Chapter 37: The City; The Prince II
Chloe and Alexandre were led to the Palace by Elllis. It was not far. Alexandre made a note of the rails running around the city. There were none near the House of Malakh, which was a street back from the Palace. This placed the Palace one road parallel to the main street that bisected the city, and Lilllith’s house two streets back. Alexandre did not ask about the rails, but she noted them as an easy way to get to the roof of a building, since they followed storefronts like a ramp.
Chloe gazed. It was her first time walking in the city without anything threatening her and she took the time to take it all in with wonderment. In fact, her open expressions were of interest to both Alexandre and Elllis, who watched her more than they did the path in front of them. Chloe awed at the grey, silver, bronze and copper buildings, trying to apply her knowledge of metallurgy and alloy chemistry to them based on light reflection alone. She looked at the rails passingly, and at the people walking beside and opposing her with fascination. There was a diversity that struck her. In the Solune kingdom, most of the population was Solune, with about a fifth of the capital (more in the western cities) Riley. Recently, there were Djeb and East Metch scholars, as well as N’Tariel traders, but centuries of seclusion behind the Great Solune Wall meant that even now, anyone who wasn’t Solune, Riley or the very occasional East Metch or Plainkind was an abnormality.
“We’re here,” Elllis said.
“Already?” Chloe was brought to the present.
Elllis took them past the outer guards, the inner guards, and the guards in the lobby with little issue. They all apparently knew him. And soon, I will be the same. I wonder if this kingdom will come to honour the Solune crown as my own does. Chloe didn’t notice the inside of the Palace much, though she recognised that it was similar to, but more opulent than Lilllith’s building. Beyond the lobby was a grand hallway, so wide it could be considered a hall or ballroom on its own. Elllis strode across and through the crowd that milled about with confidence.
Alexandre was taking in and compiling a vast array of mental notes. Her eyes darted around the hall rapidly. No windows. This may be a fortified room. The hall is filled with well-dressed people, meaning this isn’t a town square like the Solune castle. Most of these seem to be talking seriously, perhaps they are courtiers. Either way, this is not a place of leisure. She glanced up, a habit she had acquired during her days with her mother in organized crime. Skylight. If this is fortified, this is its primary weakness, although it appears to be three floors high. Hardly an ideal entry point unless you bring rope. Unless the roof is guarded, which it likely is. I wonder how the prince would respond if I asked him.
“Here it is.” He opened one door in a set of two, then, closing the door behind them, led them through a zig-zagged hallway. At the end was another set of double doors which opened to the king’s inner chamber. Elllis opened the doors together, making a grand entrance for the Solune Prince and her companion.
The Lussa prince was pacing back and forth between two women, one at either end of the room. He would stop and speak quietly to each when he came to one or the other. Chloe immediately noticed their dress. They dressed even more poorly Alexandre (when she chose to show off). These women revealed all but the essentials, throwing off any decency that Alex chose to hold to. Worse were the thin silks, which seemed to accentuate their perfect skin rather than cover it. Chloe could not fathom what their role was, and what they may be to the prince.
So she asked Elllis. Elllis was patiently waiting for the King to finish whatever ritual he was going through with the two women, and so he gave her an answer in low tones. Chloe did not entirely understand the meaning of his words. Apparently they were his bodyguards, having trained with Lilllith herself, and even reaching the old guard’s level of skill. But they were feminine; far more than Chloe who could be considered broad even for a man. They were not built like guardswomen. Their second purpose, Elllis said, was to serve as concubines. Chloe had never heard the word, but she chose not to ask its meaning. It did not much matter to Chloe what the women did.
They would come to be of great use later.
“No no,” she said, gazing down from her father’s aristocratic throne, “I am no one’s leader. I was stripped of all that.” Ammelia scoffed the words. “It would be better if you left. Reagent is the leader of your house now. I am simply nothing.”
There were two men before her. One was bright eyed; young and eager. The other was older, married too, but not yet a father. He had long hair that covered his eyes except when he fought. He said, “Our allegiance cannot be bought, traded, or even decreed. It is the blood that we follow. Blood and worthiness, nothing else. You have been found worthy.”
“By two of you, no one else. Eerinn, there are tens of people following Reagent instead of me. Go with them. It is safer. I will be here if you ever want to speak, but I cannot help you,” Ammelia said.
“Ammelia!” Said the young man. She couldn’t see it, but Eerinn always knew, the young man was clearly smitten. “We are here to help you!”
She stood, and descended the single modest step from her father’s seat. “You can’t help me do nothing, Yohan.” She placed a hand on his head, a deeply immodest, even immoral thing to do. “It is best you leave me for now.”
Yohanon bowed, mostly to escape her touch. “I will leave.” And he did.
Eerinn watched him.
“I will make no declarations of loyalty, but if pressed, know that the truth will come out.”
“The truth?” Ammelia sat back down.
“That I side with your father, and thus I side with you.” Eerinn moved to the door and then stopped, gazing up at the tall stone walls. It was quite a mansion. “I recommend you find your brother, and also,” he paused, unsure if he should continue. “You should also grow out your horns like he does. Do it to honour the memory your father. To remind every nobleman exactly who you are, and from whence you come; from whose seed. And, do it to show disobedience to Reagent. Wear them on your head with pride.”
Ammelia smirked, “as you wish, subject!”
After he left, she held the expression, though a single tear streaked down her face, followed by another. “Grow them out at a time like this?”