The Phases were taking lunch in a room roughly half the size of the Breakfast Room, whose main features were the thin blue curtains somewhat veiling the sunlight, the round wooden table around which more than twenty people could be seated, and a large tapestry of Luna, woman of the Moon, against a black backdrop with a crescent moon above her.
Emerald noticed that most Phases had black or silvery fair hair - though there was one woman with flame-coloured hair who Emerald thought might be a Solay because of her stark difference in appearance and also because of her facial resemblance to Queen Anita. Most Phases seemed comfortable in clothes that were some shade of grey, blue, lilac or black - again the woman with flaming hair stood out here, for wearing clothes that were some of the bold, bright colours of sunset. Emerald thought that grey, blue, lilac and black set off the Phases’ almost luminescent skin well.
Argent led her to sit where he was on the left of a boy a little younger than Peridot with fairly dark brown hair and pale green eyes, and where she was on the right of a girl a little younger than herself with long, jet-coloured hair and eyes a slightly lighter blue than Argent’s.
“Is this Princess Emerald?” asked the girl excitedly. The boy on Argent’s right also looked on in interest.
“Yes,” answered Argent, smiling at her animation. To Emerald, he said, “This is Cousin Tilly.”
“Your name is so pretty,” Tilly told Emerald. “And it is such a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thank you,” said Emerald, smiling at Tilly’s kindness. “Your cousin suggested you might keep me company when I’m not with him or Christopher Solay?”
“Happily. I am sure we will be the greatest of friends.”
Argent grinned and Emerald remembered with a smile what he had said earlier about Tilly making her her friend before she could protest.
“Do I have to introduce myself?” asked the boy on Argent’s right drily.
Argent shook his head, smiling. He turned back to Emerald and said, “Emerald, this is Edmund, another of my cousins.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” she told him.
Edmund smiled. “And you, Princess Emerald.”
“Don’t you steal her from me,” said Tilly warningly.
“Worry not, Tilly. I won’t.”
“Good,” said Tilly, relaxing. “Now, I wonder what lunch is.”
As if in response, four neatly dressed maidservants walked in, carrying covered platters. The platters were placed at four points on the table and the people before whom they were put removed the covers to reveal roast chicken. They used a fork and carving knife that were provided to serve themselves some before covering the platter again and pushing it to the next person. The platters seemed to have small wheels. The maids laid out a total of three platters and came back a fourth time to give silver jugs of gravy to the people taking lunch. In this way, Emerald and the Phases had a meal of roast chicken, baked potatoes and roast vegetables, coated in thick gravy.
Afterwards, Tilly took Emerald unexpectedly by the hand and stood up, tugging her after her as she crossed the room.
“Come on, Emerald,” she said eagerly. She would have undoubtedly pulled Emerald along the whole way to wherever she had been planning to take her, had they not been met in the corridor outside the room by Christopher.
“Hello,” he said calmly.
“What are you doing here, son of the High Queen?” she asked, tilting her head to one side.
“I came to collect Princess Emerald. I have things to tell her.”
“You need her now?”
Christopher nodded. “Yes, please.”
Tilly reluctantly let go of Emerald’s hand. Emerald had to admit that she was slightly relieved.
“I will see you at another point in time,” she promised Tilly. Despite her relief at not having to be pulled to another destination, she could understand well if the girl wanted a friend.
Tilly smiled. “Make sure you do.”
Emerald was glad that she did not look too upset as she walked away from herself and Christopher.
Emerald turned to look at Christopher.
“Hello, Christopher,” she said. “What things do you have to tell me?”
“Let us sit in the Solay ‘Comfortable Room’,” he suggested.
“That would be fine by me,” said Emerald, and she followed him to a small, cosy room with a low-burning fire in the hearth. There were several armchairs in this room, a bookcase, a table for drinks and a painting of Aurélius. Christopher pulled a chair near another one and sat, saying, “Please sit,” gesturing at the other.
Emerald sat, feeling a twinge of discomfort at being alone with a young man whose presence was as strong and undeniable as Christopher’s. She noticed his eyes again.
Fortunately, he did not try to take advantage of the moment in a way that would be considered improper.
“I talked with my mother,” he said, and Emerald was instantly reassured that the things he had to tell her were of a suitable nature. “She says that for the next fifteen days of your stay here, a maid will accompany you when you are alone with Argent or me. She would also like you to take breakfast with her each morning, though, as you are doing today, you may choose with which family you take lunch and dine.”
Emerald nodded. “I see. I appreciate that clarification.”
Christopher nodded. “Also, when you are not with Argent or me, you may have a maid for company, though I explained that you are going to become better acquainted with that cousin of Argent’s. Mother wants you never to feel alone or uncomfortable. You must find someone to help you if that ever happens, she says.”
“That is very kind of her,” said Emerald, smiling, touched by the High Queen’s concern for her.
“Well, there is half a chance you will marry her son,” said Christopher, and he said this with a modesty that surprised her after his slight over-confidence this morning. “She was always bound to feel motherly affection for you.”
Christopher rose to his feet, surprising her.
“Well, that is all. What would you like to do now, princess? Am I entitled to a little time with you before dinner?”
“I do not see why not,” she told him, wanting strongly to bring him happiness after disappointing him earlier.
Christopher grinned. “I think I know where to take you.”
“This is the Throne Room.”
Christopher and Emerald stood just inside the doorway of a long chamber - though it was not as long as the ballroom. It appeared to be furnished solely with curtains around the tall windows, banners hanging from the ceiling which depicted the Sun, the Moon and two stars to represent the Four, and a pair of wooden chairs with velvet cushions upon a raised platform at the end of the room. Emerald was surprised by the absence of the High Queen and her consort. The room was totally empty of people save for herself and Christopher.
“Where is Her Majesty?” she asked.
Christopher regarded her as if he thought her very strange.
“Why should she be here?”
“Is this not where the Queen and Prince Consort receive members of the populace, to speak to them about the important matters of the city?”
Christopher looked amused.
“No, this is where the crowning ceremonies take place - and some other events of royal significance.”
“How strange,” murmured Emerald.
“Why? Is it where your parents sit and talk to their subjects?”
“Yes - they sit on their Thrones to remind the people of their roles.”
“Your subjects cannot be very clever then.”
Emerald blushed. “I did not mean that they forget my parents’ roles. It is more of a ... display for the Sun and the Moon, I suppose. My parents, by sitting on their thrones, are showing that they will deal with matters as a king and queen should. The throne is the symbol of their power...”
“Not the crown, then?” interrupted Christopher, looking even more amused.
“Both the throne and the crown,” answered Emerald, further embarrassed by Christopher’s further amusement.
“Wasn’t Mother received in your Receiving Room?” asked Christopher, tilting his head to one side.
“Yes,” replied Emerald calmly, “but that was less formal. She requested to speak to me on my own. I am rarely obliged to sit in the Throne Room so we talked in the Receiving Room instead.”
Christopher shrugged his shoulders.
“Our guests are always taken to the Receiving Room. It is a lot more comfortable.”
“Well, then, that is a difference between our Palaces.”
“Anyway, I brought you here because you did not see everything important this morning. There remain a few more Palace rooms which you might be interested to see but you are here for at least a month, are you not?”
“That is what the letter from Her Majesty suggested,” said Emerald, smiling.
Christopher smiled too. “I am glad. A month is a good length of time to form a bond with someone.”
Emerald remembered Argent’s words as the three of them had left the Breakfast Room together this morning and could not resist saying “But ours will be formed in a week, no?”
“You have a good memory.” He looked around the room as if searching for something. He looked back at her, his eyes seeming almost to sparkle. The colour still fluctuated and Emerald forgot to keep such a tight rein on herself.
“There is something I would like to show you, princess,” said Christopher, smiling softly and mysteriously. “Could you bring yourself to close your eyes?”
Despite being a little more deeply absorbed by Christopher’s gaze than usual, Emerald had the power to feel nervous. She hesitated. The air seemed to tighten and she could almost see an aura of golden light around Christopher’s figure - maybe that event in particular was due to her absorption by him, however.
“I am not sure that would be sensible,” she told him.
Christopher’s expression became serious.
“I promise not to kiss you.”
The word ‘kiss’, even preceded by the word ‘not’, was like sparks flying off flint as it was scraped against a rock. The fire kindled was an image of Christopher kissing her - powerfully like a fierce ocean, and her clinging to him desperately though at the same time whimpering fearfully as she was overwhelmed.
She stepped backwards, her heart seeming to trip over itself as it palpitated. Christopher, startled by her sudden panic, stepped forwards, saying, “Forgive me, Emerald - I did not intend to scare you.” His voice became softer, though there was a hint of alarm in his steadily fluctuating eyes. “I can show you without closing your eyes. I am sorry for my forward suggestion.”
Emerald swallowed, feeling ashamed of her imaginings. She closed some of the space between the two of them.
“I am sorry too,” she whispered.
Christopher shook his head, smiling kindly. Emerald was confused by this dimension of his character. Was he bold and arrogant as his actions had suggested this morning or soft and sensitive as his actions were suggesting now? She no longer believed she would come to know his ways as quickly as he or Argent would have her think.
Christopher took her gently by the arm and led her to a pair of glass doors across the room. He opened it with his free hand and brought her outside to stand on the stone balcony, from which she could gaze down at a green valley, dotted here and there with grazing cows and wildflowers.
To the left of the valley sat Central City, all conservatories and museums and colourful stone houses. Rising from its centre was a tall white pillar, higher than the mountains on the other side of the valley, atop which stood a cherub fashioned out of gold, playing his flute into the Sun, the floor of his pedestal decorated with jewels of a different colours glittering even in the weak sunlight.
“What a lovely view,” murmured Emerald, completely forgetting her distress from imagining closing her eyes whilst alone with Christopher. She looked to the young man, who was smiling at her as she had sometimes seen her father smiling at her mother. She blushed, looking outwards again. After a few minutes of simply gazing, she remembered her manners and turned to Christopher once more to say “Thank you.”
As she finished speaking, a clock which she had not observed in the Throne Room chimed three o’clock.
“I shall take you to find Argent’s cousin,” said Christopher, his gaze rather intense now. “Any more time spent alone with you and I will kiss you.”
Emerald nodded silently and looked anywhere but into his eyes as he led her through the Palace, seeming to know exactly where to go.
They stopped outside a door which was painted silver.
“I will collect you from here in three hours,” Christopher told her, and he knocked on the door before walking away, not even waiting to see it answered. Emerald found herself watching him until she heard the door open. Bizarrely, as her eyes followed Christopher’s form, one of her memories of a sunset played in her mind. She remembered the sunlight burning more intensely as the day drew to a close and the magnificent colours which were cast across the western horizon. A lone star appeared in the sky and then, it began to grow darker...