Again, Victor showed no remorse. His answer was simple. "Natalie made that decision."
"Can you say that about everyone you used to meet your ends? Guardian Belikov and Miss Hathaway had no say in what you made them do."
Victor chuckled. "Well, that's a matter of opinion. I honestly don't think they minded. But if you have time after this case, Your Honor, you might want to consider trying a statutory rape case."
I froze. He'd done it. He'd really done it. I expected everyone in the room to turn and point at Dimitri and me. No one even looked in our direction, though. Most people were giving Victor appalled looks. I realized that was exactly what Victor had known would happen. He just wanted to tease us; he didn't actually expect anyone to take him seriously. Lissa's feelings through the bond confirmed as much. She felt like Victor was trying to shift attention off of himself by making up stories about Dimitri and me. She was horrified that Victor would stoop so low.
The judge was too, and she chastised Victor for getting off topic. By that point, most of the questioning was done. The lawyers wrapped up, and it was time for the queen to deliver her verdict. I held my breath again, wondering what she would do. He hadn't denied any of the charges. The evidence was overwhelming, thanks to my friends' testimonies, but as even Victor had pointed out, there was a lot of corruption among royals. The queen could very well decide that she didn't want the scandal involved with imprisoning someone so well known. Even if no one knew the details, his imprisonment would start a buzz. Maybe she didn't want to deal with that. Maybe Victor had bought her off too.
But in the end, she found Victor guilty and sentenced him to life in prison - a different prison, not the one at Court. I'd heard stories about Moroi prisons, and they were terrible places. I suspected his new home would be very different from the cell we'd found him in. Victor remained calm and amused throughout it all, just as he had yesterday. I didn't like that. The conversation I'd had with him made me think he wasn't going to accept this as serenely as he pretended. I hoped they'd watch him closely.
A gesture from the queen ended formalities. The rest of us stood up and began talking while she surveyed the room with a sharp eye, probably taking notes. Victor's escort started to lead him out. He passed by us again. This time, he stopped and spoke.
"Vasilisa, I trust you've been well."
She didn't answer. She still hated and feared him, but with this verdict, she finally believed he could no longer hurt her. It was like the end of a chapter she'd been stuck in for months. She could finally move on and hopefully let those horrible memories fade.
"I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk, but I'm sure we will next time," he added.
"Come on," said one of the guardians with him. They led him away.
"He's crazy," muttered Lissa once he was gone. "I can't believe he said that stuff about you and Dimitri."
Dimitri was standing behind her. I looked up and met his eyes as he moved past us. His relief mirrored my own. We'd danced with danger today - and we'd won.
Christian came up to her and hugged her, holding her for a long time. I watched them fondly, surprised at my own kind feelings for them. When a hand touched my arm, I jumped. It was Adrian.
"You okay, little dhampir?" he asked softly. "Dashkov said a few ... uh ... suggestive things."
I stepped closer, keeping my voice low as well. "No one believed him. I think it's okay. Thanks for asking, though."
He smiled and tapped my nose. "Two thank-yous in as many days. I don't suppose I'll get to see any, uh, special gratitude?"
I scoffed. "Nope. You'll just have to imagine it."
He gave me a half-hug and released me. "Fair enough. But I have a good imagination."
We started to leave, and then Priscilla Voda hurried over to Lissa. "The queen would like to meet with you before you leave. In private."
I glanced over to the raised chair where the queen sat. Her gaze was fixed on us, and I wondered what this could be about.
"Sure," said Lissa, as confused as I was. To me, she sent through the bond: Will you listen again?
I gave her a quick nod before Priscilla spirited her off. I returned to my room, tuning in to Lissa while I packed my things up. It took a little while because Tatiana had to finish a few courtroom formalities, but she finally arrived in the same room as yesterday. Lissa and Priscilla bowed as she entered and waited for the queen to sit.
Tatiana made herself comfortable. "Vasilisa, you need to be in the air soon, so I'll make this brief. I would like to make an offer to you."
"What kind of an offer, Your Majesty?"
"You'll need to go to college soon." She spoke like it was a done deal. And yeah, Lissa did plan on going to college, but I didn't like the presumption. "I understand you're dissatisfied with your choices."
"Well...it's not that I'm dissatisfied, exactly. It's just, all the places Moroi are supposed to go are small. I mean, I understand it's for safety, but I don't know. I'd like to go somewhere bigger. Somewhere prestigious." Guardians monitored a handful of select colleges in the country so that Moroi could safely attend them. As Lissa had noted, though, they tended to be smaller schools.
Tatiana nodded impatiently, like she already knew this. "I'm going to give you an opportunity that no one else has ever been given, to my knowledge. After graduation, I would like you to come live here, at the Royal Court. You have no family, and I think you'd benefit from learning politics right in the heart of our government. Along with this, we would make arrangements for you to attend Lehigh University. It's less than an hour from here. Have you heard of it?"
Lissa nodded. I'd never heard of it, but she was enough of a nerd to have researched every college in the U.S. "It's a good school, Your Majesty. But... still small."
"It's bigger than the ones Moroi usually attend," she pointed out.
"True." In her mind, Lissa was trying to puzzle out what was going on here. Why was Tatiana making this offer? Especially considering how she'd seemed to disagree with Lissa earlier. There was something weird going on here, and she decided to see how far she could push it. "The University of Pennsylvania isn't that far either, Your Majesty."
"That school is enormous, Vasilisa. We couldn't ensure your safety there."
Lissa shrugged. "Well, then it probably doesn't matter if I go to Lehigh or one of the others."
The queen looked shocked. So did Priscilla. They couldn't believe Lissa seemed indifferent to the offer. Truthfully, Lissa wasn't indifferent. Lehigh was a step up from what she'd expected, and she wanted to go. But she also wanted to see how badly the queen wanted her to go.