Chapter 18



The streets were flooded by great masses of the curious. Cassandra was amazed by the infringing crowds. They pressed in from walks, looked down from rooves. They did not hail her, or wave or smile. A little frightened, she mainly kept from the window, her eyes away from all the staring faces.

The great numbers of people considerably slowed the carriage's progression; her gurads, with the assistance of Navarn soliders, steadily herded the crowds back. Unnerved coach horses jogged against their halters. Muscles tensed, their ears flicked around wildly.

Cassandra looked to the approaching palace. Valiant towers stood stark against the cloudless morning sky, taller than any building she had seen before. Never had she seen such an orderly city. Even as the crowd gathered, the streets were impeccably clean, the people of good neatness in manner and dress. El'burin was an old city, and yet, all times fresh in a constant rennovation. It was almost too perfect.

They broke free from the people - palace gates opening arms of iron as to welcome their new queen into the safety of the tightly confined grounds. Immeaditly they entered upon a grand courtyard, regal in its clean gray elegance. Perfect soldiers stood statues everywhere, bulky in their armor and menacing in their demeanor. Otherwise, the entering courtyard was empty. Her carriage stopped in this abandoned place. The strangeness of it all made Cassandra shiver.  

Her footman opened her door obligingly and proceeded to help her and her over-sized gown from the cushioned perch. This unusual courtyard was quite large in its cobblestone expanses, two arched tunnels branching off on each corner. The center was highlighted by an incredible amount of steps rising to the castle above. It was as if she stood in the palace's desolate basement.

A pair of soliders stepped from their frozen position, flanking her sides. "Right this way, Princess," grumbled one from within his jeweled uniform. Like a prisoner, they guarded her tightly. They guided her toward the infinity of stairs ahead, all the other statues falling in flawless line to parade behind her.  

Cassandra hauled her heavy skirts and started up. The guards seemed a little exasperated with her slow pace, tired by her burdensome dressings. She felt displaced among their grave company and gave a final look to Aedryn's colors below, guided themselves to the branches of tunnel.

"Do you need a breath, Princess?" The man to her right said unfeelingly. Even if the morning was cool, sweat began to oil her powder, the hair on her neck wetly curling in the blantant sun.

"No, no." Cassandra pressed forward. Why are there so many stairs? Does everyone have to climb this stone mountain?  "No, thank you."

They finally reached the cobblestone plateau that was the end destination. There stood the true entrance of the palace - a cold-faced granite giant challenged the heavens with a behemoth sword and frightening eyes, protecting the tall doors just beyond.

Cassandra delicately dabbed her forehead, looking to the unoccupied windows above. There were more soldiers still, near invisible in their lack of motion.

She was baffled. The guards continued to move her towards the doors ahead. They stopped all in unison some paces from the grand entrance. Cassandra paused, confounded.

A royal assembly emerged from inside, headed by the Princess' former governess. "Oh, Lady Edwina!" cried Cassandra, relieved. She rushed forward, arms spread. How exuberant was she to see a familiar face among this dark confusion!

Lady Edwina held her hands up calmingly as to remind her student of the place and time. She smiled, "I can easily see that my Princess has long been lacking a refreshing lesson!" Cassandra blushed sheepishly in mild embarassment. "But, my, do you look lovely!"

"Thank you, my Lady." The Princess gave a brisk bow as she regained her composure.

The governess nodded approvingly and then came into her serious facade, "From here we proceed to your private presentation to the royal family." She firmly took Cassandra's arm. "Now we get down to business."


The End

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