Chapter 4:

The Songstress' New Clothes

The Songstress of Avalon

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'd like reiterate that the Kingdom of Amalfi can be described as a melting pot of everything Avalon had to offer. There were even some elements which were comparable to those that existed in my world. For example, Amalfi could be described as something similar to a parliamentary monarchy.

But, there was an interesting catch in regard to the kingship's succession - instead of being hereditary, it is an elected position.

The ones responsible for electing the king were known as 'princes', ten individuals who belonged to the constitutionally created College of Electors. The terribly complex succession system for the prince-electors would take an entire university module to explain (indeed, the legislation governing the electoral college system numbered no less than forty seven acts, divided into almost three sections and subsections).

In any case, I couldn't help but laugh when Arisa referred to Lorenzo del Fiore as the king's son.

King Gennaro Ambroso of Amalfi did, in fact, have a son, but he certainly wasn't Lorenzo del Fiore; really, he wasn't even a prince. If there was any veracity to the fruits of the grapevine, then the king's son was apprenticed to a master shoemaker in one of the provincial towns.

"If he’s talented, then maybe he can be the Prince of Cobblers."

My joke fell flat.

Arisa's expression suggested that she was still trying to wrap her head around Amalfi's conception of what a prince was, whereas Marissa never had time for a clever pun. She preferred one-liners that resembled poisoned barbs, the kind that draw tears from people with low self-esteem.

Arisa looked over at me and asked: “Then how, pray tell, did that Lorenzo become a prince?”

“He inherited it,” it was Marissa who responded. “From his brother.”

“It's complicated,” I began. "In Lorenzo’s case, the circumstances were a bit…”

My voice trailed off.

It wasn’t really a memory that I wanted to recall. Marissa had cast her eyes downwards, as though anticipating what I was about to say. Seeing this, I held my tongue. Arisa didn’t seem to be interested in the details anyways, although it's possible that she realised the topic wasn’t a comfortable one for us.

“You know,” Marissa's bright eyes locked onto Arisa’s form. “You’ve been wearing the same clothes since yesterday. Why don’t we get you into something a bit more comfortable?”

“I don’t think she’ll fit into anything of yours,” I blurted out casually.

I didn’t actually mean anything by the throwaway comment. Heightwise, Marissa was probably two or three centimeters taller but their proportions were roughly the same. Even so, the healer took offense to what I said, and I found myself reeling back to avoid her outstretched hand, ready to inflict violence on me.

Marissa grasped thin air; something that sounded awfully like ‘tch!” escaped her lips and she turned her attention to Arisa. She took her by the hand, and ushered her towards the stairs.

“Perverts can stay down here!” she barked at me when I tried to join them.

I stood at the foot of the staircase and watched as the ends of Marissa’s plaid skirt, almost down to her ankles in length, fluttered upwards. The girlish timbre of their chatter became faint, and soon the only sound I could hear was the rustling of the papers, comically mountainous, in my office, a consequence of the open window.

For the next half hour, I reluctantly assumed the stamping function that comprised a disappointingly large percentage of my duties as ambassador.

The animated voices eventually returned, and I seized this opportunity to put work on the backburner. Placing the stamp on the desk, I slid back into the reception room where the two girls stood, their backs turned towards me.

At the sound of my footsteps, Arisa spun around.

Her brown hair, unkempt when she burst through the double doors of the embassy twenty-four hours ago, was now straightened and cascaded down to the small of her back. The pink dress shirt, adorned with stains courtesy of being chased by Trajan’s goons, had been replaced by a pristine, white blouse and a virident cardigan. A salmon-coloured skirt which just about covered the knees completed the outfit.

Marissa had done a good job of dressing Arisa up in such a way that she would not have looked out of place in any of Amalfi's bigger towns, or the liberal arts campus of a Japanese university; the skirt, modern and even somewhat risqué for Avalon's standards, had been a revelation amongst the new age town girl.

The blouse, in stark contrast, was the favourite of country milk maids while the cardigan was almost certainly one of Marissa’s originals; probably, a relic from her knitting phase. If I remembered correctly, she made scarves and mittens for the entire party as we approached the winter town of Queen’s Abbot - a throwaway compliment by Trajan had induced her to take up knitting as a hobby.

I could have dissected the intricacies of her outfit even further, but it would have just been meaningless prattle to hide how awestruck I was. Instead, I ventured to say something, to say anything.

“It suits you.”

“You think so?” 

Arisa's face reddened slightly, both hands raised to her cheeks.

Her gaze met mine, but our ocular connection was fleeting; a barely audible groan had passed through Marissa’s lips, but it was enough to break the spell. She seemed to regret ruining what one might term a ‘good moment’ but, as always, her justification was impeccable:

“I hate being treated as the third wheel, you know?”

There were times when I genuinely believed that Marissa was actually a spiteful person, but her next outburst dispelled the unkind thoughts that were beginning to form in my mind.

“Ah, I want to go for a walk…” she used some documents on her desk as a makeshift fan. “But I have so much work to do… say, why don’t you two go?”

No, in her heart, she was a kind person. Even though it was entirely possible that that kindness stemmed from a place of acute narcissism.

“Eh?” Arisa clapped her hands together. “Can we do that?”

“Delfino Gardens isn’t that far from here,” I said. “I don’t think we’ll run into any of the prince’s men there, and even if we do…”

My fingers began to burn red hot - the Flames of Rakshasa were once again making their presence felt.

Steward McOy
Dhamas Tri (dmz)
Christian Widjaya
Robin Paharya