Chapter Seven

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In the weeks following her arrival on Noruzian soil Arre had learnt a great deal about her new surroundings. She had learnt, for example, that the guards who patrolled the gardens were not unfriendly people; they simply were not allowed to hold casual conversations whilst on duty; the cooks were almost all from Fassith; and no matter what she did the ambassador from Lethalis would smile curtly and nod.

All in all it wasn’t going quite as badly as she has feared it would on that first day. In fact, even Kolen seemed to be trying to regard her with something a little less vehement than scorn. For her part she was hard at work learning the etiquette required of a princess. She hadn’t quite yet shaken her habit of displaying her every emotion but it was coming along as she tried to master the art of the constant, polite smile. The Regent-Commander had been a blessing, encouraging Arre and checking in on her whenever she had the time.

Life as a member of the royal family was much busier than that as an apprentice though, and now Arre and her two servants rushed about her sleeping chambers searching for the red hair ribbons which were meant to complement her long black dress. She’d been fiddling with them the night before and had misplaced them somehow. Kolen’s knock came impatiently at the door and Arre decided that it was time to give up.

“Luli,” she said in resignation.

“Yes, miss. I’ll stay and look for them.” The flushed young woman said sympathetically.

Her sister chimed in “And I’ll clean up your chambers.” The three women smiled at their understanding of one another. Ludovica and her sister Constance, affectionately called Luli and Conny, had been Arre’s servants since her engagement months before. They enjoyed being in her employ because she was kind and treated them with respect and dignity-unlike the mistresses to whom some of their others at the training house had been sent.

Arre swung her door open hurriedly and stepped out into the hallway to meet her husband whose fingers tapped impatiently at his sides. She gave him a broad smile, which disarmed him and forced his face into a confused mixture of embarrassment and irritation.

Kolen shook his head and outstretched his arm. “Come,” he said. “We’re late.”

 

The carriage which waited to take them to the Dahrese Consulate was drawn by two white horses with their manes dyed a woody red. Arre enjoyed their visits to the Dahrese Consulate. She had struck up a friendship with the Consular’s daughter, who was her age-mate. The Regent-Commander saw the value of such a friendship in easing the tensions between the allied states and the Dahr and encouraged Kolen to build upon the connection his new wife had made. To this end Kolen had suggested that the two families have weekly lunch dates similar to those he had with the Lethalian Ambassador.

Of course he had no desire to be at these meetings; likely the only thing he had in common with the Consular. The two men ran out of things to say to one another within minutes and were forced to sit for the intervening hours and listen to the women go on about things of no import. However, both had been made to understand the significance of these meetings by their superiors and so they sat and smiled politely.

It never occurred to Kolen that this was exactly the kind of thing his wife was forced to do all the time, nor did it occur to him that perhaps Arre had engineered this friendship for the very reasons his mother wanted it maintained. All he saw was an almost insufferable weekly engagement. This day was going no different. After a few enquiries about each other’s homes and some niceties about the weather and the crops, Kolen and the Consular fell silent. The two women chatted like they had known each other for years, sometimes holding hands, other times whispering to each other and giggling.

However, today Melarin had something special in store for her new friend. After about an hour she stood abruptly and announced that she was inviting the Crown Prince’s new wife to journey with her to the Dahr in a week’s time. The Consular was stunned, though he tried not to show it. Kolen was far less concerned with appearance and spat out the words “absolutely not” before he could catch himself. It was Arre’s easy laugh and coy comment that the newly wed couldn’t bear to be away from his darling wife which cleared the rising tension.

“I understand entirely,” the Consular said through a professional smile. “Who would want to let such a beauty out of their sight?”

Melarin laughed. “Yes!” she said. “Who knows what charmers may try to steal you away from him!” The atmosphere relaxed all around Kolen but his jaw remained set and his posture tense for the rest of the afternoon. He had no idea what kind of game Melarin was playing, but was convinced now that she was playing one. His wife seemed unphased by the idea of travelling into still hostile territory without him present and that concerned him. Was she really so naïve as to think her status would protect her? Or did she not know the severity of the situation?

Darius, as usual, observed the scene and took mental notes of all the important occurrences. He was unsure whether the princess would make the trip with Melarin; but if she did it would be a prime opportunity to gather information about Arre’s origins. In the weeks which had followed that initial visit Darius had managed to contact the Phaistian and they assured him that they would acquire the information he was seeking, but he would still like to see what he could learn for himself. Arre touched the Syllic symbols every time she was on the premises. He’d even heard her ask about the meaning of it, and thankfully the Consular’s daughter had told her what she believed to be the truth; that it was simply pretty-looking metal designed to make the walls more attractive. Arre seemed to believe it. But still Darius knew that eventually if she continued to come into contact with the Syllic her curiosity would lead her to seek more satisfactory answers.

**

There are many Seers: people who can reach into the Zhaunil and bring out glimmers of its Knowledge. They are gifted, but far from unique.

Before the War, Seers could be found all across E’oren. Now, in the allied states, their gifts go unknown and unused-all because of the decree of a petulant god. So many generations after the Heretical Purges there remain no traces, neither in written works nor even in oral tradition, of Seers.

**

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