Chapter 49: Ceremony 1New? Click here to go to chapter one!
Chloe’s party was led with some wild fanfare from onlookers across the large palace main hall. As they moved their guide, Jacelynn, explained the situation.
“We have only three hours to prepare you. Likely you could run home and change in this time, but it would be tight and use energy that you will want for the ceremony. We have change rooms here and a wealth of ceremonial items. Please do not linger too long with the clothing.”
Chloe agreed on behalf of everyone. She then felt something nudge her side. Turning to see Alexandre Dirge, Chloe opened her mouth to speak but then stopped. Instead, she turned back. Alexandre was staring intensely at something, and so Chloe subtly glanced in that direction. She noticed that they were being watched, not in amazement and curiosity like the rest of the crowd, but more like they were being scouted. What is this? And Alexandre is not surprised…has she been tracking them for a while? How long? But with a turn down a side hall, they were alone. No one followed.
Once they arrived, down a couple halls and through a couple doors, the men and women were split in two. Jacelynn summoned an orderly from the men’s room, and then led the women into the other chamber. On the men’s side, the pale servant began measuring each person with great haste and accuracy. He began with Kent, who seemed to be the most elevated among them. The two rooms were decorated the same, but mirrored. A dark green-blue carped matched the green curtains in front of most changing rooms, lined up against the far wall. On the right half of the room were large drapes, behind which Kent could see rails of hanging clothes, and wardrobes and the wall. In this room were a lot of lush green chairs and lined up against the walls were much simpler iron seats. Only the walls and edges where the rugs ended could one see bronze and copper peeking out.
On the female side, there was also someone, a woman who appeared to be in her mid or later twenties with black hair and naturally tanned-looking skin. She wore a long black dress and had a light scar cut down her right eye. She leaned forward to bow as the women of the Solune Kingdom entered. Seeing Chloe, she motioned her to a tailor’s pedestal and began measuring her back.
“Here for the ceremony, I suppose?” She asked from behind, holding a marked rope across Chloe’s arm.
“Yes, they are the foreigners,” Jacelynn said.
“You seem very important.”
“Yes,” Chloe said, unsure who was being addressed. “We came a little unprepared.” She watched Jacelynn exit, apparently leaving them with this woman.
The woman finished measuring Chloe’s leg and stepped back. “I was referring to you specifically. You dress in simple traveller’s clothes, but it is clear to me that you are no sojourner, no.” She leaned in. Though most other people in such proximity would have made Chloe uncomfortable, with this woman, she felt unbothered. “No,” the woman continued, “You are something more than this. More even than a lord, I see. You are…” Then the woman crouched down to Chloe’s knees and started measuring her legs.
“I am…?” The Prince blinked, feeling awkward.
While crouching, the woman said, “She is a lord. Look at how she carries herself.”
A lord? Who? Chloe looked over and saw her. The one person in the group acting completely unlike the rest, and most like Chloe was unconsciously. Senica was staring around, studying the bronze walls, and the fabric woven across it for decoration, wicking, and perhaps to hold heat. Alexandre stood with her eyes closed, and may have somewhat rudely been asleep standing up. Ammelia stood quietly, not quite comfortable, but certainly as though she belonged.
“That is interesting. You survey all visitors like this?” Chloe asked. As they spoke, the woman turned to measure the front and Chloe’s circumferences. She had a very tight and serious expression, though not particularly stern. Chloe wondered what sort of circumstances, either in her life or in her mind, would lead to such a look.
“You don’t? At your status, this should come as naturally as reading. I’m surprised. Unless…you are simply naturally dignified? Are you a religious woman?”
“You know something,” the woman said, measuring Chloe’s waist.
“I know nearly everything.”
“Pff. Haha! I am sure you do! And step down, Mrs.…”
“Chloe Rhye.” She thought about correcting the title as well, but decided not to.
“Miss Rhye. You are far too tall for this pedestal. Who was it who spoke that way? The philosophers of the west? Yes. Chloe Rhye. I am Yocheved; or rather, Shifrah of the Galuth. I am a tailor, though not always for the palace,” The woman said.
“It is good that we are meeting…Shifrah, I am sure,” Chloe replied.
“A good orator must know all things…”
“…And if not, at least learn ethics,” Chloe finished. “Ah! You know Cikero?”
“I know this and that, though usually it is not from the west.” Shifrah smiled.
Chloe asked if she thought Cikero, or Cicero, was a Djeb, or from further west, but the Galuth didn’t know, and hadn’t sought the knowledge. She simply knew that the Djeb had preserved his works. Chloe agreed, but expressed frustration at her inability to investigate it or make any significant progress while the kingdom’s walls had been shut to the outside world.
“Ah, but they are open now, and here were are.”
Shifrah smiled quietly. “Please wait here.” She leaned back and exited, moving through the curtains on the left-hand side of the room.
Chloe saw Senica approaching. “Wow, you make friends fast!”
It was clear to her that Senica had not heard what was said, she had only seen them discussing something. She seemed curious.
“I do not know her,” Chloe said. This seemed insufficient so she added, “I believe she will perform her task effectively…she seems to have a strong intuition.”
“Intuition? Whoa, interesting! You’re fortunate to be first then.”
They waited another minute and eventually the dark haired woman came back, fabric draped over an arm. Senica stepped back to a nearby seat.
“Purple?” Chloe asked.
Lilllich commented. “That is quite an audacious guess, Galuth.”
The woman winced at Lilllich’s words, but recovered. “Is it incorrect?”
From halfway across the space, Ammelia chimed in. “Those are royal colours.”
Shifrah pushed the dress over Chloe’s body, checking the size.
“You have this colour for someone of her height?” Lilllich asked.
It seemed that, despite the issue of Chloe’s grand stature, Shifrah was pleased that she had guessed Chloe was royalty, against the odds.
Chloe blushed a little, though she was facing away so only Shifrah saw. “What can we do?” She whispered.
“A quick alteration. It is no trouble. And we will compose an outfit using a few separate pieces of a closer size. Or…”
“Perhaps find a top from the men’s side. But this is forbidden. Some options are open, but not intended for consideration.”
“Intended…? By whom?”
“Hey, what are you girls whispering about over there?” Senica called out.
Shifrah leaned to look at her and gave a dull, slightly stern look. Senica became suddenly shy.
“A composite outfit would look very natural on its own, but because you are in a group, you will stand out, if only a little.”
Chloe considered this. “Perhaps it is better if I look a little different, as I am the leader.”
“Ah, so I was correct about you being the head. Fascinating.”
Shifrah Yocheved gave her calm smile again. “Is it a regular occurrence in your lands for a woman to lead an expedition?”
“Well, no, apart from the King’s wife centuries ago,” Chloe thought out loud
“I am fascinated. Another unlikely guess confirmed. I am fascinated.” She assembled the too-small clothing and returned behind the curtain.
Chloe could see the space beyond was filled with wardrobes, and poorly lit. At this point, she was getting tired and wanted to sit, but decided not to. She could wait.
The men had already all been fitted; their orderly had memorized the relevant measurements, and was in the grand closet beyond the curtain finding each person’s clothing. As he had worked, Ashter had examined him. There was something uncanny about him. Not overly strange, but as though he had some sort of chronic ailment. He was too pale even for a Riley. His eyes were a colour that, in the dimmer flame of the hanging lantern, Ashter had a hard time making out. Yet he seemed healthy and incredibly competent. He wondered if he could build the nerve to ask the young man and find out. Interrupting these musings, the man returned, heading for Prince Kent.