Luna stood to one side after she set my napkin for me. Castell sat on my right hand side and asked me with a smile: “Your majesty, for what reason have you gone out of your way to invite me to dinner at the outer chamber?”
I raised my wine glass and said: “To her majesty.”
“To her majesty.”
Castell couldn’t speak while we were paying our respects to her majesty so he had to take a drink even if he did have a question. If you wanted to poison somebody, that drink would be the best opportunity, because according to the rules, you can’t reject a drink dedicated to showing respect to her majesty. But of course, poisoning a drink that’s supposed to be used to pay respect to her majesty will result in the death penalty.
We had our first drink. I didn’t have any thoughts about poisoning Castell. I placed my glass down, looked at Castell and said: “Castell, I want to ask you a few questions. Answer me honestly.”
Castell smiled and asked me back: “When have I ever lied to you?”
Indeed, Castell has never lied to me since hiding a fact doesn’t count as lying. I paused for a moment and then asked: “Castell, do you have any information on Federline and Andre?”
Castell smiled and pursed his lips with red wine on them. He looked at me and faintly asked: “Your majesty, I do not quite understand what you mean. Are you asking about their men or them themselves?”
Castell isn’t a bad guy, but his love for playing word-games with people is annoying as can be. Do I need to be explicit with everything? Won’t her majesty kill you with a kick if you behave like this? You want me to lay it bare for you? You’re knocking on hell’s door.
“Yes, your majesty.” Castell smiled slightly and then continued: “Humans will forever be social animals, especially within this large palace. Humans are the cruellest creatures. They enjoy their wine as they kill. They embrace you as they hurt you. They even beautify it with the word ‘fate’. To protect themselves and gain more power, they find people who share their visions and goals, and ally themselves. That is how the conference chamber is made up.”
“And they’re separated as factions or parties? So you’re saying Federline and Andre belong to two factions?”
“That is correct. The merchants team up with other merchants to become the pigeons taking the food, while soldiers team up with soldiers to become the eagle which overlooks things. That is how it goes, your majesty. They sought you out to increase their political power. You must have noticed that neither side has made a suggestion which her majesty has been satisfied with regarding the matter with Castor.”
Castell looked at me, smiled like a merchant and continued: “For the generals, fighting Castor is the best option for them to win favour with her majesty since Castor is but just a city. There is no way they cannot bring down their city gates with heavy artillery. However, for the merchants, it would be easier for them to do business there if there was no blood shed… However…”
I looked at Castell and softly said: “Arms dealers.”
Castell nodded and said: “That is correct. There are arms dealers among the merchants. They do not necessarily wish for war, but they seek conflict. There does not need to be a war, they simply need to increase the tension at the borders. But there are those in the army that understand that war is not the best option. They want to maintain the existence of a complete city.”
“I get it now.”
In short, there’s a radicalism party and a conservative party. The radicalism party views the army as their stronghold. They rely on military accomplishments to prove themselves. The conservative party on the other hand, are satisfied with the status quo.
I looked at Castell’s hypocritical smile, paused for a moment and said: “So which party are you with, Castell?”
Castell earnestly replied: “I belong to the empress party.”
“The empress party?”
You boot-licking slave…
I grinned and then raised my wine-glass. I now understand the political situation of both parties, but I still don’t know if the rumour that a war is going to break out is true or not. According to what Castell said, the arms dealer doesn’t actually want a war. He just wants tension. With tension comes orders for arms. So is a going war start or not?
“What has her majesty got to say?”
“Her majesty is your mother. It is better for you to go ask her instead of myself.”
And now for the most important question.
I handed Castell a Castor coin. Castell looked at it, then laughed and asked: “Is this not a Castor coin? What point are you trying to make, your majesty?”
“I want to ask if you know about the value of Castor’s currency rising.”
“I know that there are people spreading the news to make money.”
“What do you think about it?”
“I only received a Castor coin from their envoy and that is all.”
Castell handed me a Castor coin which was exactly the same. Had I not seen him take another one out, I would’ve gotten the two mixed up. I picked up both coins and checked them out. No matter how I looked at them, they were identical. From their weight, the way they felt, their jagged spots, the print, there was no difference.
“So what do you think?”
“Here is what I think, your majesty.”
Castell didn’t answer me directly. Instead, he smiled and said: “I may run a trading company, but the company itself belongs to the royal family. I do not know what changes have occurred with Castor’s coins. However, I would like to ask you a question, your majesty. Between Castor’s envoy and I, who do you feel dresses more befitting of an envoy?”
That I can say without hesitation.
“No, no, no. I did not mean us as people. I did not express myself clearly there.” Castell went on to rephrase it. In the swaying of the candle lights, his face was half hidden by the shadows like an undertaker paying a visit. He looked at me and said with a smile: “I was referring to how we are dressed.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You are not an envoy, so perhaps you are unaware, but as envoys, we must dress extravagantly when in another country as an envoy. No, it is not a corrupt custom to dress as such during such times. It is about dignity. It is a representation of their country’s dignity. Only strong and wealthy countries have people who dress extravagantly and eat well. Seeing an envoy dressed extravagantly tells the ruler of the host country that the country the envoy hails from is powerful and respectable. An envoy is thereby essentially the billboard of a country. It is practically impossible to be over-extravagant.”
Castell smiled and nodded. He then touched his smooth chin, picked up his glass of wine and said: “Your majesty, please do not let my presence ruin your wine. How about we end tonight’s matters here? I am struggling to resist helping myself to the feast you have prepared for me. Please allow me to wish you good health with this glass. Long live her majesty.”
“Long live her majesty.”
Castell never makes his point explicit when he speaks. Is he trying to protect himself or test me? I raised my wine-glass and finished my glass in one go. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become accustomed to it or what, but I could taste red wine this time. Luna walked up to me and politely refilled my glass. She then walked back to stand inside the shadows. Castell looked at her, laughed and said: “Is she the maid you purchased, your majesty?”
“That’s right, your people tried to fight me for her.”
“I am very sorry.”
Castell smiled and bowed. He then raised his head and said: “Your majesty, please always be attentive of your surroundings. Everybody is after you because of your value as the prince. However, if you dig too deep, you will be in danger.”
I looked at Castell and asked: “Will you protect me?”
Castell smiled casually and replied: “No, I will not protect you.”
Bonus: Here’s some new official artwork. This piece is called “Troy’s night with Elizabeth”