24 Arodus, 4718 (cont)
Verity had not only come to fetch me, but she had also retrieved Oliver from the Courtyard where he had been speaking with Lady Morilla. Dame Trant had already begun to throw her proverbial weight around. She and a trio of noble lackeys had rather aggressively “escorted” Senator Dou from the Senate Gallery and into a back room of the servant’s area. I already felt sorry for poor Dou. Oliver had told us he’d been so flustered from the letter Count Zespire had sent him that he’d gone from speaking confidently to stuttering almost uncontrollably while ripping up the letter. Oliver actually thought the man might eat it just to be rid of it, and whatever message it had conveyed. After already being intimidated by the Count, he was now being bullied by Dame Trant, who was known to duel anyone who “offended” her in the slightest, which apparently took little effort. I’m sure the poor man was a mess of nerves.
The three of us quickly made our way to a hallway in the servant’s area that was lined with small rooms that seemed to be waiting areas of sorts. The last door was closed, and we could hear muffled voices coming from inside. After a glance between us, Verity threw the door open. I’d like to say Dame Trant would have been a pretty woman if it weren’t for the self-important sneer of her face, but I don’t really think it would be true. Her blue and green outfit made her look like a walking Taldane flag, and not in a flattering way. Dou was across the room from the door, his back against the wall. Two of Trant’s sycophants were on either side of him. The third was by the door. I suppose she was supposed to be the lookout, but she visibly started when the door opened. The Dame is in want of competent help, but I doubt anyone with any real claim to influence at all would belittle themselves by following around this thinks-far-too-highly-of-herself windbag.
A quick duel of words was exchanged between us. The Dame seemed to think we were interfering with those above our station, and once she finally stopped talking for the sake of hearing her own voice and gave us a good look you could actually see her deflate. Once Trant noticed our signet rings and realized we were all of much higher station than her, and that the three of us were as well armed and armored as the gala allowed, she let out a huff and pushed her way past us and out of the room. It’s a pity it didn’t come to duel. I would have liked to see her put firmly in her place.
Senator Dou thanked us for our assistance, though I could tell he was still nervous around Oliver. I find myself very curious about what the letter from Count Zespire contained. Dou assured us that he would keep his word to our associates, and asked if we would mind escorting him back to the main part of the senate building. On our way out of the servants area, we were stopped by our guard friend who had let us skip the line. She asked if everything was alright, and told us she was just “checking to see if there was a mess that needed to be cleaned up.” Martella has eyes everywhere in the building I swear.
Before we split up, Verity suggested that perhaps we discover something scandalous about Senator Trant and drag his name through the mud. After a few moments of discussion we all realized that he wasn’t even prominent enough for that to be worth the effort. We shared a laugh at the idea of his daughter causing such a fuss when her father’s reputation wasn’t even worth the time it would take to ruin it. Talk about self-importance, though it did make me question Dou’s position as a senator if it was that easy for someone with so little influence to strong arm him.
We ended up settling on Senator Pace for our target to slander. Cornelius discovered that not only was she going to vote against primogeniture, but she seemed to think that it was inevitable that even if it was passed the Grand Prince would find a way around it, such as by adopting someone. Perhaps the High Strategos. That idea makes me sick. War would be inevitable if that man took the throne.
I made my way back up to the senate gallery, and much to my chagrin I wasn’t able to get anyone to tell me anything about Senator Pace. Her reputation for being two-faced and wishy-washy has made her very unpopular, but her influence keeps people from speaking about her knowing the damage she could do to their reputation.
I was beginning to get frustrated again. We had less than two hours to accomplish our goals. I knew that I couldn’t let my temper get the best of me this evening, so I made my way down to the courtyard. I found a place to sit on the edge of the fountain, hoping to relax for a minute before returning to the task at hand. I found myself with the urge to sing, and decided on a song that had been more popular when I was attending the Kith. It was about a brave Taldane knight who left his lady love to fight for his other love, the nation of Taldor. I hadn’t really been trying to gain an audience, but I was soon aware that a great many were listening. A pair of the peacocks that had been wandering the garden came up to me as I was singing. I have no idea why but I’m sure their presence added to the romantic atmosphere of the song. There was a hearty round of applause when I was finished, and I was touched to notice that Princess Eutropia was among those clapping for me. I wondered if she recognized me, and as much as I wanted to talk to her, I had to return to the tasks at hand.
As I made my way back to the gallery, the clock chimed eight-thirty. A hush fell over the building, and everyone surged into the courtyard, the gallery, and the Arcade of Triumphs. I managed to get back to the gallery, to find Cornelius, Verity and Felyx there as well. Here we had a view all the way through the building and down the steps leading up the hill. Servants were laying a thick, plush red carpet that led through the Arcade of Triumphs, the courtyard, and under the gallery to the Emperor’s Hall. The carpet extended down all one hundred steps, and was quickly tucked into place, so there was not a single wrinkle that might impede the Grand Prince. Several carriages pulled up, and we could make out a large amount of the Ulfen guard exiting them. They lined the stairs, one on each side of the carpet, all two hundred of them standing at attention as the Grand Prince’s carriage arrived. Even more Ulfen guard exited, creating a box formation around the Grand Prince as he ascended the stairs. People cheered and clapped, but the Grand Prince made no acknowledgement to anyone. The High Strategos was allowed through the wall the Ulfen guard had created around the Grand Prince as he made his way into the courtyard, and even he was barely acknowledged.
It was a shock to see the state of the Grand Prince. I remembered him as a tall, fit and healthy man who nearly always wore a smile on his face. Now he looked almost sick, his skin sallow and his hair was lank, beginning to go gray at the temples. He no longer stood tall, but hunched over, as if the weight of the crown was quite literally weighing him down. He wore an expression between disinterest and a scowl, and it was hard to imagine him smiling at all. He carried the royal scepter in his hand, but it seemed like an afterthought, hanging down by his side as if he would drop it at any moment. Doves and other birds were released as he passed into the courtyard, but again there was no response at all from the Grand Prince. He soon disappeared underneath the gallery seemingly unaware of the pomp and circumstance around his arrival.
Martella had appeared at Princess Eutropia’s side in the courtyard, and from my vantage on the gallery balcony I could see the look of distress on the Princess’ face. How long had it been since she’d seen her father?
Not long after this she and Martella also made their way into the building.
I exchange wary glances with my companions. I felt sick to my stomach. Reconciling the man who I had just seen with the memories of him I cherished from the Summer without Rain was almost impossible. The rumor that we had heard about the Grand Prince simply adopting the Grand Strategos this evening now seemed like it could very well be true. All of our expressions were dark as we once again split up. Time was running out.