Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(6)

Written By: James Maxwell

Chloe changed her plain white costume for her finest garment, a chiton of pale blue silk that flowed like water. She fastened it with three copper pins in the shape of dolphins and put wooden sandals on her feet, then swiftly departed the villa. Her sandals slapped on the stone steps as she walked down the winding staircase, inhaling the scent of the flowering plants that grew on both sides, until she reached the bottom and made her way to the agora, now passing through streets filled with the stench of refuse.

Since the tremor a week ago, the city of Phalesia had nearly returned to its former self. As Chloe’s father said, it could have been much worse, and almost all of the damage was confined to houses, while the city’s defenses and harbor remained intact. The swift actions of the men who had laboriously hauled the boats of the fishermen and merchants up to high ground had saved nearly the entire fleet, with only a few war galleys caught in the surging tide in need of repairs.

Reaching the bustling agora, filled with folk dressed in a multitude of styles and colors, Chloe weaved through the throng, crossing to the far side to climb the marble steps that led to the lyceum. As befit a place where laws were made and trials conducted, a stern bronze statue of Aldus, the god of justice, stood tall and imposing outside. The god wore a long robe and carried two tablets in his arms. He appeared to be looking at the writing on the tablets but they were arranged so that only he could read what was inscribed.

The lyceum was the largest structure in Phalesia. A long building with an entrance in the shape of a horseshoe, it had no walls and essentially consisted of row after row of columns holding up the high triangular roof. In the center was a rectangular gallery, sunken into the floor in a series of tiers. The consuls sat on the lowest tier and the city’s citizens seated themselves on the tiers above. Only one man was allowed to speak at a time from the central floor. No women were allowed to participate.

This was the first proper Assembly since the week-old wrath of the gods, and there were men on every level of the gallery, all facing the consul who was speaking, so that Chloe was able to reach the back of the crowd without anyone noticing her.

The crisp voice of round-faced Consul Nilus filled the air. As she stood on her toes to look, Chloe saw him turning at regular intervals to address all present.

‘That the gods are angry there is no doubt,’ he said in a voice designed to fill the lyceum. ‘We must make offerings to all. Perhaps it is time to visit the Oracle at Athos, for we need to shed light on what we have done to bring such wrath down upon our city.’

Another consul, a heavyset old man with a gray beard, stood and waited impatiently to speak. Chloe recognized him as Consul Harod; her father said he was a troublemaker.

‘I yield the floor to Consul Harod,’ said Nilus, nodding at his colleague.

Harod moved to the middle of the floor, while Nilus seated himself on the lowest tier, gathering the folds of his white tunic in his lap.

‘Offerings are not enough,’ Harod’s voice boomed. ‘The gods have shown their displeasure. We cannot simply appease them. We must do more.’

A chorus of assent greeted his words. Chloe frowned. She had an idea what was coming next.

‘The cause is clear,’ Harod said, his full beard wagging as he nodded sagely, eyes roving over the gathered assemblage. ‘The gods are angry because we have allowed eldren into our city.’

This time the voices of agreement were forceful. Harod waved for calm before he continued.

‘This peace we have established with the strange ones is not a good thing. They turn wild when they change, forgetting who they are, becoming monsters that destroy our villages and eat our livestock. We have finally cleared the last of the serpents, dragons, and giants from the area. The last thing we need is more. Everyone knows what happened in the agora.’

Before Chloe knew what she was doing, she was moving. She pushed forward through the throng of men, resolutely heading down the steps. Ignoring their stares, she didn’t stop until she reached the floor.

She saw her father, Aristocles, seated near Nilus, so astonished his eyebrows looked as if they were trying to climb to the top of his head. The gray-bearded Harod was stunned enough to forget what he was saying. Consul Nilus had his mouth wide open.

Crossing to the center of the speaking floor, Chloe pointed at Harod and she spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear. ‘They only change if they must, and in this case they were changing to help us.’

‘Clear the floor!’ shouted a tall man on the third tier.

‘Get her out!’

‘Only when I’ve said what must be said,’ Chloe called, turning narrowed eyes on the tall man who’d called out. He folded his arms over his chest and scowled.

Standing in the middle of the sunken floor Chloe spoke for all to hear and gazed out over the consuls around her. ‘Zachary saved my sister’s life. No number of men could have freed her without harming her, but Zachary did, and right now she is alive and well.’

She glared at gray-bearded Harod, who appeared unable to speak.

‘The eldren saved countless more of our people,’ she continued. ‘Zachary knew the risk of turning wild, but he pushed himself to his limit, for us, and no one was harmed.’ Chloe drew in a deep breath. ‘I don’t know if what happened was a punishment or an omen, but I do know one thing.’ She spoke clearly with as much volume as she could now. ‘It had nothing to do with the eldren.’

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