Jaspernon The Prince : The Rise of the Cult of the Goddess: Ch.2 The Tower: Part 2 Lady Riala (Section 2)
When she had recovered and dried off the duty serving maid helped her on with her green dress. She made her way out to the Palace tea rooms, looking very radiant as usual. All eyes were upon her as she entered the well decorated hall room. There were beautiful views over the hills of the city, the green parks, the University, the Temple of the Goddess, and the other religious and cultural Temples and Churches of the city. The city Walls and Towers could be seen in the distance, tapering over the edges of the wide city of Anachronar. The view looked southwards. Beyond the valleys turned into a plain in the distance, but there were mountains also in the distance, on both sides. Anachronar the city where time stood still, and cultures meet, coming together in friendship and compromise.
Into this room came Riala, fiery and insatiable, full of life and love, energetic to give, but unable to stand still, the spark to light any fire, the vessel of change. Male courtiers turned to glance. She was like a fresh wind of beauty, which could not be ignored. Statesmanlike and urbane they returned their gazes quickly to the companions they met with, officials and businessmen and women, and wives and courtesans. The conversations momentarily broken, quickly resumed.
Where would she alight, who would she grace with her presence and conversation. She was like a Princess whom everyone loved. The men lusted and enjoyed, despite her sometimes provocation, and the women admiring and inspired with jealousy, but they never had cause to dislike. Women enjoyed her sensibility and friendship. Any provocation was soon settled and made comfortable. She was one of them even though she was favoured by the King. Little did any of them know the mood she was in, or the plan she was forming.
Minister Kaslarin was on a nearby table. She caught his gaze before it turned back to his colleagues. He was not trying to catch her eye, but could not help but mark her presence. “Ah Kaslarin, how are you today?”
“Oh fine Lady Riala. A busy day as usual,” he said.
If Kaslarin was here his day was probably not that busy, but he probably was doing some kind of ministerial business. I see you are busy, but not so busy perhaps that you cannot direct me towards the young Prince Jaspernon. Have you seen him?”
“He has not been here this afternoon Lady. Perhaps Alixerand over there can help,” he gestured to a window table where some of the younger Palace nobles were mixing.
“Thank you Kaslarin. I will return you a favour some time.” The poor Minister was left wondering what that might mean. The beauty did not usually offer him favours. He was well aware of what favour he might like from her, but doubted that could be what was really meant.
She glided over towards Alixerand’s group. They were people of her own age and even younger, but none of them were younger than 17or 18 she guessed. Those would be at their studies at this time even if these adults were not. “Hello Alix. I was wondering if you had seen the Prince?”
Alix knew well which Prince Riala meant for he and Prince Jaspernon were often inseparable. “No Riala. Actually not. He has been elsewhere all afternoon, so I do not know where he has been. Probably skulking around, I should imagine.” Alixerand shared the Prince’s sense of humour, and they could often be quite flippant about each other, but they made a good team.
“Well if you do see him, tell him I wanted to see him. If I have gone from here, tell him to look for me at my quarters later.”
Alixerand probably thought it was unusual for Lady Riala to be looking for the Prince, but she was sure the message would get to him sooner or later.
The poet Denison strummed his lyre and began to sing a song on the raised dais at the other end of the hall, while waiters and waitresses came out to serve afternoon teas. He sang a song of the city’s past, of times when foreigners invaded and the city lay under siege. Passion gripped the poet as he sang the song, becoming louder as martial rhythms beat the strings of his instrument. He had hired the service of volunteer ladies to be his choir of shrill angels, as they sang of good lives lost and self-sacrifice. Then came the calm of celestial peace as the sun rose on a new day of tolerance and peace. Thus was the nature of Anachronar; periods of struggle and danger, superceded by long periods of calm and prosperity.
Riala clapped as soon as any. “Ah, that was a wonderful performance Denison!” Everyone clapped and nodded their appreciation.
“Where is the Queen?” said one courtesan. “She should have been here.”
“She will get her chance when they perform again,” said another. “The Queen is in her private suite with her children as usual.”
One who heard the performance was the High Priestess Patience. She entered the tea hall just as the music climbed to its highest passions. She stared in wonder at the performance and clapped strongly at its end, enchanted by its beauty.
Riala was glowing, welcoming, everyone’s friend, observed Patience. She was a bit into everyone’s business, but she could hold it back too. Patience watched with growing admiration, despite her feelings of slight embarrassment at the petty accusations and questions the concubine had occasionally thrown at her. Patience realised that Riala played a role which was partly like a priestess. She introduced people, welcomed people, acted like a social magnet, seeking out even the sad and unhappy, to include them and to make them feel better. She went further and acted like a matchmaker to some, which was partly what she attempted for Patience herself, the newcomer to court.
The High Priestess observed as Riala held court around the room. Patience was well liked and accepted here now, and the courtiers and courtesans came up to her to confide in and talk to her, but she was well aware now of how adept Riala was in these skills. A great Priestess Riala would certainly have made in some respects, or even a High Priestess. She doubted that Riala had any belief in the Goddess, or that she even cared so much about the well being of the poor or the disabled. For that reason she was a little jealous of the concubine/ courtesan.
In some lands concubines were very much slaves to their masters, often unwilling bedsharers of the rulers or nobility. But that had never been the case here in Pirion. The concubine was a less than official wife to a King, not a Queen, a legal loophole for a King who wished to give his mistresses legal status as being a part of the wider Royal Family. They could sometimes be granted to other favourites of the King. In practice the King was too humane to give them away without their assent. Riala was in practice nothing like a slave. She behaved like a Queen, dispensing favours and even bending the ear of the King on behalf of others when she felt it appropriate.
The High Priestess knew Riala abused her position of trust with the King. She heard the rumours which went around the court. Some were reliable rumours and others were just speculation, some of which, she judged, was likely to be untrue. She recoiled in horror that a King’s Concubine should be so abusive of the King’s trust than to have affairs behind his back.
She would not previously have believed the role of concubine was an appropriate role in Pirion, but Croesian was the King and he could do what he liked. He was the ruler, and it was traditional that he should keep many women. Surely Riala was treading a dangerous path to risk the King’s displeasure, but she guessed the King must allow the leniency. By all accounts he had never shown any inclination to end Riala’s position, to punish her, or even to grant her as a concubine to any other. Perhaps he enjoyed sharing his concubine with others. Perhaps her lasciviousness was part of Riala’s magic, which made her even more alluring to the King. She thought that must be the reason.
It was difficult for Patience to be here in this Court, where so much went on behind closed doors, and some elements of it more openly, when she herself lived by a code of sexual abstinence. She began to explore the possibility that perhaps she was wrong to be completely abstinent. How could she judge others for what she did not know herself. The Prince had shown her already that she was out of alignment with the practices of the Court, and that she was more than attractive to many males, including the Prince. She was finding that even she herself was possessed of sexual thoughts and even dreams. She had come to court to gain favour and to spread the interests of her Cult, and the Goddess, but she was finding that she was learning or being challenged by them more than she had expected.
“The Prince has not reappeared yet Alixerand?” asked the Concubine Riala, still disappointed that she could not find the Prince. “I have searched a few places in the Palace!”
“Lady Riala, I do not see why you need to find the Prince so urgently. He could be in any number of places,” said Alixerand, his curiosity quite awakened. The beautiful lady rarely sought the Prince. He felt some jealousy that the beauty should be so keen to find his friend. “May I ask,” he said. “Why is it you should wish to find him so urgently?”
“It is a private matter, but no business of yours, young sir,” she returned. “But if you could suggest anywhere he might be, places he might go for privacy perhaps? He is not at his room.”
“There is a locked room in the Tower. He sometimes spends time there with his books, paintings, and his fantasies,” revealed the Prince’s friend cheekily. “I am unsure whether I should divulge this. It is a place of privacy to him. His father kept it locked, but since he found the key he has often liked to spend time there. He may have it locked, even if he is inside. I warn you, if he is there he may not wish a visitor.”
“I shall knock of course. Which door is it in the Tower?”
“It is near your rooms, but higher in the Tower. Do you know the room which the High Priestess inhabits?”
“Yes I do.”
“Well it is on the landing above the room of the High Priestess. It has a strong black door.”
“I have seen that door before, but never opened,” said Riala. It has crossed my mind that it was a room I have never been inside, and I have never seen it open. I have wondered what was within it, but have given it no thought recently.”
“I should probably not tell you, but I have,” mused Alixerand, wondering if he was being an honourable friend to reveal the Prince’s private place. But he knew the Prince liked and admired the Lady Riala. What harm could there be? Probably the Prince would be indulging a recent hobby, painting beautiful women, or reading his books.
“Thank you for your help young sir,” said the Concubine. “If I find the Prince there I am in your debt. I must do you a favour sometime.” Alixerand was left imagining what sort of favour he might wish for or expect from such a beauty.