Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1)(9)
Written By: James Maxwell
He cast his eyes over the city before turning his attention to the assembled gathering as he came to a halt in front of Aristocles. Chloe watched as her father waited with a face like stone. It was a tactic she had seen him employ on more than one occasion and it could make men tremble. She didn’t know if the stranger even noticed. Instead he neither bowed nor smiled; he simply started to speak with a thick, rolling accent.
‘I am Kargan, captain of the bireme Nexotardis. The earthquake damaged my ship.’ He spoke the last in a growling voice, as if it was an insult that offended his pride. ‘I need to make repairs.’
‘I bid you welcome,’ Aristocles said. ‘I am Aristocles, First Consul of Phalesia, and this is Consul Nilus. Behind me is the Assembly of Consuls, those who administer the city of Phalesia and its environs.’
Kargan nodded slowly. He looked from face to face, examining the consuls arrayed in front of him. He appeared perplexed. ‘Where is your king? Summon him, that I may discuss arrangements.’
Aristocles cleared his throat. ‘I am first consul. In the first instance, you shall speak with me.’
‘Eh?’ Kargan raised an eyebrow, but then gave a dismissive wave. ‘No matter. I intend to pay for all materials, though we have supplies and will not be requiring much. I will also pay for the use of your harbor and beach.’
Aristocles gazed out at the wounded warship. ‘Your men are no doubt weary from your journey, which judging by the state of your vessel has been a harrowing experience. We can discuss arrangements when you have seen to their well-being.’ He spread his arms. ‘I extend an invitation for you and your senior officers to dine with me . . . and Consul Nilus, of course, tonight at my villa.’
Kargan grunted. ‘I will need to secure the safety of my ship, but then I would welcome it.’
Without another word, Kargan turned away.
Consul Nilus spoke for the first time, clearing his throat before calling out. ‘Before you go . . .’ He was momentarily at a loss for words. ‘Who are you?’
Kargan made a surprised sound, frowning as he faced Nilus. ‘We are of Ilea, from across the Maltherean Sea. I serve Solon the sun king, who rules his empire from his capital Lamara, the city I call my home. Surely you know of Ilea? Our empire covers most of Salesia, from the Shadrian Passage in the west, to the city of Efu in the east.’
Kargan didn’t appear to care about the consuls’ reaction one way or another. He gave a short bow and then spun on his heel, heading for the narrow steps and the harbor shore. Amos glanced at Aristocles and then scurried to keep up with the stranger.
Chloe readily agreed to her father’s request that she prepare food for the foreigner’s welcome feast. While the servants were passable cooks, if the event was especially important, she often handled both the cooking and serving of the meal. As she worked in the kitchen she felt nervous, but she was curious about this man, Kargan, and his homeland across the sea. If she could help her father deal successfully with a nation that commanded such powerful warships, she would consider the night a success.
Sophia came over, carrying a large ceramic bowl colored black and gold and decorated with a scene of two men hunting stags on white horses. She showed Chloe the pile of fruit inside. ‘I discarded the bad figs.’
‘Well done,’ Chloe said. ‘Could you arrange the cheese, bread, and olives on the big plate over there?’
Chloe herself was grinding wheat with a mortar and pestle. The dish wasn’t big enough, and she tipped the coarse grain from the mortar into a larger bowl before starting to grind more.
Her father poked his head into the kitchen and scanned the room. He nodded with satisfaction when he saw Sophia arranging the cold foods and noted hot coals in the cooking hearth, with smoke departing through the hood above.
‘You look worried,’ Chloe said. ‘You should rest. Everything here’s under control.’
Aristocles came forward and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head and smiling down at her fondly. ‘My beloved child . . . Where would I be without you?’
She looked up at him and saw moisture at the corners of his eyes. She never knew when his thoughts would turn to her mother. People often said that with every passing year Chloe was growing to look more and more like her.
Leaving a hand on her shoulder, Aristocles turned to Sophia. ‘I just need to mention, Sophia, this man is foreign and unused to our ways.’
‘I will be your dutiful, doting daughter,’ Sophia piped from the other side of the room.
Aristocles smiled, but it didn’t touch his eyes. He truly was concerned.
‘Father . . . Who are these people?’ Chloe asked.
Aristocles paused before speaking. ‘Ilea is across the Maltherean Sea.’
‘Further than the isle of Athos, where the Oracle lives?’
Aristocles nodded. ‘Further than Athos. Ilea is on the Salesian continent. I know little of their king, Solon, but word is that in the past years he has swallowed his neighbors into his empire. He is a powerful ruler.’
‘This man, Kargan,’ Chloe said. ‘Is he powerful also?’
‘That remains to be seen,’ Aristocles said. ‘We must ask many questions and answer few.’
Hermon, one of the servants, a stooped old man who had tutored Chloe in childhood, came and bowed to Aristocles. ‘Consul Nilus is here, Lord.’