I was the first
Sun shone in through the large windows of the palace, giving it a bright and airy quality. The open gardens were still full of visitors, but inside was insulated from all that. Overall, it was far less crowded than he was used to, outside of what he assumed were the usual people going about their business. He certainly felt a bit odd being here while the sun was still shining.
Two pairs of footsteps echoed down one of the corridors, moving briskly. Crescent was following his escort, one of the many guards, through parts of the palace he’d never before been. He’d visited plenty of times, of course, but always during social events where there wasn’t much time to wander around. He was used to the palace at night, full of people and sound. During the day it was strangely quiet in places.
Even more than that, though, was the fact that the Queen herself had called for him, saying only she wished to speak with him about some business. He’d hardly been his usual composed self for a few moments after the message had arrived, not able to fathom what she could want with someone like him.
He’d spoken with the Queen before; he’d met her all the way back when she’d been a princess, but it was only ever short interactions at social functions, when he was often the only one bold enough to break the ice and ask her for her first dance. He’d been even more flabbergasted when the guard had told him they were going to the royal rooms.
He couldn’t help but wonder what the nobles would think, if they knew he was meeting the Queen in her personal quarters. Suppressing a grin he also couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed gently provoking them and their endless gossip.
The guard showed him into the Queen’s rooms, where she was waiting, and he gave a graceful bow. She was dressed regally, as always, but her clothing was far simpler than the stuff she sported at balls and state functions. It only made sense, but he couldn’t help but smile to see her like that. She was a beautiful woman, he didn’t mind admitting it.
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Crescent.”
“I can very happily say the same, Your Majesty. It feels like it’s been far too long since I last saw you.”
“Since last years Winter’s Ball, I think. It’s rather a shame, it’s always a joy to dance with you. You haven’t been spending as much time in the capital of late, have you?”
“Not quiet, no.” He didn’t wonder how she knew that, when someone like him should have hardly been on her radar, but he kept it to himself. “There have been quite a few opportunities for me elsewhere, recently.”
“I see,” she said, something in her eyes sparkling. “And here I thought it was because Domerin Lorcasf was living out of the city now.”
“Your Majesty?” He blinked at her, taken by surprise. There weren’t many people who could catch him up like that, but the Queen had always proven his equal when it came to quick wits.
The Queen laughed softly, though it was not a mocking sound. “I tease. I know you’re friends, and that I often see you with him during parties, even when you’re escorting someone else.”
“Well, you do have me there.” He admitted. “I enjoy parties well enough, but Domerin finds a way to make them special. My clients never seem to mind me visiting with friends.” He wondered at her words, though, having been thrown for a bit of a loop. Despite her insisting she’d been teasing he couldn’t quite help but think he’d seen something more in her eyes.
There had indeed been lucrative work outside the city lately, but for quite a long time he’d never felt the need to look outside when there was plenty here for him. He’d been feeling that itch for quite some time, feeling like the capital was lacking something. With her words he seemed to realize that maybe one of those things was Domerin.
“I dare say they do not, with such a charming companion. But, I do hope to see you at another event soon, Crescent. Who else will make the entire room jealous when he’s the first to ask me to dance?”
Crescent managed a rather dazzling smile to that, more at ease by the familiar topic.
“I just like to think you prefer starting out the night without having your toes trod on.” He’d never felt remorse for his boldness. Why start now? “I’ll see what I can do, Majesty. Can’t let the nobles get too lazy, now can I?” He couldn’t help but think of Domerin then, and all the long nights they’d spent having fun while everyone else took themselves far too seriously.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” she shot back with a laugh.
She must have sensed his slight distraction, and shifted topic. She swept her hand in front of her and led him across the room to a sunny sitting area, with plush couches. She took a seat on one, and he sat to face her.
“Help yourself,” she said, indicating a table in the center covered in a spread of tea, cold drinks, and some light refreshments.
Thanking her, he poured himself a cup of tea and prepared one for her as well.
Once they were both settled she looked to him.
“I can imagine you’re wondering why I called you here.”
“I’ll admit my curiosity. I can’t imagine it was just to tease me about dancing.”
Most would not have dared to speak to her like that, but the edges of the Queen’s lips curled upward, indicating mirth.
“Would that were the truth, but no. I called you here because I’d like to hire you for a job.”
His brows shot up, not bothering to hide his surprise.
“You’d like to hire me?”
Again a hint of mirth crossed her face, but she focused on the business for now.
“It wouldn’t be like your usual jobs. Not quite, anyway.” She sobered, and continued. “There’s a visiting diplomat, who’s going to be staying in the capital for some time. I have reason to believe, however, that he’s also here for less than honest means. Our relationship with Ematria, his homeland, are of the utmost important, so if he has some other motives, it would help us greatly to know what they are. As you are not of the court or the nobility, you are an unknown to him, which makes you perfect for what I have in mind.”
“You want me to seduce him?” He couldn’t help but arch a brow, mind jumping to that since it seemed the most obvious.
“Not as such. I do want you to befriend him, gain his trust, be his guide through the social circles here in the capital. And, of course, find out what his plans are. Think of yourself as a sort of… cultural ambassador, if you will, with a twist that uniquely suits your skills. You won’t be required to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”
Crescent was thoughtful. He’d never done anything like that before, and it sounded important. He couldn’t deny that it intrigued him, a challenge that was right up his alley.
“And you would be all right with me doing this? I’m not really anyone important.”
The Queen smiled at him, and he almost instantly felt put at ease by it.
“I trust you, Crescent. Domerin speaks well of you, and if he trusts you then I know I can too. To a wise and honest ruler, trust and loyalty are more valuable than gold or jewels. Take time to think over it, if you need to, but I will need an answer within the week.”
Crescent took a few moments, but shook his head.
“I don’t need that long, Majesty. I’ll take the job. It does sound like something that will suit my skills.”
“That’s wonderful,” she said, and her smile was genuine, and lovely to see. “I will have all the information you need sent to you. The less you are seen here, the better. If you do well, I can present you with evidence, and there could be more work for you in the future.”
Crescent nodded, understanding. The thought had an attractiveness to it, and it was certainly something new. He couldn’t believe he was going to do work for the Queen herself. Did Domerin feel this giddy when serving her?
A rather mischievous thought crossed through his mind, and he looked back at her, a grin curling his lips.
“So, was I the first person you thought of for this job?”
The queen smiled knowingly and, he thought, just a little bit playful.
“Sorry to disappoint you Crescent, but I’m afraid not. Rest assured, though, you weren’t on the bottom of my list either.”
At her words he couldn’t quite help but laugh, caught again by her quick wit.
“No? I’ll have to try harder next time, then.”
The Queen gave a laugh of her own.
“I hope you do, Crescent. The capital is far less lively without you here. I’d like it if you stayed.”
Crescent saw that sparkle in her eyes again as she went back to her tea, getting the feeling there was again more to her words, but if she knew something more she certainly wasn’t telling. The Queen was as good as a cat at keeping her own council, when she wanted to be.