Later that evening, Daniela returned to her private chambers, her mind buzzing. So Father wishes to start a war, does he? she kept thinking, feeling a deep, sickly fear in her stomach. The palace, she recalled from her sole visit nine years ago, was colossal compared to their own castle, and the Fyedragons probably had ten times their number. As far as she could remember from her history lessons as a child, there had not been a rebellion in Cantaria for over thirty years. If her father were to lose, what would happen to them? Would they be stripped of their lands? Or worse, all be killed? Would armoured strangers burst into her room and put her to sword? Perhaps she would suffer public humiliation first, like Lady Ellen Rosebud did during the Western Rebellion, stripped naked and paraded through the streets? Would she be hung, drawn and quartered like Lord James Rosebud had? She shuddered at the mere thought of it.
An agonising hour of panic passed over Daniela. She tried curling up on her bed to rest, but sleep would not come. She paced her room, and even spent half an hour staring out the window, looking at the moonlight reflected on the river outside. The sound of faraway lapping water on hot nights had always been a tranquil sound to Daniela, but tonight it was different. The thought of the horrible consequences of her father’s war was something she could not shake from her mind.
She did not say a word when her handmaidens came to undress her. Quickly donning her silver nightgown, she bade them goodnight and returned to her balcony.
Several minutes later, there was a knock at the door, followed by a pause. Daniela instantly knew it was not Lucas – her brother usually burst in without invitation.
“Come in,” she called.
The door opened, and her father stepped into the room. He was still dressed in his dinner-wear from that evening. He looked at his daughter impassively, and she wondered what was going on behind those eyes.
“Are you not cold sitting on the balcony in just your nightgown?” he asked curiously.
Daniela looked down at the goose-bumps on her arm. “I suppose I am.” She rose from her seat, and re-entered the warmth of the room. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Father?”
Lord Wallace sat on her bed, and gestured for her to do the same. “I wanted to see you, to gauge your feelings,” he said as she sat down next to him.
“What do you mean, Father?” she asked uncertainly.
“The situation we will find ourselves in. Me, riding off to battle. To liberate the kingdom. Do you feel scared?”
Daniela gazed into her father’s eyes and saw only curiosity, not warmth or love. It robbed her of any joy of a father-daughter moment, but she did not want to let it show. “I suppose I am. Should I not be?”
Her father’s eyebrow shifted subtly upwards. “No. It is good that you are scared; shows you possess sense. Perhaps more than your brother.” He took a deep breath, before continuing. “I will not lie to you, Daniela. It will be dangerous. Thousands might die. If I lose, the consequences could be severe. The entire House might be extinguished if the Fyedragons call for it. If not, you and Lucas will be made to pay financially at the very least. Mayhap that might take you as a hostage, or marry you off as a political pawn. King Harold’s brother, Edmund, would go to great lengths to see House Harper punished.”
The sickly feeling returned to her stomach. “Then why do it at all, Father? Why not just leave everyone be?”
She expected her father to be angry, but he merely looked bored, as if he were speaking to a small child. “Because we will improve the kingdom. Restore Cantaria to what it was – a mighty nation respected and feared by the world. Something that has been lost recently by that fool that sits the throne and the cripple that pulls his strings.” Lord Wallace allowed himself a small smile. “Besides, we have royal blood. My great-grandmother Elsa was the younger sister to Queen Tanith Fyedragon. We are not true usurpers, but rather a shift in power. If we win.”
“And if we don’t win?” Daniela asked, images of her being hung flashing through her mind.
Lord Wallace reached into his pocket, and pulled out what appeared to be a necklace. It was a beautiful red colour, with what appeared to be a gemstone in the middle. “Here. I brought you a gift. It will serve you well if I fall in battle and the Fyedragons come for you.”
Daniela took it, and held it up to the light. Upon further inspection, there was a small cork on the gemstone, and dark liquid inside. “What is it?” she asked faintly, suspecting she already knew the answer.
“If you drink it, it will spare you the pain you would be subjected to under the Fyedragons. Keep it with you at all times, Daniela. Please, do this for me. I hope you never have to make use of it.”
Lord Wallace stood up abruptly, and without kissing his daughter, strode out of the room. At the door, he briefly turned his head. “Good night, Daniela.”
As he left and closed the door, Daniela placed the necklace on her bedside table. She gazed at it for several minutes, wondering what hell her family were about to descend into. She then returned to her balcony, trying in vain to rid her mind of the war to come.
A week passed. In that time, more banners flocked to the castle. Daniela counted fourteen different Houses from the outlying towns that had come to declare for her father. Each time the castle gates opened, a fresh set of eager men and women marched into the castle to present their arms to House Harper. At the head of each batch was some Lord or Lady that either followed Lord Wallace out of mindless duty, or foresaw opportunity and decided to take it.
At the end of the week, Daniela heard that her father was finally marching out of Shanroe. It was not Lord Wallace himself that told her, but rather Sigourney, who was the Captain of the Household Guard. A tall middle-aged women with mousey-brown hair and a scar running down her cheek, Captain Sigourney had served as Lord Wallace’s chief protectorate for over a decade. Daniela had been cautious of her, but over time softened her opinion of the guard.
“Lady Daniela, your father is making his final preparations,” said Captain Sigourney in a not unkind tone. “He advises that you come say farewell at the drawbridge.”
“Will you be going with him, Sigourney?” asked Daniela.
The Captain of the Guard smiled wryly. “My lady, I am the Captain of the Household guard. My place is here. I shall watch over you and your brother, and protect you from your father’s enemies.”
“I suppose he will have rather a lot more in the coming weeks,” said Daniela quietly.
Captain Sigourney considered her with a blank face. “It is not my place to say, my Lady. Will you come?”
Many people had gathered in the entrance hall; servants, pages, and people-at-arms. Daniela had visited many castles over her lifetime when smaller Houses hosted their liege lord, but none had an entrance hall as impressive as the Harpers’, save the royal palace itself. Green drapes displaying the Silver Crow of Shanroe, the official emblem of House Harper, were hung everywhere. A large fountain dominated the centre of the room, and the water was so clean servants often filled canteens with it. On top of the fountain stood the statue of Lord Gregory Harper, the long-dead founder of the House.
The people gave way as Sigourney led Daniela towards the door which led to the castle’s exterior. The drawbridge was down, and thousands of cavalry and ground troops were gathered beyond the opposite bank of the River Sayeli, which the castle had been built directly next to.
Her brother was stood at the end of the drawbridge, and when he saw Daniela, he raised his arm in greeting. She approached him with Sigourney, and saw that there was an air of disappointment behind his smile.
“Isn’t it great?” said Lucas when Daniela reached him.
“Isn’t what great?” asked Daniela, raising an eyebrow.
“Father’s conquest.” He looked out across the small army that had assembled. “It’ll be glorious.”
Daniela shivered, despite the heat of the day. “Thousands of people will die. And what if he loses?”
Lucas snorted in derision. “Father won’t lose. Not against those fools in the capital, anyhow. They’ve never seen a battle in their lives, so I’ve heard.”
Neither have you, Daniela thought privately. “What will you be doing to aid Father?”
Her brother flashed her an angry look, and for a moment she felt uneasy, knowing she had overstepped some mark. “I’ll be overseeing the victory,” he said, his chest swelling proudly. “When they write the history books, they’ll write of my great deeds. King Lucas the First, who dealt the killing blow to the weak Fyedragons.”
“Is this that weapon Father spoke of?” asked Daniela curiously.
Lucas gave Sigourney a cursory look. “Now, now, sister. Such things shouldn’t reach the ears of the lesser.”
The sound of hooves clomping against the bridge took hold of both Harper siblings’ attention. Their father was sat atop a large white stallion, looking splendid dressed in deep green armour, the silver hawk painted on the breastplate. He rode alone, but sat high atop his beast, Daniela could not deny he looked the part of a king.
“Lucas, Daniela,” he nodded. “I ride to war now. House Gorton refuses to stand with us against the Fyedragons. They will be the first to taste our steel.”
“We are going to win, Father,” smiled Lucas. “I can feel it in my bones.”
“Those who make presumptions in war are the first to fall,” Lord Wallace reminded his son sternly. “I trust you will keep correspondence with Lady Christina. She promises the weapons will be ready by the time we march on the capital. Testing begins soon.”
“I will not let you down, Father,” said Lucas. “I look forward to joining you on the battlefield soon.”
Lord Wallace ignored that, and turned to look at his daughter. “Daniela, you must remember to keep that necklace on your person at all times. At all times. Do you understand?”
Lucas gave her a quizzical look, and she bowed her head. “Yes, Father. But I hope it will not come to that.”
Lord Wallace gave her a grimace, which was the closest Daniela had seen her father to a smile in a long time. “I too hope for the better outcome.” He turned his head to the army behind him. “Those are the men and women that will make us royalty. It begins here today; I must leave you now.” He nodded at both his children in turn. “Fare well for now; I look forward to seeing us together again in the throne room in the capital.”
Daniela felt a strange surge of emotions as she watched her father ride off with his army into the south. Fear, for the war to come. Sadness, for the blood that was to be spilled at the expense of her father’s ambition. Not for the first time, she found herself wishing her mother was still alive. She would have talked some sense into Lord Wallace and this violent play for the Cantarian throne would be only a distant wish.
The world is a much uglier place without you, Mother, Daniela thought as she returned with Captain Sigourney to the castle.