Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(7)

Written By: James Maxwell



Chloe scanned the crowd. She didn’t know if her words had had their desired effect. The citizenry appeared more stunned than anything, particularly the consuls, watching her in wide-eyed silence. Even Harod shuffled back to his seat on the gallery’s lowest tier and sat down heavily. The consul next to him raised an eyebrow and Harod threw up his hands.

No one wanted to be the man to confront the first consul’s daughter.

But then Chloe’s father slowly stood, raising his thin frame and walking to the center of the floor. ‘Please, daughter,’ Aristocles murmured, speaking for her ears alone. ‘There is a way these things are done. I must take no sides and then argue the course of reason. Letting me speak is the way to get the outcome you desire. A leader hears the opinions and then has the final word.’ He raised his voice: ‘Daughter, may I have the floor?’

Chloe nodded and her father smiled softly, indicating that she move to the side with his eyes. She left the floor’s center but didn’t sit with the other consuls, instead standing near the steps, her arms folded over her chest.

Aristocles looked down at the floor as if pensive, before raising his gaze to cast his eyes over the crowd. He somehow managed to look at everyone, even Chloe.

‘We have heard impassioned arguments today. As your elected first consul I wished to hear the many opinions before revealing some new information that sheds light on our situation . . . and before imparting my own thoughts for your consideration.’

The mention of new information made many of the consuls frown. Consul Harod tugged his beard thoughtfully. Chloe had always known her father to be a gifted speaker, but she’d never been able to see him address the Assembly at the lyceum. With just a few words he had seized control of the dialog, while making his potential opponents curious rather than combative.

Aristocles let the silence hang for a time. It was difficult to have conflict in a room full of silence. He gave the impression of a thoughtful man who had pondered at length and was now prepared to share his wisdom with his peers.

‘I have visited with the priests and magi from all the temples,’ Aristocles said. ‘All concur. We are not being punished by the gods, we are being warned. The thunder with no clouds and the tremor in deepest night, followed by the extinguishing of the eternal flame at the Temple of Aldus . . . this is no punishment but an omen. We are being warned of terrible danger.’

Chloe saw that every citizen’s eyes were now on her father; every consul leaned forward, eager to hear his words. Aristocles felt the same way Chloe did about the eldren, but he hadn’t needed to mention them once in order to bury the notion that the gods were somehow angry that he had shown a hand of friendship to their race. Instead of confronting Harod’s emotional rhetoric directly, Aristocles had given them what they wanted: an answer.

‘Phalesia is in danger,’ Aristocles repeated with the utmost gravity, tilting his head back to include even the men on the highest tiers. ‘This is a warning we must take seriously. You now ask yourselves: From where will the danger come?’

A sudden commotion interrupted the first consul’s next words. On the high steps the crowd stirred, jostled by a newcomer. A bare-chested sailor in coarse trousers pushed through the crowd, clambering down the steps to get past those he shoved aside in his haste. The sailor was panting and had evidently run directly to the lyceum as fast as he was able.

‘First Consul!’ the sailor wheezed, reaching the bottom of the steps and placing his hands on his hips as he fought to regain his breath. ‘I come from the harbor. We’ve been on patrol.’ He drew in a deep breath. ‘There’s a ship!’





4


The consuls all stood and came forward; any decorum that usually existed at the lyceum had long departed.

‘Ship?’ Consul Nilus said, his round face looking quizzical. ‘What ship?’

‘A warship, Consul,’ the sailor said.

Aristocles addressed the crowd. ‘This Assembly is adjourned.’ He made a swift decision. ‘Someone fetch Amos and the city guard.’

Chloe looked at the consuls who were close enough to hear her father’s request. The sailor was exhausted, and every one of the onlookers was at least fifty years old.

‘I’ll go,’ she said.

Her father nodded, and Chloe turned to race up the steps, fighting against the push of those trying to get closer to find out what was happening. Finally she emerged into fresh air and began to run, bounding down from the lyceum to the agora and then sprinting down the series of paths to the lower city.

The barracks were both lodging house and training ground for the men in the Phalesian army. An arched entrance opened directly onto the training ground, with a sandy floor providing room for even horses to train with space to spare. A row of buildings at the back provided storage for food and weapons, a communal mess, and sleeping chambers for the resident soldiers. Those who had homes in the city generally saved their coin and stayed with family, but the guards who called the barracks home had the cost of food and board deducted from their wages.

She found Amos bent over a basin as he washed dust from his face and neck. He didn’t see her at first, and she thought, not for the first time, that the crags on the weathered skin of his face would have made him recognizable among a crowd of hundreds. She wondered if he’d once been handsome; it was now impossible to tell. But he was brave and loyal, and had a reputation as a skilled warrior as well as a respected leader. He wore his dark hair short and she couldn’t remember ever seeing him out of uniform.

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