit.”
“What?” Sasha hissed, raising the tone of her voice.
“That isn’t all,” Lord Melvin said. “The regent has also begun overturning a few of your father’s other decisions, which have been greatly benefiting certain individuals.”
“Couldn’t this be mere coincidence?” Sasha asked.
“It’s too perfect to be a coincidence,” Lord Melvin replied. “A few days after becoming regent, she almost immediately makes these sudden decisions. The witch must have had aid in her ascension. There is no other explanation.”
Sasha sat back and pinched her forehead. As if her father’s death and a witch for a regent weren’t bad enough. While it was vital information, learning of traitors wasn’t news that she could just handle all too well.
“Can we do something about this?” Sasha asked.
“Not at the moment,” Lord Melvin said. “We currently do not have any solid evidence to support our claims. We also do not know all who are involved in this affair.”
“Then what can we do?” Sasha pressed on.
“My lady, what I am about to ask you to do could be very dangerous,” Lord Melvin whispered. “My lady, I need you to infiltrate the witch’s inner circle. You must gain her trust and learn all her secrets.”
Sasha froze for a second. The nobleman instructed her with such a calm expression, as if the deed were a quaint stroll down a flat road. Gain the witch’s trust, a probable usurper of her father’s throne?
Just as the princess was about to respond, a choir of distraught voices was heard from the nobles. Turning to the garden, Sasha found a group of knights enter the premises. They marched through, clearing a way through the mass of people. Nobles and servants stepped out of their way, avoiding them as if they were diseased. The knights continued forward until they stopped at a table.
“Judge Clarence of House Roderick?” the knight addressed.
“I am he,” one of the nobles replied.
Seeing the sudden intrusion, Lord Melvin sprang from his seat and rushed straight into the fray. “What is the meaning of this?” he bellowed at the knight.
“My apologies for interrupting your festivity, Lord Melvin,” the knight said, with a slight bow. “However, the regent has requested us to take Judge Clarence into custody.”
“On what basis?!” Lord Melvin argued.
“We cannot say, my lord,” the knight replied, barely even glancing at Lord Melvin. His eyes were now completely fixed on the first noble. “Now Judge Clarence, please accompany us. We do not wish to harm you.”
“This is what happens when you put a witch on the throne,” Judge Clarence sneered, as he kicked the dirt. “You give an opinion and you are branded a criminal, is that it?”
“We are only following orders, my lord,” the knight replied.
The nobleman spat and cursed in a manner unfitting of his status. Insults – ones which even made Sasha wince – were hurled in the air like stones. Despite his slight tantrum, the nobleman did not resist arrest. Pushing the knight aside, the nobleman marched out of the garden with his head held high. The knights quietly stared at the disarray they had just caused, before following Judge Clarence out of Lord Melvin’s property.
Silence consumed the entire party. Whatever merriment was made earlier had completely evaporated into nervous mumbles. Quietly excusing themselves, a few nobles dispersed and exited the garden. Several seats were still occupied, but most of the tables were empty.
Sasha picked herself up and copied the leaving nobles.