A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 4
The King, blonde and regal and arrogant, sat stiffly on his throne. This room was carpeted in red and the throne was grand in all it’s overlaid gold glory. Malyon’s crown matched the throne’s style, as they had been designed together originally, though the crown was actually all gold, inlaid with precious stones.
Malyon was decked out in multiple robes of purple and gold. His hawk-like features gave him a mean appearance when he wasn’t smiling, which right then he most certainly wasn’t. Blue eyes that reminded me of chips of ice took us in and measured us, clearly finding us to be lacking.
He looked down his nose at us as we approached the raised dais and I had to stop several unpleasant memories flashing through my mind. This was hardly my first time in the audience chamber and I found I disliked it just as much as the other times. The King still appeared to be as arrogant and hard-headed as ever.
We paused at the foot of the dais, having to look up because the dais was three steps up. I starred the King down for a moment before I bent my head a bit and gave him the barest excuse for a curtsy I could get away with. Aaron bowed ever so slightly and straightened. The King now looked at us with disgust and distain for not knowing our place and inwardly I kicked myself.
‘Way to start off on the wrong foot, stupid.’
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the official trying his best to hide his expression of extreme dislike of the strangers who were treating his King as though they were on the King’s level. The elf straightened and cleared his throat, looking away from us, and bowed low to Malyon.
“Your most benevolent Majesty, may I present MAGI Baerandor and Liaison Korina.”
King Malyon nodded to the official, who took it as his dismissal and shot us a glare before heading back the way we had come. I raised an eyebrow at him, but then dismissed him from my mind.
Looking back to the King, I waited, content to let Aaron do the talking. That was better than letting me put my foot in my mouth.
“Your Majesty,” began Aaron, his voice soft but a carrying rumble. “We are here to settle this dispute between yourself and the Duke of Yetts. Where is he?”
Malyon made a dismissive gesture.
“How should I know? He was informed that you would be coming today but he has yet to appear in my city.”
I frowned. The Duke wasn’t here yet? I had to remind myself to keep a straight face and not let my thoughts show. If the Duke didn’t show up today it meant that this would take longer because we would have to wait for him to appear. If he had chosen not to come at all, it would take even longer because we would have to send word to him and start negotiations just to have a meeting and if things were as volatile between the two as I had been led to believe, we might have to have negotiations for meeting spots every time we tried this. That could make for one very, very, very long mission and I was not about to stay here that long.
“Have you had no word from him at all?” asked Aaron.
The King shrugged.
“Why would that stupid little Wizard send me word when he clearly can’t admit how wrong he is to begin with? He is nothing but an ignorant, pathetic, mindless creature and I would expect nothing better of his sort.”
Aaron gave me a sidelong look which I returned with a look of distaste. The MAGI looked back at the King.
“Until the Duke arrives, we will need accommodations. We have had a long journey and are tired.”
The King snapped his fingers and a servant, who had clearly been waiting in the wings, stepped forward with a low bow.
“Take our honored visitors to the guest wing and show them to their rooms.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
I shot the King one more haughty and annoyed look before following the servant back out into the waiting chamber. Lolani scrambled to pick up all our bags and followed us hurriedly because the servant didn’t pause to wait for her.
We were led to the East Wing of the palace, which was reserved for guests and visitors and shown to two rooms that were adjoined by a door between the parlors. Lolani took Aaron’s bag into his room and returned with our bags and left them in the other bedroom as the servant said what seemed to be a memorized monologue for the guests’ benefit.
“My Lord and Lady, please be informed that dinner is held for all guests at six in the banquet hall and if the Lord and Lady are not present, a servant will be sent to the room with food by eight. Breakfast is served until nine in the banquet hall and lunch begins at noon. Servants will be sent with food if the Lord and Lady are not present for any of the meals. If the Lord and Lady require anything at all, please ring for one of us.”
He gestured to the rope by the door that, when pulled, would ring a bell in the servant’s quarters and the kitchen letting them know which room to go to. Then, with a brief bow, he turned and was gone, closing the door quietly behind him.
I sighed in relief and my whole body sagged. Apparently every one of my muscles had been rigid and tense and I simply hadn’t realized it until that moment. Looking over at Aaron, who was already looking at me, I gestured back toward my selected bedroom and bathroom.
“I’m going to take a bath. A long one. Don’t disturb me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied with a smirk before turning away and heading to his own room, closing the door between the parlors has he went.
“Thank you,” I said to Lolani as she sat down with a relieved sigh.
“For what, Mistress?” she asked, looking at me in surprise.
I smiled. Always such a sweet Bird, was Lolani. As I moved toward the bathroom I rubbed my tensed shoulders.
“For being you,” I said before I closed the door.
The bathroom was luxury I had not had since I had left. Granted I had a nice tub for bubble baths, but this tub was gilded in gold, was consistently heated through the whole bath so you could stay in as long as you wanted and the water wouldn’t get cold, and came with a huge shelf of bubble baths, soaps, oils, and other various luxuries in every scent imaginable. This was possibly one of the only things I missed about the Elven Kingdoms.
I turned the water on and smiled to myself as the tub filled. I took my time in selecting what bubbles to use, finally deciding on sandalwood and peppermint. That should sooth my nerves. I poured it in liberally and then wandered back out into the parlor where I had seen a bookshelf.
Lolani had curled up on one of the elegant green couches and was sleeping lightly, as only birds can. I smiled and tiptoed past her to the books on the other side of the room.
There weren’t many choices and I frowned, a bit sad about this. A good book made a perfect bubble bath, but I could make due with nearly perfect. Selecting a volume of Elvish fairy tales, I went back into the bathroom, closing the door gently so as not to disturb my faithful Bird.
Not particularly caring about my nice robes at the moment, I undid them and let them lay where they fell as I climbed into the steaming tub of water and bubbles. I couldn’t help the relieved sigh that escaped me as I lay back in the water, already beginning to feel my muscles responding and relaxing.
I closed my eyes for a bit and I may have dozed off for a moment as well, but I didn’t mind in the least. When I opened my eyes, I shook my hands dry, wiping them on a soft, thick towel from one of the nearby racks and picked up the book.
It was a very nostalgic read to say the least. They were all stories my father had loved telling me as a child and it was a book I had read for myself as I got older. It brought back pleasant memories of happier times in this place.
My father had always been a kind elf, well respected and educated. He was one of the King’s advisors. That is he had been, before he and my Nixie mother had, well, made me. After I happened, he lost the respect of the other elves and the King, no longer trusting his judgement since he could do such a thing with a non-elf, instead demoted him to a simple scholar. The only reason he wasn’t cast out entirely was because of the King’s long time friendship with him.
I think that’s one of the reasons Malyon always hated me, because every time he saw me, he knew I was the reason he had lost such a great friend and advisor. He blamed me for my father’s choice, and hated my mother, who I looked like, for seducing him.
My father had never been bitter about how things had turned out. He told me once that he had know what would happen and that he was actually grateful for the King not doing anything worse.
The one thing I had always wondered about my parents’ relationship is the one thing I never dared ask. Had they loved each other? I never had the courage to find out. I was scared that they hadn’t and scared that they had. I have never met my mother and I grew up completely without her. Did I want my beloved father to have loved someone who didn’t love me enough to stay? Did I want him to not have loved her at all and simply to have been saddled with me at the end of it all? I never could decide and so I never asked.
I sighed, setting the book aside and sinking lower into the tub, leaning my head back until my ears were underwater and everything was muffled. I was thinking too much again. I had told myself I needed to think less while I was here because things would be easier that way. If I could delve completely and totally into the role of Korina then I could ignore who I really was while I was here. Apparently it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped it would be.
I heard the bathroom door open and close, muffled from the water, and frowned in confusion. Who would be coming in?
I sat up languidly, opening my mouth to ask Lolani what she needed, and froze, eyes going wide.
There was a male, of what species I couldn’t have said because his face was completely covered by a tiger mask, standing just inside the door. He was dressed in nondescript brown clothing and holding a knife in each hand.
That was definitely not Lolani.
The knives gleamed as he shifted and then struck.