“This building has many rooms. Importantly, bedrooms. There are two penthouse-style rooms on the top floor. The third floor has six, but they’re mostly used for storage. The second floor also has six, all set for habitation. The first floor has two, as well as the watching room, which can be converted.”
“So sixteen rooms?” Astore said, “And all this land?”
“A lot of that leads into crown land actually, I only own a portion of it. That is, public space. A small part of it is a park, though it’s usually quite empty. The rest is underdeveloped; lot of it is dense forest.”
Lilllich pointed to the roof, visible through the light foliage. “I have one penthouse well-furnished for myself, and also a room on the ground floor which I tend to sleep in more often. I also gave your Prince a place on the top floor. Kent and Senica have a room on the third floor. All the way across the building on the same floor is Anselm. Col, Annissette, Shalla, and Rockk’s old room are all on the second floor. You, mister King’s Agent, are on the second floor with all the kids.”
“She is on the first.”
“So there’s still a lot of space, after all that.”
“Mansions like this hail from a time when large sections of a family would stay together. You would have grandparents, a brood of children, and servants, and still need guest rooms in case one of your relatives and their children come over.”
Astore memorized the locations. He had developed his memory to the point where he rarely forgot information, even after hearing it the first time. He was thus a terrific student, but beyond that a truly exceptional spy, scout, and operative, an ideal Solune Agent. He would have to survey the building itself in order to slot the information into a mental map though.
“And that’s it? What about other rooms?”
“Oh. Well, if you insist, there’s the training room in the basement. The first floor has the drawing room, or lounge, the dining room, the kitchen, and as I said, the watching room. The second floor has another lounge, which we call the music room, since there’s a harpsichord and other instruments in there. Otherwise, there are bathrooms in a few places. City pipes will push water upward to the second floor, however unwillingly. The third floor you have to pump.”
“Oh.” Astore wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but he would try to find out. Probably something to do with water pipes and sewage. Did they have aqueducts here? It didn’t seem so, which meant that the pipes were likely underground.
“What do you think of my building? You know I helped design it.”
“Really? It looks a century old.”
Lilllich smiled. Astore noticed that her teeth were a little longer, and perhaps even sharper than normal Lussa or Solune teeth.
“What are you saying? You built this a hundred years ago?”
“Yes, dear. Condor people live very long.”
Astore stopped walking. “Condor.” It wasn’t a question. He knew what a Condor was. “Like the King’s wife.”
Lilllich nodded. “I was ecstatic when she showed me her wings. She knew right away when she saw me. I didn’t even notice her. Clever, staying with a people like the Solune who look so similar.”
“…You’re Condor, and that’s why she didn’t trust you.” Astore shook his head. “She still doesn’t.”
Lilllich shrugged. “You do.”
Astore was a good judge of character—he had to be as an Agent—and did trust her enough, but he had thought he’d never shown it. Condor women…can they read minds? Gwenhime speaks to me like this too. Annoying.
“So you have wings?”
“I have wings when I have wings.”
“I am two centuries old. Very young compared to the noblewoman. This building was built one hundred years ago, but well maintained. Never renovated, only repaired.”
“Sounds like the castle.”
“But, my dear Solune—”
“—Riley, does Chloe Rhye have wings?”
“I—” Astore stopped walking again. They were in front of the Tower of Malakh now, at the rear entrance. “I actually don’t know. I’ve worked with her sisters, Natasha Rhye and Janna Rhye, as well as a brother, Kain Rhye, briefly. In my lifetime, I have seen none of them use any wings.”
“How old are you?”
“Nearly too old. Twenty-two.”
Lilllich nodded. “And them?”
Astore thought. “Chloe is somewhere in the range of eight-hundred. Her sisters are older, probably by a few decades…or centuries, I am not sure how to judge their appearance.”
“I should have known she was the youngest. But you see now, you’ve lived one thirty-sixth their lifespan. It is very painful to have to grow new wings, and they are extremely inconvenient outside of Condor society. I doubt you could possibly know for sure whether the children, the half-Condor of that family, has wings or not.”
“But they’re mixed. Do half-Condors have wings?”
“I…can’t speak for all cases, but they may not.” She seemed resistant on this point.
Astore made a mental note of the information. Chloe may be the Solune Prince, but she was half-Condor…and a quarter Riley. He didn’t know what to make of that. Did that mean that Solune in their bloodline was thin?
They were eating supper when two young black men in white flowing robes strode into the room.
“The prince would like to meet all of you tomorrow at noon. He also requests that the Solune Prince and no more than one other join him within the cycle,” said the taller of the two robed men.
“Are either of you eating?” asked Lilllich.
“I will,” said the shorter.
“And what did I tell you about eating in your robes, Rockk?”
“I will be right back.”
This more familiar man, Rockk, exited, leaving the dining hall with only one standing man. Those at the table looked up at him, expectantly.
“That is the extent of my message. I will not eat and further, whoever is coming with me should please finish up and follow in a hurry.” The man surveyed the foreigners, stopping at Alexandre and noting with a hint of confusion her tight clothing. He couldn’t tell who among them the Solune prince was. He figured it was possibly the tall, confident looking man with black hair sitting next to the Djeb woman.
It seemed to Chloe that Lilllich knew both men fairly well, so she waited for her to a perhaps facilitate introductions. When she didn’t, Chloe asked, “He wants us within the hour?”
“Yes. Who among you is the prince and who, if anyone, will be the one accompanying?”
“I am the Prince,” Chloe said. She looked around. “Who will come with me?”
Siren fidgeted. He would volunteer if no one else did.
“I will come,” said Annissette gravely.
“No you will not, you are a child,” Lilllich said, “and you are from my house, not the Solune Kingdom.”
“Maybe Senica should go, since she’s learned in the right subjects,” Kent volunteered.
“Not Solune subjects though,” Chloe mumbled. Louder, she said, “Will she be a good representative of the Solune nation, having never lived there?”
Senica nodded. It didn’t make sense to her either. A few people started eating again.
“Let me think.” Chloe surveyed her own party. She had an intuitive idea of who she wanted, but she weighed the options in her mind first. They would have to make a good impression to the Lussa prince, alongside her. Chloe had a few criteria in mind; someone who would grew up and lived in the kingdom, but didn’t have too much in common with her. They had to represent the nation, but still be different enough from Chloe to show some range.
Astore would look good, knowing how to act in a composed manner in front of royalty, but she was not sure if she wanted to take another Solune official. Kent and Senica weren’t familiar with the kingdom—Kent hadn’t lived there in decades. Anselm Siren was Solune like her, but perhaps taking him would leave the impression that the entire kingdom consisted of tall, light haired people. That left Alexandre Dirge, but there would she be a good representative? She was a bit rough around the edges, and Chloe was not sure how she would act before foreign royalty. Plus, Alexandre is unusually tall for a Riley, so she makes for a strange representative of her own people. I think Siren might be the better choice. At the very least he is reserved and seems to have some idea professionalism. Siren or Dirge…Chloe decided to go with her initial intuition.
“Alexandre will accompany me.”
“She’s badly injured,” said Shalla. “We had to dress a cut on her torso and her left hand. They weren’t very deep, but she didn’t close them at all! She was passing out. I don’t know how much blood she’s lost, but we cleaned a lot off her skin.”
“It’s fine. I’ve slept a bit, and it’s just walking, right? I’ve done more in worse condition. This is…” Alexandre shifted in her seat. “Royal business.”
Chloe looked past the table at Alexandre. She had been unconscious, so she hadn’t seen the Riley’s fight. When they had met, she could only see Alexandre’s face through the thin windows. “You scaled the prison wall while injured?”
Alexandre frowned. It was in a bit of passion. “I…Maybe I hadn’t bled quite as much at that point.”
The other newcomer returned. He had hung up his robes with the coats. Shalla served him and he started eating too.
“It is decided then?” said the standing man, “You will take this woman? In more formal clothes, I hope.”
Lilllich shook her head. “We will find something, I am sure. Sit down and introduce yourself, and let the women finish eating! You should really read up on your etiquette in between all that philosophy and law.”
Marshalla appeared with another chair and found an awkward place for him on the corner. There were twelve people seated at the table. Lilllich knew that it could seat far more, but it had to be set up properly for it beforehand. The man sat and surveyed the dining hall and its inhabitants. Alexandre took her time with the simple meal, but Chloe finished quickly due to nerves.
“So this is what the Solune look like?” said the man. “Is this one not a Djeb woman?”
“We are not all Solune,” Chloe replied. “Astore and Alexandre are Riley.”
He nodded. He could see the difference, namely in the black hair and paler skin.
“—Half,” Alexandre said through the food in her mount.
“Half?” said Chloe. Her mind began to race. No, not that sort of half.
“Oh, that explains why you’re so tall!” Senica clapped once in triumph. “I have been wondering about that since we left the kingdom! Kent always told me that the Riley are quite short. Even Astore is, but not you.”
Chloe said, “So your—”
“—father was Solune. Interesting.” Chloe mulled over this.
“Did you know that the Royal family is also mixed?” Said Kent.
“Really?” Alexandre mumbled, shoving more food into her mouth. She was only halfway done.
“Yes, but it was different. It was…perhaps the first ever instance of Solune-Riley interbreeding in history that brought my father into the world. And it was with a hundred-percent, interestingly enough. Legend has it my grandfather is quite the wild person.”
Chloe stared at Kent. The Rhye family did not have many secrets, but if one went back that far, that many centuries back, the information became sensitive. Masses of context would be needed to convey things properly. This was not the right time or place, Chloe knew, for such talk. Kent understood as much, and he changed his approach when he saw Chloe’s look.
He finished with, “Our father, the Solune King, is exactly one half Solune one half Riley.”
“That is quite interesting. The Lussa Royal bloodline is also mixed. You may have noticed that around half of the Lussa, including myself, are dark. The royalty are both, so they have a more brown skin. My name is Elllis, by the way. I am a politician. I used to be a lawyer, and I still represent sometimes.” He wanted to shake someone’s hand, but everyone apart from Lilllich, who he already knew well, was very far away. Etiquette. He bowed his head to the Solune Prince.
Chloe understood the gesture and bowed back. Then, she stood up—Elllis did the same—and walked across the room to where he had been sitting, looking at Alexandre’s plate on her way over.
“I am Chloe Rhye, Fifth Prince of the Solune. I am a scholar and noblewoman.”
“Pleased to meet you, I am sure.” He tried to shake her hand, reaching out, but Chloe did not reciprocate. Elllis withdrew his gesture. “Shall we go meet the Lussa prince?”
“Yes.” Chloe looked behind her to Alexandre, who was finally finishing her plate.
(Note: This chapter is new in the rewrite, and might set up some continuity errors, especially in the future…ah well, first draft right?)