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 weren’t any of them 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 east to west, and Lilllich’s house two streets back. Alexandre did not ask about the rails, but regardless of their true purpose, she saw them as an easy way to get to the roof of a building, since they followed storefronts like an extended ramp.
Chloe simply 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 kemia to guess their composition based on their colour and light reflection. She had a feeling that she could do more if she had a prism. She also 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.
She was pulled out of her musings by a voice. “We’re here.”
It was Elllis.
“Already?” Alexandre replied.
He took them past the outer guards near the street, the inner guards at the door, and the guards in the lobby with little issue. They all apparently knew him. And soon, I will be the same, I suspect. I wonder if this kingdom will come to honour the Solune crown that I wear 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, Lilllich’s building. There were higher ceilings, and more wide-open area showing the space the building took up. And rounded corners, not just from wall to ceiling, but from wall to wall. Perhaps, Chloe thought, it was to show that they had square footage to spare, since rounded corners were far less functional than squares. Beyond the lobby was a grand hallway so wide it could be considered a hall or even 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. She didn’t know how much she would remember, but she processed nonetheless. 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 an open town square like parts of the Solune castle. Most of these people 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 developed during her days with her mother in organized crime. Skylight. If this palace is fortified, this is its primary weakness, although the ceiling appears to be three floors up. Hardly an ideal entry point unless you bring rope, and even then. Unless the roof is guarded, which it likely is. I wonder how the prince would respond if I asked him.
“Here it is.”
Elllis opened one door in a set of two, then, closing it, let them along a small hallway that zig-zagged left, then 180 degrees around a corner back right again, and then finally recentred itself straight.
Alexandre was impressed. This effectively puts an extra wall and a bit of hassle between the entrance and the prince’s chamber. It’s good security, if not a little excessive. Although, maybe in our current situation such a thing will end up being needed. Hopefully not. She lost herself in thought as they stood in front of another set of double doors.
Elllis said, “Wait here now,” and then knocked, opening one of the doors. He leaned inside in a way that blocked the women’s vision. He said something inside the room that they couldn’t hear, and then stepped back and shut the door.
“Is he not there?” Chloe asked.
“Trouble?” Alexandre said.
“No, not quite.”
The stood for about a minute, then Chloe said, “So he is here?”
Elllis didn’t answer, but Chloe thought she sensed him release a silent sigh. Then, he opened the door and let them inside.
Chloe looked around calmly. The chamber was large, with no windows except in the ceiling. The walls were covered in hues of rose-gold waving over rose-copper. The floor was carpeted in orange to match the natural tones of the wall. There was some lounging furniture, a couch and an armchair, in the back, and in the centre of the room was an elevated platform. On the platform stood two people. The first was a tall, lean man, well dressed from head to toe in heavy fabrics in cool dyes. The predominant colour of his tunic was teal, shimmering in the natural light between deep blues and greens like the walls shone between copper and gold. His pants and the long-sleeve shirt beneath the tunic were a dark green, and orange trim accented the edges and corners of all his clothing. The man’s complexion was middling, like a deep natural tan. His face was strong, slim, and young, but his expression was open, perhaps naïve. He had a good noble face, Chloe saw, and perhaps character to match, but his mind and countenance had clearly not yet grown into it. He was also quite short, for Solune standards, though perhaps it was an average height for his people. The other individual in the room stood beside him at attention. Chloe could see the remnants of a blush on her face, which unlike the man’s was already hardened, not, she surmised, from hardship experienced too young or from long experience, but rather more to simple duty, and perhaps a more conservative and careful personality. Her skin was darker as well, and her hair thicker and much longer. What she wore looked more like a uniform, and it was clear that she had some sort of armour underneath it. Chloe could also tell that, while the man was young, this woman was younger, perhaps newly out of adolescence.
The two stood stiffly next to each other, frozen almost. Then, the man stepped up onto the elevated section of the room. Elllis walked forward and met him. They spoke quietly to each other, and then the Lussa prince handed him a translucent fountain pen filled with a dark red ink.
Elllis took it and looked up. “Why do you have this?”
“I,” the prince looked around shamelessly, “refused to sign a document.”
“Yes, and then I threw this out of the window to prove that I refused. After, I found it and left.”
“So they wouldn’t forge your signature?”
“Yes…” The prince retrieved the pen from Elllis and turned to his two guests. “Elllis, who are these two women?”
Chloe wanted to introduce herself, but she was not being addressed and she didn’t know the decorum. She was also beginning to get nervous. This was the first time in many decades that she had come to address the leader of a nation, and the first time in her life she had done so alone. She waited for Elllis to speak, out of both apprehension and anxiety, hoping that he would give her and Alexandre good introductions.
“This is…” He thought for a moment and collected his words. “Chloe Rhye, Fifth Prince of the Solune. Next to her is her bodyguard Alexandre…who hails from both Solune and Riley nations.”
Chloe was impressed. Though he had apparently forgotten or perhaps never heard Alexandre’s surname, he was still able to provide a highly accurate introduction of both of them using the limited knowledge he had picked up. He displayed good memory, and he spoke well. The prince nodded and then shook his head.
“You have a female guard? Very unusual, princess. Ah, but I must introduce myself. I am Ryann Lussa, prince of the Lussa City State and acting regent of the nation.”
Chloe opened her mouth slightly to correct him but stopped. That was a little unceremonious. Ah, wait, how am I supposed to explain this, that I am Prince, and not a princess? What is a princess? Am I of the Metch where they hold to such titles? No, I am a Solune and I am a Prince. Yet, should these words be the very first that he hears come from my mouth? How am I to be prudent in these situations…
Alexandre watched Chloe lose herself in thought. She and twitched at the use of the word herself, and was waiting for the Prince to assert her proper title. But it seemed something rupturous was happening in the woman’s mind, and Alex could see the moment slipping past. Before anyone else could speak, Alexandre said, “We are pleased to meet you, regent.”
“Oh, regent is my office, my title is prince, of course.”
Alexandre anticipated he would say something along these lines. Everyone up until now had referred to him as prince, not regent. But she also knew very well what must be done.
She said, with an edge to her voice, “Oh, of course. Yet Prince Rhye is just that, a Prince. There is no office, no title of princess in the Solune Kingdom. She and all her brothers and sisters are Princes.”
“Oh, is that so?” Ryann stepped down closer to her. Chloe watched him, her mind slowing back down to normal. “Well,” he continued, “prince it is. Now, I have a great part for you to play! Let us turn to the formal portion of our meeting, and not let introductions drag on, as they sometimes do.”
Chloe steeled herself. “Of course. We will have time to learn about each other in the future, I am sure. But for now, please tell what plans and ideas you have, and what problems you face.” Her breathing was deep, trying to counter her nerves. She was glad that her emotional state almost never registered in her speech.
“Well, prince, I hope that you will help my family maintain power.”
Chloe had been afraid this was the sort of aid she had been summoned for. “Before you explain precisely what you mean by that, I must caution you and make my position clear. We came here on behalf of the Solune Kingdom to aid you, and that I am sure will continue to be our mission. However, it is I and no one else who will decide what the nature of that aid is, and how far it will reach. Nothing will be done by my party that may harm either the Solune reputation, or the newly acquired Solune position on the world stage.” She paused for two breaths, smiled aptly, and lightened her tone. “So far this city appears well run, and I do not foresee any major issues in our diplomatic relationship.”
The prince was openly taken aback by this pronouncement, but he caught himself and clapped once, stepping back on the elevated section in the centre of the room. “Excellent! You are a good speaker. Well then, the City acknowledges that the Solune visitors will decide the nature and extent of their aid. Alas, let me tell you of my grand discovery and why you are so vital in it. You will see how much help you can be to us, and surely your decision to extend the hand on behalf of the Solune and the Sollussa, will be easy!”
He’s quite a fanciful speaker. “Tell me,” Chloe said.
The Lussa prince took on a more mature and leaderlike expression as he got into his speech. “I recently—with the help of our Elllis here, among other choice scholars and lawmen—uncovered an ancient law. It is from the days of old, when family had a major part in the rulership of government; not just the royal family, but also influencing other sectors such as parliament. You see, the current parliament is moving to vote my family out of rule before the allotted waiting period for the assembly of heirs has elapsed. This is the only window they have, and they have been, even before I reached out to you, taking as full advantage of it as they saw possible.”
Again, Chloe’s mind churned, looking for the words she needed in order to express that she had no idea what he was referring to, beyond basic concepts such as parliament, and voting his family out of power somehow. She opened her mouth slightly.
Alexandre, who always kept an eye on the Prince, noticed this faint attempt at speech from Chloe, and acted on it, this time nudging Elllis rather than speaking up herself. Elllis, insightful, fortunately understood the meaning of her gesture.
“Your highness,” he said, “I am afraid that these Solune people have no knowledge of our City’s political and legal systems, and that your words likely sound arcane and mysterious to their ears.”
“Ah! Of course!” Here returned the youthful and foolish nature that he had when they had first arrived. “Though, perhaps now is not the time to explain all this in full depth, since I presume your party will need to know the details as well? It is something I would rather not repeat too many times. Why don’t I explain only the core of the situation?”
Chloe at least had the energy to respond to this. “Of course,” She said.
“There are two categories of elements you need to know about.” Prince Ryann gathered his thoughts. “The first is succession, and the second is my ancient law. In the Lussa City State, the next ruler is voted on from among the royal offspring. There is I, my elder sister Rellla, the young twins, and perhaps the eldest of us, my half sister, but she will likely have no claim to the throne. The people must vote from among us, and choose the land’s next leader.”
This was easy enough from Chloe; a severely limited democracy, where one of the children of the previous king is voted to be the next ruler.
Ryann continued. “Usually, upon either the death or descension of the previous ruler, the heirs have a period of thirty days to assemble, after which the people have eighty-four days to hear the words and see the actions of the heirs before they must vote.” He paused, anticipating questions. Chloe didn’t have one, but she came up with something to fill the silence.
“How many days have passed since your king died?”
“It has been three weeks; nineteen days to be exact.”
“So you contacted us when?”
“After one week of my sister not being found, and receiving mounting pressure from the Assembly, I began to see if the laws had any salvation for me. This is where my second point on the ancient law comes in. Over eight days, I found two things. In the legal archives, I uncovered, translated, and copied the law in question. The document refers to the Lussa people as both Lussa and Sollussa interchangeably, so I had some of my people investigate the term. This is when I learned of the ancient split of the Sollussa, and that there were more of us on the Djeb side of the planet, but through a different portal.”
“So the law led you to documents about the Solune.”
“And the documents led us to a long-forgotten hole to the other side of the planet. The remaining days were spent testing the hole with objects to make sure it was not blocked anywhere, followed by scouting and assembling a team for the journey. We also spoke to Djeb noblemen about your kingdom, and they said that it was sealed for a long time, and even now that your walls have opened, travellers from the Djeb are few due to the desert in between the two kingdoms. As you know, the letter I sent ahead of Lilllich came through Djeb channels, but Lilllich herself took the other route since it was much shorter.”
“Okay,” Chloe said, “That brings us, however briefly, up to speed with the events that preceded our kingdom learning of yours, and this entire journey. Now, tell me what your law has to do with all of this; with the election.”
“Well, because the election has frozen—one moment.” The prince shook his head. “It must be getting late, I forgot to tell you about the freeze. Elllis, can you fill it in so I can hold my train of thought?”
The lawman bowed. “The prince said that the heirs have one month to assemble. Well, what happens if one or more are missing? The answer is, the election is frozen for one year and a regent, the eldest from among the heirs, is chosen to take the role of leader during that time. That is why prince Ryann has power right now.”
Alexandre said, “But something’s wrong, this is all too early. Didn’t you say the heirs had a month? And it’s been only nineteen days?”
For the first time, the woman next to the prince spoke. “The eldest becomes regent the moment the previous king leaves power for whatever reason.” Her voice was calm, sweetly feminine, and authoritative, almost more authoritative than Ryann’s was. “Ryann speaks of a freeze as if it has happened, but he is only being presumptuous; the freeze will not legally occur until the expected date, eleven days from now. Although, of course, we hope for the return of the princess before then, the circumstances of her disappearance are suspicious enough that it is impossible to know when we will see her again.”
“Very well,” Alexandre said.
“The freeze law was put in partially to dissuade foul play.” Ryann took a deep breath. “This is where our ancient law finally comes in. This law predates the Confederation document; it’s from the early days when the kingdom was more oligarchic. The law states that a noble family on the council may bring in direct kin, kin of blood but not of law, into counsel to make full vote on certain laws, and that their inclusion and vote could not be vetoed.”
Chloe nodded slowly. What a strange place this is, where one can find centuries-old laws, that those laws would still somehow be binding, and then use them against a modern parliament. “So you are going to tell me that I, being an ancient ancestor of you, can come to be a voting member of this foreign Lussa Parliament? The parliament of a nation my family has been absent from for over a millennium?”
“Yes! Sort of. You can only vote on some issues, you do not at all join the Parliament Assembly. The law is extremely specific. It’s well written. But Elllis and a few others have assured me that this is one of the cases in which the law could come into play, right Elllis?”
Elllis nodded. “Defence of the Crown in times of mystery was the literal translation we came to. I have no doubt that we will be able to find modern variants of that idea, perhaps even with similar terminology, that we can cleave to legally.”
“And what do you need me to vote on?” Chloe asked.
“At the moment, I and my family need you to vote against the Antimiles house. They seek to cut short the freeze for election, and to invoke a section of the Constitution in conjunction with one of Goldenbaum’s amendations to wrench open the possible heirs.”
This time, Chloe was managing to follow along when the prince started mentioning new terms and people, but the wording near the end threw her off. “To do what to the heirs?”
Again the woman spoke. “Antimiles proposes to open the vote beyond the offspring of the Lussa king.”
“So they would turn this City into a proper democracy?”
“No!” The two Lussa men, Elllis and Ryann said simultaneously.
“No,” Ryann continued, “they would strip my family of its nobility and open the heirs, the viable candidacy, to a handful of individuals from each noble house.”
“That’s unusually particular,” Chloe said.
“That is Goldenbaum’s amendation! The purpose of nearly all of Goldenbaum’s laws was attacks against and removal of powers from the Lussa family. The amendation does not say ‘the present ruler’s children cannot be heirs in the next election,’ it says, ‘the next three generations of the Lussa family are not viable candidates for election to the crown.’ The laws specifically target us by name!” Ryann’s energy had gotten quite high from all this. He was not angry, but he was clearly agitated.
Chloe felt very strange about all of this, and her face tightened in expression. She saw that the prince had noticed her look, and it seemed to agitate him more, but she wouldn’t soften it. “I would take up your side in the Parliament and move to maintain the election freeze. The interim between kings is exactly the wrong time to be changing laws regarding succession, heirs, and ascension.”
The woman who Chloe assumed to be the prince’s bodyguard had taken hold of his shoulder, perhaps comfortingly. Her hand moved unassumingly to the small of his back. Whatever her gestures were doing seemed to be helping him somehow. How old; how mature is this man? Is he truly the best among the heirs? Is he best among those who might become heirs if the laws shift? Regardless of her questions, she would hold to her word and vote against changing the law…at this time.
“Well, this is excellent. We will talk details when all of your people are here. I will make the preparations to enable your vote in the coming Assembly. We will meet in…two days. I will summon you the day after tomorrow, so be sure not to leave Lilllich’s building, or it will cause all of us trouble.”
“Thank you.” Chloe bowed he head a little. Ryann returned the movement studiously.
Elllis led them out, but Alexandre nonchalantly stopped by the door and fixed her shoe. Really, she listened. In the prince’s chamber, she heard muffled sounds and let her brain and prior experience doing this process it into words.
“…have a tie now? You know that will only delay them. The other houses may turn on you as well, and then what?” This was a female voice. That woman guard.
“I’m sure Xelllous will side with us. I will be talking to him.”
“I don’t know if we should be relying on him. He tends to…”
Alexandre finished with her shoe and caught up with Elllis and Chloe. She said, “Pretty heavy stuff in there.”
“It wasn’t too bad. Ah, I liked it,” Chloe said.
Elllis guided them past the outer guards and back into the grand hallway. He laughed at Alexandre’s comment. “If you want heavy, I can take a law library some time!”
“Oh,” Chloe said, “I would actually be interested in that…”
“Fair,” Alexandre replied. She never understood poets and lawyers. At the same time, she wondered what she would be like if she had become one herself.
(This chapter is quite long! Perhaps the longest yet…)