The discussion moved towards the issue of our course of action thereafter.
“Now, Advent. Initially, I was planning for you to act as a spy for our cause, pretending to still be under Julio’s control – naturally, in that scheme, we would have both acted as though Julio’s plan to control me had been successful.”
My blood ran cold. While it was true that letting Julio think that everything had gone according to his plan would be the most effective way to take him off guard, the thought of subordinating myself to that man again, pretended or not, was distasteful in the extreme.
“However, having heard your story, I can’t in good conscience ask you to do that. So let’s toss that idea out.”
I sighed in relief. Rosalind smiled and stroked my head.
“Don’t worry. I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
I nodded thankfully.
“Well, that does, however, leave the question of how we should move from now on. Advent, what can you tell us about his plans?”
Although Julio never actively shared his plans with me – a puppet had no need to learn the intent of her puppeteer – he had sent me on various disconnected missions. If I could identify a pattern within my duties, it should be a simple matter to deduce his intent. I closed my eyes and recalled the numerous miscellaneous missions I had been sent on in the last few months. Drawing links, finding patterns. I found the ends of some threads of conspiracy. I grabbed hold of them and traced them further, expanding the range of my recall further, into my activities over the last two years. A pattern started to emerge.
“…Two years ago, I was instructed to deliver a missive to a man in a city close to the wall. The matter was conducted with great secrecy – I met him in a nondescript tavern, both of our faces covered by cloaks. We didn’t speak a word – I only slid the missive into his pocket as I left, as I had been instructed. One year ago, I was instructed to meet a man in one of the cities close to the Capital. Based on his build and height, he was the same man I had met in the tavern. My instructions for that task were to deliver funds to him, as well as to provide him with instructions from Julio. Some time later, I was ordered to kill various individuals in high positions within the military, making it look like the work of bandits. They were then replaced with people who received Julio’s endorsement. More recently, I was instructed to oversee the provision of weapons and supplies to specific civilians in the nearby cities.
I stopped talking and glanced at Rosalind to see if she had reached the same conclusion that I had. Her brow was furrowed in displeasure.
“As I thought, he’s planning a coup. And it’s going to be soon.”
I nodded. Julio had always been jealous of his brother’s crown – even though he held nearly equivalent power within the country, practically speaking. It was no surprise that he was planning to steal said crown away. I found the idea hard to understand – why go to so much trouble to get a position that wasn’t all that much higher than your own? Perhaps it was just a notion known only to those born to royalty. Leaving me to my ruminations, Rosalind had lapsed into thinking out loud, speaking as much for her own benefit as for mine.
“I suspected as much when I saw his budgeting and his proposals to cut military spending, but to think he’d been preparing for two years… Advent, can you give me a rough timeline of when he’ll make a move?”
“I don’t know an exact timeline, but based on what I’ve seen and done, I believe Julio intends to begin the coup before the end of next year.”
“How far along are his preparations?”
“He has his followers in position, but he’s still working to increase the size and strength of his forces. The men he placed in commanding positions in the army are still working to gain the trust and loyalty of their subordinates.”
“So he’s still not quite ready, but will be soon…”
Rosalind bit her lip and paced about, deep in thought. After a few rounds of these, she abruptly came to a stop, seemingly having made her decision.
“There’s no other way. We need to consolidate our power and force his hand.”
Rosalind’s atmosphere changed all of a sudden. Up to this point, she had been gentle and kind, mild in disposition and radiating a sense of serenity. Now she suddenly took on an air of authority, dignity filling her every word and action. She was Empress Rosalind Kronschild, and she would have the world know it. She began to speak in a tone charged with authority.
“Glint. Approach the anti-Julio nobles and arrange for me to meet them. Phrase it as an invitation to their wives for tea in my parlour, but also make it clear that they themselves are expected to be in attendance.”
Glint bowed courteously, accepting his orders. Rosalind turned to me and locked eyes with me, allowing me to see the conviction burning therein.
“Advent, daughter of Cain. I ask of you now: will you swear an oath of loyalty to me and only me? To your Empress?”
My answer was immediate. It required no thought. I had already decided to dedicate my life to the woman who had allowed me to break free from Julio’s scornful fetters. However, Rosalind didn’t seem content to stop there.
“Are you certain? This oath is not to be taken lightly. In my service, you may have to do things you find distasteful. You may have to commit sins beyond measure. If I ask you to die, I expect you to do it.”
“It matters not. If it would serve you, my benefactor, I would gladly die a thousand times over.”
“Then swear it. Kneel by my feet and give me your oath.”
Solemnly, I stood up and walked in front of Rosalind. I knelt down on one knee in front of her and inclined my head.
“I solemnly vow to place myself ever at your disposal, to serve only you. If you ask me to kill, I shall kill. If you ask me to die, I shall die. I hereby devote myself wholly to you. My life is at your service.”
“I accept your vow, and I, in return, vow to do everything I can to ensure that it will never come to that.”
Rosalind extended the back of her hand to me. I respectfully took it in both hands and lightly kissed it. The ceremony of knighthood.
“By the authority vested in me as the Empress of this land, I hereby bestow upon you a new name. Henceforth you will be known as Advent Whiterose. Rise, Advent. Return to your old master and declare your new allegiance.”