Finch reached the city gates. It was the middle of the day and they were currently wide open. He ran down the path and out to the fields north of the capital. He should have taken the path that lead right, straight to the castle, but upon seeing the low, grassy plains outside the city, Finch gave into his urge to run around in it for a bit. This would make a terrific sporting area. Imagine the games of territory fight that could be played here!
He ran in the knee high mix of yellow and green grasses until he ran out of breath, then he sat down. Finch thought that Alice would have liked to run here too. He wondered if she had, before leaving. He wondered where she had headed.
Finch stood up again and headed to the castle. There were large double doors right in the centre of the two and a half story building, the third floor currently under construction. The castle doors were also open, and noise was issuing out.
The Solune castle was something of a community centre. Small trade and auctions went on in the foyer, as well as all sorts of gatherings. The room was filled with people, and Finch got a little intimidated. He never really liked crowds. He silently wondered if that would hurt his ability to be a guard.
Finch took a step forward, wading through everyone until he found a wall. Then, jammed against the wall by all the bodies, he sidled over to the nearest door and opened it. He squeezed into a room with two giant chairs on elevated ground. A purple rug ran from one of the chairs down to his feet.
“This is the throne room,” He said to himself, “It looks like it’s empty right now.”
Finch sighed, stepping into the crowd again and heading right along the wall again. He found another door but it was locked, so he kept going. He could hear shouts over the white noise of voices that filled the foyer.
“He’s mad! Who would pay that much for a single shoe?”
“Why is someone auctioning off their shoe?”
Finch turned upon reaching a corner and in a few steps ended up where he started, at front doors.
“I guess I’ll go the other way this time,” He sighed, then kept going.
The next door opened, and he was brought into a large square tower. It had a staircase running along the stone bricked wall, with landings at each corner. There was also a door to his right. He tried the door. Locked. A little frustrated now, Finch marched up the stairs. Now on the second floor, he tried the south facing door. It opened!
Finch found himself in a long stone corridor with doors lining the right side. It reminded him of an inn. At the end, it seemed the hall turned right.
Nervously, Finch began to walk forward, closing the door behind him. He looked around, wondering why there were only a couple doors on the left, but lots on the right. As he walked, someone came around the corner ahead. Finch flinched; he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to be here.
The person who found him wasn’t a guard at all. She was a young woman, very tall with broader hips and shoulders, and blonde hair that ran down past her back in great curls. The woman wore a light blue shirt and grey pants with a white braided ribbon for a belt. Finch noticed that she had no shoes. Her toenails were talon like. The woman was carrying a thick book.
“Ah,” She exhaled, “Where did, ah, who are you?”
The woman spoke in a light, wispy voice. Finch thought she seemed a bit airy. He wasn’t scared of her anymore, after hearing her talk.
“I’m Finch. Finch Dirge Zeth.” He said resolutely.
Finch expected her to reply with her own name, but instead she said, “Oh. Ah, what are you doing here?”
He was starting to get a little agitated with all the exhaling she did, especially since she vocalized them with an “ah” all the time.
“I’m,” His quest seemed quite foolish now, “I’m looking for information on the guard.”
He continued, “I’m looking for Natasha Rhye.”
“Because she is a member of the guard?” The woman assumed, “She is the, ah, she’s the Captain of the castle guard.”
“I know,” Finch said.
This woman seemed so dumb!
“I want to learn as much as I can about the guard, I figured a captain could help out. Maybe she could teach me.” He continued, trying to hide his building anger.
The woman frowned at him and simply said, “No.”
At Finch’s dumbfounded expression, she continued, “Natasha is far too busy, she is Captain! Surely that makes sense? Although, you’re only a child. Children are supposed to very good at making mistakes. That’s right, isn’t it?”
She watched him with an amused expression.
Finch was getting really flustered, “Well, I want to join the guard when I’m old enough!”
The young woman now began to consider him a little more seriously now.
“That is a valiant quest to take up at so young an age.” The woman mused.
Finch was no longer trying to hide his irritation.
He said, “I won’t be so young once I’ve joined. I’m going to be the next captain!”
He rummaged in his bag then thrust the pocketbook out like a weapon.
“Look, I’ve been studying you know. I probably know more about the duties of the guard than you do!”
“I doubt that. Ah,” She exhaled vocally again, grating on Finch’s nerves, “Possibly you know more the micro elements of guard duty, but my sister is a Captain, she tells me all sorts of the more macro things…”
And then she trailed off, seemingly finished with her sentence.
Finally, Finch let out the seed of his rage, yelling at the blonde woman standing so idly in front of him.
“Who in the name of Overside are you anyway?!” He shouted.
The young woman was taken aback.
“Eh…” She stammered, “I, ah, I’m Chloe…”
She trailed off, but this time she actually finished her statement.
“I’m Chloe Rhye, Seventh Prince of the Solune.”
Finch’s energy shifted almost instantly from anger to excitement.
“Rhye! You must know Natasha!” Finch said, almost jumping.
“That’s…” Chloe seemed entirely distraught.
“Oh,” Finch realized, “Sorry for shouting at you. I think I’m getting a little excited now that I’m so close to meeting Natasha Rhye. Wait, is that the sister you were just talking about?”
Chloe nodded, composing herself. She closed her hands and put them on her hips.
“Now listen here, youth, Natasha is already too busy for me, I don’t need someone else coming here and taking her time! I’ve been so bored now, what with Janna leaving on top of it all,” Chloe sighed, “I’ve really only got mum, and she’s ever so boring, talking about her murderous conquests and all that.”
There was a long period of silence, during which Finch shuffled around.
“Umm, are you telling me that the Gwenhime conquest book is a true story?”
“Based on a true story. It happened long ago when colonization and the like were acceptable.” Chloe said dismissively.
“Well, anyway, I’m really interested in talking to Natasha. I want to become a guard.” Finch said.
“I told you she’s busy. Hard working, she is. But if you like, I could tell you a thing or two. I’m sort of the opposite of my sister in that regard.” She admitted.
Realising that this would likely be better than nothing, Finch agreed. He didn’t want to have wasted the day.
Finch was lead down the hall, back where Chloe had come from. They rounded the corner and passed a couple wooden doors. Chloe stopped in front of one that seemed to be reinforced with stove, and grabbed the metal handle. Chloe made a motion with her hand, like she was jimmying it open, but not violently. Her hand moved in a very specific and practiced way.
“Is that a trick lock?” Finch asked as she messed with the handle.
“Ah,” She inhaled this time, “I do not like keys. I just lose them.”
Finch could understand this, seeing her talk like her head was made of bubbles.
“So instead, my doors open with a mechanism, like a combination lock. It cost a bit, and we had to get the handles imported, but now I can get into my room, and my library.”
Just as Chloe mentioned it, the door swung inward revealing a bedroom sized, all four walls lined with books. In the centre of the room were two modest desks.
Finch gazed in awe and immediately went to see how she organized them. Finch organized by author’s last name, while the library went by category, then last name. It seemed that Chloe’s books were organized by category, but he noticed that every category appeared twice, and on different ends of the room.
“How do you organize these?” He asked.
“Well, the left-hand side is texts that I’ve either touched on, reference frequently, or plan to read in the future. On the right is what I’ve finished, I can’t really get much more from them.”
She seemed in her element here, and she spoke much more freely. Finch gawked at the shelves. She had read, and possibly even memorized half the room’s worth of books! Finch had thought himself well read, having gone through seven or eight Natural Studies texts, but here was some truly high-level scholarliness.
“Do not, ah, don’t look at me like that,” Chloe said, her cheeks flushing, “Ah, you said that you were looking for information on guards?”
Chloe turned left and grabbed four books off the shelf, adding them to the one she had been carrying already. She put the stack on the larger of the two desks and sat down behind it. She then motioned to the chair in front of the smaller, tilted desk.
Finch sat down, and Chloe ruffled through the four books very quickly. As she skimmed, Finch stared at the seven bookshelves of literature that Chloe had claimed to have not just read, but learned from to the point that she didn’t need to use them anymore. There were no books on guarding, but there were quite a lot that covered history. Three entire shelves had been dedicated to the subject, and then one shelf’s worth on culture. Beyond that, there were a few Natural Studies books, and Finch was interested to see which subcategories she had learned herself.
Finch didn’t much like math or physics. He was more inclined towards biology and especially chemistry. It seemed this woman was interested in all three, but had read more about chemistry, biology of the mind, and a lot of physics.
“You like physics a lot, do you?” He asked.
“No, not really,” Chloe said passively, still reading up on guards, “I just figured I’d start with the governing forces and work my way up, that way I can understand everything else properly. Physics is sort of boring, I prefer more complex things like biology and biochemistry.”
Finch looked back at the wall and saw a small category labelled biochemistry. He wondered what the difference was between that and chemistry.
“Ah,” Chloe said, not inhaling or exhaling this time, “There we go. I was looking for this summary.”
Finch turned his attention to her. Chloe stood, her back becoming illuminated by the bright orange-red stained window behind her. She looked almost magical now, and her excessive amount of hair shone brightly.
“Ah,” She exhaled, almost, but not quite, ruining the mystic backlighting.
“Written in 1992, that’s last year, Vinth Hurlock made a statement in this journal on culture. He said, ‘Since I started as Vice-Captain of the castle guard, I have studied Natasha Simon Rhye very closely, in order to learn from her all that I can. She seems intelligent. Not in a bookish manner, but rather in a practical and tactful way. Such thinking is needed in the guard. We are very practiced and deliberate here, unlike the guard out in the city. Inside the castle too, our opinions are met with great consideration instead of the scoffs I’ve become accustomed to. I really don’t like that woman, the Captain of the city guard. That’s why I transferred in the first place immediately after becoming a Vice-Captain. I admire Ms. Rhye, and was interested in working directly beneath her.’ Well, it seems that the Vice-Captain fancies my sister.”
Chloe scrunched up her face in confusion at all her new mixed emotions on the subject.
“Well,” Finch said, “It seems he’s pretty professional about it. Maybe he would be professional in a relationship too?”
Finch thought about Alice. Their relationship was a lot of fun, but now it seemed pretty professional, at least on his end.
“Ah, you see,” Chloe said, “both Natasha and Vinth are, as you say, professional in temperament. I imagine that if the two did end up courting each other that their first date would result in something closer to a stiff job interview than anything normal.”
As the two tried to imagine this, they burst out laughing. Finch was coming to like the woman, she seemed a lot more tolerable now.
Chloe and Finch continued researching the guard, and Finch was having a lot of fun. After they had researched the guard together for a long time, Chloe stopped suddenly and looked out the window.
She said, “When did you have to be home? It is a sixth or so until sundown.”
Finch jumped out of his seat, “I should get going before dark!”
Chloe smiled at him, “Would you like to return tomorrow? If you like, I could talk with-”
“Yeah, I’ll come back,” He said, running to the door, and then, “Wait, how’s the day after tomorrow?”
“That’s fine with me, would you like it if I-”
But again she was cut off, this time by Finch’s frantic exit.