Chapter 13: Lilllith I
Author’s Note: >:3
They arrived at the castle as the guard were lighting the lamps for nightfall. Chloe tried to see if she could spy Alice, but she didn’t even see any guards that she recognised.
They met not in the throne room, but in the awkwardly-placed banquet hall. When they entered the castle, Astore led Chloe through the foyer and to the left. There were two sets of doors on the left wall. Chloe knew that the first one led to the armoury and also to the Royal archives, and the other one opened on a long corridor that led south, in between the throne room and the armoury. That was the door they went through.
Chloe opened the door, and Astore slipped past. They went down the hallway to the large room inconveniently placed in the back corner of the first floor.
“When did she get here?” Chloe called ahead.
Astore slowed. “Maybe an hour now.”
They reached the door. Chloe asked, “Has supper started?”
“It should have. The king told me that he would start shortly after dark, so…”
“So we will not be…too late.”
“Allow me.” Astore stepped ahead and opened the door for her.
Lilllith watched as Chloe strode into the hall. Astore entered behind, dressed formally in his grey, modestly decorated guard’s uniform. The blue pinwheel of the Solune kingdom was displayed on his right shoulder.
Chloe, however, was dressed in her day clothes; a loose-fitting white chlamys with a knee-length tunic underneath. She was the only one other than her mother who was wearing anything so loose fitting. She scanned the room as she walked to the seat across from her mother.
The seating arrangement seemed to amuse the King, though he did his best to hide it. Gwenhime had been placed between the King on her right, and the woman Chloe knew to be Lilllith on her left. Gwenhime, much unlike her husband, did nothing to hide her emotions. It was clear that she did not enjoy the company of her guest.
So I am to sit…with Kent on my left, and then Natasha on the end; and Senica on my right—oh no…And, ah, I guess Astore is on the far end?
Chloe did not sit yet. She first drank in all the presences around her. She almost had to; to mentally map out the people in the room in order to calm her anxieties.
And on the other side is…Alice on the end, across from Kent? Then my father, then mom right here across from me, and, ah, Lilllith, and… Is this a child? Who is this youth? Did Lilllith bring him? She must have.
Finally, Chloe moved and sat down. Astore sat after her, a curiosity on his part. He’s being very formal. Chloe and Lilllith examined each other. Lilllith looked very much like what Chloe had come to expect from a Lussa; that is, essentially a tall Riley. Black hair, pale skin, and sickly features to go along with it all. Lilllith lived up to the expectation except for her bright platinum-blonde hair. Apart from that, she was quite old, forty perhaps, and at the zenith of her beauty.
As Chloe sat, the King stood and exited the room, returning shortly after with the waiters and the food. He himself carried only a bottle of red syrups. She filled everyone’s glasses as the food was passed around.
When Chloe saw what was served, she began to squirm. Senica, being Senica, noticed. She said quietly, “What’s wrong?”
Chloe continued to fidget, organizing an explanation as she did so. “Ah, this is, it’s ah…this is a very traditional dish.”
They stopped talking as they were served, as not to be overheard. When everything was set, thanks was given to the Past and for the Future, and then the room began eating.
Senica turned her head and said, “Your mother looks far less grumpy than usual.”
Kent, who, sensitive to his fiancée’s voice, had heard, laughed. He said, “Oh, that isn’t about the food per say, Niccy—I mean Senica.” He blushed and lowered his voice, craning in. “Rather, she’s waiting for Lilllith to taste it.”
Chloe began, “Traditional Solune food consists of fairy bitter meat and…” she trailed off, as she had lost the attention of everyone—including herself. They had all turned their attention to Lilllith to see how she was going to react. Chloe became pensive, but Gwenhime nearly overflowed with suppressed anticipatory laughter.
Lilllith took the utensils; the spoon and fingerspear, and ate some of the meat. Her face froze in an ambivalent expression. She proceeded to chew, and swallow. Gwenhime sighed, and she, as well as the rest of the room also began eating (except for the King, who was far too polite to gawk).
She proceeded to eat about half of the main course very quickly, and then moved on to the side dishes for the rest of the meal.
The King, surprised and also unwilling to let his wife have the first word, said, “What do you think of the meat?”
Lilllith made a subtle movement that only Chloe and Senica recognised as a reflex gag. She rather smoothly said, “You are a bold man, King Rhye. We do not serve foreigners such alkaline dishes before they have acquired the taste where I come from. It is very fortunate that the Lussa use this sort of seasoning as well. Tell me, what is your motive?”
“It was a diplomatic decision.” He said flatly. Gwenhime, finding this to be extremely hilarious, let out a pitched giggle. The King continued, “Every second you are here doing official matters, you will be tested by me. You are the ambassador of another realm. You can expect to be treated as such.”
Lilllith smiled and moved wisps of her hair from her face. “Good. And what of any other time? As I sleep or tour the city, or speak to you and your family informally? When I am not engaged in official matters, how am I to be treated?”
King Rhye was impressed by how quickly she found the gap in his words. “You will be treated as any other foreign guest.”
“Very well. Then you would treat me better than the Emperor of the Djeb!” At this she, laughed, and to everyone’s surprise, so did Senica. The two women cut their mirth short and shared a look for a moment. Senica flushed and frantically looked at her food.
“So,” Lilllith continued, “let us discuss wherefore I have come. Which of you are to return with me to aid the Lussa City?”
Chloe said “—” nothing.
“It is to be my daughter,” said the King.
Lilllith smiled. “Nothing like a diplomatic woman, and a skilled man, as the old saying goes.” Chloe had never heard that saying. “Which is it?”
“Who,” Gwenhime corrected.
“It is, ah, it is I…” Chloe failed.
Lilllith examined her a fourth time and then emptied her cup. “Interesting. Let us rest. Set up an arena for the morrow. I would test the physical capabilities of the Lussa City’s new guests.”
The King nodded and ordered the servants in waiting to do as the ambassador bid. They nodded formally, almost curtly, and then exited.
“How hospitable,” said Lilllith.
“This is how the Royal workers acknowledge their tasks. It is efficient,” Gwenhime stated.
The King cut them off before anything happened. “They are to be subject to your whim, within limit.”
“Of course. I too am subject to limit.”
Only Gwenhime heard the touch of resentment in the woman’s voice. She sighed. Lilllith reminded her of herself when she was young and stupid.