Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(10)

Written By: James Maxwell

‘Show him in,’ Aristocles said.

Moments later Chloe heard her father in the reception as he spoke with his plump colleague. ‘Nilus, how good of you to come.’

‘Is he here?’

‘No, not yet.’

‘Any idea how many companions he will bring?’

‘My message specified no more than two.’

‘Tell me, Aristocles, what is our strategy?’

Sophia called out from the kitchen. ‘Ask many questions and answer few.’

Chloe frowned at her younger sister, but Nilus laughed. ‘An excellent idea,’ he said, coming to the door of the kitchen. A plump man with curly black hair and a round face that was often red when he spoke, he was one of her father’s rivals, but also a colleague and confidant who occasionally came to the villa to work with Aristocles late into the night.

Seeing Chloe, Nilus scratched at his cheek before speaking. ‘Ah . . . Aristocles. Your daughter—’

‘I will be a gracious host,’ Chloe said. Her lips thinned. ‘It was only when they started blaming the eldren that I had to say something.’

‘You can’t let them hurt Zachary,’ Sophia said.

‘Yes, well, it is a delicate issue,’ Nilus said.

‘I’m making one of mother’s dishes,’ said Chloe, changing the subject. ‘Spiced meal cakes with pork sausages.’

‘Excellent,’ Nilus said. ‘I do miss her cooking. The gods only know why fever strikes some and not others. She was a good woman, of that there could never be doubt.’

Chloe smiled sadly. ‘Why don’t you have father pour you some wine?’

‘Excellent . . . Excellent.’ Nilus looked around. ‘Where is your father?’

‘Nilus, come, our guest is here,’ Aristocles called out from the reception.

Chloe and Sophia exchanged glances while they worked. Busy with the preparation of the food, Chloe listened to the conversation in the next room as she mixed the coarse flour she’d been grinding with salt and dried oregano.

‘Lord Kargan, you have brought no companions?’ Nilus was asking.

‘There are none on the Nexotardis with my status,’ Kargan’s gravelly voice replied.

‘Please, take a seat,’ Chloe’s father said. ‘Let me pour you wine.’

‘Where are your servants?’

‘I have sent them away for the night. My daughters will be preparing the food and serving.’

‘It is a great honor,’ Nilus said.

‘Your women are allowed to share the same quarters as your men? You have them serve your food?’

‘I am sure many of our customs are different from yours,’ Aristocles said smoothly. ‘If you wish, I can recall the servants, if that would make you more comfortable.’

‘Bah,’ Kargan grunted. ‘Your house, your rules.’ There was a pause. ‘Tell me, is this the palace you provide for your king?’

Chloe added water to the flour mixture and proceeded to make flat cakes. After using up all the mixture, she went to the fire and checked the coals were low enough, and that there was space in the stone bed for all the cakes to fit.

‘This is not a palace. It is my villa,’ Aristocles said.

‘I must agree with you,’ Kargan said. ‘This is no palace.’

Chloe heard gulping and then a clunk as someone set a goblet back down onto the table. ‘More wine!’ Kargan called. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I forget you have no servants.’

‘Put these on the hot surface near the coals,’ Chloe quickly instructed her sister, indicating the meal cakes. ‘Then bring in the cold platter.’

Chloe left the kitchen and entered the expansive reception. The room was artfully arranged, with no evidence of the recent disturbance to Aristocles’ home. Marble statues of Aristonias and Nestor, two of Phalesia’s democratic fathers, occupied each corner, while along the stone wall were fine ceramics and low stools and tables.

The three men sat on angular recliners, spaced close together, and between them was a table the height of a man’s knee. The room was big enough to accommodate twenty men, yet Kargan’s dark eyes were scanning it dismissively.

As Chloe walked in she saw that he wore a flowing yellow robe of thick silk, fastened at the waist with an elaborate belt of woven orange thread covering leather. Hanging from his belt was a curved dagger with a jeweled hilt, the scabbard plain but fine quality. His oiled hair was tidier than before and his beard was now curled in a series of locks.

‘Ah.’ Aristocles cleared his throat. ‘Lord Kargan, may I introduce my eldest daughter, Chloe.’

Chloe placed her hands together and gave a small bow, while Kargan glanced at her once and then looked away. ‘More wine, Lord?’ Chloe asked as she reached for the jug and refilled Kargan’s cup, then pouring for her father and Consul Nilus.

As Chloe backed away, Sophia entered the room with the platter.

‘And my youngest daughter, Sophia,’ Aristocles said.

‘It is my pleasure to serve you, Lord,’ little Sophia said formally.

Nilus and Aristocles both smiled, but Kargan appeared bored.

‘Come,’ Chloe said to her sister under her breath. She led Sophia back into the kitchen, where the aroma of the spiced bread already filled the room.

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