The Palace

Wednesday August 27, 2003 @ 05:21 PM (UTC)

← The City

Isabella followed the Seneschal through the darkened streets of town. Many of the houses were brick, and some were a cheerful yellow stone, but none of them showed much promise in the scintillating radiance department.

“No doubt,” said the rich-voiced Seneschal, “you are struck dumb with wonder.”

Isabella thought it more politic not to say. “I am wondering one thing, actually,” she offered, “why are you a Seneschal, and not a singer?”

The man faltered in his smooth pace, and then kept on, “The office of Seneschal is an ancient and revered one,” he said at last, and Isabella made no further attempts at conversation.

At last the Seneschal paused – he was a tall man, and Isabella had to take three steps to his two – and gestured across a substantial footbridge. “The Old Palace!” he proclaimed. Isabella crept closer, and the building crept out of the night to meet her eyes.

The Old Palace was a great phantasmagoric beast, a bundle of towers roped together like asparagus or stalks of wheat; all were topped with ridiculous turban-like protuberances, which grew in such variety and profusion that Isabella was put in mind of a bad arrangement of tulips. In the center, a great teardrop-shaped door beckoned, lit by unobtrusive torches on either side.

Isabella’s head swivelled, and she peered back down the unremarkable streets. She turned to look at the palace again. It was still there, and if anything, more grotesque. She frowned at the Seneschal, who made no sign of understanding her behavior. “What, may I ask, does the New Palace look like?” said she.

“It’s under construction,” he boomed, and led the way rather quickly across the stone bridge, over a wide cobbled avenue, and up the wartily mosaiced steps of the Old Palace. Several stairways later, Isabella felt closer to seasick than she had ever been on a ship, and the Seneschal produced an immense key-ring, ringing with well-polished keys, and introduced her into a dark guest room.

“I trust it will be sufficient to your needs,” he said, without making the sentence a question, and was gone.

Isabella paused for a moment before lighting the lamp near the bed. Perhaps she did not want to know what it looked like. But curiosity prevailed, and Isabella lit the lamp and saw.

It was an aging room, but sumptuous. The hangings of the bed were indigo velvet and brocade. The walls were mosaic, not in gaudy gold, but in shades of blue and grey that she saw gradually were the sea and a fleet of grand triremes sailing majestically in all directions. She took off her boots and her cloak and laid them on a venerable and dusty rocker. She brought forth a set of rather over-large pyjamas from somewhere, and donned them. She sat on the foot of the grand bed as she unbraided her hair. From this vantage, the ships on the walls seemed to be sailing directly away from the bed, as if scattered by Isabella’s commands. She grinned. “To the ends of the earth!” she cried, “and back before teatime!”

Isabella tucked herself into the great four-poster bed, told herself a bedtime story, and blew out the light. She stared up at the canopy, adorned with compass roses. She smiled like a cat full of cream.

“I go where I like, and I do as I please, and you can’t say better than that.”

The Emperor →


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