Chapter 9: Belated Reunion
Chloe returned home around midday. Her mother found her and gave over the letter, saying, “It is already too late, dear.”
Curious, Chloe read.
I will be home tomorrow (the Second of the month) in the morning. Please be prepared to receive me and to accommodate a guest.
Third Prince of the Solune.
“He is here already. He arrived this morning.”
“Where?” Chloe was suddenly disoriented.
“He went out with that guest of his only a few minutes ago.”
Chloe wanted to find him, to chase him around town, but she said, “I will not disturb him, if that is the case. Likely he is showing his new friend around the city. I will wait—ah! I will, ah, I’ll be in the cafeteria…”
Gwenhime watched her daughter prance to the stairwell, and then trip down half the flight. She sighed.
“Not a new friend,” Gwenhime mumbled to herself.
“You know that God made man for one reason: to reach the top shelf for woman.” Whispered the tall, dark haired man.
The woman who heard him, the woman with whom he was with, laughed as she reached above his head and took the bottle of spirits. She reached higher, and up to the top shelf, and pushed on the bottom of the bottle with the tips of her fingers until she could no longer reach it.
“Your highness,” she whispered back, “you are so tall, will you not help a poor maiden? Your God must also have made woman to compel man.”
“Of course, my ‘almāh. Ask, and it shall be given.” And he delivered it into her hands.
“Yes, we will have to thank your God for the intoxicated loving we are to have, and then thank my god for that which will result.”
“Dear!” He wiped the hair from his pale complexion. “Not before marriage!”
“How quaint of you!” She replied.
Both laughed, playing the part of lovers in the little store.
The woman paid for the bottle, as she maintained both their incomes. Her hands were rough. She handed the bottle to the man to carry and put her wallet away. She had chin-length, sand-coloured hair, and dark eyebrows. Her young-looking face that had the unusual resting expression of anxious joy.
Alexandre “Jutt” Dirge’s first reaction when she saw the poster was a dismissive sneer. Work for the castle? I guess she really isn’t interested in my assistance after all.
She felt a pit in her stomach, and her neck muscle began to twitch involuntary from the stress. After a full day of research on hormones and neurotransmitters, Alexandre’s perspective on the matter had shifted slightly. Well, let’s see what happens if I show up anyway.
Chloe made a feline noise as she sneezed, covering her mouth with a handkerchief. She stared at her food, now half eaten. The city could not afford to feed her steak every day of the week, but she figured that this week was to be the exception. She was meeting her brother for the first time in years, and she would also be leaving the city very soon. Tomorrow, if Lilllith shows up.
Chloe had ordered two slabs of moose steaks. Unlike Alice, she did not eat her meat raw and bleeding. She pondered and planned what exactly she would do with the second steak. She had thought she was hungry enough to eat it, but now she was less sure. She silently sulked, and poked at it with her knife.
“I guess I should only have gotten one…”
Footsteps made their way down the stairs into the basement diner. Chloe didn’t bother looking up to see who it was.
“I wonder when my brother will return.”
The person called out, “He has returned.”
Chloe heard the Messenger and looked up. The woman that stood above her was not who she had expected. It was Alexandre Dirge.
Chloe’s manner shifted. She said, “Oh look, it is you. Have you gotten your Philosophy Doctorate yet?”
Alexandre frowned, “No.”
“For what have you come?”
Alexandre took a sheet of paper from her coat and handed it to Chloe. It was folded almost as many times as a kingdom map. Chloe opened it up and saw that it was one of her posters.
“You took it down.”
Again, Alexandre frowned, “No, I got this from Finch. One of your extras.”
Chloe looked up and examined the woman. She saw her for the first time.
“Who are you?”
“Alexandre Dirge. Those who knew me in childhood call me Jutt.”
“I knew you in childhood. I used to see you around, playing with Finch. Ah, didn’t you two used to audit classes?”
“Why are you here?”
Alexandre pointed at the poster.
“You want to be on the expedition team? Why?”
“I would be a good addition. I can use a hand-and-half backsword better than most of people in your prison. I know this, because I am the reason most of them are in prison.”
Is she bragging, or… “And how is it that you are the reason? I thought it was the guard who arrested criminals.”
“Do you not remember the gang wars a few years ago?” Alexandre Jutt smiled, revealing sliver-coloured teeth. “This was my doing.”
“—You were Natasha’s informant?!”
“I am the Messenger.”
Chloe stood up. I already knew this! Natasha always called her “the younger Dirge.” She breathed.
Chloe said, “Even so, why would you want to? Most people do not want to leave the city, let alone the kingdom.”
“There were ways that seemed right to me, but in the end they were the ways of death. He that works, works for himself; for his mouth craves the work. An ungodly man digs up evil: and in his lips there’s as a burning fire. The froward man sows strife: and a whisperer is divided from her closest friends…
I would rather keep myself busy this summer.”
Chloe wasn’t sure what she should think of this. Whose words are those? Did she pull such poetics off the top of her head or…where did she get it from? I though I read all the books in our libraries, and yet…
They stared at each other for almost a minute, trading thoughts through expression. Finally Chloe spoke.
“Yes, you will be the first then. It would be good to have you. You, like me, can hold the double role of guardsman and researcher. The poster, I am sure you already know, state that we meet tomorrow at noon.”
“And you, ah, you don’t have a sword do you.”
“Yes I do.”
“Another thing,” Jutt sat down across from Chloe, glancing at what were effectively her leftovers, “Your mother told ne to call for you.”
“Ah!” Chloe stood, knocking the backs of her knees on the bench, causing her to drop back down. “Ah…” She stood properly.
“You can have this if you would like,” She said, already on her way out.
Is he back? Has my brother returned?
She ran up the stairs three at a time and went directly to the throne room.
There were four people there.
King Rhye said, “Oh, it’s good that you made it. We were just finishing up, you almost missed the introduction.”
“Yes, Chloe;” Her brother said, “I would like you to meet someone.”
It had been nearly a year since she had seen him, but he had come on business—for the trial of Janna Rhye. They had not truly spoken in nearly a decade.
Kent was clearly his father’s son. He was tall, handsome, and strong. In fact, he had arrived in full plate armour. The difference was that he had Riley-black hair and dry blue eyes, unlike most of his family. In his youth, he drove both Solune and Riley women mad with eros. Chloe laughed internally, perhaps that is why he never stayed in the kingdom?
Kent continued, “This is my betrothed, Senica.”
Chloe’s eyes flashed to the fourth person in the room. Her unconscious mind began its work. “The annoying one!” Oops. I keep saying things like that…there has to be something wrong with this room.
“Oh, is that how I look in your eyes?” It was Senica, Senica the Djeb anthropologist. She laughed the perfect laugh. Chloe stayed quiet.
“Kent and ‘the annoying one’ will be joining you on your expedition,” Gwenhime said.
Chloe had the dim feeling that, she too, found Senica to be somewhat irritating.
She paused. “Wait, both of them?”
“Don’t you need researchers?” The King said.
“Hmm. It’s too bad though,” Said Senica.
Chloe washed her anger. Gwenhime did not, making an openly scornful expression.
Chloe took a breath, “What is?”
“Looks like you won’t have to take my survey after all!”
There was a pause, and Senica laughed at her own joke. Kent patted her head.
Chloe’s unconscious suddenly, unceremoniously, ejected an answer. “Wait!”
“You two are getting married?”
“Yes, before the expedition,” said Kent.
Senica added, “Don’t want to worry about those loose-Lussa.”
Chloe sighed. I guess I will have to get used to her.
Rhye said, “It was the condition of our blessing that their First Task be to aid a family member with some form of grand task.”
“As is customary,” said Gwenhime.
Chloe nodded. When Janna and Drake had become bound although not specifically married, the first thing they had done was help the King in the Legendary war. I doubt my expedition will be that grand.
“So, when will it be?”
“Oh, I’m thinking tomorrow,” Kent said.
“No!” Chloe stood (or, she thought she did. She was already standing, and so she lurched instead), “Tomorrow Lilllith is to arrive. We cannot have so many things on the same day!”
“Ho! We should have it right before we leave. That way we can fulfill our promise immediately; the expedition transport will be our wedding carriage!” Senica proceeded to swoon.
“Very well, but it will be very early if that is to be the case,” Gwenhime said.
When the meeting ended, Chloe spoke with Kent privately for a few minutes. Before she left, he said, “Can you perhaps invite some friends? To the wedding I mean. The only friend I have is the bride…”
“Oh, ah, sure, I can do that,” Chloe said, “I will, ah, I’ll talk to some people in the morning before Lilllith comes.”
She returned to the basement diner and saw that Alexandre was still there.
“Hello again…” the Riley mumbled.