Chapter Eight- The Palace

“I beat you.” I said breathlessly. The sky was pink with the setting sun and I looked up at it. “Isn’t it beautiful? Even the sunsets in Antioch aren’t this beautiful.”

“You know what would be even more beautiful? A nice bath.” He remarked.

 I rolled my eyes. Some footmen came out and I slid down from my saddle. The first nodded in recognition and took Chaga’s reins from me. I strode up the front steps and Joeté followed close behind me. A woman came up to us as the large oak doors opened. 

“Lady Antepi, Lord Joeté.” She nodded to both of us, “allow me to show you to your rooms. Shall I have someone notify the king of your arrival?” 

“No, thank you. We would prefer to surprise him.” She nodded and smiled. She led the way through the many halls and stairways of the palace. She stopped outside a door on one of the upper floors and opened it. “My lady.”

“Merci.” I waited until she had opened Joeté’s door, consequently the one next to mine, and he had stepped inside before I had entered  mine. I looked around. It was a large room, with a large wardrobe on the far wall. I recognized this as the room I had stayed in on my previous visit. I went and opened the wardrobe. Inside were dresses that I would wear during my stay. Unfortunately, my everyday attire wasn’t what was appropriate for being in the king’s court. The king’s advisor, who was also an Antioch, had picked them out for me. Wanepi had grown up in Antioch with Catania, Sophi, and I. No one knows who her real parents are, but Emma, the Antioch healer, found her on the top of her steps one night. Wanepi moved to the Capital so that the king could have an experienced healer, since she took after her foster mother in that respect, and ended up becoming his advisor. After that, the two fell in love and are planning their wedding. Well, the wedding planners Philippe hired are planning the wedding. He is used to finery and luxury, so he is having the best wedding planners in the country plan it. Wanepi and I are only a few days apart in age, and we look almost identical. When we were younger we would try to trick people, but we didn’t look enough alike to trick people. I pulled out one of the dresses, a beautiful royal blue. I quickly changed into it. There was a small tiara sitting on a silk pillow on a table. I rolled my eyes. Wanepi knew I didn’t like to wear such things. Regardless, I put it on and was surprised. It was comfortable and fit just as my band did. I smiled. So Wanepi did know me well. And the dress fit very well. The top was plain, a sleeveless dress with a band around the midsection and the bottom was flowy. It had a split that came up to the knee for mobility.  It was made after the style of the Egyptians. Many people in the court frowned upon the things I wore, but it was better than what I often wore. I quietly opened my door and slipped out of my room. I went and knocked on Joeté’s door. He opened it and stepped out. 

“It’s six o’clock, if I read the sun correctly from my window. The king should be in his main room meeting with Wanepi and his other counselors right now. I remember the way.” I started down the hall, took a left, down some stairs, turned right, and at the end of the hall, I could hear Philippe’s loud, upset voice. We stood outside the doors for a moment and listened. 

“My counselors, what you do not understand is that England could attack at any time, and we would be left surprised. And furthermor-”  I opened the doors and strode in, interrupting him. 

“Come now, King Philippe. Surely they couldn’t attack at any time. I happen to know a few things that would stop them.” The counselors stood up and started to protest, but Philippe held up his hand. Wanepi stood up and smiled. 

“Antepi, Joeté, it is so good to see you again!” She came forward and hugged me, then nodded to Joeté. Joeté bowed to Philippe and I “curtseyed”, but it wasn’t very much of a curtsey. I had never really done that for Philippe, and he had let it go in the past, so I had never actually been required to curtsey or bow. 

“Well, this is quite the surprise. Not unpleasant but a surprise. We weren’t expecting you till tomorrow. Antepi’s idea I suppose?” Philippe’s blue eyes twinkled good naturedly. I laughed. 

“My king, you know me too well. I wanted to come early, and was going to leave tonight and spend the night in the forest to get here in the morning, but Joeté didn’t think that Hannah would appreciate that.” Both Wanepi and Philippe looked at me quizzically, and I stepped back and looked at Joeté, waiting for him to answer. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked around the room, at anything but the three of us. He scanned the faces of the council, half pleadingly, but no one said anything.

“Hannah is my, well, my- my fiance.” He kept his head down but looked up at Philippe and Wanepi sheepishly. They looked at each other, bewilderment written on their faces. Philippe cleared his throat and addressed me. 

“I think that it is time you both told us what happened.” He motioned for a servant to bring two chairs forward, and we sat down. “Antepi, you will start.” I nodded. I proceeded to tell them my side of the story. Towards the beginning, Philippe interrupted me and dismissed the council members, deeming this a more personal matter, rather than official and crucial to the country. When I had finished, he motioned for Joeté to tell his side. I was interested to hear this, since he had never told anyone what happened after he was kidnapped. 

“When I was taken by the English, General Jeekis started treating me better and better as we got closer to England. They had just raided and attacked another part of France, as you know, so they had other prisoners. He acted as if I was English and better than the rest of the French. He gave me more food, better sleeping quarters, and a horse to ride. What he didn’t know was that I gave my extra food to the children that were with us, had at least two children sleeping with me every night, and a baby hidden under my cloak while I was riding. Anyway, when we got back to England, he made me a manservant in his household. I guess he hoped to win my favor and then I would tell him France’s secrets. Then he introduced me to his daughter, and in private told me that if I didn’t propose to her, I would never see France again. So I proposed to her, and then he said if I ever told her I didn’t actually care about her, he would hurt both of us. So I pretended I loved her, and suggested that we return to France, and try to see what was happening. Thinking  that as long as I was his future son-in-law, I wouldn’t try anything. In truth, I have no intention of returning to England, married or not. I brought her back here, and then you know the rest. There were times when she would talk to me alone, but most of it was complaining about everyone but Hypoleta. They seem to have a special bond.” 

“Thank you, Joeté. This is valuable information. We are trying to figure out who was their inside man. There would be no way they would know Antioch’s location without an Antioch telling them and guiding them. Do either of you remember seeing anyone that didn’t look to be giving the fight their all, or even not fighting at all? And who had the most to gain out of the takeover? Who lost almost nothing?” Philippe asked. 

“I- I remember- I remember,” I squinted and rubbed my forehead, thinking of all the times I had the dream. “I remember a man- Antioch- standing next to Jeekis. Through the haze I can still see him. He, he was just standing there, and he smiled when Carsho was killed.” I gasped. “ No, no, no. No!” I looked up, despair running through me. “He lost nothing except, except.” I whispered. “Sophi. He lost Sophi.”

“Wait, are you saying that Renaglo was the one that did it?” Wanepi leaned closer. I shook my head.

“Respato.” A silence settled over the room, none of us wanting to say anything. Philippe sighed and put his head between his hands, rubbing his head. 

“What are we going to do?” Joeté finally broke the silence.

“Well, there is only one thing we can do. We need to arrest him. He is a traitor to the country, and that is punishable by death.” I looked up at him quickly. “No, I’m not going to have him executed. Guilty or not, he did good work for our country, and is a friend of all of us. He might give us information.” A thought dawned on me, and I looked at Joeté. 

“Cat.” He took a breath in and let it out loudly.  He put his hands up.

“ I don’t know.”

“She’ll kill us if we arrest him.” Wanepi and Philippe looked confused. “Lately, Catania and Respato have been getting closer, developing feelings for each other.” I took a big breath in. “I want to be the one to arrest him. It has to be me. I’m the only person he won’t fight. Joeté he would fight because of me, Catania he would convince to release him, Matthias he would fight and win. Any stranger, he would fight and knock out, leaving them for dead.  But he won’t fight me. Somewhere in there, there has to be a conscience.” Philippe nodded. 

“You can wait a few days, just to make it seem less suspicious, but we will have someone watching the valley from afar, just to make sure he doesn’t leave. You two may go back to your rooms, or the roof, or anywhere else. The palace is yours.” Wanepi whispered something to him and he nodded. She walked out with Joeté and I.

I sighed. “What are we going to tell Catania? Nothing we say will make her not hate us to her core. I know her better than anyone. She’s territorial. Anything she cares about, she is going to fight for.”

“Then let’s hope that she will fight on our side.” Wanepi squeezed my arm.