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REPORT book 1 chapter 13
Rose explores Grenswa's palace.
Chapter 13—Adventure is the Only Tonic for Boredom
To look at someone was an acknowledgement of their existence to a Grenswa-na. It showed respect for their life, for their right to live. Therefore, to turn away and ignore someone was beyond rude, akin to implying they should cease to be.
So when heads swiveled toward the enthused voice calling the First Prince’s name, then immediately pivoted away, jeweled eyes on their plates or hands, it puzzled me.
Timqé dropped out of his swing, hurrying under the table to meet his summoner before her lumbering strides carried her too far beyond the doorway. Clumsy me managed to navigate turning around in the hammock just as she threw her arms around him, bouncing heavily on her toes.
“Niiq, what are you doing up?”
So this was Niiq, the pregnant wife of Grenswa’s First Prince, and I suddenly understood the reaction of the Luejii around me.
Niiq was Silver, a race they considered cursed.
Niiq possessed a strange beauty, and I wished Timqé would step aside so I could study her in greater detail. Her hair was colored like a smooth mirror, cut short at her nape and angled sharply over her shoulders, bangs hanging halfway to her elbows, a few beaded strands proclaiming her married status. Silver scales matched her hair’s brilliance, freckled with shimmering onyx. But her eyes captivated me the most: right iris black as the deepest, darkest cavern, left a radiant chrome.
I stared, and while everyone else pretended to ignore the couple, the group’s strict silence and occasional stolen glances revealed the direction of their attention.
Their voices were too low for me to understand, but I watched Niiq’s enthused expression drop into a pout. She shook her head, mumbling something.
“Niiq,” Timqé said, affection and exasperation amplifying his voice, “the doctor said-”
“But I’m so bored!”
Behind me, the queen stood in her hammock. “The child within you, it’s not more important than your momentary entertainment?”
“He’s bored, too,” Niiq huffed.
Queen Jianthy sighed, “You can’t act properly, even in this.”
On our left, an Onyx woman inserted, “Forgive my daughter, my queen. You know she’sn’t intelligent.”
Niiq didn’t seem to hear them; a good thing, I suppose because had my mother said the same of me, I’d have cried or punched someone…probably both.
Instead, Niiq pitched, “That book you brought me from the library, Timqé, the one on architecture, it had old diagrams for this palace, and there’re hidden passageways everywhere. I want to explore them, Timqé. Adventure’s the only tonic for boredom.”
“I love your insatiable curiosity, Niiq, how you don’t view anythin’ as an obstacle, how you believe you’ve to know every part of everythin’,” Timqé rebutted, turning her around. She seemed very tiny, especially compared to Timqé, who was tall for a Grenswa-na. Hands on her shoulders, he directed her through the exit. “But you’re already on an adventure, an important one, growing our son within you.”
“I can multitask adventure,” Niiq claimed as they disappeared behind the curved wall.
Whispers hissed around the room, none quite distinct enough for me to understand, though I caught a few snippets that sounded like ‘unsuitable princess’ and ‘royal execution.’ This latter particularly befuddled and disturbed me.
“You seem confused,” Blu whispered. “You didn’t you believe Niiq was real?”
“I haven’t heard much about her at all.”
“Makes sense, I guess. The family’s been tryin’ to quell any mention of her in the media.”
“She’s the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet,” Blu’s mother placated.
With a grunt, Blue added, “Mom, you can only say that because she’s never decided your face looks like a drum.”
The Sapphire lady ignored his comment, a sad tone strumming the words, “She’s unfortunate, though, our Princess Niiq.”
I looked over my shoulder at the queen. She sat alone now, lost in bottomless, troubled thoughts, ocean-deep gaze on her plate, shell spoon in hand but not moving. She looked like the entire world had fallen on her stiff shoulders, either she or it about to crumble.
I can’t drop my bad news on her here by herself. The king needs to be present…and advisors. And Timqé because he seems the most open-minded.
“Blu, where are Hent and the king?” I asked, repositioning myself in my swing so I faced the table again.
With another bird leg in hand, Blu related, “There’s an incident in Tils, and the king went to allay the people’s fears.”
“What do they fear?”
The din of voices had steadily grown into the raucous symphony it had been when I had first entered this dining hall, but with those two words spoken casually around a bite of meat, I suddenly couldn’t hear anything over the pounding of my own heart.
As if from far away, I heard Queen Jianthy clear her throat, saw her turn to me, tears barely contained, a tiny twitch of a smile appearing as she found a subject to distract her thoughts.
“Pink child, what were you saying before the interruption?”
I shook my head, throat tight and voice squeaky. “This isn’t really the place to say what I have to say. Sorry. Can I request an official audience with you and the king and the first prince?”
The queen’s brow furrowed. “The first prince is no longer qualified for official audiences.”
“Because he married a Silver? He’s still your son!”
Jianthy’s face hardened. “Leave this table. Now.”
“Gladly.” I tried to slip gracefully from my hammock, but my leg got tangled, and I fell on the table, dragging several dishes down after me. As they crashed against the stone floor, I dangled upside-down, my foot caught. Some pathetic wiggling freed me, and I face-planted on the fish head.
Disgust and embarrassment buoying me to my feet, I quipped, “Thank you for your hospitality,” and ran from the room.
Where are you going? a tiny voice in the back of my mind nagged.
To find Timqé and Niiq.
And how do you plan to do that?
I didn’t answer inner me.
What about your message? You were very rude to the queen. They’ll probably throw you out of here.
Inner me was being very annoying, and she planted paranoia in my consciousness. I slowed, scanning my surroundings, expecting a pack of officers to jump out from around every corner or off every glittering chandelier.
I spied out possible exits, noting that nearly every surface was wet. Water and crafailia ran throughout this place—rivulets along the stone walls, cascades dropping over balconies, ponds harboring hallways. And what had Niiq said about there being hidden passages?
Someone grabbed me from behind, my mouth covered, scream muffled as I fell over backward.
“Shhh! You’re the girl Timqé found in the forest!” Niiq exclaimed in a melodious hiss by my ear. I landed on my backside in a very narrow hallway.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I confirmed, hoping this description wouldn’t become a permanent title.
Glee danced in Niiq’s mismatched eyes, stretching her lips wide. “He said you’re raised by the Druojojneerpsrii.”
“Uh, where did Timqé go?”
“He’s walking me back to my room, but King Rangiel and Hent came back, and some officials insisted Timqé had to go meet them. So I’m free to explore until he finds me. Wanna come along? I’ve already found a passage.”
I had ticked off the queen, so I probably wouldn’t get any formal audience. Giving my message to Timqé seemed my best option, so I had to stay in the palace long enough to meet up with him again. Hiding in unknown tunnels with a wife he would be searching for seemed a great way to accomplish that.
And it could be fun.
“Of course,” I beamed.
“Great. Hurry up!” She scurried deeper down the narrow hallway, and as I followed, the passage appeared to shrink behind me. It got very dark, very fast. Just in front of me, Niiq scrambled up steep stairs, and a little bit of panic swelled in my chest, making it very hard to breathe.
I often traversed the hidden halls of the Citadel of Menyaza, but that was a maze designed to protect me. It responded to my touch, my safety and my wishes its priority. If this building listened to anyone, it likely wasn’t me.
Just as I opened my mouth to suggest we should go back, the path widened, small slits letting in natural light.
Scaled fingers sliding into an opening and bare toes scraping at the wall as she tried to lift herself high enough to see through the slit, Niiq exclaimed, “Awesome, I think these’re for espionage.”
“If it was your goal to spy on trees,” I added.
Niiq presented a more entertaining view than the static foliage offered by the slits, her soft features scrunched with effort, glittering eyes squinting, as if with enough sharpness they could peer through the solid stone wall. Her toffee-colored skin had a pallid quality here in this oddly angled light.
“Oh, it’s just trees,” she acknowledged as she finally succeeded in peeking through the spy hole. Dropping down, she bounced onward through the tunnel. “Though trees’re great conspirators. They already’ve everyone convinced they’ren’t suspicious.”
This made me think of how I had teased Fredo aboard Bongii’s ship, joking about disguising him as a tree, and I tumbled into distracted silence, Niiq’s further comments and softly spoken puns slipping past my ears without registration. I should have planned better. Fredo trusted me, and I failed him.
Your sister trusts you as well, my subconscious taunted, as do the Druojojneerpsrii, to deliver your message.
The Grenswa-nas don’t trust me, I argued.
Have you given them any reason to?
I stopped, the realization lashing me like the whip-thin tip of a scyuen’s tail. A Grenswa-na’s trust, as with most of their psyche, ties back to their most prominent attribute, their loyalty. A Grenswa-na’s loyalty is complex and boundless, unbreakable, and stalwart, but it is not automatic. It must be earned.
“I heard you threw a leempree across a ravine,” Niiq’s alacritous voice burst through my thoughts.
“How exactly did you hear about that?”
“That’s awesome. You’re awesome!” She threw her arms around me, and I squeaked, surprise sucking in a breath.
“Doesn’t answer the question.” I patted her shoulder, unsure of what was expected of me.
“And you’re so tall! Maybe if I was as tall as you, the doctor wouldn’t think this baby is too big for me and banish me to boringville!”
“His opinion has merit though.” Beneath layers of cascading obsidian and azure lace, her belly looked about to burst. “I mean, you look like you might…pop.”
She looked up at me, tears glistening in her opaque eyes, one luminous, one glossy. “You think I’m ugly?”
“No.” I knelt and wrapped her in my gentlest embrace. “Niiq, you’re like a moon shining bright in a dark night sky.”
An analogy that made no sense to her, confusion twisting her brows and wrinkling her petite nose. Grenswa’s moon was the harbinger of daylight.
“You’re like a moonrise,” I corrected.
Joy dawned across her face, smile more radiant than all Seallaii’s moons combined.
“That’s amazing. I knew you’re awesome.”
Her arms slinked away as she twirled, facing the dank unexplored depths of the passage and springing a few more steps.
“Just after I moved here, Hent told me what the counselors said,” she confessed, back turned to me. Tears were in her voice. “They debated whether stealin’ the first prince’s heart’s a crime punishable by death for someone like me. Like my mother did, they wished I didn’t exist, that I would just disappear.”
She turned halfway back, eyes closed and smile wide, as if it could dam all sadness. “Hent advised me to run away.”
I wanted to smack him.
“But I stayed. I love Timqé, and there’s never been a princess like me. Do you think I can change the world?”
Her question startled me, both in its scope and in how she worded it. The questions I had heard thus far from Grenswa-nas had all been phrased as statements, a language quirk rooted in their penchant for assumption. This was a true inquiry from Niiq with no implication I would be required to agree.
But I agreed wholeheartedly. I wanted to believe in her.
“Niiq, with enough effort and determination, I know you can do anything.”
She giggled, hands still clasped behind her back, but her tension had fled. “That sounds like the Druojojneerpsrii’s motto: Impossible’s a matter of opinion.”
I had heard that mantra a million times, but never before had I noted how pompous and invigorating it sounded. I got lost in my thoughts again, and when Niiq’s words again broke me from my introspection, I suspected our secret passage had led us high in a tower.
“You know our former Sarquant Sjaelam figured out the moving parts of this palace. The book Timqé gave me said he designed these passages after his beloved Menyaza Citadel where he grew up.”
Her gait was some mix of skip, sway, and waddle, and the faster she went, the more ridiculous it seemed. My long strides kept up with her well enough, but this was no casual stroll, especially considering the plethora of stairs. My Citadel had that, too, I supposed, if I wanted them. If I asked, they could smooth into a ramp or slide. At my request, they would fold away, granting access to a passage they had blocked and disconnecting higher pathways.
I didn’t know how long ago those features had been added to the Citadel. Uncle Sjaelam had been raised there several centuries before me. He may have even had some part in designing its current abilities. In which case…
I ran my hand along the wall. It felt nothing like the coarse stone of home, moist and glossy. No mortar glowed at my fingers’ entreaty. But I did find something.
“Niiq, look! There’s something carved into the wall here.”
“By design or by a vandal?” she queried, face a hairsbreadth from where my fingers rested on the deep lines. I doubted her mediocre eyesight could distinguish it in the dimness.
“It’s probably a marker that does something if given the right cue,” I speculated. “The picture is of a quunee. Try cooing to it.”
With a grin, Niiq perfectly imitated a quunee’s fluttering warble. It sounded a little like a drowning flute.
“Try it again,” I advised, “but this time touch the etching.”
I guided her hand to the line drawing, tracing her fingers over its swirled edges. A quunee had the bone structure of a bird, but its skinny arms ended in tiny, clever hands. Expandable membrane stretched from the length of its arms to its sides, forming pseudo wings that it used to glide, not fly, flat tail acting as a rudder in either air or water. Over-long legs allowed it to leap like a cricket, while three large feathers protruded from its head, serving little discernable purpose other than to make it appear less bald.
“Maybe it’s a good thing it didn’t work,” Niiq excused, “Quunees often symbolize mischievousness. It might be a trap.”
“Quunees represent mischievousness because in their never-ending quest for food they can get in everywhere. It probably opens an even more super-secret passage.”
“A secret passage within a secret passage?” Her eyes lit up again.
With her palm covering the quunee, Niiq cooed again, and a square section of wall swiveled on a horizontal axis, scooping us both onto our bellies. Niiq rolled, feet under her immediately, while I lay there a bit stunned, butt in the air, legs dangling, toes almost reaching the floor.
The wall had created a shelf showcasing us.
Pushing myself up on my hands, I surveyed the new room. An important-looking, thin table floated on a rectangular, shallow pond. Cushions hung around it, hovering over the marginal waters. Waxy papers cluttered the area, and at the head of the table, forlorn, bedraggled, and looking as if it had been dumped there rather unceremoniously, was my satchel.
I scrambled off the shelf, swinging on a cushion and skittering across the tabletop, board rocking beneath my heavy steps.
Either my lack of grace upset the balance of the shelf or it was on some sort of timer. Niiq squeaked as it flipped shut, trapping me alone in this official-seeming room.
River’s End Chapter 13: Adventure is the Only Tonic for Boredomoleheartedly. I wanted to believe in her.
She giggled, hands still clasped behind her back, but her tension had