What surprised him was that an ambassador from every country on the continent was present. Not only were they attending, but many of them were acting oddly. The Loire ambassador was all smiles; the Sole representative laughed too loud, as if he was nervous; and the Verglas ambassador looked terrified.

“I don’t understand,” the ambassador of Kozlovka said when the Loire ambassador joined him in the corner he sulked in. “Why do you bow to these royals? Surely your own estates are more luxurious than this,” he said, his mouth twisting with disdain.

The Loire ambassador blinked. “Pardon?”

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The ambassador of Kozlovka gestured to the pretty but plain ballroom. “This place is not at all grand. It’s a small, backwater country worth little or no notice. Why do you play attendant to the royals?”

“I hope that they will give a favorable report to the Black Court, of course,” the Loire ambassador said.

“The what?”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?”

The Loire ambassador shook his head. “I do this because our countries have been allies for some time. This way,” he said, plunging into the crowds.

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The ambassador of Kozlovka followed the Loire ambassador through the crowds, until they reached the far side of the room. “There,” the Loire ambassador said.

The corner of the room was occupied by Prince Falk, the head of the Agriculture Department, and his wife of one year, Princess Elise, the chief of the Treasury Department. Prince Falk was the second youngest of the seven princes of Arcainia. Princess Elise was more widely known for the fact that she possessed a natural magic. It had been considered ‘Shocking News’ at the time of their marriage, but the ambassador of Kozlovka hadn’t taken much note of it as the ‘Shocking News’ came from a small, unimportant country.

“That is Prince Falk and Princess Elise—what of them?” the ambassador of Kozlovka asked as he watched the pair.

Attendants danced around the prince and princess, and courtiers and ambassadors vied for the pair’s attention. The royal couple seemed utterly entranced with each other, though, exchanging smiles and sharing quiet laughter.

“They are the Black Court,” the Loire ambassador said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Prince Falk manages Arcainia’s agriculture industry which, in spite of being one of the smallest countries on the continent, is the largest exporter of crops and foods. Princess Elise manages the country’s purse strings. Not a coin enters or leaves the country without her knowledge. Being that they export everything from fish to crops to meat, and they are one of the few countries that can grow winter crops like radishes, carrots, and winter wheat, as a result their trading business is booming. Every continent on the country has some sort of dealings with them, whether it be agricultural or financial,” the Loire ambassador said. “If you anger one of them, you will find your country cut off from their exports, trade routes, and treasury services. If you make a good impression on them, they will be merciful to your country and keep prices low even though they have a monopoly on a large amount of goods.”

“That cannot be. If they are so powerful, the country must be rich. Why, then, is everything so plain?” The ambassador of Kozlovka said.

The Loire ambassador shrugged. “To save money, Princess Elise imposes strict rules on the family’s conduct. They don’t seem to mind; they would rather hoard or invest their wealth than live in luxury, or so Princess Elise said.”

The ambassador of Kozlovka stared at the royal pair.

Prince Falk said something and kissed Princess Elise’s forehead, drawing a blush from the curly-haired princess.

“Prince Steffen will one day become King, and Princess Gabrielle the Queen, but it’s these two who run the majority of trade. They are the merchant monarchs of the continent,” the Loire ambassador said.

“Aunt Elise!” a gold-haired toddler shrieked as she skirted through the crowd around Prince Falk and Princess Elise. “Hide,” the toddler said, diving behind Elise’s skirts.

Seconds later, Prince Rune strolled past. “Hmm, I thought I saw her go this way. Where is she? Oh Princess Ria, where are you?” Prince Rune asked, winking at Princess Elise as he crept closer to her.

Those surrounding Prince Falk and Princess Elise backed up to watch the family spectacle.

“I don’t know, Rune. I haven’t seen her,” Princess Elise said.

“That’s too bad. I should move on, unless she’s here,” Prince Rune said, darting around Princess Elise to scoop up the giggling toddler.

The princess shrieked as Prince Rune tickled her tummy.

“Practicing for the future?” Prince Falk asked, his hand resting on his wife’s waist.

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