Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(5)

Written By: James Maxwell



‘It is an omen,’ someone in the crowd muttered.

‘We are being punished.’

‘It is a warning.’

‘Both the ark and the temple are safe,’ Zachary said. ‘That is what is important.’

Chloe saw more than one citizen glare at the eldran. Others regarded him with expressions of terror.

‘And so is the city,’ she said. Her voice rose as she spoke. ‘Zachary saved my sister’s life and worked tirelessly throughout the night to help our people. He did so for no motive other than the generosity of his spirit.’

‘Thank you,’ Zachary said. ‘But now I must go. I cannot change again, so I must walk.’

Zachary stumbled out of the agora, heading for the lower city and the gates. The people made way, gazing at him fearfully, never taking their eyes away.

Chloe went to the nearby marble steps and sat down, exhausted. The lids of her eyes were heavy.

‘Chloe.’

She heard Amos’s voice, but didn’t look up.

‘Chloe!’

This time the voice was different.

Her eyes opened and she tilted her head to look up.

Aristocles, her father, First Consul of Phalesia, gazed down at her with concern. A skinny man with white hair balding at the top and perpetual lines of worry on his forehead, he still wore the elaborate silk tunic he’d worn when he left the previous night to attend the symposium. Chloe stood up to embrace him.

‘Father, you are safe.’

‘Sophia? The servants?’

‘The roof fell in at the back of the villa. Sophia was trapped but Zachary saved her.’

‘She is unharmed?’

‘Scared, but well enough. Will you see her?’

‘There is nothing I would rather do, but I first must set the city to rights. Will you take care of her?’

‘Of course.’

Aristocles looked up at the Temple of Aldus and frowned at the absence of the flame. ‘This is a dark day,’ he said ominously. ‘A dark day for Phalesia indeed.’





3


Chloe leaned on the terrace guard rail and gazed out to sea. Waves rolled in one after another and she followed them with her eyes as the curling water broke on the rocky beach. Her eyes then traveled upwards, and above the shore, on top of the cliff, at the bay’s closest end, she could just make out the flicker of the eternal flame at the Temple of Aldus, once more burning brightly. The golden ark below the torch’s pedestal glittered in the sunshine.

The agora below buzzed with activity as citizens shopped and vendors hawked their wares. The workers had departed the villa earlier in the day, their repairs finally complete. The overseer had given Chloe his assurance that the work his team had done would survive the strongest tremor; even so, Sophia now shared Chloe’s quarters; her own bedchamber gave her nightmares.

Chloe turned and saw Sophia limping toward her, although her younger sister couldn’t seem to make her mind up whether to hobble her left or right leg. The servants and their father had been pouring attention on her, giving her sweets and checking on her several times a day. Sophia was enjoying their sudden indulgence.

‘My bruises hurt,’ she said as she approached.

‘Which one is the worst?’ Chloe asked.

Sophia lifted her chiton and pointed to a faint mark on her shin.

‘No, I think it must be this one,’ Chloe said, touching her sister’s nose.

Sophia scowled. ‘There’s no bruise there.’

‘Well then, why is it blue?’

‘My nose is not blue.’

‘It certainly is,’ Chloe said gravely. ‘As blue as your eyes.’

‘It is not!’ Sophia said with indignation.

‘You had best look in the silver mirror and see for yourself.’

Chloe watched carefully as Sophia stalked inside and noted with satisfaction that this time her sister had forgotten to limp.

Sophia returned a moment later. ‘I told you my nose is not blue.’

‘I know,’ Chloe said, pulling her younger sibling into a tight hug. ‘I am glad you are well.’

Sophia squirmed but then turned serious when Chloe released her. ‘Chloe . . . Why are the gods angry? Is it because of the eldren? What will happen to Zachary?’

Chloe frowned. ‘What are you talking about? Where did you hear that?’

‘I was with father at the agora and one of the consuls spoke to him, the fat one. He said that the gods are angry because we have allowed the eldren to live so close to our borders. He said they should all have been destroyed long ago.’

‘Destroyed?’ Chloe’s eyes narrowed.

She knew the Assembly of Consuls was meeting at that very moment.

Turning away from her sister she gazed down at the lyceum, a long rectangular building of glistening white marble columns with a peaked stone roof.

‘Don’t worry. I’m sure Zachary will be safe.’ Making a decision, Chloe lifted her chin. ‘I have to go now.’

‘Where are you going?’ Sophia asked.

‘To the lyceum.’

‘But it’s only for men—’

‘All they do is talk,’ Chloe said. ‘Surely they’ve all seen a woman do that.’



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