Kapitel 25

Archduke Albert's Loyalty

A guard opened the gates to the Amalienborg Palace to let the King of Prussia and his entourage in. Catherine rose to her feet upon the sight of the young Emperor and rushed over to meet them.

Hadrian stopped his horse with a grimace on his face, she immediately saw the red blotch on his shoulder. His would had reopened due to the strain of the several hours long horse ride. His expression told Catherine that his wound is hurting, she helped him as his struggled to dismount his horse.

'Your Majesty!' Anton called, running to his master. 'Your wound!'

'Let us take him to the doctor, hurry!' Catherine called the guards as they rushed to her. She looked at Henrik approaching them to greet Wilhelm. The guards carried Hadrian to the room King Henrik lent him and Catherine went with them.

'I'm fine,' Hadrian answered as they helped him sit on the bed.

'How can you be fine?!' Catherine asked. 'You're bleeding!'

'Your Majesty, please.' Anton pleaded. 'You must rest…'

'No, I must be present at the meeting between Uncle and King Henrik.' Hadrian answered. 'I just need a new bandage for my shoulder, that's all.' He insisted and looked at the doctor asking for the same thing he said. Catherine just stood, she did not want him to go to meet with her grandfather and he would rather have him rest and let his wound be healed.

'There's no reason for you to be there, Hadrian.' Catherine said. 'This is a dispute between King Wilhelm and my grandfather. You have done your part by bringing King Wilhelm here; so, please, rest.'

Hadrian looked at Catherine's concerned face. He was taken back to the time when he was poisoned. She is wearing the expression as she did back then. He lowered his head and remembered that he promised that he would never worry her again.

'Alright.' Hadrian answered. 'I'll rest. I'm sorry.'

Catherine nodded and helped him tuck in his bed. She smiled at him for abiding their requests as the doctor came in to treat his wound.

King Wilhelm sat in front of King Henrik's table. They talked for several hours since Wilhelm arrived, but the negotiations have not gone anywhere near a consensus.

'You yourself have agreed to the deal, King Henrik.' Wilhelm said, his eyebrow twitching in annoyance. 'We have sent you several warnings against keeping Valdemar within your borders but instead you made him the Duke! Now you intend to break the deal further by letting a Princess of your own House to marry a criminal?'

'As far as I am concerned, she is my granddaughter. Not yours.' Henrik answered blatantly. Wilhelm was taken aback. It was true about what he heard about the King's stubbornness. And it was clear to him that the Danish King is asking for war. But the odds are against him. Wilhelm sat straight, looking calm as ever.

'Are you sure you want to cross this line, King Henrik?' Wilhelm asked, smoking his pipe. 'If you are willing, all you have to do is raise your voice. My men are aching to move in the border.' Henrik's eyes widened and but he couldn't let his fear get the better of him.

'I will not let an Austrian, let alone a Catholic, to take my granddaughter!' Henrik shouted.

Albert narrowed his eyes and started to become cautious. The King's words towards his monarch are threatening, his hands tried to find their way to the hilt of his sword, but he looked around and saw guards of both Kings around him.

He is outnumbered.

And any wrong move could get him either arrested or worse, killed. He sighed inwardly, there is nothing he could do now; all he could do is listen and take in as much information as possible and relay it to his injured monarch. He breathed again and struggled to keep his calm. He looked at King Wilhelm and was amazed that the younger King was still calm despite the elder becoming more and more agitated.

'So that's the issue here.' Wilhelm answered. 'His faith. If that is so much of an issue, why did you agree to the truce?'

Henrik was silent. He did not know what to answer. He finally remembers that it was a decision he made when his granddaughter was not born yet. But then he grew to love her more than any of his other granddaughters and even while her parents agreed her to marry into the Austrian Imperial Family, he never wanted Catherine to be wed to the Austrian ruler. Although he admitted his mistake in choosing Valdemar as Catherine's betrothed and he rather choose another Protestant to wed Catherine rather than have her convert.

'I agreed because I didn't have a choice.'

'Then now, I have no choice either.' Wilhelm answered and stood up. 'This negotiation is-'

'Wait!' Catherine shouted and barges in the door. 'Forgive me, Your Majesty,' she curtseyed at Wilhelm and looked at her grandfather. 'This matter includes that of my future, and I believe I have to have my voice be heard.' Wilhelm smiled at her and sat back. Henrik, on the other hand, was surprised at his granddaughter's move.

'You cannot speak in this negotiation, Catherine!' Henrik cried and the door flung open again.

'I believe she has the right.' Hadrian said, walking towards them. The people inside the room were in surprised to see him, but he went there to join in the debate, even after Catherine told him that he already did his job. 'As a person concerned, she has every right. Don't you think, King Wilhelm?'

'I cannot speak on that matter since my decision on that could be shrugged off as biased and selfish.' The Prussian King said. Henrik only looked at Wilhelm trying to read why Wilhelm said so, but Hadrian was expecting his uncle's decision.

'Very well said, Uncle.' Hadrian answered. 'I think King Henrik should take a witness, an unbiased witness. One who is not affiliated with any of our three countries. Let him be the judge of this negotiations.'

Henrik paused in thought. Hadrian has a point, and with that, he ordered his men to summon such a person Hadrian described.

'Very well. I shall search for a person of your description.' Henrik answered. 'This negotiation will continue tomorrow.' He stood up followed by King Wilhelm and asked his men to show the Prussians to their rooms.

'And you, Your Majesty.' Henrik said, looking at Hadrian. 'Do you intend to invoke your rank in this matter?'

'Oh? Isn't my rank already invoked?' Hadrian answered, surprising the King. 'I believe I have every right for my voice to be heard, just as Catherine has. And besides, I cannot get rid of my rank no matter where I go, King Henrik.'

Henrik was taken a back with those words. True enough, Hadrian's well in the top of the hierarchy. And among the royals of Europe, he is one of the men that holds the highest position. He is a man that Europe looked down upon and he is the man who proved them wrong with the Battle for Carinthia. The Swiss Mercenaries' defeat spread like wildfire across the continent which told Henrik one thing: Hadrian himself is a force to be reckoned with. Henrik took a deep breath and looked at Hadrian in the eyes.

'Very well, Emperor.' Henrik said and walked away.

Catherine looked angrily at Hadrian and stomped over to him. She was close to tears when she looked directly at him.

'What were you thinking? I thought I told you to stay in your room and rest?' Catherine said in a calm manner, but her aura is giving off a vibe that raised Hadrian's hairs on end. He raked his head for anything to say to her, but nothing would come into his mind. He inwardly thought that she is going to nag at him for doing exactly the opposite of what she asked him to do.

'Why are you here, Your Majesty?' she asked him calmly. 'Shouldn't you be resting?'

'I'm sorry,' Hadrian said. 'I'll go back to my room now.'

'Let me help you.' She said again. She knew he was still hurting from the expression in his face. She knew he was trying to hold back his grimace. She held his arm gently as if leading him back to his room and saw to it that he is tucked in the bed herself.

'I'm sorry Catherine.' Hadrian said, looking at her. She looked back at him and sat on a chair beside the bed.

'Thank you for being here, Hadrian.' Catherine said. Hadrian raised an eyebrow, he thought that Catherine is angry at him for not following her request, but it seems it is not the case. She just sat beside him quietly. 'I would not have the strength to speak up if you are not here.'

'It was your strength alone, Catherine.' Hadrian smiled and put his hand on hers. She looked at him. 'Although I was surprised that you were not angry at me.'

'I was, but…I could not speak another word if you did not come. You are my strength, Hadrian.' Catherine said, surprising Hadrian. She rose from her chair and sat beside him on the bed, she leaned her head on his uninjured shoulder. Doing so made her feel rested and relaxed, she was ever so thankful that Hadrian came for her and she saw how much and how far he was willing to go if it is for her; and the same goes for her.

'Catherine?' Hadrian murmured, looking at her. 'Is anything wrong?' Catherine looked up at him and shook her head.

'I just want to be here.' Catherine answered and leaned back on his shoulder. 'I'm really happy that you're here.' Hadrian's lips curved up into a pleasant smile and let her lean on him.

'I am too.' Hadrian answered. They both stayed there until it was late in the evening and Catherine grew sleepy. They did not want to cause another uproar by having the Princess sleep in Hadrian's room with him.

Albert walked outside the palace and looked at the sun just beginning to set despite the hour being late. He looked at the hilt of his sword and sighed heavily, looking up again at the twilight sky.

'So, this is Denmark's never-ending twilight…' Albert said, a small smile forming in his lips and he sits down on the bench in the garden. He looked up again and thought that he wanted to show Anya the sky; with that, he decided to bring her there when he has time. 'She'd love it here.' He sighed once again and his mind drifted to the time when he interrogated Alexia in her cell, and one of the subjects stayed in his mind.

'I am not the only one that wanted to take out the Emperor, am I?' he recalled her asking him, catching him off guard. 'I know you are playing mole, Archduke.'

'I have no idea what you're saying.' Albert answered and stood up.

'What? Is my interrogation over?' Alexia asked, smirking at Albert's back. 'You know what I'm saying, Albert. You are just the same as Edmond.'

Albert stopped walking and wondered the same thing himself. Was he doing the same as Edmond did? All his life he has been looking after his younger cousin as if he were his younger, but distant, brother. Albert clenched his fists.

He is not after the throne of Austria.

And he is different from those people who are plotting against the monarchy.

'I am not the same as you,' Albert said, not looking at her. 'I am not as blinded by power, Alexia. And I will make sure I will never end up like you or my brother.'

'I wonder about that.' Alexia said smugly at him. 'You could never be sure about that, Albert.' Albert ignored her completely as he walked out of the cell, leaving her.

He gritted his teeth and clenched his fist as he looked at the twilight sky above the Amalienborg Palace. He leaned back and raised his head, extending his neck until all he could see is the sky.

'My loyalty lies not with the throne.' He muttered, closing his eyes and remembering when he and Hadrian met for the first time. 'And definitely not with the Empire. My loyalty is with my monarch, my only lord; Josef Hadrian, Emperor of Austria!'

'Your Highness?' Anton called, standing close to the Archduke. 'Is there something the matter?'

'Ah, Anton.' Albert said, trying to hide the fact that his heart almost jumped from his mouth. 'It's late, what are you doing out at this time?'

'I was preparing His Majesty's tea,' Anton said. 'Since he started drinking this, he said he felt better.'

'I see,' Albert sighed with relief. 'That's good to hear.'

Anton looked at Albert and scrutinized him. To him, it seemed impossible that Albert would be part of the plot to overthrow the monarchy in Austria, he had watched the Archduke around Hadrian since they were young, and he saw that even though the Archduke is given the order of guarding the Crown Prince's life as the late Emperor ordered him to do. And he did so unconditionally. He lowered his head and wondered how is that even possible? He could not think of a reason why. Whenever he looked back at Albert and Hadrian's youth, the two had been close as brothers would.

'So why would he...' Anton muttered, surprising Albert who looked at him.

'Anton? Is everything alright?' Albert asked again. 'You have been spacing out.'

'I'm alright, Your Highness.' Anton answered. 'Your Highness, how do you see His Majesty? Aside from being our Emperor?'

'He's my cousin.' Albert answered flatly.

'No, I mean, it is obvious.' Anton blurted. 'Your Highness…!' he called in a high pitch tone when he knew that Albert was teasing him.

'I'm sorry, of course I know what you are trying to ask me.' Albert answered chuckling. 'Well, given that he is my superior and I am his underling. As such, I am to serve him without restraints.'

'I see.' Anton said.

'Why did you ask me about that, Anton?' The Archduke asked, making Anton realize his -almost- blunder.

'Ah, well…' Anton began, not knowing how to respond to Albert's question. He looked at him as the young man patiently waited for an answer. He did not want Albert to feel that he is doubting his loyalty to Hadrian, but when he asked the question, it sounded like skepticism.

'Anton.' Albert called while the butler was raking his mind. 'Hadrian is like my brother. I have been with him longer than I did with my family, so if you ask me how I see him? I see him as my little brother.'

'So, it's not a question about serving him?' Anton asked again as the younger man nodded in confirmation. Anton smiled slightly and looked at the Archduke. 'So that's where your loyalty lies, Your Highness.' He thought.