Prime Minister Garrett sat in a cramped guest room in front of a small portable radio-like device, listening to twenty or so of his faction members speak.
“Did the Encelaedeans really do it?”
“Probably. Their chief hates us; he only pretends to be an ally so that we don’t start a war.”
“But the marriage was good for them too.”
“That must’ve been why they didn’t kill Sydney.”
“Well, we can’t really marry Sydney off to that chief’s son anymore, can we? He’d become the new King of Sydurnia.”
“Cindy’s still alive.”
“Silence,” the Prime Minister said sternly.
“I’ve launched an investigation to find out exactly what happened. Once we know the details, we’ll be able to make a more informed decision.”
The Prime Minister returned to his device. “If it’s true that the Enceladeans killed the royal family, we’ll need to cover it up. If we had rights to their water, we could monopolize it. The steam industry would be ours.”
A faction member piped up. “Why don’t we just launch an offensive and take it by force? We have the justification now.”
“Have you forgotten why we never fought them in the first place? A war effort would endlessly pollute their water sources, ruining the point of gaining rights to their land in the first place.”
“Then how will we cover it up?”
“We’ll blame it on some third party. The Rhean rebels, or something.”
“Do you think the people will believe it?”
“People believe what they want to believe. And Princess Sydney, well, being Princess Sydney, won’t be able to do much about it. Any more questions?”
The faction meeting went silent.
“We’ll meet together at eight-thirty at the faction mansion. Everybody better be there on time.”
20:50, Faction Mansion, Outskirts of Sydurnia
The prime minister sat at the front of a long, wooden table, with his party members lined up based on influence. The mansion was almost as well-decorated as the Royal Palace, featuring impressionist paintings nailed to the walls and bright, electric lamps hanging from the ceiling.
“Are we all in agreement that we will accuse the Rhean rebels of murdering the Royal Family?”
All the faction members nodded and hit their knuckles on their chairs.
“Perfect. When my investigators get back to me, we will concoct a believable story about how the Rheans managed to accomplish such a feat. Sprinkle in some truth, and we’ll have a beautiful lie.” The Prime Minister furrowed his brow.
“But on the off chance that my gut is right, and the Royal Family was killed by some other group, we can just tell people the truth. Either way, our alliance with the Enceladeans will progress unimpeded.”
“Prime Minister!” An exasperated man with a wrinkled suit and messed up collar burst into the room, catching his breath.
The Prime Minister narrowed his eyes. “What is it, Secretary Engel?”
“The investigators said you were right, the Enceladeans didn’t kill the Royal Family.”
The room erupted into chaos, and faction members began shouting questions at the tired secretary.
The Prime Minister smacked the table with a thud, and his faction returned to silence.
“Then who did?”
“We still don’t know, but the investigators examined the water jug, and apparently, it was never poisoned.”
“That’s ridiculous. Are you telling me that eight royals died of some heart attack?”
“The water wasn’t poisoned, but the cup was. Someone placed a thin, transparent layer of poison on the cup’s rim.”
“So how do you know it wasn’t the Enceladeans who did that?”
“The Encelaedeans never touched the cups. They were handled by the royal court. We’re trying to track down the female attendant who brought the cups out, but she’s disappeared.”
“She can’t have been working alone. Who hired her?”
“Princess Sydney, sir.”
The Prime Minister stared at his secretary in shock. “Turn the television on, now.”
Secretary Engel nodded. The confused faction members all turned to the wide screen on the wall behind them.
A priest stood next to Princess Sydney and placed a crown on her head. “I hereby proclaim Princess Sydney as the ruler of this country. Long live the Queen!”
The huge crowd, mainly consisting of common Sydurnian workers, clapped enthusiastically.
“Why are there so many commoners at the coronation? Wasn’t it supposed to be reserved for nobles?” a faction member asked.
“Apparently Sydney insisted that it was open to the public.”
Sydney walked up to a small wooden podium to give her first national address as Queen. The crowd’s racket simmered down.
“Fellow Sydurnians, a couple of hours ago, the royal family was murdered.” Sydney’s tone was sorrowful, with a hint of anger.
“They were poisoned by none other than the Enceladeans. The “pure water” that they offered my family was found to contain traces of Icethorn Root, a deadly plant native to the mountains of Enceladus.” A tear shed down Sydney’s face.
“I will not be the Queen who sits silently. Today, I declare war on Enceladus. Sydurnians, we will have our revenge.”
The people cheered. “Long live the Queen! Long live the Queen! Long live the Queen!” Prime Minister Garrett cursed under his breath.
“But the Enceladeans did not work alone. They had the help of Prime Minister Garett and the Democratic Faction. Unlike these corrupt politicians, I wish to be transparent with you all. So I’ve prepared a recording from one of their faction meetings.”
The entire Faction Mansion froze. They’ve always been extra careful about bugs and being spied upon. Princess Sydney having a recording without their knowledge was nearly impossible.
“The wedding will be the perfect opportunity to seize power. Once the royal family’s dead, we can turn Sydney into a puppet Queen and rule from the shadows.” The voice was unmistakable. It was Prime Minister Garrett.
“It’ll be easy to cover up our tracks. After helping them, we can push all the blame onto the Enceladeans. Nobody will believe them if they accuse us.” Sydney ended the recording.
Prime Minister Garrett stood up, fuming. “The recording’s a fake. I don't know how they replicated my voice, but I’m sure I’ve never said that.”
But Sydney’s speech wasn’t done yet. “The Democratic Faction, which boasts of its Sydurnian-elected representatives, has betrayed the people. I have sent our military to arrest every faction member for a fair trial as Sydurnian criminal code dictates.”
Sydney stared straight at the camera. “If they attempt to resist capture, they will face the consequences.”
Prime Minister Garrett shut off the television. He had heard enough. He prepared to leave, but it was already too late. The military had arrived.
Captain Lee and a dozen men in white Sydurnian uniforms ran into the room, with their guns pointed directly at the faction’s faces. Prime Minister Garrett held his hands up in surrender.
“You’re making a mistake,” he said. “If the trial is truly fair, we will be proclaimed innocent, and your little princess will regret doing this.”
“Is this all of you?” Captain Lee asked.
“The judges and attorneys will be on my side. I’ve worked with them for decades. Just wait a week, and we’ll be cleared of any charges you bring against us.”
All twenty-two member faction members were present, along with the Prime Minister. Captain Lee smirked.
“Queen Sydney never makes any mistakes.”
Captain Lee and his men fired. With a bang, the entire Democratic Faction was dead.
Three days earlier, in an undisclosed location in Sydurnia
Captain Lee and Princess Sydney sat in a small, bunker-like room. The only light source was a flickering orange candle on the wall.
“Do you have any questions about the plan, Captain?”
“Why would you spare Cindy?”
“She’ll be useful in the future.”
“But if we’re poisoning the cups, we can just not poison hers. Why go through all the trouble of preventing her from going to the wedding?”
“You remember how I insisted on having the wedding televised?”
Captain Lee nodded.
“People love an underdog story. ‘An eighteen-year-old girl miraculously survives an assassination of the royal family after being forcibly married to their murderers.’ I can already imagine the headlines.”
“But what does that-”
“If Cindy is there, and she also survives, where do you think the spotlight will be?”
Captain Lee finally understood. “The focus will be on her.”
“Bingo. When my face is full of fear and I look at the camera, the people will feel empathy. Not for my sister, not for my family, but for me. In the royal court, I have the reputation of an idiot. But once I’m the Queen, I need to be the symbol of strength and resiliency.”
“What about the General? How do you know he’ll listen?”
“He’s a simple-minded warmonger, in and out. What’s more, he hates Garrett. It’ll be easy to convince him.”
“And if he says no?”
Sydney laughed. “The plan stays the same. You attack the mansion during my speech, and we’ll dispose of General Richard later.”
“You’ve thought it all out, haven’t you, sister?
Princess Sydney stared at Captain Lee with a cold yet fiery gaze.
“It’s what mother would’ve wanted.”