The following morning Emerald was awoken by a chamber maid - a different girl to the one who had come into her room on Tuesday morning. This maid was bright and cheery - she had soft reddish brown hair and sparkling green eyes - and she told Emerald, “My name is Miriam and I have been appointed to be your chaperone.”
“Good morning,” murmured Emerald sleepily as she sat up slowly.
Miriam aided her by running her a bath, putting fresh clothes upon her and brushing out her hair. Once Emerald had cleaned her teeth, Miriam took her to the Breakfast Room where she took breakfast with Queen Anita as she had done yesterday.
“Good morning, Emerald,” greeted the High Queen warmly. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did, thank you,” replied Emerald, smiling.
“This afternoon you will be with Argent Phase, am I correct?”
“Yes, that is correct.” Emerald was surprised by the High Queen’s knowledge but then remembered that Her Majesty had spoken to Christopher the previous day and considered it not unreasonable that their conversation had gone into exact details of what she had arranged with him and Argent that morning.
Queen Anita smiled.
“Before that, would you care to take lunch with us Solays? You can sit at my table with Tamina, Milly and Tiera.”
Emerald smiled in response.
“It would be an honour to sit with you again, Your Majesty.”
“Excellent. But between the end of breakfast and then, I have asked Miriam to show you the portrait gallery, which I believe you have not yet seen. Would that please you? I understand that Tilly Phase sees her tutor on Wednesdays.”
Emerald was amazed, although she saw it as logical that the Queen knew everything and organised activities for guests of the Palace.
“That would please me very much,” she answered happily.
There was silence until the end of breakfast. When both women had finished eating and chewed the Mont leaf, Queen Anita rose to her feet.
“I will see you at lunch, Emerald.”
“Thank you for inviting me to take breakfast with you, Your Majesty.”
“It was my pleasure.”
Queen Anita left the room through a side door and Miriam led her through the door through which she had exited with Argent and Christopher the day before.
“Her Majesty is so kind, do you not find?” said Miriam as they walked.
“She is,” agreed Emerald.
“You must choose a kind man to be King, Your Highness. Despite the need for firmness and courage, compassion remains an important quality.”
“I will try to remember that,” said Emerald, slightly startled by a maidservant advising her on her choice for the next High King.
Miriam smiled. “That would be good, Your Highness.”
The portrait gallery was located on the one subterranean level of the Palace, composed of a single room stretching across a distance of about a league or so. Paintings of The Four, The Four’s children and each High King and Queen of Emriqa after Rélia, daughter of Aurélius, lined a single wall, with space for a significant number more. Emerald followed the line, which of course ended at High Queen Anita, walking slowly and pausing at each one. In total, there were 26 paintings, predominantly Solays, which did not seem completely fair - though at least the male female pattern had been maintained since Aurélius’ and Luna’s decision almost 600 years ago. Each portrait was excellent, painted with strong colours and using the finest of brushstrokes to bring out the features of the subject. Each seemed to reflect upon the character of the subject: Aurélius looked regal and radiant, Luna graceful and serene, and in Queen Anita’s, one could see the kindness in her smile. Also, Emerald though that the twinkle in the current High Queen’s eyes had been captured perfectly. She gazed at each painting for a few minutes, briefly absorbing the names and faces while admiring the skill of the painter. As she looked upon Queen Anita’s portrait, she wondered if the same painter would be tasked with the creation of the next portrait. Then, she felt her responsibility for this painting’s subject. Her consciousness of the unequal ratio of Solay to Phase in the room made her desire almost to go upstairs and declare a choice of “Argent Phase!”, regardless of his qualities or her preference. She looked away from the painting of Queen Anita and towards Miriam who stood quietly a short distance away from her.
“May we return upstairs?” she asked.
“Of course, Your Highness,” replied Miriam. “Where would you like to go next?”
Emerald smiled wryly.
“I have no intention to visit a particular place. Perhaps you could take me to somewhere quiet, where I could sit and think?”
“The library, Your Highness, contains a quiet area with a view over the Palace gardens,” Miriam informed her.
“That sounds perfect.”
The quiet area was a comfortable space branching out from one side of the library. Its walls were painted the warm colour of peaches and its carpet was soft and the colour of cream. There was a wooden shelf along one wall, lined with various books which did not seem to be arranged in any particular order or share any particular theme, and a large window formed almost the entirety of another wall and it looked out onto the Palace gardens. Four luxurious armchairs sat before the window, somewhat giving the effect of a movie theatre. One of these armchairs was occupied by Andrew Phase who was reading a newspaper. As Miriam and Emerald entered, he looked up, dropped the ladies a nod and returned to reading. Emerald located with her gaze the rose bushes in the garden and sat in an armchair where she could best see them. Her rate of breathing gradually relaxed and she thought vaguely about the past few days, deciding after a few minutes that a kind thing to do would be to write a letter to her family. She looked across at Miriam, who sat in the chair beside her, and asked, “Would it be possible for me to write a letter?”
Miriam smiled. “Of course, Your Highness.” She rose from her chair, not seeming put out, which relieved Emerald of a sense of guilt that she was asking too much of the girl, and left the room, returning approximately a quarter of an hour later with two sheets of parchment, a quill and a bottle of ink, and a clever object that was a combination of a wooden board and a cushion which Emerald could balance on her lap and write neatly against.
Emerald contemplated and then began to write.
Dear Mother, Father and Peridot,
I have arrived safely at the Palace of Light - as beautiful a place as rumours say. I have been given a chamber which is quite lovely - the bed is a four poster in the centre of the room, like an island in the middle of an ocean. I saw the Palace gardens, which contain rose bushes of colours in which you would not think roses existed. I have also met the two potential High Kings; their names are Christopher (a Solay, the son of the High Queen) and Argent (a Phase). They gave me a tour of the Palace (which included those gardens I mentioned), so I have seen the ballroom, the library and the Throne Room. It is strange, my dear family: they reserve the Throne Room for grand ceremonies like the crowning of the next High King or Queen. All visitors are received in the Receiving Room, unlike at Roc Presh.
I have met so many people of my age and younger. One of Argent Phase’s cousins - Tilly - has offered to occupy my time when I am with neither Christopher nor Argent. I have also met five Solays who are cousins of Christopher (Tamina, Milly, Tiera, Kyle and Ray), and two other Phases (Edmund and Andrew, the latter being the younger brother of Argent). Last night, I dined with the High Queen, the Prince Consort, Christopher, Kyle and Ray. Every morning, the High Queen requests my presence at breakfast.
Today I visited the portrait gallery, which is situated beneath the Palace. It contains paintings of The Four, The Four’s children and every High King and Queen after Rélia . There were more Solays than Phases... Does that mean I should choose Argent to be High King in order to be fair to his family?
I am a little worried, my loved ones, about my role here. What if I make the wrong decision? What if the man whom I prefer would not make the best king?
I hope that you are all well, and that my worries have not burdened you. I look forward to your response.
Emerald folded the letter and handed it, the stationery and the useful object which she could not name to Miriam.
“Where will you post it?” enquired Emerald curiously.
“In Central City, Your Highness. It will be sent with the highest speed.”
Emerald smiled. “May I come?”
“Well, the streets can become quite busy and I could not lose you, Your Highness. Perhaps it could wait until we were with Argent or Christopher.”
There was a rustling noise and Emerald looked to see Andrew folding his newspaper.
“I will come along,” he said, smiling. “If you would let me first fetch my knife.”
Emerald smiled sincerely.
“Thank you very much, Andrew. Yes, we shall wait here.”
“Thank you, master Andrew.”
“No problem. It has been too long since last I left the Palace grounds.”
He stood up, newspaper tucked underneath one arm and walked out of the room. Within ten minutes he had returned, a knife in a sheath at the belt around his waist, the newspaper gone.
“Let us go,” he said with a smile.