Chapter 14: Alexandre’s Desolation; and; Chloe, Herself, I
Chloe dreamed of the distant past.
Alexandre Jutt was not a morning person, which was exactly why she woke up early. Her theory was that it would allow her to be as awake as everyone else was by lunch time, and also allow her to experience her peak thinking hours at some time near sunset instead of long after it. Sadly, her Riley biology worked against this goal, but such things were sacrificed in the name of a university education. Maybe I’ll go nocturnal once I graduate to make up for all the strain.
Alexandre was very pleased (a rare emotion for her) to find that the castle was not locked. Since the wall had opened, it seemed that the castle’s foyer had become a full-time public square, instead of just a daytime square.
“It almost never closes now.”
Alexandre’s head snapped up, almost aggressively.
“Oh sorry,” the tall, handsome Solune guard smiled at her through perfect teeth.
She searched for an excuse to stare at his effeminate features, so she took him by his blue eyes and said, “So you just stand out here, by the doors, alone…all the time? What’s that like?”
“Hah, ah, no,” the guard said. Alexandre stared at his blonde hair. She wondered how often he got it cut. Clearly he waited months. “I’m actually covering for someone else. The guards are assembling the arena.”
The nice youngish man pointed past her, and Alexandre turned around and noticed for the first time what was happening in the field in front of the castle, just outside the city.
“Oh.” Are these preparations for us? For Chloe’s team?
“So I’m left here, mostly to direct any of the guards who don’t know the task for today.”
“Are you, per chance, Alexandre Dirge?”
If she was younger, she may have exclaimed; if only in an effort to appear a little more helpless. By now, she knew that it did not take long for information to travel across the guard, and so her face remained stone.
“Nice to see you. Natasha has told me a lot,” the guard continued.
“Wha?” Natasha was the guard Captain-Commander. It was unusual for any random guard to speak with her, especially about other citizens. She looked to his shoulder to check his ribbon. “You—you’re…Vinth!”
He’s the Captain of the Castle’s guard!
Alexandre blushed deeply and noticeably. The effect was made worse by her pale complexion, and so she closed her eyes and breathed.
She said, “I must be going.”
I suppose that pretty, successful, and young-looking men are exactly my type. Hmm… I wonder what he is doing right now. Where has he gone… Alexandre entered the castle and let her loneliness wash over her. She began to empathize with the habits of the foolish young maidens that would scout around the barracks after hours to see the strapping young guards.
I have to stop swooning so much. Maybe even act my age once in a while. She laughed not unlike her mother: at nothing in particular, and with an edge of schizophrenic madness. She wiped the blushing from her face and started to act her age, at least in the moment. Jutt looked around the foyer. The throne room, she knew, was straight ahead.
She entered. The room was black—she was four hours early. Alexandre was well aware of this, however, and she intended simply to wait it out.
What she had not expected was that there would be someone else already there in the room with her.
Chloe, as usual, woke up about an hour after the sun. In her sleep, she was more sensitive to heat changes than the light, but she still let a line of sun through her heavy curtains. She had accidentally closed them a few times, but to her surprise it hadn’t mattered much; she had woken up as usual. Chloe assumed that her body was simply used to waking up at a certain time after doing as much for centuries. She put on loose clothing; fighting clothes, and then headed downstairs, intending to go to the armoury.
The castle had two sets of stairs, one inside each of the north-facing corner towers. The more commonly used one was on the northwest side. It had wide steps all the way up to the second floor. At the top and behind a locked door was an extra set of steps that went up to the third floor, where the bedchambers were, closed off from the public. Chloe preferred the less commonly used “armoury steps.” The staircase was thinner and had more landings due to being built under newer code. The new construction laws pleased her greatly because they quite considerably reduced the amount of bruising she got from falling down stairs.
On her way down, she spotted her mother through the second floor entryway. Gwenhime was apparently wandering aimfully around the halls, and, Chloe presumed, likely deep in thought. Chloe looked at the stairs and then back to her mother, and decided not to worry about it. She glanced back one last time and, as if on cue, her mother snapped out of her daze, or perhaps simply changed its nature, and caught her by the eyes, and called out.
Chloe stopped. Gwenhime’s manner was uncanny, and it took Chloe a few moments of associative thinking to figure out what her mother’s intonation reminded her of. It was the intimate cry of a woman to her lover; she had never heard her mother make such a cry, it was indecent. Indecent just like the woman I heard it from…my aunt. I should probably go—and yet, what…what is she intending?
Gwenhime turned away and Chloe, following her own masculine and feminine intuitions. Accept all information, be not wilfully ignorant. Act without fear all situations for which you have the strength to overcome any anomaly. She was led to one of her small libraries.
When they were inside the room, Gwenhime closed the door behind them and locked it.
Chloe didn’t understand, “Who?”
“Your uncle…the unmarried one…”
“What?” Chloe’s uncle was not called Venus, and he was married.
“Always…” Gwenhime’s face was flushed, and Chloe finally realized that she was not lusting, but rather, experiencing intense emotional frustration; a form of thought. “Always do I think…always threatened…I am…quite neurotic.”
Chloe stepped forward and took her mother’s hand, leading the shorter woman to the one and only reading chair in the small, shelf-lined room. She tentatively tried to sit on the floor, and then tripped, landing in a semi-seated position. I guess I’ve succeeded, then?
Gwenhime caught her breath and continued, looking down at her daughter.
“Yes, ah, your uncle; the dangerous one. Venus is but a title. His name is something else, of course, but you will hear him referred to only as Venus. He is something of an underground power, and he is centred on the Underside. That is why you must know, you must know that he—” She turned red again, and mouthed nonsense.
“He—!” Chloe grasped at her mother’s thought, “He is likely involved in all this, is not he?!”
Gwenhime frowned, nodded, and regained her neutral tones. “If you encounter him, hesitate not to call on us, your kin, for aid.”
“Okay. If things get too intense, I will call on you.”
“No! If you even so much as hear his name, you must send to me a message. A verbal one preferably; such communications can not be allowed to be intercepted!”
“Ah…” Chloe started and then stopped. She studied her Gwenhime’s face for information and realized that this was one of those times where her mother would only get more serious, more intense, and more severe until Chloe agreed.
“Okay. I agree.”
Gwenhime nodded, took the only dust-free tome from the little reading table next to her seat, and gave it to Chloe.
“And your brother too! I will inform him and his woman.” She raised her arms in exaltation.
Chloe took a breath. It was all starting to come together in her mind. Obviously Venus has kidnapped (or killed!) the heir. Thus, when we get to the Underside, if we catch word of him, we should follow whatever paths we have and track him down. She nearly thought her way to all the flaws in her plan when Gwenhime spoke again.
“Before you leave for the Underside, remind me and I will teach you how to use the gift of the Condor.”
Chloe’s eyes widened. She dropped her book and fell back, catching herself with her right arm and leaning on it for support.
“What? Now? I thought you said you would wait until I was an adult and—oh no. Mother, I cannot! I cannot handle all this about my uncle, and I have to leave home, and then…This is far too much at once, mother!”
The ex-Warlord smiled, then stood and helped her daughter up. She took the young woman by the shoulders, and looked up into her youthful eyes.
“Too much is the only correct amount for the Rhye family.”