Chapter 3: Decision, InConcision
Morning came, but far too slowly. Chloe woke up mired, she felt as if she had slept a fraction of the hours that she’d spent in bed. When she awoke, time seemed to be moving faster than normal. She was used to mornings like this, days with less-than-ideal sleep always seemed to mess with her perception. Nothing had come from her tainted rest, in fact, she couldn’t even remember what she had dreamed. So much for deliberation.
With a sigh and an empty mind, Chloe went down the three flights to the basement. The trip did nothing to rouse her mind. She ordered food from what was effectively a ‘castle residents only’ canteen or diner.
It was a full breakfast, meats and eggs and a potato, fried in a slew of animal fats. It is good that we finally have cooks. For all of her adolescence, Chloe had simply burned whatever she wanted to eat, and then eaten it. A morning-lunch chef is far better.
When she had finished, Chloe decided to take a bath rather than meet with her parents, but the idea of drawing water for herself changed her mind. Perhaps a trip to the library? But all that walking… and more stairs too. It was extremely difficult to procrastinate when each of her alternatives required more effort than what she was avoiding.
Resigned, Chloe walked back up to the base floor and entered the throne room. It was located directly across from the foyer, the grand double-doored entrance to the castle. Usually, the entrance room was empty around this time, but since the walls had opened there had always been a few people lined up to see the King—even though he would not be in the throne room for some time. They were of all backgrounds; light, dark, darker; from the north, east, and west; all looking for a better life.
Chloe skipped the line and entered the stone-walled throne room. Having no windows, the room was dark, so she dropped the iron chandelier and lit it. She raised the metal lights using the rope and pulley system, and then finally felt the presence in the room. Someone else was there. Chloe looked around, and then the door opened behind her. An extremely tall woman entered wearing guard uniform. Her hair was neck length, the patches on her left shoulder kept unobstructed, identifying as Guards’ Captain. It was Chloe’s oldest sister, Natasha Glass Rhye.
“Astore, you have returned,” she said.
“Yes,” a voice came from the edge of Chloe’s vision, the edge of the light.
Chloe turned and finally saw him on the leftside wall. “You were in here? Why did not you say anything!”
Astore shrugged, “Why didn’t you?”
“The King is coming presently,” said Natasha.
She strode to the secondary throne and stood. Chloe and Astore waited near the door. They stood silently and waited. Natasha, the reluctantly early riser, was used to this. For Chloe it was very awkward; especially with everyone else there.
“Ah!” Chloe said. Astore! I should have made up my mind by now! Oh no, I wish that I had come up with something when I… and the dreaming… nothing helped. Astore turned to her, and she pretended that she had been yawning. Natasha, as a result, caught the fake yawn. She fidgeted, not knowing what to do. Her mind wasn’t yet active, and wouldn’t be until noon at least. I need more time. I will ask for more time. It will be fine.
The King entered. He spoke with Natasha about the allocation of guards. The plain-faced Captain was almost taller than her colossal father. The issue of recruiting immigrants was postponed for a different hour, and she left.
“Astore,” said the King.
“Lilllith is treating the trip as some form of expedition, mapping the lands as she goes. She will arrive in three or more days at her current pace. Also, I noticed a group tailing her. At their pace, they could be here comfortably by the end of the day. But, of course, they weren’t following me, so I doubt they’ll be coming here.”
“Who were they?”
Astore shrugged, “No clue, but they were all Lussa, and they looked like the sort that would rather kill than speak to you. And, I made sure they never saw me, even when I was speaking to Lilllith.”
Did you tell her about them? Chloe wanted to ask, but she didn’t yet have the energy to open her mouth.
“Did you tell her?” Natasha asked. Chloe felt muted delight.
“Yeah, she told me she knew about them and figured that they were part of the other side. Whatever problems the Lussa have might end up bleeding into our Kingdom. I don’t think that we should keep Lilllith here for too long.”
“Very well, I agree. We should send her and ourselves over as soon as we can. Chloe?”
“If I could have another day to—” The door hit her in the back.
“Fool, don’t stand so close.” It was her mother. “Oh, and Astore is here. So?”
“Very well.” Gwenhime walked across the room and stood to the King’s right.
Rhye said, “Hmm. Chloe?”
Entirely distracted with the pain in her back and the door, she said, “Ah, I am fine.”
“Excellent. Be ready to leave the kingdom in three days.”
“The third of the month,” added Astore.
What. Chloe wanted to scream. She had accidentally consented to going before she was ready. She wanted to revoke it, take it back! Quick! But, like with her unspoken question to Astore, her mouth said nothing. She felt like a soft, violently oppressive wind had caught in her mouth and pushed down her voice.
In the throne room, decisions were binding, and she was not interested in going through the legal process required to undo it, so she let it go. It would be far less effort to just go. Terrific.
The look on Gwenhime’s face was one of doubt, and discontent.
She said, “Send with her an army.”
Everyone’s face turned to her.
“That will not be necessary,” the King said.
Gwenhime broke in the instant his sentence ended, “The political climate is unstable. A war is inevitable. We might as well be on the winning side.”
“No, a war is only inevitable if you bring an army. You are not even to go with her—I know you were intending to place yourself at the head of the force.”
While Gwenhime knew her husband better than he knew himself, the reverse was also true. To save her image, she pressed on regardless.
“No, it is to be a small force of elites.” She echoed words the King himself had coined years before during the Legendary Event. “A body of guards. You wouldn’t send her alone in the power of some Underside woman would you?”
The King frowned, “Who then?”
Gwenhime smiled, baring the teeth of a carnivore. Genetics had ensured that most of them were canines.
“Just cull from the guard and the standing army—oh dear. I suppose not.” This is how they spoke, and often it would grind on Chloe’s nerves; this manner of predicting the other spouse’s response and then replying to it mid-sentence.
“Exactly,” said Rhye, “Everyone who could go is tied up with immigration and settlement. The walls have just opened and they are congested. The army stands at the border, the guard in the cities.”
“Who would have known so many would want to come here?” Said Astore.
“But, you are right. She should not be sent alone. Astore, you are to assemble a small team for this post before Lilllith arrives. Maybe four or five. Find anyone who is willing and suitable.”
Chloe laughed. “A research team!”
“Yes!” The King’s ancient eyes lit up. He joyously mistook her joke as a sign of her enthusiasm. “Yes Chloe, you are to assemble a research team to compliment the trip. You are going on this expedition to study, are you not? Perhaps a historian, and a biologist would be suitable.”
“Ah, of course!” Oh no.
P.S. The next chapter will be a little longer… See you on the 19th!
P.P.S. This has been edited 3 times! Wow! That’s a lot more than usual.