It was easy to spot the city watch. Even on the wrong streets when they chose to hide and leave their uniforms behind, they were obvious. Their collars were always pressed, the seams in their breeches always perfect straight lines to pass inspection. Elodie knew from a friend that the city only provided them with coats and boots, and they simply wore plain clothes shirts and breeches underneath. Lazy as human beings were, she doubted that they bothered to change more than they had to. Either that, or they only owned one pair of pants.
The man and the woman approached Elodie slowly and she decided not to walk away. She had a few things in her pockets that could get her in trouble, but nothing so large that it could be seen through the cloth. Standing against the wall of the old bakery, she had a good view of the rest of the street. She was enjoying the smell of the morning’s loaves cooling on the high windows somewhere over her head, and she didn’t want to give up such a sweet spot.
They continued toward her and stopped when they reached the bakery. The man hung back, leaning against the wall himself, while the woman smiled at her. It was a nice smile, but a little too calculated to erase everything behind it.
“Hey,” the woman said.
Elodie smiled back, and wondered if the woman could recognize the better form of her mask.
“Make me a crown, and I shall wear it,” a Clan Heir had said once, and subsequently been quoted a thousand times in a thousand histories.
Supposedly, she had been standing in front of her father, making her case for why the throne should pass to her instead of her twin brother. How she said it – whether her tone was so light as to indicated that she might wear two or three at jaunty angles, or whether it was so dull as to say she wouldn’t have even noticed it on her head – was lost to time. Scholars generally agreed, however, that it was the most arrogant thing a young heir had ever spoken in public.
It was her only argument in a dozen pages of recordings, and she never explained herself. Yet, her father named her heir less than a day later. The scholars agreed that he was an idiot.
The council table was long and straight, spaced perfectly between long, straight walls. The eight chairs placed around it were high-backed, full of right angles and sharp corners. The floor was unbroken, polished stone. The walls were painted tawny brown, interrupted by white plain-faced columns, both of which which turned shades of gold in the sunlight from the square windows. The Council Hall was situated at the back of the palace, blocked from the rest of the building by the empty ballroom and hidden from the outside by Lon’s private gardens. The hall was wrapped in perfect silence that hummed with the echoes of footsteps and spun voices clearly in the air. Everything rested in perfect scale, clean, straight, and dignified.
Usually, that was enough order. The council members took their seats as they pleased. Cataleya sat just out of line. Braetus cocked his chair to the side, so he could lean back, and still look everyone in the eye. Alandra tilted her chair away from Braetus. Naven braced an elbow on the arm of his chair. Pate sat too far back, and hooked one knee over the other so he could rest his papers and books in his lap. Sabeen, Lon’s mother, pulled her chair too close to the table, and rested her arms against it. Melany, always last to arrive, exchanged her chair for one of the padded seats by the wall.
The girl stood just far enough away to keep Eldrin from putting a hand on her shoulder while he introduced her to Bell. He would have liked to set that claim on her, but she was too bright-eyed, too straight-backed, too young, and too bold to allow it. She didn’t belong to him. He’d simply spotted her once, when no one else was looking up.
Bell eyed the top of her head, unimpressed. “She any good?”
Eldrin smiled tolerantly. “She could steal the blood right out of your heart.”
She looked at Eldrin from under her eyebrows, annoyed by his truth.