THE MEMORIES from the original Victoria flooded like a dam into Tori. The entire time since she came in this prison cell wherein only those who awaited the trials stayed. It was not as dark and smelly as the one that Mia and Allistair were staying in before. But like any other cell, it was devoid of any telltale sign of luxury or window to let the air flow freely. All in all, it was pretty clean for Tori. Though she knew that Sabina tried to ask to let her stay in an isolated space, but Rowan's bargain changed the Duke of Castaña's mind.
Tori was still wearing her indoor dress even when Lily brought her a much more comfortable one. Along with it, the chair she was sitting on and the table where the tea set was placed with her favorite chamomile tea were the things that Lily brought by Rowan's command by the power of the bargain he made with the Duke.
The steel bars of the prison cell surrounded the calm Tori as she sipped her favorite tea. With her eyes close, she only heard the door opened which meant there's a visitor for her first day in the cell.
"Where's your loyal dog?" The mocking voice of a very familiar person made Tori smile. Setting her teacup down, she opened her red eyes just to serve herself more tea while not even acknowledging the presence of the newly arrived visitor.
"Have you become mute now, Victoria?" Her mocking voice made Tori finally turned her head.
"I can't understand your nonstop barking, dearest sister. After all, we will never be on the same level. This cell? This won't change anything at all." It was now Tori's turn to mock.
Sabina, who was busy gripping the cold steel bars, glared at Tori but the latter continued. "Never forget, Sabina. You may become the Duchess, but the very fact that you're a common whore's daughter will never change. It's in your blood, dearest sister."
Her angry sapphire eyes blazed with fury for Tori, which was equally returned by the latter with a smiling face. "Never forget who's behind these bars, Victoria!"
Shrugging like it was nothing at all, Tori pouted like a child. "Trust me. I know. Thanks to this cell, you can't reach me with your barbaric claws though. Are you sure you're not the one who's supposed to be here?"
"Hah! You talk big for someone who's about to lose everything." Leaning over the steel bars, Sabina smiled at Tori like an insane person who just won. "Do not ever forget that I, a half-blood, took everything from a pureblood like you."
You're not right in the head, huh.
Shrugging nonchalantly for the second time, Tori crossed her legs like she always did when she was still Talia. "What did you take away from me, dearest sister? My freedom? My bloodline? My pride? The so-called, father's love?" Laughing slightly, Tori looked at Sabina as if she's a big joke. Well, she's a big joke. "Do I look like someone who lost everything, dearest sister? You should evaluate what everything truly means."
Losing her cool, Sabina tightened her grip on the steel bars as sapphire eyes sent daggers to Tori, who's now back to sipping her tea. "Let's see how your calm façade will break when the noble trial comes tomorrow." Not waiting for her reply, Tori's half-sister left the prison cell with her head held high.
She looks like a fucking duck.
Setting her teacups down, Tori stared blankly at the wall. The sound of the door opening meant another visitor. Again?
The familiar silhouette of Rowan made Tori smiled. Ah, my dear investment is here. Choosing you to be my knight is an excellent investment indeed.
His faraway look gave away his emotions immediately. The talk with his father must be finished. "What's with the face, kind sir?" Tori tried her usual antics to lighten up his mood, but all she received was a forced chuckle. So the Duke already told him that.
"What have you talked about, if you don't mind me asking though?" Standing up to stand before him, Tori looked at him directly. The problem stricken Rowan seems to hesitate.
"I know you won't believe this, but the Duke of Castaña Duchy told me I am his bastard son. I know. Crazy, right? And what's crazier is he wants me to take the Duchy! I know that he has a daughter from the Duchess and she's practically my sister! He wanted me to do the same thing that's been happening to you!"
Rowan was feeling thorn. Now that the Duke acknowledged him, it would be too hard to refuse with his current position as a knight. The fact that his master was being held prisoner because of the inheritance feud was something that Rowan wanted to ignore Duke Castaña all the more.
Touching his hands that were gripping the steel bars quite strongly, Tori leaned towards him. In a whispered voice, she uttered the words that she was waiting to say for many months. "Even if you become the Duke of Castaña Duchy, you can still act as my knight. You can protect me more, Rowan. After the noble trial, if I won, I needed the power to protect myself within the noble faction."
In much simpler words, I need you as my spy. And when I become queen, you will take the noble faction with you and make them bow down to me. You will bring the noble faction beneath my feet, my dearest kind sir.
A flicker of hope shone in his cobalt eyes that almost made Tori lose her façade. She wanted to laugh, but she restrained herself.
He took her right hand and kneeled in front of her. The back of her palm touched his forehead. The highest pledge of honor a knight could give to his master. After doing this, he slid her hand down to his lips and kissed the back of her palm. The highest act of loyalty for a noble to another noble with higher stature. Though they were both children of a Duke, Tori being a pureblood made her a higher noble.
Aah, I did it. You are now truly mine, Rowan Castaña.
THE NOBLE trial arrived quickly, as if it was just a passing moment. Lily arrived in the prison cells bearing foods that the kitchen servants made her brought for Tori. Upon learning this, Tori immediately knew that those who helped her would face the wrath of Sabina, who was now the official heir apparent. Tori wondered what would be their punishment, but she would deal with it at the right time.
"Lady Tori, I will leave for you to change with this dress. Teresa prepared this secretly. Your room was locked, so we only have clothes for commoners. I know this is not worthy of you, but..." Lily's voice was trembling with sadness. Tori knew that Lily was feeling sorry for her but was just retraining in consideration of her.
A genuine smile made way to her face as she reached beyond the steel bars of her cell. Patting gently the bowing head of Lily, she encouraged Lily. "Lift your head, Lily. I am thankful for this. Tell me, what is happening inside the estate while I'm here?"
Tori saw her hesitant glance before looking down again. "Tell me. I need to know. You know that."
Nodding slowly, Lily told Tori about the happenings inside the Rozenreff Duchy along with the nobles' activities. "Lady Sabina could not attend the entrance exam yesterday. They postponed the entrance exam since the Headmaster had to receive someone of importance."
I know. The wench visited me yesterday. "And?"
"The Duke was on a meeting with Marquess Zoliel and Marchioness Susana the entire day while Lady Sabina spent hers with the Duchess outside the estate. They were busy announcing to the high society what transpired in the Rozenreff Duchy. The rumors spread to the Trifecta Academy even to the commoners, Lady Tori." Worry coated her voice but Tori remained blank in front of Lily.
Walking back to her table where the foods that Lily brought were placed, she took a éclair and ate it as she sat. "What about Marchioness Susana?"
Lily continued, "She's sticking to Lady Sabina as she joined her during breakfast together with the Duke and the Marquess."
So you're singing a different tune now, Marchioness Susana. I look forward to the day that I let you dance to the tune you chose yourself.
"And the royal family?"
I need Corean to stay on his line. I remembered his attitude during the day. I can't let him do that again. Not now. He needs to be the king.
"Prince Lauren and Prince Corean did not leave the premises of the academy, Lady Tori."
"I will have to change, Lily. Please be with Rowan for the moment." Finishing the éclair, Tori served herself her favorite chamomile tea. Glancing at the folded commoner's dress, Tori did not mind using it. Finishing her splendid breakfast inside the cell, Tori took the dress and changed for herself with no handmaiden helping her at all. It was not that hard for Tori since the commoners' dresses did not have the added fancy designs like nobles' dresses.
Tori's golden ringlets flowed freely with no jewel pins or ribbons. Her ears were bare from any pearls and jewels. They adorned her neck with the necklace that Lady M gave her. Tori felt light oddly enough.
A knock stopped Tori from her train of thoughts. "Come in."
Stepping inside the room, a dashing Rowan came inside. Gone was the baggy knight uniform from the Rozenreff Duchy. Tori smiled wickedly upon realizing the sigil he's wearing. It's the Castaña Duchy's coat of arms.
"I did not know that the Duke is quick. You're now wearing the coat of arms." Tori leaned towards Rowan who was just smiling beyond the steel bars as she touched the sigil of his Duchy on his right chest.
Grasping her hand, Rowan's eyes met hers with just the steel bars separating them. "I present myself to you, Lady Victoria Rozenreff, as your knight and the official heir apparent to the Castaña Dukedom. With this title, I swear to protect you and the endeavors you will take. I will be your sword and shield against anyone who wished and will wish you harm." Without losing eye contact, Rowan brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles gently.
You will be more than my sword and shield, Rowan. You will help me secure my life.
Smiling slyly, Tori replied with her wickedly sweet voice. "Take me to the courthouse, my kind sir. We have a trial to trash."
Gone was the anxious shadow that always loomed Rowan's eyes but was replaced with confidence that only people with power could have. Walking by his side towards the exit of the prison cell, Tori steeled herself before facing the commoners waiting for her outside.
"Don't worry, I will protect you." Rowan knew what those commoners were capable of since he was once a part of that crowd before Tori helped him. Those people enjoyed seeing a noble suffer.
Shaking her, Tori walked before him and straight outside the prison doors with her head held high. Caught off guard, Rowan was a minute too late. And when he dashed outside to protect her, fruits and eggs were being thrown towards Tori.
"Lady Tori! Knights, secure them! Lady Tori!" Rowan dashed to cover her form, but her calm face did not show any distress that a normal noble would feel because of the humiliation.
The knights that Rowan stationed gave a brief reprieve for her since the thrown things only hit her feet at most. With Rowan covering her mostly, the knights barricade the restless crowd as Tori never stopped walking towards the waiting carriage.
Such a petty thing to do. Look at my face peasants and never forget that the girl you condemn today will be the queen you will bow to in the future. For I will never forget this as long as I live.
Glancing up at the sky before she would go inside the carriage. Aah, what an auspicious day it is.