The chamber being provided for Emerald was lovely. Its atmosphere was soft and delicate, the walls were a warm pale orange colour and thick, cream-coloured carpet covered the floor beneath her feet. The bed was a four poster with lilac-coloured silk curtains and lavender-coloured bedclothes and pillows. It stood in the centre of the room and since the room was so large, Emerald knew she would feel as though she were floating when she lay upon it.
“It is beautiful, Your Majesty,” she told Queen Anita.
Queen Anita smiled.
“I am glad you like it.” She gestured to a door in one wall of the chamber. “There is your bathroom. And if you need anything, pull the rope here.” She pointed to a rope hanging from the ceiling near the door, undoubtedly connected to another in the part of the palace where the staff could notice its tugging.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“Unfortunately you have missed dinner but a maid will bring you a plate of sandwiches if you are hungry. Are you?”
“A little,” murmured Emerald, unwilling to burden the Palace staff. “I only ate lunch on my journey here.”
Queen Anita, nodded, looking as though she did not mind in the least that her guest needed food.
“I shall see you at breakfast tomorrow - a maid will bring you to the Breakfast Room at seven o’clock.”
“Thank you,” said Emerald.
Queen Anita smiled and walked away from the room. Emerald closed the door and went to sit on the bed, next to which lay her travelling trunk. She waited for the sandwiches.
After the sandwiches, Emerald readied for bed. She changed into her satin nightgown, brushed out her hair - standing in front of a full-length mirror beside the wardrobe in the room - and cleaned her teeth in the bathroom. She slipped underneath the soft covers of the bed, indeed feeling as if she were floating because of the wide space around her, and fell asleep quite quickly.
That night, she had a dream: a probably insignificant dream that contained a couple of ideas from the day. She had heard it theorised that a dream could be a collection of ideas from a day experienced, put together by the imagination.
She was standing in the garden of Roc Presh. It was night time and a full moon shone down from above. Her brother was there, and he said what he had said to her before she had left for the Palace of Light: “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do.”
“I won’t,” she promised him.
He stepped away and looked to his right. Emerald followed his gaze and noticed Tamina sitting on the bench beneath the cherry blossom tree with a patience that seemed suggestive of a woman who had rather more than eleven or twelve years.
Peridot walked over to the bench and sat beside the girl.
“You’re beautiful,” he told her, in a soft, intense voice Emerald had never heard her brother use before. She now felt as though she were watching from afar, as though somehow her brother and she were on different planes.
“Thank you,” Tamina was saying shyly.
Peridot leaned in and kissed her. Emerald felt calm as she watched the kiss, and even happiness that her brother had found love. He and Tamina seemed quite natural together.
The next scene was a wedding - Peridot and Tamina’s. Emerald was watching the ceremony, touched by the emotion in the lovers’ eyes, noticeable surely to everyone in the room. The man marrying the couple told Peridot “You may now kiss the bride.” And he did.
Emerald woke up, almost overwhelmingly calm, quickly becoming enveloped in the silence of the chamber. The room was lit by soft morning sunshine and the walls appeared to glow with its light. Emerald lay still awhile, comfortable beneath the cotton sheets, before making herself sit up so that she would not grow dizzy from lying motionless for too long.
Seeing from the tall wooden clock in one corner of the chamber that the time was six thirty, Emerald left the bed, brushing her hair and cleaning her teeth. The maid arrived while she was in the bathroom, bringing hot water and a flannel so that she could wash herself quickly before seeing the High Queen. Afterwards, she dressed in a white blouse and long blue skirt that showed the delicacy of her waist. Then, she was led to breakfast.
Along the route, Emerald saw some of the Palace’s features: corridors with wood panelling for the walls, brass shaped into the heads of dragons upon some of the doors, marble busts of previous residents and glass chandeliers with electric lighting. The Breakfast Room itself was painted white, had a high ceiling, tall windows overlooking lawns like seas of melted jade and wooden flooring, contained deep red wooden furniture polished to a gleam, including a sizeable floor-to-ceiling bookcase along one wall, and hosted magnificent portraits of who Emerald assumed to be The Four. She stared at them before remembering seeing the High Queen sitting at the table waiting for her. She hurried over to join Her Majesty before she became offended. Luckily, Queen Anita seemed happy at Emerald’s appreciation of what she saw.
“I see you like the Breakfast Room,” she observed.
“It is absolutely splendid,” said Emerald truthfully.
Queen Anita smiled. “Yes, it is.”
Noticing that Her Majesty had begun to eat, Emerald made a start of the plate of bacon, fried egg and sausages before her. The accompanying drink was glass of milk.
The Queen waited for Emerald to finish everything before speaking to her.
“In a few moments you will meet the young men. They are my only son Christopher Bright Solay, and Argent Phase. I should let you know that they will both try to charm you.” As she gave this warning, a smile played on the Queen’s face and her eyes seemed to twinkle. For a moment, Emerald felt as if a wiser female relative were talking to her rather than the High Queen of Emriqa.
“Try to look past that,” the Queen continued. “Find out who would make the best king, though I stress that I want you to be happy in your choice. Do not choose one unless you are certain you can care for him and he will care for you.”
Emerald nodded. “I understand.”
Queen Anita smiled. “Wonderful. The boys will be arriving shortly.”
The maid who had escorted Emerald here laid a small lead of hers and Queen Anita’s breakfast plate.
“Oh, what is this?” asked Emerald, surprised.
“It is called Mont,” answered Queen Anita. “Try it.”
Emerald put the leaf in her mouth and chewed it.
It was delicious: almost as sweet as chocolate. As the flavour travelled around her mouth she felt tastes remaining from breakfast fade away. She sensed that the Mont had sweetened her breath.
“Thank you,” she told the queen.
“You are most welcome.”
A knock came at the door.
“Enter,” called Queen Anita.
The door opened to reveal a boy whose appearance made Emerald’s heart rate double. He looked amazingly like the portrait of Aurélius, man of the Sun, thick golden hair falling to his broad shoulders, his build tall and lightly muscular, and his skin a warm, tanned colour that was at odds with the current season. He was dressed in a pale blue shirt over a brown pair of trousers and shoes of the same colour. He looked roughly a year or so older than Emerald.
Moments later, he was joined by a breathless boy who looked slightly older, whose beauty was more subtle and made Emerald think words like ‘gentle’, ‘refined’ and ‘unassuming’ rather than ‘intense’ and ‘slightly arrogant’ as she did for the appearance of the other young man. The second man was tall and lean with pale skin. In truth, he rather looked a bit of a mess: his ebony-coloured shirt was not buttoned fully and his hair was very tousled. However, there was no deduction from his attractiveness because of this.
For Emerald - and probably for the majority of other onlookers - his most interesting feature was the aforementioned hair. Predominantly, it was as black as the depths of night but amongst all that midnight sky was a mysterious, silver, pearlescent streak which was reminiscent of the hair of Luna, woman of the Moon.
The boy who resembled Aurélius beamed at Emerald.
“Announcing Christopher Solay and Argent Phase. Here to meet the Princess Emerald Pièroc.”
Queen Anita smiled and rose from her seat.
“I will leave the three of you to become acquainted.”