<< BACK

Prologue

Introductions

"Appearance is just that; what we see, not what is. Still, that is how we are placed in society. If one can master the way others see them, they can then master society and therefore the world they live in."

-Rivulets of Time

Neelya placed her bag on her new bed in the Palace. She was to be Queen Hoelaria's new assistant. This was a great honor and credit to her. To be selected by one so esteemed was no small feat. She stood and looked at the room which was much finer than that of her last home. The workmanship was a little spotty but she didn't judge that; after all, this was an ape-built structure, the first she'd lived in. She walked to a window overlooking the Capitol. Blue skies fell on green hills. Only a few clouds were visible. She opened the window. The sharp and offensive scents of the city assaulted her and she shut it again, deciding that she preferred the sweet smell of her room.

She picked up a notepad as she made her way out of her room, finding a Human in the hall waiting for her.

"Take me to the Queen," she ordered, not looking at the creature.

"Yes, my lady," he said.

She walked behind the ape not paying attention to him, but rather studying every inch of her new home.

The servant lead her to what she presumed were the Queen's quarters. The servant opened one of two large redwood doors letting her in. Neelya marveled at the large apartment’s elegance. The room’s exquisite lines and symmetry spoke of a master Iumenta craftsman. Neelya walked in the entry room, admiring the fine decor. She noticed that the servant did not enter. The room stood in stark contrast from that of the rest of the Palace. Her eyes glided over smooth ceramic walls.

"Neelya," a cool voice called from another room.

She followed the voice to a small dining room.

"Un Prose," Neelya said, bowing to the Queen.

"You may rise. When in private; for you it is not necessary to bow upon seeing me," the Queen stated matter-of-factly.

"Thank you."

"Please join me," Hoelaria said.

Neelya was confused -- she'd always heard that the Queen was ill-tempered; but she didn't seem so now. Neelya sat opposite the Queen examining her surreptitiously. Hoelaria eyed Neelya, looking her up and down like a piece of art.

"I take a great deal of time selecting an assistant Neelya, you should know that. With that knowledge comes knowing that you are highly desirable, but it also means that you must meet those expectations," Hoelaria said, no menace or threat coloring her tone; just fact.

Neelya fought the urge to swallow, "Yes Un Prose, I will not let you down."

An Iumenta came in the room with two silver trays; he sat one before the Queen and the other in front of Neelya. He left the room without uttering a word.

Neelya eyed the servant as he left.

"Humans do not enter my quarters," the Queen said, "please eat. You will be dining with me often."

She did as asked, spearing a cooked carrot. For a long time, the Queen said nothing. She periodically looked up at Neelya, nodded to herself, and resumed eating. Neelya didn't speak.

"You seem nervous, Neelya," the Queen casually observed.

"Forgive me, I do not mean to seem scared or weak, Un Prose."

Hoelaria looked at her again, a slight gleam in her eye. "Neelya, I know the reputation that I have; it’s one I've worked hard to earn. When you leave my service you will help to spread that reputation. I am ruthless and I am ill-tempered; but you are my assistant, which is a close relationship in our society. You are as obligated to serve me as much as I am obligated to mentor you. In public, I expect you to do as you are told. In private, however, I expect you to speak your mind -- respectfully of course -- and if you feel so inclined, to question me. This is how you learn, this is how our society has flourished for millennia, and this is what raises us above the ape standing in the hall."

Neelya understood.

"I like the food," Neelya said, surprising herself.

The Queen's lips twitched almost in a smile, "Yes, the apes can cook well."

Neelya looked down at her plate, "Humans are capable of this?"

"Yes..."

An Iumenta entered the room, stopping whatever the Queen was about to say. He bowed to the Queen, "You said to enter when I received news, Un Prose."

"What is it?" the Queen asked coolness back in her tone.

Neelya's ears perked up, what was going on?

"Un Prose, Noris has fallen."