"I thought they were a normal merchant’s caravan," the princess said, sighing.
"In deserted places like that, a normal caravan can easily turn into bandits, as long as there is a good enough motive."
"I know now."
"How did you end up in the Country of Mercenaries?" Anfey asked, switching the topic.
"I thought I would at least deserve a satisfying marriage, after everything I've done." A smile bloomed on the princess’s face, but her eyes were cold. "I objected, but it was to no avail. So there I was."
"After you were captured by Ahab?"
"I couldn’t tell them who I was. Isis was afraid they would hurt me, so she told them who I was. Thank god Ahab wasn’t there, or else he would have either killed me or sent me to the Tiger of Tawau mercenaries."
Anfey nodded. He knew how these things go. If Ahab had truly believed she was a princess, he would have given her to the Tiger of Tawau mercenaries as a gift. After Ahab had tortured and humiliated her companions, he might have killed her to avoid her rage. Then he would have covered up what he did, and the missing princess would remain a mystery forever.
"Why did you believe me?" The princess asked, staring at Anfey.
"You didn’t have a reason to lie, did you?" Anfey asked. Of course, he couldn’t tell her the real reason.
"You’re a strange one."
"Why do you say that?"
"Normal people would react to what I just told you. They would be angry at the merchants, or pity me and Isis. You, though, you’re calm. You don’t look like a young man."
"Maybe it’s because I can understand you," Anfey said quietly.
"You know my secret now. What are you going to do? Can you tell me?"
"If I take you to the Tiger of Tawau mercenary group, I would make some good friends with powerful people," Anfey said.
"Of course. No wonder you can understand. You’re like my father. You value your interests more than anything else." The princess smiled, but the light in her eyes dimmed.
"Has anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful when you curse?" Anfey said, unmoved by her words.
"The princess of Shansa Empire, trying to escape a marriage. A princess turned into a slave. It would be a great scandal once it gets out. Have you thought about the fact that you may not make any friends?"
"Really?" Anfey asked, lifting a brow.
"If my father was in charge, he would kill you, all of you. And you have to realize my father alone would dictate to the mercenaries."
Anfey looked at the princess, and the smile fell from his face. He was concerned for this very reason, and wasn’t planning on giving the princess to the mercenaries. It wasn’t a surprise that he had realized this, but the princess did too. She had already impressed him.
"The first time I saw you, you were so calm. It is very hard to remain calm in a situation like that. I just thought you were good at enduring that kind of thing. I did not know you were this brilliant. Why didn’t you try to escape? Ahab was about as smart as rock compared to you."
"For a defenseless woman, a woman who was treated like a toy and not a person, what would you have wanted me to do? Beg? Cry? Struggle? Curse? Submit?" The princess looked at Anfey, shaking her head. "Do you think any of those would work?"
"Makes sense. But sometimes violence is the only answer."
"You just said I was brilliant?" The princess’s eyes suddenly lit up. "You aren’t sending me to the mercenaries? Because you know it’s likely they wouldn’t treat you well."
"Where do you want to go?" Anfey asked. He shifted the topic, and did not confirm or deny her words.
"I want to stay here."
"With your mercenary group."
"I don’t understand. If you choose to go to the Tiger of Tawau mercenary group, at least you can enjoy a life of luxury. You don’t have to worry about your next meal or your health. What's the point of staying with us? I'm going to be honest with you. My mercenary group is brand new. There are less than twenty people in it."
"I've always lived for other people. From now on I want to live for myself. I decided that when I ran away."
"You think you can get what you want with us?"
"I can try. You saved me. I trust you."
"Adventurous," Anfey said as he stood up. "It doesn’t matter what you want to do. You have to eat. Destroying your own body does nothing."
"Can’t you answer me now?" the princess asked calmly. Anfey’s tactic of shifting the topic did not work.
"I need time to think about it," Anfey said. "Go eat and rest."
"Alright," the princess replied quietly.
"By the way, I do not know your name," Anfey turned around and said.
"Don’t worry about the old one. Give me a new name."
"Let me think about that as well."
"You need time to think about a name?" the princess asked and she smiled.
"Of course," Anfey said. He stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him. Blavi was standing at the end of the hall, grinning at him. Anfey glared at him, and Blavi reassumed his post.
Anfey sighed. He had taken quite some time speaking with the princess. Who knew what kind of rumors would circulate in the group tomorrow?
As usual, the magical surges from Anfey’s room could be felt throughout the hotel. What surprised those who felt them was that they were no longer just fire elements. There were surges for every element. Plus, an apprentice's surges would not be this strong. Anfey’s magic had grown, but it was still somewhere between an apprentice and a junior mage. This was impossible. However, no one wanted to ask him, so everyone decided to just observe in secret.
Anfey woke up at dawn. The two girls who were already waiting outside and observing him through the crack pushed open the door and walked inside. They were commoners and did not have money or power. They weren’t beautiful either, which made them self-conscious. This was the only way they could repay his kindness.
Anfey hesitated but did not turn them away. He finished dressing and cleaning himself with their help. Christian and Suzanna walked into the room together.
"Christian, just on time. Tell me about yesterday."
"It’s done. Our group was lauded by the Mercenaries Union."
Christian nodded. He turned to the two girls and said, "Pardon me, can you leave us for a moment? We have some important things to discuss."
"Yes, Lord Christian," the girls said. They bowed and left the room.
"Anfey, we have to crack down on our policies," Christian said. "You know. We’re all young, and sometimes young people are hard to control. The girls were grateful that we saved them, then…"
"They hooked up?" Anfey asked. "Something like that is hard to control. As long as the girls are willing, I mean."
"It is hard. We need the leader to set an example for everyone else," Suzanna said quietly.
"Set an example? Suzanna, you're acting strange. If you like me and don't want to see me do things like that, you can just tell me. You don’t need to say something like that." Anfey looked at Suzanna, amused.
"Shut up," Suzanna said, blushing. "What were you doing last night?"
"You said the woman wasn’t speaking or eating, so I went and talked to her," Anfey said, feeling as if he was telling his wife about his day in detail.
"Our leader is so charming that she has returned to normal. Congrats, Anfey, you don’t have to worry anymore."
"Keep an eye on her, though," Anfey reminded them.
"She really is the Shansa princess."
Christian and Suzanna widened their eyes. One of them knew about the plan, and the other was actively involved in it. They both knew the details. Learning that the target was among them came as a huge surprise.
"Anfey, what are we going to do? Kill her?"
"No, there’s no need for that," Anfey said slowly. "We can wait until after the wedding to reveal her and cause a scandal. But it seems like she wants to forget about her past. She may not cooperate."
"When have you ever thought about other people’s feelings when you decide to do something?" Suzanna asked. "I don’t think this would be an exception."
"Give me some time and let me think about it," Anfey said and smiled bitterly.