Chapter 38: The City; The Prince III
The Lussa prince snapped his hand. He shook the tension from his body casually. It was clear to Chloe Rhye that the man had poor charisma. Worse, even, than her own. Worse than Alexandre Dirge. They had patiently waited as he paced the royal chamber. We waited over half an hour as he spoke quietly to one woman, and then paced to the other, and spoke again. Then she would answer.
“I did not see all of you there.”
“But you heard the door,” said Elllis.
“Yes. I forgot it. Take this.” The Lussa prince handed Elllis a translucent pen filled with a dark red ink.
Elllis took it and looked up. “Why do you have this?”
“I,” he looked around shamelessly, “refused to sign a document.”
“You did what?”
“I refused, and then I threw this out of the window to prove that I refused. After—no, I left in the middle—of the meeting. I…I found it and left.”
“So they wouldn’t forge your signature?” It was Alexandre.
“Yes…” The prince turned to her. “How did you guess?”
Alexandre, for whatever reason, was still wearing the too-small clothing she got from Annissette. Chloe wondered if they really belonged to the young girl, or if they were Lilllith’s.
“I’ve seen forgery happen. Things must be pretty tense here if that’s how low they would stoop. What didn’t you sign?”
The prince raised his chin and looked, finally, noble. “I cannot tell you such things.” He gazed at her exposed stomach. “Elllis who are these people?”
“This is Alexandre Dirge, the right hand man of Chloe Rhye, on the other side.”
Chloe nodded as a bow. “Fifth Prince of the Solune, at your service.”
The prince stopped breathing for a while, and then inhaled deeply. Alexandre, and no one else, noticed a blush through his dark skin.
“I have made a fool of myself before you, my sister. Please forgive me.” He tried to shake her hand, but she just bowed again. Prince Ryann, catching on quickly, took a step back and returned the gesture. “My great grandfather used to greet like this. I have not seen such an action in…decades. Truly, our guess must have been true. You must be family. I—Jocelllyn!”
The pale girl in blue stood erect and called out, “Yes!”
She exited through a side door. Alexandre watched her go. Thin, but not weak. And she is, at least, wearing a proper sword. Forearms seem large enough to use it too. I wonder how well she has been trained. And how often she—Alexandre glanced at the Lussa prince and smiled. Oops.
“What is this? Your teeth are ruined,” said the prince.
“Ruined?” Alexandre asked.
“Why, maid, they are rusting. I’ve no business asking why you’ve no teeth, but certes, you must get them fixed at once!” Again, he turned to his bodyguard-concubine and made a command. “You must get an appointment for this royal guest with my facial physician. And a metallurgist or alloyist too, it seems.”
The prince turned back to Alexandre’s midriff, and then finally to her eyes. He raised a brow, to which Alexandre returned a harsh squint and a cocked head. “Tomorrow afternoon. Michelllise, have it arranged.”
The other woman, bound in as little loosely-worn reds and greens as was possible, left as well, just as the first bodyguard returned. “There you have it!” The prince smiled.
Alexandre smiled back with rusting metal teeth. It was an ambivalent expression, but it was wide. Chloe didn’t know if Alexandre was smiling, or baring her jaw.
“So you two got married right away?”
“Yes, I’ve known Kent for…perhaps four months.”
“Did you know he was royalty?” Siren asked. Newlyweds always fascinated him. They all shared this strange glow that he had only ever seen shared by newborns. It was like they wer new people, and yet somehow still adults.
“Of course she knew,” Kent said.
Senica added, “The only thing was, I wasn’t quite sure what a Solune was. Not until I saw your kingdom.”
Siren smirked, “What did you think?”
“Oh, it’s,” Senica blushed thinking of her home, the Djeb, “it’s so much more modest and calm and small…it’s so different than the Djeb. You know, that’s something you share with the Lussa.”
Astore said, “What is?”
“The Solune nation is calmer. The Djeb is so fast paced. You have to watch out for pickpockets, and a conversation on the street is liable to be interrupted by a merchant if you stand around too long. But there’s nothing like that in the Solune capital.”
“There’s the dude who keeps auctioning off his shoe in the castle lobby,” Kent said.
“Well, I think that’s a little different. Wait,” Senica went over his words again, “how does he keep auctioning a shoe?”
“He sells it, and then the buyer leaves it behind when they exit.”
“That man, I think, is either homeless or unemployed. His auctions are a form of dignified begging,” Kent said, quite solemnly.
Senica tilted her head in thought. Kent stared admiringly at his wife. Djeb skin is a little darker than Solune’s, like they always have a light tan. But it looks smoother, and reflects light differently. Senica, like the rest of her kin, shone beautifully and naturally. Her hair was a dark blonde, and much thicker than his. The only thing that confused him was that when they first met, she had black marks, tribal markings he had thought, below her eyes. Now they were gone, but he couldn’t quite remember when that had happened.
“Four months, eh?” Siren nodded thoughtfully.
Astore watched him, and then said, “Wait, aren’t you that musician?”
Siren turned to the Riley. “What musician?”
“The one who got really big in the Djeb once the walls opened.”
Siren smiled. “Yeah, and?”
“You…you’re quite wealthy by now, are you not?”
“Are you not?”
Astore, still wearing the dark jumpsuit of the Solune Agents, was a little intimidating. Siren said, “I’m well enough that I don’t need to go on this mission, alright?”
“Cool off Astore, wow.” Kent laughed.
They were in one of the many lounges in the House of Malakh, accompanied by Annissette, who had been told by Lilllith to heed their requests for refreshments. So far, only Astore had made use of her services, and it was for a jug of water and a cup. She had instead brought a proper glass pitcher and enough stainless chromed-steel cups for all of them. Kent was almost worried they were overworking her until he counted the cups and realized that she had brought one for herself. Perhaps she considered herself part of the group, which was what he had hoped for. The room was small, but cozy. The furniture low, and the carpet thick and lush. He and Senica were on the ground, and occasionally on each other, leaning on a couch. Siren was sitting bent into an odd shape on a plush single-person chair. Astore stood on a bench. Kent looked around for Annissette, who seemed to have disappeared.
“Where is the Lussa gal?”
Siren raised his head and looked around. Astore said, “She’ll be back.”
“How do you know?”
Annissette re-entered with a plate of small foods. Freshly cut meats and crackers.
“So did you bring an instrument?” Kent asked, returning to their earlier conversation.
“Oh, uh, no. I might purchase one here though.”
“So what sort of music do you play? You know my father, the King, is adept and very many instruments. Mostly the harp and the cello though.”
“Ah, yes, I play the violin and gut guitar inside the Solune kingdom. In the Djeb, thanks to the Servant of Music, I can play the amplified guitar there.”
Senica perk up. “You play amps?”
Siren smiled, “Oh yes, when I can.”
“Is Servant not strong enough in Hannibal?”
“To be honest, I haven’t really tried.”
“No? Well…” Senica sat up, for she had been leaning on Kent. In fact, they had been a little too immodest in the small room for Kent’s liking, but his hormones did not let him protest. “He is very strong in the Lussa City. Siren, I must hear you play.”
“Well, maybe I will get a guitar then,” Siren laughed.
Annissette returned again, this time with the instrument Siren had just mentioned.
“Oh yes!” Senica clapped her hands together, “this is exactly it! Try it out!”
Siren took the instrument. In Annissette’s hands, it was large, the body larger than hers, though that was likely due more to her age and build than anything. She handed him the pin, a small plug that channelled the Servant’s influence. There was no switches on the guitar or the plug, so Siren knew he would be playing clean, which was fine with him.
He strummed an E minor chord. “My dear, it’s out of tune.”
Annissette frowned, and took the instrument back from him abrasively. She plucked at it and turned the knobs with a tool from her smock. After less than a minute, she handed it back, thrusting it into Siren’s chest.
He pulled the strings a second time. “Oh yes. You’re quite fast at that.”
“Play!” Senica called out.
Siren strummed the chord one string at a time, and then moved his fingers down one fret and did it again.
“Hang on, these frets are metal.”
“What else would they be?” Annissette mumbled.
“…Gut. Gut frets.”
“Those deteriorate. These are good for years.”
Siren looked down at the frets that signified where each note started or ended. “Impressive. But,” he played for a little more and stopped, “I want to hear you.” Siren handed the girl the instrument. Annissette turned bright red, even her hands. “M-me?”