A Prince and a Princess. History, tales, or legends often call out to their titles—either pleasant or somber. At most, in realistic stories, both positions in the Royal Family end up clashing—sometimes ending up in a blood-soaked battle for the throne or even banishment.
Few of the twigs that stoked the flames of the never-ending battle for the throne are envy, greed, pride, and sometimes, lust.
The relationship between Argent and Amelia was not much different. It was a relationship that incited envy. Who was it that felt the fangs of envy? It was Argent.
Born as the first child between Auguste and Diane, silver-haired at that, Argent was given privilege upon privilege. However, his sister, Amelia, was born with the same hair.
Given that very few among the Royals of Laurel were endowed with silver hair among females, Amelia instantly drew most of the people’s attention. The same was true within the family.
The issue aside, from the start, Argent had never cared about the attention Amelia was garnering without her knowing. All the attention he needed mostly came from Diane, his mother, and Lorena, his grandmother. However, things changed when Lorena suddenly vanished. It left Argent empty. It left him without expressing the amount of love and gratitude he had for her.
After Lorena has vanished, Argent gradually noticed the attention Amelia received from Randolf, his grandfather. At the sight of them smiling like usual, he felt a sharp pain across his chest.
How can you act like nothing happened? Was Grandmother nothing to you? To both of you? He thought as he dug his nails into his palm.
Although Argent knew he would know the answer if he asked, he was afraid—afraid of hearing an answer far from how he felt. And thus, with a heavy heart, Argent turned away and sealed his hatred, thinking that bursting is unlikely for a Royal.
As the calendar changed, the tiny smidgen of hatred and envy within Argent grew into a ball. And before he knew it, he had changed.
“Big Brother!” Amelia smiled like usual. “Let’s visit the orphanage! I bet they want to play!”
“Aren’t you—” the one who wanted to play? Argent stopped responding like usual and shook his head. “No, I’m busy.”
“Ehh? But Elaine was looking forward to it too...” Amelia sulked.
Argent knitted his brows and turned away. “Like I said, I’m busy. Go ask Mark or someone else, but not me.”
Amelia frowned. “But Mark hates me. He doesn’t want to play with me or Elaine—even though Elaine did nothing wrong...”
Mark hated every bit about Elaine. The reason was not her personality, but the source of her blood—a commoner.
“...” Argent turned his heels and walked away without a word. Really? Am I the only person around here worried about Grandmother’s case? Not even a search unit was formed. What in the heavens is wrong with any of you?
Unknown to Argent, Randolf suppressed information regarding Lorena’s case using his authority. After all, he knew where Lorena was and how to retrieve her. Taking the responsibility to himself, Randolf shut every opposition he received from Auguste, Hans, and Diane.
“Isn’t it a nice day, Argent?” Randolf muttered as he sat beside Argent on a stone bench in the garden.
“Yes.” Argent’s responses were short, indicating his disinterest in communicating with Randolf. “Say, about Grandmother, where is she?”
“She’s fine. Don’t worry about her. She’ll be back before you know it.” Randolf looked towards the distant horizon with a light smile.
Argent frowned at his reply. It was the reply he had always heard from him whenever he asked about his Grandmother’s whereabouts.
“I’m sure you’re worried.” Randolf chuckled. “But believe me, she’s fine. I know it’s hard to trust me right now, but Lorena left with a reason. She did not want us to be involved.”
“That’s—” a lie…
Argent knew Lorena even as a child. He knew that Lorena had almost always consulted someone before deciding on her own. Perhaps she was not that confident in her ideas which is why she sought other’s opinion. But Argent knew very well—Lorena was open when it came to her family.
At some point in time, Argent realized he had been harboring the same emotions as Mark—his brother-in-law born from the King’s Concubine and Second Queen Consort, Liz. On the contrary, the reason for Mark harboring such emotions differed.
Mark was simply, well, Mark. He was a hopeful Prince aiming for the throne. And his hatred for Amelia was not that different from his hatred for Argent.
He’s useless, Argent thought. He knew he’ll never see Mark eye-to-eye. Mark’s mind was too clouded with the blessing of the throne. Nevertheless, he thought better. Why don’t I drive him out first?
Although Argent was a child, he earned knowledge from Lorena and Diane. He was not the average Prince seeking romance. So, with the things he learned, he made Mark as his training dummy. He thought that cleaning the pest, which was Mark, was his first step into driving out Amelia.
Clear the enemy from the rear before clearing the enemy at the front, as they say.
Argent, for better or for worse, had a somewhat similar thought process with Diane. Clear out the obstacles and set the stage. That would give me the best chances—and an ally to escape from once things fall apart.
First, Argent took note of every noble Mark met and was supposed to meet, either by speech or by letter. He did so by using his title as a Prince—and by approaching noblewomen who were interested in becoming Queen and by consulting Diane.
Sloppy he was when it came to communication with women, still, the noblewomen expressed their interest in forging a bond. After all, they were blinded by the privilege the title could give. Consequently, he chose to meet such women precisely because of his goals. Decent noblewomen were less prioritized in his list. Nevertheless, that was when the people misunderstood that Argent had begun to have interest in women—even as a child at eight.
The noblewomen’s network was wide. Rumors and news among nobles spread like wildfire. However, the network was not without folly. Often times, unnecessary rumors such as forged secrets of nobles spread. Argent, who had been receiving such, had to verify the authenticity of such rumors.
To be exact, Argent had a hard time filtering what he received.
“Really, which is which?” Argent pulled his hair. “There’s just too much unnecessary information that I can’t piece which is which...”
“Argent, if such matter is giving you trouble, better let someone else take the task for you.” Diane sipped her tea on the opposite side of the table. “Allocating the correct personnel too is an ability. Keep that in mind.”
Diane knew what Argent felt. Perhaps, in the entire time Argent built up his hatred, Diane understood his pain. However, she refused to do anything. She thought it was the perfect opportunity for Argent to learn and for Mark to lose ground.
The matter with Argent harboring envy towards Amelia was seen as nothing but to drive the cogs in Argent’s mind. Though Diane originally hesitated, she kept a blind eye at the present and looked forward to the future.
Diane, of course, has never intended for Argent and Amelia to stab each other. At the least, while Argent was focusing on Mark, Diane would guide him to release his hatred towards someone else—all the while learning the ropes of leadership and deceit.
“Use your servants, however, weigh their ability and investigate their connections and their family.” Diane, with crossed legs, set her teacup on the table.
Argent looked down on his own untouched cup of tea. “But how? I get that the noblewomen would readily tell me anything they heard just to gain my favor, but investigating is hard.”
“Words, expressions, tone, and actions, Argent. Use them to control the direction of the conversation.” Diane looked at Argent with observant eyes. “An actor does not need a theater for him to act. The world in itself is a large stage. However, the world is filled with actors. It is a matter of deceiving before being deceived.”
“...” It’s easy to say.
Argent could not mutter his thoughts because he knew. He has heard and seen how Diane played the nobles in her hand like a puppet. They were like toys waiting for her command—all the while wary of their strings being pulled. She did not gain the title of Laurel’s Fox for nothing.
“But be wary, Argent. Even if Mark is a fool, he still is the son of a woman who used to be a merchant’s daughter—even if her mother had known nothing about trade.” Diane openly expressed her disgust with Liz. “A woman who had nothing but a bean in her head other than her body. Such is an arduous quality.”
Diane had admitted it to herself. She had but a common hue for her hair, unlike Liz who had a golden hair. On the other hand, even though her own features were considered exceptional, Liz was more endowed in terms of appearance—but not by a huge margin.
Liz was a spoon-fed woman. She was more sheltered than most noblewomen, earning herself the eyes that despised commoners.
Originally, Liz was introduced to Auguste as a concubine by a powerful and trusted merchant. As Laurel stood, most of the manufacturing establishments were owned or funded by the Nobles or the Royal Family. Though a merchant’s guild existed, it was not as powerful as everyone thought.
True, the merchant’s guild in itself is an overwhelming force, covering the entire landmass of the human nations. However, most of the time, they were suppressed. After all, they are an entity that could rival Nobles and Royals.
This time around, Auguste and Diane thought better. As Laurel grew, the more it would become difficult to manage. And to keep up its trade routine, an increase in gathering and production is a must. In order to achieve such, they began supporting the merchants, at least in Laurel.
Along with the given support, the concept of lending money, or loan, has increased in popularity. Although its effects were not immediate, it was a system that Diane looked forward to.
All said, in order to show that Laurel was willing to support merchants, he had to take Liz, the face and model of merchants, as his concubine. Little did they expect that she was nothing but a problematic woman.
In any case, all the while Argent was learning from Diane and was dreading his decision to pursue lessons from her, Amelia left to promote peace with the foreign races.
Although Argent was considered slow in setting up the stage, he was meticulous. He had begun to widen the network he had been using and incorporated spies on his own accord.
I could use the network for more things. I shouldn’t waste it for a single goal. I must look forward to future endeavors.
Rather than build a base with sticks and twigs, he was building a base with steel and cement.
“I heard Sarah, Count Mentree’s Second Daughter, had been showing an interest to His Highness Mark recently. I heard they often ventured out by themselves around the nearby forest in their fief,” said a fine woman sitting beside Argent. She was endowed with a silky straight reddish-brown hair. The hue of her skin danced between white and brown—leaning towards fair.
Argent chuckled. “Really, my brother is approaching adulthood sooner than I expected.”
The woman giggled. “Aren’t you the same?”
Argent expressed a light smile. “I wonder. Maybe I am? Maybe not?”
“You shouldn’t be a child forever, no?” The woman expressed a charming smile.
Argent nodded. “Yes. I probably shouldn’t.” Argent immediately stood and offered his hand. “But being a child doesn’t last forever, right? Why don’t we enjoy that moment of bliss while we’re at it?”
The woman took his hands and stood. “You have a point. So where to now?”
“Why don’t we have a taste of the new dishes that the cooks had to offer? I’m sure the dishes have a unique punch to it.”
“As long as it’s not heavy in the stomach, then it’s fine?”
“Mel, don’t worry. You won’t get fat with a single dish.”
Melody, nicknamed Mel, laughed. “A single dish? I might take a few if it’s as appetizing as you hinted.”
Argent chuckled. “Then I’ll help you with that, that is, finish the dishes.”
“Hmm...” Mel hummed. “But you know, Tinia would surely get jealous. I mean, we’re going to taste dishes, aren’t we?”
“Keep it a secret for now.” Argent raised his finger to a hush. “She’ll end up asking for the same dishes if ever the news enters her ears.”
“My lips aren’t cheap, remember?”
Argent shrugged. “Then I guess spices from the Dwarfs and Elves do not tickle your interest?”
“Ooh!” Mel’s eyes brightened. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
For better or for worse, Mel was a merchant at heart. In the Mercantile world, her family focuses on trading ingredients, especially spices.
Among the women Argent approached, Mel was among those he least prioritized. However, things changed once he confirmed the rate of authenticity of the news and rumors coming from Mel.
So to say, they were friends with mutual benefits.
After a few weeks, while Argent was solidifying his network, urgent news broke out.
The news in itself shook the entirety of Laurel. Randolf and his company were ambushed—and all that was left were ashes and charred swords and armors.
Within the grave news, was hope. Amelia and her Maidservant, Erina, survived.
“At least the Princess survived.”
“I hope she recovers soon. Losing a beloved in front of her eyes… it won’t be easy.”
“Was it Libet? But Brent failed to protect our Royals. Should we keep on trusting them?”
“Surely, their credibility as a Royal will fall. I wonder how chaotic it is in Spere.”
“My son! My son!”
“I can’t believe how careless they were.”
“We’ve lost good men.”
“Won’t Father come back? But he promised me he’ll teach me how to handle a sword...”
“I heard the residents of the village where Her Highness resided were massacred. They even branded Her Highness as a Demon. Despicable as always, those sick priests.”
“To the Late King, Randolf. To Her Highness’s recovery.”
The townspeople’s opinions were mixed—but most contained sorrow and hatred.
Argent, on the other hand, felt empty.
“Huh?” Argent blinked his eyes. “Grandfather is… dead?”
His mind was in a turmoil. Originally, he was dead set on ignoring Randolf, which made him somewhat callous regarding his death.
However, tears leaked from the corner of his eyes. “Why?” He kept wiping his tears away, but it kept on returning. Deep inside—though Argent refused to consciously acknowledge that Randolf would make Lorena return—Argent believed Randolf could. Or at least, he hoped that his words were true.
“You can’t be joking, right? At least tell me—tell us—where Grandmother went to!” Argent slammed his fist against the wall. “Of all people, why was it you who had to die?! It could have been her instead!”
After a day of weeping inside his room, Argent forced himself into the chamber that harbored Amelia.
It’s useless, but I’ll have her know what she’s done.
“My Sister, I want to see her.” Argent stood in front of a large double door guarded by two Maidservants under Diane. “I want to see how well she is faring.”
He used the acting skills that he was cultivating to express concern.
The Maidservants looked at each other before one spoke. “Your Highness, by any means necessary, please be delicate on Her Highness.”
“Huh? What’s the matter?” Argent found it odd. In the first place, what were Diane’s personal maidservants doing in front of Amelia’s chamber?
“… Apparently, Her Majesty had a quarrel with Her Highness Amelia’s Maidservant, Erina just recently.” The Maidservant expressed a mix of confusion and anger. “But I believe it would be fine for His Highness.”
As the handle clicked and the door cricked, Argent entered the chamber alone.
The windows of the chamber were covered by thick curtains, which let a minimal amount of light to filter through. And within the chamber, at the center of a large canopied bed, was a sulking girl with a glimmering silver hair.
The sight, if not for the continuous sobbing, was nothing short of beautiful.
“...” Steeling his heart, Argent balled his fist and approached the side of the bed. “Amelia.”
For a moment, the sobbing halted. “Bro...ther? Brother...?”
“Yes, it’s me.” Argent climbed on the bed and held her hand. “It’s me, see? I’m here for yo—….”
As soon as he turned Amelia’s face towards him, he froze. In her face was a deep mark of a slap.
In a teary voice mixed with sniffles, Amelia spoke. “Brother… I’m…. sorry! I’m! Sorry!”
“It’s all my fault! My fault!” Amelia clutched the sleeves of Argent’s cloak. “It should have been me! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I was useless! It should have been… me!”
Argent was left without words. His original purpose, to let Amelia knew of her fault, has already sunk deep within Amelia.
“Please! Please tell me I was wrong!” With trembling hands, she held Argent’s left hand, lifted it and balled it into a fist. “Why do they keep telling I did nothing wrong?!”
Amelia bumped her head on Argent’s fist. “I did nothing to save anyone!”
Again, Amelia bumped her head. “I was a burden!”
She held on his arm tighter. “Someone like me! Someone like me! Is not worthy of their life!”
Amelia reared her head further and hit her face against Argent’s fist as hard as she could. She then fell on Argent’s lap and sobbed. “It should have been me...”
“...” As Amelia sobbed, Argent gently reached his arm and rubbed her back. “it’s fine, blame yourself.”
“Yes, it was your fault. You could have done better.”
“True, but you can become someone who is not, aren’t you?”
“There’s no hope for someone like me...”
“Don’t say that. As long as we work together, there would be hope for you and for me.”
“Come now. Try to recover, then we’ll play.”
Amelia shook her buried head. “No… I want to be useful… I don’t… want to play...”
“Then let’s study together, under Mother’s guidance.”
“… Can I save people... if I learn?”
“You won’t be saving anyone if you keep on holing yourself in here.”
“...” Amelia lightly lifted her head from Argent’s lap. “Brother… Please help me save Erina.”