Chapter 25: Fly By Day
Chloe headed back to the armoury, which was awkwardly positioned near the front entrance of the castle; out from the throne room and to the right.
It was very busy inside. At times like this, it was common for the Castle Guard to double as servants, similar to what happened with the arena the day before. Here, they were assembling weapons and their sheathes, and putting travelling sets into backpacks. The trip was to be done on foot.
The King was arms deep in the bustle alongside them, despite his age. He stopped when she entered the room.
He broke away from collecting and packing and led her to the back of the armoury. The walls were lined with hooks and shelves of swords and coats, and the blunt metal rods that the guards carried. Mostly though, it was old but maintained war gear. They went through a passage that led to the second chamber of the armoury; the chamber with the oddly-placed door that led down into the Solune Royal Archives.
There was an old cabinet in the back. Rhye opened it up. The hinges were new; replaced, but the wood was so old that it was in the process of petrifying. The weapon inside was also well maintained, otherwise it would have turned to rust long ago.
“This…” Chloe mumbled, awestruck and confused.
“This is the King’s sword.”
“And you will take it with you. It is your sword. We maintained it for you. Whether you use it is your choice, however—”
“This is!” She looked at the weapon. It was a little taller than her, since it had originally been crafted for her father, but it was thin and sharp. The pommel was decorated with the four tined blue pinwheel of the Solune Kingdom.
“It is the old one!” Chloe said.
“It is. Did you want the new one instead?”
Chloe laughed. The new King’s sword was much heavier, and she doubted that she was strong enough to wield it. “No, but—is this what you have trained me to use? This is a two-handed sword.”
“Yes. Look, it’s nearly one-half stone in weight. Seven imperial pounds. It wasn’t designed for modern warfare like the new sword is; for all these large armies and groups. This was from a time when war was fought differently. Giants and champions ruled the battlefields in those days. Everyone else simply supported or witnessed.”
Chloe laughed. Giants indeed; her father was nearly five full cubits tall.
“That is why it is so thin…”
The King took the sword and put in into a sheath. “You can carry it on your back, but don’t expect to be able to draw it. And…”
“It will hit your legs. It hangs down very low.”
He slung it over her shoulders. Chloe tried to pull it out, but her arm was too short—or perhaps the blade was too long.
“And if you walk?”
She made a turn about the room, and the tip of the blade hit her calves.
“It is a cumbersome weapon. Perhaps you should take some sort of sidearm with you.”
“I should be fine. I have some ideas.”
Chloe took the hilt and pulled it so that the weapon was tilted diagonally across her back, the blade to the left of her legs. “If I can keep it like this somehow it, ah, it won’t hit my legs.”
“I’ll have someone look into stitching the leather in place before you have to leave.”
“Oh, yes. Right.” Chloe frequently forgot that she could tell people to do things for her. Perhaps it will be my undoing as a leader…perhaps not.
Alexandre boxed Ammelia in the gut. “Come on, you can’t attack me in my sleep. —And I mean that literally!” The Riley seethed through dark metal teeth.
Ammelia fell to the ground and curled up on herself, coughing.
Alexandre grabbed her by the jacked and dragged the girl out of her office/house.
“Look, Lussa, you’re great and all, but I have appointments to keep. I’m locking this place up.” She left her leaning against the wall and finished packing her bag and her sword.
“You’re lucky I’m easy going.”
“Feel the pain, coward. You will find comfort only in things that aren’t your own fault. I’ll see you again, I’m sure—and here’s your garbage weapon.” Alexandre dropped the pieces of the poorly crafted sword at Ammelia’s feet, and then dropped a second undamaged sword of the same sort. Alexandre leered at the girl one more time, and then left.
“This is everyone? No…” Lilllith looked around. “Where is the woman?” She couldn’t yet remember everyone’s name.
They were gathered outside the front of the castle. Everyone was there except those with the last names Rhye, or Dirge.
Astore said, “It’s Alexandre Dirge.”
“Right. She did phenomenally yesterday. Where is she?”
Siren pointed. “There. She’s coming.”
Alexandre joined the group. Astore handed her the travelling bag. She said, “I got delayed dealing with a Lussa.”
Lilllith raised an eyebrow. “A Lussa?”
“Yeah, didn’t you know? I think there are other agents here. Maybe it’s just her, but I doubt it.”
At that moment, Natasha exited the castle and called out for them to come into the throne room, so the conversation ended.
Chloe and the King were aleardy there, and he greeted everyone.
He said, “There are Elken and Riley to the north,” as if Lilllith would know what that meant.
“It was fine on the way here,” she said.
“We also have to worry about whoever is behind that idiot Ammelia.” Alexandre mumbled.
Natasha’s head jerked around. “Who?”
“Oh! It’s Ammelia who is here?” Lilllith said, “That poor maiden.”
Kent and Senica entered the room. “Got our gear?”
“You wait.” Natasha said. She turned to Chloe. “Who?”
“She’s very bad at it,” Alexandre added.
Natasha turned on Lilllith. “Who is this? You sounded as if you knew her. What is going on?”
“She tried to stop me from travelling to the Underside,” Chloe said, “by injuring me.”
Lilllith sighed. “She is an aristocrat. A young one, but still cousin to the King’s children.”
The King watched the conversation, bemused. Chloe would have little trouble dealing with whatever was to come to her on the Underside.
Lilllith continued, “As I told you, or perhaps as you heard from Ryann’s letter, the city is politically unstable right now. We are without a defined ruler, apart from the acting leader Ryann, and further, the ascension ceremony has been halted for legal reasons. We have been stuck in this situation for months and the populace is getting frustrated. Other powers are beginning to encroach on the natural processes of the crown.”
“You say it was halted for legal reasons? What are those reasons?” The room turned to the King.
Alexandre sat down on the floor, leaning against a wall.
“All the heirs must be at the crowning ceremony, because the monarch is voted on from among them.”
“Interesting. And who are these other powers that are threatening the process?”
“There are two that we are aware of. There is the extended royal family; which would include Ammelia, and likely her cousins. Then there are the major forces of the state, specifically the police. They are getting a little too comfortable with all the extra power they have been granted while there is no King. But this can all be elaborated on later. For now, we really must begin the journey north.”
“Yes. I give you my blessings. Those of the Royal family, and to a lesser extent those who serve the state, you are to be model Solune citizens. This includes your prudence, rhetoric, manners, generosity, and adherence to our culture, ritual, and metaphysical beliefs.”
Senica felt uneasy about all these new burdens, but said nothing.
“As a physical reminder, as well as a status symbol, The Solune Kingdom requires that all royalty, especially those on royal business as you all are, wear their crowns at all times.”
“Crowns?” Senica said, “We have to wear crowns in public? Isn’t that a little—” Kent took her hand. When Alexandre realized that some sort of ceremony was beginning, she stood up off the ground. Astore straightened even further.
Gwenhime came with three crowns in one hand. They were simple bands, but made of a gold alloy. They curved down to a point in the front, where a little pinwheel of turquoise stones was set into the crown.
Chloe stepped up onto the throne platform. Her action was completely out of order; as it should have gone in reverse birth order, kin by marriage first. Nonetheless, it was prudential. Senica had to be shown the process. The King hoped she was keen enough to learn and then follow when her turn came.
The King took one of the crowns from his wife, the one made specifically for her, and placed it on her head, clicking the rear fastener into place. Chloe bowed, backed down the platform, and then to Senica’s surprise, unfastened the crown and lowered it to her neck. The Solune Prince pulled her hair out, and then refastened the crown, wearing it as a sort of thick, stiff necklace.
Kent whispered, “That’s how you have to wear it at all times. We only put it on our heads during official business.” Senica nodded imperceptibly.
Kent went next, and then Senica did her best to follow up, although she had difficulty backing down the stairs.
The ceremony was completed.
Gwenhime said, “Natasha, we have yours too. You can see the adjuster on the back was changed for something much better.”
Natasha nodded. “I will look at it later.”
“Very well,” Lilllith said, “Shall we be off?”
They filed out. Outside, Senica shuffled over to Chloe.
Chloe said, “Are these not wonderful?”
Senica nodded, “Not as gaudy as I was expecting, wearing a crown at—how did he say it?—at all times.”
“Yes. Mother looks especially fancy with her wings.” She laughed.
Senica was caught with excitement. “Please, someone, explain this! I have been wondering since the wedding—are those truly wings on Gwenhime’s back? Is my new mother-in-law some sort of mythical being?”
The King nodded to Chloe.
“Oh, ah, well. It is normal for her.”
“My…my mother is not a Solune, she is a Condor.”
“That doesn’t mean anything to me, Chloe!”
She smiled. Is it my turn to be the annoying one? “It does help. The Condor are a winged people. Usually they do not need to fly. That method of hunting became obsolete long ago, but they still have the capability to do so. My mother is thus the same.”
“But!” Senica started waving her arms, and Kent put an arm on her shoulder. Senica sighed, and took a breath. “ She didn’t have wings yesterday.”
Chloe tried to explain. “Ah, the moose…the deer…”
“They have antlers, but only sometimes, yes?”
“Okay?” Senica wasn’t sure what was happening.
“They grow, and in certain seasons, they fall off again.”
“But they take time to grow. It takes like half a year or something, not a few hours.”
“Yes, it takes a very long time for wings as well, but they stay embedded in the back. Condor physiology is designed for this, the skeleton and musculature has made room for the wings to embed into the back as they grow. And then, when she needs or wants them, she flexes a few muscles that we do not have, and then the wings sort of…burst out of her back.”
“Just like that?” Senica shook her head.
“Yes. There is an ejection of fluids, and the wings function very poorly until the feathers separate and dry, but it is really that simple.”
“And to get rid of them? What, they fall off like antlers? Is that it?”
“Yes, ah, it is just another muscle movement though it takes more time and effort. They really do just fall off. I have seen it, it is quite a disturbing process, and if you leave them they start to rot and become a biohazard. But they take long to grow back, so that is why my mother often enjoys them for a little while before restarting the process.”
“I—okay I guess. Whatever.”
Gwenhime met them outside, after everyone had gathered their own bags, and the travelling supplies that the guard had assembled for their journey. The King’s wife flew down from one of the castle’s turrets.
“Ready to leave? The noon poles are shining. You should go soon.”
“Yes. Now,” Lilllith said “where is my servant?”
“What about Ammelia?” Said Chloe.
“We will likely see her group at some point on the way back.”
“That’s what she told me,” Chloe nodded.
Col was running around in the field outside the city. He was playing with the local children, but when he saw the group assembled outside the castle, he broke away and joined them.
“Oh, the kid,” Alexandre said. “Hello.”
“Stop at Hannibal for the night when you arrive there,” the King said. “Stay at the satellite castle there. And, here are letters. Chloe, to our…cousin Ryann. Astore, this one will get you a night watch for the castle in Hannibal. It seems that you have been targeted, so I am being safe. And this is another letter. It’ll get you through the gates without any issues.”
“Thank you. I will take care of it when we arrive,” Astore said.
“Good. Oh, and Lilllith?”
“Yes, your highness?”
“If anything happens to my son or daughter, I will myself declare war on the Lussa City.”
“I—” Lilllith’s pale face shocked red with anxiety.
“That was a joke, dear.”
The King frowned and beckoned to his wife. “Make sure I didn’t give her a stroke.”
Most of the group laughed, although Gwenhime did check the woman’s health.
[Author’s note: The part about the crowns was very important, and I forgot until I started writing Chapter 33. So, I came back here and added it before the chapter even came out! Huzzah!]