Hanging above the door was a wooden sign in which the words:
Head of staff: Malara Deverant
were meticulously etched. The lettering was made with such attention to detail that it immediately made clear that it was an important sign for an important person. The door itself was slightly ajar, which wasn’t uncommon with the amount of people that came through the office throughout the day. Everything that needed to be changed around here, needed to be discussed with Malara first. After knocking on the door a familiar voice answered. “Come on in.”
Girmoc made his leave and went back to whatever business he had to attend while the three of them entered the cozy office. Right opposite of the door was a desk with plenty of space on each side. Piles of paper were neatly placed in three different boxes, each pile sticking out a fair bit above the box they were in. The boxes were labeled with new, processing, and finished. The back wall was lined with several keys as well as a cupboard that seemed to hold books and some other things. To the left of the door was a small bench that people would often be made to wait on if Malara was busy. The woman herself was sitting behind the desk. Looking to be in her early fifties, Malara was a tall woman. It wasn’t as obvious when she was sitting behind a desk, but she was almost a full head taller than Cobal was. She’d been the head of staff here in the palace for over twenty years now. She took the office when she was quite young. Cobal remembered it well, because the previous head of staff, Lenird, passed away of illness. He’d been old, but not so old that his death hadn’t come as a shock. Cobal remembered that he cried when he found out and Malara had comforted him during the process.
“Malara, it’s been a little while.”
“I hardly noticed you were gone.” The woman looked up, revealing a large scar on her left cheek. She grinned. “It’s good to have you back on the palace grounds, your highness.” She looked at the other two. “Are these your friends?”
Cobal nodded. “Lady Mana, hero from another realm and member of the Milinia council as well as Kimi’Thania the spirit of music.”
“I see, and you’re here to get them acquainted with the palace, right?”
Cobal nodded. “I’d like for them to be given full access to the entire palace, except the private quarters of course. Treat them as personal guests of a member of the royal family.”
Malara stood up, showing to the rest of the room how tall she was. Kimi barely made it to her waist and she towered quite a bit over Mana. She looked at them both. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my name is Malara Deverant. I’m the head of staff here at the royal palace. I know this place better than anyone, even the royal family themselves. If you have any questions, ask me or one of my staff and we should be able to help you out right away. As personal guests of the prince you have access to every part of the palace with exception of the throne room, the royal wing and the barracks. The barracks are out of my jurisdiction, you’d have to talk to the leader of the guards for access there, but I’m sure you’ll be able to figure that out.” She looked at each of them. “Any questions?”
“Seems very clear to me.”
“Excellent.” She went back to her desk to ring a little bell. It gave off a very clear sound that traveled quite far. A few moments passed before a young man entered the room.
“Davod, will you show them around to the important places? They’re guests of the third prince.”
“Very well.” The young man, probably still a teenager, looked at all of them and bowed politely after acknowledging Cobal. “Please follow me, I’ll show you around.”
“Do you wish to join us on this tour, your highness? I’m sure you’re more familiar with the palace than I am, after all.”
“I probably am, but I don’t mind tagging along. I’ll let you take the lead on this though.”
They followed Davod through several corridors. “How long have you been a member of staff here at the palace?” Cobal asked. He saw that they were headed towards the kitchen area first and they still had a while to go, so he filled the silence with a question.
“I’ve been employed here for the better part of a year now, your highness.”
“I see, how has the work been treating you?”
“It’s good work, your highness. Malara is very strict, but the pay is good and the quarters are simple but provided to us workers without cost. I’m saving up to start my own store one day.”
“Oh,” Mana said. “What kind of store are you looking to open?”
The boy’s face grew brighter at that question. “My mother was a seamstress. She was very talented, but illness had her bedridden for years. After she recovered, she never quite got the energy to start up her business again. My father and I support the family now, but she still sometimes makes new clothes for me. I’d love to open a similar store one day and hire her to work for me. That way she can work short shifts and do what she loves without having to work too hard.” He remembered who he was talking to. “But I don’t plan to leave this job anytime soon, my lady.”
Mana smiled. “Please just call me Mana.” She looked out towards the open dinner hall they’d just reached. “That’s a very admirable goal to have, I wish you good luck in your efforts.”
“Thank you, Lady Mana.”
Cobal chuckled. “Close enough.”
“We’ve arrived at the dinner hall. This is where visitors of the palace can eat food. The cooks always have something going. Past that big door over there is the kitchen and on the other side of the kitchen is the royal banquet hall. That’s where events and parties are held. You can’t really enter it from this side.”
Mana nodded. “I’ll make sure to go back here for dinner later,” she said.
“Royal guests are also free to call on someone to bring their food to their chambers if they so desire.”
“Good to know.”
Davod nodded. “Now please follow me to the archives.”
They went back the way they came and through another hallway.
“I forgot how big this place was,” Mana said. “I don’t think I got to see much of it before we left for Ravadier.”
“You were the one who was in a hurry to go there.”
“I never said it was a bad thing.” They squabbled for a few moments before reaching the large wooden doors to the archive. One of the doors was closed while the other was swung open, revealing a large library on the other side. “This is where many of the royal scholars and mages spend their time. THere’s books about every possible subject here and there are several tables in the center of the library to sit at. There’s even several meeting rooms at the far end and a few smaller rooms if you want to study quietly. If you want to use one of those, you might want to reserve it in advance, I hear they’re often full.”
He turned around again. “Finally, I think you’d like to see the gardens. There’s the outdoor gardens, which you’ve already seen on your way in. Those are mostly snowed over. But there’s also the indoor garden area that the queen maintains. I believe you’d enjoy seeing that too.”
“Please show us the way there, then.” Kimi said.
Davod nodded. “Follow me.”
Following Davod for a little while, they eventually got back to near the royal quarters. This wing had three hallways. One led to the guests’ quarters where Kimi and Mana were staying, one led to the royal quarters and was quite heavily guarded. A third hallway led to their destination. There were some guards there, but with Cobal there they had no reason to stop the group so after a polite bow they were on their way. The hall curved a little bit to the right, closer to the center of the building, and eventually led into a domed room. The dome was made entirely out of glass and even had several hatches that could open up. The lower half of the room, the building itself, was made out of stone like the rest. The entire room, with the exception of a few pathways, was covered in flowers, small trees and bushes.
“This place looks gorgeous,” Kimi exclaimed, immediately walking ahead of the rest of them. There were butterflies and dragonflies buzzing around as well as many other insects. His mother said it added to the atmosphere so she always made sure there was an open window for them to fly in and out. With how cold it was outside right now, a lot of them were probably glad to have made a home indoors with so many flowers still around.
“This is the queen’s domain. If there’s any questions you have about this area you should ask her. If she’s busy, which is often, you can probably try and talk to Farilah, the queen’s attendant. She can relay any questions you have to her.”
Mana nodded. Kimi had already run ahead and was inspecting some bright pink flowers that Cobal had seen before but didn’t really know much about.
“I can see already you were right in including this in the tour,” he said to Davod. Davod smiled.
“Well then, shall we go and get settled then? You’re free to roam around a little longer, but I’m guessing you’re both a bit tired,” Cobal suggested.
The other two agreed and they followed Davod back outside of the garden. “This far is fine Davod, thank you for the tour,” Cobal said.
“My pleasure, your highness.” With a polite bow he ran off.
The three walked back to Mana and Kimi’s room where they sat down for a little while.
“What are your impressions?” Cobal asked Mana.
“I like the garden, the rooms also look good. I miss Dionil’s place though.”
Kimi nodded. “Same here, I loved the atmosphere in the forest.”
“Well, once this all gets sorted and we find my brother, perhaps we’ll go back to Dionil. I’m sure there’s much more he can teach us and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have us back.
Mana smiled. “I’d definitely like that.” She sighed. “Starting tomorrow we’re going to be busy, aren’t we?”
Cobal nodded. “Let’s take it one step at a time, you’ve got this.”
“I doubt that,” Mana said, chuckling nervously. “But I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“For what it’s worth, I do believe in you,” Cobal replied. He had come to understand that once Mana felt anxiety for something it wasn’t easy to get rid of that feeling. So he just tried to be as supportive as he could. After a moment he ended up standing up and leaving. “If you need me, have the guards call for me, but for now I’m going to enjoy sleeping in a comfortable bed. Good night.”
“Good night Cobal.”
Cobal returned to his room. The space felt a lot bigger than it used to. When he grew up, he thought this was a normal room size, but having stayed in several much smaller places, he’d come to understand how big it truly was. Even though he was now halfway through his twenties, he apparently still had a lot to learn. Lingering on memories he fell asleep pretty quickly.