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Chapter 33: On a Tight Schedule

Jordan


Kurrum was waiting for me right outside my room with a small group of seamstresses on standby, as promised. I mentioned I didn’t want my LeyGuard clothes washed yet, and he immediately sent someone to convey my message to the laundress. Then, after a 360-degree scan to make sure my clothes fit properly, Kurrum dismissed the waiting seamstresses and ushered me—and my entourage of family and friends and one dog—back through several corridors and into the great hall.


The great hall was a large, open, rectangular room with rows of doorways down both long walls—all currently propped open. We entered from a door on one of the shorter walls of the rectangle, with the full length of the room spreading out before us. The floors were polished wood, and rows of sparkling, glass chandeliers cast a bright light on the room from above—electric lighting, or some magical variation of it, rather than candlelight. The entire room smelled bright and citrusy, like they had polished the floors with lemons.


Our boots all clicked on the hardwood as we entered, and the murmur of voices I’d heard a moment earlier immediately hushed. A large group of politely patient faces turned to watch me enter the grand hall.


A few dozen people stood in neat rows near the other side of the room, wearing various shades of green tunics, dresses, and robes—my attendants, I assumed, though I’d yet to decipher the color coding system for various types of staff. A small stage loomed against the wall opposite where we’d entered, just in front of a broad window which let in a swath of bright daylight through the charred remnants of what must’ve been the curtains Sorcha torched. Through the window, I could see another stage set up on the grassy hillside outside the palace. Teionyrian people covered that hillside, what looked like hundreds of them, standing in loose rows that reached almost back down to the road into the city—the crowd Sorcha had mentioned. I tried not to focus on that as Kurrum led our group toward the stage.


Your friends and family can wait there.” Kurrum stopped us a few feet away from the stage and gestured to an empty area next to it, then to the stage itself. “And you’ll be on the platform, of course, Your Highness. Say what you would like, but please keep it somewhat brief—we are on a tight schedule.”


My mouth instantly went dry.


You’ll be fine,” a male voice said calmly near my ear, and I glanced back to find that Kaizyn and Vyrthil had moved up just behind me.


Come with me,” I asked Kaizyn before I could second-guess myself. “I want them to see us both. To know that I’m not…that I’m—”


That you’re not stealing my throne from me?”


I glanced back at him with alarm. He smiled. “Don’t worry. You are the rightful king, and I’m here to make sure they all know that. If you want me by your side, I’m there.”


I nodded. “Yes.”


His smile widened. “Then lead the way.”


I caught Reina and both our sets of parents watching our exchange from behind Kaizyn, with Callan hanging just behind them… though Reina was mostly watching Kaizyn. She looked pensive—almost confused. My mom and dad’s gazes, though, locked on mine. Dad gave me a firm, confident nod. Mom looked like she was about to burst into proud tears.


I drew a breath and turned back to Kaizyn. “Okay. Let’s go.”


Champ trotted along beside me. I didn’t stop him, even though Vyrthil hung back with the rest of the group instead of joining us.


Wide eyes followed Kaizyn and me as we approached the stage, and more than a few people cast a shocked glance at Champ. I wondered if they didn’t have the same kinds of dogs here that we had Earthside—I hadn’t thought to ask.


Kurrum thrust a glowing red stone into my hand, then gestured me toward the steps to the platform.


That’s for amplifying your voice,” Kaizyn said quietly, leaning near me. “Like… a microphone, I believe you call it? Just close your fist around it when you’re ready to speak.”


Thank you,” I whispered to him.


We climbed the shallow steps—and suddenly I was staring down at four dozen expectant faces.


Kaizyn stepped up next to me, close but angled just behind me so it was clear I was in front. Champ flanked my other side.


Kaizyn glanced at me with a reassuring smile. “Whenever you’re ready.”


I closed my hand around the stone—and I spoke.


I couldn’t even remember later exactly what I’d said. It included a bumbling introduction of myself, and of Champ—and then of Kaizyn as my adopted brother, who I said was still officially a prince, of course, even though they all already knew that. I followed that up with a rambling monologue about how grateful I was to have his support and help, how grateful I was for all of them here to help me, and how I vowed to do my very best to be the king my father would’ve wanted me to be—the king they deserved. My mouth basically went on autopilot halfway through my speech while the rest of me floated in a state of semi-coherent panic. When I finally regained my senses, I stopped. “Um—” I glanced at Kaizyn as panic crept back in. “Do you want to say anything?”


He smiled at me—a genuine smile. “No, My King. You’ve said everything as well as I could have myself.”


To my surprise, when I looked down at the attendants’ faces, they all seemed relaxed and welcoming.


Well. Perhaps I wasn’t entirely failing at this, yet. Speaking from my heart—or the strange blacked-out, rambling place my heart apparently retreated to when forty-eight people were staring at me—seemed to have done the trick. I drew a deep breath, then turned back toward the attendants watching me.


Those people over there,” I said, gesturing to my cluster of friends and family, “along with Prince Kaizyn, are my closest and most trusted allies I have here in Teionyr. You will see them here in the palace often, and I want you to know who they are, and that you can trust them as I do. They are here to help me serve you better—to help strengthen and defend our people and our kingdom. And—well—I think that’s all I had to say.” I opened my hand, and the stone’s glow faded.


Kaizyn clapped me on the shoulder and leaned close. “Well done,” he whispered as Kurrum hurried up onto the stage.


Before we dismiss,” Kurrum said with a voice obviously also augmented by a stone, “I would like to present our new king with his personal palace staff.”


A line of attendees broke off from the crowd and filed into a row, facing me, at the base of the stage.


I stared at him. “Aren’t these all my palace staff?” I whispered, glancing down at the rest of the crowd.


Kurrum released his grip on the glowing stone and leaned near me. “Yes, of course, but the king always has an inner circle, the ones who serve him directly as guards and attendants in his private chambers. I’ve taken the liberty of choosing them for you from our finest staff, but of course, if any displease you, they can be replaced.”


I drew a breath and nodded. “Right—okay.”


Kaizyn gave me a reassuring smile.


I turned forward to face the row of special attendants staring up at me. There were four broad-shouldered men in dark green guard uniforms, all looking to be in their mid-twenties or early thirties; another, thinner man in an olive green tunic who looked about the same age; and one slim, kind-faced woman in a light green dress who looked close to forty—though I knew some Teionyrians aged very well, by human standards, so some of them could have been older than they seemed.


Pacha, Ferim, Melor, and Vymus will be your personal guards,” Kurrum said, gesturing to the broad-shouldered men. “They will rotate shifts outside your chambers, and one of them will accompany you any time you must leave the palace—though you may also bring your own allies as additional protection, should you wish.” He added the last part quickly, glancing at the cluster of LeyGuards, Callan, and Vyrthil waiting at the side of the stage.


I nodded to each of the guards in turn. “I’m glad to meet you all. Thank you for your protection.“


They nodded back at me. “Of course, My King,” they said almost in unison.


I wondered if they’d rehearsed that.


Barthas is your personal assistant,” Kurrum continued, gesturing at the thinner man next to them, then turning to face me. “His chambers will be assigned near yours, so he is always available should you need something.”


I glanced down at Barthas, feeling guilty that anyone would have to build their life around being on call for my requests—but he was staring with open-mouthed wonder at Champ, who had inched near him, sniffing his face.


Champ!” I laughed, bending down to grab his collar. “I’m sorry! He’s curious, but he’s friendly. Please don’t let him alarm you.” I paused. “Would you like to pet him?”


Barthas stared up at me, eyes wide with surprise. “You mean touch him, Your Highness?”


Yes—but only if you want to,” I said, readying to pull Champ back, but then the man’s face split into a grin.


I would love to, Your Highness.” He reached a shaky hand forward, letting Champ sniff it—and Champ immediately shoved his head into the man’s hand.


The man stroked Champ’s head, grinning with delight as Champ’s tail wagged up a storm… and something about that simple exchange cracked open the tight ball of anxiety I’d been carrying in my chest.


I chuckled as I stood. “He seems to like you, Barthas, and he has a great sense for people. Anyone Champ likes that much is someone I’m happy to have in my inner circle.”


Champ rejoined me at my side, but not before getting one last scratch on the head from Barthas.


The man grinned widely as he stared up at me. “Thank you, Your Highness!”


Kurrum cleared his throat, but when I glanced at him, he was smiling. “And lastly, My King, is Millia,” he said, gesturing to the kind-faced woman. “She leads the team that will prepare your room—making sure you have clean sheets, clean clothes, and any other items you need or comforts you may desire. If you need anything at all for your room, let her know, or you can send Barthas to relay the message if she isn’t nearby. She is also your personal apothecarist. If ever you have an ache, a pain, trouble sleeping, or any ailment at all, let her know right away. She is extremely skilled with faespells and tinctures.”


I studied the woman’s face. I was wary about taking any kind of substance from someone I didn’t know, but I knew Maxim would also be nearby. I could ask him later whether she was trustworthy—though I imagined she was, if Kurrum had personally chosen her, and I certainly didn’t want her to feel unappreciated. I met her gaze and nodded. “Nice to meet you, as well, Millia.”


She blushed and smiled back at me. “It’s my pleasure to serve you, Your Highness.”


My pleasure to serve youYeah, that felt weird. I wondered if that was something a king eventually got used to.


Kurrum smiled at her, then looked up at the crowd at large. “You are all dismissed—you know your assignments!”


They scattered like a flock of startled birds, literally running out the great hall’s many doors.


Kurrum turned to me. “Well done, Your Highness.” He smiled. “Now it’s time for your coronation.”

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