Cecilia met each man's gaze as they took their turns talking, staying completely silent the entire time. Her lips were pressed together, her gaze level, and her hands folded neatly in her lap as they told her of their plans. She realized in that moment that she was completely and utterly unprepared for this. She was not a Queen. She was orphaned at the age of 15, and had spent her entire adult life living in a dungeon. What little her father had taught her might have been handy at fancy parties and public functions, but this was not some jousting tournament or ball. This was real. This was war.
A short burst of panic made her heart race, but she kept her expression stoic despite her mind's protests of what are you doing? Are you out of your mind?
When they finally stopped speaking, she cleared her throat quietly. It took another moment for her to calm her pounding heart. Finally, she spoke, her voice perfectly even. "So you would propose that the next step is a tour of sorts," she said. It made sense. Cromley's fortune, while beneficial, could only take them so far. Just as Monticourt's connections had their limits. They needed her face, her voice, and her cause to get enough of the kingdom behind her to take town Malva. "Gather enough men and influence to have a chance against the Queen." So this was the 'icon' bit that she had Monticourt had discussed the night before.
"I must say now, Lord Cromley, that I am not too fond of the idea of hiring mercenaries," she added sharply. "My father led noble, loyal men who were loyal only to him. The idea of buying an army is one that I am wary of." Her expression was stern. "What's to say that they would not sell our secrets and turn their swords on us at the instruction of a higher bidder? There are many in Alvion who are just as loyal to Malva as they are to me, and would not hesitate to empty their pockets to see her stay in control."
She shook her head. "Everything else is fine, but I'll not put my life in the hands of sellswords." The way that her blue eyes darkened suggested that this was not up for discussion.
"Who are these men that we'll be meeting with?" the princess asked, moving on to the next issue. "And what is it exactly that you need for me to do?"