Chapter 39: Transitory DomesticityNew? Click here to go to chapter one
Astore had been watching the young Solune throughout the conversation. He had the strange sense that he knew the man from somewhere, and then he finally realized.
“You’re that musician, aren’t you.”
Siren turned to him. “What musician?”
“The one that got really big in the Djeb after the walls opened. Got staged for a whole week playing both original and Solune music. You made quite a stir over there, oh, maybe four or five months ago? Must have accrued some wealth from all that.”
“Well…” Siren gazed around Lilllich’s lounge lazily. The entire Solune party was there, waiting to receive whatever news Rhye and Dirge might have for them. He was impressed by the room’s size and the amount of furniture though, calculating that it could comfortably seat the entire household including Chloe’s party, and probably that many people again. Surely, if Lilllich held any gatherings, this is room was central to them.
“No?” Apparently, despite Anselm’s reluctance, Astore was intent on continuing the conversation. “A concert tends to have good margins, especially the way they have it set up in the Djeb. And you did consecutive strings of them.”
Astore was still wearing his Agent uniform; dark grey formal wear with squared shoulders and a ribbon on the left shoulder denoting his rank. Siren saw that the ornaments on were similar to those on a guard’s uniform, but he had never learned those, so he couldn’t read Astore’s. Despite all this, the overall effect of the uniform was a little intimidating.
Siren let the Riley’s words swim around in his mind for a while until felt compelled to divulge the fate of his fortune. “A lot of the money went to repairing my parents’ home. I also bought new gear and extra frets, invested in some mercantile trade, and the rest…” he contemplated for a moment, deciding how much to leave out. “…Went to pay for a funeral. A good one.”
Astore stood silent, letting the weight of the words take the space it was entitled. Kent had also heard, and he quieted his wife a little, since she tended to be rather loud in her extraversion.
Senica finished her point, and a minute passed, after which Kent spoke up, addressing Anselm. “I guessed you might have had a reason beyond the pay to come on this journey.”
Siren scoffed good naturedly. “There is another reason, but the money will help.”
“And the new gear?” Senica called out.
“That’s all back in the kingdom.”
“Aww!” the Djeb woman said, “I was hoping you could share with us what became so popular in the city of my birth.”
Siren laughed with a hint of weakness. “Not on this trip, I’m afraid.”
Senica gave an exaggerated frown. Kent moved to speak but was interrupted.
“Why not!” This was Annissette, who had been waiting quietly at the door with a pitcher of water and a tray. She had arrived during the moment of silence after Siren mentioned the funeral, and so hadn’t gotten a chance to announce herself.
“Er…I didn’t come here to play, I came here to…do whatever duties I am given by the Prince.”
Annissette put the glass pitcher down on the centre table and placed her tray of stainless-chromed cups next to it. She said, “You know, you were mentioned in the Djeb newspaper. I usually pick one up for Marshalla. But I didn’t know that all this time it was you in the article!”
Kent said, “You read newspapers?”
Siren said, “I was in the Djeb paper? And, wait, how did you get a Djeb newspaper?”
“Hmph!” The girl crossed her arms. “It’s imported! Many merchants and politicians are fine paying the premium to know what’s happening up there. Anyway! I want to hear you play, show me!”
“I would, but I think you missed a moment ago when I said I hadn’t brought any of my instruments.”
“You think that in all this space; in all of Lilllich’s great estate, there are no musical instruments? Tell me, what do you play?”
“The…” Siren hesitated. He thought for a moment and then said, truthfully, “Harpsichord, oote, harp, and hanging harp.”
“Oote…oote…oh yes,” Annissette considered this. “Oh yes! We have something similar, I’ll get it for you!”
Siren said nothing, watching the young woman jump out of the room. He waited a few moments and then he left himself. Kent watched him with concern.
It took a few minutes, but Annissette returned, out of breath, holding an instrument that looked strange particularly to the Solune members of the room. “Here! Here! What do you make of this? Isn’t it similar?” She said, overflowing with energy and joy. It had a long neck and five strands, four doubled, for a total of nine, running down to a wide round echoing body. The girl looked around. “Where did he go?”
Kent and Senica whispered to each other at the back of the room, and then Senica stood and looked around. “Maybe he went to the washroom…?”
Annissette decided to prepare the instrument. She tuned the strings and set the frets in place. Then, she and the rest of the room waited patiently.
Senica started, “I don’t think he will be retur—”
“Stop!” Annissette said. “Don’t presume.”
They waited, silent, for a few more minutes, and then Annissette stood and left again. On her way out, she heard Astore say something about her giving the whole thing up, and how it was the smarter thing to do. Like he was speaking on her behalf and reassuring the room. She turned the corner and exited. She had not given up. She wasn’t done with that Siren man, not even close.
The building was starting to cool. Annissette looked out one of the hallway’s windows as she walked and, seeing that the sun was setting, concluded that Siren would not be outside. This was a mistake on her part, since she hadn’t considered that Anselm Siren, being an adult, didn’t have much of a problem stepping outside for a few minutes around sunset, or even after dark. Annissette searched the mansion, and eventually made it to his room.
Taking a deep, quiet breath, the Lussa girl leaned close to the door and listened. She heard nothing. Leaning on the door, she slowly pressed her ear against it. Still nothing. Grumpy, Annissette finished her search of the building and then returned to the lounge.
“He’s gone,” she huffed. “Maybe he was just a figment of my imagination.”
“Too bad,” Astore said.
“Where did you get that?” Senica asked.
“The instrument? That’s mine. I practice on it.”
“Oh! Why don’t you play then?”
Annissette contemplated this and then nodded. She took the instrument in her hands and then sat with it. It was made of wood, with metal strings and metal frets. She shifted one of the frets up a notch and then strummed. Then Annissette played a simple, slow, sad song to suit her mood.
Outside, Siren leaned on the side of the building. He heard voices, passersby he assumed, but he was wrong. Someone called out, and then again. He listened, trying to hear what this voice was saying.
“Anselm!” sang a female voice.
He froze, and then looked up, his heart pounding. It was Alexandre Dirge and Chloe, returning from the palace.
Once again, Alexandre sang. “What are you doing~?”
“Getting some air.”
The conversation was awkward because they were over ten paces apart. Siren was yelling from the side of the building out to the street in front where the women were. He wondered if all this excitement was disturbing any of the neighbours, but it seemed that everyone around them had rather large estates, and either extensive lawns in front, or thick private trees blocking sound and sight.
Alexandre gave him a mischievous grin. “You’re running from something!”
Anselm further stiffened. Chloe had already moved towards the door and out of sight behind the building, but Alex was stopped in conversation. She saw his look, and her face softened. There was something strangely comforting about her expression, and it seeped into him, and touched at one of the edges of his heart.
“Don’t stay away too long,” she said. She didn’t shout; she knew they didn’t have to at this distance. Then, she followed Chloe and Elllis out of sight.
“Thank you,” Anselm said. He wasn’t sure if she heard him around the corner, but she had.
Chloe and Alexandre said goodbye to Elllis at the door and then went inside to find all those Anselm had left behind. They finally found everyone in the lounge on one of the upper floors. It was the music that led them to the right place. Chloe stepped inside and was pleasantly surprised to see the girl, Annissette, playing an instrument that she had never seen before. It looked familiar, like a lute or an oote, or a western guitar perhaps. She sat down on a vacant chair and listened, and then sunk a lot further than she had expected.
Annissette strummed slow, sombre notes, and it wasn’t long before Chloe could see that her song matched her mood. She wondered if the Lussa was simply experiencing her own music as she played or if something had happened earlier to darken her temper.
Then Kent beckoned her over, asking what had happened at the palace. He and his wife were sitting on the floor. Chloe said that the prince planned to use her as a member of his royal family for some political legal fiat, and Kent just nodded. Apparently that was enough for him. Chloe turned to go back to her seat, but Senica grabbed her sleeve.
“What sort of fiat? Tell me.” The woman smiled.
What was it that always bugged me about her temperament? How can she be always so quietly cheery? Chloe always thought that there was something false or shallow about the Djeb woman’s ever positive temperament, but it seemed that this above-average mood was simply part of her nature. Did a smile from her, or a kind word, mean less than one from someone who gave these out more moderately? Did frequency and easiness cheapen the sentiment? Maybe. But maybe positive action did not work like this. Chloe wasn’t sure just yet, but she obliged her sister-in-law and swept in front of Kent to sit down next to her. The carpet, unsurprisingly at this point, was comfortable and she sank into it more than expected.
“It seems that in this kingdom, once a law is written it can remain binding for a long time. This means that if you stumbled across a centuries-old law in an archive somewhere, you may be able to put it into use. On the nature and specifics of this, I am of course not certain, it is just what I have gathered in my time speaking to prince Ryann and Elllis, who was a lawman. So Ryann has found such a law, a law that predates the Lussa Confederation; their constitution.” Chloe looked at Senica, who beamed at her. This sort of expression, unchanging despite the heavier topic, made her wonder of the woman was actually listening or just nodding along politely. This was frustrating, or perhaps Chloe’s residual bad first impression of the other woman lingered, and she was simply still holding onto negative emotions from back then. Either way, her frustration became words. She would test the Djeb. “Tell me, what do you think of such a law? Do you think it should still be binding?”
“Well it depends on the conventions of the state, doesn’t it?”
It did, and the reply surprised Chloe, though she didn’t show it. That the woman had brought in new legal terminology, conventions, was particularly noteworthy in Chloe’s judgement.
Senica continued, and her expression finally changed. She gave a thoughtful look like she was, maybe for the first time, churning the new information she had gotten from Chloe around in her mind. “So if it has always been the case that a law, no matter how ancient, must be upheld; if that was the case when they wrote the constitution, then it would make sense that the Lussa prince’s old law would still stand. It’s quite an interesting thing for him to pull.”
“It is, and it does make sense. But I have a feeling the opposing factions in their parliament will find some way to reject it.”
“Yeah,” Senica nodded, “it might be quite easy for them to argue something like, it doesn’t apply in this case, or, you haven’t fulfilled the requirements to invoke that law. Or there might be trouble because it predates the constitution. What is the law anyway?”
This is interesting. Senica, it seems, has more to her than I thought. Perhaps I should not have discounted her scholarly achievements. What was her field again? Hmm.
Chloe said, “Apparently the law dates back to a time of tribal leaders, where blood relations held a lot of sway. It states—I am told, for we have not been shown the papers in question—that a group in the council may bring to council a blood relation to vote on certain issues. The problem the prince is having now is in defending the current authority of his rule and sustaining it until a new King can be crowned. He thinks that this would fall under one of the valid categories for the law he has.”
“It might then. Does he seem to have a good grasp of the laws, or is he…focused elsewhere like our Prince here?” She pointed with her thumb to Kent.
“Hey! What did she say about me?” Kent asked.
Chloe answered, “That you are not interested in laws and diplomacy.” Kent nodded and shrugged. It was true, and it didn’t bother him much. Chloe then addressed Senica’s question. “I think he does. It seems he was raised learning the laws. I expect his father was a good King, and taught him well. Although,” She remembered having to wait before meeting him. Who was in the room? Only the prince and that woman guard. “His mind may be focused on other things as well, though I cannot be sure. I would not want to start rumours.”
“Rumours?” Senica giggled. It was a likeable laugh, although what about her wasn’t? “Well, don’t tell me! I don’t need that sort of privileged information floating around my head, not about a leader of state!”
“Fair. I am sure it is nothing.”
Chloe nodded to the couple and then stood to return to her chair, her right knee popping as she rose. It seemed Alexandre had ended up taking the seat, so Chloe just stood.
The music started to get faster and more distressed, shifting from a calm flow to a bubbling jet, until it boiled over and abruptly stopped. Everyone clapped, much to Annissette’s surprise, but she didn’t say anything, taking the time to catch her breath.
“You have a good talent. Are you to be a musician?” Senica called out.
“No, a physician. There’s no money in art!” The girl said, spirits apparently lifting now.
Kent laughed at this.
Alexandre nodded in quiet agreement. “Yes, you did quite well on my wounds,” she said.
“Oh! I need to check them still.”
Chloe stood and took the attention of the room. “First, let me tell you all what the prince told me. We have just returned from the palace and it is important to our diplomatic mission here.”
“Eh, not yet.” The girl said, “We need Lilllich, and Mr. Siren, but no one knows where he went.”
“He’s outside somewhere. Do you want me to get him?” Alexandre said.
“No, you can’t I need to check you,” Annissette replied.
Chloe sighed. “Let us figure all this out before it gets too late…”
It was decided after some discussion that Chloe would get Lilllich, Kent would find Siren, and Annissette would look over Alexander. They also agreed that, due to room sizes, they would all meet in the main lounge downstairs. It didn’t take too long for the respective parties to retrieve their mark, but Annissette did have troubles tending to Alexandre.
The two were seated on the soft carpet, leaning on a long footstool. It looked like movement was causing the wound to reopen. Annissette commented that it looked jagged and torn, and Alexandre responded guessing that climbing the prison wall probably made whatever injury she had worse.
“Worse? Climbing may well have actually caused most of this. This could have been a small incision, but it was ripped wider, and likely deeper too.” The girl managed to talk without tripping over her attempt at higher diction.
“Well, it was worth it at the time. I found Chloe.”
Annissette shook her head, but a little to her own surprise said, “I understand.”
People started filtering into the room. Col sheepishly followed Lilllich, Shalla, and Chloe into the room, and Annissette sent him back out to get the one of the physic kits and something to clean a smallpipe.
“And the bleached cloths,” Lilllich added, then turning back to Annissette continued, “…if you’re going to be using a smallpipe.” Annissette nodded.
The rest of the household, both resident and visitor, filtered in. Annissette took the supplies from Col when he returned and then assessed Alexandre’s wound with her fingers, since she couldn’t see it all while the Riley woman was fully dressed. Lilllich reached around and, turning Chloe by the waist, pointed to a section of the room, telling her that she should make her address from there. The touch made her feel a little strange, but Chloe nodded and moved ahead.
When she got to the section in question, she understood. It seemed the whole space, the furniture, the walls and doorway, even the patterns on the lush carpet and the organization of the paintings and tapestries, all of it seemed organized to face this spot. She thought about what she would say and readied herself.