Realization dawned upon the young blonde.
As quickly as it appeared, it turned to confusion, embarrassment, and finally anger—at herself.
How could she overlook such an obvious plot? Why did she never suspect her father had nefarious reasons for sending her to the castle?
Sure, it seemed like he wanted to get rid of her while bettering his social standing, but he was Jude Heartfilia, and she should've known he wanted more than that.
As they watched her face, they knew where her thoughts were going.
"Lucy," Grandeeney said, "don't you dare blame yourself. If your father made this decision it was out of your hands. Jude's actions are separate from your own."
Lucy raised her gaze to the Queen and smiled in thanks.
"Um, now that I think about it, it does seem like something he would do."
"How sure are you, Lucy?" The King pressed, "This is not a light accusation."
"I-I don't know. I don't think I have any proof other than his personality."
Grandeeney looked at her husband, "Surely he wouldn't do something so cruel without bringing his daughter into the loop."
Suddenly, a light went on in Lucy's head, "Wait a minute, he sent me a letter while Natsu was gone but I never opened it."
Igneel narrowed his eyes at her, "Why wouldn't you open it?"
"My father, Jude, is a very cruel man, I have been aware of that fact for most of my life. I had hoped to reduce my correspondence with him after the wedding." She was good at giving just enough of the truth to satisfy inquiring minds, but not enough to give out all of her secrets.
"Go retrieve it and bring it back with you." Was the King's command. "And don't open it until you are back here with us."
Lucy quickly stood and started toward her and Natsu's room. The halls seemed to never end as her heart began to race. Passing the guards stationed by the doors she avoided their questioning glances. With sweaty hands, she opened the drawer with the crucial document and recovered it for the reigning monarchs.
The journey back, to Lucy's chagrin, felt much faster. Apprehension filled her being as she fought the temptation to tear the paper to shreds. 'How easy would it be to destroy it?' The thoughts toyed with her mind. She approached the grand wooden doors and pressed in, praying for the letter to be no more than a rambling lecture on how to bring honor to the Heartfilia name.
"Ah, here you are," the King greeted. "Did you find the letter?"
Wordlessly, Lucy handed the now damp envelope to her father-in-law.
"Thank you." Igneel studied the exterior, addressed to 'My dearest Lucy'. He broke the thick, wax seal and pulled a yellowish sheet of paper out of it. His eyes began to scan the page, going slowly forward before jumping back to, presumable, re-read the words. No emotion was present upon his face, at least none that Lucy was able to read.
He eventually looked up and cleared his throat.
"What does it say, dear?" Grandeeney asked.
He looked as if he was about to say something when he stopped, sighed, and looked back down at it.
After gazing at it for what felt like hours, he spoke up.
"I would like you two to leave the room." He looked at Natsu and Grandeeney.
"What?! You can't tell me to do that!" Natsu exclaimed. "I'm going to be king in less than two months! You have to tell me what's happening!"
Grandeeney and Igneel exchanged a look, so many thoughts passing to each other through a single glance.
"Natsu, we should listen to your Father on this."
Natsu's mouth fell open. "Seriously, Mom? You're the Queen of Fiore, and you're alright with not knowing this?"
"Natsu," The Queen stood up before her son. "Your father has his reasons for everything he does. I am entirely sure that I will know what I need to know when I need to know it. You learn in marriage to trust your partner—that's what I am going to do."
Natsu was about to argue some more when Grandeeney grabbed his arm rather powerfully and began to drag him towards the door. Even Natsu wasn't crazy enough to outright oppose his own Mother.
Once the heavy doors closed, Igneel handed the paper to Lucy.
"I want you to read this carefully." He instructed.
She looked down at the paper, wanting to gather as much information as possible, and began to read.
My dearest Lucy,
Never in one million years would I have imagined my little girl to grow up into the Queen of this wonderful nation. You were always such a bright child and so much like your Mother. You were the light of my life after she passed away. I miss you here at the Estate daily.
When I first sent you off, I must confess, I did not believe you capable of 'wooing' the Prince. I can with safety say that you have exceeded my expectations. When I first got word that you had been selected so soon I thought it was a great deception. I immediately began to prepare for travel to the capital to see you and make sure you were not being forced. To my delight, I saw you were truly happy with your newfound position.
I would love it if we could write correspondence to one another now that I am so far away from you.
Now that you are married, your husband is to take care of you, but never forget who raised you from birth. I do not want you to abandon our family name now that you are elsewhere.
The Heartfilia family has been an outstanding pillar to Fiore for over 100 years, offering aid and charity during crises. The people have always looked to us for support. Some may even look to us more than the monarchy.
Now I am sure you already know all of this, I just wanted to refresh your memory.
I am wondering what you know about the Sand country? They are a very prosperous nation on the border of Fiore that the King for some reason is averse to. He has not allowed business transactions between our countries.
As supportive as I am of King Igneel, he is actively harming the merchants of our great country. I have exchanged writing with the Emperor of the Sand country, his name is Zeref. He is a very kind man who greatly values his people. He asked me if I would be of assistance in helping ease tensions between our two countries, and I readily agreed. How much money could be brought in through trade with the Sand country? It would have a considerable effect on our economy.
I am writing today to, first of all, check-in on my beloved daughter, and second of all, to ask if you would support our cause. It would be of tremendous help if you agree.
King Igneel's views are old and antiquated, and I fear that his son may follow in his footsteps.
Please respond as quickly as possible so that I may fill you in on our plans.
Be safe, my cherished Lucy.
Your Father, Jude Heartfilia
Lucy was required to read it three times before she could comprehend the meaning of the message.
"What do you think?" Igneel startled her out of her thoughts.
"I think," she paused, "that that man is as mad as a March hare!"
"Would you care to elaborate?"
"Yes," she answered. "He rarely spent time with me when my Mother was alive, and once she passed he would only come to see me if I was in trouble for some arbitrary reason. He abhorred me. He would have me beat like a servant if I held the silverware wrong at dinner. Now he writes to me, pretending that he is some doting Father who loves his daughter when that couldn't be further from the truth!" She said passionately.
"So you do not get along with Jude?"
"No. He never showed an interest in my life until I was brought here. And now he thinks that because I didn't die under his watch I owe him something is completely absurd. I would never scheme with that man to alter this country's regulations and laws."
"That is all I need to know, Lucy. Thank you for your candor."
"I do have one request for you."
"How can I help?"
"Would you be willing to play along with him?" He trod carefully. "He seems to be confident in his plan thus far."
Bile started to rise in her throat. The thought of having to be in contact with that man made her feel physically sick.
Swallowing, she answered with a shaky "Yes."
"Are you certain? I do not want to pressure you into something you are not amenable to. That would make me no worse than your Father."
Lucy nodded, "I will be able to do whatever you need me to do. If this helps prevent the attack on our country then I will do it," she said more confidently.
Igneel accepted this answer and called his wife and son back into the room.
"What's happening?" Natsu asked as he burst into the room. Grandeeney was following closely behind.
"Sit down, Natsu." And so Natsu did.
The King explained the gist of the letter, not wanting to disclose too much information and make the young girl uncomfortable, and began to lay out the plan that Lucy had agreed to.
"You're gonna use Lucy as a spy?" Natsu asked.
"I wouldn't use the word 'spy' per se, but she is going to get information from Jude that may be beneficial for us," Igneel said.
Natsu's eyes held an unrecognizable emotion behind them. "What if she gets caught?"
Igneel scoffed. "She's never going to leave the castle, Natsu. It is all going to be executed through the mail."
"Don't use the word 'execute' in this conversation, Father." Lucy and Grandeeney had to chuckle at that.
"In all seriousness, are you prepared for this?" Grandeeney asked in a motherly fashion.
"Yes. I will do whatever it takes to find out what these people are planning."
"Good, because I do not think it will be easy. I do, on the other hand, think you will able to accomplish this with spectacular results." The praise from the Queen nearly brought tears to Lucy's eyes.
"I think that is enough talk of conspiracy today," Igneel spoke after a moment of silence. "I have some papers to look over and I'm sure you all have much on your minds."
And with that, the conversation was over.
Throughout her life, whether it was when her mother was sick, or when her Father was being cruel, Lucy had always been able to find refuge in books. They opened up a whole new world that would otherwise be impossible to go to. Books could take a dismal day and start you on an exuberant new journey. When people failed, books never would.
That was until Lucy moved to the castle. Even though she still read regularly, the majesty that fairytales had once beheld felt dimmer, like they were covered in a thick layer of dust. Maybe it was because she did not need to escape from the pain of the world anymore. Even still, Lucy was not happy about her haven being taken away.
Sitting on a settee in her room, she stared at the pages, begging for the spark to ignite in her soul. It never came.
Natsu was on the other side of the room watching the girl carefully. She looked discouraged, distraught, and frustrated.
"Would you like to go for a walk around the gardens before lunch?" Natsu asked, hoping to chase the dejected look off of her face.
That was it, Lucy realized. Why would she need to read a fairytale when she was living one? Here she was in a real-life castle, with a real-life Prince, and she was going to make the most of it.
A/N: I'm alive! I know, it's been a while. I''ll spare you guys the details since I always feel awkward reading about strangers' personal issues in author's notes XD That's just me though.
I'm going to try to update more regularly, but don't be disappointed if it takes a while. (you can really tell I'm a pessimist lol)
Thank you all so much for reading! You guys gave me so much motivation for this chapter! If you like it (or if you don't like it), let me know. You can review or PM me and I'll try to get back to you. Have a wonderful week and I'll see y'all next time!