Chapter 32: Abdication
She really despised him. Eirika tried not to cast hatred if she could help it, but each time she and Valter crossed paths, she experienced boiling blood and a flame she thought more befitting her retainer. He could probably see it in her eyes. She'd not done much to hide it, after all, and Valter deserved to see what effect he had on her. Although in hindsight, that knowledge imparted to him was more likely to be empowerment. She could not free herself as long as he had a grasp upon her. At least, that was what she believed.
"You've hardly eaten," he observed as he motioned to her plate, still full of everything that consisted of a well-rounded meal.
Her expression hardened, "You will grant me a pardon if I explain that your company ruins my appetite."
He sighed, "Still playing that, are you?" Shaking his head, Valter continued, "If I were in haste, I doubt very much you would even still be living." Then he lifted his right hand, as if predicting her retort. "I do prefer you alive. It was never my intent to kill you."
"Then you simply mean to hold me captive for the remainder of my days," she countered as she frowned with a clear distaste.
"You make it sound as though it'd be a form of torment to do just such a thing." Valter straightened his posture before leaning over his plate in an attempt to eye her better. "If you are not careful, your face will remain that way. Displeased and grim."
Eirika couldn't hide her disbelief, "There are very few reasons I can think of that would encourage me to look otherwise. You would rather keep me as a trophy than kill me. I would rather die than be yours." And she almost made mention of blackmailing Renais for her freedom, but ultimately, she supposed she still would have preferred to die.
Her companion sighed and resumed eating, leaving her again in an uncomfortable silence. Eirika knew remotely what he wanted of her and assumed there were likely many things he desired. The one that stood above them all, however, was the one thing she felt she could not do. He could not have her heart, spirit, body, or mind. Not willingly, anyway. The downside being that if she pushed him too far, Valter wouldn't care if it was voluntary or not. He'd only be fueled by the idea of breaking her. It was a frightening prospect, but more so considering how plausible it was. What had once been merely a poor nightmare had become a very real possibility. Just how long could the princess of evasion avoid the Moonstone? The question was one she really had no yearning to face.
"That was it?" she finally asked. "How unlike you. I was unaware that you knew anything of relenting."
Mid-bite, he stopped somewhat abruptly and looked across the table to her. "How endearing, Princess. You wish to carry on conversation." Even as he watched her expression change, he pressed forward, clearly spurred on by her words. "Well, then. How is General Seth? Ah, but that would be optimistic of me, wouldn't it? I'm positive the man was satisfactory at best. Tolerable." A pause. "Reluctantly tolerable."
"You spite me intentionally," Eirika almost replied with a hiss. She'd caught and held fast onto her remaining discipline. "Of all the things to bring up with me, why must it be him?"
Could it be your attempt to shatter my spirit? I have already come to terms with the likelihood that he has died. You would think to do what, Valter? Claim my heart in his stead? Then you will have only emptiness for when I gave Seth my heart, I left none of it for myself.
She looked away from the man at the other end and felt herself harden all over again. It was only ever right with him. I cannot return to who I once was. Not with him gone. I am not the same princess of Renais.
"I do believe someone is feeling a bit sensitive," Valter observed with a teasing tone. "Sometimes the historic romance is not in the plans of Divine Providence. Admit that you deliberately set yourself up for disappointment."
As her eyes turned back onto his, she found the fire of her dislike being stoked once more. "At least be civil when you speak of the lost."
Valter laughed. "Please. As if the general would have done the same were he in my place." Shaking his head slowly, he continued. "No. He would have rejoiced over the death of his opposition. He would have drowned in his relief. That man was not half as righteous as you thought him to be. I imagine he died with envy in his heart. 'Oh, how my liege so easily surrendered herself to that lowly scum pirate. If only she had surrendered herself to me.'" His expression of Seth was poor and sinister, dramatic and painted with mockery. But it was done in such a pointed manner that it was meant to strike at the softness she hid beneath her claws.
"Be quiet!" she spat, slamming her hands onto the table's surface angrily.
On her feet and lurched over, she could not hide the way he worked her up with words alone. Her heart pounded harshly that she almost believed it would instigate a war in favour of its freedom. She hated the man before her. She abhorred the way he smiled at her. She despised the mirth she found in his gaze. There was naught about the man that she would have considered worth redeeming. If anything, he was the one being she could not hold compassion for. Once, he had taken her father and she had ultimately lost the other half of herself to him as well. If he had meant to destroy her insides, he had succeeded all too well.
"Oh, stop that," he addressed her dismissively. "You are acting as a child." As if he thought nothing of her outburst, he took another forkful of food in a manner that she could only define as composed.
"How dare you!" Her voice rose and in only moments, her right hand hastily moved over stained wood and what followed was the clash of glassware and metal. A broken plate, spilled wine, and a trembling posture, Eirika felt like anything but herself. "You are doing this deliberately! Kill me if you must and know that I would prefer it to this merciless behaviour of yours!"
Through the haze of anger, she somehow managed to continue, in spite of the way that it grew hard to form her words. "You take life as though you are one of the gods and think nothing of it. Make me one of your victims. Do so and we shall see how long you survive this time for your crimes!"
It was a surefire way to catch his attention. He was at her side quicker than she could have fled from him. Expression dark and deep red eyes narrowed, a hand pushed her chair aside—shoved, more or less—and he reached forward to grab her by the neck before he forcefully bent her over the table. He felt her stiffen beneath his touch, the tension that arose from being held at such an unnatural angle. The back had not been meant to curve so and for many moments he'd wanted to break her physically. He could have. It wouldn't have been difficult. But she was a toy and not one he wanted to ruin just yet. Soon though, considering how erratic just mentioning her dead general made her. She'd be too much a liability if he couldn't tighten his noose.
"Death would be an easy way out for you, Princess Eirika," he breathed to her, low and threateningly sensual. "I told you already, I am in no hurry for this to end. You are finally mine and when I am done with you, all of Magvel will know how wholly I have ruled you." His hand shifted from the grip on her throat and found the nape of her neck instead. The other found her thigh easily through her gown of blues and greens, and began to tug with a clear intent.
"So let us begin."
Eirika pressed her hands up against him, desperation not at all hidden in her fingertips. The very concept alone was so intensely frightening that she couldn't stop the way she shook, and not simply because of the way he'd forced her to yield to him. Her motions were hurried and frantic, the turning of her head, the whipping of her teal hair, and the sounds her slippers made as they slid over the floor while she tried to escape from his clutches.
"I refuse," came her venomous reply, so acidic in nature and so icy in tone that any man in his right mind would have heeded the warning.
Threads split, seams broke, and a chilled hand found bare flesh, which made her stomach knot up with the kind of anxiety that spelled her ill. With the strength she held, she managed to keep him from cloaking her body with his, but each attempt to force him away resulted in her abruptly meeting the table's surface until he managed to worm a knee between her legs. And once he accomplished that, his hands found her shoulders and in one very rough thrust, he held her tightly to the table in a grip too unforgiving for her to worm her way out from.
"Have I your attention?" he asked her, direct and pointed, his words like the rapier that her hands were made to hold.
She almost cried. The temptation was certainly present. But if she had, it only would have added to his strength. Eirika heard him loud and clear, yet the sharp pain that traveled up along her back was nigh impossible for her to ignore. Was it better to have been hit by Leonardo? At least that man hadn't been a complete monster. There was no hope for Valter and as much as it shamed her to think it, death was too good a punishment for him.
…Considering he'd somehow bypassed the Everlasting by unnatural means.
When his grasp tightened once more, she nodded succinctly, still wordless, yet perfectly mindful.
"Good," he began, careful never to take his eyes off of hers. "Allow me to warn you, Princess, that I have no preference on where I take you. Here, your room, the prison you once occupied. The location matters very little to me."
Raising his right hand from her shoulder, he grazed his fingertips along the length of her neck, and it was the gentlest touch he'd offered up thus far. "I did also claim to not be quite… keen on harming you. I do prefer you to be alive. I'd like to not repeat myself once more. If you must hold such entitled behaviour, I cannot guarantee your safety. As long as you put aside your resistance, you're more likely to leave unscathed."
He left it open purposely and she knew it. The likelihood of him ever releasing her was nearly nonexistent. Mostly nonexistent. Presumably nonexistent. He had wanted her for so long already and with no Seth to get in his way, there was no one else capable of stopping him. With the exception of herself. Was she supposed to die for her dedication? Was she expected to sacrifice herself again for Renais' general, a man who was, without doubt, a captive of the Everlasting? But he was not the only one in her thoughts at the end of the pathway. She had her brother, Tana, the others, and her people. They all required her to be alive.
Even if that means I must give myself to this man… And she could not hide her dislike for that thought.
"You can have my body only," Eirika found herself conceding with a reluctance that could not be measured simply. "Although I give that to you, know it is not fully of my volition. Know that I will not permit you a hold over my heart, mind, or soul. I did give so much of myself that I have no more to offer, and no more for you to take."
"I am not interested in your heart," Valter nearly spat in haste.
And that was a lie, but he'd never acted in a way to state otherwise. She knew not of it and would learn no such thing willingly. A life with Princess Eirika was an unrealistic expectation. After all, she would never look at him the way she did the red-haired knight. When she looked at Valter, he saw anger, abhorrence, disapproval, and on occasion—fear.
"You are far safer only assuming I feel interest for your flesh alone and the implications behind the gesture." His left hand moved finally, in favour of taking her chin and tipping it up easily, so her face might close some of the distance between them. He found himself repeating words again, reiterating them for his beautiful captured bird, so they might echo between her ears. "All of Magvel will know that I have ruled you so thoroughly that you will have no hope of redemption. No other will want you after we are through."
As he pulled her body up against him and blanketed her mouth with his, he savoured the very way she braced herself. She had some fight in her still. The thought alone pleased him. He could not derive much pleasure from having her given to him upon a silver platter. He would earn his right to her and when she gave into him, she would find glories untold of the fabled Moonstone.
"So you were born and raised in Port Kiris," Tana had begun as she held a casual pace.
At her side was Laeron, observant and over eager. Behind them, Franz, who stood perfectly at attention, as if he was a stand-in for the Silver Knight himself. But considering the many differences between the two, Franz had some time to go before he could readily compare fairly. All the same, his expression was resolute and his regard for their surroundings was without rival, for a boy of his age.
Laeron nodded to Frelia's princess, feeling no reason to hide such information. She was Eirika's best friend, after all. Anyone so close to Eirika couldn't possibly be a bad person. Questionable at times, perhaps, but never anything other than good and with pure intent. At least, that was what he wanted to think when he stared up into her wide blue eyes. If anything, Tana always looked two parts kind and one part mischievous, and that was okay in his book.
"It must be hard to travel so much when you're so young," Tana frowned as she slipped an arm around the boy's shoulders loosely. The motion itself was informal enough, but beneath it was a form of solace she didn't know how to show otherwise.
Laeron thought before he spoke up again. "It's not as bad as it could be. The Princess and General saved me." Then he repeated himself, perhaps as added self-assurance. "It's not so bad."
"A good point," the princess agreed with a light smile. "Eirika's hands are among the softest to be in. General Seth's too, I'd imagine. Likely no greater pair where diplomatic guardianship is concerned." It almost pained her to admit it, but truth was truth and once it was shown, there was no denying it.
The boy knew what rested under her tone and perhaps were he not a child, he wouldn't have pressed the matter. "Princess Eirika is your best friend, right? And soon you'll be her sister."
Tana nodded, "That's right. When Ephraim and I wed, we'll be sisters by Magvel law. Up until then we have only ever been sisters by practise."
"I don't have any brothers or sisters," Laeron explained, a little understain as he tried to find his words. "But siblings are supposed to…" He squinted, knowing he'd heard the word he wanted to use, but not knowing the term itself. "Sometimes you don't seem happy for the princess and the general. They should be happy, right?"
Unsure of what to say, Tana was not quick to respond. She even looked over her shoulder to Franz and when he lifted his eyebrows, she knew he'd be of little help. Finally she cleared her throat after putting her thoughts together.
"Eirika's happiness is of the same importance as Ephraim's or my brother's." And if that wasn't clear, then: "It's very important to me. It…" She paused as her head tipped and after a moment, she hesitantly continued. "It's hard because I would rather see Eirika and my brother share the same happiness."
"Right." Laeron nodded. "Because he's your brother and she's your best friend."
"You didn't ask," Franz broke in as he moved to Laeron's other side, opposite of Tana. "But I think the issue is less to do with desired happiness and more that you appear to outright hate the general."
When she saw how Laeron stared at her following Franz's words, she glared at the knight in the most subtle way that she could. You are definitely of no help!
In a way, she felt like she'd had the conversation before and she was sure she had—with herself. Tana didn't feel like she needed to explain herself, but considering how much of Magvel was in love with the retainer, it felt like an obligation. She audibly huffed, sniffed with disdain, and refrained from stomping about like a child, which was what she really wanted to do in the moment. A tantrum would do nothing, however, to help the matter. And with Renais' crown proverbially hovering above her head, maturity certainly seemed like the higher road to take.
"I will clear this up beforehand. I do not hate General Seth. I simply don't appreciate him choosing to be upfront about his feelings for Eirika after my brother proposed marriage. It's indecent and puts Eirika into a very unfair position. Now she has to choose and we all know she's easy to sway where matters of the heart are involved."
Franz eyed her for a few moments and offered up an idle shrug. "I won't contest the propriety—of lack thereof—of the general's actions, but I'm pretty certain that he's had his eye on the princess longer than Prince Innes."
"Even were that true and I'm sure you're right, General Seth has had years to speak up." She wagged her right hand's forefinger at Forde's brother. "The fact that he waited until marriage sat at Eirika's feet is less love and more that he doesn't wish to give her up. It's true that her marriage to my brother would not force him from his retainership, but I only sense desperation in his actions. That man is not fit for her. She coddles him, obsesses over him, and is so tied to the past. If he had not saved her from General Valter, I doubt she'd care for him as much as she does."
"Princess Tana, you are incredibly harsh. Keep traveling that path and you and your brother will have more in common," Franz replied simply.
It was an unfair remark for him to make. Unfair and uncalled for, which her expression spelled out easily for both to see. Cycling through a variety of indecent retorts, she finally looked away and decided that silence would be far more useful.
"I think…" Laeron began. "That everyone is looking at this from either the side of the Prince or the side of the General." Swinging his arms in an undeniably juvenile fashion, his head tipped left and right nonchalantly. "Everyone is forgetting that Princess Eirika's feelings matter, too. She probably hates that these decisions are being made for her and not by her."
Random wisdom from a child who was more than what he appeared to be. As Tana and Franz exchanged looks, however, neither could accuse him of being wrong. From the very beginning of things, starting with Innes, Eirika's future was not a path chosen by her, but rather one she'd been forced into. All for the sake of not disappointing those closest to her. A little more tension reigned before it finally subsided with a form of surrender made on both sides of the argument. Or less a surrender and more an understanding with one another.
"I suppose a truce is in order," Tana murmured, begrudgingly accepting of the idea. "From now on, we'll both do our best not to influence Eirika's decisions. It's not up to us to determine what's in her best interest. We'll just see what she chooses to do when everything comes to a head." And despite the way she was tolerating the predicament, there was no avoiding the edge to her tone, as if she challenged both Franz and Laeron to prove her wrong.